Conversation between parent and child, in times before CCTV and home security cameras:
‘When an adult checks you, don’t answer back.’
‘Because it’s not polite.’
‘Umm. What if I…?’
‘What if you what?’ ‘Want to say something?’ ‘You still keep quiet.’
‘For how long?’
‘But I …’
‘Uh-huh, remember no talking back?’
‘No. I said no. You cannot have anything to ask or say when the proof is before my eyes.’
‘Proof is when there were four biscuits in the tin and you’ve eaten three. You were meant to share them with your little brother.’
‘But dad …’
‘Uh-huh, don’t bring your father into this. Go and stand in the corner. And stay there till lunch time when, hopefully, that tummy stuffed with biscuits has been able to digest them.’
‘I don’t like corners.’
‘Uh-huh see? You’re doing it again, talking back. Anyway, what don’t you like about corners?’
‘Umm is not an answer.’ ‘
I don’t want to say.’
‘Because I’m not allowed to?’
‘I’m allowing you to.’
‘Just say it soon before I change my mind. Then no one will ever know why you don’t like corners.’
‘I told you, umm is not an answer.’
‘I feel frightened.’
‘What’s there to be frightened about a corner in plain sight in a big room?’
‘I’m frightened of my tummy digesting in the corner.’
Brief interlude while the parent grabs a tea towel holds it to her mouth and hurriedly exits the room. A parent must never be caught amused when her expression and demeanour are meant to reflect her at her ‘reprimanding best’. She’s been warned by her own mother, ‘Children are sharper than knives. They are quick to spot a weakness and before you know it, they hold the upper hand.’ So she steadies herself in the next room and when she’s ready she returns to the scene of battle and without further ado marches little Johnny to the corner and, for good measure, gets him to place a finger on his lips.
‘That means no talking, understand? Hey, little man, did you hear me? Understand?’
‘But I’m not allowed to say yes.’
‘You can nod your head.’
‘A nod is yes?’
‘Yes, go on, nod.’
‘Why not? You’re not afraid of nodding as well as corners?’
‘Uh-huh, finger back on the lip. Now nod.’
‘Why?’ ‘Because my finger is poking my nose.’
Second brief interlude while mum does an about-face and does battle with suppressing the million laugh bubbles threatening to fizz out of her chest.
Later in the day, when his father has returned from work he will, standing quiet as a mouse outside their bedroom door, she will hear him give his father an accurate word-for-word account of his punishment routine.
And he will hear his father say what he himself had been trying to say all morning, ‘I was the one who ate two of those biscuits. You know your youngest son hates anything with ginger in it.’ And he will hear his mother, mortified, say: ‘Charlie! You are worse than a child yourself.’
And she will fling open the bedroom door and catch him standing there. And some instinct will make him place a finger to his lips. And she will hold her sides, laughing, and pick him up and spin him around and kiss his little cheeks and carry him to bed.
And years and years later, on a day when the sun is sinking in the sky, he will be standing over a different bed. She will be lying in it, looking up at him. And she will whisper, ‘Can you ask for this bed to be moved a bit to the centre, darling? I really don’t think I like corners.’
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