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When I was a Boy - Chapter 1

by aliswann 

Posted: 10 January 2015
Word Count: 3764
Summary: I have revisited a novel I started writing years ago. Here I go starting again.

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I am orange. 
I am hot and static stretched over nylon; a pulsing life beat on the back seat of my mum’s brand new Datsun Sunny. I’m bored. I count the Wombles on my T-shirt, again. One, two, three, Is that a Womble? 
Uncle Willy looks like a Womble. He is leaning on the grey stone wall by the paper mill; the wall that stops people falling in the river. There’s a constant swish and swash from the River Bourne.; Bourne, where everything is born, the born river, everyone in my family, born by the Bourne, except me. 
Uncle Willy waits with Action Man eyes. Eyes left, eyes right, puff, puff. 
I have looked underneath his floppy fuzzy hair to check for a lever. There isn’t one. Not like on my brother’s boy doll.  Willy calls me Curly, because my hair is so straight. And he laughs.
 ‘You all right Curly?’
I push my nose to the glass and press hard, making a hippo shape, he laughs. 
Uncle Willy is really good at games. When Granddad was dying he danced with me, my feet balanced on his, spinning me round me around as in my head I pretended to be on Top of the Pops. 
Uncle Willy steps away from the wall, looking at the wooden white washed door at the back of the paper mill. 
We wait.
I’m hungry. I push myself back into the seat, sliding my flat hair back and up, making my hair fuzzy, and as I do I stretch my eyes nearly out of their sockets and round the corner of the car window to see where my mother is. 
I know this game.
And I know it is going to take ages. 
Suddenly I find the place in the back of the car where I have started carving with my fingers the last time I was trapped. No grownups ever get in the back so no one knows. I push deep into the corner of the fabric. I hook a finger in the stitch and watch the blood bottle neck on my finger, the tip turning white as I wiggle into the tighter pull of fabric, eh, push and rip, pop! Another stitch is released out and joins the kinky wave of loose stitches.
 I find another stitch to tug. Willy’s feet crunching closer to on the gravel. I am flat on the back like a snake, curled against the arch of the back of the seat. Hiss…

Willy is watching the door to the mill, as he sucks on his tab.  He’s done this so many times before you would think he wouldn’t get stressed. But he does. He gets a straight line running deep down one side of his face, a half suck crease from holding his breathe. 
Eyes, left, eyes, right. 
It’s evening; the sky is roasting colours of midsummer, pink, yellow, blue, warm and lovely. The paper mill is made of great big rocks of flint coloured stone, and the evening sun makes the whole building glow as though it is on fire. 
Willy’s mother, Dotty, swam in this river when she was a girl. There is a picture of her in the local village archive. ‘Mill owner throws party for local children’ - in it she is sitting on the river bank, trailing her feet in the water right where Willy is standing right now;  hundreds of kids around her, smiling, her hair straight, dark and short in a neat little bob. She swam, long lithe muscled swimming in the River Bourne, the water carrying her along, splashing and laughing with her friends.
Dotty is curled up in her body now, tightly bound by pain, with hands like dinosaur claws. But when she smiles, her shiny cornflower blue eyes are like gems above a face filled with her smile.
Dotty was a last chance saloon of conception, one last egg before the shop shut up for good. Her parents, Adelheide and William, confirmed spinster and bachelor - confirmed it makes it sound like someone was sent to inspect them both. ‘Now then are you sure you have neither stirred a romantic emotion in anybody?’ Right Ok you pass. Confirmed. 
Adelheide wasn’t surprised. She’d never expected a husband, a child, nothing to see here, move along please. She was the daughter of a farm worker. Her family was tough outdoor types, they made their money travelling from farm to farm, following the seasonal food harvest and heaving and sighing ready crops out into the light. Seven sisters, one father one mother; they were good, well known for being strong and fast. They bought land eventually and by the time Adelheide was 40 she was the only sister left on the farm. It was her that employed farm workers by then, and covered scar tissue on her palms with long black silk gloves. 
Then in a bang swift chance of fate, a Welshman took a trip, up and cross-country from the Welsh lowlands to a Kentish harvest, a new job, and love. And it was love, an old maid and a stationmaster. Her brittle Edwardian skirts were lifted by the warmth of a willing Welsh man and Granny was conceived on Adelheide’s 48th birthday and born in the August of 1910. Dotty was the last good egg.  William and Adelheide adored Dotty, their late summer rose. Adelheide sold the farm, moved into the station house and dedicated her life to Dottie. They were a happy little three William and Adelheide took Dottie everywhere with them, wrapping her in the surprise of a late flowering love.  She even got to see Marie Lloyd live on stage in Hackney. Though being eight, the same age Justine is now in the back of the Datsun Sunny, she wasn’t that impressed. 
Dotty’s eggs were sprung from their casing by much earlier than Adelheide’s. Five in total and there was the third, the only boy, rolling a fag, long wiry hair waving in the breeze off the water, Willy the womble. Hot summer light bounces off his watch, leather strapped, gold plated white face, only man in the house watch. 
By the time Dotty’s husband was dying from a long and frankly tiring illness, Dotty had five children, and 12 grandchildren. That little last chance saloon egg, exploded in a rain water of humans in the next line. 

‘Granddad we love you, Granddad we do’, I wanted to sing when Granddad was dying.  But mum wouldn’t let me. The man shape was shrinking under a big brown and orange candlewick bedspread. He looked like a rabbit with long white cottony tufts of fur sticking out of his ears. We were all there to see Granddad die, well not actually die, but to say goodbye. 
‘Give Granddad [rabbit] a kiss’, said Auntie so and so, ‘Got no choice have I you’ve carried me into this room of death, wriggled me’. I was, at the time still small enough to be grabbed carried pointed and pushed.  Granddad rabbit ears groaned and moaned, he smiled his bucktooth grin and sighed. ‘Here’s Curly Dad’, give your Granddad a kiss Curly. Here you go Dad’, nice bit Curly for you to feast on before you pop your clogs. 

I have found the thread. It joins the top of the seat to the bottom, pushing in and out making a bubble shape up and down up and down. I count the stitches. 
There are 62 stitches punched through the orange nylon stretched fabric. 
35 are now unpicked. 
I can’t help it, I have to do another. 
I slide my little finger under the next, number 36, fiddling and teasing the seam and as I push and poke and wriggle, teasing it I push my feet into the back of the front seat, and keep my gaze on Uncle Willy. 
My muscle flexes
I turn to look at the rip. Willy notices nothing. He has spotted movement over in the courtyard where the door he has been staring at starts to open. He quickly puts out his fag, chucks it in the river, Granny’s river, tells me to be a good girl but doesn’t look at me as he says it. 
‘Good Girl Justine, good girl’, I nod, I could be doing anything, I mean ANYTHING. 
Like unpicking the entire back seat of the car, for example. 
Next loop, grab tag, push and snap. 
Easier this time. 
I pull my finger into view. 
The one next to my thumb, that’s the action finger. The pokey joker that’s what Granny calls it. 
It has a pleasing white tip. 
My scar. 
Willy runs to grab the door and then I see my mum. Her big brown curly hair pokes out first. Then Willy is inside. The door slams them both on the other side. 
I am alone. 
Bored by the Bourne. 
No baited breaths of Uncle Willy to impersonate. Just me in the orange pulling out the seams. 
Five minutes later the door opens. I am down to 30 stitches. My action finger has a crisscross groove on it and I am using the thread to make a pattern across the edge of my fingertips. 
Granny Dot, in the nud in the water doing what she shouldn’t outta. She told me that once when she had too much brandy. I had some too and got drunk. 

River Bourne, where Granny could be reborn, young and strong and lithe. 

The door is open, they are all there. 

Three more, only 29. 

First it’s Jenna. 
She looks like Bonnie Tyler from the Total Eclipse of the Heart video, except she has bright red hair and can’t sing. She works at the paper mill. And is a best mate of my mum.
She smokes and wears glossy bright red lipstick. Her eyes are enormous, but her body is tiny. She always wears high heels, great spikey shoes. Her skinny legs are drawn together like a ribbon, wrapped together and tied tight at the top. 
She is speaking to Willy; he is balancing a big fat roll of paper on his shoulder and trying to get her his ciggies with the other hand, Jenna is asking him for a ciggie. 
She is saying love. 
She calls everyone love. 
It is because she is from the north. 
Willy likes it. 

Finally mum comes through on the other end of the massive roll of paper. Paper born at the factory, and now going on a journey to be reborn at mum’s business. 
Mum is behind Willy; her fuzz of mud-coloured hair is all I can see. I feel happier now I can see her but scared because of the stitches. 
The white paper is heavy. Willy is huffing and puffing, Jenna is smoking and reapplying lipstick, and pretending to open the door, the white of Willy’s knuckles are showing.
They are heading for the back of the car.
Willy’s eyes search for mine. Jenna’s long red nails scratch on the outside of the factory door, release and Slam! The three grownups step out into the summer evening; Uncle Willy and my mum carrying a huge roll of white paper and Jenna guiding with a trail of fag. 
Uncle Willy is in charge, dragging my mother to the car, each of them puffing and huffing as Jenna reaches up and pointlessly pushes a torn shard of paper smiles and skips alongside. 
I am pinned to the back of the seat. Watching them stumble over slippery cobblestones. Willing the thread to renew itself. 
Thud! The great fat sausage of paper lands on the roof of the car. 
A thick line of shade falls over the window and Jenna is groping to get the car door open and my mum, still no better off with the paper weight on the car roof stumbles and grapples with its slippery edges.
 Jenna is suddenly in the car. I love how she smells. Like a million sugary sweets all crammed into a tin and made into a scent. Her hair doesn’t move. It is a bright red siren, a halo of Saturn, a guide to take me home. I love her. 
But not so much right now. 

‘All right love!’
This is not a question. More a statement. 
‘Now then can you squidge up a bit so we can this little bit of paper in the back?’ 
I am still glued to the back of the seat. 
I cannot move. 
I will be killed. 
There are no stitches left in the seat behind me. 
It will pop out and wave at my mum through the window and she will be SOOOO…..


‘Come on Justy love, budge up then we can get the seat down and get out of here!’ 

There is a pause, I am at Jenna’s eye level, mouth closed, back straight, and time is frozen as I feel my way through the fragments of stuff that make up space. 

Suddenly I have no choice. 

Willy is in the back of the car opening the boot and shoving all his old tools down a crevice that one day he will look down and find that spanner he thought he lost two years ago. 
There it goes. 

In a second too quick to count the back seats are released, I am pushed forward into the far-too-small-to-fit-me-in space between the back and front seat, I have no choice (This is a theme, choice and my lack of) and my crime is hidden, for now, as Willy snaps the seats down, down and dark. 

We are all in the car. And so is the huge paper sausage, mostly, it is hanging out the back like a stiff shiny tail, tied in place with random fraying rope that Willy magic ked from somewhere.
I am squiggled around the paper roll like a plasticized child. 
Roll up roll up! 
Come and see the magic squiggling of the 8-year-old girl who can fit all round a paper roll. 
Well nearly. 
Jenna is sitting on Uncle Willy’s knee in the front seat. 
Uncle Willy is very happy.
Jenna is not so sure and holding the handle and hovers over Willy’s knee like a dirty toilet. 
My mother pulls down her Starsky and Hutch shades from the window visor, grabs the slim black shiny gear stick in her heavy worn fingers and with a swift thrust and push on the peddle, we are off!

‘Mind out!’
Uncle Willy says in a screechy voice, as we speed through the country lanes near our village, tightly weaving through single track roads, curtained with trees and dried up with mud from tractors. Trees overhanging like palms awaiting Jesus on Palm Sunday blind man’s rush. Here we go! 
‘You all right there Justine?'
My mother questions but isn't waiting for an answer. Yes I'm all right mum, everything is all right, it always is alright? Even when it isn't, which is often.
 My mother believes everything she reads in Women's Own. Her life dreams are stacked up in magazines on top of her wardrobe, yellow and thick with dust, a mausoleum of memories that never happened, cakes she never baked, dresses she never wore and a life she never had.

But it is a beautiful evening, one of those summer nights when the light just carries on easing down from the sky, creating warm jet streams of air that push down and around, heavy with insects and air as thick as jam. 

I meanwhile am turning into marmalade cooking in the back of this plastic car as we drive back into town, round the windy roads, oops slide, SLAM! OW! 
I have been banged three times by the paper sausage, is it ALIVE… The paper sausage monster that has taken over the back seat of mum's bright orange Datsun. It’s worth noting that everything she chooses is orange. Including me. I am a camouflaged child, born to blend in to my new home. Well it is the seventies. I could be reading too much into this.
It takes five minutes and 13 seconds to get to the destination. The village hall where mum runs nursery school, it’s not really a school, mum calls it a school because it sounds posher and because she makes the children sit up at tables and learn letters. Not like at the playschool where according to my mum the children just sit and play in sandboxes until they are five.
'It's not just playing Justine.' Not enough playing in my opinion. 
I now have three paper pressed grooves in my arms and cheek. I smell of crisp newly minted paper, smudged on my skin, silky oils wrap a tat-tat. How can I be dirty from white paper? But I am. Smudged like a mud lark. 

Paper Scissors stone, are you grown?

Flowing waters of the River Bourne, swimming over trees, Granddad, again, winter of 44, Uncle Willy, don't be silly, get on it boy, Granddad, night time smuggling, more? There was Dotty’s husband, setting the home fires burning up in London town, the coal less city that burned through the blitz, warmed by the contraband wood smuggled up from the Bourne river wood by Granddad. The same man shape under the bed spread, the dying light. Fire cracker Granddad, in out shake it all about. He was called cracker. He had a habit of drunkenly stumbling into the local pub and chucking fire crackers in the flaming grate, then legging it. 
Dotty found him in a ditch. He was stuck after swerving is lorry load of who knows what he had kicked from who knew where off the road. 
'Go and get help girl' He demanded as little Dotty stared down at him. 

We are here, at last. It's been under 10 minutes but I have had enough. The hall is dusk is hugging the day and wrapping up the bouncing light saying there now, that's enough, off to bed now. I crawl out from under the rabid totem pole. Jenna releases me then goes to stand against the wall smoking more of Willy's fags, her leg is propped up like Kim Wilde in Kids from America. I love her. Mum gets a bunch of keys out of her handbag, blue plastic - obviously, battered with gold trim, and holding enough keys to get her a walk on part in Prisoner Cell block H. Mum cracks open the side door to the village hall and the grown-ups, well my mother and Uncle Willy, with Jenna as cheer leader huff and puff with sweaty hands, drag the contraband paper in and up and out into the magic back room.  The room with all the toys. Rammed with stacked up scooters, cycles, jack in boxes, horses with no legs and wool hair for manes, boxes of battered dollies, paint easels splashed dashed and marked by children long since up and over the hill and far away to big school. Fresh paper sheet, keep it neat. I LOVE this room. It’s the store cupboard childhood,  everything in the nursery and its misrule mix of ancient books, sweet rubber dollies and high as a kites copy dex make it a dream.
But we have to be quick, gotta get back in the flying orange. Tick tock monster O Clock, Mum can’t be bothered to fiddle with the back seats, to put them back in place, so she doesn’t see the breaking of the seam, no time, tick tock monster O Clock.
‘Just lie down if you see a police car’ she says.
Jenna goes off to meet her fella, Willy follows her saying, does she need walking. She doesn’t but she will smoke his fags. Thank you very much Willy. 
Mum and I drive off alone; I sit in the space between the two front seats, feeling secure in the snug space, and happy to be close to my mum. I watch the stripes of multi-coloured lights from the rush of cars ribbon around us as we drive up the evening lit road. Mum keeps checking her watch, skinny little strip of watch on a fat freckled arm. Tick tock monster O Clock.
I see him first.
He is plodding up the road, sunken shoulders, swinging his suit jacket over his arm, wide knuckles gripping the Evening Standard. He is too close to home. We will have to stop. Mum stops, he smiles.
‘Hello, just picked Justy up from Jenna’.
He gets in the passenger seat and gives mum an unwanted kiss on the cheek. Turns and smiles at me weakly and I sink back from the well of the front seat and hug the window as we finish the drive home. 

He doesn’t beat me up night, which is unusual. But then I’m used to expecting the unexpected. SO there’s never anything usual. 
The quick release kick, slap round the head, down and out, into the carpet, sucking up the moon, la la la golden moons on the carpet, Freeman Hardy Willis stamp, bam slam kick oh what a bang in the head! Mum screaming, ‘If you give her brain damage I’ll leave you!’
Do we have to wait that long?
I’ve got the situation sussed though. I’m really good at pulling my head in like a tortoise; he’s not kicking out my brain juice, when he turns into the crazy froth white monster who shouts out the window. ‘Arf Right’, ‘Arf, Right!’ No I don’t know what it means either. 
The neighbours can definitely hear. 
Everyone can hear. 
This must be torture for my mother and her Women’s Own world. 
It’s not so great for me.
Sometimes you can see the crazies swarming around his brain, getting ready to set off the alarm, tick tock, Crazy O Clock! 
Nick says run for cover, that’s the best thing to do. Easy for you Nick, he doesn’t get his radar on you. Just me the smallest. The smallest with the biggest mouth. 
Monster has a scar on his foot. I put it there. I stamped on him one day when he had me captured, doing the other thing, the other thing I really hate, wide hairy hands all over everywhere in out. Laughing, manic, hot breathe neck, thighs, fingers scratching and STAMP. 
I don’t want to talk about it. Would you?

But tonight our house is quiet. It is time for me to go to bed. 
Angels is on and I so want to watch it. I love Angels. 
No way hosay that’s so not going to happen. 

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