What are your men doing?

by Nick Deverill

One small boy looked at the other across his pudding.

"What are your men doing, Jon?" he asked.

Jon paused and replied, "not sure, Steve, but they're digging a hole". And with that he dug through the custard and into the peach pie below "And now they've struck gold".

Mrs Jeffries started to say something to the boys about eating not playing but thought better of it. After all, at five years of age, and with a new friend, children could be a bit odd.


"Do you reckon there's seconds? Jon asked as the school canteen thinned out.

"Could be, I think your men still have some work!" Steve said.

The phrase, 'what are your men doing?' had passed firmly into their friendship and now, over eight years later, both still made references that implied their pudding bowls were construction sites. However not too much time was spent actually 'constructing' as they were now, two perennially hungry teens.


"You two are seriously weird" Jane told her fellow university students.

"Why?" Steve retorted "I only asked him what his men were doing to that pudding".

Jane rolled her eyes as if to say, 'men'. Jon grinned and carried on eating.


The doctor look sad "I'm sorry, but the lump was testicular cancer and the scan we took just after the operation shows the cancer has spread too widely for us to able to remove it all, all we can do is hope, and make Jon comfortable".

At this Steve looked to say something, probably, 'are you sure'. Jon squeezed his hand and he was silent.

"Thank you doctor, I know you tried". Jon looked as though he might cry and both young men hugged each other as the doctor retreated.


The nurse beckoned to Steve, "Have this pudding, you've been here for ages today, the patients have all been fed and it'll only go to waste otherwise".

Steve started to attack the pudding, while keeping a close eye on Jon who looked pitifully thin, with wires and tubes everywhere.

Jon came to, slowly looked around and saw Steve eating, "what are your men doing?" he weakly asked.

Steve smiled, Jon's conscious moments were getting few and far between, "not sure" he replied "but there's footprints in the custard!"

Jon slowly smiled, made a face the looked like he was going to laugh, froze, and something in the hospital room emitted a continuous beep.

With grateful thanks for the idea from watching the Cillian Murphy film, 'Breakfast on Pluto',' where the phrase, 'footprints in the custard' comes from and everything else doesn't. The title however is from the author's own childhood.

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