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A Million Tiny Pieces


Lynden Pater

The streets were deserted, and the sun was setting over the rooftops of the
greying terraced houses, picking out all the loose tiles on every roof.  Previously it picked out the stains running around every window, but now the light was beyond that. In a matter of minutes it would creep down below the horizon that was never visible from the street. By the time it set this time tomorrow the sky would be very different.

It was because the houses were run down and the view didn’t include enough of the sky that everyone had chosen somewhere to be and had left hours ago to lie on their backs on some grassy patch of countryside and wait out the sky. There were none of his friends around, but Jimmy didn’t mind really. He could have just as much fun on his own with his imagination and a toy gun. There was no one to have to share half the game with and Jimmy liked doing whatever he wanted. The real bonus was that there were no grown-ups around to tell him off for anything.

He had taken full advantage of this and was now running from doorway to doorway without fear of anyone shouting at him. Well, almost, anyway. If his dad could see him, Jimmy knew he would be mad. He was always mad for one reason or another and that was part of the reason Jimmy was crouching in a bus stop now, rubbing dirt even further into his now grubby blond dishevelled hair. Every now and again he would risk a peak at the moon that was quickly becoming the lightest thing in the sky. With a twinkle in his eye as if he was really enjoying his new freedom he ducked away quickly, as if some enemy had seen him. Jimmy hadn’t quite decided what he was fighting, but he was winning.

He rolled out onto the road and lay on his belly with his legs bent at the knee up in the air, training his gun on the moon. He watched, waiting for something, and in the end, when nothing happened he shouted “Pow!” as loud as he could, over and over again. After a second or two of this he jumped up and ran with all his energy, legs flailing, into the Harrison’s door, scraping some of the peeling paint down his already muddy trousers then crouched, panting in the doorway.

“Jimmy?” came his dad’s voice from their window opposite. Jimmy jumped, brought back to reality forcibly by the sound he knew so well - the sound of him in trouble. There was never any running away, he would just end up in more trouble, so he just stood watching his dad leaning out of the window scanning slowly around the street. Inexorably his head panned around to where Jimmy stood. As soon as he saw Jimmy looking innocently back at him from a doorway across the road he shook his head vigorously.

“Jimmy!” he exclaimed, “what d’ you think you’re playing at?” he yelled, trying his best not to swear. No one could hear him, as there wasn’t anyone left on the whole street, but he had to try and retain some kind of control. Refraining from swearing in front of the children sometimes felt like the only element of control he had left.

Jimmy examined the floor in front of him before shouting back, “I was just - ” before his father predictably interrupted him.

“I don’t care what you think you’re doing, are you supposed to be out there?”

Both he and Jimmy knew this was a rhetorical question, just like the last. His father knew because he had to ask that kind of question all the time and never got a response. Jimmy knew because if he replied the shouting went on for longer. Instead Jimmy fiddled with the gun in his hand, screwing the red plastic nozzle on and off again until his father proceeded.

“Now come back in here. This is really important, Jimmy. Your mother and I need the whole family together to see this.”

Jimmy mumbled dispassionately and continued to play with his gun. After a second his father sighed and shut the window as far as it would go and scraped a frustrated hand across his unkempt dark stubble. Presumably Jimmy was on his way back to the house, but he could be so difficult sometimes.

“Damn kid,” he said to himself as he turned to see his wife holding Dana, framed in the doorway. Dana gasped as Sarah put her down.

“Ummmm,” she said, “you said a bad word daddy,” she pointed out, but her father was already painfully aware of that.

“Can you go to your room and play for a while, Dana?” Sarah asked sweetly. Dana nodded without taking her eyes off her father.  “We’ll come and get you when it’s time.”

Dana looked for a second more, turning slowly away from her father, her eyes only leaving him at the last minute before she ran for her room. As soon as she had left Sarah tied her blond hair back and smiled at her husband. He was trying. She walked over to him slowly and put her arms around him.

“Chris, look, I know what you’re going to say, but I think it’s nice that we’re staying here to watch it. We can all sit on the roof, all of us, I mean, together. It’ll be fun,” she tried, but the word fun was only ever used by her with a sense of irony and the word stuck in her mouth.

Chris ignored it and forced a smile. “But maybe we should have gone to the
mountainside with all the others. There will be a better view from there. We just... Well, we just never had the time to organise it, what with you working and me working and the kids away for the last week. I just think they might have had a better time there, that’s all, you know, with the other kids.”

“Well, maybe they would have done, but we don’t spend any time together
anymore, and I just think that we might all... Oh, I dunno, Chris, but honestly, I think I like this better.” She let go of him, and clasped his hands, looking him in the eyes. He had never really looked old enough to be a father. “Really.”

Chris’ smile broadened slightly.

“Cup of tea?” She asked.

“Please,” he grinned, but as soon as she had left to make it, his smile vanished. He took another couple of paces towards the window and tilted his head at the moon. Nothing ever stays the same it seems, and that’s the nature of things, really. It’s just a big piece of rock when it comes down to it, and one day, after the tides settled down people wouldn’t even remember it.

Dana and Jimmy would, though, he would make sure of it. At six and seven they can’t really know what this will mean, so someone has to show them. It was a father’s job to make his kids realise what was important, really. He felt sure his kids would realise before it was too late. Sometimes it was hard but he knew in his heart...

Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of Jimmy firing at his window from another doorway. He threw open the window and screamed without control, “Jimmy, get in here now!”

“No!” Jimmy shouted back. “No, no, no!” He threw his gun down; it broke into a million tiny pieces and he stood defiantly, arms folded, in the middle of the empty road.

Chris turned and stamped down the stairs, checking his watch on the way down. As he walked past Sarah in the kitchen, she saw that he was looking at the time. “The TV said we have another ten minutes,” she offered, hoping to try to calm him in the wake of his scream.

Chris knew what she was doing, however tactfully, and stopped for a second and sighed. “Okay, look, go and get Dana and I’ll meet you on the roof. I’m gonna go and get Jimmy,” and then he continued out the door. Sarah scratched her head, pulling her hair back out of place. She took a swig from her own tea, left Chris’ on the counter, and went up to Dana’s room. She knocked and went in. Dana was sitting on her bed and smiled when she saw only her mother walk in.

“Mummy,” she said, “what’s going to happen?”

“Well, honey, there’s another big rock, moving very fast, that’s going to hit the moon and very soon it won’t be there anymore.”

A look of concern crossed Dana’s face. “Will we get another one?”

Sarah smiled, picking her up. “No, I don’t think we will.”

“Can’t we keep this one?”

“No, honey, it’s too late now,” she replied absently.

They sat on the roof for almost seven minutes before Chris returned, sitting himself down with Dana between them. After a second or so of them all looking at the moon Chris cleared his throat awkwardly. “I, erm... Jimmy ’s not coming.”

“Why not?” Sarah asked.

“He says he ‘doesn’t want to.’ He’s gone to his room.”

Sarah shook her head and closed her eyes. She should have gone to start with. “I’ll go and get him.”

“No,” Chris said, pointing at the sky. “It’s too late.”

The upper right hand edge of the moon began to glow brighter and brighter until it finally broke into a million tiny pieces.

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