A short story by Colin Devonshire
“Go on, get it. What a baby!” said Perks.
“Go on then you get it,” said Gums.
“I’m not getting it, you kicked it, you fetch it!” ordered Smithy.
I looked at my friends. No one budged. Myself included.
We all lived on a council-run estate, some of our families bought their home, some chose to rent. It was a great little place to grow up in. But, a change was coming for us. Next term we would be moving to senior schools. But for now, we were enjoying our last summer holiday, all our mates at the same school.
You entered our estate from the main road. There were twenty houses on each side of the road. Ahead were two rows of twenty more homes back to back, with adjoining back gardens at ninety degrees to the road. The road carried past in an oblong ring road. We often played hide and seek or soldiers in the woods behind, but best was football on the ‘green’, a patch of clumpy grass in front of the back terrace of houses. All the houses on Peachcroft Woods were occupied, except for one. Number thirty-three.
The houses had two or three bedrooms, most had a garage in a separate block tucked away, at the end of a drive, some had beautifully manicured lawns and flower beds, some were small jungles, and the scruffiest looked like a scrap dealers yard, the owner was lovely; she gave us home made cookies. Most neighbours got on well, the rest kept to themselves.
I mentioned the one unoccupied place. It had been that way since before we boys arrived. Our parents will not speak about it, or what happened years ago. It was all a mystery to us young footballers; we didn’t care. Unless our ball went in that garden. The bravest amongst us would duck the overgrown privet hedge and run bent double, to the ball, grab it and sprint out as if a tiger was in chase.
Today was worse. Our ball, my ball, went over the hedge, followed by the tingle of falling glass, shot fear into each of us. We feared our ball had gone right through the window into the building. We crept to the gate and peeked at the gloomy front garden.
“There it is, on the path,” Perks said, pointing, smiling.
“Great, but who is getting it?” asked Smithy.
“It’s your ball, get it,” said Gums laughing at me.
It was my ball, my new birthday present ball, just a few weeks old. The players left me, all running back to their jumpers, which meant, there were no goalposts. No goalposts, no game. I looked around and saw three bicycles being peddled as if in a Tour De France sprint.
Glumly, I stooped as low as I could bend, but still allowing forward movement. I crept, ducking the privet branches. Stinging nettles poked through, teasing at uncovered knees. I had to leap over the painful weeds. I was forced into the centre of the path. Leaves rustled, a noise from above. I froze. A startled pigeon burst its cover and flew low over my head. Wings battering air, lifting it high and away. Left and right I looked. I trod on shards of broken glass, hearing a crack. A triangle of glass was now many smaller shapes. Nearly there, my prize could almost be reached. I bent further and clutched my giant round golden egg. I sighed a breath of relief. The ball was undamaged. I slid my hand across its vinyl coating, checking for tears. The sun glimpsed between clouds, sending a flash of dazzling light to the broken window. I caught a reflection of a boy. I peered closer.
Turning, I looked behind me, heart in my mouth. There was nobody. I looked at the glass triangles hanging in the frame. There he was again. The boy looked at me. Was that Gums?
It was, I called his name. What was he doing? I edged forward to see better. He turned. Suddenly, he was flying backwards. The flickering reflection jarred, Gums catapulted into the air. He lay in a pool of murky grey liquid. The reflection changed, now just a dusty smear.
I grabbed my ball tight as if trying to burst it and ran. Snatching my sweater as I sprinted, hopping to my bike hooking one leg over the saddle, then peddling like a mad man the hundred yards home.
“You are early tonight. No one to play with?” my mum called from her knitting.
I ran upstairs and flopped panting to my bed. Questions buzzed around my brain. I shook off the doubts as imagination took hold. Pure fear, nothing more. I shivered.
“Tea is on the table. I’ve got your favourite,” mum called.
I brightened at the scent.
“Fish ’n chips, great, thanks, mum,” I said, smiling. Reflections were forgotten as vinegar caught my nose.
“There’s the phone now, they always ring as I sit down,” said mum as she went to the hall muttering.
Then, the silence was scary. I put down my knife and fork to listen. Mum is normally jolly, jabbering and forgetting her meal. Not today. Still quiet, I inched my way to the doorway. Mum’s chest was up and down like a jack in the box. She was biting her fingers at the knuckles, tears running silently down her cheeks.
I ran to her.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, tugging her arm.
She burst into a long, low wail, like a wolf searching for her pups. A sound I’d never heard. And hoped never to hear again. She pulled me close, holding me tight with her left hand, the other she held the phone as if glued to her palm. She forced it to arm’s length, as far from her mouth and ears as possible. She didn’t want to hear more, but forced herself. She didn’t want them to hear her crying.
“What is it?” I asked, crying.
“I’ll be over in a minute, stay there, and do nothing silly.” The words breathed with urgency as she replaced the receiver. Grabbing a tissue from her sleeve, she dabbed my eyes, then hers.
Leading me gently back to the dining room, sat me down and knelt before me. She struggled to speak, her red eyes averted as if scared of what she may see. The grip of her hands on my knees left red marks. She panted and rushed to the kitchen. I remained rooted. The tap turned. I heard water splashing into a glass, her gulping, then returning to my front.
“Gums was about to go to the little shop opposite.” She started crying again.
“All he wanted was an ice cream.” She blubbered.
She then wailed. Words would not come out. She stood brushed her skirt down, calming herself.
“Your friend Gums was killed tonight. He was hit by a car when he was crossing the road,” she sobbed.
“Was he knocked into the air?” I asked.
“Why ask such a question?”
“Because I saw him.”
“Don’t be daft you were in your room,” she said.
“Mum, I saw it happen, before the accident.”
“Don’t tell me you were in number thirty-three?”
My mum collapsed.