My Fly

I once had a pet fly called Buzz. No, really – I did. He was a boy fly. No, don’t ask me how I knew that.

I used to keep him in a jar by my bed. He used to make this really great buzzing noise that I could hear through the holes I had made in the lid of the jar. It sang me to sleep in the night and woke me up in the morning.

I used to let him out of the jar every day so that he could stretch his wings. He would swoop around the room like my very own stunt-plane display. Landings and takeoffs were his best thing.

Sometimes he would come and sit on my arm but mostly on the back of my hand. I guess he wasn’t keen on being on the hairs on my arms and so he zoomed in on the smoothest flesh. Plus, I used to put honey on my hand.

He was an iridescent blue. My mom helped me to find that word in the dictionary. Actually, she told me the word first and then we looked it up together. It means ‘showing luminous colours that seem to change when seen from different angles’.

I asked my mom what kind of fly is mostly blue because that’s what Buzz was, and she said a bluebottle. I was a bit confused my that because Buzz didn’t look anything like a bottle.

Kids in school used to say ‘you’re stupid’ and I used to say ‘no, you’re stupid’. One of them tried to hit me once, which kind of proved my point. I’m big now and I haven’t grown much since then. I nearly got suspended for what I did to that kid. But Betty said that I was provoked. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it meant that I got let off.

I liked Betty after that, but I still preferred spending time with Buzz. That is, until the accident.

I heard it happen, but I wasn’t in my bedroom at the time. Mom was there cleaning. And Buzz was there too, in his jar, on the window-ledge, next to the open window, getting some air. When I asked her if she did it, she said ‘probably’, but that could have meant anything. It probably meant that she didn’t care either way. She was a bit mean like that sometimes. Particularly the day after the nights that Dad came home late.

She used to mutter ‘working late at the office, my fanny-pack’ under her breath when she thought I couldn’t hear. But that’s always been my superpower: listening to things I’m not meant to hear.

That night, I thought that Buzz had woke me up at first, but then I knew it couldn’t have been him because that was the night of the day of the accident.

It was the engine of a car that woke me, then it was the slam of the front door hitting the wall that opened my eyes wide and then it was the shouting that made me lay there listening. I heard my name said a couple of times and then I heard another sound. It got me out of bed. It was the sound of something breaking. Probably a plate on the tiled wall in the kitchen. It sounded just like a jar smashing on the path below my bedroom window.

I got to a place that was about halfway between my bed and the door to my room. I didn’t know where I was going so I just stood there. More whispering and then a loud noise that made me jump. Like something big falling onto something hard. I can’t tell you what that was, but judging by the way that my mom’s face looked the next morning – not iridescent, but with colours that brought that word to mind – I could guess what the noise was.

Then there was the sound of the front door slamming and the sound of a car door doing the same. There was an engine revving. It sounded angry but that faded the further the car got away from the house. And that was the last we saw of Dad. And I didn’t even see him, which made it worse.

I didn’t get to say goodbye to him. And I miss him a lot. I miss the games that we used to play. He was fun to be around and it’s a shame that he’s not around any more. I was sad for a long, long time.

And yeah, I guess that I miss Dad too.

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The Other Shoplifter

It’s difficult to be comfortable with a knee on your neck and your cheek on the pavement. The shrieks spilling into the city centre streets told of indignation. He would wake with the next morning with knee marks on his chest, legs and neck. Whether he woke up in a cell or on the street would be up to him, but the sounds he’s making do not add up to promising.

Shops are organised these days. Security staff, sometimes disguised as shoppers and sometimes as Rambo addicts patrol the aisles and talk to each other with walkie-talkies that squawk at the approach of the familiar suspects.

The bronzed face and neck is a giveaway. The scrawny frame adds a clue. A certain stench warns the wary nose. The screwed-up face: insular and wary with eyes that see threats everywhere, is definitely one to watch for. And then there’s the street uniform: baggy, grimy and careless of style.

It seems ridiculous that anyone like that could imagine getting away with shoplifting. And yet, there’s hunger that must be rubbed. A belly that must be filled. And so …

I laughed when I heard the story about the young man who staggered out of the pub, stumbled his way to the car, singing all the way and then turned the key, roared the engine, whipped around the car park twice before screeching off down the road at a speed of a little under 30mph.

When the police car, that had been waiting outside the pub, caught him at the end of the road and pulled him over he wound down his window and said ‘hello, how can I help?’

The police officer said ‘can you step out of the vehicle, sir?’

He did. Then he looked back up the road towards the pub and watched as a half dozen cars pulled slowly out of the car park and sedately, carefully drove off in the other direction.

When they were out of sight, he turned his head towards the police officer and carefully, with no sudden movements, handed over the card he had been holding in his hand.

With a twinkle in his eyes he said ‘Sean Smythe – Professional Decoy. Please to meet you, officer.’

You can probably figure out the rest.

My Life

It would be so cool if something that I wrote went viral and slapped me firmly down in the middle of a spotlight of media and popular attention. But then again, I totally value my privacy and the quiet life I have that gives me the ability to move through life like a ninja with cat DNA.

It would be so cool if I won a million pounds today and someone came around to present me with a cheque and told me that it all had to be spent by the end of the year. But then again, think of the pressure of having to spend that much so quickly. And the conflict between what I want and what the people around me want. And think of what would happen after the year finished and I would be left with a whole set of things that need maintaining, but without having the means to do that. I imagine that a bigger house would mean more maintenance and taxes. A faster car would mean more petrol. Land would need defending. Art, gold and jewels would need better security. Et cetera, et cetera.

It would be so cool to have the balls to go out and seize life by a similar portion of its anatomy and do all the things that I’ve never had the courage to do, like start a business, love people more fervently, buy land and build a forest on it, or quit all that I am and do things differently. But then again, I constructed this life. I made all my choices. I built what I am, second by second, and I did it this way for a reason. I love things just the way that they are. Anyone for a nice cup of tea?

Grandparents

I don’t know the exact dates that each of my grandparents died. Four deaths. Four birds fallen from the branch to be absorbed into the ever-loving earth.

When I think of each of them in turn, a single image slides in front of my eyes like a photograph passed to me by the hand of my memory:

  • Evelyn May Bennett – leaning on a wall beside a motorbike owned by dad – her son-in law
  • William Bennett – sat in a chair with a violet jumper on, his belly pushing against the material
  • William Day – stood there looking at me with twinkling eyes at either side of that aerodynamic nose
  • Hilda Roberts – an impression of kind eyes, brassy curls and a strident voice, all dressed up in a skirt suit.

All gone and mostly forgotten. I could write stories about each one of them but I’d be wondering, as I wrote, about how true those words would be. The framework might stand scrutiny, but I’d probably have to fill in most of the details from my imagination.

Still, that would be fun too.

He

He sits at his desk and taps the keys of the keyboard and thinks of things that are happening now like the sound of people talking across the office either to their telephones or to other people stood by them.

He listens to the clinking of teacups and the clacking of the keys before him.

He sees his fingers moving up and down and backwards and forwards across the board and his mind just concentrates on those things to the exclusion of everything else apart from maybe the feel of his legs on the chair or the curve of the spine inside his neck.

These things are just as potent and cogent to him as any other thing in the history of the world.

To everyone else they are as ordinary and banal as the sun rising in the morning, the clouds scudding across the sky on a windy day or the birds calling to each other from tree to tree.

Awry

Ten words that I like:

  1. Drop
  2. Serendipity
  3. Love
  4. Calculate
  5. Awry
  6. Now
  7. Another
  8. Several
  9. Eat
  10. Rose.

The word, from this list, that compels me the most is awry.

Be nice to people. You are people. Be nice to yourself. People are the best thing in your life. All of your best memories and your best experiences are about people. This word: awry is connected to people.

There’s Mr … his name has gone but I can see his hairy face. He was our Classics teacher when we were around thirteen. He taught us about Greek and Latin myths and we all passed the exam but he also read Steinbeck to us. In the course of a year he got through the entire novella Of Mice and Men (oft gang awry). He did all the voices as he read. Mesmerised.

Then there’s Rebekah. She was the first person I said the word awry to. I was in my very early twenties. We were in a pub in Sheffield. She was curvy. Her lips were red and her hair black and cut in a bob. To listen to her voice was to wonder about her background and upbringing. Barnsley is not usually the cradle of posh accents. She reminded me of sirens from the movies. Sleek.

Awry is a strange word that’s not said very often. It means wrong or wonky. You can trace it all the way back to words that Latin and Greek people used to say. They’re all dead now, but they once had as much flesh and blood as you and me.