Matthew was glad Judy was there. The green space outside the church was packed with shrieking children and tight-lipped mums standing behind buggies. The blown up castle was growling, swaying and huge. He’d never been this close to one before. The loudspeakers were pounding out Jive Bunny.
As they got to the front of the line, Matthew looked down at the heap of trainers, flip flops and sandals thrown beside it. He glanced at his own tattered converse and curled his toes up, whispering,
“Do we really have to take our shoes off?”
Judy didn’t answer. She had already thrown off her pumps and was leaping towards the middle of the castle. Matthew stepped to the side, sat down in a shaded corner and unlaced his gutties, sighing when he saw that he had not thought to put on socks without holes in the toe today. One of the mums was staring at him and saying something to her friend. His face felt hot.
He heard snatches of Judy calling his name, took a deep breath and stood, pushing his shoes behind four or five better looking ones.
The man in charge gave him a harried shove on. It took him a while to find Judy, but then he saw her leaning against the side nearest to him. He sank and rose a few times to reach her, dodging wee girls with candy floss in their hair and chalky face paint on their cheeks. The boys were pushing each other and finding it all hilarious of course.
Judy shouted in his ear,
“This is horrible. You don’t look like you’re having fun either. Wanna go?”
Matthew looked at Judy and loved her even more.
She pulled on his hand. They sank and zig-zagged their way towards the shoes. As Judy’s were sparkly she found them straightaway. Matthew went over to the place he had left his. His heart started to pound. He dropped to his knees and started lifting shoes,
“I can’t find them Judy!”
“So go up and ask an adult.”
Matthew looked over at the grim mums and got back to lifting up shoes.
“I’ll go then.”
He watched her walk straight up to the man at the bouncy castle and tell him, pointing towards Matthew. Just as they got close, he put his hand on his shoes. He lifted them up and waved. At least the man wasn’t close enough to see the state of them.
“Wanna go and win a teddy?”
And she was off, digging in her tiny purse as she went. Matthew put his fingers round his only ten pence piece. Was this the best thing to use it for? They walked past stick-on tattoo stands, slushie stalls, lucky-dips, hook-a-duck and a coconut shy.
A rough-looking teenager was standing in front of a row of soft toys. You got three balls for 10p to hit a teddy off its stand. Matthew threw twice and didn’t knock anything off. He squeezed his eyes tight for a second, looked at the donkey and threw. It wobbled but didn’t fall. He rubbed his sleeve over his eyes and started to walk away. Judy let out a whoop. He turned to see her taking the donkey from the bigger boy. Matthew looked down at his stupid old shoes and tried not to think about his mum who fell nearly every time she wobbled.
“Hey! This is for you! You knocked his ear back so the man gave him to me!”
Matthew took the grey donkey with a red coat, a black mane and a bent ear. He hugged it tight,
“Of course silly!”
When he gave it to mum later she grinned,
“I love it.”
“Especially its wonky ear.”