I felt the smooth, soft baby skin of her back as I pushed her face into the gravel, then felt a rough and bloody sensation rub against my fingers as I helped her to her feet. I was angry I didn’t get the opportunity to examine the sensation longer. Granddad arrived as I began to make suitable calming noises, while brushing the dirt from her dress. I was annoyed at the screams of both mother and baby as granddad pulled me out of the park. I was aggrieved over my loss to purvey the aftermath.
He stole it from me.
I felt the cool wet of the floor soak through to my flesh as I struck the match and felt a fleeting victory listening to her screams. Caught up and captured like an ungainly mermaid trapped in a fisherman’s net. I watched as she fought her way through the melting plastic of the shower curtain. I was curious when father woke me during the night for our visit to mums park. I felt oddly gleeful, surprised even, to hear her cries of, ‘Murder, attempted to murder me,’ were still weaving its way through the neighbourhood like a moment caught in a loop. I saw the real me inside those flames, and liked what I saw.
I felt a sense of gratification the day we walked to the shops. It was a Spring day with a layer of dew over the ground, and the sun peered down warming my head. I was no taller than fathers knees. We walked into the local deli, granddad said to get me a treat, but as he took me through a sea of old, tired, skinny, fat, hairy legs, hemmed by floral cloths all the same, but different, and their sad and scuffed shoes, my head became caught up in a sea of fleshy balloons. We’d come to a stop, it was busy that day and suddenly I was rendered immobile.
My head was pressed in against a stranger’s hand bag and several well fed stomachs. I was surprised I could breathe at all. A sudden rush of cool wind entered the small, and rather warm, compact room. It filled my lungs with an untamed mixture of floral perfumes. It was the lady from the other side of the cross roads on Mayflower street. Only a day before I’d heard her tell the neighbourhood she’d been up all night because the music from Ivy street was, ‘Loud and gave her a splitting headache.’
‘They were just packed with potatoes,’ mother had said between slurping sips of tea and the crunch and crumble of fresh baked biscuits, ‘definitely a black market run. Whatdaya reckon?’
‘I’m certain there were drugs too,’ she’d said between slurping her tea and the noise of crunching fresh baked biscuits as the crumbs fell into her lap.
‘What did you do?’ our neighbour asked.
‘I called the police of course! I’ll not put up with that sort in our neighbourhood.’
There was no noise from Ivy street. I know because I was awake and watching, listening to the screams and cries coming from her house. When I went to look in the window, I saw her laying into her husband. Full fisted punches and stiletto kicks. The louder he screamed, the more she turned up the music. It was hardly a crime to be gossiped about in our neighbourhood, and I knew our neighbour felt uncomfortable about the entire monologue of bullshit. Her sinful gossiping, lies and innuendo.
She believed others remained blissfully unaware of her sins. She liked a good tittle-tattle as long as it wasn’t about her. I listened to her complaints for hours. I could see a ripple effect in the air as she confabulated what she believed had occurred, rather than the truth. When she left our neighbours house, I followed her back down to the cross roads and sat in a bush that appeared to have been designed to sit in, and listened to her change the story all day long.
I’d know those ugly green crocodile woven pumps anywhere. The world differed greatly from where I stood I watched as the lady’s shoes near my position. Mother had forgotten about me and I stood holding the hem of her skirt as those shoes closed in. The gossip from the day before still played out in my young, but astute mind. Mother said she’d tell the police about how it was she who was, ‘Selling her potatoes to criminals in the dark.’
By the end of the day, she’d twisted so many lies, I doubt she knew which ones she should remember, but I do. I remember everything. I’m good like that. So here I am suffocating in a sea of floral skirts and biscuit bellies when I saw her walk in. Everyone was talking about the stories she’d told, and I heard one of the ladies say she’d punch her in the nose, ‘If she tried spinnin’ that shit with me!’
No-one else saw her come in. I did!
I’d know those ugly green crocodile woven pumps anywhere. The world differed greatly from where I stood, and I watched her shoes near my position. The women were still getting the story straight, and dad and granddad were still trying to get to the counter. I heard granddad say, ‘I’ll just get him a treat from the universe when we get home,’ but we were hemmed in from all sides.
They’d forgotten about me and I stood amongst the skirts and toe to toe with those shoes. I know I smiled as she neared. The gossip in the small deli had changed to a low hum, and her gossip from the day before still played out in my mind. Mrs Archer said she’d punch her in the nose and I wanted to see it!
‘What if she finds out we know the truth?’ ask the nice, yet uncomfortable neighbour who always gave me treats, when her friend came to visit. I liked her and she was in the deli too. I shifted my hand to the hem of her skirt and watched as the universe drew its players into the one heavenly sphere, and I was the loaded gun. I know granddad knew it, but father was blithely unaware of my proclivities for bloody trickery, mischief and mayhem.
Those ugly green crocodile pumps stopped at my feet and I tugged on the hem of her black floral skirt. She looked down at me through the crowd, and opened her mouth to smile, but all I saw was a streak of furry fish caught between her teeth. I mean how do you not know you have anchovies stuck between your teeth?
‘Good day Mrs Reynolds,’ I said with a huge smile. Showed her my teeth and everything but she didn’t get the hint, so I continued, ‘Mrs Archer is going to punch you in the nose.’
I heard granddads tut tuts, dad almost had a heart attack. I could see his hand searching amongst the gossips looking for mine. Mrs Reynolds looked down at me, and I, up at her. Our eyes locked and for moments her dark eyes appeared to become black.
‘This could work out fine after all,’ I thought as Mrs Archer neared.
I gripped my neighbours skirt and waited for the explosion, of what? I didn’t know, but felt excited to know that what I didn’t know, would be the catalyst to bring about the undoing of gossiping sinful women. The silence was tinged with moments of soft grunts and quiet laughter. I could see fathers hand searching along the hemlines of their dresses looking for mine. I was no man’s fool even then, I’d shifted my grip several times and stood behind my neighbour.
Squashed together like sardines canned alive chitter chatting and snitching with a glint in their ageing eyes until the cannery man soaked them in oil and sealed them all in. I felt a rush of glee at the sight of quiet, shocked, knowing, smiling women. Granddad found my hand, grabbed it and roughly pulled me along the old and cracked lino flooring. He dragged through the sea of bags, shoes and hems as we pushed and shoved our way to the outside. I heard the single fly-wire door slam as dad exited.
I saw the look in his brown eyes as they peered down at me, but then I saw nothing but love. I longed to return that look, but simply found it not to be part of my social skills. Granddad though, he looked shocked and angry. He knew I knew better, but that’s what made it so much fun. I heard a low hum make its way through the door to where we stood.
‘You go home Matthew,’ Granddad said to dad and opened a rift, ‘We’ll sort this out.’
He was barely able to contain his rage as the rift closed. I was preparing myself for it when the sounds of gasps and giggles began. Suddenly the old tired fly wired door opened and those familiar crocodile shoes stepped outside. Before I knew what was happening, granddad had tucked me up under his arm and didn’t put me down until we were halfway along an old railway line, long before her other shoe found the deli’s stoop.
It was a, ‘You can run but you cannot hide scenario,’ or a, ‘I know where you live,’ event.
Without forewarning, granddad dropped me to the dew-covered brush, and I felt the damp grass mulch beneath my sandalled feet as his wrath propelled them along the wet path before us. I felt the prickles in my arse as I hit the ground, and his rage. I saw it in his eyes, his gaping black chasms. The chasms grew and became darker, the angrier he became and he was angry, I could taste it in my mouth, smell it on his breath, it surrounded me and I felt at home.
You ask if I feel? I feel. I feel more than most, but that is my lot in this life. Maybe in the next, things will be different although I doubt it. I am what I am, and life, death and time cannot alter my fates.
He was pretty fast and agile for a grandparent I thought when he took me by the neck and made me run ahead of him. My small bare legs moved through thick sword grass with their brown tips sticking me like needles as we made our way back to the cross roads near our house. I felt the slice of every sword as they filleted my young flesh and the warmth of my blood as it trailed down along my bare legs. The full span of his large and ferocious hand wrapped around both my thighs as he lifted me from the ground once more.
There was a special place in granddad’s fondness for me. It was fear and fright wrapped up in one large bundle. That’s because he knew what I was capable of. I felt his power rising from a deep dark place he kept hidden inside. I knew it was there, I had it to, but he never spoke about it, maybe because dad was so sick. We made it to the back yard of our house.
He picked me up by the neck and carried me to the back shed where he teaches me things. As we reached the door he pushed my head against it. With mere moments between banging events I felt something grow within me. I didn’t know what it was, and before I had a chance to explore it further, I hit the door again. It took three blows before it opened. I was young but felt a deep satisfaction, curiosity, at granddad’s reaction.
I do know this; the day granddad used me as a battering ram, was the day he’d feared. It was the day I took my very… first… breath!
I heard the raging ageing women screaming out on the cross roads. They were pounding each other with their defiled hands. I tend to have that effect on people, it’s why granddad gets so worried, angry, when we go out. I absorbed each blow as if I stood amongst those sinful women. Grandad heard it too. He saw my reaction and a look came over him I’d never seen before. It was odd, and would take me many hundreds of years to work out what that look was, but that day he’d become agitated and his every exhale blended with mine. I absorbed them within myself.
From that day, I became stronger with every breath I stole, and I was real good at it too.
You ask if I feel? I feel. I feel more than most, but that is my lot in this life. Maybe in the next things will be different, although I doubt it. I am what I am, and life, death and time cannot alter my fates.