A slight change of pace this week. Let me know what you think.
Max bounds out of the back door with unrestrained excitement. The drizzly afternoon air hits him hard, cooling his red-hot face. He loved this time of day. He takes a second to check over his shoulder, making sure Mum wasn’t watching. She’ll soon realise another three spoons and her best ladle were missing from the kitchen. Then there’ll be trouble.
Carefully navigating the garden path, he makes sure not to rattle the cutlery too loudly. The soft rain, wetting the ground below him, makes the task slightly more difficult than he would like. With the path successfully navigated, he glides under the untamed branches of his grandfather’s tree – in the way only the smallest eight year old boy at school could – soon disappearing from the house’s gaze. Being “Max the Midget” did have occasional perks.
He reaches Dave’s shed and carefully squeezes through the gap behind it. Max’s dad had never owned a shed, but Dave kept a huge one. Every type of garden appliance imaginable sat inside that shed. But it was always locked. On the one occasion he decided to peer inside, he was shouted at and slapped and grounded for a week. Not that anyone noticed. He didn’t try any more.
The shed did have other uses, though. It currently hid a small hole in the garden fence, allowing a secret entrance into the dense woodland beyond. Max slipped through this hole, sat in his favourite spot, and waited.
Nothing but gentle rain and excited breath.
“Joey?” he whispers.
His patience is rewarded.
A small creature, no higher than two feet from the ground, comes scurrying out from amongst the foliage. As it moves out into the open its green and brown skin slowly gives way to a soft blue. Max smiles.
“There you are! Thought you’d gone!”
Joey shakes his head. His two tiny eyes soon find the three spoons and Mum’s best ladle.
Max extends the hand holding them. “As promised.”
He drops the cutlery into the grasp of Joey’s two little arms. Three tiny, blue fingers on each hand curl around the shiny presents.
“Is this enough?” Max asks.
“That’s what best friends are for,” he beams.
The bond of best friendship had been sealed several days earlier. Discovering Joey could neither speak nor spit, a slightly amended version of the best friend ritual was carried out. A complicated sequence of nods, smiles, spits and dirt rubbing was performed. It was unorthodox, but both parties were happy.
Every afternoon since, Max had brought Joey as much metal as he could find for his spaceship. Max had stopped trying to build spaceships years ago, when he realised they were probably not real. But he saw cars and planes every day and hoped to own at least one of each when he was older. He didn’t have the heart to tell Joey this. That’s not what best friends did.
“Now what?” he asks.
Joey turns and walks back into the denser woodland. He pauses, glances back, and gestures with his head for Max to follow. Several bushes and oak trees later, they happen upon the shiniest looking spaceship Max has ever seen. Joey instantly begins applying the new pieces of equipment to the craft, which is no larger than the TV in Max’s living room.
“Wow! Joey, this is amazing!”
Joey glances up, the slightest hint of smile stretching across his tiny mouth. He might not be able to speak, but he understands well enough.
“Will it fly?” Max asks.
“Where will you go?”
Joey forces the last spoon into place but does not gesture a reply.
“Joey, where are you going to fly to?”
His head sinks slightly as he points up between the trees. Max looks in the direction indicated by the small, blue finger, where, just visible through leaves and branches, is his house.
“Really?!” he shouts excitedly, an unfamiliar feeling racing through his body. “This is amazing! We’ll have to hide you from Dave, of course. But mum should be OK after a while, as long as she gets her frying pans back. Sleepovers! We can have them every night! I’ve got-” Joey tugs at his leg.
“What is it, Joey?”
He shakes his head.
“What do you mean?”
Joey points back at the house, head still shaking.
Joey extends his middle finger, points it to the sky, his little head rotating left to right.
Up and down, up and down.
Max pauses his line of questioning, slumping to the soggy dirt instead. Joey bounces over and softly clutches his right leg.
Max lifts his head. “You’re going home now, aren’t you?”
Max begins to sob. Each new tear carrying a portion of the joy he was only moments ago enjoying.
Joey shakes his head, slowly.
“Please…don’t go,” Max whispers, tears breaching his eye’s best defences, “you’re my best friend.”
Joey stretches out an arm and places a cold hand on Max’s chest. A gentle warmness spreads throughout Max’s body, setting every one of his hairs on end. Joey then steps back and smiles. No words are spoken, but Max hears them as clearly as he used to his father’s.
And now, I always will be.
Joey turns and disappears inside the craft. Seconds later, it rises silently from the ground. It continues to climb, high up into the afternoon sky and beyond.
Goodbye, Max. You’ll never be alone again.
Max wipes a final tear from his face. “Bye bye, Joey.”