Swell: an extract


Though it is only eight o’clock in the morning, he already knows there is a good chance he will have killed himself before the afternoon is out.


Page 7:

It is now 8:21 am.

He sits in his deck-chair cradling a mug of tea, his eyes closed, acclimatising himself once again to his makeshift kingdom.
He stretches his long legs, welcoming the dim crush of emerging light and soon a contented sigh slips through his teeth as he allows the tacky remains of a dreamless sleep to stitch the morning’s predictable monotony into a seamless extension of the day before where the interruptions of evening and night-time were nothing more than vacant interludes in the ebb and flow of his existence.

His lips purse a kiss as he gently blows the skin from his tea then takes several staccato sips while with one beady eye he peruses his collection of prized flotsam neatly arranged on the foot-polished planks of the undulating floor.

Along the wall opposite stands a pyramid of battered tin boxes of all shapes and sizes, their labels printed with faded images of sailboats and smiling girls – ringlets and bright red lips – wearing polka-dot swimsuits and straw hats with ribbons. Beside them is piled a pillar of hub-caps leaning drunkenly to the side, some have curiously designed letters and symbols embossed into their shiny, pitted skins. He has hung the most interesting of them on the wall where rare needles of light cause them to wink. In the corner farthest from his chair is a tumble-down heap of nuts and bolts, a cascade of shrapnel, some nuts united with their bolts while others remain orphaned. Further back still, deep into the corner shadows, is a dozen or so glass perfume bottles, none of which are completely empty and what liquids remain seem to glow as if distilled from drifts of trespassing sunshine. Most are engraved with delicate lettering, initials perhaps. Finally, hanging beside the door, seemingly in pride of place, are a pair of binoculars and a little girl’s dress with a torn hem.


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“So tell me,” she said her voice firmer, “tell me, just tell me.” The boy stole a glimpse of her from beneath his beetling brow and shifted uneasily in his chair. His tongue was dry and stuck to the roof of his mouth but the images in his head were slick and wet and the skin of his legs felt hot and had started to itch.

“Just tell me!” She barked.

The boy jumped and yelped, “I don’t know how to tell you!” An anguished cry, then after a pause, softer, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me . . .”
“Insolence and . . .” she hissed, “and wilful disobedience! You’re a nasty, horrible son to your mother.”

His lips parted but only to allow a rushing sigh to pass between them.

On the table next to him was a food storage bell, a wicker frame covered with lace netting, the boy fixed his attention upon it and after a while, an image came to him of a spider trapped inside it. He could see it, at the rim, rubbing its front legs together in prayer, with a tear dropping from each of its eight eyes.

“Lies, lies, lies!” She threw the cloth at the table narrowly missing his head, “not telling me is the same as lying. Liar! Have I taught you nothing? Has everything I’ve done for you been a waste? Perhaps I should throw you out eh, let the bully boys and murderers and thieves squabble over the choicest cuts of you. Outside, your hide isn’t worth that!” She snapped her fingers. It sounded like a whip cracking.

He rubbed the back of his neck aggravating an angry soreness which was bedding into his skin. A hunger simmered in his stomach and loins. He needed to eat something sweet, anything. The relief would be as sudden and as luxuriously painful as peeing after having held water in his bladder for a very long time. He blinked, hating how he could be so easily distracted.

“Shall I tell you what’s wrong with you? Eh! Because I already know what a lying, conniving, ungrateful little boy thinks about when his mother is slaving to keep a roof over his head and food in his belly.” She paused, the effect was dramatic. “Filth and fancies, that’s what. Your head is full of girls! Filth! Filth and girls! Am I wrong? Go on I dare you, tell me I’m wrong?” And when his sullen silence rose to meet her, “I thought as much . . . you, you’re no better than the rest of them,” she spat the words, “the boy who would be a man!”


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The young woman allowed Sister Boniface to remain in her head while she curled the tip of her moist pink tongue over the ruby gloss of her upper lip in yet another wanton display of unrestrained concentration and, as one, the crowd of courteous young men heaved towards her so close she fancied she could feel the heat of their breath. She closed her eyes but then after only a moment or two her mouth and lips ceased working and became still, her brow cleared and the heart in her breast resumed its quiet rhythm. She slowly shook her head several times to dislodge one last stubborn doubt and concluded her version of events by telling them she was certain someone else had been there too, but the other person had only been there after she had seen the dead gentleman through the window. It was probably a customer of the car-park because he had a car but she hadn’t seen where he came from and could not remember what he looked like. She clearly remembered it was he who broke the door of the hut and went in to see if Danny was alright and then she remembered in a sudden rush that the nice customer gentleman made her sit on the running board of his car while he ran to the telephone box across the road to call for help. It was only a matter of minutes after he came back that they heard the wail of sirens rushing toward them. In her mind’s eye she could see the customer’s face close to hers, checking her over to make sure she was not hurt and because they were on the same team, he said, and because they had saved the day he had kissed her and patted the hand in her lap as if it was a pet.



© Rod McRiven 2016