By Alan Green
This is all wrong. I shouldn’t have left late for school. I shouldn’t have stopped to help Miss Kent with her shopping. I shouldn’t have paused to stroke that white cat. I shouldn’t have taken a birthday balloon for Amy. The dog shouldn’t have barked at me. I shouldn’t have let go of the balloon. I shouldn’t have tried to catch it. I shouldn’t have jumped into the road. The car shouldn’t have skidded. The lady shouldn’t be yelling at me. The old man shouldn’t be laughing at me. I want to start today again.
I closed my eyes tight and wished as hard as I could but when I opened them my day was still going badly. It was hard to tell what the lady was actually saying. Her raspy voice was choked with anger and she only used half her mouth. The other corner of her lips was clamped tight on a well-smoked ciggerette. Her fruit juice orange skin clashed horribly with her lime jacket and highlighted her scruffy mane of bleached hair. She gestured wildly at a dent in her car. I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain that I was trying to catch a balloon. A different angry driver might have softened if I explained that I’d promised to give the balloon to the girl I love but I didn’t even think about trying to tell her about Amy.
The old man’s laughter was a constant background noise. I’d almost forgotten it was there when it suddenly stopped. He pulled himself up to his strangely short full height and addressed me very formally.
“Young man, you are right to regret your lack of punctuality and the importance of not jumping in front of cars is quite definitely a lesson that one should have learnt by your age. That said however you are wrong to regret acts of kindness. Helping Miss Kent with her shoppping was a wise and friendly move. Cats often appreciate a stroke more than they let on. As for the balloon when you are closer to my age you will know that people mostly regret the gestures of love that they don’t make. Here have your balloon back.”
The balloon floated right into my hand. The old man smiled at me and bowed. My day was starting to get better but I still wished I could start again. The lady was still yelling at me. I was now very late for school and worse Amy would think I hadn’t made it in on her birthday. Let’s start again.
A dog barked, the lady shrieked, the balloon seemed to grow until it filled the moment. Then the moment was gone and my day began again.
I was eating breakfast and the morning I remembered hadn’t happened yet. Perhaps I should have been scared or at least surprised but I found myself accepting it very calmly. I wolfed down my toast and rushed to the door. I wasn’t going to be late this time.
I was halfway to the end of the road when I remembered Miss Kent. You should never regret good deeds. I’m not a fool. I could see that making the wrong choices the second time around was likely to lead to a story with a smug moral and an unhappy ending for me. I ran back to her house and waited outside. Miss Kent is one of those women who seem to be a surrogate aunt for any children that come anywhere near them. She was old enough to need help with her shopping and to have no truck with modern nonsense like first names but she was quick on her feet when she wanted to be. As soon as her car pulled up I opened her door for her and offered to help her carry her shopping. I needed to move fast.
The shopping was inside in no time. I ran down the street leaving behind a pleased but probably slightly startled Miss Kent. I stopped running just before the garden with the dog. I walked past it slowly to avoid startling the beast. I was glad I did. It looked much bigger and wilder than I remembered. It looked like a wolf fresh from some wild moonlit plain, fresh from the hunt.
I looked both ways very carefully before crossing the road. I made it without any screeching of rubber or honking of horns but once I was safely across I realised that the car was parked next to me. The lady leaned out of the window and yelled something obscene at me. I really didn’t know what I had done to annoy her this time. Her eyes were blood red and something slithered out of her mouth. The old man was leaning against the car. He raised his hat to me and said four terrible words. “Haven’t you forgotten something?”
The Balloon! I hadn’t picked up the balloon. This was even worse than yesterday. I couldn’t go to school without it. I run back home with the old man’s laughter echoing in my ears. I grabbed the balloon and wished for one more go.
A wolf howled, the lady screamed, the balloon grew until it filled the moment. Then the moment was gone and I was back at my breakfast table.
This had to be my last go. I picked up everything I might possibly need for school, including the balloon. I walked over to Miss Kent’s and waited for her to pull up. I calmly but efficently helped her with her shopping.
This time I sped up when I got to the garden with the dog. I had nearly made it past when I heard panting behind me and felt hot breath on my neck. I slowly turned to face it. The second morning’s dog had been a wolf from some ancestral memory of the wild, this was a wolf straight from nightmare or bloodsoaked myth. I looked around for something to use as a weapon but I was too scared to make any sudden movements. I was sure that this creature would rip me into tiny pieces if I stopped meeting its gaze.
Suddenly the white cat jumped into the wolf’s garden. The beast turned to face it. Relief for myself and terror for the poor cat fought their way through my mind. There was a flurry of fur and noise and blood and then the wolf lay bleeding on the grass. Miss Kent lay next to it, her white hair stark against the darkness of the beast. She was struggling. Each breath sounded weak and potentially final. I wasn’t sure how she had saved my life but she clearly had. I couldn’t let her die.
I looked at my balloon and thought of Amy. Would I ever have a chance to give it to her? Perhaps not. I closed my eyes and wished. Let’s start again.
Something ancient howled in agony, the lady roared, the balloon grew until it filled the moment. Then the moment was gone. I started again.