I listened, unseen, at the front room door. The Crossroads theme was followed by Benny’s familiar burble. It was well-established that Mum was not to be disturbed during her one break all day. This was the perfect cover to sneak a slice of ginger cake.
I could practically smell that slice of sweet, spicy heaven as I tiptoed down the carpeted hall. My little fingers closed over the kitchen door handle and my mouth watered as I imagined biting into a piece spread with butter. Cocking my head, I listened. I had a while before the adverts. I turned the handle…
…revealing my three year old brother, Stephen, standing on a chair, frozen in the act of carving his own slice. Our eyes locked.
“You’re not allowed,” I protested, taking the moral high ground.
“Shh, Mum’s in the front room.”
I didn’t take his invitation to co-conspiracy. I wanted the ginger cake all to myself.
“Give me the knife.”
Stephen pulled it out of the cake and away from me, causing a corner to crumble.
Outraged, I grabbed Stephen’s hands, forcing them apart and claiming the bread knife.
“You’re not supposed to be touching this. Get out and I won’t tell Mum,” I said, stealing a glance at the juicy goodness.
Stephen lunged forward, grabbing the serrated blade with both hands and yanking hard. I felt every tremor at my end as his hand thundered over each wicked tooth, like a train rumbling over tracks. Beyond astonished, I gazed in panic at my brother, then the handle, still in my grip.
Stephen held out his palms in shock. Before our eyes, a jagged line appeared across one palm and filled with blood. The blood, flowing like lava, overspilled angrily and oozed toward the edge of his hand. There it pooled for an instant, the air pregnant with silent horror. Then the first thick drop descended to the lino, and exploded.
Stephen screamed. In five short years, I’d never felt so sorry.
I found myself running down the corridor to Mum. At the door, I hesitated for a heartbeat- I was going to be in so much trouble. Stephen’s cries urged me on. I pushed the door open a crack and called, “Mum, Stephen’s bleeding.”
“Go away, I’m watching my programme.”
My stomach was in knots. I looked back down the corridor, where Stephen crouched, sobbing, on the lino. What if he died and it was my fault? The door towered above me like a totem of doom. I had to make Mum understand.
“It’s not my fault, but Stephen got cut by the sharp knife. He’s bleeding really a lot.”
And then Mum was sweeping past me to Stephen. I watched down the corridor, afraid to go back in, until the day had been saved.
“Try not to worry,” said Pat, as Mum went in the ambulance with Stephen. “They’ll get him bandaged up and right as rain, you’ll see.”
Pat was our neighbour, but not from next door. She put the kettle on and offered me some ginger cake. I let Pat have mine as she sipped her tea.