Cowboys and ducklings
By Alexandra Riera
© 2005 Alexandra Riera
James was outside playing cowboys and Indians with his little brother Tom, only a year younger than him when he overheard his mother talk to one of the neighbours in the kitchen. The kettle was on and together with the music coming out from the radio the only things he heard were the words “sell, horses, house, stables, buy, James’s, poor duckling”
“Oh Tom! Mum is going to sell the horses, the house, the stable and buy me a duck!”
“What about me? What is she going to buy me?”
Before James could answer, Tom had run into the house and presented himself in front of his mother screaming his head off.
The neighbour, an endearing old lady called Mrs Tookson sat back on the kitchen chair as she rolled her eyes. She had only come for a quick neighbourly visit because she had assumed the kids had been playing outside with their father. She already had six children of her own and didn’t care one single bit about anybody else’s brats.
Rosalyn didn’t look surprised at all when she saw little Tom running in the kitchen. She was used to this behaviour. The two brothers were always fighting and if it wasn’t Tom, it was James; and if not, it was the both of them who’d come screaming, complaining about something or the other and screaming. Always the screaming.
“What’s wrong darling”
As Tom told her, between sobs what his brother had told him and what he wanted, demanded and super-wanted, Rosalyn made two mugs of tea.
“Sorry darling, what did you say?” she asked him as she spooned three spoons of sugar into each mug. Apart from the fact that she wasn’t paying attention, she wasn’t listening. She had the ability of switching her hearing-aid off without being seen by her children who didn’t know she had turned half deaf after her gas oven exploded just before inserting a turkey inside it. Fortunately everything turned out alright for them that Christmas for underneath the floorboards where the oven had been they had found a box containing the shares of a huge drinks company which they sold almost the very next day. The turkey had been given to the dogs and the money had been spent on a ranch.
The ranch had been bought on her husband’s insistence. He had known nothing about horses and still knew nothing but insisted that rich people had to have horses and off they went and bought themselves this enormous property. The children had to change schools too and that hadn’t gone well with them. They had lost all their friends and the outdoors life didn’t suit them at all. They had been used to a short walk to school and now they had to get up at five thirty every morning in order to catch the school bus. That’s why they were always grumpy. They needed their sleep and didn’t get much of it because when they came back from school they wanted to play outside and look at the horses and talk to the men who worked for his father looking after the ranch. They always ended up going to bed very late at night.
Weekends were spent resting and doing nothing at all. Rosalyn and John would spend the day lounging on deck chairs sipping drinks. They never went anywhere. The excuse was that they were miles away from anything remotely interesting and therefore it wasn’t worth the effort because by the time they got there it would be time to come back.
Mrs Tookson had been sitting patiently on that chair for what seemed and eternity to her and then she suddenly got up and slapped the child across the face.
Tom stopped his screaming and Rosalyn dropped the hot mug of tea on her foot.
Complete silence surrounded them.
Tom was about to start his tantrum again when Mrs Tookson pointed a finger at the little boy.
“You’re a spoilt brat, you are! Get out of here before I smack your silly little face again!” As Tom ran out of the kitchen she took a kitchen towel from the worktop and cleaned the floor as Rosalyn stared at the running child.
“If you don’t do something about those kids Rosalyn, you’ll be in trouble one day!”
Rosalyn switched her hearing-aid back on and helped Mrs Tookson clean up.
Whilst all this had been going on, James had been outside peering through the window and when he saw what Mrs Tookson had done to his little brother he ran to this father for help.
He had found his father training one of the horses with a rope. He had always thought that those ropes had been for catching Indians with feathers on their heads, just like him and his brother used to play. James didn’t like horses. They frightened him. They were big and tall and too fast for him. He preferred cars and bikes and for some reason he only had toy horses to play with. He couldn’t understand why he didn’t have any other sort of toys. His parents only bought him horses, hobby horses of different colours and sizes, rocking horses, plastic horses, fury horses. Just horses, always horses. Nothing else. How he wished he was back at the old place.
John was very patient with the children. He’d kneel down and listen to them but it was only so because he hardly saw them during the day. He certainly looked the devoted father to a casual onlooker but in truth he was a real spoiler. He’d let them do anything they wanted and he’d buy anything they wanted as long as it was horse related. He wanted his boys, his darling boys to know about horses.
Rosalyn and him had had many fights in the last year over the kids, over the ranch, over the horses and over the little amount of money that was left after all the expenses. At the end of the day, the main argument always came back down to money. Money had been the one and only factor that had brought their unhappiness. It was only recently that he had finally come to his senses and realised that the idea of the horses and the ranch hadn’t been a good idea after he saw the last bank statement. They barely had enough money to sustain the ranch for another year. After that there would be nothing left. They’d have to sell it in a rush and move somewhere small and in addition they’d have no money left to pay for the children’s education. What if they wanted to go to university? He’d have to work very very long hours in order to be able to meet the payments in time.
John took a spare cowboy hat that was on the floor and put it on James head.
“What’s wrong bunny?”
“Mrs Tookson hit Tom and mum didn’t hit her back! And…. And… she’s going to buy me a duckling.” He said as he put his fingers in his mouth.
“No, we’re not going to buy any ducks, we’re going to buy the old house we had sold and move back there. How about it?”
James didn’t answer. He couldn’t believe it!
“What about your horses dad, are they coming too?”
“No, there’s no room for them there. You know that!” he teased him as he tapped the top of his hat and pushed it off his little head.
James kicked the hat in the air and shouted: “Yoopeee!”
When they returned home they found a sullen Tom sitting at the front door.
“Cheer up Tom, we’re moving!” shouted James, “No more horses! Yooopeee!”
Tom looked at his brother in disbelief and kicked him in the leg.
“Well Tom, that’s not a nice thing to do” said John as he took him in his arms. “you’d better apologise…”
“He kicked me dad!” interrupted James, “he kicked me! You saw it…. wait till I get you…”
“No you won’t get him James, everything is going to be fine. Now it’s time for you to go for your bath, dinner and bed. Come on.”
Rosalyn and Mrs Tookson came outside after hearing all the commotion at the front door and when Rosalyn saw her husband, she went to him and kissed him warmly on the lips as Mrs Tookson looked away embarrassed of being part of such an intimate thing. “Hello my duckling. Have you told them yet?”
“I’ve only told James, but James has already told Tom. Let’s celebrate! Mrs Tookson, come in for a cuppa, will you?”
Mrs Tookson declined politely and left. She didn’t think that John was a poor duckling at all. She believed he was very lucky to have a wife who put some sense into him and make him go back to his normal way of life instead of chasing an impossible dream and ruin the life of his family as her husband had done. They’d have to sell the farm and move out as they could not meet the end of the month payments any longer.
© 2005 Alexandra Riera