When I Was … Eight
by David Heulfryn

 

1978
I always enjoyed sleepovers with Jack. He was my best mate, but he had a problem with sleeping which I found very amusing.

We’d met at Primary School and became friends within the first week. We had the occasional fallings out, but we always made up afterwards. Because I was so stubborn, if it was a really bad argument, I’d stay angry with him for days and not talk to him. But I would eventually come round and make it up with him.

Our first sleepover was when we were eight. Jack invited me over, and I was very excited. It was a Friday night, and we were to spend all day Saturday together. After my parents dropped me off, we began with the usual sleepover stuff, playing games, eating tremendous amounts of food and drinking vast amounts of fizzy pop. By the time his Mum told us to get ready for bed, we were buzzing, but we did what we were told being good kids.

Jack was always shy about his body and changed into his usual cotton pyjamas in the bathroom, I just stripped down in his bedroom, not caring who saw me. I supposed it was all to do with upbringing, my parents were very open, and none of us were shy. Well if you have to bathe with your little brother you pretty much don’t grow up not feeling embarrassed when people see your winkle, that’s what we always called our cocks back then.

When Jack came back into his bedroom, his pyjamas were buttoned all the way to his chin, he was wrapped up very tightly. He wore boring blue cotton pyjamas, but I had some great new Spiderman pyjamas that I was very proud of. I pretended to shoot webs from my wrists to trap him and then jumped on his bed, attempting to climb the walls and singing the theme tune to the cartoon, which was my favourite.

Jack’s Mum came in and spoiled our fun by insisting that we quieten down, she said we, but as it was me making all the noise, it was really directed at me. She then gave us an hour to settle down before going to bed.

We sat cross-legged across from each other playing the board game ‘Generals’. It was my favourite game. Jack got given it for his eighth birthday, and from the first game we played together that weekend, I was hooked. I didn’t have the game myself, so I would insist we play it each time I came round. Then I started badgering my parents to get me one, and they eventually promised that I’d get one for next Christmas. I couldn’t wait.

Jack got bored of playing after our fourth game, but I insisted we play again. It was our last game that night, and his mother came into the room carrying a khaki green holdall. She placed it next to Jack and told him to put up the camp bed while she got the sleeping bag from the airing cupboard.

After packing the game away, I helped Jack with the camp bed. He seemed to be struggling getting the thick wired metal feet into the holes, and I tried holding the metal foot stable while he pushed it in the hole.

“Here you are, Robbie.” Jacks mother came back into his bedroom and threw the bundled up sleeping bag at me. I let go of the camp bed to catch it just as Jack pushed the end in the hole. Without me holding it stable, he missed the hole and fell forward, flat on his face.

His mother and I laughed as he just looked at us with a stunned expression on his face.

“I’ll be back in ten minutes to make sure you’re both tucked up in bed and to turn the light off.”

We finished putting up the camp bed, and I pulled the sleeping back out of its fabric slipcover. Jack jumped into his bed while I had to straighten out the bag and unzip it so that I could get in.

I tried to zip it back up, but I just couldn’t manage it. After some huffing and puffing, I asked Jack to zip me up. He was not too pleased about having to get out of bed again, but he did help. With my arms inside, he zipped it right up to the top, so just my little head poked out with my unruly mop of brown hair.

“You look like a caterpillar.” Jack teased as he jumped back into bed just in time to hear his mother coming back upstairs.

With us safely tucked up, she turned off the light and said, “Goodnight boys. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

We both said good night back, and she left us alone in the darkened room.

For a short while, we whispered to each other, making plans for the next day and wishing we could go to places like the cinema or a new adventure playground. We both knew it would never happen as his parents tended to leave us alone when we were together, and they would get on with their tedious chores, like gardening and cleaning. Tomorrow we’d probably just go to the local park or play games in his room. I loved the roundabout; we would lie on our stomach and set it going round by pushing the ground with our hands. One of us would have a stick and put it on the ground; the other had to pick up the stick. It was a pretty silly game, but it kept us out of trouble. The trick was never putting the stick down in the same place; it could be close to the roundabout or as far as your arm could reach. You would also try to make the roundabout rotate faster, so the other person had less time to see and pick up the stick. We’d also be talking while playing, and this would distract us, so we didn’t always manage to get the stick. After we got bored with that, I liked to go on the big slide. There were two slides at the park, a small one for little kids and a big one, over ten feet tall with a long set of steps leading to the top which was totally caged so you could fall. You don’t get these in playgrounds anymore, probably considered too dangerous, but I always like the fear and danger coming down from such a height. I especially loved it when we would slide down together. Jack would be between my legs, and I would wrap my arms around his middle. We would shuffle our little bottoms to inch our way out onto the silver metal slide and passed that point where gravity takes over, and you slide down. I especially liked the days when the slide was very slippy, and we would slide off the end and thud down in the small dent in the grass where countless little bottoms had thudded before.

It was getting late, and our whispering slowed, and we soon fell asleep.

 

I was woken up by someone kicking my feet, after grunting and groaning and letting my eyes grow accustomed to the dark, I saw Jack looking out the window. He’d opened the curtains and was looking out. Then he started talking.

“It’s a beautiful sunny day, a great day for a bike ride. Can I go, Mum, I’m old enough now.”

There was a pause, and I wondered who he was talking to as his mother wasn’t in the room.

“Arh, Mum. It’s not fair.”

There was another pause.

“I will suit myself, so there.” And he stuck his tongue out and blew a raspberry at his invisible mother.

I watched as he walked about his room and then left. I heard him go downstairs and tried to lift myself to see, but the sleeping bag kept me prostrate on the camp bed. I couldn’t hear much, but he was up to something downstairs. The noises stopped, and I grew worried about Jack. I struggled with my sleeping bag and was about to shuffle my way out when I heard him stomping up the stairs. I’m surprised he didn’t wake his parents.

Coming back into his bedroom, he left the door wide open and climbed over my camp bed.

As he was getting back into bed, I spoke to him. “Jack. What’s wrong? Is everything alright?” But he didn’t reply. “Jack, you’ve left the door open. What did you go downstairs for?” Again there was no answer.

I was getting a little upset that he was ignoring me. “Jack, why are you ignoring me? Don’t you want me here anymore?” I was always a little over-sensitive, and still am, and I felt like crying. It was as if Jack had fallen out with me and was sending me to Coventry. (A term used in the UK to give someone the silent treatment.) We used to do it all the time to other boys and girls who’d annoyed or upset us. One time a group of boys did it to us because we wouldn’t play with them. It wasn’t nice when most of our class didn’t talk to us, but as usual, they soon got bored with it, and gradually everyone was talking to us. But even with all our fallings-out, he would never do this, and I would certainly never do it to him.

“Jack, stop it. Talk to me, I know you’re awake because you just got up and went downstairs.” But he didn’t answer me, but I could hear his breathing like he’d fallen back to sleep.

For about an hour, I lay awake, wondering what the hell had happened. I was distraught, and I think a little tear did manage to break free. Eventually, I too fell back to sleep.

 

I grunted as I was jolted awake by Jack getting out of bed and accidentally kicking my camp bed. He looked at me as I pulled my arms free and rubbed my eyes.

“Morning, Robbie. Sorry about waking you, I tried not to.” He looked wide awake and full of energy; I, however, was still a bit dopey.

“Can you unzip me, please?” I grumbled and was glad when I was free. “So you’re talking to me then!” I was annoyed.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Jack looked confused.

“Because last night you totally ignored me. It’s not like you were asleep.”

“Don’t talk rubbish. We talked last night until we fell asleep.”

“After that. When you woke up in the middle of the night.”

“I didn’t.”

“You did. Why are you doing this?” I was getting agitated and started crying. Jack just stood looking at me, and I just stood with my head in my hands, feeling the tears between my fingers.

His mother had heard the commotion and came in. She asked me what was wrong and I told her all about Jack waking up and ignoring me and now teasing me by pretending it didn’t happen.

Her reaction upset me further. She laughed. “I want to go home.” I blubbered.

Seeing me screw my face up, she came over and hugged me. Sitting me down on Jacks bed, she explained that Jack would occasionally sleepwalk, and how she forgot to mention to me.

I was sceptical as I had never heard about it and it did seem odd, she couldn’t fully convince me, but I didn’t believe she was lying either, so it was decided that I should talk to my parents about it.

Feeling much better now, especially after Jack apologised for what had happened, even though he had no conscious control over it, his mother left us alone.

Jack and I were now friends again.

“Shall we go to the park this morning?” I asked him as I took off my pyjamas and found some new underpants in my tiny overnight bag.

Jack stared at my winkle, but I ignored it as my little brother was always staring at mine when we bathed. When I pulled on my tiny underpants, Jack gathered up his clothes and told me he was getting dressed in the bathroom. I thought nothing of it but told him to hurry up as I was eager to go outside and start playing.

On the way to the playground, Jack told me more about his sleepwalking and said how one night he got up, went downstairs and starting making some toast. The smell made his parents leap out of bed, thinking the house was on fire. His mother panicked when she found he wasn’t in his room. They eventually found him sitting at the kitchen table with a butter knife in his hand, spreading his toast. His mother coaxed him back to bed, not waking him up.

I was in hysterics when he told me, but it must have frightened the life out of his parents. He said that they considered putting a lock on his door but thought better of it; just in case there was a real fire and he needed to get out.

Now I knew about his little sleep problem it never bothered me. Sometimes it would wake me up, others I’d sleep right through it. It also only ever happened when we were at his house, he never sleepwalked while at mine, or at least if he did, he never woke me up. He didn’t do it every time, but it was regular, perhaps once a month.

As we grew up, I would tease him about his sleepwalking and claim he did things that he hadn’t. He could always see right through me, besides when I made things up, they tended to be bizarre. I never learnt how to lie convincingly.

 

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