Helen Fenwick

All Work and No Play

Jay sits at the dining room table, homework spread out before him and stares out of the window. It’s a warm, sunny autumn day and he can see the bicycles, leaning against the fence, beckoning to be ridden. His younger brother, Josh, already finished his spelling and reading, is playing with his toys and Jay can hear the sound effects of an army helicopter dropping bombs on the action man in his jeep below.

His grandmother, a garrulous ex-schoolteacher, stands with her hands on her hips, deep lines furrowing her brow.

“Jay, start your homework, please.”

“Can’t we ride bikes first? He asks. They look so lonely out there.”

“First work then play, my boy.” she says drawing up a chair to sit beside him. “Now, where is your pencil?”

“It was here just now”

He hears a cacophony of birdsong and is instantly distracted as a flock of witoogies feast in the hibiscus tree outside the window. Granny glances toward the sound too but quickly turns back to the task at hand.

She gently pulls his face toward her, “Your pencil, Jay? It can’t have walked away. Perhaps it grew wings and flew.”

Jay laughs. He slides bum first from his chair and slips under the table. “Here it is,” he cries. “Gee, it’s dusty under here, Gran. I’m going to sneeze.”

“Atishoo!” he exaggerates as he returns to his chair.

Gran sighs. “Study these words. Look they all have silent gh. They’re tricky so be sure to pay attention.”

Jay scratches out each word three times.

Granny steals another look at the witoogies. She notices a nest makes a mental not to investigate later.

Jay flings down his pencil. “Done! Test me.”

Granny picks up his word list.


He sucks on the back of his pencil – “Which comes first – g or h?”

Granny raises an eyebrow. “Jay, you didn’t study!”

“I did! But the g and h keep swapping places – I can’t remember which is first!”

Granny slaps his word list back in front of him. “Look, read, absorb!” she says firmly.

“Ohhhh,” he says, “Okay, got it!’

She calls ‘naughty’ again.”

Josh stomps in, “I’m hungry,” he whines.

Gran scoops him up onto her lap. “In a minute, Josh. Let Jay finish here.”

The gate bell chimes. Gran scrapes back her chair and pushes Josh in front of her as she goes to check the monitor. She picks up the air-phone.

“Madam, please madam. I need a few rand for paraffin”

“Just a minute,” Josh slips out of the door as she goes to find her purse.

She returns a minute later. Jay is not at the table.

She rushes out. The bergie is standing at the open gate.

She hands him some change. “Did you see my grandsons?” She is furious.

“They rode that way Madam.”

She feels the warm sunshine on her skin, breathes in the fragrance of autumn, glances up as the witoogies fly freely over her head and says out loud, “Oh, what the heck!”

She leaps onto her own bike, throws back her head to feel the wind blow through her hair and races off.

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