International Writers Magazine:
mother was a teacher. When not at work, she was often out of doors,
away from the house. She liked to do things for others perhaps
walking a neighbours dog, or brushing down a neighbours
pony. She was thrifty and had odd manias, such as cutting the lawn
by hand with shears to save the mower. I still dont
know why we needed to save the mower. To hand on? For better times?
For the next life?
When I was six,
we lived in a jerry-built farm-labourers cottage on a barren country
road. The red-brick walls were thin and the panes of glass in the peeling
window frames thin and unconvincing. To help out my mother with childcare
myself and two brothers she took a lodger, Dilys.
Dilys was a small woman with a helmet of black hair and pasty skin.
She worked shifts, enabling her to be at home when my mother wasnt.
She might have been a nurse or a part-time clerical assistant in a professional
office. My mother interviewed her in the kitchen and showed her a pleasant
bedroom on the first floor landing on the sunny side of the house. My
elder brother and I were therefore obliged to share a room, overlooking
the unkempt back garden and the field. She became a fixture, rather
like a dog is a fixture an unhappy dog.
Only a few days after she moved in, I came home from school to find
her on the backdoor step, bowed like a question mark over her pitiful
hanky, weeping. She pulled herself together to give me a pallid Hello,
Gregory, then retreated behind the house. I went to my bedroom
and watched her from the cold, north-facing window, pacing the fringe
of the field alongside the ditch. Later that evening, as I climbed the
stairs once more to go to bed, I heard her snuffles on the landing,
inadequately obscured by the ill-fitting bedroom door. The next morning,
I came down to breakfast and glimpsed her in the lounge a sterile
space with no television folded into a corner of our brown velour
sofa, depressing as carrion.
The front door slammed shut and my mother disappeared for I dont
know what reason helping the aged, perhaps, or playing the piano
for an early keep-fit class. So my brothers and I were left alone, with
Dilys sitting at the Formica kitchen table doing duty, in
part-payment of her rent.
The table had been laid the night before. There was a faint scent of
disinfectant. With a varnished fingernail, Dilys traced the blue check
pattern on the Formica. My nine-year-old brother Dennis, blinking his
long-sighted eyes behind his new NHS glasses, the heavy brown frames
disappearing into his thick, dark hair, did the same. I was reading
from a book called Lives of Soldiers. On my plate lay the peel from
a banana and a Satsuma. Both had withered within their skins. I ate
them up because I had been unwell. When I finished, I would be allowed
Marmite on toast.
My one-year-old brother Timothy gurgled and broke the silence. He was
big for his age and wore a silver-foil stovepipe hat. Without it, he
would throw a tantrum and refuse to sit at the table. We stuck it to
his hair with sellotape.
Dilys roused herself to spoon a grey dollop of Ready Brek, congealed
and tepid, into Timothys mouth. To encourage him, she made a noise
like a train a very small, slow train. He opened wide and she
choo-chooed into his tunnel. There was a moment of tense immobility
before he pushed the Ready Brek back out with his tongue and let it
fall from the side of his mouth to the linoleum on the floor.
Timothy, said Dilys.
Ive finished, I told her.
She looked at me and I went to the sink for a heavy grey cloth to wipe
it up. Timothy gurgled some more, then he lifted his two pink fists
to his mouth and dribbled. I rinsed it and sat back down.
Good boy, Gregory, she wheedled.
Worst of all she touched me the nape of my neck, my thin shoulder,
the back of my hand.
Whats he got? I asked to distract her. Timothy was
still chewing at something and dribbling, both little fists crammed
into his oversized mouth.
Its those little men.
Oh no, I thought. Then, aloud: Is it my men?
I looked at Dennis. Is it my ones?
He glanced at Timothy, gave me a smug smile and wiped away a pretend
He cant have them, Dilys. Hell spoil them.
Theres nothing he can do with them. Hes a little baby,
Yes he will. You said he was teething.
Thats why he wants them, to soothe him, you see?
Yes, but hes chewing them. Hell spoil them.
No, he cant spoil them, Gregory. Hes only a baby.
He hasnt any teeth there.
But you said hes teething. Thats why hes chewing
Thats right. Hes comforting his poor gums.
So he does have teeth. He will spoil them.
No, cariad, hes only a baby. He has no teeth now.
My sinister brother wouldnt look up from tracing the blue check
pattern on the Formica. In the shadow of his glasses, I could tell he
was smiling. My baby brother Timothy gurgled. He was happy, as Dilys
said, chewing on the heads of my men. There was nothing for it but for
me to make my toast.
The emotion I felt so strongly on that day is called, I later learnt,
exasperation. It is a common emotion. I have also since discovered that
Dilys is a Welsh name. It means genuine and you dont
often come across it these days.
I left that house at the age of nine. It still stands and, as the years
have passed, I have seen it many times. Likewise the exasperation.
© Greg Mosse
Greg is a lecturer in Creative Writing and is an accomplished writer
with a strong interest in crime writing.
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