The post never came early in our area because of the distance from the main sorting office and the fact that the postman had to serve all the outlying farms, close gates, open gates, manoeuvre his little red van along tracks no more than muddy scratches of brown earth. One o’clock was the usual time for the post to reach our house. By that time, I’d be having my lunch break at school, eating my way through soggy potatoes and rubber band meat.
I had help in sending off for the special offer in a comic magazine. My brother, being fifteen years older, had filled the form out for me and I had managed to save up the huge sum of £5.50 pence with an extra £1.20 provided by my brother for post and packaging. Even my clever brother had difficulty with some parts of the form; the section for zip code made no sense to him. I imagined it could relate to the different kinds of zip fasteners that could be used on the garment. After all, there was no point having a zip of the wrong colour-everything had to match. My mother measured me with her well-worn tape, the one I enjoyed rolling up into a tight ball when she had finished with it. My brother then wrote down the measurements on the form.
School continued, the summer holidays still a long way off. I told no one about my secret, why I was waiting for the post. Every morning I’d eat my bread and drink my tea in the kitchen, sunlight heating the table top as it streamed in the through the east-facing window. I played casting blobs of light onto the wall with the back of my silver spoon. At half-past three, while filing into the school bus, I’d get slowly excited, anticipating what might be waiting for me at home. The bus left me off at the crossroads and I ran, bag slapping at my side, Blaci the dog jumping up to meet me at the back door. My mother would be drinking a cup of tea in the kitchen, my place at the table laid out for either a thick soup or something with chips.
Each evening, I would be disappointed there had been no post, the postman driving past our house without even looking. My mother reassured me, said never mind, that I had to be very patient, it was coming a long long way. I imagined the box on a slow trip from America, all jumbled up in the hold with bananas, oranges and large brown cardboard boxes, my box with my name written in bold letters. If the weather was good, my dad would take me and Blaci for walks in the fields to take my mind off things. We collected duck eggs along the river, always sure to leave behind one or two in the nest. Blaci would catch a rabbit which my Dad would then skin for a stew. By bedtime there was only a glimmer of the box left in my head, tiredness and the soft country air having sent me to bed early.
After many weeks, my enthusiasm for the post faded. I gave up thinking of the freighter out in mid-Atlantic, slowly chugging toward Europe, its cargo hibernating in the creaking dark of the hold. School became busy with football matches and tests, my evenings taken up with walking the dog or trying to understand the mysteries of long division.
Under heavy green oaks, the bus left me at the crossroads. I could see Blaci waiting at the gate, his ears upright recognising the noise of the bus engine. The dog ran up to me, putting his two white paws on my chest, his boiled-ham-coloured tongue washing my chin. The evening still warm with high sun, I picked a dandelion clock and blew it in the dog’s face. He snapped at the little seed parachutes. As usual, the place at the table was laid out, but my mother stood smiling at the cooker, her eyes pointing towards the window sill. There on the sill next to the table was a large rectangular yellow box. At last, it had come all the way from America.
‘Mam, can I open it?’
‘No, not now, eat your tea first or it will be cold. Chips tonight.’
I didn’t mind having to wait, I had waited weeks and weeks already, besides I could look and admire the box, enjoy its matt yellow lid, red lettering and big oval black and blue symbol in the centre. I liked the thought that no-one had opened it, I would be the first to cut through those small strips of sellotape, making sure not to destroy any of the lettering and pictures on the lid. After finishing my meal, my mother helped me lift the box off the window sill. It was big but not very heavy, a smell of newness all around it. My mother said it came by a special blue van, that it was too big for the ordinary postman. Light-headed, I snipped through the bits of clear tape at the sides and lifted the lid off slowly, the bottom half of the box dropping gently back onto the table.
There it was, neatly folded in black and yellow with a shiny blue black mask in a separate compartment. I was too excited, didn’t know what to do next. With my mother’s help, I took out the head mask and put it to one side. She helped me unfold the trousers and vest, then laid out the glossy black cape on the table. I took off my school trousers and shirt, put on the clingy tights and stretch vest, its logo bright as a bee on my chest; then the black plastic head mask with little points on top, the glossy cloak clipping on round the back of my neck.
Stepping out into the reddening evening, I summoned up my faithful dog friend, whom I now christened Robin, The Boy Wonder, and set out into the skyscrapers of the graveyard. Standing on tombstones, I pulled my cape into a flying position, jumped thousands of feet to the grassy floor, then ran, always vigilant, through the alleyways between marble and slate, careful of traps laid by the beautiful but lethal Cat Woman.
School ended and my Batman summer began, my ever faithful dog Robin at my side, who never said no to a game of cloaked jumping from tombstone to tombstone. Some nights, after whole afternoons battling the terror of the scheming Penguin, the only truce called by my mother for tea, I would climb the tallest Celtic cross and stand on top against the green evening sky, cape wrapped round my body, arms crossed against my chest.