Four Raindrops Big

The woman couldn’t sleep. The noise from the other side of the bed was one thing. The other was the shadow in the doorway. Too big to be the cat. Too small to be the dog. How long had it been there, waiting for her to wake up?

“Mum?” said the shape.

“Yes honey,” said the woman, opening both eyes, and holding out her hand. The shape came closer.

“I think all my teeth fell out while I was asleep.”

“Okay, baby. Let me see.”

The woman turned on a low light. The boy climbed onto the bed, rolled into the woman’s body, like a soft toy, and opened his hand. She peered over his shoulder. There was a tooth in his middle of his palm.

“Oh my,” said the woman.

“Oh my,” the boy repeated, sounding worried.

“It’s okay.” said the woman, stroking his hair. “We can just ask for a new one.”

“You can?”

“Sure.”

“Do we ask the tooth fairy?”

The woman lay her head down and gave it some thought. “Well, we can, I guess. But when I lost my first tooth, I asked my mummy.”

The boy paused.

“So we ask Nanny?”

The woman smiled. “Why not.”

The boy was quiet for a moment. “But isn’t Nanny sleeping.”

“She is asleep, you’re right, but we can wake her for a moment, just this once. After all, this is a special thing. Do you want to?”

“We might have to go now.” said the boy. “I can’t sleep without a full mouth.”

The woman looked at the clock. 4am.

“Let’s go,” she said.

A shape rolled over to the other side of the bed and took up where it had left off, snoring loudly.

“Is everyone coming?” said the boy.

“Not this time,” said the woman. “It’s just you and me, kiddo.”

The boy smiled.


She climbed out over the boy, took her side of the duvet and threw it over the boys head. The boy giggled and fought his way out. The woman pulled on her trousers and a cardie, pushed a jumper over the boy’s head and pulled wellies on them both. She put her fingers to her lips to say shhhhh, quiet. The boy crept silently past the woman and onto the stairs. At the bottom he grabbed his coat off the peg. The woman followed but jumped from the top step, sailing through the air and landing without a sound on the carpet below.

“Wow,” said the boy.

Outside, in the car, it was black and cold. The world was asleep. The woman drove them out of the town and down a long and darkening road, slipping finally into a wood. The trees stood straight like chimneys and peered down into the car window. The boy pulled his hood round the sides of his head.

“Where are we going?” said the boy.

“West,” said the woman.

They left the car under an oak tree and walked into the woods. The boy couldn’t even see his hands, let alone his feet, and he held onto the woman’s cardigan belt. His wellies crunched on the pine cone floor. He looked over his shoulder but he couldn’t see the car.

“I’m scared,” said the boy. “It’s dark and I think the trees hate me.”

“Nobody hates you,” said the woman. “Besides, we are nearly there.”

Just as she spoke, the trees parted and the carpet changed colour. His feet stopped crunching, but instead began to sink down with each step, like he was walking on jelly. He trapped a foot in the floor.

“Now the floor hates me,” said the boy.

The woman stopped and picked him up and carried him up a long hill, like a parcel. There was a roar, somewhere, ahead of them. When they reached a flat bit, she put him down.

“Let’s sit down and wait for the light.”


The floor was cold and so the boy sat on the woman’s feet. He reached down and picked up a handful of the carpet. Instead of jelly, it was cold and rough and ran through his fingers in a million little pieces. It seemed even darker on the hill. Each roar grew closer than the last. His feet were cold. The licked the hole in his tooth and wished he was in bed. The boy tried to look back at the woman’s face to see if she was afraid too, but it was dark and so he turned back and waited. After a few moments, a small glimmer of purple red light opened up in front of them. It grew red and finally orange and yellow. It was like the sky had turned his bedside lamp on. He looked down the hill and saw what was making the noise: the sea.

“See how the light and the water are one thing,” said the woman. “They are best friends and can’t be parted.”

The boy nodded. He could see her face now. He was feeling better now the light had arrived and the roar made sense. The woman put her arms around the boy.

“Did you bring the tooth?”

“Yes,” said the boy. He opened his hand. It rolled out of the dent in his palm. He had been holding it so tight.

“Okay,” said the woman. “Let’s go and ask Nanny for a wish.”

“Nanny is here?” said the boy, looking down on the beach.

“She is over there,” said the woman, pointing at the roar, “and there and there and in here and in here,” she said, sweeping her hand in front of the sea from left to right, and then on his chest and then on his head.

“Is Grandad there too?” 

“They can’t be parted,” said the woman. “Like the sky and the sea.”


She led him down the slope by the hand to the edge of the water. The carpet filled his wellies, and his legs felt heavy. When he got to the sea, the waves were white and angry and as high as the yellow band on his wellies. He froze and held onto her sleeve. The woman picked him up and carried him high on her shoulders. She strode into the water until it was up to her knees. The boy doubted he would ever be this brave. When she stopped they were surrounded by water. She stroked his knee.

“This is a perfect place to make a wish,” she said. “Don’t be afraid.”

“What do I do with my tooth?” said the boy, looking nervously at the water all around him.

“Just close your eyes, tell Nanny your wish, and drop the tooth in the water for her to catch.”

The boy looked at the tooth in his hand. He wasn’t sure this was a good idea. He once watched Nanny drop an entire custard slice down her jumper and he didn’t want to lose a good tooth. Daddy said it was worth 50p. His mum tapped his leg again and so he closed his eyes, spoke to Nanny as quickly as he could, and dropped the tooth in the water. It landed with a plop. He tried to see it under the water, but the foam ate it up. He tapped the woman on the head.

“Done?”

“I think so,” said the boy.

She turned and walked out of the sea and back up the hill.


“What did you wish for?” said the woman, when they were back on the grassy spot above the beach.

“A new tooth.”

“And?” said the woman.

“I asked Grandad to be ready to catch the tooth in case nanny dropped it. I asked for 50 pence to replace the money I just lost in the water and I asked for new football boots and for new eyes.”

“New eyes?” said the woman.

“I want blue ones,” said the boy.

The woman smiled. “You have beautiful eyes,” she said.

A white tern dipped and spun in front of them, bathed in the light, which was now gold, but also black, from cloud. She turned back to the boy.

“You can have all your wishes but one. You can’t change your eyes I’m afraid.”

“Why not?”

“Because nobody can. Not even superman. Not even Daddy.”

The boy nodded, but the woman could tell he was still disappointed.

“I can tell you a story about eyes if that helps,” said the woman, pulling him in closer.

The boy nodded. “Okay.”

She closed the fingers on her hand slowly together in front of his face. “Close your eyes, baby. Are they closed? Okay, I want you to imagine there is a long tunnel running behind your eyes…like a canal.” She ran lines down the side of his head with her fingers.

“A canal?”

“Yes.”

“Like the one Daddy throws things into?”

The woman smiled. “Yes, just like that, but cleaner and smaller.”

“And its inside my head?”

“Yes, behind those perfect green eyes of yours, the ones you have closed and seem so desperate to change. Just follow the canal, and go deep and deeper into your head, down the canal, until you find the space between your eyes and your brain, and there it is…”

“There what is?”

“A magic box.”


The woman continued.

“Behind your eyes is a magic box joined to your brain by one million wires. It’s like the world’s smallest camera, and it takes beautiful pictures, whenever you want them, of all the things you love.”

“Anything?”

“Anything,” said the woman. “Football players, cakes, iron man, biscuits, Daddy, your brothers and sister.” The boy flinched. The woman laughed. “Bonfires, tree houses, gravy, Nanny, Grandad…you could take a picture of this beach if you liked.”

“How.”

“Just open your eyes and look at everything really slowly, like it’s the last time you might ever see it.”

The boy moved his head around looking at the beach and the dunes and the sea. He looked up at the birds and down at his shoes and the woman’s hands on his. As he did so, he felt small taps on his head and shoulders, and then more and more. The rain landed on his jacket and ran onto his trousers and down his wellies. He felt the woman rummaging around again and saw a big yellow umbrella being opened over him. The rain kept falling, just out of reach.

“And all this is kept in the box?” the boy asked, brushing his coat with his hands and watching the water roll off.

“Of course. Even though tiny tiny tiny,” said the woman, squeezing her fingers together at the tip. “… only four raindrops big.”

“Four raindrops?” said the boy, looking at the arm of is jacket, and trying to count the rain.

“And the best thing of all. It’s made of food.”

“What food?” said the boy, suddenly hungry.

“Sausages, Eggs, Potatoes, Radish. Bananas, Eccles Cake’

‘Eccles Cake?’

She knew this was the boy’s favourite.

“But that’s my favourite,” said the boy.


The boy and the woman waited for the rain to stop and the light grow bigger again and fill the sky.

“Do you want to know a secret?” said the woman, putting the umbrella down.

“Yes,” said the boy.

“When you were in my tummy, before you were even born, when you were forty raindrops big, I walked on this beach every day. And at the very far end, by the river, there was a shop where you can buy waffles. I walked down this beach and bought waffles there every day when you were in my tummy. I sat with Nanny and Grandpa in their kitchen and ate waffles to help you grow.”

“You had waffles every day?” said the boy, laughing. “You must have been really fat…”

“I was enormous,” the woman said, puffing her cheeks out and pulling the boy in for a wrestle. “But here’s the secret. The waffles were the food that helped grow your magic box.”

“You grew a magic box inside my head by eating waffles?” said the boy.

“Yes. I did the same for all of you. Your brother. Your sister.”

“I carried every crumb and current and bit of pasty through my tummy down another canal and into your head, and slowly, bit by bit, I built these magic boxes.”

“… so you are inside my head?”

“Yes. I am in all your heads. From before you were born, and every day.”

“And you will never leave me?”

“I will always be in there. Just close your eyes.”

The boy was quiet for a long time. The woman held him tight, and smelled his hair, wet from the rain, and kissed his ears.

“Mum?”

“Yes, baby.”

“Can we go and get waffles for breakfast?”

“Baby,” she said, getting to her feet. “I thought you’d never ask.”

Simon Middlemas

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