Alistair Wilkinson Author
Alistair Wilkinson Author

Just Burn: a tale from the school run

'Dad?' said the middle child in his morning voice. His morning voice is pretty much the same as his normal voice, it just tends to be a little more serious because he's not quite fully fit yet. This morning, however, it was serious and awake.

                'Yes?' the dad replied.

                'I'm a mind reader.'

                'Really? What am I thinking?'

                Middle child screwed up his face in concentration. 'Mmm... sausages and bacon?'

                A fair guess for the middle child, who had been eyeing the dad's rounded tummy. The dad laughed dutifully before replying: 'Of course, the standard answer should be, 'Not much!'' The dad laughed at his own joke.

                Middle child looked up at his dad. Seriously. 'What do you mean?'

                'It's a joke,' said the dad. 'Like saying that there's not much going on in someone's head.'

                Smallest child paused and looked up at the dad again, his eyes squinting in the sun.

                'I don't get it,' said middle child.

                'You tell someone that you can read minds, right?' Middle child nodded. 'And then when they ask what they're thinking, you tell them, 'Not much!''

                'Why?'

                'It's a joke.'

                'Why?'

                'Because it's funny.'

                'Why?'

                The dad waved one hand in the air uncertainly and started walking again. He moved as quickly as he could while holding smallest child's hand so as to get away from the question; the only answer he had was, Because it is, and he knew that this would get him another Why? from middle child. And the yougest child was looking like he was ready to join in. A stereo Why? was not the soundtrack for any time of the day, let alone the morning school run. 'It's a bit like teasing,' he said. 'Friendly teasing amongst friends.'

                Middle child looked thoughtful and then turned on the dad. 'Teasing is mean. You're mean. You're not supposed to be mean. You're my dad.'

                'I wasn't teasing you. I was saying you should have said that there wasn't much in my head.'

                'Then you were teasing yourself, which means that you were mean to yourself and you were trying to get me to be mean to you, which means that you're mean and you want me to be mean.'

                'Erm...'

                'You're mean,' the middle child repeated.

                The yougest laughed at the dad.

                'I can't trust you anymore,' said the middle child to the dad.

                'Of course you can.'

                Middle child shook his head firmly. 'Nope. No trust. Not for you. If I was in a fire I wouldn't let you save me. I'd just burn.'

                'I'd get you out,' said the dad.

                'No. I wouldn't let you. I'd just burn,'

                'I'd grab you and go.'

                'But you can't be trusted, so you'd drop me and I'd burn anyway except that I'd have a bumped head from being dropped, so my head would hurt and I'd be burned to death, so I may as well just burn.'

                The dad walked in silence for a while. Middle child was clearly still thinking about his imminent fiery death. Youngest was skipping while holding the dad's arm, making the dad's tennis elbow hurt but he never considered telling him to stop.

                'Can't trust my own dad,' said the middle child, shaking his head in disappointment. 'It's easier to just burn.'

                They turned the final corner and the middle child trotted ahead and disappeared into the playground.  

                The dad looked down to the youngest who looked back up at him, shrugged, slipped his hand free and jogged to join to his brother.

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