Printed from WriteWords -


by  Bald Man

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012
Word Count: 2155
Summary: Some of you may have seen an uncorrected version of this already under a different title.

‘She’s going to hang tomorrow. There’s no reprieve.’ Arthur folded his newspaper.
Timothy looked across the table at his step-father. He wanted to ask, ‘who’s going to hang’, but didn’t.
His mother spoke. ‘But Arthur, I’m not sure she deserves it. ‘Cassandra’ in The Mirror says she’s more wronged than…’
‘No, Edith. She’s has had more than one illegitimate child - by different men, by all accounts. She gets a gun and fires it, not once, but six times! An innocent bystander got shot too - did you know that?’
‘It doesn’t seem right, though. A woman - hanged - in this day and age.’
Timothy could not restrain himself. ‘Will it hurt?’
His step-father looked irritably at him. ‘No, the hangman knows what he’s doing. The drop will break her neck. Instant death.’
‘Arthur. I don’t think we should be discussing this in front of Timmy.’
‘Why not? Ellis is getting what she deserves - natural justice - a life for a life.’

As the school bell rang the hour, the excitement in the playground was palpable. Timothy hovered on the edge of a group of boys, listening. At their centre was Harry Fisher, a thickset lad with flat features; he lived in the same road as Timothy.
Fisher said. ‘They’ll be dragging her out now. She’ll drop and dangle.’ He mimicked a rope around his neck, rolled his eyes, and stuck out his tongue: ‘arrgh!’ The boys laughed.
Fisher noticed Timothy. ‘What d’you want? Who said you could listen in?’
The others turned toward Timothy, sensing a victim.
He thought hard of something to say to divert them. ‘She won’t strangle. The fall will break her neck.’
‘Oh my, she won’t stran-gull!’ Fisher minced, imitating Timothy’s accent. ‘Listen to him, with his new school uniform and toffee-nosed talk!’
They advanced slowly on Timothy.
‘Your father’s the same,’ said Fisher, ‘… a snob - he thinks he’s better than other people ‘cos he works in a bank.’
‘He’s not my father!’ Timothy felt his face flooding with heat; he fought to hold back the tears.
‘Your mother married him though, didn’t she? Where’s your own father then? Run off and left you, has he?’
‘He’s dead. He got killed in the war.’
The boys were silenced by this.
Fisher was the first to recover. ‘Where did he meet your mum then - Lumb Lane?’ The other boys howled with malicious glee.
Lumb Lane was an area Timothy had been warned to keep away from, although he wasn’t sure why. But he sensed his mother was being insulted - he knew she had met his step-father, a widower, through some sort of marriage agency in London.
‘Don’t talk about my mother like that!’
‘Who says?’ Fisher prodded him in the chest.
The mood clicked up a notch. The boys encircled Timothy.

‘Fisher!’ The boys immediately scattered.
‘Not you, Fisher.’ The teacher pulled him back by the neck of his shirt. ‘Bullying younger pupils again - throwing your weight about as usual. You’re a stupid, useless lout, just like your father and brother before you. Go and wait outside my room.’ The boy skulked away, with a vicious look back at Timothy.
The teacher, Mr Skeffington, turned to Timothy. ‘Harris, isn’t it?’
‘Yes sir,’ he said reluctantly; Harris was his step-father’s surname.
‘How long have you been in this school now?’
‘A month, sir.’
‘How old are you?’
‘Twelve, sir.’
‘You’re in Mr Shelley’s class, aren’t you?’
The boy nodded.
‘You’re not from around here. Where did you live before?’
‘In Surrey, near Guildford.’
‘Surrey, eh. A bit different from Yorkshire. What brought you to Keighton?’
‘My mother married someone here, sir. We moved up to live in his house.’
‘How are you getting on?’
The boy dropped his head; he felt the tears welling again.
‘Finding it hard, I’m sure. Do you play any sports?’
Timothy shook his head. He hated sport; hated the shoving, noisy, menace of it all.
‘Well, what do you like to do outside school?’
The boy looked up at the teacher, a light shining through the tears, ‘I like bird watching!’
‘It might be better to learn to kick or throw a ball around here, lad. But each to his own, I suppose. You’d better get to your class.’

During break, Timothy went to the school chapel. He wasn’t religious, but liked the quiet of the place - and it kept him from the playground. He gazed lovingly at the colour plates in his Pocket Book of Birds. The only good thing about Yorkshire was the bird life near his new home. On one of his walks along the local canal, a heron had taken flight at his approach, clumsily at first, but then with increasing grace it skimmed along the water to land further down the bank. An angler nearby had watched it go. ‘Good riddance,’ he had said to the boy, ‘the bloody thing catches all the fish before I do. Still, that’s nature, in’t it?’

After school he tried to slip unnoticed from a side gate, but Fisher and his friends were waiting on the field.
‘I got the stick because of you, posh boy.’ Fisher advanced on him. The others gathered around.
‘We reckon your mother is a tart, just like that Ruth Ellis. In’t that right?’
Timothy felt a chord of resistance rise in his chest, overriding the fear.
‘And I say yes! A tart!’
He shoved Timothy hard in the chest and he toppled backwards over a crouching boy, who had quietly positioned himself behind Timothy’s legs.
Fisher was on him, pinning him down, kneeling across his legs. He grabbed hold of a lapel and breast pocket flap of Timothy’s school blazer and raised and thumped the boy’s upper body repeatedly against the muddy ground.
‘Say it, say it!’
The fabric of the breast pocket ripped, the school badge flapped down; pencils scattered onto the grass.
‘Say your mother is a tart!’
Fisher began to punch Timothy around the head and chest. The other boys yelled him on at first, but gradually fell silent.
‘Leave him, Harry. He ain’t gonna say it,’ said one.
Fisher arose and stood over Timothy for a minute before walking away. His friends followed, more subdued now.

Timothy cleaned himself in the park near his home. He soaked his handkerchief in the paddling pool, dabbed at his swollen face and attempted to clean the mud from his uniform. Eventually he returned home. His mother and step-father were in the kitchen.
His mother covered her mouth with her hands. ‘O Timmy! What’s happened?’
He told her about the fight, but not what Fisher had called her.
His step-father’s face reddened. ‘Fisher! I might have guessed. Just look at your blazer! That cost me three pounds.’
‘You’ll have to go and speak to Fisher’s father, Arthur,’ his mother said.
The man hesitated. ‘Timothy needs to start looking after himself. Needs to toughen himself up. He wants to start making friends, instead of moping about bird-watching! The Fisher boy’s a hooligan – I’ve told him off in no certain terms for coming in my garden after apples - so he’s got it in for me, all right. And his father has always been … an ignorant swine! But you’ve got to stand up for yourself round here. They’re like wild dogs. If they sense weakness, they’ll rip you apart.’

Timothy suddenly had a vision of Arthur - the boy - standing in the same school playground, thirty years earlier; saw his round glasses, thin mouth, same Brylcreemed hair; saw him standing alone, whilst the other youths ran yelling past, barging him contemptuously out of their way.
Arthur had been in an Army office job in the war, safe in Britain, whilst his real dad - the father he had never really known - had been killed in his tank in Normandy. There was a photo of his dad on his bedside cabinet, standing straight and proud in his uniform, his cap set at a jaunty angle.
The boy hated everything about Arthur’s house: the prim prissiness of it, the clipped lawns, the gloomy prints on the wall. The man had a cat too - Sheba - that seemed to embody, in its smug nastiness, the essence of her master. Timothy had reached to stroke it the first week, but Sheba had hissed and lashed at his hand, breaking the skin.

His mother bathed his livid face, put him to bed and sat with him.
‘Can’t we go back to Surrey?’ he had thrown his arms around her neck.
‘We can’t! You know we can’t. And you know why we had to move. I couldn’t afford the other place, not on my wages. Arthur has a good job at the bank.’
‘But he doesn’t like me, and you don’t …don’t sing any more.’ She had sung to him all the time in Surrey. He sobbed.

His mother kept him from school the following day and Timothy sat by the kitchen window watching the birds feed in the garden. He had thrown some suet on the lawn and birds were pecking at it. A goldfinch circled. It landed on the fence and cautiously watched. The finch dropped to the ground and waited its moment. As it hopped closer to the food, there was a sudden movement from the bushes: a black blur, and Arthur’s cat was on the bird.
Timothy ran into the garden waving his arms. ‘Drop it! Drop it!’ But the cat ran off with the bird in its mouth. Timothy sank to his knees, his misery pouring out in noisy sobs.
His mother came running out of the house. ‘What’s happened?’
‘The cat! His cat - it killed a bird!’
Arthur had shrugged off the incident, ‘…that’s what cats do. They kill birds. It’s nature; a cat’s instinct. Sheba’s done it before, and I daresay it won’t be the last time.’

When Timothy returned to school, Fisher continued to taunt him, but some of his pals seemed reluctant now to join in; one had even said quietly, ‘don’t give him any mind. He’ll soon get fed up.’
But Fisher seemed to be on the lookout for him; he seemed to be always waiting at the top of their road. On Saturday morning, they met.
‘Posh boy - you’re a poof. Just like your dad. He thinks he’s God Almighty.’
‘I told you, he’s not my dad! But he scared you off quick enough, didn’t he?’
‘What are you on about?’
‘He kicked you out of our garden, sent you running - you’re a coward!’
Fisher came forward, balling his fists, but Timothy ran to his new home. Fisher followed to the gate, stepped just inside the garden, and glared at the house.
His step-father was in the house as Timothy ran in.
Arthur saw Fisher in the garden and stood at the front door. ‘Get away from here! I’ve told you before. I’ll get the police on you if I see you in my garden again!’
‘Why don’t you come and say that to my dad?’
‘Clear off, you little hooligan!’
The boy stared at him for a few seconds, then slowly turned and walked away.
Inside the house, Arthur turned his fury onto Timothy. ‘I’ve told you to stick up for yourself, not come running back here every time someone says “boo” to you.’

The following Monday, Timothy saw Fisher again after school on the opposite pavement near their homes. He yelled across, ‘you coward! You’re afraid of a bank clerk!’ Fisher crossed the road toward Timothy, who again ran to safety. He went inside his step-father’s house and watched through the window as Fisher lurked at the gate. Timothy saw the boy hesitate, then enter the garden and go toward the apple tree.

Later over tea, Timothy said, ‘I saw Fisher in the garden this afternoon.’
His step-father’s face reddened, ‘Why didn’t you tell him to get out?’
The boy stared down at his plate. ‘I didn’t want any more trouble.’
‘I think you really do need to talk to the boy’s parents tonight, Arthur,’ his mother said.
The man did not reply.

After tea, his mother washed some clothes and took them outside to the washing line. Timothy heard her scream; he and his step-father ran into the garden.
The cat was hanging from a branch of the apple tree. A length of rope had been tied around its neck; it swung dead in the wind, its tongue protruding.

The police sergeant arrived on a bicycle later that evening. Arthur wanted to press charges against Fisher. The sergeant spoke to Timothy, his step-father hovering in the background.
‘Are you willing to give me a statement about seeing Harry Fisher in your garden this afternoon?’ He added, pompously, ‘you’ll want to see justice done, lad, won’t you?’
Timothy nodded. ‘Yes’. He smiled at the two men.