Eight-year-old Becky is sowing seeds in yoghurt pots. She has sat on the garden step and laid out newspaper to keep her dress clean. She is using a dessert spoon to transfer compost from a sack. Unfortunately, the sack is rather deep, so Becky has to put her whole sleeve inside. She frowns, thinking that in six weeks these tubs will be brimming with salad. She imagines Dad putting dinner on the plate, and Becky saying wait, we need some greens, and then cutting the leaves which fill the plates with more to spare for the next day and the day after that. Becky knows from the news, which Mum watches all the time with the curtains drawn, that prices are rocketing, and she, Becky, is going to help. She’s going to save the family. She empties the seeds into her hand and makes her face serene, in case anyone above is watching.
The back door opens and Becky closes her hand into a fist.
“What doing, Beck,” comes the piping voice of brother Billy.
“Stay inside,” Becky orders. Then she remembers that she’s going to save the family. “Okay. You can watch.”
Billy doesn’t want to watch. He wants to do. He plumps down beside Becky and this nudges her arm. Becky is no longer serene.
Becky is examining a seed pot. Six hairy white commas are poking through the soil. Becky gives them a sprinkle from her child’s watering can. She hears a noise from the drive on the other side of the house and recognises her dad’s car. She hasn’t seen him for a few days and wants to tell him something, so she drops the watering can and runs inside.
Billy comes out and crouches down. He strokes the commas with his finger. He lifts the watering can, but it’s heavier than he expects and water pours out of the opening, flooding the plants. This isn’t right. There’s some gravel next to the house, so he stuffs a fistful into the pot. That’s better.
Becky and Billy are sitting outside. Becky has on her best dress because they’re staying at Nana’s tonight. Her eyes are pink. She’s holding a single pot containing a thatch of seedlings. This was meant to save the family. Becky isn’t going to save anyone now.
Billy spots an empty yoghurt pot in the grass. There’s something else, which he pockets. Becky is staring into space when he returns. Billy puts the pot on his head and makes his face very solemn. He pokes her knee. She sniffs. Billy removes the pot from his head and hands it to her. She looks at it, then puts it on her own head. Billy giggles. Becky giggles too. Billy puts his hand in his pocket and shows Becky what he’s found: a brown snail. He offers it to Becky. She thinks a minute, then puts the seedling pot on the ground and the snail on top. They watch the snail slowly poke its head out of its shell.
Becky holds out her hand to Billy. “Shall we find it a friend?”
Sarah Masters has had stories published in Slush, the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2022, FlashFlood 2022, Little Ms, and Serious Flash Fiction. She lives in York.