“You weren’t naughty, were you? You didn’t drag Max out of his kennel when he wanted to sleep?”
“No,” said Mark, shaking his head.
“Good,” said Dad, patting him on the head, his other hand held behind his back.
“In that case you deserve a reward.”
“Hopmix?!” Mark leapt up from the armchair.
Hopmix was a smooth, elastic ball that you slammed onto the ground, and as it bounced up it turned into something that jumps. Hopmix 5 could transform into a hare, a frog, a kangaroo, a flea or a figure skater. Little children played with it by guessing what it would change into on the rebound. The person who got it right most times was the winner. But older boys soon learned how to throw the hopmix so that they could get three kangaroos in a row. You could learn the trick and hopmix stopped being a hit.
But Mark wanted one anyway. He used to have a hopmix, but one day that one had bounced up and changed into a butterfly and flown away through the window. He never found it again. And nobody believed that that was how he had lost it.
“Why couldn’t something different happen for a change?” Mark had protested.
Dad assured him that it couldn’t, and Mum repeated to him that hopmix was only able to take the form of five creatures: a hare, a frog, a kangaroo, a flea or a figure skater. They told him not to lie, that it would be better to confess where he had lost it.
Mark wanted a new hopmix mainly so that he could make sure he hadn’t dreamt the whole thing up. So that he could prove that sometimes something totally unexpected can happen… In his mind’s eye he kept seeing the hopmix changing into a butterfly and fluttering out through the open window.
“Enough about hopmix!” laughed Dad, handing him a DVD of a computer game.
The Game without a Name
On the cover was a strange town. Odd, splendid, but almost entirely hidden beneath clouds of smoke. Some of the buildings were on fire, and golden flashes of gunfire tore through the smoke above the town. In the distance the turrets of a castle pierced the red and purple sky.
“What’s it called?”
“I don’t know. I don’t speak English,” his father shrugged. “Maybe The City. Or The Castle…”
Mark was in the first year of school. He did English, but it was more like playing at learning. He remembered how funny it was when Pěchouček read “vole” instead of “love”, and similar gems. “But how do you play it?” he asked.
“Like all shoot-em-ups. Either you shoot them or they shoot you,” said Dad, winking at him. “I only know that you have ten lives – that’s what the shop assistant said. That should be enough, right?”
“When I have time, I’ll have a go at it myself.” His father nodded at him and off he went with Max the dachshund to check that Mark really had behaved himself. That meant that he hadn’t damaged anything in the garden with his ball or trampled on the flowers by the pond with the goldfish in it.
“Max, track!” he hissed and the dog lowered his muzzle to the ground.
Even though the dachshund was Mark’s friend, it was his father who was his master, and Max had betrayed Mark several times. He led Dad to the thuja tree in which Mark had hidden his hazel rod with a piece of fishing line and a small cork float. There was no hook on the line. Mark just tied worms onto the line with a knot so that the goldfish wouldn’t pierce their mouths. But Dad wasn’t happy about it.
“They’re defenceless and when you do that you’re hurting them.”
“I’m not hurting them,” protested Mark. “We’re just playing. I like how they pull the float under the water. They usually suck the worm from the line. Or I throw it to them anyway.” But Dad disagreed. “You’re teasing them, and that isn’t a game!”
(Translated by Graeme Dibble)