In the queue for the reptile house, I press my fingers around the seven smooth edges of my fifty pence piece.
When Uncle Billy put it there he kept his hand around mine and looked at me through those half-closed eyes. Spend it wisely, he said with a tremble in his voice. Behind him, the kettle whistled. I have to get that, I said, and removed my hand from his. Uncle Billy exhaled like he’d been too long under water, the kind of long that leaves fingers wrinkled and white as death.
According to the sign, the crocodile’s name is Buster. He rests, motionless, on a river bed of shimmering metal.
Mum says Billy was slow being born, that something happened on his way into this world and he’s been gasping for air ever since. If fate hadn’t intervened in the form of a quick-thinking midwife, he’d not be filling up the attic room with his stale man smell and his navigational maps.
As we shuffle along the viewing platform, the boy beside me whispers that Buster isn’t real – and haven’t I noticed that he blinks like a wind-up toy when people throw in their coins?
My fifty pence skitters silver across the copper-speckled spine but Buster’s eye doesn’t move when I make my wish. He just lies there, basking in the reflected light of a thousand other schoolkids’ wishes, seeming not to mind.
After, the smell of warm metal stays in the folds of my skin.
This micro earned third place in the 2021 SmokeLong Grand Micro Contest.