Child's Play

by Iain Metcalf

Ryan Roberts

I can hear someone moving in the house. They won't find me, not in my hiding place. I pull Daddy's coat around myself and curl up behind a box of newspapers. Someone's screaming now, it's Mummy or another woman, but no other women come to the house so it is probably Mummy. I'm scared, if Mummy's screaming, it means I'm in even more trouble. She screamed at me today when I broke the window and then she screamed even more when I spilt my paints on the bedroom floor. She came running upstairs from the kitchen with a knife still in her hand. She shouted at me and Andrew then made me go and wash my hands. My hands are sticky again now with Andrew's blood. It was all over the bedroom floor mixed in with the paints. It had also covered my favourite transformer Optimus Prime. He is the best transformer, Andrew was really jealous when I got it for my birthday and keeps trying to play with it but I tell him it is mine and tell Mummy if he won't give it back. I hope Mummy will clean it for me.

There are footsteps overhead; someone's running down the stairs. Little clouds of dust fall with each step forming sparkling towers in the light coming through the gaps in the wall. I pull Daddy's coat further up so that if anyone opens the door they can't see me. Daddy's coat smells of the farm, mud and animals and straw. I like it when he takes me to the farm. I get to see lots and lots of animals and my pet pig George. Andrew has a pet goat there, but my pig George is better. I like the smell of the coat. It smells safe and I snuggle into it. Mummy is shouting my name now; I'm not coming out though, not ever.

It's dark. The light coming through the wall is dimmer now. Mummy has stopped shouting. I'm hungry but I don't want to come out. I can hear other people moving in the house and voices I don't recognize. It must be quite late, I'll be in even more trouble now as I haven't taken my medicine. Rit-a-lin Mummy calls it, she says it makes me barely controllable. She'll be cross and scream even more.

I feel in the coat's pockets, Daddy often has sweets in them which he gives to me and Andrew when we are good, and sometimes just to keep us quiet when we are asking him lots of questions. I find a toffee and struggle to take off the wrapper in the dark. It's hard to see what I am doing so I sit up. My arm catches the newspapers piled next to me and they avalanche down hitting the cupboard door. I hear the voices stop. I can hear feet moving towards the door. I quickly try to get back under Daddy's coat, causing more newspapers to fall.

The door cupboard swings open and a torch is shone on me. A man shouts 'I've found him' and his hand reaches in to grab me.

Mr Roberts

I thought nothing of getting up at five thirty every morning; it's just what farmers do. Now I struggle t' get out of bed for eight. Me bed sheets are like bale bindings holding me. I fight t' get up but I don't know why. I'm not sure if I prefer the days of knowing compared t' the dark dreams I have at night. Alice, me sister, has come over and is helping me look after Ryan, I can cook but I know nowt about playing computer games or geography homework. If it weren't the school holidays, it would be easier. I could just pack him off t' his teachers t' look after him, they're the trained professionals after all, and I could go t' the farm. Martin, me farm manager, is helping me out there, and I am sleep walking through the day playing parent.

It was Claire's idea and decision t' live in the town. I, like me father and grandfather was born and lived at the farm. But the farm was too far from the school, too far from the shops, not the right environment to bring up a boy in, I was brought up there alright but no, it was not right for Claire.

Claire is asking for me to visit, she denies doing it. I should be there for me wife; I should trust her but... The Police say it is a simple case, CCTV covers the front of the house and shows no one entering or leaving and access via the back is impossible. But the way she looked at me, how could she bear t' look at me like that if she was guilty?

I tell Alice that I need t' do some work up at the farm. She questions why I need to go at this time of night, I tell her its pest control, and take my gun from it's secure box. She may suspects something I think the way she protests against me going but I put a good enough face on that in the end she reluctantly lets me leave.

I think in the van how does life go on after this, everyone is saying to me you must think of Ryan, I do think of Ryan, am thinking of him and think he would be better off without me. Claire raised the boys, I don't know how to bring up a child, I know fields, I know cattle and I know the land, nothing else.

I arrive at the farm about eleven thirty. It looks so strange at night. What is normally the definition of life in the day time is now a silent empty place with the animals locked up in the barns. I notice for the first time in my forty five years of life how the farm buildings rudely stick out from the nature around them, how they clash with the woods and fields like the way I clash with the town and I know this is where I belong.

I get out of the van and head out into the fields, taking my gun with me. Ryan will be better off with Alice, won't he? She certainly thinks Claire did it, hates her. She has poured words into my ears of her godlessness, her evil. If there is a God, why would he let my son die, no matter who did it, why would he let him die?

I sit down on the grass in the main field, I know what I must do, I am so scared but I need to do the right thing by me family, me son. The shotgun barrel is cold against me neck. I have used it many times before to ease pain, to put animals out of their suffering, why should I not use it now, to ease me suffering, me pain? Surely it is better to do it now, remove all of Ryan's family in one fell swoop rather than in two, three years time? Me finger strokes the trigger. It is so peaceful out here, so unlike the last few days. Me finger embraces the trigger. The farm is so much simpler, a man's world unlike raising a family. Me finger pulls the trigger. The peace is broken.

PC Edwards

A lion pokes its head out of the dense jungle, above it in a tree a red and blue parrot is perched blissfully unaware of the danger of a snake sneaking up behind it. The lion gazes out and appears to be staring across the room at a sunken pirate ship. A shark returns the lions gaze whilst an octopus wraps its tentacles around the broken mast. Within the depths of the ship chests of gold glisten.

This scene is watched not only by the lion but by a small green alien in a flying saucer. It is in orbit of a ringed planet and behind it the vast expanse of the galaxy stretches away.

The fourth wall of the room is different though, No mural, instead the top half of it is a mirror that stretches from side to side and dominates the room. It is from behind this mirror that I watch young Ryan.

Ryan is sat on the carpeted floor playing with a toy fire engine, not at all interested in the murals around him. I can only imagine what the last few days have been like for him and his father. I have been on the force for twenty two years but this case is one of the worse I have come across. One of the ones that will still be there when I am old and retired. The ghosts don't go away; all you can try and do is get them justice.

Their bedroom was so much like my room when I was a child. Football posters on the walls, parts of games on the floor and a set of bunk beds pushed up against the wall. Broken toys lay on the floor around the boy. He was still a boy, I don't hold with these policemen who always refer to them as the deceased or the body. He is a boy and he lay on his bedroom floor, the place he should have been safest in the world, with a kitchen knife sticking out his chest. He had bled out covering the floor around him in a dark red stain which had merged into some paints creating a perverse surreal picture.

I spoke to Mr Roberts before the interview, PC Sam Marsh lives over by the farm on the other side of the woods and heard gun shots late last night. It was pest control, Mr Roberts responded, but did not look at me and I did not push the matter.

'Must this be done now?' he asks me. 'Ryan has already been through so much, we have already been through so much.'

'We will be gentle with him, Mr Roberts, but we do need to talk to him, whilst events are fresh in his mind.'

'Can I be in there with him?'

'You can, but we would request you allow him to answer the questions without interfering.'

'Interfering? He's my son!'

'I mean not to prompt him to an answer, to let him answer in his own words.'

We enter the room and Ryan glances up at his father and then his eyes flick over to me. They don't linger though and he drops his gaze quickly to the floor.

'Ryan, why were you under the stairs?' I ask him.

'Andrew was lying on the floor and there was a mess, I always get in trouble when there is a mess.'

'So you went and hid?'

'Yes, and then Mummy started screaming and then she was shouting my name trying to find me.'

'Mummy was shouting your name?'


'Ryan, did you see Mummy with a knife on Saturday?' I ask him trying not to look at Mr Roberts.

'Yes,' comes his reply, but quietly as if he is breaking a secret.

'What sort of knife was it, Ryan?' I ask.

'It was a big knife that she uses for the beef, beef comes from a cow, did you know that?'

'When did you see this, Ryan?'

'It was in the afternoon, me and Andrew had been playing football.'

'You were playing football inside?'

'No, silly, we were outside and I kicked the ball really hard and scored a goal but it hit the kitchen window.'

'And she came out with a knife?'

'No, that was later, we had been sent to our room for smashing the window and then I had been painting and Andrew knocked me and my paints went over then she came up with a knife...'

Ryan's words collapse into sobs and he starts rocking backwards and forwards. His father rushes over to comfort him. Wrapping his arms around the child.

Mr Roberts stops the interview at this point. I should have tried to continue it, but my heart was with Ryan and his father. The interview could continue later, when the wounds were not as deep, not as fresh. Andrew's wounds may never heal but his father's and brother's could, perhaps.

Ryan Roberts

I haven't seen Mummy in ages, me and Daddy are living in a cottage on the farm now. It is nice because it means I get to see the animals everyday. Daddy seems sad, he cries quite a lot and doesn't laugh as much as he used too. There are lots of men in suits who come quite often now. They talk about stuff I don't understand, but they seem to upset Daddy as well because when they go he sits down and starts crying again.

I asked him where Mummy was and he said that she had done something very bad and that she would not be coming back. I asked him what she had done but he didn't answer. He just hugged me.

I miss Andrew also. I have no one to play with now. If he came back, I would let him play with my Optimus Prime. Daddy bought me a new Optimus Prime which is great because my old one had a bit broken off and after it got covered in blood the police took it. It was Andrew's fault it got broke though, so I'm not that sorry.

I had climbed up onto the window still to look into the garden for Mummy after she had made me clean up after spilling the paints. I could see Mummy at the back of the garden smoking behind the shed. She had told Daddy she had stopped so she was going to be in trouble as well later. I don't think that is the really bad thing Daddy spoke of but it could be, I definitely am not going to smoke when I'm older. Andrew had pulled me off the window sill. We're not allowed on there, he'd said, you keep getting me into trouble. He then pushed me and I fell over and landed on my Optimus Prime breaking his arm off. I hit out at Andrew but he is bigger and hit me again harder. I don't think Mummy had meant to leave the knife in our room. I just used it like in the cartoons and it went into him. He didn't scream like in the cartoons though. He just looked at me and then fell backwards breaking more toys and his blood made more mess mixing with the paints. I knew I would be blamed again so went and hid. Everyone has been really nice to me though since I stabbed Andrew, I thought I would have been in much more trouble.