My Sister the Dandelion
My Sister the Dandelion
“I didn’t feel it, I didn’t hear it. I knew it was there. Like a dandelion seed floating by my ear. I sensed it.” Jim said to his sister. He expected no answer.
A tear dropped, splashing closed eyelids.
“I know you are here, I feel that too.”
“Come on, Jim. Time to close the lid,” said the coroner, putting his arm around the boy.
Jim’s mum eased him away from the polished wooden box holding his beloved sister. Jim’s father sat, head bowed behind them.
The three family members walked on the gravel path to their car. A gentle crunch with each footstep. Jim felt a smile spread. His mother nudged her husband, who studied Jim.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“She is walking with us. Can’t you hear her?”
“Don’t be so silly,” said his mum, eying her husband, hoping he would do or say something. He just screwed his face and opened the car door.
They had parked a police car outside their house.
“Can I help you?”
“Mr and Mrs Palmer?” asked the female in blue.
“Yes, Peter and Anthea, what do you want?”
“Can we come in?” the male officer asked.
“Up you go, while I make tea for the officers,” said Anthea.
Jim trudged up to his room, still smiling.
“What is this all about?” asked Peter.
“First, we were very sorry to hear the sad news, but we have to do our job and ask some questions,” said the male.
The lady officer put her hand in front of her colleague, signalling she was in charge and wanted to be tactful.
“Do you take milk and sugar,” asked Anthea sensing awkward questions coming their way.
“They reported that young Jilly had bruises on her legs. What can you tell me about them?”
“No, she didn’t,” said Anthea.
Upstairs, Jim was searching through his sister’s doll collection.
“Found you Barbie, can you feel anything?”
Downstairs the officers raised their eyebrows, “Really?”
“Look, I bathe her every night, I should know if she has bruises. Oh, wait a minute,” she looked at her husband. “That night you took her for a bath, didn’t you?”
“Yes, yes, I remember now, but she had no bruises. I’m one hundred percent certain. She only ever had some after chasing about with her brother”
“Barbie, at the undertakers, I felt her. My sister was with me. It was just that fluffy seed blowing past my ear. Now I can sense something bigger, stronger. Like dried leaves in the wind. What does it mean? I think Jilly is near.”
“As you know, there was no obvious cause of death. Also, the forensic pathologist reported no marks on the body. But we have a credible report saying she had bruises. Sorry, but we have to follow it up.”
The male officer was fidgeting, “Was she naughty, causing you to smack her?”
His colleague stared at the ceiling but kept her mouth shut.
“No, no never, I have never struck either of the children. Nor has my wife, at least not to my knowledge?”
“Of course not!” she shouted.
“Have you two been having problems? I see you have a temper, Mrs Palmer,” asked the female.
“Barbie, can you hear that? Jilly is whispering. I don’t know what she is saying.”
“If you have nothing better to do than accuse us of beating our children, you had better go,” said Anthea.
“That will be all for now. We may have to talk to your son next time. Thanks for the tea.”
Mrs Palmer glared at her husband.
“What?” he asked.
“Not to my knowledge…” she mimicked.
“She had no marks on her in the bath,” he fumed.
“No way, he loved her.”
“Barbie, come closer, can you hear her?”
“I’m going to see the headmaster, and find out what is going on,” said Anthea, “Are you coming with me?”
“Er, no, I have to go back to work.”
“That’s no surprise, okay, I’ll go on my own.”
Mrs Palmer snatched her coat from the hook.
She shouted up the stairs, “Jim, come down here, we are going to school.”
They walked up to the top of the hill, then a determined march led them to the school office.
“Jim, sit there and wait for me.”
“I need to see the head,” she said to his secretary.
“Yes, yes, let me see if he is free.”
“Mrs Palmer, please come through, I heard you speaking from my office. I am always available to speak to the parents of our children.”
He turned and ordered two teas.
“On behalf of the entire school, let me offer condolences. We are all so sorry.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Thank you. Somebody here told the police that Jilly had bruises on her legs. These did not happen at home. So, somebody from here must have slapped her.”
“I can assure you that none of my staff would hit a child at this school. Have you asked Jim?”
“No, maybe I should have first?”
“Ask him now.”
Jim pulled Barbie from his coat pocket and whispered in her ear. He jumped when his mum appeared and stuffed the doll away.
“Jim, have any of your mates ever been hit by a teacher?”
“No, mum, Tim had his favourite sweets taken, that wasn’t fair.”
“Okay, wait there, I’m going back to the headmaster.”
As she tapped on the head’s door, Jim was skipping down the corridor. He skidded to a halt outside his sister’s classroom.
“See Barbie, that is Jilly’s room. Wow, can you feel that? It is suddenly chilly. Somebody must have left the door open.”
He looked around, all the doors were closed, he looked up; they had shut the corridor skylights.
“That is odd, Barbie. Jilly is talking to me, but I can’t make out what she is saying.”
A bell rang, excited children poured into the corridors rushing for home. Jim sat on his own outside the room.
“I told you to wait back there! They think I can’t control my children. Why do you look so miserable?”
Realising what she said, hugged him, “I’m so sorry,” she said. “Let’s go home. What do you want for tea?”
Her son looked at her, wishing daggers were aimed straight into her eyes. He shook off the thought; it wasn’t like him. Throwing Barbie down the length of the corridor, he felt better. Turning, he stalked ahead of her all the way home.
“Jim, please give mummy a cuddle,” she said as he stomped upstairs.
She was crying into her mobile, “When will you be home? Jim has locked himself into Jilly’s room.”
“About six. Can’t you handle it?”
She crept upstairs and listened at the door.
“Jilly, why are you being so rude? You never swear. You are lucky mum can’t hear you.”
Anthea was on her knees weeping.
A scratching sound was coming from the door, like a teacher’s nails on a blackboard. Anthea stifled a gasp as paint was peeling away from the door. The noise got louder; the scratch got deeper.
Words appeared, but not English.
In the bedroom, Jim had not noticed the scratching noise, he was arguing with his sister. They never argued.
“Do it. Do it,” louder and louder she yelled.
“No. Never,” wailed Jim.
“Do it. Or you’ll never talk to me again. But if you do it, I’ll let you see me.”
“But Jilly, why are you being like this?”
Outside, the scratching had stopped. Some words had formed. Children’s writing. It puzzled Anthea. She was not one for word games, but REDRUM flashed a memory in her mind.
“That’s it, it’s backwards.”
She ran to fetch her make-up mirror.
“I will not!” screamed Jim.
He felt a tug from behind on his shoulder.
Spinning, he saw the words on the door. The words were not a mirror image on his side.
Anthea arrived as Jim pulled the door open.
“IT IS NOT ME!”
Scrawled in Jilly’s handwriting on the wood.
Mother and son hugged, hard, not wishing to let go, with all the love they could muster.
Jilly appeared, blew kisses and waved. Then she disappeared.
Book 3 of Petal and Ben’s Adventures in Thailand.
“Sorry Petal, you cannot take your phone to school,” mum said.
“But mum, everyone has got a mobile but me,” said the unhappy girl.
“What about me?” asked Ben.
“No. Neither of you, phones, have been banned at school. We received a letter from the headmaster. He said that too many went missing and caused too much trouble. So, sorry, no, and that’s final.”
“That’s not fair,” echoed along the hallway as the siblings trudged off to school.
“It’s no good asking me,” said their father as he started the car.
Their pet dog, Giggles, felt nothing like giggling. She hated it when ‘her’ family argued.
Petal and Ben entered the school gates, “That’s funny, why is everyone looking at us?” asked Petal.
Their school, like every school, was a place where you met your friends, a place of fun, and a place of noise, lots of it, at least until the school bell rang, but today it was different. Where was the noise, the running, the squabbles and all the chatter?
Everybody was looking at Petal and Ben… in silence.
“What’s wrong?” she said as she checked her uniform. Ben was making sure his zipper was up.
Then… as quickly as it started, all their friends were running, shouting and playing as normal.
A gang of Petal’s friends pulled her off to join their gossip about who had forgotten their homework. Ben’s buddies invited him to join one team engaged in the FA Cup Final under the basketball hoops.
Later at home, Petal pulled Ben out of earshot of their parents, “What happened earlier at school?”
“Dunno, weird, wasn’t it?”
School – as normal?
“I wonder what will happen at school today?” said Ben.
“What do you mean?” asked his dad.
“Oh, nothing, I was talking to Petal.”
Petal kicked her brother in the backseat of their car.
“Sssh,” she whispered.
“Come on you two, what’s going on?”
“You know mum said we can’t take our phones to school?”
“Yes, I remember what she told you,” said their dad.
“All our friends still have their phones.”
“That is up to them, if they want to get in trouble and have their mobiles confiscated.”
“Yes, but dad, no one is losing theirs.”
“They will, I expect.”
“Not only that…” started Ben, as his sister kicked him again.
They were nearing the school dad was losing his patience, “And?”
Petal put her hand over Ben’s mouth to stop him answering.
“Nothing really,” she said. “They looked at us funny, that’s all.”
Petal and Ben quickly jumped out of the car and waved a hasty goodbye to their father as they entered the school drive. As the car slowly moved off, their father was watching.
The same thing happened as the day before. Silence, stillness, and everyone had turned to look at Petal and Ben.
“I don’t like this,” said Ben.
“Nor do I,” agreed his sister.
They continued walking towards their classrooms, then shouting, playing and jumping continued, but this time it took longer to return to normal.
Petal approached one of her friends, “What was all that about?”
“What do you mean?” she answered.
“The silent treatment to my brother and me?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Forget it,” Petal groaned.
They lined up for the morning assembly.
“It has come to my attention that some students are still using their phones at school,” said the headmaster.
“All except us,” whispered Ben to no-one in particular.
“You were all told, and your parents received a letter,” continued the head.
Petal looked around. All the children were tapping messages into the phones. Nobody was listening to the speaker on stage.
The teaching staff were oblivious, in fact most of them were checking their phones.
As soon as assembly was over Petal ran to find her brother, “Keep your eyes open, I feel something odd is going to happen today.”
“Come to my office,” bellowed the headmaster.
“You mean now,” said the science master Herr Hoffenheim.
“Yes, this minute,” said the head as he waltzed through his door.
“What can I do for you, Sir?”
“Your appointment was a mistake, I blame myself. The children can’t understand your English.”
The science teacher smiled.
“What is so funny?”
“Oh, nothing, trust me and I’ll sort it out.”
“What are you talking about?” The headmaster was fidgeting in his chair. The meeting was not going as he had planned.
Herr Hoffenheim leant back in his chair and lit a cigarette.
“What are you doing? You know there is no smoking in school.”
The science master blew out a long cloud of smoke.
“See you later,” he said, as he dropped the cigarette and marched to the science block.
Ben was looking over the second-floor balcony. There was a great deal of rushing around by pupils. He could hear Herr Hoffenheim bellowing orders.
“What is going on?” Ben said to himself. As his classmates pushed passed him and rushed to the staircase. Just then he saw his sister looking perplexed.
“Petal,” he shouted. “Wait there, I’m coming down.”
Brother and sister watched in wonder, their friends, classmates and other students were all walking in the same direction with their arms stretched in front. All were looking at their phones.
“Let’s follow them,” suggested Petal.
“I wish we could phone mum,” said Ben.
“I don’t know why, but I’m glad we haven’t got our phones with us.”
The column of school children stretched all the way to the gates, with Herr Hoffenheim at the front. Everyone was skipping from one leg to the other. The security man guarding the entrance was too busy with his mobile to even look up.
Herr Hoffenheim halted the traffic by raising his arms. Drivers on both sides of the road were unhappy, having to wait for the long line of children to cross to the beach side of the road. Eventually they entered a small Soi, or lane as we know it in England. This narrow road starts as concrete, but as it nears the sea, it is a dusty narrow footpath on to the sand.
Nobody was speaking, the only sounds that could be heard were the slap of school shoes as they skipped from foot to foot.
“Where are we all going?” whispered Ben.
“Look, they are turning right at the beach,” said Petal.
“Maybe they are going to our house?”
“I hope they are not. Mum will go mad.”
“Where then?” asked Ben.
Back at the school, the headmaster was busy writing a note to parents. He looked up.
“Miss Yangaluk, come into my office, please.”
The door did not open. The headmaster slid his chair back angrily and marched across the office. He pulled the door open.
“I asked you to come in.”
The lady continued tapping keys on her phone. The headmaster shouted, “Why is there no noise? What is going on?”
The secretary ignored him again. The master tried to snatch her phone.
First she glared, then she growled. The man let go instantly. The lady continued tap tap tap.
The headmaster went to the window and looked out. There was nobody in sight, no noise, nothing. He checked his watch and ran down the stairs to the ground floor.
The skipping column of boys and girls was nearing Petal and Ben’s house. Ben grabbed his sister’s arm.
“They are going to ‘our mountain’, I want to keep it as our secret place.” he said.
“I think you are right, they are going that way, but why?”
“Petal, look up there,” Ben pointed to an enormous circle of birds flying round and round above the rocks. “I think I can hear the monkeys squabbling?”
“Yes, I can hear them too.”
In Petal and Ben’s house, their mother was folding the washing as she saw all the children coming along the beach.
“How lovely, they must have a school excursion. I wonder if our two are with them?” she called to her husband. He left his laptop to check.
“I can’t see them, they are too far away, but getting nearer quickly.”
“Is that them? Near the back.”
“The school didn’t inform us about a day out of the classroom.”
“I’d better ring the secretary and check alls okay. It is odd that all the children leave school together. Do you know the teacher at the front?”
“It’s that German fellow. Why is there only one person looking after such a vast group? My goodness, it looks like the entire school.”
Petal’s mum looked worried as she put her mobile on the ironing board.
“No answer from the school secretary, I tried Ben’s class teacher, no answer from her too.”
“This is strange, we had better keep our eyes on them all.”
“There, I can see them, the only ones without arms sticking ahead.”
Yes, what are they doing? And why are our children not copying the rest? Look, our two are not skipping in time with the rest. We had better try phoning some parents.”
Herr Hoffenheim clambered over the rocks at the base of the hill, followed by the leaders of the pack. The birds were now squawking louder and louder. The large circle had now broken into half-a-dozen smaller circles. It was as if the rings were bouncing on the children’s heads. The kids didn’t seem to notice, all except for Petal and Ben, who were ducking as each bird dived at them. Monkeys were jumping and waving their arms like cavemen hollering as loud as they could.
Giggles came rushing from home barking. She rushed up to Ben, and tried to knock him over, Ben remained on his feet so she tried Petal. She was stronger than her brother, Giggles failed again. She jumped and bit into Petal’s school shirt, and pulled for all she was worth.
“Giggles, stop it, you’ll tear my blouse.”
Giggles was shaking her head with a mouth full of uniform. By slowing the two down, they were now at the back of the line. The leaders were halfway up the rocks.
The parade kept skipping forwards over rocks, marching higher and higher.
Monkeys got noisier with their screeching, bouncing higher and higher. The birds flew closer and closer to the unaware children.
“I don’t like this, Petal, let’s go home,” said Ben as he tugged his sister’s arm. It was as if Giggles nodded in agreement.
“No, we’ll follow them to see what they will do.”
Call the police
“Should I ring the police?” asked the children’s mum.
“I don’t think they have broken any law.”
“What about an ambulance?”
“No one has been injured, yet,” told her husband.
“We must do something!”
“Our children are there, possibly in danger. I’m going to catch them. You stay here. When I wave my arms ring the police. Okay?”
“I don’t want to stay here. I’m coming too.”
“Right, grab your mobile, let’s go.”
Petal’s mum and dad put on sensible shoes to prepare for the climb. They briskly walked to the hill.
Herr Hoffenheim and the leading children were now out of sight at the top of the hill. Petal and Ben were halfway up. The birds tried to fly between them and the rest.
“It’s okay birds, thanks, but we need to see what is happening to our schoolmates,” said Petal.
The birds flew back to the front. The monkeys were also at the front, making themselves as noisy and distracting as they could.
Ben pulled his sister to a stop, “Look, they are going into our hole.”
Giggles bark to a halt. She knew what the hole meant, danger. A year ago, when Giggles was a puppy, she had gone into the hole and faced danger with the plastic monster. She wasn’t keen to do it again.
“Don’t worry, Giggles, the rubbish has all been cleared away,” said Ben.
“But what is in its place?” wondered Petal. “Come on!”
“I don’t like this,” said Ben as Giggles was pulling him backwards.
“If you want to go home, go,” said Petal.
The children’s parents were now jogging across the sand, they could no longer see the children as they had all reached the top and were hidden by rocks.
“Nearly there, are you ready for a climb?” called their father.
Ben and Giggles were both in two minds. Shall we go, stay, or run home? They both thought.
“Come on, I’m with you Petal,” Ben and Giggles climbed on and up.
“Look,” she pointed, “They are going down the hole.”
“Then what?” asked Ben.
There was a queue at the hole. Gradually the children were dropping from view. Petal and Ben knew only too well that after clambering down the rocks inside, then you have to drop into the sea. They could hear, splash, splash as their friends were entering the waves.
“Quick, quick, we are nearly there,” shouted their father.
Mum grabbed his arm, with a terrified look, said, “What, what if we lose our children?” Tears were running.
“Come on, let’s rush.”
They ignored the screaming animals and screeching birds and raced forwards as quick as they could move.
Petal, Ben and Giggles were at the entrance of the hole, “Now or never,” called Petal as she went down, followed by Ben and Giggles.
Where are they?
“Where are the children? Our children and the rest?”
“What was that teacher thinking of, bringing hundreds of young ones up here?”
“Oh, God, they must have gone down the hole!”
“Quick, let’s go,” they rushed to the edge, and looked in.
“Petal, Ben, stay where you are, do not move another step,” shouted their father.
“We are not going with them, we just want to see where they go,” called up Petal.
“Stay where you are, then gradually turn and get up here,” screamed their mother.
By the sound of her voice, she really meant it, no arguing.
Petal knew she was risking big trouble. Petal lay down and peered through the hole.
“What is it, Petal? What can you see?” called her brother.
“They are jumping into the sea, and… and…”
“You two, get back up here now! I mean it!” shouted their father.
Petal looked terrified, “Dad, run around the rocks to where you can see the sea. Are the children there?”
“What does she mean?” asked her mum.
Father ran around the big rock to the edge of the cliff. He peered at the gently waving sea. The birds were now flying in their giant circle formation out to sea.
He put his hands to his mouth and bellowed, “There are no children here, none I can see.”
He rushed back to his wife and children.
Ben helped Giggles back to the top, then climbed out of the hole. Petal followed him. The only sounds you could hear was the lapping of waves at the bottom.
The children were full of questions. Dad only said he would ring the police and then the school. It delighted giggles her family were safe. A worried mother put her arms around her children and guided them home.
Here come the police
Both mother and father’s mobiles were hot all the way home. Petal kept looking around to see if her friends were following, they weren’t. Ben’s eyes were red and puffy from tears.
Soon sirens could be heard and father rushed out to meet the police chief and the ambulance team.
When he came home, he had slumped shoulders and said, “Sorry, children, there is no sign of Herr Hoffenheim or any children. I must meet the headmaster and tell him what we saw. Cheer up. I may have some better news later.”
An hour passed. Mother tried to brighten the mood of brother and sister. They didn’t even want to look at their phones.
Dad came home. He shook his head and gathered his thoughts.
“Have you ever heard the story of the ‘Pied Piper’?” he asked.
Mother knew the story, but only the Disney version. Giggles settled down for a long rest.
“Many years ago in Europe, I think it was Austria. Rats and all the germs they bring invaded a town. The town folk insisted the mayor did something.”
“What has that got anything to do with our town?” asked Petal.
“Let’s see if you can tell me. When I finish telling you the folktale, okay?”
“The mayor employed a rat catcher. This man played a pipe. The rats were at first transfixed and then followed the ‘Pied Piper’, they tailed him all the way to the outskirts of the town. The town-folk and the mayor were all so happy, no more rats. All was well until the ‘Pied Piper’ asked for his payment. The mayor laughed at him and refused to pay. The ‘Pied Piper’ walked out.”
“Just walked out? Wasn’t he annoyed?” asked Ben.
“I haven’t finished,” said dad, “The ‘Pied Piper’ started playing his pipe… All the town’s children followed him, off and away, never to return. It is an ancient tale, but historians say there is a lot of truth to it.”
Petal spoke up, “How has that got anything to do with what happened here?”
Mother understood, Giggles grunted and turned over, Ben was scratching his chin. Petal was deep in thought.
“So, you are saying, Herr Hoffenheim was our ‘Pied Piper’?”
“Yes, he had been fired by your headmaster.”
A little while passed with Petal and Ben deep in thought.
“The rats are today’s mobile phones?”
Tears were rolling down Petal’s cheeks, “Did those children ever come back?”
“It was a long time ago. We don’t really know what happened.”
“Was it not on the news?” asked Ben.
“They had no WiFi then,” answered dad.
By Colin Devonshire
NOT FAR ENOUGH FROM WORRIES
WORRY NO MORE
CHILDREN WITH NO WORRIES
WE HAVE MORE WORRIES
All in the ‘No Worries’ series – Available from
When is a word not a word?
“That is not a word!”
“Oh yes, it is!”
“I bet it’s not in the dictionary?”
“Have a look then.”
A thick book was dragged from the shelf, skinny pages leafed through.
“See it’s not there.”
“You are looking in the wrong place.”
“Ow is not a word!”
“It is in the Thai dictionary!”
Tom the younger of the twins sniggered at his brother. Tim lashed out, missed.
The twins glared at each other.
Only their mother could tell them apart, and she hated telling them off.
“Now, now boys give it a break. Words are nothing to argue over.”
“But Mum, this one is.”
The boys nodded in agreement.
“Come on you two, time to go.”
Tim and Tom tied their shoes, checked their bags and peddled off to school.
Dad, an Englishman, Mum, a Thai, and the boys lived in the seaside resort of Hua Hin. Thai schools are often stricter than their English counterpart, Hua Hin’s Catholic base of learning was no different.
They parked their bikes inside the school gates only to be met by, “Boys, go to the headmaster’s office. He wants to speak to you. Go now,” their class-teacher mentioned ‘headmaster’ in quietened tones, unlike her usual bellow.
“Shit, what have you done now?”
“I’ve done nothing. What about you?”
They waited outside the wooden door, wondering what trouble they had to face.
The headmaster’s secretary held the door open.
Two bowed heads filed in, they stood and bowed deeper as they greeted the Catholic Brother, headmaster of their school, in true Thai fashion, hands together as in prayer, they mumbled, “Morning, sir.”
“Lads, lads, don’t look so worried, I have something for you.”
The boys smiled wondering why they deserved a gift from the dreaded man.
“Red for you Tim,” the head waited for one boy to hold out a hand. Tim was presented with a safety pin, attached to it were two inch-long crimson ribbons hanging like a medal.
“And blue for you Tom. You are to wear them at all times in or around the school when you are in uniform. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison.
As soon as the head’s door closed behind them, they switched pins.
On the way home, they stopped at a haberdashery, where they bought matching blue and red ribbons and a packet of safety pins.
“Have you two finished your homework?”
“Nearly done, mum.” The boys giggled.
Material hung neatly from the pins, now both boys had a red and a blue set.
“Now for some real fun, let’s go.”
“We are going out on our bikes, see you later, mum.”
The lads rarely went near the wet market, the stink of fish and hooked pigs’ heads saw to that. But, today the town’s square suited their needs perfectly.
Tim and Tom pulled off the main road, they snuck into a small lane. A quick Stone, Paper, Scissors game decided that Tom was to go first. Tim prepared himself to follow his brother in two minutes.
Tom peddled as fast as his legs would allow, reaching the pork butchers stall he stood on his pedals and reached above. His hands grabbed the pig’s head pulling it from the hook.
“Look what I’ve got!” he screamed.
The butcher shouted, “Stop thief!” and ran out after him flapping his arms.
Tim casually cycled to the front of the stall and waited. The butcher turned and cursed, “Bloody kids, I’m calling the police!”
The neighbouring stallholders joined him on the footpath.
“What happened?” asked the fishmonger.
“A bastard kid from that Catholic school just nicked my pig’s head.”
“Would you recognise him again?”
“Sure, half falang, school uniform with a red badge on his left chest.”
“You mean like the boy waiting to be served at your shop?”
“That is him!”
“No, I saw him pull up just after you went screaming after somebody.”
“It’s him, I tell you. Bloody louts!”
Tim was casually studying the price list and business cards placed next to the meats.
“I would have bought ten kilos of pork for a party tonight, but not now as you insulted me!” Tim peddled off to join Tom.
They met in the car park of a hotel famous for its vegan restaurant.
“Now for stage two.”
Tim parked his bike next to the entrance steps, he went to the reception desk and started collecting leaflets and brochures.
“Yes, young man, how can I help you?” asked a cheery young lady.
“Thank you, my father sent me to collect all these, he has a group of friends visiting us soon. We need to know about vegetarian restaurants, it would be perfect if they can stay here too.”
“I think I should speak to your dad. Do you have his phone number?”
“Ok, maybe it would be easier? Otherwise I will have too much to remember.”
Tim felt for the business card in his pocket then read out the number.
Outside, Tom was busy, he was attaching the pig’s head to the top of the inclined flagpole. The banner proudly boasted five stars, an award from a culinary magazine. The award was for Asia’s highest vegan prize.
Tom cycled around the corner to wait for his brother.
“One last thing, I need to take a few photos, my father wants to post them on Facebook for his friends to know where they will be staying. Thanks again. Bye-bye.”
The receptionist watched him snap away with his phone, mount his bike and peddle away. As soon as he was on his way, she thought it would be a good idea to get the full facts of the guests.
The hotel phone was slammed down as she heard, “Porky Pigs Butcher, how can I h….”
“Strange boy, doesn’t know his phone number?” she muttered to herself.
The boys could only guess what was happening. They enjoyed discussing their prank in their bedroom. They did not know that one of their teachers had walked past as a boy in uniform with a red ribbon was manhandling a pig’s head.
Hua Hin is a small town, everyone knew everyone, or so it seemed to the boys. They heard their names bellowed by their father.
“Get down here now!”
In the living room was the butcher, the receptionist, with father and mother hands-on-hips. It was to get worse, the doorbell rang, “Come in Brother.”
“Ow in Thai means to have,” said the headmaster, “And, I will ‘have’ my cane ready in the morning.”
“And ‘Ouch’ is an English word. We will all hear it soon enough!” said father.
Squirrels at Woodstock
3 Days of Hell and Noise!
I came to live here in peace, what do I get?
My Generation? Listen to them.
I thought I had found heaven. Living on a dairy farm a full fifty miles away from the torture of New York seemed like a paradise. It was.
Now what is going on? I stirred, shaken awake, the normally peaceful surroundings were now alive with action, bustle and people, trucks and tons of equipment. What is it all for? Birds no longer sang.
The last couple of days were bad enough, people were moving things, big things. The noise started early, banging, drilling and worst of all, shouting.
It soon dawned on me that worse was to come. They had erected stages. More people, this time not only scruffy but filthy too. The men’s hair was long and unkempt, the women’s hair was cropped and ugly. Admittedly, they were all working hard.
Banging drums, thrashing about with electric guitars and the endless ‘Hello, hello, testing, testing’, with microphones. What is wrong with these folk?
Later there were endless processions of people parading up and down in my, my field. Lugging bags, backpacks and hookah pipes. Have I gone crazy or has the world?
A gorgeous young thing, still a teenager I guess, laid out some nylon, aided by a slightly older man, together they constructed a garish blue and green tent.
“What would her mother think?” I asked myself.
Talking to myself is something I got used to. Now, I wouldn’t have it any other way, I even answer myself.
The V for victory was being flashed by people passing. Funny that, we didn’t see much victory in Viet Nam.
I had spent most of my time looking after people who could no longer, or had no intention of raising their fingers. War does that.
Occasionally I put soldiers out of their misery.
Richie Havens’ name was being screamed, who the hell is he? I wonder if he could play some Wagner instead? I doubt it. This gets worse.
Explosions of bad temper regularly disrupted my early life, fiery outbursts I thought these tantrums were behind me. It seems not. I used to kill things, pets at first, the hamsters were passed off as ‘not understanding how to care for them’, but the puppies were taken more seriously, I had to go to a special school. I was the only sane one there, and that included the teachers.
Rage is bubbling and boiling under my skin. ‘What have I done to deserve this?’
My mind flitted back to Saigon. My family had decided it was better for all who knew me, that I serve my country. They drafted me into the medical corps. I served as a nurse, a wonderfully fitting job.
We saw a lot of pain, often caused by stupidity. Being smart and not wanting to be a hero, I remained well away from the action.
Lysergic acid diethylamide, you will know as LSD, or commonly Acid was locked in our hospital lockers. We saw lots of it, not by soldiers ‘having fun’ but combatants taking it under an order, or prisoners who unknowingly had some white powder added to their food. Our special forces were fearless, we, as medics knew why. They were given power drinks.
Prisoners, both enemy and our guys, spewed out information, without painful encouragement. What are the ‘slants’ planning? Who were the ‘peace and loving’ GIs in our force? The guys that needed reminding why they were there.
The man passed her a joint, she took it, sucking hungrily, “Man, the music gets better.”
“Yes, I will get some Acid. You don’t mind do you? I know you can’t.”
“No, help yourself, I’ll stick with this thanks.”
The crumpled reefer had too much ash hanging.
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, my only problem is the toilets, too far and too busy.”
“Look, don’t worry, if you need to pee, do it behind the tree. Everyone will be smashed, they won’t care.”
“Just make sure I drink plenty of water, ok? It’s more important that I drink gallons, than embarrass myself by wetting my jeans.”
She laughed, but not enjoying the humour. He nodded and grinned, knowing her kidney condition was not a joke.
Now I knew what I could do. LSD caused havoc to those little organs we call kidneys. Oh, what fun this will be.
The music got louder; the excitement increased. As the grey clouds descended on my shoulders, the only rainbows I could see were the seven colours on t-shirts and even hideous jeans.
I couldn’t stop the noise, but I could ruin someone’s fun.
Calmly descending the tree-trunk, I crept into the tent and hid. Right on time he returned. Throwing a small packet next to his backpack.
Back outside he joined the others, shouting out the lyrics to a song fortunately I’d never heard before.
I have small hands, therefore carefully emptied the screwed up paper pack into her drinking bottle. Dusting my hands of white powder, I headed towards the tent’s flap.
“Oh look, a beautiful squirrel, isn’t she gorgeous?”
She? I could cry.
“Never mind the vermin, there is a new band starting.”
“Off you go baby, back to your tree.”
I’m going, but I want to watch this.
“Come on, they are playing.”
“I can hear, just need a drink first.”
The doctored water bottle was drained, the hallucinations started within minutes. That was the fun bit, but then the agony in her lower stomach and back, her boyfriend did not understand what was happening to her. She died in writhing pain, her friends danced around her and cheered the new moves.
Did you know squirrels could smile? I was stuck in a furry body, for how long I don’t know. The girl had more peace than me, eventually they would move on. How many more would I minister to before they leave me in peace?
My Generation ended. I committed suicide in Saigon two years ago. And no, it was not an overdose of LSD!
“Ni, Khun och!”
My head felt like a wasp’s nest, large, noisy and thumping with activity. The man was not happy; He was pointing to the bus’s door; It seemed a light year away in the distance.
“Where am I?
He grunted, I was none the wiser, and in no state to push this any further. Wobbling to my feet and making my way juddering to the front. There were no other passengers, no luggage.
“Did I have a bag? Must have?”
A shrug was the answer, he glared as I peered at the back seat. The reason for his unfriendly behaviour became clear, a puddle of acrid smelling vomit appeared to be rotting the plastic floor. A scene from ‘Alien’ flashed vividly before my eyes.
It was all coming back; I had been in Bangkok for a Lasik retina operation. My eyes? No glasses!
“How in Hell’s name did I end up here? Wherever I am? At least my vision was good.”
There was no bag, at least not in sight. Making my way to the front and checking my wallet, a small plus, there was some cash, not a lot, but some.
Heavy footfall disturbed my brief rest on the buses step. The man didn’t like me. Staggering off, left, right, up the road or down it, made no difference to me. Making the wrong choice, there was nothing in view. No shops, no houses, no other vehicles. After passing a rubber tree plantation I turned back, hopefully, there would be something in the other direction?
On reaching the unattended bus I noticed a coffee stand, “Was that there before?” I couldn’t be sure, anyway, it was closed.
It was hot and getting hotter, a swirl of warm dust twisted its way into a field. There must have been a storm in the night? The road had dried; The fields were still wet. A clattering motorbike shook its way past me. Carrying on in the search of a coffee I picked up my pace. Must be something ahead? Another battered and bruised 100cc machine cruised along, rider and three passengers looked like they knew their way.
At last, shops, people, life.
Was it me? The people turned and closed their doors. The reason for the activity soon became clear, a convoy of military rattled past, a soldier mounted an unfriendly looking weapon, he looked and shouted; The truck carried on.
My best hope for a drink had closed its doors. The wasps in my brain were back only stopping their hum when a flash of lightning rattled from one side of my skull to the other. Flopping onto a battered bench I studied the cracks and broken concrete that was now my seat. Thinking, how odd my vision was clear, I studied patterns in the cracked seat.
A man walked across the road, stopped and looked at me, not caring how I may feel about someone staring at me. I studied his flowing chequered cotton and beautifully crocheted skull cap. He was carrying a biscuit tin. Thinking some ‘Rich Tea’ or even better ‘Digestives’ would go well with my drink.
He tilted his head and asked, “What you want?”
“First, I want a coffee, then a chemist and then a ride back to Bangkok.”
“It looks like Starbucks is closed.”
“Oh, head problem.”
Gently pointing above my ear.
“You help me, I help you?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Take this cake to my mother. The army looks for me, I must go.”
“And, how are you going to help me?”
“My mother makes good coffee. And she has phone, call taxi.”
“Won’t a taxi to Bangkok be very expensive?”
“Yes, but no bus for a week.”
It didn’t take my addled brain long work out how to arrange the cash when I arrive back in the city.
“OK, where is your mum’s house?”
The directions were simple enough, follow the road, when I see a big white house, turn left and see his mother in the field.
The man hastily disappeared in the opposite direction.
After twenty minutes plodding, there was a large off-white structure, as I neared it people were tending goats nearby. One of those people must be his mum I thought, day-dreaming of my prize, it might have to be black, not sure if I liked goat’s milk in coffee.
The people were standing with their trousers rolled to the knee, an odd thought flashed in my mind, ‘Were they Freemasons?’ Chuckling at my limp joke. They all looked puzzled, silently questioning this strange foreigner, “Alay?” a woman shouted. I held up the biscuit tin hoping someone would claim the gift.
To my surprise, the group dived into the mud, hands on their heads.
Some of their arms moved to sodden pockets, searching for something. Muttering in a foreign tongue to each other. I moved forward to ask, “What’s the matter? What is wrong?” Nobody answered.
Having no intention of muddying myself, “Christ, all I want is a coffee,” I said standing rooted to the driveway.
A squeal of tyres from behind, we all turned our heads, an army truck kicking stones behind it screeched to a halt thirty-yards short of me. A camouflaged man slowly opened the passenger door, he hid behind it and waved his pistol, finally pointing it to the ground.
“Did he mean me, or the cake box?” I raised my free arm, I bent my shaking knees and placed the tin on the road and raised my other arm. Now four soldiers aimed their weapons at me, three rifles and the pistol pointed at my heart.
The leader patted me down, forced my arms behind my back, cuffing my wrists and forced me face down in the dust.
Gingerly, a soldier moved and lifted the tin he threw it into the muddy field opposite. He then raised his rifle, a single shot, then instantly muck flew in all directions, splattering back to earth.
I was roughly shoved into the truck. Plenty of unanswered questions burst from my mouth, the uniformed men either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at a base. Prodded and poked I sat behind a desk, not understanding a word screamed at me. The desk phone was ringing, orders issued, my guess, once more they placed me in a military vehicle, this time alone in a metal box with a wire grill allowing fresh air and an interrupted view of the outside world.
All I wanted was a cup of coffee, but at least I was on my way to the city!
Mr Mrs, Mr Mr
“Good morning my dear, would you like a cup of tea?”
“I could kill for a cuppa, thank you.”
A croaky voice answered through bandages. The flowery quilt covered most of the escapee from a pyramid. I sniggered at the thought.
I busied myself in our new kitchen, hunting for my favourite mug and its matching pink sister. Two bags of Lipton tossed accurately into the cups, proudly grinning at the unseen skill, then added the hot water. All I needed was the milk jug.
“Where is it? Obviously, it is in the fridge.”
Not only was the kitchen new, but I was also new to it. It would take a while to get used to its layout. Not that I was a regular user of the old one.
“Must have a look at the cooker later,” reminding myself.
Plodding upstairs to the bedroom, then leaning on the doorknob and pushing the door wide, “It’s a lovely day, sit up and enjoy a brave new start.”
The pain was clear, elbows used to lever a bruised back against the crushed velvet headboard. I positioned the bed tray, tested it, and placed the pink mug centrally.
“Are you hungry yet?”
“No, tea is fine thanks.”
“I’ll see you later, I’ve some shopping to do this morning.”
“Don’t forget to get what I asked for?”
“Top of my list.”
Marching to the high street, across the road I spotted my old mates, preferring not to start a conversation, ducking my head pretending to study a hairdresser’s shop window.
“Don’t know why you’re looking in there!” one of them shouted.
A coarse laugh accompanied the back-slapping mirth from the opposite footpath. Pretending not to hear the two old friends who stood hands on hips.
“Oh, hi, guys.” I relented.
Dreading their next comments, I scurried into the newsagents as a bus rumbled between us.
The newsagent loved to talk; He enjoyed a good gossip, offering more tittle-tattle than The Sun’s front page, he was the last person I needed in my life right now. But any port in a storm, as they say. Maybe he doesn’t know yet?
“Morning. Oh, it’s you?” Accompanied his lecherous grin.
“I popped in to get my usual rag.”
“I guess you’ll be cancelling the lady mags?” He was trying not to laugh.
Slamming coins onto a pile of papers, snatched The Telegraph and accidentally bowled into an elderly neighbour collecting her lottery tickets.
“Sorry,” I stammered.
Both she and the shopkeeper were chuckling as I returned to the high street.
“Oh God, this is harder than I feared.”
Next, bills to pay.
“Your wife usually deals with this,” she giggled.
Last on the list, and grateful that no snide comments followed me from the ‘men’s products’ shelf in Boots chemists to the cashier’s desk. A young Indian girl politely bagged my purchases and offered my change.
“Next time take the car, save the walking to places where I won’t be noticed,” I said to myself.
“Home. Do you want any breakfast yet?” I shouted up the stairs. No answer so I raced to the bedroom.
Gentle snoring, all was well. Peaking from between the bandages were a pair of black eyes reminding me of an animal, not a panda, a racoon, slimmer and more angular. Luckily the tea tray was still standing on its legs, the half-empty cup still centralised in place.
“Ha,” I said to myself, “That would have been ‘half-full’ a few days ago.”
Lifting the tray, there was a grunt and sluggish movement.
“Are you awake?”
“Yes, I’m starving.”
I bounded down the stairs to toast some bread.
“Honey or jam?” I called.
“You don’t like Marmite.”
“I do now.”
“Things will change, some small and some large, be prepared,” the doctor’s lecture echoed between my ears.
Both of us eating Marmite in the house wasn’t too bad.
Repositioning the bed-tray, with its brown sticky toast, a glass of water and a handful of painkillers, plus other medication, still wrapped in silver foil.
An hour later we were on our way to the hospital. We didn’t have to queue up, straight to the consultant’s office.
“Please sit outside sir,” they directed me to a seat outside the surgery. I could hear no sound through the door. Images of bandages unwound, stitches being clipped open, who knows what else?
The door opened, “You can come in now.”
What was I scared about? No-one had operated on me.
“And how are you?”
“Really? How about your mental health?”
“My mental health? Why ask that?”
“Let’s say people in your situation, rare as it is, need some guidance.”
“Not me, I’m fine.”
A pair of nurses finished re-wrapping, we were ready to return home.
Back in the car and trying to make light conversation, the chit-chat fell on closed ears. Racoon eyes studied the folk outside without comment.
Deciding to try again, “How about I pull up outside the travel agents, I’ll dash in and grab some brochures we can pick out a holiday. Then, as soon as you get your stitches out, off we go, sun, sea and…?”
“And, where are you thinking of?”
“Anywhere you like. You always fancied Venice, how about that?”
“Ha ha! Hilarious.”
“I need a new passport. Idiot.”
My brow creased, but I said no more until we arrived at home.
There were people outside our front gate.
“Sir, sir, can we have a word?”
“Who the hell are you lot?”
“We are reporters, local and national.”
“Bugger off. We’ve got nothing to say.”
Opening our gates cameras clicked and flashed. I turned and closed the wrought iron as quickly as I could, shepherding my white-clad passenger to the front door.
Arms spread wide, the patient turned and faced the press, soaking up the fame, “Come back in two weeks, bandages off, stitches out, a new me.”
Shocked, I stammered, “Get inside, and up to our bed, you must be tired out.”
“Do not order me. I am not tired. I will rest when I feel like it. Now, I want to watch a replay of last night’s game.”
“But, you don’t like football.”
“I do now.”
The warnings were clear, things would not be the same.
“And I could do with a coffee if you’re near the kitchen.”
That’s what I used to say?
“My wife is now a man. I still love… him.”
I’m not the oldest, I’m not the baby of the family, the third oldest, the second youngest. What does that tell you? Not much I guess.
My name is Charlie Nutz, Charlie after my grandfather, and Nutz, well, we are nuts. We should have a longer surname, but my grandfather changed it, a Jewish name was not helpful at that time.
We now live in north London, a foreign-sounding name is not a problem here. The other kids at school thought our surname it was great fun, they made my life a misery, they even Christened me Hazel. Not very original, but I had to put up with it. Christened was not the correct term, but what were we to know?
Working with my head down, few friends and no girlfriends, I made it to university. The first person in my family to do so, and the only one who had tried.
A degree wasn’t to be, my mother was taken ill, I had to drop out. Somebody had to care for her unfortunately, my siblings were not up to it. The only other female, my little sister offered to help, but she forgets what she is supposed to be doing and returns to daytime tv.
My dad, you ask? He used to drink before my mum got ill, he drinks even more now. He has had no luck in his life. He could easily be a professional footballer, but was too small. He attempted managerial work. They said, “You have to start at the bottom.” My dad was too clever for that, so he joined the dole queue.
Gerry, the eldest, was sacked unfairly from his warehouse job. He was a brilliant fork-truck driver, the best, everybody said so. A girl from the office had her eyes on him, he was not interested; it upset her. So, she trumped up a charge; she had the nerve to say he touched her inappropriately! Who could believe that of my big brother? Now he keeps the sofa warm waiting for the next opportunity to come along. Mind you, he has put a fair bit of weight on in the last year.
The brains of the family, Alex, the second oldest, is a real whizz at maths. He worked it out that if you collected discarded lottery tickets from the bins near the newsagents; you were bound to find a winner. That didn’t work quite as well as he imagined, but he is great at coming up with solutions to problems, he then thought his plan further, he got to know a real looker who worked for the company that runs the lottery.
Alex’s new lady-love, Julie, blonde and she wobbled in all the right places. I had never seen him with such a stunner. He has had his share of women, but never like Julie. They got along so well too. She lapped up his scheme and was more than willing to go along with it. She even had her ideas that made it more workable.
They bought some of the latest tickets and even hunted down some old ones. At first, I didn’t understand why they wanted old ones until they explained that people thought the tickets were out of date when they lasted six months. Alex and Julie told ‘out-of-date’ ticket owners they were collecting our gran’s lucky numbers, and that they wanted them to be cremated with her. As a kind of lucky send-off, people lapped it up. Odd, as she had died before any of us had been born. Anyway, people believed them, sold or gave them the tickets.
Then they worked hard, heads together in front of the living room’s lamp. I was desperate to see what they were up to. After a few nights, they proudly showed me the result of all their graft.
A battered old lottery ticket.
“What is that supposed to be? A miniature Banksy work of art?”
“That’s an idea!” said my brother.
He was thinking ahead as normal.
Julie explained, “This is a winner from three months ago. I happen to know which ones are not claimed. So, we made our own. Good isn’t it?”
The following day Alex couldn’t wait for nine o’clock when the claims office opened.
“Aren’t you going to wait for Julie?” I asked.
“No, she doesn’t want to be involved as she works there. Besides, I borrowed five grand down the pub. I gave it to her last night, an early bonus for her. When the cheque clears, we are going on holiday. Great, eh? I might even propose to her on some romantic beach. What do you think?”
“She’s prettier and brighter than your normal girlfriends, that’s for sure,” I said.
“And your idea of faking a Banksy was brilliant. We will do that next.”
“I was only joking.”
“That’s why you are mum’s carer, and I’m joining the jet-set.”
I couldn’t argue.
He made his call. Stated his name his address and the winning number.
An hour later there was a rap at the front door. They knocked me roughly aside, four uniformed officers marched through our hall, plus a dour-looking Julie was with them.
“Sorry guys, it’s my job to catch cheats.”
Mum said she wanted to be in court to hear the conniving bitch and how she set up her son. I didn’t have the heart to argue with her. My father said he would go too, but we all know he won’t, the other two had something on tv they didn’t want to miss.
The date of the trial arrived, mum, and I set off in good time.
“Hi Alex,” mum shouted and waved. A serious man told her to be quiet, “The judge is in court.”
As soon as the trial started, so did my mum’s coughing, after a full minute the judge spoke, “If you can’t control your hacking, please step outside.”
I ushered mum out. Her coughing fit got worse, somebody fetched medical help, they pushed me out of the way. Half a minute later they were shaking their heads and muttering condolences to me. The ambulance arrived and took mum and me to the hospital.
Maybe now was the time to get that degree? Everything will be fine.
Serve it with Floss
“Hi, Mr Perkins, your father is in his room.”
“Is he okay? No dramas?”
“He is fine.”
“Thanks, I’ll go and see him. Oh, my son is in the garden with one of your carers. Can you show him the way to his grandad’s room when he’s ready?”
“Of course. Have a nice visit,” the nurse smiled and bustled down the corridor.
“Hello dad, how are you feeling today?”
Silence followed by a grunt, then, “I don’t know why you are here.”
“Dad, please, do we have to go through this each day I come?”
“Please open the window, I can’t smell the flowers.”
John Perkins smiled and pushed the windows wide.
“Beautiful day dad, the sun is shining.”
“I can tell when the sun is out even with these eyes.”
The grey orbs could detect changes in light, but not much else.
“Yes dad, can you smell the roses down there?”
“I can list the flowers by smell if you want. By the way, who are you again?”
“Your grandson is here today. He is growing fast and will be starting school next term. He is very excited about it, please say nice things about school.”
“What is his name?”
“His name is Paul. Here he is.”
A timid lad was hiding behind a green uniformed lady. Left and right she moved, young Paul managed to remain behind her.
The old man suddenly beamed, “I can smell candy-floss!”
“Where did you get that, it’s bad for your teeth,” said son to grandson.
“One of our residents love it, her daughter always brings a stick when she visits. Unfortunately, the lady is unwell. Young Paul was in the right place at the right time,” the lady explained.
“Once in a while won’t hurt I guess?”
The lady smiled and led Paul to his father.
“Can I have a taste?” said the old man.
Paul carefully placed the stick in his grandfather’s hand.
A grin spread across his face as he breathed in the sweet aroma.
“Let me tell you a story young man. Come and sit next to me.”
A gentle breeze blew the curtain as the old man drifted back in time.
“I was a bit older than you when I first thrilled at the travelling fair. It came to our village every summer. My granny had saved up a jar full of coppers which she emptied into my jacket’s pockets. I can feel the weight of those old pennies pulling me down now. Off we went to the common, I could feel the excitement growing as we neared the fairground. The first thing I spotted was the helter-skelter. ‘Can I can I’, I asked. ‘It’s your money’, she said. I raced off to join the queue of boys and girls all waiting their turn.”
Paul was entranced by his grandfather’s every word.
“It was while I was looking at the children sliding, round and round, that I got a whiff of heaven. A huge lady was spinning a stick in a vat of pink sugar. When she finished her creation, a cloud of rose-coloured candy-floss was presented to a pig-tailed young lass, she skipped away. I no longer wanted to clamber up the stairs up to the top of the ride, I wanted the pink treat.”
Son and grandson were speechless they were entranced by the speech, that summer day all those years ago had started a train of thoughts they would never forget. Young Paul pinched a hand full of sticky floss, bringing delight to his grandfather’s face.
“I was standing, holding my prize, staring at the dodgems when my granny grabbed my hand and led me to the stepped rim of the circuit. The rumble of the wheels the squeals of excitement and the thrill of the chase was all too much for a young boy, I had to have a go.”
The small audience grew as two of the nurses heard him talk at length for the first time since he arrived at the care home, soon the room was filled with residents and more staff as people crept in to hear more.
“I fell in love with the dodgems. Every year when the fair came, I worked for ‘Old Pikey’ the owner of the ride. My job was to knock at neighbouring houses and collect newspapers which were used to clean the ‘cars’. In exchange for a pile of newsprint, they were handed tokens for free rides. My wage was also tokens, but I also got free candy-floss. The candy-floss lady was ‘Old Pikey’s’ wife. My mind is drifting away from the dodgems, just as they skidded across the steel floor. That lady always smelled sweet but her husband smelled of fish,” he grunted at the thought.
The afternoon’s tea trolley pulled up outside and offered a steaming cup to all inside, the bedroom was now filled with intrigued listeners.
“It was then I met your grandmother.”
Paul’s hair was ruffled by shaky fingers, his head now rested on his grandfather’s chest.
“‘Old Pikey’ had a daughter, he kept her away from the ragamuffin customers and workers. I included. We had no idea about her, we didn’t know she existed. One day I was delivering papers, the door to the caravan opened a little, a slender finger signalled me to go near. I crept over, ‘Take me to the bus stop please,’ I heard whispered from behind the door.”
He stopped talking, frozen in time and deep in thought. He shook his head then slowly and confidently continued his race on the memory circuit.
“She was just fifteen, I was fifteen going on sixteen. She told me she wanted to run away. Her father and mother kept her locked away, she didn’t go to school and had no friends. She had watched me each year when the fair arrived on the common. She wanted to speak to me, but couldn’t get her nerve up, until that incredible life-changing day. She was beautiful. I was in love.”
Again the storyteller drifted, lost in ancient memories. The audience transfixed by his tale. Holding their breath until he continued. This a resident who didn’t speak more than a handful of words at any time.
“We ran away, we went to Brighton, thinking we would find work. It wasn’t to be. We had nowhere to live and were starving. My mum allowed us to return. The police had been to the house and scared the life out of her with talk of kidnap and the like. We were both sorry for all the distress we caused. Sally fell pregnant, we had a hastily arranged marriage and I managed to find a job. John here was born, fit and healthy. All was good, until one day there was a knock at the door. It was a Sunday, my mum was at church. I opened the door and smelt candy-floss.”
Tears ran down his cheeks.
“I never saw her again. She was dragged away by her sweet-smelling mother. Her father punched me, then used a tool from the dodgems and poked my eyes out. Sally was screaming as she was frogmarched away. Years later ‘Old Pikey’ died and Sally tracked me down. She had sold the fair and came to live with our son, yes, John you, and my mum.”
A burst of applause shattered the silence. An old man wondered what all the noise was for? Why were the people in his room? And who was on his bed?
“I thought you were going to get me some apples?” Abby glared at her husband.
“I am, give me a chance,” Andy tutted, “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Put your betting slips away, and get outside, find me at least thirty cookers for my pies. And I mean now!”
Andy ducked as a wooden spoon skimmed his head and thudded into the television.
“And don’t forget a bag to carry them in. Unlike last time. Idiot.”
“Bloody women,” he breathed as he searched for his unused work boots. He looked around to make sure she hadn’t heard him.
The front door slammed behind him. He was in control at last. But not for long.
“Oy, goofy, where are you going?” next door’s thirteen-year-old daughter laughed.
Andy pulled up his coat collar and ignored her.
“Morning, Andy, you are early today,” called the newsagent, stepping back from the doorway as Andy made his way to the counter.
“I’ll have The Sun please.”
“What a surprise, you always buy that rag.”
“It is good for racing and football. And I like it,” grunted Andy. Under his breath, he whispered, “It is none of your business.”
Grabbing the sports section, he buried his nose in last night’s game reports.
“Shit, they lost again,” Andy crumpled the paper and stuffed it in his pocket next to the precious bag. His temperature was rising.
“Where are you going so bright and early?” The over made-up fifty-year-old woman called. “If you’ve got a tenner, I could make your morning,” she laughed.
Andy continued walking towards the farm, still hearing the woman’s giggles.
The farm dog chased to the gate, gnashing teeth and letting Andy know he was not welcome.
“Ha, I’m not coming in the front gate, thick dog. You’re as stupid as your owner,” whispered Andy. The last thing he needed was a double-barrelled shotgun aimed at him.
With his shoulders slumped and head ducked, Andy briskly marched past the farmhouse, continuing up the lane and beyond the woods towards the farm’s far orchard. The chirping birds brightened Andy’s mood, but not for long. There was a battered truck parked near the gap in the hedge. Andy’s entrance to his prize, thirty cooking apples to keep his wife off his back, at least until she found something else to take him away from the tv.
“How am I supposed to make a living, if I don’t get the chance to study the odds?” he thought.
He ducked his head halfway through the hole, listening for any sign of the truck owner. Was the farmer working the in orchard? Silence. Andy rubbed his hands more because of the chill in the air than the pleasure of collecting the prize fruit.
Andy squeezed through the gap, straightened and brushed the leaves off his jacket. He looked around for low-hanging branches laden with plump apples. Walking ahead he spotted a tree almost breaking with the weight of ‘cookers’. He hurried ahead. Stopping in his tracks, frozen. A man was sitting his back resting against the tree trunk, casually smoking. There was a small pile of dog ends next to his right hand.
“Hello, what you after?” the man asked.
“The same as you, I guess,” Andy spotted a small pile of apples in front of the man’s outstretched legs.
“Good timing mate, I was just having a break, before I went to my truck to fetch a beer crate to stand on, as you can see the best fruit is out of reach. Now you can fetch it. Off you go, I’ve left the back door unlocked.”
Andy looked at the man, recognition was dawning, it was ‘Smithy’ the school thug.
“What are you looking at?”
“Wait a minute, do I know you?”
“Yes,” stammered Andy. “We went to school together.”
“Wait a minute, let me look at you. Christ, it’s ‘Goggles’, I remember you. Haha, you wore those National Health glasses, with little curly bits around the ears. Yes, it’s coming back, you had pink ones,” he roared with laughter.
“I only had pink ones because you broke my blue ones, I had to wear my sister’s.”
Smithy was rolling around on the ground, his laughter got louder as did the slaps on his thighs. He struggled to stop long enough to issue an order.
“Get the crate, I’ll climb up and for every three apples, I get one for you. That’s fair.”
“I only need thirty, my wife said.”
“Christ, you sound like you are back at school. The teacher said…” he started cackling again.
Andy stomped off to the truck.
“There’s a good boy. Put it there and I’ll clamber up and drop the fruit to you.”
Smithy standing tall was stretching and twisting the fruit free. Then lobbing them to Andy, who dropped more than he caught, causing rounds of hilarity from above.
Memories of thirty years ago came crashing between Andy’s ears, the bullying, the teasing and the torture he had suffered at the hands of this person. Even now he was laughing and giving out orders.
“Do you remember the day that fat cow, what was her name? I can’t remember, the girl reported me for playing tricks on you, anyway I got expelled ‘cos of her and you.” He chuckled.
Andy’s face was glowing like a winter’s poker, “Her name was Abby, she is my wife.”
“You must be joking? Who would marry her?”
Smithy was on tiptoes, stretching across a ‘V’ section of branches. Grunting as he reached. Andy took hold of Smithy’s thigh, twisted it and pulled down with all the force he could muster. There was a yelp and a loud crack. The crack was not wooden.
Smithy toppled from the beer crate, but the branches held him tight by the neck, throat pushed against the ‘V’. His legs swinging slowly, feet twitching.
Andy fingers moved his newspaper aside and shook open his plastic bag. Then counted in thirty fat and juicy apples. He whistled as he ducked through the hole.
His smile broadened, as did his stride, as he passed the farm gate. The dog, tail between its legs, growled and ducked into the barn. Andy was almost skipping as he swung his bag up and down. He slowed only at the newsagent’s doorway to flash the ‘up yours’ to the puzzled owner.
Pushing back his front door, he bowled straight to the kitchen. His glare stopped any comments from his wife about taking his footwear off.
“There are your apples, make the pie sweeter this time. I’ll be in front of the telly picking out my winners. Oh, and I’ll have a cuppa. Make it snappy.”