Perception and the Beholder`s Eye
Posted: 18 June 2017
Word Count: 990
Summary: For Challenge 645. A bit autobiographical, this one.
Picture this …
it’s the late1950’s …
… we are in Liverpool, perceived by many subjects of the new Queen to be the greatest port in the greatest empire the world will ever see.
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan has suggested to the country's citizens that they've never had it so good. Both the hoola hoop and Elvis Presley are stirring the pelvises of Britain’s youth who, as ever, pay little attention to the visions of politicians. In the nation's front rooms sofas and armchairs no longer face family-photo covered mantle-pieces but now and forever turn towards the new 15 or 17 inch screens that take those very families to places beyond this house, beyond this road, beyond this town. The world is changing.
… a young seagull, perched atop one of those twin Liver Birds that grace Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building, gives out a look-what-I-can-do keeee-a keeee-a, aimed at his tethered birdy companions, unfurls his wings and, old enough to be certain in the ways of the wind, he glides elegantly away. He’s already learned the lore of the seagull - of a gull's proprietary rights over all that he beholds. He wheels down towards the bustling Pier Head, where commuters and shoppers scuttle noisily across the huge and creaky metal gangplanks of the ferry-boat focusing on the day to come in the offices or their shopping-lists.. Seeing nothing special for him here, he senses the air, shifts the angle of his wings and up, up he soars to reach the thermals of a perfect and cloudless day in late August. Now he glides, majestic and free, over an unruffled, twinkling River Mersey. A nautical mile later, on the promenade of New Brighton, he dives down to snatch a soggy Farleys Rusk from the fingers of an open-mouthed child in a battered Silver Cross that’s been stained by the milk and vomit of several iterations of her Merseysider siblings. Now a pensioner, that little girl does not know from where her terror of birds came.
The bird follows the great concrete 1930’s hey-day sea wall. He spots two small human figures, two ten-year old boys, one fair-haired, one dark-haired, spreadeagled upon an unbuilt-upon patch of land - the former garden of what had been a sea-front house, until a navigationally-challenged Dornier crew, a dozen years earlier, thinking they had reached the great Albert Docks of Liverpool, released their bombs. Now it is just a scrubby maze of broken walls and rotting door frames. No source of nourishment here. The gull registers his disappointment by defecating and, with an a flap, he’s away.
The subsequent splat and consequent sprinkle of moisture over the two boys’ faces leads them into yet another painful wave of laughter in a morning that has been filled with heave after heave of such laughter.
The fair-haired boy sits up, grabs his home-made bamboo bow, expertly places an arrow - one with a bright red rubber sucker as its arrowhead - onto the string, and fires upwards towards the increasingly distant gull. “Missed the cotton-pickin' varment darn it!” he shouts, affecting the words and accent of a Saturday-morning cinema hero. The dark-haired boy places his shorter, but similarly shaped, projectile into the barrel of his plastic Winchester Repeater and he fires. That, too, fails to break the rules of gravity. It rises about ten feet into the air, wobbles, turns tail and drops straight down onto the red-haired boy’s forehead where, for a few moments, it sticks. The boys roll and squirm and raise their scabbed and grimy knees in the agony of yet more laughter.
Eventually their convulsions fade and stop. The world becomes quiet. The fair boy, lying on his back, closes his eyes. He knows this day will soon end and in less than a week he’ll be starting his new school. But it is here, just here, in this moment, next to these scorched and broken walls that have been the Alamo, that have been the place where Custer stood his last, where entire divisions of Hitler’s storm troopers have been wiped out, where these two friends have sat and gazed at ships of all shapes and sizes entering and leaving this vast and wonderful estuary, trailing thin lines of blue-grey smoke, and where they have watched snogging and groping teenagers and felt strange new feelings surge through their own 10-year-old bodies. Here they have lit up both Woodbines and Craven-A’s that they have managed to buy singly from a compliant shopkeeper. And it is here, yes here, amongst the brash magenta and pink fireweed and the vulgar yellow dandelions, amongst the tough clumps of uncared for grass and the debris of a conflict he can only imagine through the pages of Hotspur and The Rover, that he feels at one with the generous pulsing heart of a world that he sees now as truly his.
They boys stand and look around. They look at the shimmering sea with its open horizon that stretches out beyond the estuary, beyond this little world that is all they know, all that they have known. They look at the high broken wall that they have dared each other to walk along in the knowledge that a fall would certainly mean a trip to the hospital, or, as they would often tell each other, the crematorium further up the road. They look at each other. And they know that this friendship is unique and that it will stay with them throughout the years to come, whatever happens.
“Let’s go and explore.”
“I know a place we’ve never been before.”
The fair-haired boy pulls up his long grey socks, straightens the green Wolf Cub flashes his mum has sown on his knicker-elastic garters, and becomes Cochise, warrior chief of the Apaches. The dark-haired one, picking up his trusty Winchester, becomes Zorro, champion of the dispossessed.
Together, for the last time, though they don’t know it, they head off.
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