The International Writers Magazine: Childhood Stories

Under the Covers
Ali Shaw

I had stopped sobbing now. There couldn’t be any more water left in my eyes, I was sure of that. I turned my pillow over but it was wet right through to the other side and the saltiness was stinging my cheeks so I slid down further under the covers pulling them high above my head and switched on my torch.

A beam of light fell upon the cover of my book, "Five go Down to the Sea" by Enid Blyton. I read a few lines. I liked it here at night. I could make the next day take a long time to come by reading. I liked the few hours of calm that came after my parents rows had subsided and before the dread of getting up for school set in.

My dad was usually placid and could take many hours of being yelled at without reacting, but he did occasionally blow his top. One day he threw the breakfast tray down the stairs with such force that somehow a piece of buttered toast flew high up in the air and stuck itself to the wall just below the ceiling. The tea splattered upwards in a spectacular arc and all the cups were smashed. My sister cleared up the mess but she couldn’t reach the piece of toast and so it stayed up there for days, forlornly stuck to the wall. It looked funny and my brothers and I marvelled at how long it stayed in place.

Sometimes in the dead of night we would creep down the stairs to steal sweets. Our home was above a grocery shop and there was only a plastic tassled curtain to divide our flat from the store. We weren’t supposed to go into the shop at night but there were rows and rows of glass jars all filled up with sweets behind the counter and so the temptation was too great. My parents had bought the shop from the Winkworths, an old lady and gentleman who had run the shop for 27 years. The building was completely un-modernised when we first moved in. There was no bathroom, no hot water and only a freezing cold scullery at the back of the house in place of a kitchen. The couple had been on their way to visit their son one Sunday in Mr Winkworth’s only concession to modern life, his new Austin Maxi car. Somewhere on the motorway on the way to Devon it had collided with a lorry and they had both been instantly killed. Their son sold the house and shop to my parents, who were the only bidders, at a very low price. It was supposed to be a new beginning for us, my mum had always wanted to run a grocery store. She would work there during the day while dad was at work at the office and my sister would help out during the weekends. Somehow though, we could sense it was doomed from the start.

The whole of the downstairs of the building was damp. I remember the smell and the cold clammy walls and the peeling paint everywhere. Dad had done his best to do the place up a bit, at least we had a bathroom upstairs now and some central heating, but when decimalization came in and then the VAT system was introduced and then the Spar supermarket opened up the road the business began to suffer and now there was no money left to finish the building work. Only the upstairs of the house was habitable. Downstairs the shop and the rooms behind it remained exactly as the Winkworths had left them, abandoned, cold and empty. Then mum got ill and things went from bad to worse.

Still, it was worth the risk to try to get down to the shop at night unheard, even if it meant the ghosts of the Winkworths would haunt us for taking their sweets. The jars were made of thick glass with black plastic caps and you had to go up the step ladder to get to them. There was every kind of sweet you can think of. Lemon and strawberry bon bons, chocolate raisins, coconut ice, everton mints. We would put handfuls of the toffees and chocolates into small white paper bags and take them back to our rooms, the sound of our parents voices, arguing long into the night drifting along the hallway. We would climb back into our small worlds under the covers with our bounty and read our books trying to drown out the sound of our mothers tears.

© Alison Shaw Sept 2007
Alison is studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth and is one half of the brilliant Cranes - currently writing a new album.
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