‘Let’s do a show’ yelled Judith.
‘Oh No,’ moaned Malcolm as he sat on the edge of the kerb dragging a stick through the rubbish in the gutter, trying to poke it down into the grid that covered the drain. The pale blue short-sleeved shirt, clean on only an hour ago, had now turned a dusty shade of grey and a pair of very dirty knees protruded from his torn short trousers. ‘I knew Dad shouldn’t have let her stay up to watch the London Palladium last night.’ He grimaced. It was only a couple of weeks into the summer holidays, and he wasn’t that bored yet. He wished his Mam had taken him with her to the cleaning job at the local dance hall today instead of leaving him with ‘Judith bossy boots who thinks she knows it all just because she’s two years older than me’.
‘Stop moanin’,’ Malcolm. It’ll be great, and we can invite everybody in the street and charge ‘em to watch, and we’ll have loadsa money to spend on toffee and kali. Right. who’s in?’ she asked, hands on hips, looking at everyone there.
‘Me please,’ said Lydia, hand thrusting enthusiastically into the air.
‘And me as well,’ piped Susan.
‘Me too,’ squeaked Pauline as she adjusted her pink National Health glasses. It was hard to see properly with a big plaster covering one lens. She was too frightened to say no to anything Judith suggested.
‘Shows are for girls,’ said Christopher, ‘so yer can count me out.’ He hopped from one foot to the other, thrusting his fists into the air. ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’ He turned and slowly edged away, still punching his invisible opponent.
‘Don’t go,’ pleaded Malcolm. ‘I always end up bein’ the only boy in her silly shows.’
Christopher looked at Malcolm and knew that he would have to stay. He couldn’t leave his best friend to face a fate worse than death on his own.
‘Well, ok, but I’d betta be a pirate or a soldier or summat like that, else I won’t be anythin’ at all,’ he demanded. ‘Any road, wot’s the show about?’
‘A Circus’’ announced Judith. ‘We can do tipple overs, and we can have clowns and tightrope walkers and swingin’ acts.’
‘Am not wearin’ tights or out like that. Girls wear tights,’ Christopher added quickly. ‘A could be a lion tamer a s’pose.’
‘I’m scared of lions,’ squeaked Pauline. ‘Please don’t let it near me, will ya?’
‘Don’t be daft,’ said Malcolm. ‘It won’t be a real lion, it‘ll be a pretend un. Hey, I know. I can be a lion. I don’t mind dressin’ up as a lion.’
‘Yeah, and I can have a cloak and whip. And one o' them stools to hold yer off.’
Malcolm gave a loud roar and dived on Christopher, pretending to bite him. They both rolled around on the dusty pavement, laughing loudly.
‘You’ll have to be clowns as well cos we haven’t got enough people,’ demanded Judith as she stood leaning over them wagging her finger.
‘I can be a lady in a glittery costume who rides on an ‘orse,’ shouted Lydia as she raised her chin, straightened her back, slapped her own bottom, and galloped around in a big circle.
‘I’m gonna be an acrobat,’ announced Susan and promptly started doing cartwheels up and down the street.
‘What can I be?’ asked a very timid voice.
‘You can be the tightrope walker,’ said Judith, and without waiting for a response went on, ‘I’ll be the Ringmaster and announce everybody. Now let’s go in the back garden and make a list of everythin’ we need an’ do some practising.’ She marched down the garden path and round the side of the concrete rendered, typical semi-detached council house and into the back garden. There was a small, flagged area that ran under the back window with a couple of old torn stripy deck chairs set out. A half-rusted watering can was lying on its side, and a couple of plant pots, containing shrivelled up stalks and leaves, perched on the windowsill. The large square of lawn was littered with toys that had been left out from the previous day. The washing line was suspended between the downpipe by the kitchen door, and the shed at the bottom of the garden and the weekly washing was hanging limply in the hot, still air with the wooden prop raising the line just enough to stop the worn cotton sheets from trailing on the ground.
The sound of ‘Twist and Shout’ was blasting out of the top window of next door’s house where Lynne Goggins was playing her latest records in the bedroom.
‘Right,’ ordered Judith. ‘You boys use all the toys to make a big circle for us to do our acts in.’
Christopher and Malcolm marked out the circus ring with some old football boots, Dinky cars, pieces of Lego, a couple of dolls and a pogo stick, occasionally diving on each other and pretending to be lion and Tamer with Judith shouting at them.
‘Stop messin’ about, or we’ll never finish the show at this rate.’
Susan had borrowed Judith’s bright red, elasticated swimming costume and was practising handstands against the garden shed. Her face was fast turning the same colour.
Judith pulled down the wooden prop from the washing line and sent Pauline to fetch two bricks from behind the shed. She laid the prop across the grass with a brick under each end and ordered Pauline to hold her arms out like a cross and walk along the pretend tightrope. Pauline did as she was told but kept falling off every couple of steps.
Malcolm ran inside and brought out a stool and a skipping rope. He crouched with his hands held up in front of his face, fingers pointing down like paws, roaring at Christopher who was shaking the stool at him with his left hand and pretending the skipping rope was a whip in his right.
Right at that moment, the familiar sound of the ice-cream van came blaring down the street. Everyone raced frantically towards the front of the house as it pulled up outside. They clamoured around excited, ordering Fabs and Zooms. Thoughts of the show had totally disappeared.
They sat in a row along the kerb all silent apart from their loud, slurping and licking. Mr Jones’s old blue and white Ford Anglia had just pulled up outside his house further down the street, and they could hear the news on a radio somewhere further down the street ‘Thieves have ambushed the Glasgow to Euston mail train and stolen thousands of pounds. Banks estimate they have lost over two million pounds in used notes in the biggest ever raid on a British train...’.
The August sun was beating down, and the smell of hot tarmac pervaded the air.
‘What shall we do this afternoon?’ asked Judith. ‘I know...’
‘NOTHING!’ they all shouted in unison (except for Pauline, of course).