Number 42

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Yesterday

Danny was late for school even though he’d left at the same time as Jordan, his twin brother. No-one was going to believe that he’d got lost. They’d lived here three weeks already.

Jordan smirked at him from across the assembly hall as Danny tried to creep in. Too late. Miss Evans saw him and screeched out his name like one of the seagulls that hung in the air above the school bins.

‘Daniel Porter, where’s your tie? See me after!’

He slunk along the line of cross-legged children and threw himself on the floor near the giant radiator, hoping for heat. He looked down. There was still some sand on his shoes.

The Day Before

Danny pushed his biro through the page to make a hole then drew teeth around it. Jordan had finished his homework already.

‘Haven’t you finished yet?’ Jordan said without taking his eyes off the small screen between his hands. He didn’t wait for Danny to answer.

Danny spent his whole life not replying to questions. No-one really wanted to hear the answer anyway. Where do you think you’re going? Why do you talk funny? When are you going to catch your brother up? What’re you sulking about?

People didn’t ask Jordan questions. They just told him things like You’re a smart lad, you’ll go places, you. Or Look how tall you got!

They didn’t mean to be nasty. No-one was beating Danny up or anything. But it wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair.

He took his school tie off and threw it up in the air. It fell on his open schoolbooks.

‘Can I go out?’ he asked.

‘Can’t you just sit and do your homework?’ Mum shouted from the kitchen. She was smoking with her friend out of the back door, talking about men. Probably about Dad. She didn’t ask a question for another fifteen minutes, and that time she asked, ‘Where’s he gone?!’

Danny’s mouth felt tooth-brushed-cold outside. The air smelled of salt instead of smoke, and people were coming home from work and cooking dinners. They were ignoring him, and it was lovely. He walked along a wide avenue of short, fat houses. He wondered if Miss Evans lived in one of them. Then, just as he realised he was lost, he saw the sea, flat, grey and as big as forever. He ran over a bank of cold, crisp grass and up to a promenade with black railings.

Looking down, breathless, he saw a man there, staring out to sea. Actually, three men. Not together though, they stood away from each other like they were waiting for something. Seven. Ten, maybe twenty. Maybe fifty. Motionless men in the sand. Out in the sea, he could see more of them, the water up as far as their shoulders. They looked like frozen robots.

‘Huh. Stupid,’ he whispered, and hopped down the steep stone steps to the beach and ran. First, he thudded through the pale, dry sand, then he soon heard dull squelches underfoot. When he got to the sea, a rippled dam of ice held the waves back, and he whistled through his teeth. He stepped forward and crunched the frozen sea with the toe of one shoe.

There were seashells all around, and Danny set to collecting one of each kind, cleaning them on his shirt and shoving them in his pockets. He foraged head down, further and further, the wheezing of the sea behind him.

‘Oof!’ With a metallic clang, he bumped his head on something hard and fell straight back on the cold, damp beach. He felt a few shells shatter in his pockets.

‘Ouch!’ said the metal man. Danny sat there, getting wet trousers, his mouth open. He looked up at the metal man’s head. He hadn’t moved, not a single bit, not even his mouth. He stood up, forgetting the broken shells. He put out a hand and prodded the man in the stomach. The metal was colder than his fingers.

‘It’s rude to poke people.’

Danny’s hand shot back to his pocket. He wasn’t sure if he really had heard the metal man speak or whether it was just the sound of a motorbike up on the road.

‘Sorry,’ he said, his eyes wide. ‘Are you…?’ He wasn’t quite sure how to speak to a bald metal man who was twice his height and was perfectly naked.

‘Speak up, lad,’ the metal man seemed to say.

‘Are you a robot?’ Danny ventured.

‘I’m a statue. I’m art.’ The metal man sounded proud.

Danny frowned. He looked down at the man’s arm. He had the number 42 stamped on a band around his wrist. ‘Why do you have a number on you?’

‘To make us all different.’

Danny looked up and down the beach at the other brown metal men. ‘Why?’

‘Because we’re all the same. Except the popular ones. Them’s that have barnacles and seaweed.’

Danny looked at Number 42’s face. He was rusting a bit but otherwise a plain brown, metal man.

‘You should see number 30. What they did to him…’ Number 42 said, and he whistled. Or was that just the sound of the seagulls?

‘But what are you for?’ Danny asked.

‘You ask too many questions.’

Danny thought carefully before he spoke again. ‘Would you like to be… different? Like Number 30?’

Number 42 paused. ‘Maybe.’

Danny grinned. ‘If you can wait ‘til tomorrow, I can help.’

Today

It’s a bright and chilly day, not a cloud in the sky above the beach. Two people, a man and a woman, throw a stick for a short, grey terrier. Walking towards the sea, across the sand, they stop to look at a brown, iron statue wearing a school tie. A moment later they take a photograph, then another and then another.

‘Number 42,’ the woman says, reading his number. ‘You’re my favourite.’

They walk away, holding hands and smiling.

‘Thank you,’ says Number 42.

 

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Rating: 9.40/10. From 25 votes.
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- Total nr. of readings: 426 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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7 thoughts on “Number 42

  1. Jess Hall

    A story of solidarity in being different. Lovely.

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  2. Bev Hall

    It takes me back to the day you took me to visit the metal men
    Thank you

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  3. Helen

    We all want to be a bit different, even identical metal men.

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  4. Lorraine Forrest-Turner

    A lovely and surprising tale with unexpected and delightful ending. Beginning and ending nicely linked with sand on the shoes and missing tie. Danny’s desire to be noticed unselfishly played out. Charming.

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  5. Julia Laine

    Lovely evocative story, well written and easy to read and thought-provoking with it. Danny got my attention from the start, and I could picture this happening as though watching it on tv. It seems like a good prelude to a great series!
    Unfortunately I touched the star-line while scrolling up and it recorded my vote as 1 star, could not correct it to 10! I hope someone can rectify this. ☹️

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  6. Michelle Robshaw-Bryan

    Love it! Immediately thought of the Anthony Gormley beach sculptures too. Very lovely.

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  7. Pete

    We all like to be a bit different.

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