'The Footballer's New Clothes' - shortlisted for the National Literacy Trust short story
The Footballer’s New Clothes
“And on tonight’s show, have we got a treat for you!” announced Sammy Showbiz, presenter of Friday Night with Sammy Showbiz, “Introducing his brand new line of clothing (control yourselves ladies!) it’s footie’s favourite fashion icon, Mattie Perez!”
Abi and Jake looked at each other and, in their heads, counted to three.
“Oooh!” Mum poked her head round from the kitchen, “Mattie Perez! I love him! Turn it up Dad!”
Dad stirred from his doze and rolled forward to reach for the remote as Mum rushed in, offloading hot chocolate and biscuits all round. Dad was still fumbling with the remote so she snatched it off him and cranked the volume up to maximum.
“Ladies and gentlemen...”
“Oooh! Here he comes!”
“It’s the country’s number one striker and the world’s number one megastar...”
Mum gripped Dad’s knee. “I-love-him-I-love-him-I-love-him!”
“Give it up for... Mattie Perez!”
The TV audience went wild. Mum went wilder. On the onscreen sofa, Mattie Perez sat down. Jake rolled his eyes. No one could deny that Perez was a good football player but nowadays you couldn’t escape him: posing on the front of every magazine cover, showing off on every TV chat show and always trying to make more money from his international fashion empire.
Abi looked at Jake - what was Mattie Perez wearing?
“Wow Mattie,” said Sammy Showbiz, “That’s some outfit you’ve got on there!”
“Yes Sammy, this is the new line from M Perez, my worldwide fashion brand. It looks good on me, doesn’t it?”
The crowd cheered.
“My people found me this finest of thread and I’ve designed these shirts myself. Can you not see its stylishness? Can you not see its splendor?”
Sammy didn’t seem so sure.
“Mattie, are you sure it’s...? I mean, I can’t...”
“Sammy.” Mattie leant back. “You’re a cool guy aren’t you? Look closely... if you can’t see it, you ain’t got it!” He turned to the audience. “Am I right ladies?”
The crowd whooped. Mattie got up and did a twirl. The camera panned to a lady fainting.
“Oh yes,” agreed Sammy, changing his tune, “Now I see. Very stylish. And it really suits you... doesn’t it everyone?!”
Abi jabbed Jake in the ribs and whispered: “But isn’t he just wearing...”
Jake nodded. “On his top half anyway....”
“Absolutely...” continued Abi.
They glanced over at Mum and Dad who were mesmerised by the screen, and mouthed at each other:
“Thanks Sammy, thanks,” said Mattie Perez as the screaming died down, “But I don’t just want to keep it to myself. Your viewers, anyone in fact, can buy clothes made from my top-secret super-thread tomorrow, exclusively from the M Perez fashion brand!”
“Well ladies and gentlemen, how about that?” said Sammy, “I give you, the one and only - Mattie Perez!” The crowd whooped and cheered as Perez stood up once more and waved, turning to show off his new ‘shirt’. At the bottom of the screen it flashed:
‘M PEREZ NEW CLOTHES - ON SALE TOMORROW!’
With that, Sammy Showbiz announced a commercial break.
Abi shook her head in disbelief. “But surely no one,” she said to Jake, “Would ever want to buy...”
Mum clicked off the TV.
“First thing tomorrow,” she announced, “I’m going shopping!”
Abi and Jake lived on the top floor of a six-story-high block of flats. On Saturday mornings, it was their job to fetch the newspaper from the ground floor. In the lift, Jake pointed to the front of the paper.
“Isn’t that - ?”
“Yeah, Mattie Perez’s girlfriend, Candi. You know, from The Girly Girlz. She’s at some movie premiere or something. It says she’s wearing a top he designed for her from that new material.”
“Oh. But, errr,” said Jake, “Doesn’t it look like she’s wearing nothing but her - “
The lift arrived at their floor.
“Okay kids,” said Dad, “Get plenty of food down you, I’m hoping for sales galore today at the market!”
Jake bit into some toast and picked up another slice for the journey to town. “Where’s Mum?” he asked, spitting crumbs.
“Oh, she went out shopping - there’s a rush on for these new clothes everyone’s going crazy for. Look.”
On TV, the news was showing people’s Tweets:
“OMG! Where can I get M Perez new clothes? They’re 2 die 4!” said one.
“Got 2 get me M Perez new clothes - off 2 shops ASAP!” said another.
“Town’ll be packed - this is our chance!” said Dad excitedly, “I’m hoping for mega Bucket-o-tron sales. Now, help me get the merchandise from the spare room or we’ll be late!”
The Bucket-o-tron had been Abi’s idea. Living on the top floor of a block of flats meant that Dad found it very tricky to clean the windows. Especially difficult was carrying the bucket and climbing the ladder at the same time. Abi had come up with an idea to solve the problem and had drawn some sketches, passing the designs to Dad who, being good with trinkets and tools, had put it all together.
“Right kids,” he said, “One quick practice of your sales pitch before we set off. Jake, you start...”
“Okay Dad. Here goes...” He picked up the demonstration Bucket-o-tron and addressed an imaginary audience: “Ladies and gentlemen, may we present the Bucket-o-ton - the perfect gadget for washing those hard-to-reach windows!”
“No need to take your bucket up the ladder with you,” continued Abi, “Simply climb up, a friend on the ground turns the handle and...”
Jake took over: “...the bucket gets winched up to the top of the pole ready for window-washing.”
“Just don’t forget to fill it with water first!” Abi finished off.
Dad clapped. “Abi! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you’re a genius! This invention is going to make us rich!”
Jake felt a drop in his stomach. He knew Abi had done really well, but he couldn’t help feeling a bit left out when Dad praised her like that.
The Bucket-o-trons, however, hadn’t sold very well, despite many mornings selling at the local market. Jake’s room was now so full of boxes of Bucket-o-trons, he had to share a room with Abi until enough were sold to clear space for him to sleep.
“Don’t know how that Perez fella can sell so many shirts and we can’t shift useful gadgets like this,” complained Dad.
“Never mind,” Abi reassured him, “We’ll sell a load today.”
Town was packed. People were pushing past each other to grab Perez tops and shirts from the clothes racks.
“Quick! Get it! It’s the last one!”
“Haven’t you got this in my size?”
“Just feel that lightweight fabric!”
Abi gave Jake a puzzled look.
“Doesn’t it look like they’re just grabbing - “
“...empty hangers,” Jake finished her sentence, “I know!”
“Hey you!” came a yell, “Get your filthy hands off! It’s mine!”
“No way, you rotten liar! I had it first!”
In the shop they were passing, two women were pulling a clothes hanger back and forth between them like a tug of war.
“Careful you witch!” growled the first one, “You’ll damage the fabric!”
“What, the fabric on my top you mean?!”
Last they saw of them they had pulled each other to the floor, each yanking the other’s hair.
The market, however, was just about deserted - everyone was in the main shops fighting over Perez stuff - so, despite giving their best demonstrations to the few people there, no Bucket-o-trons were sold.
“You go ahead kids,” sighed Dad, “Take the demo Bucket-o-tron and I’ll pack up here.”
On their way home, Abi and Jake passed a television shop. On every TV in the window, good-looking models were dancing, twisting their bodies, swinging their legs and clicking their fingers in time - each one just in their underwear (or so it seemed).
“You’re kidding me,” said Jake as the M. Perez logo appeared onscreen with the strap-line ‘M. Perez New Clothes - trousers, jeans and leggings out now! If you can’t see it, you ain’t got it!’
“Surely they can see it’s just - “ Abi started to say, although she was interrupted by a shriek:
“Oh. My. Goodness!”
A young man and woman were sat outside a swanky-looking cafe, surrounded by Perez shopping bags.
“Wow hun, that Perez outfit looks so good on you!” said the man, “You look so chic, so now, so...”
“...so hot!” finished the woman, “You too babe!”
They didn’t look so hot to Abi and Jake. In fact, despite their sunglasses, they looked like they were shivering slightly in the breeze. Just then, the man clearly saw something that amused him deeply and nearly spat out his frothy coffee.
“Oh my word! Would you look at that?!” he sneered, pointing.
“Ha! I know,” said the woman, “She thinks it suits her! I didn’t even know Perez did clothes in her size!”
Abi and Jake looked over to where they were pointing. A large, plump woman stood at a bus stop in what appeared to be just her underwear. Red-faced and trying not to catch anyone’s eye, she looked close to tears as the trendy twosome continued to giggle into their lattes.
“Don’t worry babe, it looks much better on you!”
A sly smile flickered over Abi’s face so fast it almost wasn’t there. She tapped Jake and pointed upwards. Above them the Bucket-o-tron was still half full from their earlier demonstration. Jake smiled - he knew exactly what to do. Tilting the pole slightly, he winked at Abi and squeezed the handle. Above their heads the bucket tipped, spilling cold water over the sniggering bullies.
“Oh-my-oh-my-oh-my!” the man squealed.
“Agh! My Perez top! It’s soaked right through!” squeaked the woman.
“My Perez jeans! They’re ruined! They’re ruined! Which brainless cretin’s done this?”
But Abi and Jake were already round the corner, the plump woman giving them a thankful smile as she got onto her bus.
* * *
Mum arrived home shortly after Dad. She was laden with shopping bags, each one apparently full but unusually light. She darted straight into her room to change, calling to the rest of the family in the front room:
“I’ve got a new Perez top, new Perez coat, Perez leggings, Perez trousers, another Perez top, elbow-length Perez gloves and more besides... are you ready?”
She stepped out, giving a twirl.
‘Surely she’s just in her bra and pants?’ thought Abi, glancing at her brother. But Jake was just staring at the floor, too embarrassed to look.
“Well, what do you think?”
There was a stunned silence. Dad was the first to gather his words.
“Oh, very nice dear. Very stylish!”
“You really think so?” She gave another twirl. “‘Cos I got you a Perez shirt! Here, try it on.” She threw him a bag.
Dad did as he was told, emerging from the bedroom a minute later sporting his new Perez top.
“Err - I don’t think it’s quite my style dear. Don’t you think it makes my belly look big?”
Indeed, Dad’s belly clearly hung over his belt. He turned, showing his hairy back. Abi and Jake tried not to laugh.
“Nonsense!” Mum reassured him, “It looks great on you!”
“Oh, okay, if you say so dear. Now, can I check, how much did this all cost?”
“Oh, I’m not exactly sure, love. I know I’ve got the receipt here somewhere.”
While Mum rummaged around in the shopping bags, Abi and Jake were distracted by a familiar voice on the television...
“This just in - another exclusive from Mattie Perez!” beamed Sammy Showbiz, “His new clothing line now includes, made from his very special new fabric, wait for it guys... it’s M. Perez UNDERWEAR! Here it is being modelled exclusively at the London Fashion Show. And remember - if you can’t see it, you ain’t got it!”
Jake’s eyes widened. “But surely underwear made from that material would mean...” he began.
“I’ve got a horrible feeling it does!” continued Abi.
A scream swung them back to the room. It was Dad:
“HOW MUCH?” he yelled, gawping at the receipt.
“I’m s-sorry,” stuttered Mum, “I didn’t realise...”
“You’ll have to take them back!”
“I can’t. They don’t let you return things once they’ve been worn.”
“Then we’re done for!” Dad was close to tears. “We’ve sold no Bucket-o-trons and the rent’s due on Monday!”
Jake looked back at the TV.
“Urgh! My eyes! I can’t look!”
He buried his head in his hands. On the screen, models were walking down the catwalk posing in absolutely nothing except their M Perez underwear which, Abi concluded, clearly did not exist at all. She leapt for the remote and, zapping the TV into darkness, pulled Jake’s hands down from his face and looked him straight in the eye:
“We’ve got to do something about this... now!”
Sneaking into Mattie Perez HQ was easier than they thought it was going to be. Workmen were busy throwing cardboard boxes into trucks as if there was nothing in them and the security guard was reading a comic.
“What exactly are we looking for?” Jake whispered. They’d carefully pushed open a door that said ‘Designers’ Room’ on the front. There was no one inside, so they’d sneaked in.
“Anything,” answered Abi, “We need to expose Mattie Perez.”
“Ha! Don’t you think he’s exposed enough already?” joked Jake.
“No, I mean we need to expose this whole thing as a con, as a trick.” She routed around the drawers of a desk. They were empty. “There’s bound to be something here that shows what’s been going on, that these clothes are a figment of Mattie Perez’s imagination - or whoever’s behind this. Now help me look.”
The desks were clear, the drawers were empty, The pair almost forgot to keep quiet, opening drawers and slamming them shut, desperately trying to find something, anything that might prove Perez was a fraud.
“I just don’t get it - there’s absolutely noth-” She’d flung open the bottom drawer and something had caught her eye. “Aha!” She pulled out a brightly coloured envelope. Jake crouched down next to her. Inside the envelope were a pair of airline tickets.
“What? I don’t get it. Tickets to the Caribbean?”
“Yeah, it’s the only thing here. Whose are these anyway?”
“That,” the envelope was snatched from Abi’s fingers, “Would be us!”
They spun their heads round. Above them towered two figures wearing dark glasses and black suits.
“Recognise us?” said the figure on the left.
Abi looked at Jake, who looked as blank as she did. Her eyes darted to the door, but the two were blocking their way.
“Of course you don’t. Why would you?” She was a tall, slim woman with immaculately applied black lipstick and hair tied tightly into a ponytail that hung stylishly over one shoulder. “But it looks like we know you.” The woman showed a small rectangle of card between her fingers - a Bucket-o-tron business card; Abi must have dropped it as they searched.
“What’s this?” The woman read from the card, “Bucket-o-tron? Designer?” She raised her eyebrows at Abi. “Bit young to be a designer aren’t you?
Jake stepped forward to defend his sister. “She’s ten times the designer you are! Both of you! Call this new clothing range designs? They’re nothing! AND you’re making my mum walk round in just her knickers!”
The female designer flashed a smirk at her male companion. “That might be, but our fashion designs have been famous the world over. Remember the premiere Perez collection? That was ours. The DejaDitto collection? Ours. Every Perez collection, in fact, each of which has taken the world by storm - ours. Not that we’ve had any credit of course.”
“Or any of the takings,” sighed the man.
“You help him design his clothing line?” asked Abi, quizzically.
“His clothing line?” the man said sarcastically, “Yeah, right! You think Perez designs his clothes?” He was tall as the woman, with slick blonde hair and a neatly-shaved goatee beard. “That airhead couldn’t design a hula hoop. He’s been feeding off our talents for years.”
“We’re on a 1% commission,” said the woman. “Not much, you might say - and it wasn’t, until now - because the way this latest range has been flying off the shelves...”
“...and the fact that manufacturing costs are rock bottom...” the man chipped in.
“...means that we’ll be millionaires by - how long do you reckon now?”
“Oooh,” the man checked his watch, “I’d say by seven thirty.”
“Now you two better beat it. You won’t find anything here. We’ve got nothing to hide... literally!”
The woman took another look at Abi’s Bucket-o-tron card. “This is interesting - we’ll have to check it out.” She pocketed it. “Now, we know who you are so, if I were you, I wouldn’t bother coming back here. Okay?”
The door clicked shut behind them as Abi and Jake made their way back onto the street. It was starting to get dark.
“What do we do now?” asked Abi, “I don’t have a clue - I guess there’s nothing we can do.”
“I think,” said Jake after a few seconds, “Yes, I think I’ve just had an idea - but we need to wait until Mum and Dad are asleep. Then we’re going to need a ladder, an extra-large can of paint... and a Bucket-o-tron Ultra!”
“Kids! Wake up! You’ll never believe what’s happened!” The next morning, Mum came bursting into their bedroom and bustled them into the front room, switching on the TV.
“The main news again,” said the onscreen reporter, “Three-metre high yellow letters have been painted onto a gigantic billboard of Mattie Perez modelling his new clothes in the city centre. The letters form the word ‘NAKED’. The world has woken up this morning - in more ways than one!”
Mum flicked through every channel - this news was on every single one of them.
“Scandal!” said one.
“Chaos in shops!” said another.
“People in Perez clothing running for cover!”
Just then, Dad arrived with the newspaper.
“Look!” he said, pointing to the front page, “Perez is in hiding, they’re saying he could be sued, could lose his fortune.”
Mum took the paper and flicked through.
“Oh no!” she said, “Look at page 2 - shops are shutting their doors, it says... no refunds!”
She looked embarrassed - the rent was still due. Dad put her arm around her. “Never mind dear - I’m sure something will come up.” He brought mum in close in a reassuring hug, then looked up and held something out to Abi and Jake. “Oh kids, I forgot. This arrived too - it’s addressed to you.”
He passed an envelope to the children. Abi opened it - inside was a postcard showing an exotic beach. On the back of the postcard it read:
Dear Abi and Jake,
As you can see, we are now as far away as possible. This was always our plan. Well done for exposing Mattie Perez, for showing the world what he truly is.
To show our appreciation, we enclose 1% of our profits. Spend it wisely!
The Designers x x x
P.S. Good luck with the designs!
Jake shook the envelope and out floated a cheque. Abi picked it up - she had never seen that amount of money before in her life.
“Hey Dad.” She handed him the cheque. “Would this cover the rent?”
Dad took one look at the cheque and staggered backwards in shock.
“I’d say! And the rest!”
Mum took a look over Dad’s shoulder, then fainted behind the sofa.
“Hang on a minute...” Dad had spotted something on the back of the cheque - a yellow fingerprint. He looked over at Abi and Jake, their fingers stained with yellow.
He pointed to the floor and the trail of yellow paint drops disappearing into the kids’ bedroom. Abi and Jake followed him in, their hearts pulsing.
Dad looked from the empty can of yellow paint next to the bed, to the paintbrush drying in the corner, to Bucket-o-tron leant against the wall dripping with yellow paint, then finally to Abi and Jake.
“I... I can’t believe it!”
They had been caught out - how could they explain?
“Dad, we - ”
“I just can’t believe it...” continued Dad, “Why didn’t I think of that? The Bucket-o-tron! It can be used for painting! Painting high window frames, painting high ledges, painting roof beams. We’ll call it the Paint-o-tron! Genius, Abi, genius!”
It took Abi a moment to realise what he was talking about. Then she pointed to her brother.
“Actually Dad, it was all Jake’s idea.”
“Of course it was!” He ruffled Jake’s hair, “Well done my boy, we always knew you were a genius too! Well done indeed!”
With that, Dad held the cheque up high and shouted to the next room. “Hey Mum! I know exactly what to spend the rest of this money on!”
A bemused groan came from behind the sofa.
“This is it!” Dad yelled, “We’re going to be rich!”
Abi looked at Jake and winked. “And if you can’t see that...”