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Happy

It was a beautiful day. A perfect day, even. The sun was shining, with a perfect temperature, just warm enough for a t-shirt, not so hot that it was sticky and clammy. The birds were singing their midday chorus, and all around, people were enjoying a lazy lunch. Peter made his way through the park, and as he strolled along, he saw a child holding an ice-lolly, one of the ones he’d had decades ago, as a kid. He glanced at his watch. He still had fifteen minutes before he had to go back into his office and finish his afternoon’s work, although he really should get back and make a head start... But he hadn’t treated himself in so long… and he’d treated his wife to some beautiful flowers, which had been delivered to her that morning… He made his way across the road to the corner shop, stole into the cool interior, and looked around for the ice creams. There, at the bottom of one of the compartments, was a Red Rocket lolly. He grinned and picked it up.

“Ah, another Red Rocket!” the shopkeeper grinned. “These have been popular today.”

“Reminds me of my childhood,” Peter grinned back. The vitamin D and serotonin was high. “I couldn’t resist!”

“I don’t blame you, on a day like today. One-fifty, please, mate.”

“I’ll take some fizzy cola bottles too, please, while I’m here.” He gestured to the tub at the back. Decades since he’d had a pic’n’mix, too. “And some cherries, and… you know what, throw in some of those white mice, too.”

“There you go. Four quid exactly, please.” The shopkeeper gave him a kindly grin. Peter handed over a fiver, and took his change. “Enjoy the rest of the sun!”

“Thanks, mate, you too!” Peter smiled cordially as he left the shop. He unwrapped the Red Rocket lolly, and took a lick. Just like he remembered. It was going to be a good afternoon.

Little Lydia had seen three people with tasty-looking red ice lollies, and she rather fancied one for herself. She’d been at the park all morning with her mother, Sarah, and they’d even fed the ducks some oats and special duck food from the nice man in the pet shop. She’d seen the rabbits, and the hamsters, but the guinea pigs were hiding.

“Mummy! Mummy! Please for one of those!” Little Lydia asked, tugging on Sarah’s sleeve. Sarah, who had been grateful for a sunny day to keep her child occupied outside, gazed down contentedly. “Please! For one of those!” she pointed to a tall man in a shirt and tie, who was clearly enjoying the taste of a Red Rocket lolly. She smiled fondly herself. Those had been her go-to as a kid. Strawberry flavoured ice, with the top dipped in chocolate, and coated in sprinkles. And shaped like a rocket.

“A Red Rocket lolly?” Sarah asked.

“Please! Please mummy!”

“Well, alright. We can go and see if they have one, and then we’ll go to the library to return our books and see your friends at reading group, yes?” Little Lydia nodded so hard, her head nearly fell off.

The inside of the shop was nice and cool. Little Lydia knew exactly where the lollies were, and so she raced over to the big freezer. Sarah followed her and lifted her up. The small compartment labelled ‘Red Rocket, £1.50’ was completely empty.

“Which, mummy?” Little Lydia asked. Sarah shook her head.

“There aren’t any left, darling. We’ll have to ask the shop keeper if he has some more in the back. Unless you want to choose something else?”

“I want red rockin’!” Little Lydia’s face crumpled, and she began to cry.

“Whatever’s the matter?” the shopkeeper asked, coming to see what the fuss was about. Little Lydia’s tears fell properly. She was growing tired.

“Red rockin’! RED ROCKIN’!”

“Ah, the Red Rocket… yes, that has been very popular today! Unfortunately, I’ve just sold the last one. But there are other lollies just like it –“

“NOOOOOOO!” Little Lydia felt her entire world crash around her ears. She wanted the red rocket-shaped lolly with the chocolate and her favourite sprinkles in the whole world! Nothing else could compare to that!

“Do you have any more?” Sarah asked the shopkeeper kindly.

“I’m afraid not, not until I get my delivery on Thursday.” Two days away. Little Lydia collapsed to the floor. Two days was forever away. Sarah sighed. Little Lydia would forget about the lolly until they came back to the shop. She’d probably forget about it even then. Being almost three years old didn’t come with a lot of memory space in the brain.

“Ah, no worries,” Sarah smiled. She picked up her flailing, nuclear toddler.

“SICK! I SICK!” Little Lydia screamed. She had given a fair warning of three seconds, before she threw up all over the floor.

“Oh! No! Lydia!” Sarah cried out. Thankfully, the area was open, and so it hit the floor and nowhere (and no-one) else. “I am so sorry! So sorry!”

“Oh dear! Not to worry, love, I can clean that up in no time!”

“Please – how much – let me pay you –“

“Nonsense, nonsense!” the shopkeeper was pleasant enough about it, but Sarah felt so bad that, as she left, she placed a tenner on the counter underneath a stapler, and hauled Little Lydia out.

“Well, I don’t think we can go to the library now, Lydia,” said Sarah. Little Lydia’s tantrum had tired her out. She’d been sick, AND she hadn’t had her lolly. And, to make matters even worse (if they could be worse), she hadn’t had her usual cola bottle sweeties. What a horrible day it was!

Returning home, Sarah took care of Little Lydia before she informed her friend that they wouldn’t be attending the playgroup at the library, because of the incident. With Little Lydia asleep, Sarah put her messed clothes in the washing machine, and set about her usual housework. Half an hour later, she received a phone call to the landline.

“Hello? Is that Sarah Scott?”

“Speaking.”

“Hi there, I’m Dr Sitka, from St Thomas’ Hospital. I don’t want to worry you, but your sister’s here, she’s been involved in a car accident. You’re listed as her next of kin.”

“Tilly?! Is she okay?!”

“We’re running some tests now. Would you be able to come in?”

“Of course!” Sarah’s heart leapt into her throat. “I’ll be there as quickly as I can!”

Sarah called her neighbour, who was more than happy to watch Little Lydia for a while. She raced over to the hospital, and within the hour was waiting at her sister’s bedside for the doctor to come. When he’d been, and explained that her sister needed a few operations to repair some damage internally, Sarah sought solace on the terrace of the hospital corridor. They were up high, and the view was spectacular.

As she leaned out to see more of the London skyline, Sarah looked to her left and saw a figure sitting on the edge, with their legs dangling over. The person was crying, and kept looking down. A sinking feeling occurred in Sarah’s stomach, and she found herself crying out.

“Beautiful day!” she called. The person froze. “Beautiful view, too!” She watched. The person looked at her. She saw a young male face eye her from beneath the hood. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.” Sarah pulled out her phone to call someone from the hospital, and noticed it was dead.

“Say… you’re a young person… I guess you’re good with technology?”

“I guess.”

“My phone isn’t turning on, the damn thing. Do you think you could help an old woman out?”

“Is it charged?”

“I charged it this morning, yes.” She hadn’t. It then occurred to her that she wouldn’t have found out about Tilly’s accident if she hadn’t gone home… thank God for the man who’d taken the last lolly and made Lydia sick… “Please… if you could take a look at it? I need to call my friend and see if my little girl is okay.”

“If it’s not turning on, it mustn’t be charged.” The boy didn’t look at Sarah. “I can’t help you.”

“Are you sure? You seem like a smart young person. And then I promise I’ll leave you alone.” The boy thought for a moment, and then rolled his eyes and shuffled across to Sarah. She remained poised to catch him, but he landed neatly on the decking beside her. “Thank you so much. What’s your name?”

“Jamie.”

“Jamie. Thank you Jamie.” She handed over her phone, and he inspected it. “See? I keep getting that symbol.”

“That means you have to charge it. Maybe your charger’s broken or something.”

“You’re kidding me?” Sarah asked. She shook her head. “For goodness’ sake! Thank you for helping me, Jamie. I really appreciate that.”

“It’s nothing.”

“It’s a lot, to me. No-one has been so friendly today.”

“You and me both.” Jamie looked down.

“Jamie… I don’t know you really, but you’re upset. Clearly.”

“You can’t help me.”

“At least let me try?” Jamie looked up at her, and his tears fell again.

He explained his story. His mother had passed away that day, and he didn’t know what to do now. He had a younger sister who’d just turned eighteen. He had a small job, but he was about to graduate from university with a Law degree, and he didn’t have a good enough job to support them both, yet. He didn’t even have bus fare to get home. He’d left without his wallet.

“What’s the point of anything, now? Our dad’s gone, too. We never really knew him. He left when my sister was born.” Sarah said nothing. She put her arms around Jamie and hugged him tightly. He held her, too.

“I’m a mother, Jamie. And I know fully well, I would not want my little girl to ever, EVER feel like she couldn’t continue without me. Grieve for her, but don’t give up. She wouldn’t want that for you. No mother does.”

When Jamie eventually let go, he’d decided to take the twenty pounds offered to him by Sarah. There was nothing he could do for his mum now. She was in the care of the hospital. He made a mental list of things to do. Get Katie home, dinner, cry together. Funeral. University. Katie could live with him, he had a sofa bed for her. Study hard. Graduate. He could do it. He would do it.

It was a few hours before he left the hospital, but when he and Katie did, they sat understandably maudlin on the bus home. He paid the fare, thanking Sarah mentally as he did so. Then, he took Katie to the local take-away. They had just enough for a pizza and some chips and onion rings, with £2 left over.

As they walked home in silence, they passed a man curled up in a sleeping bag. Jamie looked down at him and paused. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the two £1 coins, and put them both into the man’s cup. He’d need it more, he knew. And his mother had taught him that if he could give, he should give.

The soft ‘clunk’ of the money landing in the cup woke Joseph up. He’d been snoozing to stave off the hunger, but the noise had roused him. He wasn’t actively begging. In fact, his cup had housed a coffee bought for him by a kind stranger that afternoon, and he hadn’t found a rubbish bin for it. He looked into the cup and saw two pound-coins, and grinned. He had enough for dinner, now.

Joseph’s life was not rosy. He’d lost everything in a matter of days. His girlfriend had decided to turn psycho on him, and had left him. That hadn’t been enough. She’d put the key in his car and left it unlocked on the driveway, and it had been stolen and burned out. She’d told everyone he knew that he’d raped her, or attempted to – the story changed among the friends who’d pulled him up on it before cutting him off. He’d lost his house, then he lost his job, and then he realised half his stuff had been burned by her. He’d been able to grab a few key things, but ultimately, he had nothing. And because she’d told the world that he was some monster, he had no way of getting anything, either.

He’d been on the streets for four months, moving around aimlessly. He didn’t have the strength to kill himself, or he would have done it. He just didn’t want her to win. But no-one would believe him. He needed a fresh start; his dream had always been to go back to university and study something wonderful, seeing as he’d been robbed of the chance by an abusive father at the normal age. But he didn’t see anything in his future now, aside from a meal deal dinner from the newsagents on the corner. He put the £2 in with the rest of his money (totalling £5), and gathered his things. He made his way over, his mind on a chicken and bacon sandwich, a packet of crisps, a bottle of Coke and a litre of water. And, if he had enough, a big KitKat or something else chocolatey.

“Evening,” Joseph said politely to the shopkeeper.

“Good evening.” The man eyed him warily. Joseph knew he smelled bad, but he hadn’t had a shower all week. Airing his clothes helped a bit, but it only did so much in the summer.

“Sorry for the smell,” he said softly, picking his sandwich quickly. Another customer was in the aisle across. Joseph was choosing some crisps while the man paid.

“Stinks, mate,” the man said. The shopkeeper grumbled something in return. “Keep the fucking homeless out there, where they belong. Needs to get a job.”

“Agreed.”

Joseph made his way over with his wares in hand, and placed them gently on the counter. The shopkeeper rung up the total. £5 exactly.

“Anything else?”

“No thank you,” Joseph said, handing over his coins. He waited for a moment for the shopkeeper to count them (because he was not to be trusted, being homeless and all), and then left with everything. When he’d left the shop, he sat on a park bench and ate his dinner slowly, savouring every mouthful. When he looked down, something caught his eye: a balled-up receipt. He hated littering, so he picked it up and unfurled it. What had been purchased? To his surprise, a lottery ticket had been balled up with the receipt. And the receipt was from the newsagents he’d just been in. In fact, it was from the man who’d been rather nasty about his situation! The man, of course, was nowhere to be seen. But Joseph realised that the lottery ticket was for that night. He’d be sure to check it in the morning. Not that he’d win, but perhaps a lottery win would be his luck changing. He’d repay the charity he’d been given, donate to the local kids’ hospitals, he’d pay off his debts, he’d secure a nice house with a nice car, far away from where Lauren and her psycho friends could harm him… he’d live off the interest…

The following morning, Joseph forgot about the ticket in his pocket for a week, until he saw a big headline:

JACKPOT WINNER YET TO CLAIM £94M WIN

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled ticket. His mouth went dry as he checked the numbers which were helpfully written on the front of the newspaper. His hands shook. He clutched the ticket tightly and crumbled to his knees, sobbing openly. He’d won. He’d won ninety-four million pounds. The shock overtook him for a good half-hour, until he came to his senses.

Joseph was true to his word. With his winnings, he repaid the charity that had been given to him by investing into the local community – children’s community centres, the library, the local primary and secondary schools. He donated a large sum to various children’s charities, and to a homeless shelter which had given him meals and a few showers. He put half of it aside for him to live off (he was already forty, and had no pension since he’d been fired), but the rest went into making the world a better place. He bought himself a nice detached house far away from his psycho ex, and a nice car, and new clothes and shoes. He took himself off on holiday and thought about how to fund some education for poorer kids, via university scholarships. He put himself through university, too, and from there helped to fund some vital research in the science department, which led to an invaluable discovery of a cure for a very nasty illness.

And, because Joseph wanted to leave the world a better place than he’d found it, he refused to patent the cure and made it freely-available to every medical institution around the world. Because in his eyes, education and healthcare ought to be for everyone, not just the rich. Lives were saved, kids educated…

All because, in one small town, on one afternoon, a man chose to buy himself a Red Rocket ice-lolly. 

May 28, 2021 20:21

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2 comments

Gip Roberts
20:45 Jun 02, 2021

I've always been fascinated by the "Butterfly Effect" theory. I believe little things really do snowball like that, for good or bad. Something about Sarah's approach to Jamie really brought tears. Most people would have just said something like "Don't do it, man!" But the way Sarah handled that situation was genius. Every once in a while, I get a hankering for the foods I used to love when I was little, and it always brings back memories and rekindles the natural child in me. So I loved all the descriptions of the ice cream and candy. Is ...

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Amy Jayne Conley
09:58 Jun 03, 2021

Thanks so much for reading, Gip!! I'll be honest, I struggled with what to do about poor Jamie, but I figured the whole 'don't do it!' thing rarely works. Usually, speaking TO people and taking interest helps more, apparently. But I loved the exponential effect of Peter's small decision to buy an ice lolly ;) It was so fun! Same here! Food is one of those things that can take you RIGHT back to a good time. For me, it's jelly (Jello). Strawberry jelly in a small dish with a tiny bit of squirty whipped cream on top. That takes me right back...

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