Alex's stories · August · waiting

The Waiting Game

By Alex Townley

 

HE waits.

He’s about to enter a whole new world, but he knows what’s going to happen all the same. He can see the future coming over the proverbial horizon.

He watches the sunlight gleaming in the boy’s eyes, the sheen of them as eagerness takes Alexover from his last distraction, and he knows it’s only a matter of time until he gets what he wants.

On the whole he’s very patient. A lot of his job description involves waiting, delaying the next enjoyment, the next bit of fun, and he’s good at it. They tell him that all the time. He knows the true meaning of the word ‘wait’ when someone says it to you with more than one syllable.

And things which used to earn him a reprimand seem to be becoming less important since the arrival of the boy. As long as he’s kind, as long as he doesn’t hurt the boy, which he has no intention of doing anyway, then he can eat what he wants, when he wants, and now this, this shining opportunity presenting itself. It’s been a long wait, because generally people are very careful indeed, but the boy is a different matter.

Today is going to be the day.

The sun is high in the sky, and he’s hot, but he can take it. There’s water and he wants to run over to it, dive in, feel that delicious cool comfort, but he just has to be patient and things will go his way soon enough.

 

The boy looks up at his parents and the approaching ice-cream cone, his stubby fingers reaching out for it even though he doesn’t know what it is, they’re excited so he’s excited. He’s been sat carefully down on the grass for this, it must be important.

His mother holds the cone steady, smiling at him, the same gleam in her eyes that the dog saw in his. His father hangs back, half ready to say ‘I told you so’.

“Are you sitting up properly Joey?”

He nods, because saying no would inevitably lead to the exciting things going away. Yes and no are still powerful at this point. A well-timed no could halt proceedings, stop them all from leaving the house, end breakfast, make someone else tie his shoes, but a well-timed yes, usually said for convenience, he is starting to learn, could bring about wonders such as this.

He reaches his starfish hands out, fingers splayed, and takes the cone, watching his mother’s face.

“Look at the ice-cream Joey, watch it doesn’t fall.”

“Yes.” He nods watching his mother’s face for cues that he’s doing it right.

“Not me Joey, watch the ice-cream, It’s tricky to hold. Try licking it, it’s starting to drip.”

He reaches out his tongue watching the drip now, trying to turn the cone so the drip is closest to his mouth.

 

The dog holds his breath, biding his time, not yet, not quite yet, this is something, but there is about to be so much more if he can just hold on.

 

The cone tilts as the boy leans in and catches the stray drip. The creamy ball of sweetness on top tilts with it, sugary syrup keeping it glued to the cone, but it reaches a point of no return eventually and tilts slightly.

 

The father reaches in and corrects it, quickly adding “I told you” while he can.

 

The dog tries to stop himself from emitting a pitiful whine and manages it, just.

 

The boy is oblivious to all of it, but he has a taste now for the ice-cream. He’s excited.

 

He’s also excited by a pigeon.

“Birdie. Birdie.”

He points wildly, one hand stretched out into the heat of the day, the other clutching the ice-cream cone, but his eyes are on the pigeon, which is watching him back, ready to take flight, and the cone tilts precariously.

 

The father is busy saying “It’s only a pigeon Joe.” His world is full of ‘only’s.

 

The cone tilts,  fat drips fall to the ground. The dog watches, entering his end game.

 

And slowly, like a teetering boulder, like the beginning of Indiana Jones, the ice-cream tips over the edge of the cone, and falls…

 

…in slow motion…

…down…

…down…

…down…

 

Until it lands, cushioned by summer grass, and is immediately licked up from the ground in one mouthful.

 

The dog looks around. He has brain freeze, delicious brain freeze, and he’s ready to make a break for it to the nearby lake if trouble looks likely. Life is good.

 

“All gone.”

The boy has transferred his attention back to his cone, which now sits empty in his hand like an extinguished Olympic torch.

 

“Oh Joey.’

His mother reaches in, ready with a damp cloth and a sympathetic smile, which makes him realise this is sad, a sad moment, and so he begins to cry.

 

The father steps in “It’s only an ice cream Joe, don’t worry, eat the cone.”

 

The dog watches the drama, still enjoying the sweet coldness in his mouth, still waiting for the inevitable reprimand.

 

“And Samson tidied it up for us look. Good boy.”

The mother strokes his head, and he wonders if he’d be pushing his luck if he went for a quick swim after all.

© Alex Townley 2016

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