“Can Gaaar have a drink, too, please, mummy?” Little Tommy Harris asked his mother, in the kitchen of their smart and efficient executive home.
“Who’s Gaaar, honey?” his mother replied, expertly stuffing the chicken for that evening’s roast dinner, not taking her eyes from the task.
“He’s my friend,” Tommy said, betraying a socially aware caution where such matters were concerned. He had known his mother all his life and some of her character traits had trained him in selective information giving.
“Yes, but use the bottle of orange barley-water that’s already open and the plastic picnic beakers,” she said, while inserting the onion and preparing the foil-lined roasting dish.
“Thank you, mummy. I shall.” Tommy answered, doing exactly what he had been told. He added four parts water to one part orange concentrate and then carried both beakers out into the garden on a small metal tray. It was a souvenir of the Queen’s golden jubilee and the most attractively decorated of the small selection of such items. He walked down to the end of the garden and crossed the wooden plank bridge into the woods.
“Here you are!” he said, handing over one of the beakers. A small grubby hand took it, clumsily. “It’s called orange barley-water. I hope you like it.”
“Or … bar … wa,” his friend said, between slurps. There was a crack, followed by a yelp of surprise.
“You’ve bitten the beaker,” Tommy said in amusement and wonder. “You’re not supposed to do that.” He mimed biting his own and then shaking his head. “They’re just plastic, picnic beakers, so I’m sure it doesn’t matter.”
There was a stomach rumbling noise and Tommy looked concerned. “Are you hungry?” He pretended to put food into his mouth and made a chewing action.”
“Hungie!” his friend replied.
“I’ll have to ask mummy and daddy first, but would you like to have dinner with us?” Tommy asked eagerly. “I don’t think daddy is bringing any of his work friends home, this evening. When that happens I have to have a bath first and mummy does extra cleaning and puts flowers and candles out.”
Taking back the broken beaker and giving a smile to repeat his earlier observation that the damage was of no importance, Tommy walked back to the kitchen. His mother was peeling the potatoes, while the oil heated to receive them, in the second roasting pan, under the shelf with the chicken.
“Mummy, can Gaaar come to dinner, please?”
“I’m afraid not, Tommy. I’d have to talk to his mummy or daddy first, to make sure they agreed and to see if they’re our sort of people.”
“But he’s really nice, mummy. And … I think he’s very hungry.”
“Is he one of your friends from playschool?” she asked, looking up from the potatoes, now peeled and roughened at the edges, to help them become crispier during the roasting process. “Doctor Robertson’s little boy?”
“No, mummy, that’s Gareth. I don’t think Gaaar goes to playschool.”
Tommy’s mother gave him a look that made him wish he’d washed his hands and face before asking her this question. “You haven’t been playing with gypsy children, have you?” She came around from the cooker side of the kitchen island and looked down at Tommy. “You have, haven’t you? What did I tell you?”
“Don’t play with the jewish children at playschool, because daddy doesn’t like them. Don’t talk to the state school children in the street, because they have bad manners and it will rub off on me. Never ever go near the gypsy children, because they’re all thieves and I might catch a disease.”
“And their daddies might break into our house and kill us in our sleep.”
Tommy’s father came into the kitchen. He didn’t spend long in that room, usually. He said it was women’s territory and he was an illegal trespasser there. “What’s going on, here, little man?” he asked, giving Tommy’s hair a tousle and his wife a peck on the cheek.
“Tommy’s been consorting with those disgusting travelers. You really must talk to the council and have them moved on, Stanley. It really is too much that they are allowed to live so close to decent people.”
“I don’t think Gaaar’s a gypsy, mummy.” Tommy spoke up.
“What does he look like, little man?” his father asked.
Tommy thought about it for a moment. “Well,” he began, hesitantly, “he’s got sort of reddish hair.”
“I suppose he wears that awful, knock-off sportswear or jeans all the time,” Tommy’s mother sniffed.
Tommy knew his next remark might be controversial, so he took in enough breath and said it in a rush. “He doesn’t wear any clothes at all, which is cool because his feet have become able to step even on sharp stones without hurting and he never has to wash anything, even if he gets very dirty.”
“Well that settles it. I’m not having a filthy, naked gypsy associating with my child, let alone coming into our home.” Tommy’s mother folded her arms across her bosom and defied anyone to contradict her, which her husband did immediately.
“Red haired, Tommy said, and goes around naked. You don’t think he could be the son of that film director chap, the one who’s taken the big house the other side of the woods for the summer, do you? “ Without waiting for an answer, Tommy’s father continued, looking into mid air, several inches above Tommy’s head. “Its just the sort of thing those Californian types would do – naturism, veganism, protecting animals and rain forests and all that nonsense -isn’t it?”
Tommy screwed his face up with concentration. He wanted to say that Gaaar didn’t sound American at all, but he sensed that his father’s words were more pro-Gaaar coming to dinner than his mother’s . Instead, he nodded sagely, and stayed silent.
“Set another place for dinner, Marjory. I think we should meet Tommy’s newest little friend.” Muttering to himself about networking and the gross returns of recent films, Tommy’s father went back into the other room.
Tommy looked at his mother, appealingly. She uncrossed her arms and gave a look of resigned indignation. “Well, you heard Daddy. If your little friend is who we think he is, it might be nice to get acquainted.” She continued, speaking more to herself that to Tommy, “Gaaar does sound like the sort of name those celebrity types might inflict on a child.”
Tommy walked back through the garden and into the woods. An hour later, having carried out his parents’ instructions, as far as he was able, Tommy returned to the house. Rather than going through the kitchen door and disturbing his mother in the last stages of cooking, Tommy took Gaaar directly into the dining room, through the French windows.
“Yes, the one who directed all those award-winning films. Well his son’s a friend of ours, you see.” Tommy’s mother’s telephone conversation ended and she brought the roast chicken into the dining room, where she dropped it.
“Stanley!’ Tommy’s mother’s voice took on an edge of panic. “Stanley!” she called for her husband again. “Tommy, come over here and stand behind mummy. There’s a good boy!”
“Don’t you want to say hello to Gaaar?” Tommy asked, aware that his mother was making a social gaff and trying to steer her back to her duties as a hostess.
Tommy’s father came into the room and said one of the words that he was expressly forbidden to say in front of his son. With a side-step and swipe that would have impressed a silent movie swordsman, he grabbed the iron poker from beside the fireplace and held it in a defensive stance. “Come here, son.” He said calmly. “Don’t make any sudden moves.”
Tommy finally lost his cool. “Why are you being so horrid to Gaaar? He isn’t jewish. I’m sure he doesn’t go to state school. He isn’t a gypsy.”
“What is it, Stanley?” Tommy’s mother whispered in a way that indicated near hysteria.
“I think … er … I mean it doesn’t make any sense … it’s a troll.”
Gaaar knew the word troll. “Troll!” he agreed. “Hungie!” he added and grabbed at the discarded chicken, which was staining the expensive carpet with its oil. With his grubby little hands and sharp teeth he ripped off a large chunk of the succulent white meat and chewed it with obvious pleasure.
“Gaar’s mummy and daddy are here,” Tommy said.