Andrew Ashcroft - Runner up

Competition: Writing for Children short story competition 2016

Andrew Ashcroft is from Preston, England but now lives with his family in the Swedish seaside town of Varberg. He is the creator of a series of humorous stories for younger readers: Gross Garden Gobbler, Gross Party Games, Gross Football Curry and Gross Teacherpox. From his work in teaching, Andrew knows about the importance of fun to read stories for reluctant readers. His books are also formatted to be dyslexia-friendly. However, his latest project is for struggling adults: a book of photocopiable children’s Christmas crafts for teachers and others who need ideas or inspiration.

You can find out more about his children’s writing on facebook.com/natterjack.gross

Andrew Ashcroft

What Dad did

I can’t believe what just happened.

We had just come home from shopping. Dad was about to park the car. Mum goes ‘Oh, look out for Tom, he’s parked himself there. It’s funny he’s not heard us.’

Then Dad slowly drives nearer and says ‘Tom’ll move. He might be daft but he knows not to get squashed.’

Then Dad revs the engine a bit.

Tom doesn’t budge.

Dad flashes the headlights.

Tom doesn’t budge.

Dad toots the horn.

Tom budges in a big way - he leaps into the air, twists round hissing at us with long yellow fangs and huge eyes, his tail fluffed out, claws splayed and seems to float there a moment.

He drops.

He lies on the ground.

We jump out of the car and rush to his side.

***

I have been awake all night. My thoughts have been rumbling around in my head like clothes in a tumble dryer. Thinking about poor old Tom and my so-called Dad.

I could have had a shower in the tears that have been gushing out of me. The arm of Mum’s nightie was drenched anyway.

Dad came in to apologise yet again.

‘I am really sorry about what happened. Like your Mum says, Tom was very old, at least twice as old as you. In cat years that is like… oh, probably a hundred years old. I’m sure you’ll come to terms with it.’

I pretended to be asleep.

Come to terms with it!

That is one of those stupid things adults say to kids. They think they’re being so clever and reasonable. They have loads of these unhelpful, clever-clogs things to say like: ‘Oh just ignore him and he’ll go away,’ or ‘You’ll forget about it,’ or ‘You’ll grow into it,’ and ‘It is for your own good,’ when all you want is everything to be the way you want it, right now.

Come to terms with it?

Well he will need to come to terms with a few things, like I will never ever forgive him, like Tom’s ghost will probably haunt him forever, like the police arresting him for cat-murder.

Mum keeps saying it was an accident. Tom was old and the shock was too much for his heart. I bet I could still get Dad for murder, though.

Anyway, I have a list of evidence.

If Dad had really liked Tom, he would never have:

    •    Groaned about the cost of cat litter,
    •    Moaned about vet fees,
    •    Droned about the expense of feeding him - and going on and on about how Tom was spoiled one birthday with luxury cat food and after that turned his nose up at the cheap stuff,
    •    Whined about when Tom caught mice, birds, frogs, robot lawnmowers etc. and brought them into the house,
    •    Grumbled about Tom disappearing for little unplanned holidays and getting us worried,
    •    Complained when Tom sharpened his claws on furniture, carpets, curtains and Dad’s leg,
    •    Griped about Tom always sleeping on his pillow whilst he’s at work and moulting hair all over it,
    •    Joked about getting Tom off the roof, where he was trapped, with a blast from a hose-pipe and
    •    Kept saying that ‘Tom’ stands for ‘Tatty Old Moggy’.

***

Last term we did about Queen Victoria at school. It is said that she never smiled again after her husband died and wore only black clothes called widow’s weeds.

I shall never smile again.

Even if it is Saturday, I am wearing the dark grey and black parts of my school uniform. I can’t wear the sweatshirt because it’s blood red which is not appropriate if you are in deep mourning like me. The only black top I have is a T-shirt which I grew out of three years ago with Here comes trouble in green on the front. Well there’ll be trouble for Dad alright. I am still thinking of a punishment. I turned the T-shirt inside out and squeezed into it.

I wonder if I can I call these my widow’s weeds? What am I? I’m not a widow. If your wife or husband dies you are widowed. If your mum and dad die you’re an orphan. Am I de-catted, pussless, unpetted or what?
***

I have now designed Tom’s tomb. It will be white marble, three meters high and cat-faced angel statues will guard each corner. There will be a life-sized statue of Tom in solid gold under a canopy on top. Dad can pay for it as part of his punishment.

The funeral is all planned by me too. Tom will lie in state on the kitchen table draped in our Union Jack tea-towel for three days. Weeping people will be able to come and see him for the last time and bow. Then he will be put into a white coffin and driven around the neighbourhood in a horse-drawn hearse onto which everyone will throw flowers.

I will stagger to the graveside with my friends supporting me as I cry and wail, ‘Oh Tom, don’t leeeeeave meeee.’

People say kids watch too many screens, but I would never have been so inspired without all those films. It will be the most amazing funeral ever. I might even enjoy it.

Mum has just said that she doesn’t want a dead cat on the kitchen table for three days, that he will be in the way and will start to pong. Best to pop him into a nice shoebox and bury him quickly.

Dad has been sent out to to dig a grave. In the past, criminals were sentenced to hard labour and had to spend years digging holes and breaking rocks. Dad should be made to do that, so this will help him come to terms with what he deserves.

***

We’ve just had Tom’s funeral.

We stood at the graveside, staring down at his little coffin in the hole.

Mum said: ‘Dear Tom, you were a member of our family for a long time and we shall miss you’ and I said ‘Earth to earth, dust to dust’. I thought of rhyming it with: ‘I have a dad I can’t trust,’ but I didn’t.

I just scattered soil onto the lid of the box with it’s label: Ladies’ black boots SALE 50% off which I had tried to scribble out with a pencil and written RIP TOM, which seems weird, I hope he doesn’t get ripped, but it’s what you write at times like this.

Then I squeaked out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on my plastic recorder. ‘Tom will be a star looking down on us now,’ said Mum and gave me a hug.

Dad said nothing, which is as well. He tried to hug me but I went stiff and uncosy.
***

Dad is not going to get away with murder, if I can help it.

Mum says the police would not be interested so I shall take the law into my own hands. I have decided to name and shame Dad.

I shall make a huge white placard with black letters ‘BEWARE MY DAD IS A CAT KILLER’. It will have a large arrow pointing at him. I shall follow him around with this sign. Cat–lovers will boo him and he will never be able to go outside again. Every time he tries I shall be five steps behind him with my sign.

***

The best I can do is writing with a pencil on the inside of a cereal packet:

BEWa-
rE!!!!!
MY DaD
is a cat
killer!!!!!

It looks a bit scribbly and the letters start off the size of my hand and then get smaller until they are just my normal writing. You can’t really read much of it. The grey pencil marks disappear into the grey cardboard if you look at it from more than three metres away.

I can hear Dad getting ready to sneak off to do some evil errand. I shall wait for the door to bang and follow him out.

***

I was lucky that whatever dire deed Dad was going to do, he did not need his murder weapon, the car. Even so, it is hard work trying to keep up with someone to name and shame them and not be seen by them, especially when his legs are twice as long as mine.

Luckily for me, he only walked for about ten minutes. It was beginning to rain when he walked up to a house, rang the doorbell and was let in.

Whose house? What was he up to? Was he meeting his criminal gang? What were they plotting? I would inform Mum as soon as I got home from my naming and shaming vigil.

So I stood outside with my placard, yawning and getting wet and cold, hardly able to breathe in my too small, inside-out T-shirt. I began crying again.

I felt a warm hand on my shivering shoulder.

I jerked my head up to see who it was.

‘Are you here too?’ said my Dad.

He was looking extremely pleased with himself. How dare he gloat over the evil he has done me? Me in deep mourning and him just grinning at me like a bad baboon.

To his chest he clutched something small wrapped in an old blanket as if it was a new baby.

‘What do you think I’ve got for you?’ he said and gently revealed what was hidden in his blanket bundle.
***

So now I am back home, warm and dry, cuddling a kitten.

He is so perfect. I love him so much.

Mum puts her arm round me.

‘Will you forgive Dad now?’

‘Yes. I have already forgiven him. I suppose Tom was old but I’ll never forget him. I think the kitten will help me come to terms with things. In fact, I shall name it after Dad as a way of thanking him.’

‘Do you think he’d really like that?’

‘Oh, he’ll come to terms with it,’ I said and snuggled my face into my new pet’s soft fur, ‘And so will Dad.’

Judges Comments

A vividly realised child narrator drives Andrew Ashcroft's What Dad Did. With no concession to seeing things from an adult point of view (exactly as should be the case in children's fiction), our narrator wins us over with his petulant account of the "brutality" his father has inflicted on the family, and particularly Tom the cat. Dealing with the death of a beloved pet is for many of us our first encounter with mortality, so it provides rich fodder for children's literature. Here, the topic is tackled head on and although the story is driven by emotion, it is without schmaltz. Tempering the sense of loss are flashes of humour (we especially liked the list of things Dad wouldn't have done) and Andrew's delicate handling of the narrator's grief, channelled through anger. Too far either way and What Dad Did would seem both implausible and inappropriate for its audience; too humorous and it would have trivialised an experience that young readers would understand to be painful, but as is, the balance is just right.

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