Whatever Happened to Fred?
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When Dad met my Mum it was love at first sight. That’s what he always says. I think he just means his first sight of the name tag on Mum’s waitress’ uniform. My Dad’s called Mr. Arthur Arbuckle; he probably felt an Alison would be a perfect match.

I told Dad once that AA means Alcoholics Anonymous in America. “Yeah, well,” says Dad. “It means Automobile Association here, it does, and who cares what them foreigners think.” But Dad’s like that. Folks can think what they like as long as everything works the way he wants it to.

We got a computer a few years ago ‘cause Mum said we needed one for school. Dad doesn’t like it though because he doesn’t know how it works. He gets all worried when I’m looking stuff up. “You know, they can put any kind of rubbish on that there internet,” he says. And he really hates if it I go to MySpace to search for people. “What you want to do that for? Look in the phone book!”

  
 
My big sister was born soon after Mum and Dad got married, and they called her Amy. She’s another AA. And then, when I was born, Dad told the nurse I was going to be Alan. Luckily my Mum put her foot down with a very firm hand. She says her Uncle Joe, my great-uncle I suppose, had three kids called Jane and Jeremy and Joanne. When they were courting they all got letters addressed to J. Postlethwaite, and their Dad read the lot. “We’re having none of that here,” Mum said, so I became Brian.

Next came my little sister Catherine; she’s seven. Then the twins, Debbie and Ellie. Ellie always wants us to call her Liz but Dad won’t allow it. I used to think he was scared we might get confused if we ever had a Lucy, like we’d mix up their ages. But then my Mum had little George and then she stopped.

I guess I’m fairly clued in about this stuff. So Mum gets fat. Then Mum has a baby. Then Mum gets thin again. That’s the way it works. But after George Mum just got thinner and thinner and stayed thin. I guessed there wouldn’t be any more letters in the Arbuckle alphabet – kind of sad really.

Still, the thing I’m curious about is this. Whatever happened to Fred?

So here’s what I remember. Mum was fat, and Debbie and Ellie were little.

It should’ve been a Fred, or Felicity, or Flame – something like that – growing inside her. But they called him George instead when he came out. I was still pretty sure there’d be a Harry afterwards, and maybe an Ingrid and a Jason but when Mum didn’t seem to be having any more babies, I had this great epiphany – that’s a word I learned off the internet; it means January sixth and a really clever idea, though I don’t know what’s so clever about January sixth. Anyway, I reckoned George must have been a twin, like Fred and George both together, so I asked my Mum,”Did Fred die?” She said no.

“Well, did you give him away?” Mum and Dad looked at me like I was crazy and they both said no. So I thought, ah well, so much for eight-year-olds having grown-up epiphanies. But it’s still a good word.

Anyway, that wasn’t the end of it, and I wasn’t completely mad. So here’s what really happened.

You know how they say that every face is unique? And they have that face-recognition software on computers, so they can catch you on camera and tell who you are? They have cameras all over the place these days – not in America, but here they do. And Dad really hates it. Well, like I said, he doesn’t like computers and he thinks the cameras are spying, though it’s not like he’s got anything to hide.

Me, I think face recognition and computers and all that stuff is cool, but I wonder if it works. I can’t help thinking everyone has a whole load of different faces that they wear at different times. If you see a picture of Catherine smiling today, you might swear it was a photo of Amy from a few years back. But if you see Amy with a brand new expression – like the one where she thinks she’s grown up suddenly and decides to stare at a boy-then you’d think she’s a complete stranger till you realize she’s wearing Amy’s hair and Amy’s dress.

Anyway, I was in this model shop with my Dad. It wasn’t the one near home – he’d taken me away on a business trip for a treat ‘cause I’d been good; I am sometimes. And I saw this little kid who looked the image of George. Well, a littler George. If I was a spy camera I’d have said I was traveling in time instead of space ‘cause this kid, he had the same way of flicking a curl back from his face, big blue-black eyes with super-long lashes just like George’s, and the same colored hair. It was even the same length hair as George’s used to be. And he was looking at the same sort of model car just like George used to play with.

My Dad walked up and put his hand on the little kid’s head and said, “Hello there, Harry,” just like he knew him. And the kid smiled up at him with George’s old smile. It made me think; I don’t see George smile very often anymore. I don’t see Dad put his hand on any of our heads either, and he doesn’t talk to us. I started to feel jealous.

Then my Dad walked up to the counter and began to chat with a pretty lady there. She had yellow hair like Mum used to have, and there was a girl looking sad and solemn at her side. I thought the girl was holding a doll at first, but it moved so I guessed it was a baby. And the girl – she’d have been about George’s age -- maybe three or four – she looked just like a young Elizabeth.

While they were talking the little boy kept trying to get their attention. He pulled on my Dad’s jacket but I could’ve told him Dad wasn’t going to take any notice. Then he started tugging at his mother’s red dress. And then he decided to grab the little girl’s hair.

“You let our Freda alone,” said the pretty lady. “Just behave yourself, Harry.” And then, when he started to play with the baby’s shoes she added, “And stop messing with Ian.”

Amy and Brian and Catherine, Debbie and Ellie, then Freda, then George, and then Harry and Ian. I know my alphabet. I could see the pattern. And I noticed the pretty lady did look kind of fat, so maybe there was a Jason or a Julie on the way.

Dad just smiled sort of funny at me, but I think he knew I knew.

When we got home I told Mum that Fred was really Freda but she said nothing. “And she’s got a different Mum,” I said, like talking to a wall.

I suppose my Mum didn’t really want to know, or else she knew already.

Dad takes me over to the model shop every once in a while so he can see the pretty lady. I think he loves her. But I’m not making any friends.

Freda and Harry and Ian are way too little for me, and the lady only gives me dark chocolate when Dad knows I like light. But anyway, that’s what happened to Fred, so I don’t have to wonder any more.

So, I was saying about love at first sight, wasn’t I? And there’s this girl in school called Brittany who’s really way, way cool. I like her a lot and I wanted to talk to Mum and ask, like how do you know if you’re in love. But Mum just rolled her eyes back in her head and said, “Like father, like son.”



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