Sally sucks her bottle and surveys the dappled sky from her privileged vantage point. Even at her tender age she has learned how to secure her mother’s undivided attention. She deliberately flaps her chubby arms and squawks like a baby bird. Her mother flies to her side, eager to settle her precious fledgling.
Jennifer lifts her eight month old from the pram and places her gently on a blanket. Turtle-like, Sally raises her tiny head to take in her surroundings. The Incredible Hulk, formerly known as her brother, Timothy, crouches on the blanket beside her. He raises his arms like a tarantula, encompassing her tiny body.
“Rah, Hulk is going to eat you now. Hulk likes to eat babies.”
“Timmy, how about giving Sally a Hulk kiss. I think she would really like that. Why don’t you see how gentle Hulk can be with her?”
Timothy leans over and places his lips on his sister’s cheek. He kisses her gently and tenderly. Standing, he raises his Hulk arms, flexing his five year old muscles like an expert body builder.
“Well done Timothy. Sally is so lucky to have a big brother like you; so lucky.”
On the other side of town, eight month old Maggie lies in her squalid room. She sucks on a bottle of tepid cordial and observes the paint-worn ceiling for the hundredth time. She sucks frantically on the worn, filthy teat desperate to find sustenance. To her eight month old mind, this room is the world and the paint-worn ceiling the sky. When she cries her mother cusses and does not come near her. She has learned to cry loudly and persistently if she wants her nappy changed. Sometimes, her five year old brother rescues her from the cot and plays with her on the fetid carpet, but never for very long.
“Anthony, put that baby back in her cot or I’ll slap you so hard you won’t know what’s hit you. Now get out here and eat your supper.”
Anthony sits rigidly at the supper table. The stale bread and tinned spaghetti taste rancid. “Mummy, why does this spaghetti taste funny?”
“You ungrateful little ……… You can just go to bed without any supper.”
He feels the sting on his cheek and hopes there will not be another mark.
Anthony sits on the floor next to his sister’s cot. If discovered in her room he knows there will be another slap, but he takes the risk. He loves the way his little sister stares into his eyes and smiles at him. He pulls down the side of the cot and kisses her gently on the cheek. She coos gratefully and smiles at him. Stroking her bald head he whispers, “We’re so lucky to have each other Maggie; so lucky.”
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