By: Harrison Abbott
My elder brother Pete asked me to look after his four-year-old kid and I really didn’t want to but I had to accept because he had no other option. I reckon Pete must’ve asked a whole bunch of other people before he asked me, to mind Danny, for an afternoon. Because he knew how bad I was with children, and with people in general. It was a Sunday and I had planned to do some work on my house. DIY. I lived alone. And never thought of myself as being capable of raising a kid. Nor did I feel that Danny had ever liked me much, despite him only being a tot. We’d never really clicked. Pete drove him up to the house and dropped him off. Pete had some work stuff on. Essential stuff, and his wife was also on a work trip down south. I told Pete, during the telephone call which preordained the scenario, that I was nervous about minding a child for a day. He laughed (falsely) and asked me why? I said it was in my awkward nature – I didn’t want to muck up – and what if Danny got hurt or something? Peter said that all would be cool and I shouldn’t worry. And suddenly there was this little boy in my house, with cute curly golden hair, versus my ashen ashamed-of-going-grey-at-28-years-old hair … And it didn’t get off to a good start either because Danny got upset when his Dad left. (Peter was far more successful and likeable than me. And he never shut up around Danny. It was like a stream of consciousness, the joyful way he yacked and joked with the boy, a joy of fatherhood; and Danny was born via C-Section so this would be his only child, the only boy to lead the family forward, and thus his nurturing was fundamental.) Danny cried as Peter was leaving. Pete told him he would be back soon, and then when he shut the front door Danny bawled even louder. I tried to touch him and he flinched and he ran away from me into the living room and nosedived onto the couch and sobbed into the pillows. Jesus Christ.
“Your Dad will be back later on, kiddo,” I said, “there’s no need to fret.” My voice was pathetic versus his noise. He lay face down and clutched a pillow like a parachute, and I was hesitant to try and touch him again, so I went into the kitchen and thought I’d try and find some treats to cheer him up. (I’d actually already bought a load of sweets and crisps and soda and so on, anticipating that something like this might happen.) And I retrieved a packet of onion ring crisps. When I was a kid, I was totally addicted to onion rings and they always made me merry with that starchy gaudy taste, and I opened the bag and I knelt down to Danny, whose face was turned away, and I said, “You want some onion rings, Danny? They’re real tasty … Nom nom?” He turned his face around, and I held out a ring to him. He took it carefully and then put it in his mouth. His face changed. I offered him the packet and he took it. And I said, “So you wanna sit up and maybe we can watch a film?” He nodded. And sat up and he got munching and I thought thank God he’s stopped crying, and that Pete won’t nail me for being a bad Uncle.
Alongside the treats, I’d picked out a few films beforehand for Danny to watch. Also based on what I’d loved in childhood. And I thought that of all the films I adored when young, Toy Story (1995) was the most endlessly watchable. I put the DVD on. I asked Danny if he’d ever seen this film before and he shook his head. So I felt glad for him, that he was seeing this for the first time. … My living room was quite small and there was only one sofa and the TV was pretty huge and I sat in front of it on the floor and I got to the DVD menu, and I paused, and went into the kitchen to get the rest of the bag of treats for Danny. And I gave it all to him and said, “Just try whatever you like.” And he said, in a Tinker Bell trill, “Ta,” and that word made me feel like I was doing a good job all of a sudden. I started the film. … Not for a long time had I seen Toy Story. The opening 15 minutes are just mesmeric, magic: the soldiers doing their covert mission and hiding in the plant pot, with the radio messages back and forth, it’s all so perfectly intense. Then of course the mystery/dilemma of the new toy – and the way they delay Buzz’s entry as a character, after Tom Hanks has adopted the protagonist role already: the viewer feels scared for Woody because we like Woody already despite not knowing him that well … And as a man, an adult, with a fair list of personal problems and my notorious social awkwardness, I was lapping this film up gloriously. … And the new toy had just arrived on Andy’s bed. (Buzz Lightyear’s rocket.) And Woody was climbing up to see what was there … And I felt a physical flicker by my side, and it made me twitch. It was Danny. He’d come off of the couch and he sat down next to me. Closer to the screen, and to me. He didn’t say anything. The act was so simple. And together we watched the entrance of Buzz Lightyear. And it was satisfying and accomplishing to show a piece of art/entertainment to a child, even though the film was no feat of mine whatsoever. But just to pass something on to a young’un. I couldn’t interact with children in a normal way and wasn’t fit to be a father. Those weren’t my abilities. But I could introduce a gem movie to a nephew and make him intrigued. Even a muck up like me could do that.