Friday 27 March 2020

Heads or Tails

By David Gower

A large gin and tonic!

The spinning coin rose into the air, the light catching it as the eyes of its owner followed. It slowed, the battle between the initial upward force and gravity would turn into the overwhelming, inevitable victory of the latter. In moments like these time seemed to freeze. It could not be more than a second, two at the most between the flick of the thumb which had launched it into the air and the smack of it landing on the hands below.

When it was uncovered the decision would be made. Whether heads or tails showed would decide the fate of the two individuals that were the latest acquisition for Lewis.

‘How did they get here? They have to go. Where are they?’ Sarah had said when first her brother, Lewis, had told her of his experiment.

‘I want them. I want to keep them forever. They’re just things, like little pets,’ Lewis had replied firmly showing steeliness in his eyes that Sarah had seen many times over the years.

‘No. It's cruel and they don't belong here. They should be free. Forever, is a long time and they will die. What will you do then?’

She wanted to use emotion and logic with Lewis. Sometimes, reason would bring him round to her way of thinking and draw him away from his selfish, immature, short term desires.

‘They are mine. I want them and you can’t make me let them go.’ Lewis stiffened in his resolve to have his own way regardless of anyone else.

‘You'll get into trouble.’ Sarah’s voice implored her brother Lewis to reason.

‘I don’t care, let me show you them. Then you will see what I mean. They don't know that I want to keep them for ever and ever.’

Lewis seemed to be willing to talk. A good sign.

‘Why not toss a coin and see what happens? Heads you keep them forever and tails we let them go.’ Lewis always liked the randomness of tossing a coin or leaving the outcome of events to some ‘other’ power. It allowed the blame to be placed elsewhere sometimes.

If Lewis left the fate of his latest prisoners to the coin he could save face. Sarah would also have a 50/50 chance of resolving the issue without the argument escalating.

‘All right, have you got any money?’ Lewis never had any money but Sarah had a shiny pound coin in her purse. She had confidence in her ability to spin the coin high and whilst Lewis watched she could make a swift movement and release the captives.

Lewis caught it and shrieked with glee. ‘Heads. Heads, I win and keep them forever. Come and look.’

Lewis lifted the glass tank lid. Inside was a branch and some leaves. Two dried husks of what Lewis had wanted as pets lay on the floor of the old aquarium. He had expected to see two figures encased in silken wrappings but now two butterflies jinked this way and that past his face. Lost forever.

Sarah explained to him that caterpillars change into butterflies and then have very short lives. The larvae had been hedge browns, also called gatekeepers, and they had entered a new phase of consciousness flying off for the next stage of their short lives. They were free of the dastardly Lewis – aged seven years – whose older sister Sarah had battled yet again to keep him out of trouble before Mum got home. School projects always seemed to be more trouble than they were worth.

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