Mrs Splosh turned on the light and went into Koko’s room. Her son was sitting up in bed crying, gasping for air between sobs. She hurried to his side and gave him a hug, taking care not to get greasepaint on the shoulder of her patchwork nightie. She reached up her sleeve and pulled out handkerchief after handkerchief in a seemingly never-ending succession of bright colours and patterns. At last she reached the end and held the last one to his face.
“Here, blow your little red nose.”
Koko did as he was told, honking like a rubber-headed bicycle horn.
“I’ll fetch a glass of water.” Mrs Splosh waddled along the landing to the bathroom, trying not to trip over her size 30 slippers. She returned to find the boy calmer but still visibly upset and squeaking like a balloon being twisted into an animal. She held out the glass but her feet got entangled and she lurched towards him. A cascade of glitter showered on the boy. He clapped but it was more out of duty than amusement.
Mrs Splosh perched on the edge of the mattress and smoothed her son’s unruly orange hair. “That nightmare again, huh?” The boy nodded. Despite his painted grin, Mrs Splosh could tell her son was deeply upset. It was her husband’s fault, filling the boy’s head with horror stories before bedtime. “Footles, you clown” she had scolded him, “he’s too young to hear about such things. It’s me that has to get up in the middle of the night and settle him down. He’s like a jack-in-the-box when he won’t settle. You know he won’t go back to sleep until I’ve sniffed his buttonhole. It’s just not fair. You should get up and see to him sometimes, but oh no, you’re out like a light after a night out with twenty of your friends , driving around in our little car. Then you come home and expect me to be ready to throw a pie in your face. You want to get your act together, or I’m running away from the circus.”
As if to answer her thoughts, Footles farted in the next room. Great, thought Mrs Splosh, there’ll be confetti all over the bed now. She settled Koko back under the covers.
“You do know it’s only stories, don’t you, son? There aren’t really women who paint their faces orange and grown men who wear socks with sandals. It’s just a story. They can’t hurt you.”
She planted a slobbery kiss on his forehead and was about to leave him when he gestured towards the lurid plastic flower on the lapel of his chequered pyjamas.
“Oh, all right then.” Mrs Splosh leant towards the flower and made a pantomime of taking a big sniff. The boy giggled and squeezed the rubber bulb concealed under the blankets. Blue ink sprayed in his mother’s face. Mrs Splosh stood up and ran a white glove from her forehead to her chin.
“Goodnight,” she said from the doorway. He was his father’s son all right “You clown.”
She clicked off the light.