Some places are really scary aren't they? Dark narrow lanes, lonely woods, cobwebby corners. the scariest place I ever knew was an old bridge just outside of town. It used to take the old railway over a dirt lane that no one ever seemed to use. The railway had been dismantled many years before and the old brick bridge had almost disappeared from view in the dark trees and bushes that grew on the that old dirt track.
I discovered the bridge when I was exploring by myself when all my usual friends were busy. My surprise in finding it was tempered somewhat by a shiver of fear as I approached that dismal spot. There was hardly a sound to be heard in this shady culvert. The air was still and dank. The underside of the bridge dripped water down into the lane from little stalactites. Plants and moss gradually reclaimed the structure for its own.
As I stood under the great curved brick arch I sensed a feeling of excitement and fear all mixed into one. The laneway curved away darkly in both directions and standing there I felt completely cut off from safety. Even the plaintive sound of rooks high up in the spinney on the hill from where I had come had been stilled. I had a discovered a very different world. It was cold there. Much colder than it should have been on that Spring day. I want to run away but somehow stood transfixed to the spot.
I couldn't make up my mind which way to go. There was no lowing of cows in the meadows, no bark of dogs in farmyards, no reassuring sound of vehicles on the main road. I was completely cut off.
Wait! What was that? It sounded like whimpering. Slowly I edged out from under the bridge. I looked up the bank from where the sound was coming. Was there anything in the shadows? I peered cautiously towards a snuffling sound.
Then I could see what it was. There in the shadows well out of reach more that half way up the bank at the side of the bridge was a little boy. He couldn't have been more that three years old . He sat up there among the dock and the nettles, the trailing ivy and the hazel twigs. His clothes were torn and soaked and his face, arms and legs were scratched and dirty.
"Are you all right?" I called out.
"I want my Mummy," came the reply.
"Where is she" I asked.
With that he cried again, tears streaming down his grubby face and his little body shook with heart rending sobs.
"Just stay there while I get some help," I called out.
The sobbing subsided a little. His tousled head nodded and his big dark eyes looked at me eagerly as he said:
"Fetch my Mummy!"
"OK. Just stay still while I get some help."
Uncertain where to find the help I had promised, I came away from the bank and was amazed to that he immediately vanished from my sight, so well was he camouflaged up there.
I ran up the lane and after a few minutes found a tiny cottage where the track ended. It looked sad and neglected. No smoke rose from the chimney, there was no sign of life and the walls were covered in creeper that stretched up to the gutter. I went round the back and in the garden where there was a woman wearing boots, old khaki trousers and a ragged old jacket. She stopped digging the garden when she saw me.
"What are you a doing here?" Her voice was coarse but not unkind.
"There's a little boy by the old railway bridge, that's crying for his mother, Can you help?"
My words came out all in a rush, but hardly had I finished when she said:
"No, there ain't." As she shook her head and looked anxiously towards the house.
"But there is," I went on. "He's all wet and dirty and can't get down. You must help."
"It's all right boy, He ain't really there."
"But he is," I insisted. " He's crying and has nasty scratches on his legs. He needs help."
The woman kept glancing at the door of the cottage and she spoke now in barely more than a whisper.
"You're imagining things. There ain't no boy there now."
"Then I will have to get him down myself." I said.
With that the back door of the cottage opened and there stood an old white haired woman dressed all in black. She was just as I had imagined a witch would be.
"What's that boy want" The old woman cried out.
"He's lost his way."
"Has he found our Reggie?"
"No, no! Go back inside. I'll show him the way back."
"You sure he ain't seen our Reggie?" The old woman pleaded.
For some reason I remained silent. Some sixth sense told me something strange was going on.
The woman in boots then grabbed my hand and marched me back to the lane and kept walking until the cottage was far behind. Not until then did she speak again.
"He's dead you know. He was my little brother Reggie. He was killed by train many, many years ago."
The shock of what I heard must have shown on my face as she went on.
"He must have strayed on to the track. We didn't find him 'til the next morning. His little broken body was lodged halfway down the bank by the side of the bridge."
"But who did I see?"
"You saw him all right . He keeps trying to get back to his Mum."
"But your mother thought I had found him, doesn't she know he's dead?"
"She does, but won't admit it. She's been expecting to come back for nearly forty years."
By this time we had got back to the bridge. I pointed out where I had seen the little boy. There was nothing there now. In fact nothing seems scary anymore, especially with a grown up at my side. I could hear insects buzzing, rooks were calling in the spinney and everything looked a lot brighter.
"Why did I see him?"
"Because you didn't know he was dead,' was the simple reply.
That bridge is long gone now, and so is the cottage. The lane is part of a bypass around the town. From the spinney the rooks can see the the new housing advance across the hills toward them.
But where is that little boy? Who is he crying out to now to help him?
Saturday, 31 October 2009
Friday, 23 October 2009
Garry's face was in the dirt. He had never felt so embarrassed before. He lay on his stomach with his hands handcuffed behind his back. All around him were onlookers; standing, staring speaking...about him! By his side stood one of the arresting officers. Behind him he knew there were two patrol cars, their flashing lights illuminating the pavement with repeated bursts of blue.
He wept with shame and humiliation. He had bungled the hold up. It had been going so well, only a few customers and a teller that did as she was told. He even had the money in his hands. So much money there must have been thousands. Everything had been going to plan. They had certainly obeyed him with that replica pistol in his hand. He felt so good and strong then. He had been ten foot tall and so powerful, but now...what had gone wrong?
"Come on lad, on your feet now!"
He struggled to get up with his arms pinned behind him. He felt a hand on his shoulder and one at his elbow as he slowly rose, first to a kneeling position and then standing.
He stumbled as he was pushed toward the police vehicle. A hand was placed on his head to avoid it hitting the door frame. He then fell back into the seat. Helpless, the seat belt was fastened around for him and the car drove off.
All Garry could think of on the journey to the lock up was Jenny and their baby daughter Bonnie. His little Babs, his Baby Boo. He felt the tears coming again. He had only done it for them, to give them a decent home and food and clothes and toys.
What would Jenny do now? How would she manage? She couldn't go back to that cow of a mother. Not after all the rows they had had about him.
And his parents? They would slam the door in her face. They weren't worth a pinch of shit. Rhonda his sister might help but how could he tell Jenny that now?
"Did you say something, son?"
Garry's mumbling had attracted the officer at his side. With his head still bowed Garry slowly shook his head.
"Won't be long now and you'll be tucked up in a nice little cell," sneered his companion. The two police officer winked at each other in the rear view mirror. The one by Garry's side turned and spoke to him again.
"Looks as though you're in for some care and attention. No more nights on the street for you, eh?"
No, not for me, thought Garry.
(Pastel impression by author of a recent European news photo. )
Friday, 9 October 2009
I woke with a start.
Was that a bump?
It was pitch dark.
Who is that there?
Had to check up.
Put my robe on.
Quiet down the stair.
Open the back door.
Hair stands on end.
Am grabbed from behind.
What is going on?
Whisked off my feet.
Can't even call out.
Put into a boat.
And Charon he says:
"Coin in my hand."
Then opens my mouth.
I panic and squirm.
A tooth he extracts.
My gold capped one.
He examines it well.
And loosens his grip.
I'm over the side.
In the River Styx.
The river of death.
Swim to the shore.
Run back home fast.
In through the door.
Climb up the stairs.
Get into my bed.
Am asleep in a sec.
Dead to the world!
Wake soaked in sweat.
That wasn't a dream.
I have cheated death.
Just for a bit!
(Image by Cecil Keating for Penguin Classics "Satirical Sketches" by Lucian. 1961)
Saturday, 3 October 2009
"Granddad, don't you hate it when girls kiss you?"
I looked up from trying to assemble the Lego pieces as we together attempted to make the required toy model from the instructions.
"Well, no, not usually"
My grandson then went on to explain about the pesky girls at school that tended to want ownership of one of the boys in class and he clearly had struck lucky. Or was that unlucky? He obviously thought so.
"Granddad, did girls kiss you at school?"
I tried to remember. It was long time ago. A very long time ago. No I couldn't think of one instance.
Or could I?
I think I was about ten at the time and had just changed schools. It was a bit difficult to fit in to the new school after moving house and setting up in a new town in the middle of term. However I found the schoolwork easy and some of the boys were interested in where I had come from.
It was the first music lesson that changed everything. I was not a singer and instead of sitting at our desks, we all had to stand up and being taller than most I had to stand at the back with the other tall children.
I was concerned that instead of standing with the boys I somehow was standing with a girl at my side. Tall like me she smiled sweetly at me and the singing lesson started. I mumbled away and hoped I was inconspicuous. I glanced to my side and saw that the girl by my side had very long hair that hung down her back. Her face was smooth and she had cute nose and dark brown eyes. Those eyes kept glancing my way. She then smiled at me and reached for my hand and held it in hers. It seemed so natural, so right that I didn't withdraw it from her grasp and we stayed like that until the end of the lesson.
We had not said a word.
I don't know what made me look for her as we were dismissed at the end of the day, but I did and she too seemed to be waiting for me. She said she lived only a short way from school. Her mother was housekeeper for the priest in a large vicarage she said.
"Would I like to see where I live?
I mumbled a yes and grabbing hold of my hand again she took me home.
Her mother was there waiting for her and said "Who is this?"
"Oh, this is Robin he is new at school" was her reply.
We we ushered into the house which was enormous by my standards and given glass of cordial and a biscuit and after being shown around I was escorted to the door.
Her mother had disappeared and as we said "Good bye" and "See you tomorrow" she bent over and kissed me on the lips. That was the very first time that I had ever been kissed by someone who I was not not related to. It was a moment of revelation. Something had happened that had never happened before. I had been changed forever.
I had been kissed!
By a girl!
All those years ago.
And don't even remember her name.
"Granddad? Why are you crying?"
"Because I can't even remember her name."
(Goody Goody postcard by Dinah c.1945)
Hey ho! I'm in love again!
But I don't even know her name.
We met tonight at the Pizza shop. I had been sent round by Hilda to buy a large Hawaiian with extra cheese.
"Get our normal pizza and you'll get a bottle of Coke free" she said.
Those were the instructions. I was to buy the advertised special. I was given a twenty dollar note out of housekeeping and sent on my way. I felt like a schoolboy on an errand. I wouldn't have been surprised if she had said, "And don't forget the change!"
Perhaps it was the way I had been hustled out of the house this way that I forgot my walking stick. Well you know as well as I, that I don't really need it. But I do like the feel of it in my hand. I feel debonair as I swing it when walking and invincible when any hooligans are around. I'll tell you this, if they gave me any cheek I'd soon give them a whack.
After my last fall, I confess I do feel more confident with the stick. It's like having a friend just being there to give me a hand. But I did not have it this time. So I had to be careful on the pavement by the hairdressers. It is very uneven and you feel such a fool if you fall over. I had a funny mixture of feelings just now. I was younger without that darned stick with nobody thinking I was a doddery old fool yet a bit nervous without my old mate.
It's not far to the Pizza shop, just a short walk, but those last few steps were the worst. It wasn't that I was puffed out. No! No! It was that I thought everyone else was heading for the shop so I had to speed up so as to get in first and not be a long queue.
But it wasn't necessary, I got to the counter and there was no queue. I breathed in the aroma of cooking pizza and was hungry already. There were three people in the work area behind the counter. There was little chubby guy with a bald head and Popeye forearms. He was the stoker that placed and removed the pizzas as they were prepared and cooked. Then there was Rudolf Valentino or his idea of every woman's dream. He was tall, young, dark and handsome in a greasy sort of way. He was busy on the phone either taking an order or arranging a date. I couldn't tell which as he was speaking Italian.
No, that is not right. He hardly spoke in more than a whisper but every other part of his body joined in the conversation. He gesticulated with his hands, often with both, lodging the phone between his head and shoulder to do so. His eyes were active, eyebrows raised and lowered. The rest of his body swayed and fidgeted depending on whether he was speaking or listening and his feet moved constantly as though he was standing on a hot spot on the floor.
"Can I help you" I almost jumped, as my attention was drawn to someone speaking.
A girl busy placing toppings on the pizza bases had stopped what she was doing and had looked up to address me. I looked back at her. Her eyes met mine.
What beautiful, large, brown, sad expressive eyes she had. Her straight brown hair was tied back casually behind her head, with just a wisp of hair falling forward over her face. Her pretty ears were exposed and her face was clear and open and soft and I could see her expressive moist pink lips move.
Hey ho! I'm in love again.
"Can I get you something"
"Oh! I'm sorry I was miles away." I replied, thinking in fact 'snap out of it you old fool'.
"I'd like the large Hawaiian with double cheese and the Coke special please."
She smiled at me. She was even more beautiful now. That smooth, clear, sad face was suddenly animated. I could see in her the vital, inquisitive freedom of youth. She exuded freshness, humour, liveliness, warmth and sensuality.
My order taken, I had to sit down. There was a chair by the fridge containing drinks so I sat on it fast before my old legs buckled. One or two others came in to place or collect their orders. I stayed put. I had to economise on effort, but at least I could watch!
My girlfriend took all the orders, but I don't think that anyone else received the warm smile that I did. No! I am sure they didn't. That was mine alone. As she worked she moved about. Lithe, alluring, desirable, she had a grace about her.
Oh good, she has to restock the fridge. I tried to look disinterested. She started at the top and had to reach right up to put the bottles in. The line of her body was arched like a bow; the curve of her young breasts and roundness of her thighs were so close to me. Exquisite!
Now she had stock the lower shelves. She bent down on her haunches. I could scarcely bear to look. Her cotton smock rode up over her knees and I could the delicious softness of her thighs. I looked away again.
Check the pizza menu on the wall! Australian, Hawaiian, Pepperoni, Supreme, Seafood, with or without anchovies. That's better, I mustn't have a seizure here!
"Large Hawaiian with extra cheese?"
The chubby stoker had pulled my pizza from the oven and was cutting it up. I got to my feet and made my way to the counter. I paid my money picked up the pizza and headed for the door. Would I catch her eyes again?
A couple of youths pushed past me to get inside.
"Hey Granddad!" Someone shouted.
I turned around. There she was, cheekily grinning all over her face. In her hand was my bottle of Coke.
"Don't forget your free Coke, Pops!"
Shamefaced I returned to the counter, took the Coke, and got out of there as quickly as my old legs could take me.
The little hussy!
(Image by freeclipartpictures.com)