Little brothers

web cover low resI have two brothers, both younger than me, but only one that I think of as my ‘little brother’. He’s called Andy and he was born when I was six and going to Karori Normal School. My brother Pete is so close in age I can barely remember a time in my life without him (he was my first best friend), but I remember the day Andy was born. I drew a picture at school of what looked like a tadpole with a baby’s face – Andy in his white blanket. You couldn’t see his fuzz of red hair. I wrote underneath about ‘my baby’, and about how I liked bathing him and looking after him.

When he started walking I was Andy’s unpaid protector, dragging him from the edges of bush tracks and wharves, sure he’d die a terrible death (and convinced my mother wasn’t paying enough attention.) Later, I rolled my eyes when his little friends came over and played cars and Lego – brmmm, brmmm etc. Boys!

Andy liked collecting things, small things. He ate the cuffs of his jerseys. He was loud and sticky. His hair got redder and redder, and he got taller … and taller.

When I was writing Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, I gave Annie a little brother called Robbie. He’s six years younger than Annie – he’s 4 and Annie’s nearly 10 – and like my brother Andy, he’s loud and sticky, and likes collecting small things. He collects them in his pockets so that when he walks he rattles. His father calls them the shinies.

I hadn’t expected Robbie to be such an important character in the book. When I first wrote it, he stayed at home with his mum while Annie went on her adventure with the tigrish. But he didn’t like that. Neither did I. I kept feeling something was missing.

So I rewrote the book and found that (without being asked) Robbie charged off on the adventure too. Much to Annie’s annoyance at first – because he is loud and he is sticky and he is 4 … but, like all little brothers, she discovers he has his moments. When they’re stuck in the Giant Wood with all sorts of scary things going on, Robbie’s collection of shinies and ‘commando moves’ help save the day.

Robbie has a lot of my brother Andy in him, but he has other important little boys wrapped up in him too: especially my son Adam and godson Ned – who were/are both loud and sticky and smart and adventurous. There are glimpses too of my brother Pete and son Paul who did less of the loud, sticky, physical thing and more talking, and two little boys who came regularly to my house when I was writing: Lincoln and Carter.

Boys! Who’d be without them? As a big sister of two, and a mum of two (and a girl too, my youngest), I know I wouldn’t. Above all else these lovely boys have given me a lot to laugh about. Here’s a taste of Robbie in the book. He and Annie are visiting Mr and Mrs Hedge who are part of the hedge at the end of the garden. There’s a nest of baby fantails for Robbie to see, including Bud, the smallest …

Robbie climbed up so his blue shorts were level with Annie’s eyes. She could see his back pocket had bulgy bits where he’d put his little things, what he called his shinies: small stones and bottle tops and dice and Lego bricks and walnut shells. They weren’t all shiny, really, but their dad said Robbie was a magpie and magpies liked shiny things, so that’s how they came to be called that.

Annie could see the way Mrs. Hedge had cupped her branches around Robbie and was watching him closely. Just a glimpse of her eyes, and then they were gone.

“Bud’s the littlest one,” said Annie. “The one with the wobbly head.”

“Getting bigger,” said Mrs. Hedge, “and noisier—listen to that squeaking! They think you’ve brought worms, Robbie.”

“One, two, three, four, five,” said Robbie, counting. “There are five baby birds.”

“They’re hungry,” said Mr. Hedge. “Bud especially—he misses out. He’s small and the other babies push him aside.”

“Worms,” said Robbie, and he pushed one hand into his back pocket. Out came a broken rubber band. Robbie wiggled it in front of his nose, sniffed, then pushed it back where it had come from. He fiddled around some more. A cotton reel. String. Then a fat thing that was brown and pinkish. It wriggled.

“Here, Bud,” Robbie said, and dropped it into the nest.

All Annie could hear were the cicadas. Then:

“He did eat it!”

“Yes, he did,” said Mrs. Hedge. “Thank you, Robbie.” And the leaves parted, and there were the leafy eyes. Robbie didn’t see them—he was too busy watching the nest.

“In one gulp!” said Robbie.

“I would think so,” said Mr. Hedge. “That was a nice fat worm.”

“I’ve got my worm-hunting tee-shirt on,” said Robbie, “that’s why I found it,” and he waved towards the rose bush. “You know, Mrs. Hedge, birds are cute dinosaurs, too.”

That’s when the leaves around Robbie shivered and shivered. Then they shook and shook. And a sound like a huge wave rushed towards them. Annie tugged hard at one of Robbie’s back pockets.               “Let’s get down.”

Robbie stayed as he was.

Annie tugged again—sharper this time—and the pocket wriggled. A cute something was in there. She let go.

The wave of sound made her feel like she’d jumped into a pool of icy water—there were goosebumps all over her arms and neck. Whatever it was, it was coming closer, sweeping the wire fence and crashing across the lawn…

Wind. Sending the wire fence twanging, billowing the sheets on the line, pushing and shoving its way between Annie and Robbie and the Hedges, roaring in their faces. Mrs. Hedge’s mouth moved but didn’t make a sound as she struggled to keep a grip on the nest. Mr. Hedge gripped Mrs. Hedge.

“Robbie,” yelled Annie over the torrent of air, “get down!”

from Dappled Annie and the Tigrish (Gecko Press 2014)

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