The children who lived in a barn
managed very well by themselves
when their parents disappeared. It’s my favourite book.
My Mum’s gone too, she’s in hospital.
I’m ten years old, in charge of the baby. I have a list
—feeding times, nappy change, bath time, bedtime,
Mrs Mockler’s address and when to visit her.
Dad has his list too, in charge of everything else—
food on the table, making sure my brother and sister
get dressed, helping me.
I carry Michael upstairs, Dad’s not able to—
fill the baby bath with warm water,
check it with my elbow like Mum does.
Dad puts the potatoes on, the greens in the steamer,
the Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie in the oven—
comes up to the bathroom, watches
as I lift the baby out, wrap him in a towel.
Downstairs, he warms the bottle in the saucepan.
I feed Michael, lay him carefully in his carrycot.
He cries—and doesn’t stop. How long do I leave him?
I check Mum’s note, pick him up,
rub his back like she does.
Round and round the bedroom,
Rock-a-bye-baby on the tree-top. What now?
Wish I could ask Mum. When the bough breaks
the cradle will fall. It’s dark outside, no one about,
no phone box nearby. I’m up twice in the night.
Next morning, I put Michael in his pram,
wheel him down the road to Mrs Mockler.
She’s young, has dyed blond hair cut short
and false teeth, tells me not to worry, all babies cry.
She takes the dirty nappies, soaks them in a bucket,
sterilises the glass bottles and rubber teats,
watches me feed him, says You’re doing great.
I feel grown-up.
It seems that Mum’s away for ever.
Then she’s home and everything’s back to normal.
I hand Michael to her, strap on my roller skates,
call for Rita. Coming out to play?
Back to being a big sister—
don’t think I want to live in a barn, after all.
The children who lived in a barn, by Eleanor Graham
Janet Hatherley is from London. She has had poems published in several magazines including The Interpreter’s House, Under the Radar, Stand, Coast to coast to coast, The Poetry Village, Brittle Star. Commended in Indigo Dreams Collection Competition, 2019, she was shortlisted in Coast to Coast to Coast’s portfolio competition, 2020.