We made it! One ink drawing by Laura Morgans, one piece of writing by Tom Spooner, every day in October – part five.
The air was muggy with anticipation that Saturday afternoon. There were loud whispers about how these bangers were illegal, smuggled into the country by criminals; how they had travelled entire continents in the hidden compartments of enormous lorries, evading authorities at each and every border along the way.
The bangers were two inches long and red with a thread of fuse protruding at varying lengths from the top.
We were going to explode an apple. We had made a hole and pushed the largest banger down inside it.
It was unspoken, but we all knew how it would play out. The older of the two brothers would light the banger and the younger, wilder one would run with it down Dog Shit Alley until he reached a suitable spot.
The lighter wheel span and the flame ignited first time. The eldest brother moved it towards the apple in a slow deliberate arc. The fuse hissed and spat into life and the younger brother started to run.
In the moments before the explosion, the world appeared to sharpen in focus. The sun caught the stained glass of the Caribbean church; a dog barked in the near-distance; a bird trilled from within a garden shrub. Everyone held their breath.
His gusto ran out after around two metres, at the point where the two alleyways intersected, and the apple was dropped onto the tarmac.
After a brief moment when time seemed to lumber in sticky suspension, the firecracker exploded. The apple was sent in a thousand and one different directions. It was magnificent, triumphant and very naughty indeed.
The pulp of the apple dripped down the red brick garden walls towards stinging nettles and weeds. To us it was a slow, chest-puffed march of victory. That afternoon, the winners wrote history.
Prince of Wails
It had the feel of a bad day from the first breath; the look of one too as he pulled the curtains and peered down on the litter flailing around the garden under grey skies.
He couldn’t be bothered with breakfast and decided to head down to the river instead. Remembering the colour of the sky, he put on his tweed jacket and picked up a woolly hat from the floor. He braced himself.
“I went walking down by the river
Feeling very sad inside
When all at once I saw in the sky
The little white cloud that cried”
The bench was covered in algae and the wood was rotten in several places but he sat on it all the same. He removed his hat and looked up at the heavens. The rain fell slowly down and he wiped his face with his hand, feeling the slickness of his features and the roughness of his stubble.
“He told me he was very lonesome
And no one cared if he lived or died
And said sometimes the thunder and lightning
Make all little clouds hide”
He heard a low rumble somewhere in the distance. A lorry on the overpass or a storm over the town, he could not tell. The old timber yard lay abandoned across the river, razor wire surrounding the two decaying buildings. It used to be full of noise and chatter, splinters of raw laughter piercing the sense of complete activity. Nothing now but crumbling bricks and dull echoes.
“He said ‘Have faith in all kinds of weather
For the sun will always shine
Do your best and always remember
The dark clouds pass with time’”
Just then, impossibly, the sun appeared and glinted off the razor wire like gold flakes on a black cloth. Something moved near his feet – a river rat, he thought with a shudder. But then a robin hopped out from beneath him and up onto the arm of the bench. He felt in his pocket for some crumbs to feed it.
He asked if I’d tell all my world
Just how hard those little clouds try
That’s how I know I’ll always remember
The little white cloud that sat right down and cried
The walk home was brisk, his limbs easing with each step, his shoulders relaxing. The skies were clearing and a tune had entered his head. It was an old Johnnie Ray number. He started to hum the opening bars. When he got home, he was going to dig out that 78”, wind up the gramophone and sing it loud.
(The little white cloud that cried)
The man descended and ascended the same two sets of external steel stairs every day. There were 72 steps.
Over time, from the man and others ascending and descending the stairs, the paint in the middle portion of each step had worn away, exposing the shining steel below. Either side of this centre section, however, the paint remained intact.
The man did not like this – how the footsteps had worn away the paint in some places but not others. For a reason he could not explain, it seemed unfair.
He decided to do something about it.
It was not a grand gesture, but it was something. For every ascent he would make sure he placed his foot in the outer portion of the step. He then scuffed his shoe, left to right, willing the paint to breakdown. As he descended, he would do the same, planting his two feet wide apart.
It felt good.
One day soon the paint would fade and the steel beneath would start to shine through. It was for this reason that he didn’t mind the sideway glances and the occasional sniggers as he shuffled awkwardly past someone on the stairs.
At least twice every day he continued to do his bit. Then, one cold evening, he was descending the stairs when his shoe caught under the step.
He fell thirty one steps and broke his neck. Just before he died, he looked up and could just make out the light from the streetlamp reflecting in the side portion of the step.
When they found him, they all remarked on how content he looked with that half-smile on his face.
Beyond the Stream
Beyond the stream, the woods were thick and dark. Daylight tried but failed to penetrate the canopy. Those that entered described how the trees behind them moved closer together, sealing them in and shutting out the day.
Saoirse’s father made her promise that she would never cross the stream. She could watch the fish from the bank, drink a cocoa with Wild Bill in his lodge, but under no circumstances was she ever to cross the stream and go anywhere near those woods.
Saoirse loved her father, but knew that he worried too much. Since her mother’s passing, he looked differently at her, like a dandelion clock whose white seeds could never scatter. In her mind, a breeze was blowing: she was travelling in a thousand directions, far and wide she roamed. She had an adventurer’s spirit, driven by a desire to connect with a world bigger than her own, learn its secrets and share hers.
When she saw the stag across the stream, she did not gasp. She did not call out for Wild Bill to come look either. Instead she calmly removed her boots, knotted the laces and hung them around her neck. She removed her socks and rolled up her trousers. The icy water flowed around her calves as she stepped out.
When the stag turned slowly and headed into the woods, Saoirse was close enough to see its breath plume into the air, smell its musk. When the leaves above swallowed the daylight and the trees closed in behind her, she welcomed the darkness. She counted to ten and then started to run. It wasn’t dark anymore; she was the light.
The Red Leaf
Your red is my favourite red
It is better than any red I know
It is the red and more so
Of fires I have watched turn to embers
On cold dark nights
Of sunsets and sunrises
from the Mekong to the Mancunian Way
Of the disco shirts I dare to wear,
And the socks I love to flash
Of robin breasts and tomato soup
Ruby ales and rib-eye ooze
Of Rothko, Titian, Blake and Bacon
It is a red from a dream
A secret never told
It is the lips of the girl I have found to love
In the leaf that I now hold
“I want to be a butterfly, Daddy.”
“How about a friendly witch?”
“I don’t like these scary costumes, Daddy. Please make me a butterfly. We can knock on doors and people will be happy to see me.”
“If you were a witch you could cast nice spells on all the people to make them happy. Or how about this? You could be an Egyptian mummy?”
“Daddy, a butterfly! I want big beautiful wings and wobbly eyes.”
“How about a werewolf? Like a doggy. You could howl at the moon. Owwoooo!”
“They won’t like it as much as a butterfly.”
“Okay. Maybe just some vampire teeth, then? You can take them out if you don’t like them. And maybe some cobwebs for your hair? It will be fun. Think about what a surprise it will be for Uncle Pat when he opens the door. Seeing you with pointy teeth or a bolt through your neck.”
“I can be a butterfly without wings. I’ll tell Uncle Pat that I am a giant butterfly from his garden and he will be very happy. He loves butterflies. Everyone loves butterflies.”
“You win – we will make you the most beautiful butterfly Halloween has ever seen.”