The Reason (A Parkdale Tale)

by: Sebtomato | Complete Story | Last updated Nov 9, 2021


Chapter 2
Two

This story was commissioned by Fossil

 

T

he cakes are excellent. Sitting on the bed, eating a second slice of the pink and yellow sponge that Charlie remembers being called Battenberg, Charlie tells Miss Anderson about the tingling sensation in his hands and on his head.

He hadn’t meant to tell her. He hadn’t even meant to stay, but somehow, he’s still here. Eating cake on the bed while Miss Anderson sits on the chair across from him.

“Nothing wrong with a little tingling,” she says, as if a sensation like that is ordinary, or even healthy. “But tell me if you start feeling bouncy.”

“Bouncy?” Charlie laughs.

“Bouncy,” she says, gesturing with her hand. “Like a bunny.”

Charlie manages not to roll his eyes at the childish term. Of course, there’s plenty that’s childish about sitting on the bed of the nurse’s office, eating cake off a paper plate, and talking with a primary school headmistress. And yet Charlie isn’t uncomfortable. It seems almost appropriate, because doesn’t he need some nursing? Not for the tingling sensation, but for the trouble he’s been through.

“You should let her listen to your heart,” says Ruth coolly, her voice filling Charlie’s head for the first time since he entered the school. “Take a deep breath, in and out, all that. See if it’s broken.”

Charlie blushes. With embarrassment. With anger. He’s going to hear that girl’s voice in his head forever. He can walk as much as he likes, but he can’t get away.

“What is it?” Miss Anderson asks. She reaches to take away the empty plate, and Charlie sees with surprise that he’s eaten every piece of cake, left crumbs on his trousers.

“Nothing.”

“Oh, I saw your expression. It was definitely something.” She looks at him with sympathetic eyes. “Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind?”

Charlie shakes his head. “No. Thank you. I’m fine.” Because he doesn’t. He never does. He can’t.

“And yet, here you are, showing up at the entrance of my school, in my special town, a drowned rat. I don’t think you’re fine, I think you need help.” She nods. “Let me help you. I’m very good at helping people with their problems.”

Not a chance. That’s too much, that’s ten minutes past acceptable. Charlie stands up. “Thanks for the snack.” He glances outside. “The rain isn’t as bad now,” he lies. “I should get going.”

“Nonsense,” Miss Anderson replies, “it’s still cats and dogs out there.” She gets up, brushing at her skirt as if she’s the one covered in crumbs. “How’s your tingling, dear?”

Charlie looks down at his hands. “It’s gone. I’m fine.”

“That’s good.” She smiles. “And no bouncing?”

Charlie shakes his head. “Nope.”

“Good.” She winks at him. “Because if you were feeling bouncy, I might think you were one of my pupils.” She sits on the bed, patting the space beside her, and waits until Charlie has joined her. “If you were a bouncy little boy, if you were all silly, I’d have to dress you up in your school uniform, Charlie, make you look all smart. Certainly better than staying in those damp clothes.”

Charlie doesn’t pull away from the woman, but he isn’t a fan of being touched by strangers. “I think I’m a little big for a school uniform,” he replies. “Really, I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’ll get going.”

 “Clothes are funny. Hard to know what fits and what doesn’t, until you try it on. But you’re right, you’re a big boy.” She pats him again. “Even if you’re sitting on the bed with me, fully tummy from all those cakes.”

Full tummy. Yes, Charlie is full. He closes his eyes for a moment and notices that the bed isn’t as solid as he first thought. There’s a buoyancy in the mattress. There’s just the slightest bounce.

“Don’t you want to be out of those wet things, Charlie?” asks Miss Anderson. “Don’t you want to be cosy and warm?”

Charlie blinks. His legs remind him of how much walking he’s done, his feet have had enough. “Yeah, but…”

“I’m feeling very cosy, in my fluffy cardigan.” She laughs. “Feel how soft it is, Charlie.”

He looks at her. Is she seriously asking him to touch her?

As if to remove any ambiguity, she taps her arm. “Feel.”

Charlie sighs. This can’t get any stranger. And he touches the woman’s sleeve.

He nods. “That’s soft.” For a moment, he’s sure that the material will be the softest thing he’s ever touched, it will be something magical, astounding.

But it’s just a cardigan. Soft, but nothing special. He reaches for the towel, forgetting how it made him tingle earlier. “This is softer,” he says, running his fingers along the towel.

Miss Anderson raises her eyebrows. “Is that so?”

Charlie nods emphatically, smiling as the bed bounces in response. What a bouncy bed. He spreads out the towel until it looks like he has a white blanket over his legs.

“There,” says Miss Anderson. “Now you can be cosy.”

Charlie laughs. “Suppose so.”

“Even if those lovely school clothes don’t fit you,” she says smoothly, putting her arm around his shoulders. “You can still be lovely and cosy because you’ve got your fluffy towel.” She beams at him, and Charlie doesn’t have the heart to protest at the unsolicited physical contact.

In fact, despite the strangeness of this situation, Charlie is feeling better. He is feeling cosy. He’s feeling…bouncy.

“There’s that smile,” says Miss Anderson with evident satisfaction. “Full tummy, warm blankie. And on such a rainy day, I wouldn’t be surprised if you just lay down here and had a lovely nap.”

Charlie scoffs, “I don’t need a nap!” Because he’s not a baby, he’s not a little boy.

“Hmm,” the woman replies, stroking her chin thoughtfully. “I’m not so sure you know what you need, sweetheart.”

Charlie sits up straight. He had been slouching, he had been leaning against Miss Anderson. He stares at the woman. Does she want him to take a nap? Is that what this is all about?

His eyes widen. Is that why she’s been on at him to change his clothes?

“I have to go.” Charlie starts to get up, but his legs feel like rubber and he falls back down onto the bed.

“Hey…” He looks at the woman in panic. The bed is definitely bouncing, the room is undoubtedly starting to spin.

“It’s okay, Charlie,” Miss Anders says gently, putting her arm back around him. Funny, how easy it is for her to do that, as if his shoulders were slimmer.

Something falls to the floor. Charlie cranes his neck and sees that his shoes have fallen off.

“Oh, good idea, get those wet things off.” Miss Anderson cuddles him close. “Besides, I’ve got some lovely school shoes for you to wear, all clean and shiny. You’re going to look so smart.”

Charlie shakes his head but stops when he feels even more dizzy. “I don’t want…” His voice is lighter, he’s losing his substance.

“Don’t want to look smart?” Miss Anderson chuckles. “Of course you do. You’re going to be such a smart, handsome boy.” She squeezes his shoulder. “Now, why don’t you tell me how bouncy you’re feeling?”

Charlie stares at the woman. How did she know? “It’s not me,” he says, his voice whiney, “it’s the bed. It’s all stupid and bouncy.”

Miss Anderson laughs kindly. “It’s not the bed, silly. It’s you. As soon as I saw you, I knew that inside, you were a sweet, bouncy little boy. A little boy who needs cakes and cuddles.”

Charlie groans as he remembers the slices of Battenberg.  “You…you drugged me! You poisoned me with…with cake!” The revelation is both absurd and horrifying. What does she want with him?

The woman replies, “The cake was just cake, Charlie. But the towel, that’s special. That made you tingly and then it made you bouncy.”

Charlie gasps. It’s impossible. There’s no way this woman, this maniac, has created some kind of drugged material to leave strangers at her mercy. Then again, it’s the only thing that makes any sense. Charlie pushes the towel away, sure that in his weakening state that he won’t manage it, but with a high-pitched cry he knocks the towel onto the floor.

Miss Anderson pulls him to her. “A little late for that, sweetheart. “Drying your hands was one thing, but your face and hair? That leaves you wonderfully tingly and bouncy.”

Charlie feels himself weaken in the woman’s embrace. “Oh, God,” he whispers. He’s lost, he’s done for. He’ll end up being found years from now, dug up somewhere, or found by someone walking their dog.

“You don’t feel happy,” says the woman, “do you.” She holds him tight. “That’s because you were so sad when you got here.” She strokes his hair. “You won’t feel happy again until you let the sad out.”

Charlie’s nose wrinkles in confusion. “I don’t…huh?”

“Whatever it is inside you, you’ve kept it bottled up, like a terrible secret. But I can tell that you’re a sweet boy, that it wasn’t your fault. It’s time to tell me what hurt you. As soon as you do, you’ll feel all better again, I promise.”

Implausible. Impossible. Charlie squirms in the woman’s embrace but is also sure that he’s not going anywhere. His feet no longer touch the ground, and while he’s been getting the sense that the woman has been somehow growing, like a matronly Amazon of Greek mythology, Charlie understands now that he’s the one who’s changing. Shrinking. He would surely fit quite easily into the school uniform. He might even fit on Miss Anderson’s lap.

Miss Anderson doesn’t lift Charlie onto her knee. He’s not a toddler, after all, he’s not a baby. But she does lie him down and rest his head on her lap.

“Please…” he says weakly, “I just wanna-“

“Time to let it out,” says the woman. “Whatever it is, it’s been hurting you for a while. You can’t be your best self until you let it go.”

Charlie shakes his head. He whispers, “Too embarrassed.” And he blushes red to prove it. He imagines himself one of Miss Anderson’s pupils for real, here in the nurse’s office, having been taken ill, or even worse, having wet himself.

“You can tell me,” Miss Anderson says softly, and Charlie opens his eyes to see her smiling down at him.

Yes, she must have cajoled her boys and girls into spilling all kinds of silly secrets over the years. Because they trust her. Because they love her.

Charlie can imagine how that must feel. The room has stopped spinning, and the bed only retains the lightest bounce, and he is swamped in damp clothes that no longer fit him, his head on a woman’s lap, a woman he met only a few minutes before.

Miss Anderson holds Charlie’s face in her hands, surrounding him in the softness of her cardigan. He is like a baby wrapped in blanket, and for the first time in months, he feels safe and care for.

She will ask again. She will ask for his story.

Charlie closes his eyes, takes a deep breath that makes his reduced chest rise and fall, and says, “It’s Ruth.”

Miss Anderson strokes Charlie’s face and makes sympathetic noises.

“We’ve been together since school. All through university, and then moving in together. My family didn’t like her, didn’t like the way she treated me. Said she was selfish.” Charlie sighs. “But I loved her. I loved her, and I knew she took advantage of me. I loved her because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? You can’t just not love someone because they’re not perfect. Right?”

Miss Anderson doesn’t say anything. She is just there, holding Charlie, stroking his skin, letting him say things he hasn’t told anyone since the day his world fell apart.

“We stayed together, and I loved her more than she loved me, and who says this stuff has to be equal, I bet it hardly ever is. Ruth’s beautiful and clever, and I loved her for the good and the bad, and we got engaged. I remember the look on my parents faces when we told them. They looked sick. But they helped pay for the wedding, they…”

Charlie sighs. That’s already too much of the story, and he will fall apart with the telling of it, he will be so full of shame and poison that he will never recover.

Instead, he feels lighter. He gazes up at Miss Anderson.

“You’re doing so well,” she says gently. “Keep going.” Because she knows they haven’t reached the end. Of course they haven’t. “What happened, Charlie?”

He covers his face, but she pulls his hands gently away. “It’s okay,” she says. She pulls him up, onto her lap, his face against her chest.

Now, he might as well be a baby. His face warms, before he remembers that a baby doesn’t have any secrets. A baby doesn’t regret.

“What happened, sweetheart?” asks Miss Anderson.

Charlie exhales, warming his own face with his breath, nuzzling against the woman’s soft cardigan and her generous chest.

He exhales again, enjoying the sensation. Just a baby, a silly baby. The sensation is reinforced when Miss Anderson gently pats his bottom.

Charlie knows he’s not a baby. He has grown smaller, impossible but true. But he’s the size of a boy, not an infant. Still, the sensation of being cradled like this has let his mind open up, and it might almost be someone else’s story entirely, if he didn’t know it so keenly.

“Nothing happened,” he whispers. “Because we didn’t get married. Ruth…she got cold feet, she said. At first, she blamed the pandemic, but then the lockdown lifted and she still didn’t want to do it. She wanted something else, something more.” He sighs. “I wasn’t enough for her. Was never going to be enough.”

Miss Anderson gives Charlie’s bottom another pat. “And now you walk,” she says. “You walk and you walk, little lamb, and you haven’t found what you’re looking for, because you don’t know what it is. Am I right?”

Charlie nods. He even manages a kind of laugh. “Yeah.”

“Good boy,” says the woman. “Brave boy. You told your story.”

But now what? At some point soon, he has to get up. He can’t stay nestled in Miss Anderson’s lap forever. Can he?

“You’re not where you need to be yet,” says the woman. “But you’re getting closer, don’t you think? Closer than you’ve been in a long time?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Good boy.” Miss Anderson lifts up Charlie’s head and looks into his eyes. “Gonna let me help you get the rest of the way?”

Charlie nods. “Yes, please.” He doesn’t just want the woman’s help, he’s hungry for it. He’s ravenous.

First Charlie let’s Miss Anderson help him out of his oversized clothes. And then he lets her dress him, like a mother dressing a toddler. First the white briefs and grey knee socks, then the white polo shirt and grey shorts. Last comes the red sweatshirt and shiny black shoes.

Charlie sees the original sweatshirt on the bed and points to it. “What’s wrong with that one?”

“Oh, that’s for a boy in primary six,” Miss Anderson says brightly. “You’re more of a primary two kind of boy, which makes you extra handsome and extra sweet.”

Is that what it means? Charlie tries to unpick the idea while Miss Anderson fusses with the collar of his new shirt.

“’Two means littler…younger,” says Charlie. He can feel gaps in his teeth with his tongue. “Doesn’t it?” He looks up at Miss Anderson for confirmation. She seems to tower above him, but then she’s crouching, adjusting his socks so they’re the same length, and then she nods.

“It just means you’re sweet as can be.” She tousles his hair. “It means you’re perfect.” She beams at him. “What a handsome boy.”

Charlie looks down at himself. He smiles, still feeling a sense of bouncing, of his feet not quite touching the ground. He looks to the window, wondering if the rain has stopped.

Not even close. The sky is dark, and the water continues to drum against the glass.

“I know you want to go play,” says Miss Anderson sympathetically. “All the other boys and girls are away; you’d have the entire playground to yourself! But you’d better stay inside with me until it’s dry, hmm?”

Charlie nods. That makes sense. It’s safe inside, and Miss Anders can look after him. “What are we going to do?” He doesn’t want to suggest it himself, because he’s not a silly little baby, but he wouldn’t say no if Miss Anderson suggested more cuddling on the bed.

And then his eyes widen as another possibility takes shape. “Can I have more cake?”

Miss Anderson laughs. “You’re a bottomless pit!” She pats Charlie on the head. “We have work to do.”

The boy frowns. That doesn’t sound like much fun.

“It’ll be fun,” she says, as if reading Charlie’s mind. She leads him out of the nurse’s office, smiling when he doesn’t ask about his backpack, and says, “I’ve got to tidy up some of the classrooms, to make sure everything’s ready for when the other boys and girls come back to school next month.” She walks briskly down the corridor, and Charlie has to trot to keep up. “If you help me – and a big boy like you should be a very good helper – I might be able to find some more cake. Sound like a plan?”

Charlie nods. “Yes, Miss Anderson.” He looks through the glass doors as they pass through reception. “And when it stops raining, can I go play?”

The woman laughs. “I think that sounds just perfect, Charlie.”


To be continued...


Sebtomato publishes new AR fiction every month on Patreon

 


 

End Chapter 2

The Reason (A Parkdale Tale)

by: Sebtomato | Complete Story | Last updated Nov 9, 2021

Reviews/Comments

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Ouroboros · Nov 5, 2021

Very nice and sweet story so far. I think most of us could use a little regression therapy after the last couple of years.

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