Only Make Believe: A Coffee Break Tale from our Archives

boy and girl playing in cardboard box

Only Make Believe

by Stella Whitelaw

Sit back and enjoy this sweet coffee break tale from our archives


The sitting room looked as if a bomb had hit it. The floor was strewn with Lego, building bricks, chalk, a broken crane, and colouring books. Somewhere under this mountain of debris was our carpet.

The twins were sitting in a cardboard box wearing pirate hats I had fashioned from newspaper, paddling their way with wooden spoons across a vast sea of abandoned toys.

“Mummy,” they shrieked. “We’re nearly in ’Merica.”

“Good,” I said. “How long are you going to stay there?”

“Weeks and weeks. We are going to explore.”

“What about your tea?”

“We can’t leave our ship!”

I made egg and cress sandwiches, chopped apples, added a banana each and put them in paper bags to eat on their boat. They grinned appreciation of galley service. Bits of cress flew in the air and adorned the upside-down fire engine that had been Billy’s Christmas present from his gran. Milly hurled her new doll across the floor.

“Doll overboard,” she shouted.

“Oh dear. Can she swim?” I asked from the kitchen.

“No, she’s downing.” Milly hadn’t mastered her r’s.

Toys were broken and ignored

I was preparing supper for my exhausted husband who would fall into the house as if he’d single-handedly swept every yard of the runways at Heathrow Airport. He worked at a computer in traffic control.

It worried me that the grandparents had spent all this money on toys that were immediately broken and ignored.

The twins were valiantly crossing the Atlantic, encountering whales, sharks, pirates and monsters. Paper bags and banana skins were tossed to the waves.

“I’m the captain,” shouted Billy, standing up and rocking the boat. He rocked it so much he fell out, cut his head on an abandoned railway station and had to have three stitches at the local A & E.

“It was a whale,” Milly told the weary doctor. “We was cwossing to ’Mewica.”

“Good for you,” he said. “Your mother is probably delighted.”

We’re flying to the moon

That evening was one long fight with wrapping-paper missiles. The twins bombarded the house with scrunched-up balls, vandalised the gift boxes and adorned the cat with yards of ribbon.

I managed to untie the festoonery. The cat’s thanks was a scratch across the back of my hand.

“Play nicely with your new toys,” I told the twins. “Your grandparents have spent a lot of money on them.”

Two new scooters were flat on the floor, handlebars tied together with string. Their new teddies were wrapped round the handlebars. The twins were sitting on them.

“This is a seven-four-seven,” Billy shouted. “I’m the pilot.”

“It’s a Boeing, Boeing,” cried Milly who knew nothing about aviation.

“We’re flying the Atlantic to the moon.”

“’Lantic!” shouted Milly.

“I suppose I’m the air stewardess,” I said. “The one who brings round refreshments and hot towels?” Wearing a smart uniform, I added to myself.

“’Freshments,” they shrieked.

I obliged with minuscule snacks and flannels heated in the microwave.

“We’re flying over the Wockies.” Milly had some geographical knowledge.

“Mind the clouds,” I warned.

They immediately started swatting the clouds with greeting cards. The clouds dispersed. So did the cards.

Gran appeared at the kitchen door.

“We’ve just taken delivery of a new fridge. I wondered if you could use this?”

The twins bailed out of their plane and pounced on the big box, dragging it into the sitting room.

“Castle,” they yelled.

“Wobin Hood,” added Milly.

They piled into the box, brandishing weapons. “Pull up the drawbridge,” said Billy, closing the sides.

A strange silence descended.

You’re so lucky, home all day

The front door opened. Exhausted husband staggered in, dropping briefcase, coat and evening paper. The twins were in bed, fast asleep, worn out by nautical voyage, flight to the Rockies and defending their castle. I piled the toys into plastic boxes and pushed them under the stairs. I got out the vacuum cleaner and discovered a carpet beneath the debris. I rescued bits of toys from behind sofa cushions.

He put a tired kiss on my head and fell onto the sofa. “What a day,” he moaned. “You don’t know what it’s like in traffic control. You’re so lucky. Home all day, only the twins to look after. Piece of cake.”

“Yes, I’m so lucky,” I said, rescuing the doll, stuffed down the loo.

“What was your day like?” He yawned.

“Piece of cake,” I said.

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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me