Thursday, 7 November 2013

Then The Witch Was Gone

On Sunday mornings Mr Williams would sit at a table in his back garden with a newspaper before him. He smoked a Dunhill pipe. The smoke curled from the briar bowl in a way that seemed perfectly natural. In no way could it be imagined that such a peaceful activity would actually bring harm to the body.

His wife was always baking. Cakes of vivid colours that, on account of the fact that she was on a crusade against sugar, tasted somehow flat and bland. How could something so pink taste more like bread than cake?

Mr Williams had a black beard that made him look like a bear. The first time I met him I'd been hitting a tennis ball against the house wall. He came out from his garden, the bear from lair, and stood on the path where I felt his presence before I actually thought to turn and see him.

When I did, the racquet went limp in my hand. 'Do you think that you should be doing that?' he said. From the vantage point of nearly forty years I might have said 'what's it got to do with you? It's our house wall, not yours.' But being a kid, I said 'no', the word coming out in a dry whisper. The bear nodded, turned and went back into his lair.

The next day I came home from school to find a copy of One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich in the kitchen. 'This is for you' my Mum said. 'Mrs Williams brought it around. I'd told her you liked reading.'

It was heavy going. But it impressed Mr Taylor the maths teacher when he caught me reading it when I should have been doing algebra. Normally, when, to use the jargon, you were 'off task' he hit you with a wooden ruler. Instead, he said 'well done. But please get on with your algebra.'

Mr and Mrs Williams had a record player. It didn't look like Dad's new Hi-Fi. This thing looked like it had been severed from the bowels of a space ship it had so many wires and dials. It wasn't a compact series of neat boxes like Dad had. It took up a corner of the living room and had to be hidden behind a leather sofa. There was a drawer for cassettes. Classical. I tried listening to one. Then I plucked out another. It wasn't classical. Strange, powerful music that was like nothing I'd heard before. Mrs Williams smiled and handed me a plate of bright green cake.

One day we came home and the front window of Mr and Mrs William's house was gone. Lifted clean out. 'What's going on?' I said.
'They're having a picture window fitted.'
'What's one of those?'
'It's a big sheet of glass without any frames to spoil the view. It must have cost them a fortune.'

The view in question was of a whale-backed hill with a solitary tree stood on its pinnacle. If the hill had really been a whale the tree stood in the spot where the blow hole would have sprouted a jet of water. This tree was all contorted like a witch huddled on her broomstick.

I looked at this hill and rested my hands on the radiator under the window. Let the heat get into me. I thought about Ivan Denisovich. No radiators to comfort him. The ridged structure of his day in the work camp. How he'd found some fluff deep in the corners of coat pocket and managed to make a cigarette out of it. Then I heard that music again, the mix of rock guitars and a jazz saxophone. Let it blend with the shape of the hill as darkness came down and the witch was gone.




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