Amazingly the miter was still on, and stayed right on as Doris’s dad teetered on the edge of the step. His priority obviously was not to tread on his daughter underneath it, but he couldn’t right himself enough to move sideways or backwards. His only option was to leave his feet where they were. His wife seemed happy to leave him to it. And so a fuzz-covered, soot-caked man with early disco lights on his head fell over in what seemed like slow motion, and scraps of paper flew everywhere as Zwarte Klaas came crashing in all his glory into a room full of frenzied children, a number of whom would start bedwetting again.
‘My, oh my,’ fretted grandma seconds later while she and Doris’s mom were trying to stem the blood from the gash on Doris’s forehead. Pop was delegated to calm down the other kids. Nobody paid any attention either to the prostrate Mr Martin or the motionless Juno, and least of all to the inside of Mr Martin’s gunny sack, where the cookie dough had turned into an inedible mixture of chalk and linseed oil.
Another genteel tradition died in the bold new world that day. While mystified Juno wasn’t to know that in exactly seven years’ time the world would be putty to her. And that there’d be hell to pay if you willed it too hard to be, and that you couldn’t eat putty.
‘I wonder, Bernard,’ said grandma that night after Dr Pippet, Esther’s dad, had drunk up his fifth whiskey and finally left, and she’d at last been able to sponge down the couch. ‘I wonder what he meant when he said that they’re no trouble when they’re little but grow up to be toads…’