Five minutes is a long time when you’re five.
“Well, we’re having friends over this Saturday evening so we won’t be able to make it. Maybe we could...“
Her mother’s voice became nothing more than a drone in Peggy’s ears as she wriggled and twisted herself about her mother’s legs. People hurried by but none of them captured her attention, unless you counted the twin boys dressed identically, with identical haircuts. She’d never seen anything like it in the whole of her short life. She looked up at her mother and then at Mrs Bellotti, the lady she was talking to, but neither of them appeared to have noticed the twins.
Then someone called her name.
Instinctively she looked up but her mother had not paused for breath since Peggy stopped listening to her two minutes ago.
“Down here,“ it said.
Peggy squatted to get closer to the grey cement pavers.
“No, not there, over here,“ said the voice.
And then she saw something wiggling in the space between the pavers. It looked like a tiny finger.
“How did you get in there?“ Peggy asked.
Mrs Bellotti glanced down as the little girl started speaking to the sidewalk and her brow toyed with a frown but decided against it. Peggy’s mother was still talking and hadn’t noticed anything.
“We fell,’ replied the voice.
“You mean there are more of you?“ Peggy asked, wide-eyed.
“Sure there are. Dozens of us. We’ve been having so much fun.“
Then Peggy paused. She may have been five years-old but she wasn’t stupid.
“Wait a minute,“ she began. “How could you fit between the cracks? You can’t even get your finger through.“
“We don’t know. We just could“
“Hey, over here,“ called another voice.
Peggy looked up and noticed that Mrs Bellotti was paying more attention to her than to her mother. She smiled sweetly and Mrs Bellotti smiled back. Peggy laughed and Mrs Bellotti’s smile grew wider. The woman winked at her and then returned her attention to what Peggy’s mother was saying.
Peggy sat down on the pavement.
“Here I am,“ said the voice, which sounded like it belonged to a little girl. “Come and play.“
“I can’t see you,“ Peggy replied.
“Here. Look closer.“
Then Peggy saw the glistening surface of an eyeball, pressed up against the crack from below.
“Hello down there,“ said Peggy squealing with delight and clapping her hands. “What are you doing in there?“
“Playing,“ said the little girl on the other side. “We can play whatever we want ’coz our Mummy’s aren’t here.“
“Where are they?“ Peggy asked, dreading the thought of being without her Mummy.
“Probably at home with our Daddies,“ said the first voice, a little boy.
“Come and join us,“ said the little girl. “We’re playing a really good game.“
“What game?“ Peggy wanted to know.
At that moment the ground shook and one of the pavers by the butcher shop flew into the air. The moment Peggy’s mother and Mrs Bellotti turned their heads, gasping, to see what all the commotion was, Peggy felt a dozen tiny hands grab her legs and pull her into the world below the pavers. By the time she could scream she was standing in the centre of a circle of pale-faced children. Yet the world beneath the pavers wasn’t dark as she had imagined. There was a dull light and the ground was covered in moss, which was soft beneath her feet.
“My name’s Cathy,“ said the little girl. “I was the one talking to you.“
“And I’m Clint,“ said the little boy. “I was talking to you too.“
But Peggy’s excitement had evaporated.
“I don’t want to play any more. I want my Mummy.“
The little boy and little girl looked at each other.
“But you can’t have your Mummy,“ said the little girl seriously. “She’s up there.“
Peggy looked to where the little girl was pointing and through the small spaces between the concrete pavers she saw as much of her mother as she was ever going to, though now her mother had stopped speaking and was screaming, calling out Peggy’s name.