Mr Miller was in the corner of his backyard, his back to me, his elbows moving – like chicken wings flapping – to the sound of click-click-click. As I got closer, I saw he was cutting his hedges – trimming, that’s what he told me he did: trim the hedges with his big, big scissors.
I tiptoed up to surprise him. Sometimes his son, Tommy, would help him trim the hedges while Rexy, their big German Shepherd, ran around the yard and chased the birds away. But now the yard was quiet and it was only Mr Miller, so I knew I’d surprise him good.
‘Hello, Mr Miller!’ I said.
Mr Miller jumped the way I jump when my big sister Elsie sneaks up and shouts ‘boo!’ But he didn’t get scared or angry like I do. Usually, he would smile. Usually, he smiled all the time. But, now, he only went back to cutting (click-click-click), to trimming his hedges, although most of the time his big scissors snipped at the air.
‘Hello, Bobby,’ he said.
‘Do you like my new hat?’ Mummy had given me a cap with a propeller on top. I wore it everywhere, even to bed and in the bath.
‘It’s very nice, Bobby.’
‘But you’re not looking, Mr Miller!’ I tugged at his shirt.
Mr Miller turned. His face was wet, because he sweats when he trims his hedges, and the sweat fills the deep lines of his face until it overflows. His eyebrows were bushy like Santa’s, his hair white and messy – Mummy would never let me go out like that – and there was even hair in his ears that looked like sprouts!
‘It’s very, very nice, Bobby,’ Mr Miller said, patting me on the shoulder. Then he started cutting again.
Whenever I came over, Mr Miller would tell me stories and sometimes he’d laugh so hard he couldn’t talk properly. Or he’d play with me and chase me around the yard – although he couldn’t run very fast – until Mummy would call over the fence and tell me to stop bothering him and Mr Miller would call back to her and tell her that I wasn’t bothering him at all. But today was very different. Mr Miller looked like he didn’t want to talk or tell me stories or smile.
‘Mummy says Tommy’s gone away,’ I said.
His scissors stopped for a moment. Then he started cutting again, although he kept cutting the air. I wondered if he knew that. Or was he doing something I didn’t understand? A lot of times I wouldn’t understand, and Mr Miller would have to explain things to me. Sometimes, when I thought I understood, I suggested I should help him, but he would tell me I was too little.
‘And Rexy too?’
I stood up straight, to show how big I was getting. Mummy said I was getting bigger every day. But I wanted to show Mr Miller that I was grown up like him and we could talk about big adult things.
‘Mummy said they’re living with Daddy now.’
Mummy said Daddy had gone to live on a farm. He lived in a hospital for a long, long time, and Mummy would visit him. Sometimes, she’d take me and Elsie. I liked visiting Daddy. He would always tell me stories and talk to me and make me laugh. But after we’d visited a while, he’d get tired and wouldn’t tell me stories so much. Then Mummy stopped taking me and Elsie. When I cried and cried, Mummy said Daddy had gone to live on a farm a long, long, long way away, and that it was too far to visit because Mummy didn’t have a car.
Mr Miller had a car, although Tommy wrecked it driving one day to the beach with Rexy. I wondered if that was why he went away, because he was in trouble for wrecking the car. Oh well, maybe Mr Miller could visit Tommy and Rexy when he got his car fixed. I was sure he would. Mr Miller was very smart like that.
‘Rexy will like the farm,’ I said. ‘He’ll get to run around.’
‘And chase bunnies.’
Again, Mr Miller was still.
‘Do you think he’ll like that?’
‘I suppose he will.’
The big scissors in Mr Miller’s hands must’ve been very heavy because he had to rest them on the hedges. I wished I wasn’t too little and I could help him. His face looked shiny now. I wondered how long he’d been cutting. Trimming.
‘And Tommy will get to talk to Daddy.’
A little bubble of sweat rolled down one of the lines of Mr Miller’s face like it was a water slide. It shot through air, shining and sparkling with lots of colours like I see in Elsie’s kaleidoscope. It hit me right on my nose and splattered its colours all over me.
I wiped it off with my sleeve as I thought about how much Mr Miller seemed like Daddy. Was he getting tireder? I didn’t want him to stop being the Mr Miller who told me jokes and who played with me and smiled and laughed until he couldn’t talk. That would mean he’d go away. Maybe he’d go and live with Tommy and Rexy and Daddy. But I wanted him to stay here. With me. He could visit when he fixed his car!
I locked my arms around his leg and held on as tight as I could. If he was going to go, then he was going to have to take me. He was going to have to walk with me stuck onto him.
Mr Miller made sounds like gorillas make at the zoo. His chest went up and down, and his whole body shook. Then, his face: at first I thought there was lots and lots of sweat, but now I knew he was crying the way I cry when Elsie teases me or hits me because she’s stupid.
‘Are you all right, Mr Miller?’
Mr Miller shoved his big, big scissors in the top of the hedges, so the handles stuck up like a pair of bunny ears, before resting the palm of his hand on top of my head, squashing the propeller on my cap. Then he sank to one knee until I was looking right into his great, big grey eyes. They were wet and red, but didn’t look sad like before. I thought Mr Miller might pick me up and spin me over his shoulder the way he did sometimes. Instead, he put one giant, gnarled hand on my shoulder, like he was going to be very serious with me.
‘How would you like to help me with the hedges, Bobby?’
My mouth dropped. ‘Awesome!’ I cried, screaming with the joy the way I do when I beat Elsie in a game.
Then, for the first time since I’d gotten there, Mr Miller smiled.