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Beyond Blue 2

by  Freebird

Posted: Monday, December 7, 2009
Word Count: 1431
Summary: Next chapter
Related Works: Beyond Blue 1 • 


“It was the sun,” explained Mum, “shining on the castle windows. He thought they were on fire.”
Aunty Jackie wrestled a plump arm round Andrew’s neck. “You great dafty,” she laughed. “Although, you can’t be too careful. My Great Uncle Tom thought he could smell smoke one night and nobody believed him until they woke up next morning and realised half the house had burnt down.”
“Jackie.” Mum glared at her sister.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” snapped Dad. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
Mum sighed. “Have you got a better one?”
An awkward silence settled over them as they stood on the gravelled drive in front of Aunty Jackie’s cottage. A bird sitting on the fence whistled, low and slow, then trilled into a laughing note, like rain falling.
“Come on,” said Aunty Jackie, steering Andrew through the front door. “We can’t stand out here all evening. Although...” she peered up at the sky, “you might see our little bats tonight if you’re lucky. They’re out early this year. You don’t mind bats, do you?”
Andrew opened his mouth to speak, but Aunty Jackie ploughed on: “...because some people are terrified of them. Great Uncle Tom got one stuck in his hair when he was a young man and it frightened him so much, scrabbling and scratching, that all his hair fell out – every last one! Bald as a boiled egg, he was.”
Aunty Jackie propelled Andrew straight up the stairs that led from the tiny hallway behind the front door. The stair carpet was shabby and worn thin along the middle. When he reached the top, Andrew almost tripped over a cardboard box overflowing with books.
“Whoops! I need to find a home for those,” puffed Aunty Jackie. “Watch your step.”
Andrew caught his knee against an ironing board propped on the landing, then had to jump over a blue plastic washing basket that was spewing odd socks and brightly coloured T-shirts onto the floor.
“We’ll make ourselves a cup of tea,” Mum called from the bottom of the stairs.
“Lovely,” trilled Aunty Jackie. “Although, do watch the kettle. It doesn’t switch itself off any more.” She dropped her voice. “Great Uncle Tom had a kettle like that,” she confided to Andrew. “It steamed so much that all the wallpaper in the kitchen fell off the walls and Tom scalded his hand and had to be bandaged up for six months!”
Andrew was glad that the accident prone Great Uncle Tom was no longer around to wreak havoc. He wondered what had happened to him in the end.
“Straight ahead,” said Aunty Jackie.
Andrew stepped into a bedroom that was slightly smaller than a large cupboard. It smelled musty, like winter clothes packed away in the loft for six months. A single bed with a duvet covered in foxhunting scenes took up half the space, and a narrow desk and chair squeezed in alongside. A wooden shelf ran all the way round the room, just above the level of Andrew’s head.
“Great Uncle Tom’s old room,” said Aunty Jackie. “You look over the back garden, so it should be nice and quiet. Hopefully not too quiet.” She giggled nervously. “It can be too quiet round here. But you’ve got me to talk to. Any time. Anywhere. Any... anyway, I’ll leave you to settle in.” Aunty Jackie picked her way back through the obstacle course on the landing, still chatting to herself.
Andrew closed the door and looked around the tiny cube that was to be his temporary home. He thought of his own bedroom – the models of space ships he had carefully constructed, the computer on its purpose-built desk, loaded with games and music; his prized collection of insects and his instruments for studying them. Microscope, tweezers, special jars with tubes so you could suck a beetle from a leaf without hurting it. Or swallowing it.
Andrew sat down on the bed. It sagged like a sailor’s hammock. He wondered when Great Uncle Tom had died, and hoped it wasn’t in this bed. Aunty Jackie had placed a photograph frame on the desk, near Andrew’s pillow. Mum and Dad smiled from either end of a family sandwich, with Andrew and Tara hugged into the middle. Tara was squinting into the sun and Mum’s arm was draped round Andrew’s shoulder. Behind them was the front of their house, ivy growing up the wall and threatening to block the windows. Tall bright flowers speared up from the garden like flaming fireworks.
Andrew turned the photograph face down and dumped his bag on top of it.
“Andrew?” Mum’s voice drifted up the stairs. “We’ll be off now.”
Andrew opened the door.
“Are you coming down to say goodbye?”
Andrew hesitated. Mum would want a hug. He didn’t deserve it. “Bye!” he called, trying to make his voice sound normal.
“Oh.” Mum’s voice had that familiar break in it. “Bye, then. You’ll have a great time with Aunty Jackie. Better for you. More settled.”
Andrew’s eyes smarted. A lump the size of a golf ball blocked his throat.
“Bye, Andrew.” Dad’s gruff voice was more distant, already halfway out of the front door. “Be good.”
“Of course he’ll be good!” tittered Aunty Jackie. “When is he ever anything else?”
If only you knew, thought Andrew. He knelt on the bed and opened the window. His room overlooked the sea of long grass that was the back lawn, but he could hear the slam of the car door and the cough of the engine round the front of the house.
“Give my love to Tara,” shouted Aunty Jackie as the car crunched out of the driveway and turned into the lane.
Moments later, Aunty Jackie’s footsteps came clumping up the stairs, accompanied by her wheezy humming. She tapped on the door and poked her head round. “All right, my duck? Do you want to come down for some supper? I do a lovely boiled egg.”
Andrew thought of Great Uncle Tom. “No, thanks.”
“Toast, then?”
Andrew shook his head. His tummy was still recovering from the car journey.
Aunty Jackie’s face fell. “I guess I’ll leave you to unpack then. You know where I am if you need me.”
Andrew waited until Aunty Jackie reached the bottom of the stairs, then he crept out onto the landing. Aunty Jackie had left the iron plugged in. Andrew bent and pulled out the plug. He looked around for more sockets, but there were none. He gingerly pushed open the door of the room next to his, where piles of junk littered the floor. An old lampshade lay on top of a heap of crumpled clothes and a stack of newspapers teetered by the window. Andrew ran his slim fingers over the keys of an old accordion that lay behind the door, toppled onto its side. A pile of ornate picture frames leaned against the wall. Andrew picked one up and turned it over to reveal a vivid painting of a beach dotted with rocks that glittered like jewels where the tide had washed them. The sea foamed with massive waves, drifts of white spray flying off the tips. And the sky was a colour so rich and deep that Andrew had difficulty describing it as blue. It was beyond blue. Andrew felt a sudden yearning to be home.
“Andrew?” called Aunty Jackie. “Do you want some hot chocolate?”
With a start, Andrew remembered where he was. “No, thanks,” he yelled. He replaced the painting on the pile, but something caught his eye. On the back of the picture, in the bottom corner was some spindly writing, so tiny it was difficult to make out the words.
Andrew wished he had his magnifying glass with him. He crouched close to the writing and screwed up his eyes. Someone had written in pencil:
He’s coming to get me.
“What are you doing up there?” Aunty Jackie’s voice was closer now, at the foot of the stairs.
“Nothing. I’m coming down.” Andrew thundered down the stairs.
“Are you okay?” asked Aunty Jackie, leading Andrew through the living room into the small kitchen. His eyes darted around. Toaster..? Off. Kettle..? He stood in front of it and casually flicked the switch. Off. Fridge..? He couldn’t turn that off. Could he? He imagined all the spoiled food, the water on the floor. Aunty Jackie would send him packing, back to Mum and Dad in the poky flat near the hospital. Andrew could almost see the disappointment in Dad’s eyes.
“Fine,” lied Andrew. “Everything’s fine.”