It’s the smell that’s after waking me up. The bedroom door is open because David’s afraid of the dark, not me. The smell curls around the door like a sly cat and jumps up on the pillow beside me. It paws my nose, tickles it, now I’m sneezing. Paddington Bear’s fur is in my mouth, all furry, and crusty streaks running down my face, snot caked under my nose. My eyes feel all puffed up and sore. Jack is over there in the other bed, flat on his face, all quiet under his Spiderman quilt. The bulge in the bunk over my head is snoring. Pushing my fingers in between the wires doesn’t make him shut up. Nothing for it but to pull on my Man U. socks and walk over the smashed-up bits of David’s Airfix plane. Let’s get out of here, men.
Red Indian smoke signals are coming up the staircase. The clouds are kind of sliding over the waxy circle on the window-ledge halfway down the stairs. I’m clapping my hands like mad but I can’t catch any of the grey curls before they disappear into the net curtains. The air is all wrong. It’s like the air down the Lido where me and Jack blow our mouths against the window, our noses all squashed against the glass, at the men in orange overalls whacking the end of ketchup bottles over eggs and beans. I’m hanging over the top of the stairs, mouth open and sticking out my tongue to catch the globs of grease. It isn’t lamb and it isn’t beef and it isn’t fish fingers. Maybe Mum has got a taste for forbidden flesh. The priest said that one Sunday. The people in the front had to wipe the spit from their faces.
I can take the stairs two at a time and I land, armed paratrooper, with a big thud at the kitchen door. I push it open and cut through the smoke to see where the enemy has gone down. There’s Mum with her back to me, her hair all rolled up, standing at the cooker. Where she should be. Dad says that. I take a run and skid across the tiles, crash-land at her feet with a whack against the cupboard door. She is looking down under her gold glasses at me. I’m in trouble. What? She shakes something in the frying pan. I ask her what. She says it’s a surprise, something new to celebrate what was old and gone and can I please put on something clean. What kind of piglet am I?
The pyjamas can wait. I want to know what the surprise is so I’m crawling all over the kitchen spying for clues. All those pink things in the fridge. Long and slimy and short and round stubby things. Hundreds and hundreds on every shelf. Like something in the dictionary. A long word one of the other boys at school said about Sid the day the doctors came in. Sid’s my mate. I wrote it down on my homework journal and we looked it up when we got home. I want to know if he cried when they did that to him. He was only a baby so he doesn’t remember. Sidney never even saw a sausage before his Dad went. Sid says that everybody eats a fry the morning after. Sid the Yid. I had to look that up too and it wasn’t in the dictionary so I had to ask Mum. She told me that next time the others called Sid that, I was to tell them Jesus was a Jew. And not to hit them for calling Sid names. I thought they meant to say lid or kid or vid, because he watches so much TV. I call him Sidney the kidney. My name’s Luke but Mum calls me Scott. And she calls John Jack. David is still called David. And there are three blobs called my sisters. Call me Scott of the Antarctic. She’s not looking so I stick two fingers in a tub of ice-cream and slam the fridge door shut.
Above the fridge, six chocolate eggs line up against the wall. Bet mine’s the big one. I take one big step forward to fire and kick a cardboard box which chimes like the Granda clock out in the hall. A cardboard box with gold stripes and Powers written all over it, like the one Dad’s Matchbox cars are kept in that we’re not allowed touch. I pull out a plastic bottle with a blue crown for a cap. Not fit for drinking. And other things in the squares where bottles go. Leave that stuff where it is, Scotty. I drop the little king back in on his head, coat all chipped and his neck choked with glue. Here, make yourself useful, take this out of my way. I’m holding the picture up close. Jesus pulling back his shirt to show his bleeding heart, his eyes looking the other way. I always watch when I get an injection before the sugar lump. Mum yells Jesus’s name at the long red light bulb she’s trying to unscrew from the wall. I tell her to put a purple hanky over it, like Dad did last year. I remember that because Jack had said something about the Pope’s Y-fronts and Dad hit him over the head and Mum smashed a cup, pieces skidding all over the floor, and then we all went to mass in the afternoon. Domino Rally, action alley. Santa brought that for one of the blobs last year. Mum stayed on the bench when the rest of us went up to kiss the feet of the crucifix. But it doesn’t look as if we’ll even be going to mass this year. I watch Mum pull and pull until the socket comes off the wall and the red glow dies. Jesus Christ, is this whole house wired to the holy ghost? She hands me the light bulb and tugs on the white cables sticking out through the wallpaper. It seems you’re not the only live wire around here, piglet. She turns back to the cooker and shakes a black cloud out of the frying pan. I hold the red light sabre up with both hands and dare Darth to challenge me now. There’s a tiny crucifix inside it, all silvery. A bit creepy. I drop it back, smash, into the Powers box. The Pope wears Y-fronts but Jack wears boxer shorts. And he never cries.
I rotate my bomber around and aim at the table. I wonder if Jack will sit at the top now. Jack’s the oldest. He’s thirteen and he knows how to gut a fish without puking. David is younger than me. He’s eight and Mum says he’s the pretty one. He’s her pet, Mummy’s little angel. He makes Airfix planes, takes him ages, which I smash because I’m not allowed to touch his face. I look like my Dad. I wonder if that’s why Mum looks down at me from under her glasses. She does that to Dad too. I heard her telling Dad that she doesn’t like what his religion is turning us into. Religion is a way of life. Teacher has that up on the wall. Dad is a bigot. I think that’s his job. He goes to an office every day. And my Mum’s liberated but that means that she stays at home with us. At home, like now, to cook for us. Seven plates staggering in the middle of the white tablecloth. Seven, not eight. I catch the target in my gunsight. Seven cups. And seven knives and seven forks and seven spoons. I blow them all away. Eight is even, seven is odd.
There’s a bottle of ketchup standing to attention in the middle of the table. That’s odd too. Ketchup for breakfast? Maybe Mum has lost her mind. That would explain it. Red tears running down the label, blood spatters from a bazooka. And there’s Mrs. Lucey rapping on the frosty glass of the back door. I dive under the table and position myself for a sniper attack. She always makes me and Sid kiss her big pink lipstick when she’s handing out chocolate slices on the street. It’s like kissing the cold feet on Good Friday. Her flowery slippers are sneaking across to Mum’s feet and now Mum’s offering her a whiskey. Oh, no, we shouldn’t, not today of all days. Yes, we should, because it is today of all days. What? Now, they’re laughing. You didn’t, on Good Friday? And not a drop to drink in town! That’s right, I gave him his last supper and sent him on his way. Oh my God! Sure, the aul’ bastard will get a hold of his Powers somewhere. Bastard-I’m not allowed to say that. They laugh again and now Mum’s crying. Women, one brain between the lot of them. Dad says that.’,
I’m hugging my chin to my knees and watching Mrs. Lucey’s flowery toes tapping. One more move and I’m just gonna have to deal with them. Mum’s foot takes me by surprise from the other side. Piglet, I hope you’ve changed out of those filthy pyjamas like I told you to. I look down at the mud on the end of my stripey legs and remember.
I remember everything. Me in the middle of the flowerbed. Me standing in the wet mud screaming at Dad, ripping up her roses, shouting at him to say no. To tell Mum he won’t go. To tell that woman that he’s going to stay in the house where he belongs, his house with his three sons, me and my brothers. But Dad just walked away. His head down like a stupid goose with a broken neck.
Then Jack flying out of the house, like a black-caped shadow man. He flew out the front door and ran through the wet grass to where Dad was standing with the car keys in his hands, all shaky. Then Jack did something like in a movie or something. He ripped open his dressing-gown, and stood there in front of Dad, all white in the cold and wet. Dad just stared, shrank like a slimy snail into a shell and backed into the car. Then drove away from us, gone. I ran at Jack, pulling at his dressing-gown, screaming what had he done that for, Dad would never come back now. Jack just stared back at me, eyes all red. He shouted at me to stop crying and I told him I wasn’t crying and then he said ‘I’m still his son.’ I didn’t understand. I ran upstairs and smashed David’s Airfix model into a million pieces.
Why didn’t he just say no? Why didn’t he stand up to her and tell her that he wouldn’t leave us, his sons. It was his house. He didn’t have to go. I wouldn’t. Just you try and comer me in a room. I tell you I’d shoot my way out. I’d never go willingly. Never, ever. Bastard.
My football socks she bought haven’t stopped the sharp propellers and wing tips cutting through to my feet. But I’m not going to cry, no siree, Bob’s your uncle. The soles of my feet feel better for rubbing and I roll up the mucky ends of my pyjamas. I’m no way going to change for that woman who thinks she can order men around like some sergeant-major. I can see her arms lifting the heavy pan off the stove and piling blackened pink things onto plates. Now she’s telling Mrs. Lucey that there are going to be changes made, the little king has come off the window-sill and the cross down from over the door. And there’s going to be a full fry for breakfast every Friday from now on, even when there’s school. Yippee. And sausage rolls for tea. And ham sambas for lunch. And BLTs with mountains of mayo in between. I creep through the wooden jungle and climb a vine to my chair. A plate lands slap on the table in front of me. Her hand is down on my hair for a second but I shake it off. I grab the ketchup and whack it like one of those men wearing orange overalls in the stinky Lido. I’m going to be one of them one day. Red splatters across the yellow eyes. The rasher rind fizzles between my tongue and the top of my mouth. Frogs’ legs taste like chicken; pigs just taste like salt. Mum is rolling a sausage up in a slice of buttered bread. She’s saying it tastes like freedom, that Friday feeling. I spear a sausage and bite off its head. I tell her it tastes like someone else’s kitchen.