new internationalist
issue 228 - February 1992

The sky
The space between earth and sky was a place in which things might happen.
Or not. A tale of childhood, imagination, safety - and its enemies - by Kit Garbett.

St.ALOYSIUS RC FIRST SCHOOL, OXFORD UK. It had been a puzzling day. First they had singing. Then they had counting with counters. After playtime they had painting. She liked painting, it made her feel nice. She painted a picture of her house, not really her house. A big square house with a red roof, two windows upstairs and a front door between them. Round the house was a garden and flowers. She hadn't got a garden but she would like a garden, like in the picture.

On the roof was a chimney with curly smoke and a big yellow sun. It wasn't meant to be on top of the chimney, it just went a bit wrong. But the big yellow sun shone on the house.

She drew her mommy in the garden with a little girl; and the little girl was her. Just her mommy and her, no-one else, holding hands in the garden of the house.

At the bottom of the page was a big green strip. That was the ground. At the top of the page was a big blue strip. That was the sky. The picture made her happy, seeing just her and her mommy in the sunshine in the garden. Her mommy looked happy, in the picture. She didn't look tired like at home, her real home, the flat. She would give the picture to her mommy. Mrs Carter looked at the picture.

Mrs Carter said it was a very good picture and very nice. But Mrs Carter said the sky wasn't right; the sky wasn't a stripe at the top of the page.

That was what was so puzzling. She knew the sky was a stripe at the top because that's how the world looks. Mrs Carter then said that the ground wasn't a stripe at the bottom of the page. Mrs Carter said that the sky came all way down, and the ground went all way up.

She puzzled about this. It wasn't like that. She peeped down, there was the ground - only it wasn't green grass, it was brown wood but there was the ground at the bottom. She peeped up, there was the sky, only it wasn't sky, it was the white thing that's like the floor but up in the air.

She looked at the picture again. It was a picture outside, not inside the classroom. Perhaps that made it different. She looked out of the window. She saw a bit of the sky. It wasn't blue like in the picture, it was a dirty grey. There wasn't curly smoke from a chimney on a house, there was black smoke from a chimney on the factory. But the sky was definitely at the top.

She tried to look at the ground. She could only see a bit of the ground because all the rest was brick walls. The ground wasn't green grass. It was that black stuff with little tiny hard bits in it. It had a funny name but she couldn't remember it. The little bits of hard stuff hurt. They made your knees sting and they might make your knees or hands bleed, if you tumbled down in the playground. But the ground was definitely at the bottom.

The ground was at the bottom, and the sky was at the top. Even if it was different colours, it was a little bit like her picture.

The sky's place was at the top. The ground's place was at the bottom. Between the sky and the ground was the space where things happened. In the picture it was the space where there was the house and her mommy and her. And in the big world, the real world, there was the space where things happened.

The space where things happened was a big open space. She knew that. The big, empty, blank page where anything could happen because it hadn't been drawn yet. If Mrs Carter saw the sky touch the ground, where was the space for things to happen? If the world was how Mrs Carter said, there would be no room for things that hadn't been drawn yet, no space where anything could happen. Only little, tiny things could happen for Mrs Carter, if it was like that.

If it was like Mrs Carter said, things could be so big they could touch the sky. Her dad could touch the sky; that made her frightened. Her dad was big, bigger than her or her mommy. Sometimes he was big and angry and roared and shouted and made her cry. He was specially big and shouting when he came home late and smelled of that funny smell. That was when he made her cry most.

But he wasn't big like a giant. If he could touch the sky, he'd be big like a giant; and he'd block out the sun. He'd be so big he would take up all the space for things to happen. That made her feel very frightened.

She looked at her picture again. The picture was so happy, and so safe. Just her and her mommy, the sun shining, and the big space between the sky and the ground where anything could happen.

She learned, not just from Mrs Carter, that there was no space for big things to happen. Not in her life. She also learned, very soon, that her dad could block out the sun and that things could happen in the dark that could hurt you and make you cry more than the black stuff in the playground.

The sky and the ground, the Mrs Carters, the thick black smoke, the hurts, the flats and the men like giants who blocked out the sun, closed in the world around her.

Kit Garbett is a writer living in Leeds, UK.

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