“Where IS Summer, this time?” Grandpa looked all around the barn, the old dairy, the stockyards – even peered into the pig pen.
His slow and easy voice showed he didn’t expect to find her there, but the child had taken up near-permanent residence in Pansy’s pen a few weeks ago. Grandpa shook his head again, as he had many, many times. That friendly pig had given birth to TEN piglets on her first ever litter. “TEN!” He snorted out loud to nobody there. “Pansy’s only a young’un herself.” And nobody there answered him.
“Summer! Summer!” he called, and muttered, where is that girl? He pushed the barn door open wide, looking out into the sunny meadow on one side… and then squinting his eyes up tight to see more clearly into the apple orchard on the other side. And there she was, laying back against the trunk of her favourite tree, safe and sound. A large sigh escaped his lips. If Summer could have seen the look of relief easing the many wrinkles of his old face, she would have laughed at him and teased him for worrying even the teensiest bit.
For many moments Grandpa didn’t say another word. The smile tugging at the edges of his mouth showed how much he enjoyed the vision of this small child, chewing on a long stalk of hay, oblivious to her world’s sounds. Summer’s one squinted eye in that small, upturned face showed her focus was on the changing cloud shapes. Grandpa approached her, unwilling to disturb such a charming scene as she traced imagined shapes with one chubby finger of her upraised hand. Despite his stealth, Summer sensed his presence and turned her head trustingly, prompting him to ask what she saw this time. He never tired of looking through her eyes. Her imagination knew no boundaries as it stretched his own far beyond his usual practical and down-to-earth visions.
“Don’t tell me the short man has come down from his tall mountain again, hey punkin’?” And as he lowered himself to sit alongside her, he took one of her long golden braids and tickled her nose with the curly ends hanging below the pink polka-dot ribbon. Summer giggled as she nodded her head so hard Grandpa thought it could roll right off her shoulders.
“And what does he breathe out this day, hey? More animals?” And he settled himself more comfortably. How he loved his little darling telling him a story, instead of the many bedtime ones he told her. She snuggled up against him just as tightly no matter who was the storyteller. But unlike their precious night-time ritual, one snuggle was all Summer could manage before she simply had to wriggle free to point skywards again.
“It’s my Knitty Gritty kids, Pappy. L-O-O-K! Up there between those two branches. See ? Where the old nest is?” And she pulled his head to her so their faces were pressed side by side, to see exactly where she peered. And though he knew he didn’t have a quarter of the imagination running wild behind those shining brown eyes, he pretended. And couldn’t believe the magic happened again, like last time when it was all about animals. Inside the warmth of her… uhmm? Aura? Was that what it was? Grandpa wasn’t sure of its name. All he knew was up close and all around his little punkin’ was this warmth and light, where strange new powers were born and flourished. Like being able to see the shapes and characters who filled her daydream world.
“LOOK! Do you see Gran and Grandpa?” Her voice was small and hushed, but her excitement was impossible to miss. “They’ve got their heads together, Pappy – same as we have.” And she planted a hasty kiss on his ear, with eyes still stretched to their limit sideways. And whether it was the ‘aura’ thing or whatever, Grandpa could see his namesake and the other one who represented his dear old wife, Clara. How well he remembered the amount of time she’d spent creating them. Knitting all their bits and sewing them together; puffing out their small bodies with stuffing; and then the faces. He shook his head to clear the image of the many attempts Clara had made to get those small mouths into the best smile, and darned eyes to match each other, yet magically, seeming to be looking at each other when they were side by side.
And now, with his Summer-eyes at work in place of his old-farmer-see-for-miles ones, more and more of the Knitty Gritty children floated into view.
“Look! Bimbo! It’s Bimbo the Clown,” he said gleefully, beating Summer by a goat’s whisker. “And I can’t even see where your Gran patched him after the terrible night of the munching moths.” For a moment, the suspicion of a tear hovered on Summer’s eyelashes.
“He was SO brave, Pappy. He never cried out when it was happening. He soldiered on. And you know he refused an anaesthetic when Gran mended him. Bimbo just toughed it out.” Summer sniffed. “But she did have to restitch his mouth to put his special smile back.” Her little body stiffened as she pointed off to the other side of the tree – “See? Past those three apples cuddled up tight. See? It’s another bravest one. It’s Molly!” Grandpa had to squint, but then he too could see a cute little mop cap shading the brightest eyes.
“Of course. She’s the courageous soul who came all the way across the sea from Tasmania to our BIG island – all by herself!” Grandpa had always been greatly impressed by this small sailor. Certainly, she had been carefully but firmly wrapped, and that was most important, but still it must have been terrifying to be surrounded by strange noises and smells, and not be able to see ANY of the culprits at all. And have no understanding of the hero’s welcome waiting at the end of her journey. Bravery above and beyond the call of duty, Grandpa muttered.
As Grandpa focussed more and more clearly thanks to Summer’s magic, he saw Simon Scarecrow, keeping crows and other troublesome winged types away. Although, Grandpa saw he let angels pass without a problem. SOME feathered friends were ALWAYS welcome.
“And Pappy… do you see Derek the Cat?”
Now it was Grandpa’s turn to nod with such vigour he nearly lost his beanie. “I know him. He’s the one who tells the story of being Dick Whittington’s cat in another lifetime, and going to London to visit the Queen.” And a sly but wide grin nearly split Grandpa’s face in half. “And if I’m not mistaken, there’s his best girl Susie, holding his hand.”
Summer wriggled. “And if we were not so far away, I’ll bet we’d hear him singing his bestiest song in the world—”
“Ahh but I love that one, too.” And Grandpa ducked his head. “… sing it to Gran sometimes, out on the porch, on a moony, starry night—” and he interrupted himself to urrhum-urrhum as two red spots appeared on his wrinkly cheeks and his voice dropped to barely a whisper. “If you were the only girl in the world, and I were the only boy…’
Summer smiled at her Pappy. Hardly anyone knew what a marshmallow he was behind the rough-tough old farmer image. But then his face changed. He wore a frown now and a questioning look.
“Just a minute. I remember last time how you told me the ‘short man’ is Scotty the Chimney Sweep, and the breaths he breathes to make all these shapes are a heap of giant sneezes from all the dust and grime inside all the chimneys he cleans, right? But how does he get up on the roof in the first place? And the tall mountain, too, on his short legs? That’s what I don’t understand.”
Summer’s face relaxed into her usual happy smile. “Ahh… easy-peasy, Pappy. Great big Harry the Painter – see him?” And she leaned so far to one side Grandpa thought she would topple right over and likely roll down the hill exactly like her beloved Jack and Jill.
“See his big tall ladder? It’s strong as forever. You know what a supercalafragalistic tradesman he is! He props it against any house, and up Scotty goes. And now he doesn’t need any help to climb the tall mountain. His legs are sturdy as tree trunks and he goes up faster than a speeding bullet! See, Pappy?”
Author’s Note: Proud to tell you this won third place in a children’s story competition – the challenge being to create a >1500 word story from a paragraph prompt –
Summer lies on the warm grass, her long braids keeping her wind hair out of her freckled face.
She traces the outlines of the shapes in the clouds with a chubby finger and one squinted eye.
“What are you doing out here punkin’?” Summer’s grandpa inquires as he shuffles through the yard.
“Watching the animals,” she replies simply, never taking her eyes off the sky.
“Animals?” Her grandpa asks.
“Yeah Pappy, the animals the short man on the tall mountain makes with his breath.”