But Dad seemed to want to go faster than everyone else today. Dom heard him tutting when the old people stopped just in front of them, he knew that Mum would have slowed down, given them a chance to get going again, but Dad mumbled something cross and just kept going, pushing his way past. Dominic saw the old lady shake her head; he wanted to stop and smile, make it alright, but Dad just kept marching on. It wasn’t easy to keep up, even when he half-and-half walked and ran.
Sometimes when he was out with Mum, they did the matching footsteps thing, but not today; every time he’d hopped to the other foot to try and keep step, Dad had changed his stride. Maybe Mum just hadn’t told him how it was supposed to go. Dom tried getting him to slow down instead, tugging at his sleeve. He scuffed his shoes on the brick path, but Dad didn’t notice that either. Halfway up the high street, just by the big shop with the window full of fishing rods and lanterns and wellington boots, Dom slipped his fingers from the big curled up fist and let go.
It wasn’t far to the bridge from here. When he was out with Mum, they’d usually stop for a bit when they got there, and he’d stand on tiptoe with her arms tight round him to look down the river. There were tall, tall buildings along the edge of the water. Some of them looked like giant garden sheds, made from planks of dark brown wood. He knew there were people who lived in them, but he couldn’t imagine the insides, he couldn’t think what it would be like to have stairs in a garden shed. There might be cobwebs and spiders too.
Mum had painted the shed in their garden, bright stripes of green and yellow. “Like daffodils” she’d said, laughing at Daddy when he’d pulled a face and screwed up his eyes. Dom had worried then, he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to like it or not; but he could still remember his mum standing in front of it with spots of yellow paint in her hair and on her hands.
He got to the bridge and leaned against the big grey bricks. The one in the middle had writing on, sometimes when he stood there he’d trace round the letters with his finger, but not today. He peered over, into the water, to watch it passing underneath. There weren’t many boats; just a small blue one with a pointed white sail, and a long black and red barge. Mum had told him about barges, he knew that some people went for their holidays in them, travelling around, up and down canals. She’d told him some people even lived in them, people who went to bed every night with the water rocking them gently to sleep. This one had boxes of flowers on the top, she’d like that.
He wanted her to come back and tell him other things.
The barge moved slowly up the river, away from the bridge. There was a man standing at the back, holding onto a long stick, making sure the boat stayed in the middle and didn’t hit the sides. Just in front of him were two small wooden doors. As Dom watched, one of the doors opened and a lady came out. She looked at the man and smiled as she handed him a big mug of tea. Then she looked up at the bridge, saw Dom and waved. It was a big wave, not just her hand, like the Queen, but her whole arm.
The lady was wearing a big red jumper; she matched the paint on the boat. He thought she looked a bit like his mum, her hair was the same colour, but his mum didn’t have a red jumper. Dom waved back. A small wave at first and then just like her, a big whole-arm stretching wave.
As the boat moved away, the man leaned towards her and said something, maybe he was telling her to go back inside, but she didn’t. She stayed there, looking at Dominic, smiling and waving. Dom’s arm was starting to ache a bit, but he couldn’t stop yet. With the hand that wasn’t waving, he pushed himself up as high as he could, he stretched and leaned forward a bit more against the side of the bridge, he watched, as she got further and further away.
He didn’t know what was happening at first, as the big arms grabbed and held him, and he felt the sharp sting of his knee scraping against the bricks. He couldn’t see much, with his face pushed into the rough front of a jacket, but then he thought that the jacket felt a bit like the sleeve he’d tugged earlier. And after a while, he knew the voice that whispered in his ear.
“Not you. Not you too.”