This week’s words are:
jungle, matchbox, sparrow, hog, mull
We wanted to play, Sid and me, but Mum was busy. She was always busy. We scattered as she hauled the tin bath, full to the brim with shirts and soapy water, out to the back door, nearly sliding on one of my Matchbox cars as she went.
‘Get out from under my feet!’ she yelled. ‘This place is a blimmin’ jungle, Rodney. Get those things cleared up, this minute!’
‘Sorry, Mum,’ I said, glad she had hold of the bath. That meant, with any luck, she couldn’t smack me one.
‘I’ll sorry you,’ she muttered, leaning the bath on the garden wall. I heard the gooosh as the wash-water poured away, and the squealing of Mr Johnson’s pig next door. Probably thought it were feeding time, poor bugger.
‘That disgusting hog,’ hissed Mum, kicking our back door closed. ‘Why he can’t just be turned into breakfast, I will never know.’ Sid looked up, puzzled, a line of drool down his chin.
‘Never you mind, Siddie boy,’ I said, wiping his mouth gently. ‘Nothing’s going to happen to ol’ Porky.’ Sid grinned at me and went back to playing, swooping his toy aeroplane around like it were a B-52, doing the ack-ack-ack under his breath. Dad had carved it for me, but I’d given it to our Sid last year. He’d never left it out of his hand since.
‘Get out to that pump, Rodney,’ said Mum, slapping the shirts onto the scrubbing board. ‘Bring your brother, if he’ll go. I need at least two buckets.’
‘Right, Mum,’ I said, hauling Sid up by his collar.
‘At least two, mind! And none of your half-full nonsense. I need these shirts sparklin’.’ She started scrubbing, her hands red and the shirts white as snow.
‘Yes, Mum,’ I said, bundling Sid into his old, too-small coat. He stood staring, thinking who knew what. Probably wondering, like me, where Dad had gone and why Mum kept washing his shirts, week after week, like she was expecting him home any minute.
Sid and me clattered out, a bucket each. The pump was at the end of the road, painted white and red. The women stood around it like a bunch of birds on a garden fence. Mrs Ellis from number 12 was a sparrow, small and bony; Mrs Jenkins from top of the road a crow, beak and all.
‘All right then, young Robsons,’ said one of them as we got close. I nodded and Sid grinned, showing all his teeth. ‘There’s a good boy,’ crooned another, but more of them turned away, their mouths tight. They carried on talking, but in low, far-away voices.
Sid held the bucket steady while I filled it. The pump handle creaked and banged as it went up and down, up and down, the water gushing out like magic. Sid giggled. I knew he wanted to stick his face in, and I hoped he wouldn’t.
I grabbed a full bucket in each hand. Sid scrambled up to follow me, wanting to take some of the burden, but I couldn’t let him carry it. He’d forget it, or spill it, or fall… We’d been too long already.
‘Come on, Sid,’ I said, half-gasping, getting a grip on the handles. ‘Don’t delay.’ We passed the post box and turned the corner, and our house stood at the very far end, looking like it were miles away.
‘Dad!’ burbled Sid, suddenly. ‘Daa-ad!’ He crowed, clapping his hands and pointing.
‘Don’t be silly, Sid,’ I muttered, trying not to let him knock me off-balance.
‘Look!’ he insisted, plucking at my sleeve.
I put the buckets down and squinted, doing my best to see. Our front door was open, and there was someone there, someone with his back to us. Someone tall and broad and wide…
I grabbed Sid’s hand and we ran, full-pelt. Sid yelled all the way, Dad! Dad! Dad-daaad!
And the man turned.
He wore a full moustache and a dark blue uniform with polished buttons on, and shiny boots. His hat was clutched to his chest, and his eyes were kind. Our mum stood in the doorway like she were nailed to the frame, grey and open-mouthed. Her nose was red. Her eyes flicked back and forth over the front step like she couldn’t figure out what it was.
‘All right, lads,’ said the man, bending slightly, smiling at us. ‘Your mum’s just had a bit of bad news. She’ll have lots to mull over in the next while. You be good lads, all right? You’ll be the men of the house, now.’ He nodded at us, slid his hat back on his head, and strode off.
I stood staring at Mum for ages. Eventually, Sid and me got a shoulder each under her arms and helped her to the kitchen. Sid went back for the buckets; one was gone, but he brought back nearly the full of the other.
I finished the washing, and hung it out.
Eventually, we grew into Dad’s shirts, Sid and me, and they were as starched and white the day we first put them on as the day they’d first been made.
Just a little note to say: this is my 500th blog post! Thank you all for sticking with me this far, and I hope we’ll have plenty more blogging adventures to come.