The theme was fairytales, so I sort of cheated and used nursery rhymes. How many references can you count?
Might as well be living in a shoe box. Actually, just the shoe.
All these kids.
How had it happened?
You had ’em, Sis, her step-sisters pointed out. (They were too ugly to have their own.)
Mum always said she was the black sheep of the family. Baa, baa to that.
She tossed the three bags full of laundry over the banister to the floor below.
But why was it up to her, her all by herself, only her, to feed and clothe the brats?
A series of lousy man-decisions over many years. Think she’d learn but she never did. Bobby Shaftos, all of them.
They were all terrific to start with.
Ohhh, love kids, they’d say. They’d beam as if they’d just pulled the plum from the pudding and pat the head of the handiest little one(s). The most persistent took the kids to see the egg-falling-off-the-wall show or the little dog laughing or London Bridge falling down. Once anyway. And one or two at a time, of course. Unless they had a bus whose wheels went round and round.
She was an old woman now, too old for men. As much chance of catching a decent one as a cow had of jumping over the moon.
She picked her way down the stairs, a slippery course of discarded farm animals from Old MacDonald’s place and curd-hardened bowls. Her hand gripped the banister as three little boys – the three little pigs the others called them – hurtled down, screaming, and just when she thought she’d survived their shoving, the biggest kid (in all senses) pushed her into the wall huffing and puffing about how he was going to shred those kids when he caught ’em.
She landed safely at the bottom, and tripped in any case. A girl sitting on a stool and peering into a mug which smelled of sour milk had stretched her leg out to avoid the incy wincy spider hustling across the crumb-strewn floor.
Sorry muffet … I mean muppet …
She never could keep up with the names. Should have had a system, like name all the girls Mary (they were contrary enough) and all the boys Tom, which would have been apt given the first boy’s father played the pipe in some band.
What in hell was she supposed do?
She halted at the kitchen door, hands pressed to the frame. Tins of pease porridge lined the counter.
She’d feed the kids, that’s what. Hot or cold? The bread bin was empty (she recalled the crumb-strewn floor). So it was pease porridge with no bread.
A row of lambs tails hung from hooks on the wall, left there to remind Peep where her sheep were. She imagined the weight of those tails in her hand, the thwack of them against bums fat and lean, and sighed at the luxury of blissful silence in a shoe-box size house full of kids, every one of ’em in bed.