James hated nail polish. The smell was like an invisible fist that divided in two, reached in through his nostrils, and simultaneously punched him in both hemispheres of the brain. Given the choice, he would rather sniff textas or wasabi, he often thought, at least wasabi had tang, but not nail polish. Never nail polish. And so, James did what he did every time his mother got the horrible stuff out in front of the television. He went outside. It had been raining for two straight days capping off an atrocious summer, and the ground squelched under his feet and the hems of his trousers were quickly saturated by the grass. Boredom. All he could think of was the news: the stabbings, the plastic-eating caterpillars, the never-ending rhetoric. His mother had had a horrible time keeping her hands steady in between manic outbursts of ‘That’s awful!’ and ‘Well, aren’t they clever!’ and ‘Those scumbags are at it again!’ But now as James breathed in the fresh air he felt whole again, cast free from that insane up and down merry-go-world. He thought about throwing a tennis ball against the wall of the garage, but then he remembered he had left his tennis balls out in the rain and they too were covered in globs of mud, only their bald yellow heads poking out in a neat row from the river now gushing along the length of the fence. Cricket balls? He couldn’t remember where he’d put them and he was half certain his mother had hidden them after one of them chipped the sandstone cornerstones of the house. It wasn’t like he’d broken a window!
He wandered down to the back corner of the garden, aimless, simply looking up so as to force himself not to care about his wet trousers, so he could tell his mother he hadn’t noticed when she’d inevitably tell him off, but besides that, so he could simply feel the drizzling rain upon his face. After a few more steps he stopped and cast his eyes down from the grey clouds to the top of the largest tree in the back corner of the garden. The last of the summer’s red delicious apples dangled from its branches over the wood shed. Each February James had to climb over the wood shed to pick the brightest red apples before they got pecked by the crows. But today, he wasn’t really feeling all that hungry. Down his eyes sank from the canopy down the trunk, to the bottom branches jutting out wide in the hopes of one day catching the sun.
On the closest branch James spotted something wriggling. Something green. He watched as a caterpillar heaved itself upside down along the length of the greenest twig, and reared its front half up seemingly staring at James with its huge orb eyes. James put out his finger and the little thing grappled on. James lifted it up to his eyes. ‘It’s gonna be up to you one day buddy,’ he said.
‘James! Dinner’s ready!’ the caterpillar squeaked back. ‘James? Are you listening? Dinner’s ready. Come in now.’
‘Wowee,’ said James. A talking caterpillar. Meanwhile his mum stood at the back door still waiting for a reply. She looked down to her eldest daughter by her side who looked back up at her, one eyebrow raised.
‘I swear, he’s autistic,’ said the mother.
‘Sniffing nail polish,’ replied the daughter.
‘And take those bloody trousers off!’
It was time to go in.
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