Strawberry Flavoured Pop Tarts

One day Barry was behind the garden shed again, the same as every day this week. He was absorbed in hitting the bottom of the glass ketchup bottle with first one hand then swapping hands and hitting it with the other in an effort to get the last of the stubborn ketchup out onto the floor when his four year old little sister walked around to the back of the shed. Barry had seen her out of the corner of his eye and Sarah saw Barry’s face become oddly frozen and he kept himself half turned away. Sarah saw the ketchup bottle and the dull and the shiny blobs of red ketchup. She also saw some snails around him on the uneven concrete floor and a few spider webs in the spiky bush. But she pretended she had seen nothing even though she did not look away, and started stroking her stuffed dolls head. And speaking in a small voice

“Mummy says she wants to talk to you.” Mummy would be in the front room with the cat as usual waiting for them to shout “READY” when they were ready. She said she did this because “You are crazy monkeys” – A lot of mornings the brother and sister spent ages chasing each other round hiding socks and screeching. Mummy had already made their packed lunches and everything else so she had a rest for about ten minutes at this time, around 8 : 30 AM.
Barry knew though, that sometimes she would get up and load the washing machine or something like that, her pale, thin face appearing through the kitchen window as he sneaked across the garden … but she would not tell Daddy would she? Maybe she would have to because of a grown up reason. It had not happened yet though since he started doing what he did and had just been interrupted doing.

“NO, DON’T STAND THERE!” Barry whisper/shouted and as he knew that she must have seen enough to know. He stood up then bent back down and snatched up the ketchup bottle from the shadowed floor behind their wooden shed.
He was staring at his little sister and pointing at the floor with the bottle in his tensed up arm, he was upset but her expression did not change, her hand stroked the dolls head. The bottle relaxed but Barry’s confusion continued all the way to school.
He had left his packed lunch on the car seat and at about 11 : 30 his Mum walked into class and handed it to him right in front of his entire class. Some girls giggled and went red faced while the eyes of other eleven and twelve year old boys at his table widened and their mouths formed a mock frown, which was the thing to do ever since the Danny Devito film last night. One of them even added a sly hand movement across his face to show how much he disapproved.
But Barry just hoped his little sister would not tell Daddy. He felt oblivious to the pointing as his Mummy went out of sight because he knew his little sister had those colouring books hidden away which she loved. And anyway, he shook his head, there was no way she knowingly or maliciously would tell, he was sure.
He felt bad for shouting at her, and hoped that this was not because her needed her not to do something absent minded. He smiled because he knew it was mostly not.

That night Barry could hear his little sister dancing around in her room upstairs as he was watching 15 – 1. Mummy and Daddy were in the kitchen arguing about the wet “slimy” floor that Daddy had nearly fallen on. They were very loud and then a plate smashed and this was what made the cat run outside thought Barry. But Barry did not run outside like the cat, instead he dropped onto the floor and picked up his little sisters doll which she had left down here and made sure it was ok.
A few seconds later he got up. He left the TV on and because it was dark now outside and the light was not on he could follow the flashing purplish reflections that the TV shone out all over the floor all the way to the doorway out into the hall where he jumped twice on the brown carpet and landed on the bottom stair. Feeling glad that Mummy was now crying in the kitchen and the back door had just slammed he went up watching out for the spider he had seen yesterday.
His little sister was in her room and Barry was standing outside it with her doll still in his right hand. She had hung her do not disturb cardboard thing on her door handle.
She had made that about a month ago, Mummy had shown it to Daddy saying “LOOK, what Sarah made at school, look at the shiny paint!” but Daddy did not look because he was too busy scraping the sides and the bottoms of his big black boots. Sarah had run upstairs still in her school shoes. Barry had followed her up the stairs making as little sound as possible, going two steps at a time.
It was a VERY shiny do not disturb sign, though Barry as he tried to decide what to do next. There was no tiny bit of blu tac on the bottom right of the door, which meant Barry could go in.
He knocked once very lightly and opened the door. Sarah had stopped dancing but her music was still on and her dancing lights were still lighting up the ceiling with red, blue and yellow. Sarah looked up from her colouring book, covering it with the bottom of her T-shirt with a scared, but then relieved look on her face. Barry stood silent and stone faced for a moment, then slowly went over and placed the doll on her bed but Sarah did not look at it. She looked worried now because Barry usually came running in screaming and firing his toy gun or doing rolls on the carpet (or both), all this slow thoughtful movement seemed strange to Sarah, or maybe another day it wouldn’t. This morning though she had seen Barry behind the shed with the ketchup.

“Do you know what I was doing this morning?” Barry reached over and straightened her pencil crayons as best he could on the sheet of Sarah’s bed and waited calmly for a reply, not knowing what to expect.

“Feeding the snails, I fed the snails too !” Barry’s hand froze as he heard this but then he looked down at the page of her A4 sized colouring book open in front of her “Look, I fed them grass.” Sure enough, the smiling snail was expertly coloured in and had a clump of grass across it’s mouth which Sarah had added herself.

“I think she looks like she likes that grass,” said Barry feeling happy.

“I know she does,” Sarah’s tone matter of fact, now she looked down at a stain on her leggings and added “Can I help you feed the real ones? Do they LIKE ketchup?”

“I think they like ketchup, what do you think we should give them?” Sarah’s face beamed up and she jumped off the bed and started dancing around the floor.

Later the both walked out of her room going “Shhhhhh” to each other and snickering. Mummy had called them down for tea and Daddy was back from wherever he had gone. He was sitting in his place reading the football section of the paper looking in a good mood. The two children sat down carefully.
Mummy brought the plates in and Daddy folded the paper dramatically and dropped it on the floor proclaiming

“This looks fucking filling eh Barry?” his gaze was stunning but Barry hurriedly replied

“I don’t know” then “Is there pudding mum?” watching her sit down. Daddy’s face went back to his plate, not pleased.

“There is some of that cake if you eat all that,” Mummy said weakly.
The room was silent then except for the unavoidable sounds of pouring orange juice and creaking chair legs etc. Then Daddy snatched up the remote control flicked through all the channels then slammed it back down on the table making Sarah blink as she sat with one hand covered in food the other in her mouth. Daddy looked at her and Barry, Sarah and Mummy thought he was about to give her a lesson about using knives and forks. But instead, just as Sarah looked down at her clean metal cutlery, he said

“I killed four hundred and eighty three snails today,” he had his elbows on the table and his fingers locked, he was smiling at Sarah, then at Mommy then at Barry. All three were almost relieved it had not been delayed and delayed like some days.
Daddy hated snails. He went out every morning, these days, at seven AM and killed as many snails as he could for a few hours. Always getting in before the children got back from school he would be in his comfy chair his black boots near the back door. “I have killed more today than any other day this week.” When the children were babies Daddy would show them pictures of mutilated snails smeared on pieces of glass taken in other countries with him stood proudly next to his work. He would burn and kill snails in front of them explaining his opinions. He would take them out and grip their shoulders as he told them to crush the snails he had laid out for them. He would grip their shoulders when he asked them what they thought of snails.
Every day he would lecture the family, as he was beginning now, about snails and how they should all be killed. This could go on for hours some days. It virtually never ended with a smiling family.
“Have YOU killed any snails today dearest?”

“No dear, I haven’t seen any,” replied mummy, her head low and her voice almost un-hear able.

“Well I’ve told you to FUCKING LOOK,” Daddy lurched up the pepper grinder in his hand, the table skidded sideways a bit as it was nearly lifted by his huge thigh. Sarah and Mummy put their hands to their ears and started screaming, Barry gripped the table.

That night Sarah sneaked into Barry’s room and woke him up. They made plans for the morning.

Daddy was already gone as usual and Mummy was watching Sarah hardly eat her cereal.

“Are you alright?” she said with white knuckles. Sarah looked at Barry who stopped chewing his toast and both wished they hadn’t.

“Yes Mummy,” she replied with her eyebrows raised.

Mummy had left the lounge door slightly open which Barry did not like, but Sarah was being very helpful putting the ketchup and the Pop Tarts (which were her idea) into a red bucket.
Barry poked his head round the lounge door and noticed Mum kneeling on the sofa near the window looking at the sky twirling her green scarf, the cat nowhere in sight. He stopped but then said

“Anything you need me to do?” mummy shook her head once

“Just make sure you both clean your teeth.” Barry glanced at the clock, it was 8 : 35, on his way out. He went into the kitchen where Sarah was waiting near the back door with the bucket hidden behind the curtain, on the floor. They said nothing then went outside.

Sarah carried the bucket and followed Barry who felt confident and protective. His sister watched him and made sure she was near, the bucket bounced innocently off her leg a couple of times as she walked.
They knelt down very carefully behind the shed where around twenty snails were sliding around on the floor, on bricks, on the shed etc. Sarah stroked one of them on it’s shell with her index finger and Barry watched, pleased that she was not being rough, the snail carried on slowly.
Barry got the ketchup out of the bucket and poured some where he had done yesterday. Yesterdays ketchup was mostly gone and there were four snails heading towards it he thought.
Sarah got her two Pop Tarts out of her bucket and bit one making sure she bit far enough to taste the flavoured part.

“Oh no! I got the wrong flavour,” she made to get up, her eyes were startled

“I’ll go, it was strawberry you wanted wasn’t it?” he said quickly without anger. Sarah nodded, down then up her eyes fixed on Barry’s and relaxed again. She started stroking the snail again, Barry noticed as he stepped over a half full bag of cement and went toward the house.
He found the Pop Tarts straight away and went back out the back door closing it behind him just as the back gate opened at the other end of the garden near the shed. Daddy stepped into the garden. Barry could not see Sarah, she was behind the shed.
Daddy looked at Barry first standing paralysed against the glass, the Pop Tarts on the floor. For a second Daddy looked pleased and proud to see his son standing there. A second later Daddy saw the back of Sarah who was watching the snails, humming a random tune. She pushed a clump of dried up ketchup towards an approaching snail and stroked it once.

“What the FUCK,” Daddy seemed to fly through the air with his right big black boot at waist height, disappearing out of view behind the shed. Barry screamed NO and sprinted down the garden.
He could hear swearing, crunching and thumping sounds but no Sarah as he ran in slow motion across the grass.
Daddy stepped out from behind the shed, his boots were wet, his trousers were red. His face was wide and clenched with blood all over it, his shirt and spread arms were red too. Barry’s feet went out forwards from under him and he tried to crawl towards Sarah using arms that had no strength but Daddy’s boot was already on its way down towards his neck moving very fast.

THE END

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