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The Magpie King - chpt 3

by  Mary Jane

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Word Count: 744


Not long before the loud siren blare which would startle Hilda Parsons, a lone figure emerged through a shimmering heat-haze like a cowboy from an old Western film. Bert Bottomley, postman of Upham village for the last umpteen years, sat astride a rusty 1970’s Chopper bicycle instead of a trusty horse. An irritating squeaking followed Bert up Upham Street’s gentle slope; it sounded like a giant, rabid mouse.
It was a nuisance that squeak.
Bert frowned. I’ll have to pop a drop of oil on that wheel when I get home, he thought. It wouldn’t do to be making his customers angry by waking them too early, what with the festive period in a few months’ time, not if he wanted his lovely Christmas tips! He smiled as he thought of the dear little envelopes stuffed with money, taped to each front door. Last Christmas he’d collected over two hundred pounds, not bad for an average-sized village. There’d been enough to buy Dot, his wife, her main Christmas gift. And, as usual, she’d wanted it spent on the cat! She’d chosen one of those daft, cat gymnasium thingummy’s. Bert shook his head in bewilderment at the cost of a few bits of cardboard tubing and platforms all covered in cheap carpet. And what a waste of money it had turned out to be. All Delilah had managed to do so far was to take a few feeble swipes at the plastic fish dangling from it!
Bert puffed his way up the hill. It was stiflingly hot again; there had been no rain now for weeks, simply days and nights of searing hot air. Even though it was still only seven o’clock in the morning, beads of sweat popped out of every pore on Bert’s podgy face as he pedalled. He imagined drinking lemonade with ice – could almost feel it dribbling down his chins. Sheer bliss.
He only had another five more letters to deliver, and then he’d be able to head home and flop into his comfy armchair to watch that day’s cricket match on TV. He smiled to himself – then grimaced as he remembered that Dot had cancelled her planned shopping trip to Winchester. She would be with him all afternoon. ‘Fiddlesticks!’ he yelled aloud as he recalled his attempt to watch the previous week’s match and his wife’s silly interruptions:
‘Ooh! That daft bloke’s just knocked those little sticks down Bert, clumsy great lummox!’ Dot had laughed and clacked her knitting needles together annoyingly.
A vein in Bert’s temple throbbed at the memory.
‘Why’s he thrown that ball so hard? It’d be like a Scud Missile comin’ towards you, wouldn’t it? Don’t they have health an’ safety in cricket, Bert?’ She had stared at him, blinking questioningly with spiders-leg-lashed eyes.
Bert continued pedalling and stared up at the blue polished sky, shaking his head in despair.
‘Fancy those men wearin’ white to play a game on grass!’ she had tittered. ‘I mean, it’s not rocket science is it? Their wives must be saints, what with havin’ to wash that lot after every match! … Mint humbug, Bert?’
Bert had had to pinch his top and bottom lip together at that point, to keep from blurting out something rude.
He sighed, still pedalling. He’d just have to bite his tongue and ignore her. After all, if he dared say anything, Dot might not cook his dinner. And Bert loved his dinners.
At last, the postman and his bike reached the top of the hill. Bert squeezed the brakes and slowed to a halt, then planted his feet on the ground. He always got a thrill from the next part of his round, even though he knew he was about forty years too old for such childishness. It was a good thing it was still early in the morning, less chance of someone seeing! He glanced about to make sure he wasn’t being watched; then viewed the steep downward slope with a shiver of excitement. Bert checked that his postbag was secure in the bike’s front basket and, with the flesh of his bottom spilling over the sides of the saddle like uncooked pizza-dough, he pushed away from the tarmac. Bert gained speed quickly, leaning back on the yellow, 70’s Raleigh Chopper. He giggled, enjoying the rush of warm air up the legs of his Royal Mail shorts and through what was left of his hair.
‘Giddy-up,’ Bert Bottomley chuckled.