It’s supposed to be Personal week at The Fine-toothed Comb, but when I decided to remove the length restrictions on my flash pieces they started to grow wild and turn into short stories. Dadi’s Little Helper has been particularly vigorous in its demands; thrusting roots down in search of backstory, opening broad leaves for fresh energy and fuller characterisation. I’m looking at a 3-parter now (I think) for this crazed triffid creation. It won’t let me go until it’s done, so here is part 2 in lieu of the usual blog. If you want to go back to re-read it before you continue (or indeed, if you missed it last week), you can read Part 1 here.
Dadi’s Little Helper (pt 2)
Iolo should have climbed the drainpipe again. Would have done if he’d been thinking straight. He could have stashed the shovel and his other bits and bobs in the barn, washed himself down at one of the outside taps, then snuck back in with no-one the wiser. He was just too eager. He wanted to get that great glorious eye back to his room, to roll it around in his hands and imagine all the things it had seen—and it was sooo much easier climbing down the drainpipe than up it. So… he’d left his bike round the side, shifted the big flowerpot to get the spare key, then let himself in. He took his shoes off before crossing the threshold, tied the laces together and hung them over his shoulder. Well, he couldn’t risk tracking muddy footprints across the floor, could he?
The family weren’t normally allowed to go through the workshop – even Mami had to knock and wait when she brought Dadi tea – but he’d made the spare key known after Meical started staying out late. It set mami’s mind at ease and, as dadi said, it made sure the bloody idiot wouldn’t wake them all up at some god-awful hour, banging on the door. Iolo would have loved to poke around in there, but he’d cut it a bit fine tonight. His brother was due back any time, so he didn’t dare put the light on in case it was seen from the road.
All but blind, he inched his way forward, a hand held in front to sense any obstacles. Twice he barked his shin, but his biggest horror came when his probing hand struck a tall-but-light object which rocked back from him. He felt sure it would crash to the floor, but somehow the weight of its base brought the thing swinging back towards him. A few small items scattered and clattered gently, but there was nothing to wake the dead. Iolo stood there in the dark, breathless, heart pounding as the thing juddered back to its upright position at last. What would he have done if he’d been caught? How could he possibly explain himself? It didn’t bear thinking about. Best to just get in and hoof up the stairs as quickly as possible.
The inner door shifted noiselessly, and the boy slipped through into the hallway. Through the door to his right, he spotted Meical on the sofa, earbuds glowing orange in the dark. He stood stock still once more, hoping to blend into the background. (Twpsin! As though his brother’s vision worked on movement, like T-Rex.) A rattling snore showed his brother to be sound asleep, and Iolo let his breath ease out once more. Steadying himself on the handrail, he counted his way up the stairs, pressing each foot in the corner where the steps were strongest. Least likely to creak. This pattern created a slight swaying motion in his gait that entertained him briefly until the shovel – tucked under his armpit – clunked against a banister strut, swung downwards—and fell! No clang or clatter followed, though. No uproar as the house awoke. No blind bellowed curse at Meical for his carelessness before Iolo’s inevitable discovery. Only a warm hand on the boy’s ankle and a few words, softly spoken.
‘Alright, son. It’s alright.’
It was his father, standing on the bottom step, the fallen shovel caught in his hand. He didn’t look angry or worried, gleeful or cruel – he just gazed up at Iolo with empathy and understanding. He placed the shovel gently against the wall, then spoke with his fingers and hands.
[Let’s go into the kitchen, eh? Don’t want to disturb your brother. I’ll put the kettle on.]
Iolo could hear well enough, Dafydd knew. Medical tests had proven it early on. Nevertheless, he and Mair had learned to sign – then taught him as he grew up – so they could communicate on a common footing. They didn’t want him to feel that he lacked anything. His silence had been there from the very beginning. This was just who he was: their quiet little foundling, their mute mini miracle. Dafydd’s jokes at Meical’s expense weren’t meant to be cruel, but he couldn’t help comparing the boys through the years. Where Iolo was attentive, Meical’s mind wandered. Whilst Iolo hung on his parents’ words, it seemed there was nothing they could say or do to interest Meical, nothing they could engage him with. He only wanted to be by himself. He was rebellious. Angry. Friends and neighbours opined that jealousy had reared its head, resentment towards this little brother who’d stolen his mami and dadi. But no, that wasn’t it. The boy defined himself in opposition. He always had, and it wore something cruel on their hearts.
Dafydd bore a greater burden yet, but it was not one he’d been ready to share, not even with Mair—and certainly not with Iolo. (Until tonight, it transpired.) The mug was placed down in front of the boy, teabag bobbing in a milky brew, then Dafydd poured a cup for himself and pulled up a chair. As Iolo warmed his hands, Dafydd saw how dirty they were. Brown flecks, green stains, smears of red – all telling tales on his son. He found it difficult to catch the boy’s eyes, intent as they were on the steam that curled and rose from his mug. He sighed, content for now to let him be, pondering how to proceed. His gaze fell on the rucksack at Iolo’s feet. It looked pretty heavy.
[What have you got in there, then, boy? Been exploring, have you?]
Iolo pretended not to see the words his dadi signed; instead, he pulled his mug closer for a sniff and a sip. The baldness of the act made Dafydd smile wryly. He hooked his foot in the strap and tugged it towards him, half expecting the boy to grab it, but he gave no complaint. Accommodating as ever. He lifted the bag to his lap and cracked it open. There was quite a haul in there, including several household items that Mair’d mislaid over the past week, but these petty thefts were swept away by Iolo’s treasure. It was a ball. Large, firm, round and whitish, streaked with occasional… what were they? Veins? Dafydd dropped the bag and sat back, his gorge rising.
He’d been back to Ceridwen’s altar, then. Fine; he’d half expected that. But to have found this? What else did he know? Had he found? They sipped their tea, avoiding eye contact. He could demand a full explanation, force the boy to tell him everything, but in truth it hardly mattered. There was only one place the eye could have come from—and no way for Dafydd to answer Iolo’s questions about it without… well, without confessing everything. Damn and blast!
He’d have to work quickly, find a way for Iolo to ‘fall ill’ again, or some reason to take him away somewhere. He needed time to fix his mind, but time was very much not on his side. The boy might not be able to talk, physically, but he could still bring the world crashing down in short order. The slightest bit of attention brought to the burial site would be disastrous. All of his sins would be unearthed. A thought occurred to him: the boy had come in through the workshop. Had he seen something there, too? Taken something? Sweat sprang from his brow as Dafydd stood, knocking his chair back with a stone-floor screech. The action and the noise brought their eyes together at last.
[You’ve been busy, my boy. Well, so have I. Come on. Let me show you what I’ve been doing.]
He picked up his tea, and nodded his head towards the workshop.
This wasn’t what Iolo expected. Shouting, maybe; a lecture about safety and trust probably—about how scared his father had been to discover the boy gone; some kind of punishment for sure. He was a good boy normally, but he could still upset his parents. It was never with malice; he just didn’t understand sometimes. But Dadi didn’t seem angry. He seemed… animated. Excited, almost. And for the first time ever he was inviting Iolo into his workshop. Curiosity pushed caution aside and Iolo rose, following his father. The lights were on now, fluorescent bright, revealing workbenches, tools, several sheeted somethings, a portable radio. His eyes traced his earlier route from the outer door, noting the stool and the heavy toolbox he’d caught his shins on.
There, to the right, was the object he’d nearly knocked over: a plastic man dangling from a hook. Parts of it had fallen off, scattered across the floor. Dadi was picking them up now, reattaching them. Once the last piece was connected, he turned and smiled to Iolo, waved him forwards.
[I’ve been making something for you. For your birthday. Want to see?]
He turned towards one of the sheeted objects at the side of the room and beckoned again. As Iolo approached, he saw several curious implements laid out on the bench next to it. Some were bladed, others pointed, and several of them had the look of tools yet were made entirely of plastic. Intriguing. The sheet was whisked off with a flourish, and Iolo’s mouth fell open. The figure revealed was carved clay from the top of its head to its waist, whereupon it splayed out into a squarish block, the legs and feet as yet unrevealed. Some of the finer physical details – the shell of the ears, the splay of the fingers – were yet to be formed, nor was there much definition to the hair save the crudest of shape, but the facial features were distinctive. There was no mistaking who the model had been. The statue was a little taller, a little broader, a little more muscled than Iolo but, nevertheless, there he stood. Dadi looked from one to the other, then back again, nodding. He moved behind Iolo, patting a hand on his shoulders in satisfaction, then he leaned in, whispering.
‘What do you think? Do you like it?’
Iolo couldn’t answer, of course. He didn’t have the words. And then, as Dafydd flipped the catch by his ear, the boy stopped being able to see, or to hear, or to think anymore.
There wasn’t time to deal with everything now. Once he got Iolo to himself for a week or two, he’d be able to work on him properly: sift through his memories, remove anything awkward, figure out what went wrong. Then he could refill the gaps with something more suitable. All he could do right now was a broader purge, scraping out a chunk of memory to erase the eyeball, the burial pit and the rest of tonight’s revelations. He was reaching across for one of his more delicate tools when a mug smashed behind him. Dafydd spun to see his other son at the door, his eyes bulged in shock and wonder.
‘Ah. Meical… I can explain.’
But can he? (Can I?) You’ll have to wait until next week to find out when Part 3 comes out. God willing, that should be an end to it. Why does writing have to be so hard? Ho hum. By the way, in case you’re wondering if things line up – given the shift this story has taken, I have gone back to make a few ever-so-minor tweaks to last week’s effort to bring it all into line. What can I say? The story decided that NO, it wanted to go in this direction. All I can do is follow in its wake and do my best to clear up afterwards. Writers, eh? Who’d be such a fool?