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Forty-one short stories
by Holly Gramazio

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7 down

Who's this?

"Come on, choose a flavour. Banana. Banana's your favourite."

He stares through the glass: green, yellow, pink, pink, brown, white, brown, blue. He wants all of them, consecutively and then concurrently, he wants to swallow them in a single mouthful that lasts for ever. He wants blue. Or yellow. Or blue.

Sarah wants to go back to David Jones and try on those bathers, not that she has much time for swimming these days. Maybe next year. "And you like strawberry," she says. "Remember we had some at Nanna's house."

Matthew does. Pink, then. Or yellow. Or blue. He leans forward, and Sarah jiggles him to keep her grasp, and he's getting bigger, she should get him some new clothes, he's almost bursting out of his orange t-shirt.

It's early but they're both tired: they've been in town for an hour and a half and they're not done yet. Matthew's got a birthday party to go to later, and Sarah needs to find a present, although she still isn't sure whether the Cassidy on the invitation is a girl or a boy. "Come on, we've got a lot to do," she says. "If you hurry up I'll let you walk for a bit."

Matthew hates the stroller. He wants to stop on a whim and peer under low benches, he wants to pick up snails by their handles without being told off, he wants to build them multistoreyed dead-leaf castles to live in. Sarah wants to get home and fall asleep, she wants to get out of town without stopping every thirty seconds for Matthew to pick up rubbish (yes, she'll have to say, well done, now put it in the bin; no, don't put your fingers in your mouth till we've had a chance to wash them). She wants to walk down the wrong street and find out where that music's coming from. She wants to go into the hairdresser's and come out with ridiculous hair.

"Who's this?" the woman asks from behind her counter, leaning over. Her hair has green streaks in it, and she wrinkles up her nose and grins at Matthew. "You're a cutie, aren't you? I bet all the girls think you're fantastic. What do you want today?"

"One banana icecream in a cone, thanks," Sarah says after a moment, and sits Matthew back in the stroller. "Mum," he grumbles as she does up the straps.

"He's gorgeous," the woman says as she hands over the icecream. "Those cheeks. You'd better watch out or I'll have to steal him."

Sarah says something polite. They are good cheeks, catalogue cheeks, fat and dimpled and slightly pink, the sort of cheeks that sell buckets and spades and sun-washed holidays at the beach and the idea of having children. Matthew bites into his icecream and smears them yellow.

"I want blue now," he says as they leave the shop, wriggling a bit against straps.

"You like banana," Sarah says, pushing him across a road.

"But I want blue."

"If you wanted blueberry you should have told me while we were in the shop."

Matthew would have, if there'd been enough time. He takes another bite of the yellow, but it's boring, he's had it so many times before. Cars go past, bright, and when he tilts his head back there's sky opening above the buildings. It disappears behind a verandah, but he keeps looking up as the stroller bumps over the footpath, and just when he's about to give up it comes back, and there's more of it in front of him. He fiddles with the buckle that locks him in place.

Sarah pushes across the road. Cassidy can have a playdough machine and a card with genderless balloons on it, she thinks, and then the stroller goes light: Matthew's undone his straps, and he's running ahead, across Victoria Square toward the fountain. He drops the icecream onto the side and leans over, reaching for water. It's blue and grey and swirled like the icecream he didn't have, like the sky.

Sarah still doesn't know how she's supposed to react when he does this sort of thing, whether she should run straight after him and leave the stroller and the shopping and her bag to any passing opportunist, whether it makes her a bad mother that she doesn't. She pushes harder and catches up with him fifteen seconds later, and he's wet over his hair and sleeves and face, splashing water with both arms. Seagulls flap away. He climbs over the wall as she gets closer, stumbling then standing up, the water soaking straight through his darkening trousers, dry patches of higher t-shirt lasting until he dodges back under the fountain jets. He's not coming out, he decides. He's going to stay here for ever; he can do that, can't he?

He's very wet. Sarah watches. Those cheeks, that spring-curled hair running straight under the water, matted down into spirograph curves. He's giggling and happy and watching her with sidelong glances, and she thinks about walking away but she can't step backwards, only sideways, shifting the distance without increasing it.

Matthew can see her through the spray of water, standing. He ducks behind a block of stone, then pokes his head back round: she's there, still.

On the other side of the fountain the shadows are different, and people look at him and then glance away. The cars are a bit quieter and the water's colder, and maybe deeper. Something bright bobs up from the bottom.

Sarah listens to Matthew splashing on the far side of the fountain, and waits. She sidesteps, then back again in the other direction, a step or two, sliding along the circumference of the circle that keeps him at the centre. She'll get wet pulling him out, she supposes, and then he'll get the stroller wet, and they won't be able to go into shops until he's dried off. She steps again, and again.

"Matthew," she calls. "Get out here now."

He keeps splashing, out of sight.

She walks further. On the other side of the fountain all she can see is two men sitting on the grass, and a woman walking past, and cars and trees around them all and more people in the distance, and buildings behind them, and another fountain jet pouring into the basin, splashing onto an empty coke can and then into the water with a sound like an escaped two-year-old.