‘I wasn’t fast enough in the end’
Me name’s Alan, but most people call me Bullet.That’s cos I can run so fast I’d have hit you in the head before you’d even realised you’d been shot if I was a bullet torpedoing out of a fired gun.
Mam hates it when am late for tea. She says she’s spent donkeys preparing good grub for us all, only for me to go and f*** it up because I can’t be arsed to take note of the time. She says it goes cold by the time I get in. Can’t help it, am a busy guy. Got to see a man about a dog and then a dog about where to find the dead cat.Days pass by in a blur and I don’t know where they go. Maybe am just talking shite. Mam says I do that a lot, too.
I’d been we Margo Smith playing tonsil tennis on the bench in the park. I was lost in a smear of red lippie and her slobbering tongue when I happened to open me eyes and catch sight of her watch.
‘Hell’s Bells is it five already?’ I said, pulling back from her lolling tongue.
‘Come on, Bullet, we’ve only been here half an hour,’ Margo said, making a grab for me shirt.
‘Mam will brain me if am late again. I’ve gotta go,’ I said, giving her one last peck on her sweaty cheek before whizzing off like the Tasmanian f****** Devil.
Me feet pounded the dry earth of Graves Park, running so fast the trees turned into a green blur.
I’d be in deep s*** if I dint get home sharpish, so I ran the fastest I’d ever ran cos I was already late. I zoomed past the playground area, past the s***** smelling pigs on the farm and almost kicked a rogue
chicken by accident before I made it to the main road.
‘Got a stitch,’ I wheezed to no one in particular, trying to catch me breath before taking off again.
I made it back to me house at twenty past five and I knew Mam would go ape when she saw me.
I’d get a whack we the wooden spoon, no doubt about that.
I ran up the path yelling, ‘Mam! Sorry am late! I had to see a man about a dog!’
Panting, I shoved the back door open and yelled again. ‘Mam am ’ere!’
‘You sound like an ABBA song,’ I expected her to say, but I didn’t hear owt.
I walked into the kitchen and saw three plates of Sunday roast and a bottle of Hendo’s sitting on the side.
The jug of gravy had a film on top of it, like it’d been sat out for a bit. I tried the living room and found her sat in her armchair under the window.
‘Mam, am sorry am late, but me watch broke and Margo’s time was wrong and –’ I faltered when I saw her cig. It’d burnt right down to the nub and a long trail off ash was clinging on for dear life. I walked in front of the armchair.
She was staring, unblinking, at something that I couldn’t see.
‘Mam, stop f****** about. A know am late but am here now.’
I took the cig out of her hand and let the ash fall on the carpet. I yanked me hand away when I felt how cold she was.
‘Bloody freezing in ’ere, innit Mam? Shall I put the fire on? It’s like the Arctic.’
I dropped the cig and set about getting the fire going. I pulled her blanket off the back of the settee and put it over her legs. When she started warming up a bit, I tried to reheat the roast in the oven without burning it. I did all right, and I even managed to sort the lumpy gravy out. I carried Mam’s plate in first and put it on her knee for her.
‘Am daft, aren’t a Mam? I dint get you a knife and fork.’
I went back into the kitchen and fetched her some cutlery. While I was at it, I brought Johnny’s plate of food in and put it on the settee where he used to sit before he got blown to bits in Afghanistan. He hadn’t had Sunday roast with us for years but Mam still made him a plate every week.
‘Aren’t you lucky, eh Mam? Both sons with you on a Sunday. Doesn’t happen very often, does it? Look, a really am sorry about being late. But you know what Margo’s like. She can talk for England.’
I ate me dinner in silence, glancing from Johnny’s spot on the settee to Mam in her armchair. I knew it was a mistake, I couldn’t really be the only one left. They couldn’t have both left me on me own.
‘You ant eaten much, mam,’ I said when I cleared her plate away.
I was used to Johnny’s plate still being full, so I just scraped it into the bin. I washed the pots and put em away so Mam wunt have to do it later on. She could put her feet up and have a whiskey instead.
When I’d finished clearing up, I sat cross-legged in front of her.
‘Mam?’ I tried again. ‘Am here now.’
Silence. I reached for her hand, holding it in mine to warm it up. She was still staring at something behind me, her brown eyes milky.
I sat there until the fire went out and it turned dark outside, then I fell asleep with me head on the coffee table. When it started going light again, I got dressed and went to do me paper round. I dint want to be late. I dint want to f*** owt else up because I couldn’t be arsed to take note of the time.
Me nickname always sounded a bit daft after that. Wasn’t fast enough in the end, was I?
Off the Shelf runs until Saturday, October 26, culminating with The Way We See Things, a collection of poetry, prose a nd short stories by Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind’s Mappin Writers.
By Jess Said – Winner of the Off the Shelf short story competition