When I was six

When I was six the teacher said: “We’re going to learn a poem today. It’s called Ding Dong Dell.”

I knew that poem. Surely everyone knew it. But I’d also heard a Revised Version, much better than the original. I think it was my elder brother who taught it to me.
I said: “I know that poem”

“Good boy, Howard. Please recite it for the class.”

So I did:  

“Ding Dong Dell

Pussy’s in the well.

‘How can you tell?’ 

‘Go and have a smell.’”

 

It was funny but Mrs Paulette did not smile: “Howard Jonathan Goldenberg. Leave the class. Go to the storeroom.”

 

I went to the storeroom, a narrow room lined with shelves stacked with classroom necessities. 

I stood there alone and listened to the silence. I felt a thumping, fast and hard, in my chest.

I knew perdition. I knew exile. I knew terror.

I stood in fear and misery. When would a captive be released from the storeroom? How would Mum know where to look for me when she came after school?

 

A sound at the storeroom door. I shook harder. The door opened and I stopped shaking. I knew the face, the freckles, the buck-toothed grin, the red, red hair. I knew my older brother Dennis.

“What are you doing here, Howard?”

I shook my head.

Dennis went to a shelf and selected a piece of red chalk, one of blue and a white one.

“What are you doing, Dennis?”

“Mr Frobisher sent me for chalk.”

Dennis opened some packets, discovered a treasury of pristine plasticine. Methodically he peeled off thick strips and pocketed them.

“Does Mister Frobisher want plasta too?”

“Nope. I do. You can have some. I’ll leave a bit for you.”

Dennis left.

I looked around and saw riches. I saw Aladdin’s cave. I saw opportunity.

I touched nothing. I stood and trembled at my own thoughts of wrongdoing.

 

A sound at the door. Mrs Paulette’s face and pony tail and round bosoms appeared in the narrow space. I saw what she must see, the open package of plasticine. I saw the signs of theft and I thought  – not of Dennis’ actions – but of my own wicked impulse.

 

Mrs Paulette said, “It’s recess, Howard. Go outside and play.”