Charlie raced through the sugar grass, chasing after an Oompa child that was speeding towards an exit hole with Charlie's school tie. Both were grinning as they dodged the adult Loompas who were harvesting dessert for the evening meal. Charlie was finding it easier to relax as the day drew on as today had been the last day of the summer term and now he would be spending five whole weeks at the chocolate factory, never having to step foot outside the door. Not even having to look out the window if he didn't want to. It wasn't as if he had many friends in any case – true, John and Sally were okay, but the others had avoided him until after he'd returned from the factory with an inheritance. They weren't really friends. He was still musing on this when the Oompa child stopped suddenly in front of him. Charlie hadn't noticed and went tumbling over the top of the child.
Twelve things happened almost too quickly to be real. The Oompa child shrieked in terror. Charlie screamed as he plummeted too-fast down the hill. There was a loud crack as Charlie smashed through the side of a large red pumpkin-style fruit and got covered in gunge. Charlie spluttered as he tried to remove the sweet, sticky goo from his face. Willy Wonka, who had until this point been watching the scene with some amusement, tried to run over and help, but forgot that he was the wrong side of the river and disappeared with a very final gloop. The Oompa-Loompas gave off a cacophony of high-pitched noises as they rushed to help the infant, the child and the chocolatier. Wonka's hat bobbed to the surface and floated around, looking for the world like a deformed, chocolate-coloured rubber duck. Mr Bucket dropped his newspaper. Mrs Bucket rushed out of the house and towards Charlie. Grandpa Joe bit his fingernails in worry. Above their heads, Charlie's tie, thrown in terror by the child, circled in comedy slow-motion until landing in a heap in the grass. Finally, Grandma Georgina opened one sleepy eye, yawned and went back to sleep.
Five quiet seconds passed. Four Oompa-Loompas in red bathing gear dived into the river, one retrieving the famous hat, another the cane, and the last two heaving Wonka's head above the chocolate so he could breathe. There was a painful gasp as he drew breath, then a lot of dramatic spluttering as he thrashed around for a while. The Oompa child who had tripped Charlie was now safe in his father's arms and watching the scene with ill-disguised interest. Charlie rushed over to his father. Finally…
"I can't swim!" shrieked Wonka.
"Hang on!" replied Mr Bucket. He ran towards the little house, Wonka watching his retreating back with terror.
"To what!" Either side of him, the Oompa-Loompas supporting his arms flashed each other deadpan expressions and rolled their eyes. Mr Bucket returned with a broom.
"Grab the handle and I'll pull you to shore."
"Kay…" Wonka reached up and pulled the handle sharply, nearly pulling Mr Bucket into the river with him. Thankfully, the older man had been expecting this and had braced for the inevitable. With the help of his wife and son, Mr Bucket pulled the genius from the chocolate whereupon he stood and held out his hands for his cane and hat. Placing the hat on his head, he looked down sadly at his ruined coat. Then, when quite sure he had the attention of the entire Bucket clan and most of the Oompa-Loompas, he cracked an enormous smile and giggled. "That was so cool – you know I've never dipped more than a finger into melted chocolate before? That was fun… Can we do it again?" Noticing the slightly miffed expressions on the adults' faces, he swallowed nervously and muttered, "only a joke…" quietly before grinning again at Charlie. "How was your day?" Charlie beamed back.
"Well, mainly the teachers just showed videos all day but we did have one – our physics teacher – who let us play with the oscilloscope."
"What does that do?"
"Shows you what waves look like."
"I know what waves look like – watch!" Wonka linked his fingers in front of his chest and made a wave-like motion with his arms. "See!"
"It was fun," said Charlie, defending the old physics guy more than he had intended to. Mr Robson had always been an old git, right from his first year of teaching some two centuries ago, but occasionally he'd let them 'experiment' with the really cool equipment. Charlie was sure that, on the day they'd been using the Van der Graaf generator, Robson had deliberately given Thomas Greenwood a static shock after catching him punching Charlie.
"I hate science," muttered Wonka, still dripping chocolate.
"How can you hate science – look at this place! Look at your inventing room!" exclaimed Mrs Bucket.
"Okay – I hate the science you do in school because you have to learn the theory without ever doing the practical."
"Such as?" asked Charlie.
"Steam engines and rockets and… and… elevators and forces and making things appear and disappear and… stuff." Wonka faltered. His last experience of science teaching had been when he was 14, over twenty years ago. He'd been in the bottom set – not because he was incapable of understanding the work, but because every exam time he'd get distracted and start doodling on his examination paper. The day he'd turned the paper into a perfect model of a swan had been the day his father had really lost his temper, threatening to get a tutor if the science grades in particular did not improve. His set had rarely done any practical work – the teacher knowing full well what would have happened if she'd let some of the class experiment with matches and Bunsen burners.
"Mr Wonka?" interrupted Charlie.
"Sorry… flashback. Anyway, now we have weeks and weeks of nothing but fun, fun, fun!" Wonka tried to move, then realised his trousers had set. Shaking a leg, the chocolate cracked and allowed movement. "I need to go shower. See you later!" The manic inventor who hated science skipped off. Charlie watched him go as his parents returned to their house shaking their heads ever so slightly.
Normally, he enjoyed these moments of lunacy. Sometimes however, like now, he wondered if Mr Wonka would somehow have been happier if he hadn't locked himself away for ten years. No human contact or conversation for ten years… Charlie tried to imagine what it would be like. The only people Wonka had to speak to were the Oompa-Loompas, but they didn't really seem like his friends, just very, very loyal and devoted servants or workers. He couldn't imagine a group of Oompa-Loompas and Mr Wonka enjoying a meal or a drink together, or even swapping jokes like he'd seen his father and his friends doing. And of course the trapped feeling of always being in the factory – he wondered how Mr Wonka coped.
Charlie needn't have worried of course. Mr Wonka was humming to himself ever so slightly as he shifted position in the elevator. He was wondering if perhaps he should learn to swim. But that would mean going to a swimming pool and leaving the factory… A tight feeling of panic embraced his chest. Unless – of course! He could build his own swimming room! With fish in the pool and Oompa-Loompa lifeguards in case his first attempts were less than successful and he could build it out of white marble (Wonka did recognise the usefulness of non-chocolate building materials where necessary) and the ceiling and walls could be decorated like a pirate lagoon and there could be mermaids and… The elevator stopped at his room and Wonka stepped out, pausing for only a minute to think about the mermaids. The blonde-haired, fish-tailed woman in his fantasy suddenly changed into a seashell-clad and shark-tailed Mrs Beauregarde. Wonka shuddered and stuck his tongue out in disgust, screwing up his eyes to rid himself of the image.
"No mermaids," he said firmly to the room in general.