In The Stars 

In The Stars

"Hiya, Ralphy, going to the Pictures?" asked the girl.

He nodded; more wishful thinking about Saturday Morning Pictures than anything else. But the stars were against him. His father expected him to clear out the drains this Saturday and expectation was tantamount to fate, as far as his father was concerned.

"Can I do it 'safter instead?" Ralph had asked.

"No, you do it 'smorning, me lad, and lump it!" was the retort of his Dad who was that moment under his push-bike, changing the oil.

Ralph got a bucket of suds from his mother - who would have handed out such devices to any bob-a-job upstart who happened to call at the front door expressing a wish to clean out something or other. She had a brain for such matters.

Ralph stumbled outside, with the warm water slopping from one side of the bucket to the other, a factor which almost unbalanced him if it were not for his steadying use of the long-handled hinge of a Sponge Mop.

Attacking the drains, he pretended they were Flash Gordon's worst enemies (so frightful that the Saturday Morning Pictures manager would have banned their appearance, soon as look at them). Even at their optimum, Flash Gordon films had things floating around the stars, things that aped budding Concordes but farted like wonky hoovers.

It wasn't as if the drains didn't need doing, for they most definitely did. Even though the family was poor, there were bits of Mother's meals that were simply created for no other purpose than to be left-overs ... and these bits had ended up half-suspended down the drains, their toe-holds snagged upon the metal grid. This browny-green slime-grid seemed put there merely for such snagging, one of those devices God made humans create to annoy other humans.

Ralph, who had missed Flash Gordon for real at the Pictures in favour of such unsanitary delights, wondered why they were called storm drains. A real storm could never have squeezed through such ridiculously narrow gaps.

He plummetted the sponge into the coagulating suds ... and, oh horror, there was that girl. She pouted her lips, which she expected him to read.

He turned back to the drains as if, by ignoring her, she'd ignore him and go on her way towards the Pictures, perhaps to hold hands with that long-nosed snot-man he knew as Uncle ... with whom Ralph had seen her during the last summer holidays. But, no, her beaming face just hovered there, like a dream teetering on the brink of becoming a nightmare.

He tried to think her away. Childhood was a self-inflicted fiction, anyway.

His father, wiping his greasy hands on his back apron, shouted about something or other, a complaint of sorts, but nothing could be heard beyond the eventually fading undergrunts.

"Hiya, Ralphy."

He turned again to the drains, where to his delight the tail-ends of the left-overs disappeared faster than he could see them. The hinged Sponge Thing would have been no good, anyway.

"Didn't you hear me? Coming to the Pictures?"

He shrugged, shook his head.

She had probably decided that she would not ever want to hold hands with the likes of Ralph, anyway, considering the state of them. A tear, that she had not felt coming, was upon her petal cheek, proving (Ralph thought) she'd not known her own mind. She hid this behind a gust of laughter that took her on to the Roxy.

If she *had* known her own mind, she'd have married him without second thoughts and lived happily ever after *and* had loads of tousle-haired children looking like Ralph to give odd jobs to ... come Saturday Mornings.

Strangely unpredictable is the nature of Fate: but whatever its benevolence, it cannot possibly soak up the many mucks and messes that most humans get their lives into. Even God had a mop for spilled stars.

(Published 'Rattler's Tale' 1990)

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