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Then There Were Three (part 27)

 
Joe Spivey's picture
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Finny, Casper and Onetooth bounced noisily back through the door just as Tukiko was fretting about adding more water to Maisie’s stew.

In short order, Tuki learned all about; Killer rabbits that didn’t exist, she would correct them on that later. The biggest man in Hope Springs and probably New Flagstaff or maybe even the world depending on which child was talking at the time, this she surmised had to be Sergeant Sweetly. And finally the school with the bossy lady who talked funny, Miss Skovlund by the sound of it, one of Moma’s friends. The children left out things like being chased away by the Town Hall staff, peeking in through people’s windows and chasing poultry until the birds jumped over fences to escape, no need for the mrs. doctor to know about any of that.

Impelled by the smell coming from the big saucepan, but still talking all the while, the three orphans automatically gravitated towards the already laid table where they sat, expectantly waiting for the food to appear. Tuki lifted the pot from the stove with a grunt and carried it over. Eager eyes watched the pot’s arrival.

Tuki plonked the heavy saucepan on the table.

“Hands.”

The unexpected demand produced a slow reveal of six less than anywhere near clean hands. Tuki jerked her head towards the kitchen.

“Sink. Now”

Anyone who might have expected a slow, resentful shuffle towards the kitchen sink didn’t understand orphanage mentality. ‘Firstest gets the bestest’ was the rule as far as mealtimes were concerned. Consequently, it was almost a fight around the sink to be the one to get back to the table first with minimally acceptable clean hands. It was a fiercely competitive game, a balance between cleanliness and speed. Failure meant a return to the sink and a guaranteed last place. Success, however, meant all the biggest bits.

After passing inspection and while Finny and co replenished their energy, Tuki checked on her patient and a few minutes later surprised everyone when she re-emerged holding the hand of a very wobbly Worms and helped him step by step across to the table and up onto a chair. Of course, the other three exploded into chatter, wanting to know how he was feeling, if he still had the typhoid, when he would be coming home and a million other questions. The weakly smiling Worms did his best to keep up but Tuki called a halt as soon as it seemed he was struggling.

“Okay. One at a time.” But Tuki began by leaning other him with the first question. “Would you like some stew?”

Worms nodded.

“Yes please.” He whispered.

Tuki left the table to fill a bowl from the saucepan. Behind her, the chatter resumed, slightly quieter than before and with Finny telling Worms all about what they had been doing that morning.

After lunch, everyone went outside into the sun and Tuki and Worms sat on the grass while the others set about entertaining him with feats of gymnastics… or what passed for them.

Across the road, the curtains twitched in the window and Tuki hid a grin. Sure enough, not five minutes later, Winona Barrow left her neat little house and hurried off in the direction of her nearest friend. Within the hour the whole of Hope would know that the typhoid boy was not only up and about but cavorting in the front garden with his friends like so many monkeys… Not quite true, but you can’t blame an old lady for a little embellishment.

Not long afterwards, a steady stream of ‘passers-by’ somehow found a reason to be passing by in the cul-de-sac, which amused Tuki immensely. Nevertheless, to stop the children becoming objects of curiosity, after an hour or so Tuki ushered them all back inside for juice, and she hoped, a nap.

Eight and nine-year-olds, however, aren’t the same as toddlers, as Tuki soon found out. The idea of a nap was met with suitable derision so Tuki had to find some way of keeping all four of them amused. Drawing did the trick for a while and Tuki had chance to try, for the sixth time, to raise Maisie via the collar communicator. And, for the sixth time, there was no reply. She was starting to worry and even thinking about informing the constabulary.

Eventually, though, drawing became boring, as did the only board game Tuki owned, as did reading quietly – which was met with a ruder reaction than she had expected or thought necessary. Tuki watched them for a while and wondered if this was what was in store for her as Ichiro got older. The already growing doubts that she was good parent material had her chewing her lip at the increasing likelihood that this might be the case. Thank the stars that Tai was so good with him.

Peace returned from an unlikely source. It was actually Worms who asked if there were any playing cards. Great, Tuki thought, trying to remember the rules to ‘Go Fish’ or ‘Old maid’ as she retrieved a pack of well-worn cards from Maisie’s overnight bag.

“We need beans or something, to do as chips.” Finny said as Tuki handed Worms the cards.

“Are you sure you don’t want to take a nap.” She asked Worms, just before Finny’s question made sense in her head. She turned to Finny.

“Chips?”

Five minutes later, after suitable ‘chips’ had been found, Tuki remained seated back from the table, arms folded and with an annoyed expression on her face.

Worms dealt the first cards.

“The game is seven card stud. Aces are low and one-eyed jacks are trumps.”

The kids anted up.

Bloody Joe! Tuki thought, watching the eagerness on the orphans faces. Bloody bloody bloody Joe!

By five o’clock Worms, looking much better than he had done for days, was the happy owner of most of the beans on the table.

At five-thirty he was the undoubted winner and the three losers were throwing the last of their beans at him. Tuki stood up to call a halt, the kettle was boiling for tea anyway, but everything was interrupted by the door opening.

Maisie came in. She closed the door behind her, leaned on it, and looked lazily at the five pairs of eyes staring at her, but avoiding the ‘where the hell have you been’ expression coming from her boss.

She pushed herself away from the door and it was then Tuki noticed the crushed pieces of blue, official looking paper, clutched tightly in her hand. The papers looked somehow familiar. She had seen them before… somewhere.

In the silence that still hung in the air… Children have a knack of knowing when to keep silent. They don’t always do it, mind, but they know. They were silent this time because nurse Maisie was, well, nurse Maisie and she looked, actually, the kids didn’t have a word for it but they would have said that she looked like she wasn’t sure where she was.

Tuki would have said she looked to be in shock, and she’d seen a lot of people in that state. She shooed Casper out of his seat and he went to stand behind Finny’s chair. Maisie sat down, still clutching the papers upright in her fist and staring straight ahead while Tuki automatically went to make her some hot, sweet tea.

The children looked at each other, then at Finny, who just shrugged. This was beyond her nine years. Sorry.

Tuki returned and put the mug of tea down in front of her head nurse. Then she gently but firmly pried the sheaf of papers out of the nurse’s still clenched hand.

“Maisie? Drink your tea.” She ordered, as she smoothed out the papers.

Maisie looked at the cup, eventually seeming to recognise what it was. She smiled at it and then gave a weird little laugh, making the children slowly lean backwards away from any sudden move the big nurse might make.

The first thing Tukiko noticed on the papers was Maisie's full name Maisie Hawkes, written on a dotted line in black ink. A few words further on was another name hovering over another line of dots, ‘Oliver Rundle’. In a dizzying series of flashbacks that made clutch the kitchen worktop for support, Tuki suddenly recognised what it was she was holding. Her Mom had these same set of papers locked safely away somewhere. The name on those papers, however, was her own. She turned to Worms, blinked once and swallowed to moisten her mouth.

“You’ve been adopted.”

All eyes swung towards Worms… Except for Maisie Hawkes. She let out another weird little laugh and continued to just stare at the mug of steaming tea.

Comments

Hyle Troy's picture

And all the mothers said: "Aww bless,  I am sure under Nurse maisie's wing he will grow up all straight and strong.   Just, er.. keep 'im away from my kids huh?"

I would rather die peacefully in my sleep, like Grandad, than screaming, like his passengers

Joe Spivey's picture

Lol, I can imagine that, once they get to know him, then yes... It's gonna be a fun first day at school I would imagine.

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

Canni Belle's picture

((Hope Springs is a good influence on .. unique children

One minute your calm, the next your shooting someone in the face, then your doing your chickendance. If that is not chaos I dont know what is - Aiid



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