‘You never look where you’re going,’ said the mother to her little boy. He had tripped over the kerb, and she picked him up and slapped the dust out of his coat. It was a Saturday afternoon and the pavement was full of shoppers. They strode hurriedly up and down, in and out of shops and across the street and back again. It was a wonder that no one collided with the mother and son who stood in the middle of it all. But, without changing pace or even looking at what they were avoiding, people neatly side-stepped the pair and kept walking.
Looking down to see what his mother was fussing about, the little boy saw the graze on his arm. It was an angry red, flecked with grit, and the more he looked at it the more it stung. His bottom lip started to tremble and he turned away, pulling out of her hands, but she only held on tighter to the lapels of his coat.
‘Don’t wriggle, look,’ she said. But he wasn’t interested in her tube of sweet-smelling moisturiser. He was looking at a man in the window of a shop, and the man was looking back. With a quick movement, the man picked up one of the fat pastries that sat in the window display. Wondering, the boy watched him leave the window, re-appear at the door, then make his way towards them, still holding the pastry. The mother followed her son’s gaze and straightened up to meet the man.
Up close, the boy could see the pastry had a jam center. Standing over him, the two adults exchanged a few words. His mother put a hand on his head, the way she did when she wasn’t paying him any attention. A moment later the man went back to his shop. He turned at the door.
‘Say, thank you,’ said the mother. ‘Thank you,’ said the little boy, holding out his hand. Then his fingers wrapped around the sticky pastry, and he could smell the jam and the roasted almonds on top. He ate it quickly and was licking his fingers by the time his mother steered him inside a clothes shop. A few minutes later they came out again, walked to another shop and went inside, then out again and so on down the street.
Later that afternoon, as the sun arched down behind the church, the pastry almost forgotten, the mother and her little boy turned homeward from their day shopping. Passing the courthouse, they decided to cut across its immaculate lawn. A cobbled path divided it into two triangles, at the center of which stood the statue of a thick-set man riding an equally thick-set horse. Eager to touch the dark metal and climb between the horse’s legs, the little boy ran towards it but in his haste misjudged a step and tripped. It was an awkward fall but the grass was soft. He looked around in case another pastry appeared, but none did. Picking himself up he felt his mother’s hand slip into his and she tugged him onward, to somewhere else, he supposed, wherever that was.
Pastry was first published in Snake in the Grass and Other Stories 2013, ISBN 978-0-99264-13-0-6