“secret identities”

Ash Caldwell wakes at 7.13am, though he can’t see the time. All he knows is it’s still dark outside and the house is silent, meaning Mum won’t be up yet.

He wriggles to the edge of his new, bigger bed that he’s not used to. His legs dangle over the side. His toes are still an inch from the floor. He’ll grow into it soon, Grandad says. He’s a growing boy, he says. He takes a deep breath and pushes himself forward… a perfect dismount, a sigh of relief.

He pulls a torch from under his pillow to light the untidy path between the bed and his wardrobe. Having navigated all the clothing and toy obstacles, he starts the transformation.

It’s Saturday, but Ash puts on his school uniform. From the blazer pocket he pulls the name tag he made during free time on Friday afternoon: a rectangle of cardboard and a safety pin that Rob, the teaching assistant, helped him with. ‘Hello my name is Ash’ is written in his most careful, joined up lettering. He attaches the name tag so it obscures the school logo.

Ash pulls his bedroom door handle down slowly so there’s no click to echo down the hallway and wake mum up. He treads towards the bathroom, walking on certain floorboards and avoiding others so there are no creaks. He brushes his teeth at the rate of five strokes a minute with his mouth closed firmly around the toothbrush so he makes as little noise as possible. He doesn’t even switch the light on in case the fan is too noisy.

Downstairs, nerves paralyse him. The torch barely cuts through the darkness and silence and emptiness in the house so early in the morning. There’s someone hiding in the shadows, he thinks. Someone broke in during the night and is waiting patiently for him to let his guard down so they can snatch him. Ash remembers the time he was a secret Olympic sprinter, when the bigger boys on bikes outside the corner shop made him feel small and scared. Or when he was a secret MMA fighter when Mum felt small and scared. He could outrun a snatcher, he could defend the house if he needed to. Ash takes a deep breath. He flails his torch-holding hand quickly to cast as much of its light over downstairs as possible. Nothing. No snatchers. Phew.

In the kitchen, Ash, standing on a footstool so he can reach the sides, tries and fails several times to make a flower out of kitchen roll. Frustration rises in his chest and arms and cheeks. He feels it burning behind his eyes. He wants to pound his fists on the kitchen counter, he wants to slam the cupboard doors, kick the stupid footstool across the room, but that would be too noisy. Instead he paces up and down, counts 10 deep breaths like his counsellor said to. He lies down on the cool tiled floor, closes his eyes and keeps breathing.

On Thursday Ash had been a secret spy. He and Mum went to the supermarket after school and she got a phone call. The look on her face told Ash it wasn’t a good call. She told him to go pick out a magazine and meet her at the tills. He nodded and disappeared from view, but he trailed her around the aisles, listening to her side of the conversation. When she reached the tills he bounded up to her, claiming his favourite magazine wasn’t there. She was distracted all the way home. He got to eat pizza for dinner and watch an hour more of telly than usual. He hovered at the top of the stairs when he should have been asleep. He heard Mum continue the conversation from earlier, but she was more upset this time.

Ash has calmed down, but he’s not relaxed. It’s getting lighter and time is running out. Mum’s alarm will go off for work soon and Grandad will come to collect him. He sets to work on breakfast. He takes another stab at the flower while the bread’s in the toaster. He pops it in an empty pint glass and places it on a tray, along with the slightly burnt toast that’s too hot to take out of the toaster and put spread on that he nearly drops it, and a mug of milk. It looks disappointing compared to the elaborate cooked breakfast he had in his head, but this is all he’s allowed to do in the kitchen. He slides a folded piece of paper between the mug and glass. Inside it reads ‘I hope you have a good day I love you’, again, in his neatest joined up handwriting.

Back upstairs, Mum’s breakfast waits outside her bedroom door while Ash takes a last-minute decision to tidy his room. He takes the name tag off his blazer, transforming him from hotel manager back to school boy. He puts the torch back under his pillow, his school uniform away, and gets back into his pyjamas. As he approaches his bed, Mum’s alarm go off in the next room. Ash springs onto the mattress and pulls the covers up. He tries a few poses until he finds one that feels least like pretend sleeping. He hears Mum’s bedroom door click open and his eyes snap shut. He hears her laugh in surprise, then start to cry. He hears her walk towards his door.

Tomorrow Ash will be a secret police officer. He’ll tell his Mum to stay inside while he goes out the front to apologise to Dad for hitting him and explain why he’s not allowed in the house anymore. He’s seen it a lot on the reality police programmes on telly. He’s been practicing in the mirror. He made a police badge in free time on Friday.


Thanks for reading! Reply with a prompt for next week’s and I’l turn it into a script or a poem or a doodle or a clunky personal piece but whatever it is you can bet I’ll leave it until Tuesday night.

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