The big voices we trust
Nothing cuts as deep as the sound of your mum’s tears falling. She’s a grown up, what can her little boy do to wash them away and make her feel better again? Timmy sat on the stairs stifling his own sympathetic cries, trying to be the brave little soldier she loved in him. He listened hard, envisaging his body standing at the door to help him hear better. He couldn’t risk walking further down the stairs as they creaked under the slightest of pressure. They often betrayed him during midnight snack raids. This was far too important to give himself away.
“It will be all right my love. It won’t be for long. I’ll be back before you have chance to even miss me.” Timmy’s dad’s voice was soft and gentle. It wasn’t so much the words but the delivery that provided a moderation of comfort. Timmy knew if his dad was talking this way then something was wrong, something to be scared of.
“I can’t tell him. I can’t bear to break my little boy’s heart,” Timmy’s mum said through her tears.
“I think he’s already aware of something happening,” Timmy’s dad said. His voice preceded his footsteps as they grew louder the closer they got to the open kitchen door. “Timmy, I know you’re there. Come in here.”
It took four creaking steps for Timmy to make it to the kitchen door. He paused in the doorway. He could see his mum in her rocking chair sat next to the Aga. She dabbed her eyes with his dad’s handkerchief. She sat upright at the sight of Timmy, taking in a deep breath before a couple of composing sniffs. Timmy’s dad stood in the middle of the kitchen looking at Timmy. His dad’s face was hurting, failing to conceal the dreaded news he had to deliver.
“Son, I want you to be brave. I want you to be brave for your mother.” He walked towards Timmy, crouched down and held Timmy’s arms. “I’ve been called away on the King’s business. I won’t be gone very long. You’re almost a man now and I need you to be the man of the house in my absence. Do you understand Mr Hurst?”
Timmy nodded. “You’re a good boy son”, his dad said as he rose to his feet. He turned slowly and walked towards the small pile of papers and instruments on the kitchen table.
It seemed a bit strange to Timmy why there appeared to be so much drama this time. His dad had been called away on the King’s business before, leaving his mum and himself alone for a few days. Why was this so different?
“Where are you going sir?” Timmy asked in his most adult voice.
His dad turned and faced him. “I’ve got to go overseas on some business,” he said.
“What business sir? You said I was nearly a man. I am old enough to understand,” Timmy pleaded.
For a moment Timmy thought he saw his dad’s eyes begin to well up. His dad stared thoughtfully at Timmy. “Yes you are,” he said, smiling proudly. He paused to find the correct words. “There’s a war coming. The King has asked me to try and stop it before it begins but I have to leave tonight.”
Timmy had overheard the rumours about a war coming on his visits to the village shop. Mr Grainer and Mr Thomas found the shop to be a great place for discussing politics as almost everyone in the village would visit it at sometime throughout the day. They spoke of a war but Timmy chalked it down to just something they said to scare the kids away. After the Great War no-one thought anyone would be stupid enough to do it again.
It began to dawn on Timmy that his dad was putting himself in danger to save him and his mum, in fact to save his country, to save the world. He was filled with immense pride. His dad was the hero he always thought he was. He couldn’t help but cry.
His dad gave him a cuddle. “Remember, be brave little man.”
He stood up and picked up a magnifying glass from the pile of instruments on the kitchen table. He handed it over to Timmy. “This is very special Timmy. This is no ordinary magnifying glass. It’s magical. I won’t tell you what it does, you need to learn for yourself. I need you to look after this too for when I return.”
Timmy stood examining it. It looked like a simple magnifying glass. Plain and simple. “OK sir. I will guard it and mum with my life.” Timmy’s dad smiled and rubbed Timmy’s head.
Not long after Timmy’s dad gave his farewells and left. Neither Timmy or his mum had much sleep that night.
The sunlight broke through the windows of the cottage partially lifting the gloom from the previous night. Timmy jumped out of bed, determined to take his ‘man of the house’ duties seriously. First he decided to check on the magnifying glass. What made this magical?
He looked at various different items through the lens but nothing magical happened. He noticed an ant scurrying across the windowsill and he proceeded to view its progress through the so-called magical glass.
The ant looked huge. You could make out every detail. You could see the eyes searching around and the mouth moving between the tiny pincers.
“Hello,” came the voice.
Timmy jumped back startled. What was that?
He approached the ant again, moving the magnifying glass directly above the ant.
“Er, hello,” Timmy said.
“Good morning to you. You must be Timmy,” said the ant.
Timmy was dumbfounded. An ant had spoken to him.
“Your father told me…” The ant was cut off when Timmy moved the magnifying glass away.
It is magical. Timmy positioned the glass again so he could see the ant.
“That’s very rude Timmy. I can’t speak if you don’t let me,” said the offended ant.
“I’m sorry Mr Ant. It won’t happen again. Please, what did my dad tell you?”
“He told me that he was going away and asked me and the others to be there when you need us.”
“The others?” Timmy enquired.
“The others you talk to through that all-seeing eye. Now unless there’s anything else, you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got a very busy schedule to keep to.” With that the ant continued on his journey.
The others? Timmy got dressed quickly and ran downstairs into the garden in search of any other bugs that might be part of ‘the others’. He came across a snail climbing up a small terracotta pot. He placed the magnifying glass over the snail until he could see the snail’s mouth.
“Good morning Mr Snail,” Timmy said confidently although he couldn’t believe he was trying to hold a conversation with a snail.
“Good — Morn — ing, — Tim — my,” said the snail, eventually.
A big smile came over Timmy’s face. “It’s a beautiful morning,” said Timmy.
“It — is — a — won — der — ful — morn — ing. If — you — need — any — thing, just — call. I’ll — come — run — ning.”
“Thank you Mr Snail. I will. Goodbye for now.”
“Good — ”. The snail was cut off as Timmy raced around the garden to find something else. He spotted a spider in its web in-between the porch roof and the wall.
“Morning Mr Spider.”
“Morning Timmy. No need for formalities. Colonel will suffice. I’m your security officer,” said the spider.
“Security officer? What do you do?” asked Timmy, shocked not just because of the rank but also because of his role.
“I make sure the perimeter is secure. Each night I spin a web on every door and window. If anyone tries to break in, they’ll trigger the web alarm and they’ll be quickly caught.”
“Wow, thank you for you help Mr — er, Colonel.”
“My pleasure young sir. Now if you don’t mind I have to check on some rations I’ve left hanging.” The Colonel scooted up into the eaves of the porch.
“Timmy, come and get your breakfast. Then you need to complete your chores,” Timmy’s mum shouted.
He snapped out of his wonderment and remembered his own role. He put the magnifying glass safely away in his bedroom and carried out his duties.
Each morning was a joy to Timmy. It would start the same way. He would receive a little bit of gossip from Mr Ant, not so much so as to intrude on Mr Ant’s busy schedule, but enough for Timmy to pass on to the others. The Colonel would provide him with a full security briefing, which was always the same, ‘everything was secure, no incidents to report.’ Mr Snail’s conversation was always short, well in terms of the words used at least. Timmy found more little folk to engage with.
Mrs Butterfly was his particular favourite. She was beauty, elegance and grace all rolled up in one. She would flitter and flirt around him when giving him a weather report. It was hard for him to keep the magnifying glass on her all the time, but he enjoyed the challenge. Timmy’s mum was always shocked by how accurate his weather forecasting was. She’d never managed to get so much washing successfully dried on the washing line before.
Time passed effortlessly. The house ran perfectly, life was without a hitch. Dad would be very proud of me, Timmy thought.
It had been two weeks since his dad had left on his mission. They hadn’t heard any news, which wasn’t always a bad thing. Timmy missed his dad. He missed playing football with him in the garden. He missed being taken down to the river to pretend to fish, when it was really an excuse for his dad to smoke his weekly cigar. He missed his dad’s laugh when Timmy did the daftest of things. However what he missed the most was being tucked into bed and told a story of one of his dad’s adventures abroad. He would dream the most exciting of dreams on those nights. He would fall asleep with a smile on his face, feeling wrapped in a blanket of love.
Saturday morning came and Timmy woke up spooked. He dragged himself out of bed and forced himself to get dressed. He was feeling a little sad. He collected the magnifying glass ready to do his rounds. It always lifted his spirits and he could really do with having them lifted today. He approached the windowsill and stared at Mr Ant through the magic glass.
“Good morning Mr Ant, any news today?”
There was no response. The ant carried on weaving its way along the windowsill. Timmy asked again but still no reply. The ant made it to the other side and disappeared through the crack in the mortar. Timmy thought it was a little strange to be shunned like that. He decided to speak to the Colonel and get the latest briefing.
“Good morning Colonel. Could I have your report please?”
Nothing. Only the wind rushing through the worn eaves of the porch broke the silence. The spider sat motionless in the middle of his web.
Timmy inspected the magnifying glass to search for any damage. Although it was still in the pristine condition it was when he was entrusted with it, for some reason the lens was misting up inside the glass itself, around the edges. He found Mrs Butterfly and asked for a weather report but he was once again greeted with silence. Timmy was beginning to despair. His magic glass lens was almost completely engulfed by the mist. It had lost its magic just at the time he needed it most.
He couldn’t help but feel sorrow. A tear travelled down his face leaving a track of clean skin as it washed away the dust and grime accumulated from the garden. An overwhelming feeling of loneliness consumed him. The magnifying glass had taken away his friends. He speculated why it had stopped working. He burst out crying at the horror of his thoughts.
He ran back to the house, leaving a trail of tears in his wake. He ran up to his mum and threw himself into her arms.
“What’s the matter Timmy?” she said as she cuddled him.
Timmy’s bottom lip wouldn’t stop shaking. The salty tears began to mix with his runny nose. As quick as his mum wiped them away they came back. “I – I think,” he cried, “I think – something has happened to dad.”
Timmy’s mum pulled him closer. “There, there. Your dad’s going to be fine. He promised, remember? He’ll be home soon.” She wiped his face again as his cries were beginning to subside. “I miss him too.”
Someone knocked at the door.
“It’s going to be OK Timmy. Let me get this then I’ll make you a nice cup of tea, just as your father likes it.” She gave him a smile and walked to the door. He pulled the magnifying glass out of his pocket. He cupped it gently in his hands as he noticed the lens had cracked straight across from the handle to the top edge.
His mum opened the door and immediately clasped her hand over her mouth. “Nooooo,” she screamed as she collapsed to her knees.
A man dressed in a military uniform stood in the doorway. His mournful face said everything she needed to know. “I’m so very sorry Mrs Hurst,” he said.