Milo adjusts his orange muffs to their smallest setting and eases them over Hamlet’s ears.
Hamlet shakes his head and squeals.
‘If you wriggle, they’ll fall off!’ Milo picks Hamlet up and rubs him between his ears. Hamlet’s eyes go wide with happiness. ‘It’s for your own good,’ adds Milo.
Milo read an article on the internet about how, on Bonfire Night, you have to keep animals away from the noise or they’ll get scared and run away or poo in the middle of the lounge. Problem is, there’ll be so many fireworks going off around Slipton tonight that it’s impossible to keep Hamlet away from the bangs and whizzes and crashes. Plus, Hamlet’s hearing is super-sensitive. Milo’s training his own hearing to be as good as Hamlet’s: Gran said it would help to make up for Milo’s eyes not working properly.
Milo puts Hamlet down in his cage and tops up his oats and his water. Hamlet plops himself down on the straw and looks up at Milo. Milo wishes Mum wouldn’t make Hamlet stay in this cold, damp garage. He lifts one side of the muffs and whispers into Hamlet’s white ear: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to get you out of here.’
Milo closes the garage door behind him and walks through the kitchen and into the hallway.
He can smell Gran’s apricot perfume. He shifts his head.
Through the pinhole, Milo sees Gran standing by the front door in her woolly gloves, scarf and hat and her fur-lined boots and big waterproof coat – the one she wore when she went out fishing in Inveraray. Milo’s impressed Gran’s managed to get everything on by herself – she struggles with zips and buttons and bending down to pull on her shoes.
Gran turns round and smiles at Milo.
‘What are you doing, Gran?’
Gran digs around in the pocket of her waterproof, pulls out three tickets and hands them to Milo.
Milo holds the tickets up to his eyes.
Fireworks in Slipton Park.
Fireworks were one of Milo’s favourite things in the whole world. They’d never been to the Fireworks in Slipton Park because Dad did his own fireworks display. The best fireworks in Slipton, Dad used to say. He loved Bonfire Night, just like Mum loved Christmas. He spent weeks and weeks planning it. Every few days long, cylindrical packages turned up on the doorstep. Milo remembers being scared that the fireworks would go off in the red Royal Mail van and that the postman would get blown up. Dad turned his nose up at the Fireworks in Slipton Park. They’re not properly planned, he’d say. His fireworks had a careful order with colours that matched and a soundtrack that he’d blare through the speakers he set up in the garden.
Milo wonders about Dad, who went off to live in Abu Dhabi with his girlfriend (Mum calls her The Tart). Do they have fireworks there and does The Tart like them?
‘How did you get these, Gran?’
They won’t be as good as Dad’s but fireworks are fireworks and they could all do with being cheered up.
Gran looks up at the landing where Milo keeps his computer. He’s taught her to surf the internet. She’s really good.
‘Is Mum coming?’ Milo asks.
Gran frowns and looks towards the lounge. They can hear the theme tune of Mum’s holiday programme.
‘I’ll get her,’ says Milo.
Milo stands at the door of the lounge and looks at Mum sprawled on the sofa in her trackie bums, a packet of milk chocolate Hobnobs balanced on her tummy. A rerun of Holiday Hideaways blinks blue against Mum’s pale, puffy face.
She doesn’t look up.
‘We’re going to the fireworks – in the park.’
She stares at the screen: a long deserted beach with white sand and a couple cuddling under a palm tree.
‘It’ll be fun,’ says Milo, putting on his pretend-excited voice.
‘I’m tired,’ Mum mumbles.
‘You’re always tired.’
Mum grabs a Hobnob from the packet.
‘Gran got a ticket for you. She ordered it especially.’
‘Tell me about it when you get back,’ says Mum and then bites into her Hobnob.
Everyone’s sad about Dad not being here. Milo’s sad. Gran’s sad – and she moved all the way from Inveraray to live with him. But at least they’re trying to make the best of it.
‘Fine.’ Milo walks out and bangs the door behind him, which he feels bad about because he knows Mum can’t help it. But she could make more of an effort, couldn’t she? It’s been months and months since Dad left.
Milo and Gran walk through the park gates. Milo shifts his head to take it all in: lanterns hang from the trees, torches on poles line the paths and a big bonfire with a pretend scarecrow-looking Guy Fawkes stands in the middle of the grassy bit. On a platform, grey-haired men play the drums and the guitar and sing in croaky voices. By the lake, people wearing sweatshirts with Fabulous Fireworks Ltd. written in luminous yellow writing across the front are setting up the fireworks display.
Gran smiles and squeezes Milo’s hand. Maybe it won’t be so bad after all, thinks Milo.
‘Taking your Gran out for a walk?’
Milo spins round. He narrows his eyes: it’s Stan from school. Three of his mates stand behind him, kicking at tufts of grass.
Stan grabs Gran’s hand and yanks it up and down. ‘Good evening, Mrs Moon.’
Gran pulls her hand away and stuffs it into her pocket.
‘Enjoying the show, Mrs Moon?’
Gran stares at him.
‘She doesn’t say much, does she?’ says Stan.
‘She can’t,’ says Milo under his breath.
‘She can’t what?’
Milo wishes Stan would go and stand in the middle of the bonfire and burn to a crisp like Guy Fawkes.
‘That’s a bit weird,’ Stan says.
You’re the one who’s weird, thinks Milo, with your spiky gelled hair and your lime green trainers and your puffa jacket that makes you look like the Michelin Man.
‘Well, enjoy the show,’ says Stan and walks off again.
Milo breathes out.
Gran looks at him and wrinkles her brow. She can always feel it – when Milo’s insides collapse in on themselves and he can’t breathe. Like on the night he found Dad with The Tart in the shed.
‘It’s fine, Gran. He’s an idiot. Let’s go and find good view for the fireworks.’
They walk past the hot-dog van and the clay pigeon-shooting stand and the bumper cars.
‘Look, candyfloss!’ Mum loves candyfloss, just like Milo loves Fluff on toast. ‘I’ll go and get Mum a bag. We can bring it home for her.’ Maybe that will cheer her up a bit, thinks Milo. He takes Gran’s arm and pulls her towards one of the park benches. ‘Why don’t you sit here and wait for me?’ Gran must be tired from walking all the way from home.
Gran nods and sits down.
The queue is so long that Milo thinks of giving up but then things haven’t been great between him and Mum lately and she’ll be pleased that he thought of her. He keeps looking over to check on Gran but the park is packed with people and at night everything looks fuzzy, so he can’t see her. By the time he’s got his bag of candyfloss, the fireworks have started.
Milo runs over to the bench. It’s empty.
He looks around. Maybe she got up to get a better view. Gran’s small, like Milo.
‘Gran!’ he yells.
He rubs his eyes. When he tries to look too hard, the pinhole goes smaller and his eyes get tired. Come on, focus, he thinks. But he can’t see Gran anywhere.
He clenches his fist by his side. He shouldn’t have left her. And he should have checked whether Gran took her un-muddling pills before they came out.
The fireworks bang overhead. He looks up and sees wobbly red lines in the black sky. Then he closes his eyes. Sometimes, when you can’t hear something very well, you can close your eyes and listen really carefully and then you get a picture behind your eyelids. You can work out what a firework looks like from how it sounds: when they’re tall and skinny, they wheeze and fizzle, and when they’re fat like a dandelion, they bang and whoosh. For a moment, Milo gets lost in the sound of the fireworks and the buzz of people talking and the crooning of the old guys on the stage and he forgets about Dad having left and about Mum lying on the sofa on her own and about Hamlet cooped up in his cage in the garage and stupid Stan. And then there’s a thump in his chest. His eyes fly open. Gran. He has to find Gran.
She’s a slow walker. She can’t have got far – could she?
Gran, Milo whispers in his head. Where are you?
Gran once wrote in her pad that, to understand someone, you need to put yourself in their shoes and walk around in them for a bit – even if those shoes are smelly and don’t fit properly.
Come on, Milo, think. If you were Gran, where would you go?
Milo walks up and down all the paths and along the perimeter of the black iron fence and checks the benches and stands on the big rock in the middle of the park so that he can get a better view. But his eyes are tired and the fireworks are so loud they give him a headache.
They should have stayed at home. This was a stupid idea. A stupid, stupid idea. Gran’s been getting really confused lately. It wasn’t safe to bring her out here.
Milo sits down on the damp grass, leans his back against the rock and puts his hands over his ears.
‘Lost your Gran?’
Milo screws shut his eyes. Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse.
‘You’d better make sure she doesn’t drown,’ says Stan.
Milo opens his eyes. ‘What did you say?’
‘Just saying.’ Stan laughs. ‘Might fall in or something.’
Milo jumps up. He gets it. Gran loves the sea. She loves the water.
He pushes Stan out of the way and runs down to the lake.
Gran stands at the edge of the lake. Mr Gupta, one of organisers of Fireworks in The Park, is helping her untie the rope of one of the rowing boats they let people take out in the summer.
She looks up at him and smiles.
‘What are you doing, Gran?’
Mr Gupta points to the pad in Gran’s hand. ‘She asked if she could take the boat out so that you could both see the fireworks better. I’m not sure it’s allowed but I won’t tell if you don’t.’ He winks at Milo. Milo likes grown-ups who don’t act like grown-ups all the time.
Gran scribbles on her pad. Apart from the flames and the glow sticks and a few bits of light from people’s torches it’s a bit dark to read and Milo’s eyes are tired and they don’t work well at night, but he holds the pad close to his eyes and concentrates really hard.
Row us out, Milo.
He leans forward and kisses her cheek. ‘Of course, Gran.’
Mr Gupta helps Gran into the boat and pulls out the oars for Milo.
‘I’ll wait for you to come back in,’ he says.
As Milo rows out to the middle of the lake, he sees Stan and his mates standing on the edge of the water. Although Milo can’t see his expression from this far away, he can guess: his face will be all gnarly and screwed up and cross because Gran and Milo are going to have a better view of the fireworks than anyone else in the whole park.
There’s a bang overhead.
And a whizz.
And a crash.
Milo points to the ripples in the water. ‘Look, Gran.’
Together, they look across the water at the wobbly reflections of the fireworks in the lake. They’re beautiful, much more beautiful than in the sky.
When they get home Milo tucks Gran into bed and then goes downstairs.
Mum’s fallen asleep in front of the TV. He puts the bag of candyfloss on the floor beside her. The candyfloss got wet in the rowing boat so most of it’s dissolved, but it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it? He’s decided he he’s not going to tell Mum about Gran walking off on her own. It’ll be their secret.
Before heading back upstairs, Milo goes to get Hamlet from the garage. He takes off his earmuffs and kisses Hamlet’s black ear and his white ear and Hamlet squeals but this time it’s a happy squeal, not a cross squeal, like earlier. He holds Hamlet really tight and breathes in his fur. Then he carries him up to Gran’s room and places him on Gran’s lap.
‘Keep Gran warm,’ he whispers.
Milo snuggles in beside Gran and puts his hand on Hamlet’s soft belly and rests his head on Gran’s shoulder and falls asleep.