The following is a shortie I wrote back in 1999.
‘Gemma, we’re going now. You be a good girl for Grampy, won’t you?’
Mrs Haines bent down and pecked a lipstick kiss onto her eight-year old daughter’s cheek. The smell of her perfume enveloped them both like an invisible scented cloud.
‘Don’t go out tonight, Mummy.’ Gemma begged, ’Pleeeeease.’
Gemma hated it when Mummy and Daddy went out for the evening and left her with Grampy. She didn’t like Grampy: he was old and scary and smelt of wee. She threw her arms around her mother’s legs to stop her going.
‘Now come on, darling, don’t be silly.’ Mrs Haines chided gently. She prised Gemma’s hands loose carefully so that the child’s nails didn’t ladder her stockings. Gemma burst into tears.
‘But if you go, Gary will come and set our house on fire.’ she whined.
‘What?’ Gemma’s mother was surprised. Gemma always played up when she and Richard were going out for the night, but then usually went and cuddled Big Ted and cried herself to sleep. This was a new tactic.
‘Gary said he’s going to set our house on fire.’ Gemma repeated.
‘Gemma, who’s Gary?’ Mrs Haines knelt down so that she could be face to face with her daughter.
‘A boy.’ Gemma mumbled.
Gemma shrugged. Gary was just Gary, she didn’t know what school he went to. Mrs Haines gently held her daughter’s shoulders.
‘Answer me, Gemma. Is Gary from your school?’
‘I don’t know.’ the little girl answered in a small voice.
‘What’s his second name?’
‘I don’t know.’ she repeated.
This is serious, thought Mrs Haines. She would have to phone the school tomorrow.
‘Well, don’t worry, darling.’ she said in a reassuring voice, ‘I’ll talk to your teacher tomorrow and we’ll find this naughty boy, OK?’ Mrs Haines gave her daughter a hug and another kiss, and stood up to go.
‘Remember,’ she said, ‘Grampy’s here so nobody’s going to do anything to hurt you. Now say bye-bye to Daddy.’
Mr Haines had just come down the stairs and was standing by the front door, jingling the car keys.
‘Ready?’ he asked brightly.
‘Yes, let’s get going.’ his wife replied, preceding him out the front door. ‘You’ll never guess what Gemma just said to me.’
‘Tell me in the car.’ he said, ‘We’re late as it is’
Mummy hadn’t believed her. Gemma knew she wouldn’t. She had gone out with Daddy anyway just like she always did, and now she was all alone with Grampy with his wee smell and his cold hard hands.
The next day, Gemma’s teacher, Miss Bean, took her to one side.
‘Gemma,’ she said, ‘your Mummy’s just phoned and told me that you said a boy called Gary threatened to set your house on fire. Is this true?’
‘Yes, Miss Bean.’
‘Which Gary was it. Was it Gary Powell?’
Gemma shook her head.
‘Well, that’s all the Garys in the school, are you sure it was one of them?’
‘Would you recognise him if you saw him?’
Gemma shrugged again.
‘Gemma,’ Miss Bean said in her Serious voice. ‘You’re not making this up are you?’
‘No, Miss.’ Gemma replied.
‘Alright. Go and sit back down.’ Gemma did as she was told.
Miss Bean sighed as she watched the little girl return to her seat. The child was probably lying – she was certainly being evasive. Perhaps she was just looking for a bit of attention. It was a shame: she was such a bright child and a hard worker too.
Miss Bean decided she would phone the child’s mother and reassure her, encourage her to maybe lavish a little extra affection on the child for a few days, that should sort it out.
Gemma sat in her seat. Miss Bean was nice, but she couldn’t tell her about Gary. Gemma toyed with the idea of telling Miss Bean that it had been Gary Summers after all, who had made the threat, but she was an honest child at heart and didn’t want to get the boy into trouble for nothing. Perhaps Mummy and Daddy would stay at home tonight and she wouldn’t have to talk about Gary any more.
‘OK, Gemma, we’re going. Have you got a kiss for Mummy?’ Mrs Haines bent down and pecked a lipstick kiss Gemma’s on cheek, just like last night.
‘But Mummy,’ Gemma protested. ‘Gary’s coming!’
‘Now Gemma,’ said Mrs Haines firmly, ‘Miss Bean told me you made that story up.’ Miss Bean had not actually said that, but Mrs Haines was impatient to get away and could not think of a better way of putting it.
‘But it’s true!’ insisted Gemma, tears springing to her eyes.
‘Now settle down, or Mummy will get very cross.’ Mrs Haines said firmly. ‘Say bye-bye.’
Gemma said the hated words and watched her mother close the door.
A few moments later, she heard the car start up and drive away, carrying off the two people in the world that she wanted to have close by, that could keep her safe. Why wouldn’t they stay with her?
Not long after, Gemma noticed that Grampy had fallen asleep in the chair She tiptoed over to the little side table next to him.
She picked up the box of matches that Grampy used to light his smelly old pipe. She opened it, took out a match and struck it.
Gary’s coming, she whispered to herself, letting the burning match drop from her fingers.