Green Fields on a Dusty Road – page 42 contd.

The vociferated meanness that lay in his outburst was enough to chill their blood and send them running like lightning in different directions. They were never sure of his reaction when he lost his temper. Jack was afraid, although he had no reason to be, because if dad sought vengeance then he always picked on Jimmy. Jimmy made his way to the Goldsmiths, a family that lived a couple of houses farther up the road. They had just moved in recently and Jimmy had made friends with the younger son Roy who was of the same age. There were so many different smells in their house that fascinated Jimmy, very strange indeed. The biscuits and round flat bread that Roy’s mum baked were delicious. It was warm and cosy at their place too, always a fire on in the winter, even if they weren’t expecting visitors.

Roy had many toys that looked brand new. The cars and lorries were intact and the spring feathers worked perfectly. Winding them up was easy, just as though they’d been recently oiled. They moved really fast when Roy put one on the floor and let it go. It was marvellous watching because they were really working, something that Jimmy’s didn’t, as they were all jumble sale relics and Jacks castoffs, toys and things that didn’t interest him anymore mostly because they’d become broken, or maybe he’d been given them as cast-offs from someone else. Jimmy had to pretend a lot when playing with his toys and even then Jack sometimes made a reclaim. Probably because Jimmy used his imagination too much and did a lot of talking whilst playing with his castoffs, or when his imagination got him so excited that made Jack think it was for real.

Even just watching Roy taking his toys from the cupboard or from his big wooden trunk was enough to satisfy and make Jimmy feel happy. Roy even allowed him to hold some of his toys. He held them carefully whilst taking in their functions, contours, colours and the smell, which was really only particular with new toys. These were real treasures. He would have preferred just to watch Roy playing with them, because he was frightened in case he might get the blame if they got damaged.

Roy was very clever and told him a lot about astronomy, things he’d never heard of before, other than the earth was round, that they had a moon and the sun gave them their warmth. Roy wanted to be a philosopher when he grew up, something Jimmy had never even thought about. Anyway he didn’t have any notion what that was and besides he just liked listening to Roy, because he was full of adult idioms that kept him fascinated.

Jimmy told his mum where he’d been and asked her why it smelt so different in their house,

‘That’s the garlic and herbs, laddie, very healthy, but garlic’s not liked in this country because your breath smells for days after.’

That was the end of the topic. For his part however, he pledged to find out how garlic tasted, one day.

They were all extremely glad when dad went back to work the next morning. Mum allowed Sheila and Jimmy to play in the front room where she’d put the fire on. She even gave permission for them to move some of the furniture around where they could make a wee den. They covered the openings with blankets that mum gave them.

It wasn’t long before their game was brutally disturbed by Jack who tore away the blankets whilst making malicious remarks about their den. That was too much for Jimmy. He crawled out from under the overturned armchair and tried to grab Jack by the arm. Jack sprang aside and fell over a chair. The chair overturned and ripped a long gash in the side of the leather armchair.

Sheila cried: ‘Mum, mum, quick, quick. Jack’s made a big hole in the leather armchair!’

Mum rushed out of the back kitchen drying her hands on her apron, nearly colliding with Jack in the hallway, as he stormed out the front door. Inwardly, Jimmy was pleased, because this time he had a witness, although he himself was indirectly responsible.

‘Goodness gracious me,’ uttered mum, her hand held over her mouth whilst regarding the damage.

‘Your father’s going to make welts on Jacks behind. He’ll get a real thrashing. My goodness, everybody knows how proud your father is about his leather furniture, even though the ugly things are worn and patched.’

Sheila and Jimmy exchanged looks. Their anxiety arose, because they were not quite sure if they would be included in dad’s punishment measures, knowing they really weren’t allowed to play in the house.

‘The two of you had better clear your things away and put the furniture back in their places. I’ll have a talk with your father tonight.’

Jack wasn’t to be seen for the rest of the day. He didn’t even turn up in the evening for supper. Mum didn’t question his whereabouts, so Jimmy guessed she knew where he was. Jimmy would have bet on mum’s friend Mrs Wellington.

Mum whisked them discreetly out of the house after supper. They were extremely relieved not to be in dad’s vicinity when mum told him the bad news. However, their curiosity was greater than their anxiety, so much that they kept within hearing distance at the corner of the house near the kitchen window. It wasn’t long before dad’s roaring voice brought them back to earth, realizing the danger they were in being so near the house. Anyway, they’d heard enough – dad was sufficiently angry to deal blows to any of them who were within his reach, although Jimmy didn’t think he would have laid a hand on his favourite Sheila who was clearly upset and undoubtedly frightened and would be four years old in a few weeks time. Besides, he knew that he’d be the first victim, guilty or not, so they went up the road briskly to Mrs Dowrie knowing they’d be safe there for a while.

Mr Dowrie opened the door. His stare sufficed unspoken words, demanding the reason for their disturbing his free evening off duty. Jimmy was intimidated by his size and even knowing he was a policeman, he just couldn’t get a word out and Sheila was looking at him for him to speak up. He saw Mrs Dowrie moving into the hallway from the kitchen towards them. Jimmy’s anxious looks were obvious, praying she would understand and give them temporary asylum.

‘It’s all right, Malcolm,’ she said, ’let them in.’

Mr Dowrie frowned and stood aside to let them in.

‘Just go into the front room dearies.’

Her voice relayed authority above that of her husband – she was definitely the boss there.

Raymond was sitting near the fireplace listening to the radio. He nodded and waved his hand for them to sit down somewhere. As he didn’t make any comments, they sat down on the sofa and remained silent, realizing he was listening to a play on the radio.

They heard loud voices from the kitchen next door. Sheila and Jimmy exchanged looks. It wasn’t long after when the front door slammed and Mrs Dowrie came into the front room:

‘Mr Dowrie is on his way to your parents to have a word with your father so you don’t have to worry anymore,’ she said, her voice soft and ensuring.

‘Would you like something to drink and a biscuit?’

‘No thanks,’ came an instant reply in unison, because mum had told them not to accept anything, as Mr Dowrie would probably be angry if he saw, or got to know about it.

Ten minutes later Mr Dowrie came back. After a few minutes, Mrs Dowrie returned to the front room and told them, ‘You can go back home now children. Your father knows what’s in for him if he lays a hand on you, so don’t you be worrying.’

They left their temporary asylum and went home still with an uneasy feeling. They saw a light on in the front room and the kitchen in darkness, so they went in cautiously by the back door, through the kitchen and quietly upstairs to their rooms.

They stayed in bed the next morning until dad had finished his breakfast and left for work. Jack wasn’t there at breakfast. In fact he didn’t turn up until late afternoon. Not a word was mentioned where he’d been.