written by Antonia Wood
edited by Hannah Clarke
Creaking resonated through the small kitchen as the boy balanced precariously on the wooden dining chair. He wobbled as he reached towards the stove, leaning forward, tightly gripping his slice of bread. Nearly there. His arm outstretched towards the large frying pan. Nearly there.
The hand holding the bread swooped into the pan, mopping up the remaining grease from last week’s tea. Once white and fluffy, the bread was now stained a rancid shade of yellow, caked in dried black specks. Satisfied, the boy dismounted the chair, and walked into the front room. He perched on the sofa and lifted the stained bread to his lips, his nostrils flaring at the putrid smell. He took a bite. His mouth filled with a taste similar to soggy cardboard, occasionally crunching as he came across one of the flecks of burnt bacon. It tasted sour, he thought, as each oily mouthful slid down his throat. It had worked though. He wasn’t so hungry anymore.
‘Where yer at lad?’ A voice boomed from upstairs, causing the boy to clamber to his feet immediately. ‘Sean?’
The child hurtled up the stairs obediently, his heart pounding at the thought of turning up empty handed. There wasn’t anything left. What was he supposed to do? He gently swung open his father’s bedroom door, peeking his head carefully around the frame in case that lady was here again, like last time.
‘We still don’t ‘av none.’ The boy mumbled, eyes fixed on his scuffed leather school shoes and the frayed green carpet.
‘What?’ His father retorted, confused.
‘We still don’t ‘av none.’ He repeated, still not meeting his father’s gaze.
His father sighed, disregarding his confusion and replacing it with acceptance. He didn’t know why the child wouldn’t look him in the eye. He had never been angry with him.
‘Okay lad.’ His was voice softer this time. ‘There’s nowt to be done about it. Y‘ad some bread?’
‘Alright then Sean. Don’t worry about me. Go ‘n’ do yer homework there’s a good boy. Don’t want yer turnin’ into yer brother do we? Bloody reprobate that one.’ Sean pretended not to hear the crack in his father’s voice in that last statement.
The child felt guilty. Guilty that he had to go to school and leave Dad at home. Guilty that he didn’t have money to buy food, guilty that he couldn’t help.
These thoughts were interrupted by a deep spluttering coming from his father. A hoarse and whole-hearted cough caused his frail body to convulse violently. The man raised a hand to his mouth as he coughed in one last vicious burst, spattering it with red. He quickly wiped them on the bed sheets, grateful for the vacant expression on his son’s face. He hadn’t noticed the blood.
‘Go on.’ He waved his son out of the room abruptly.
Sean slowly walked down the stairs, delving his hand into his pockets and examining the findings. Lint. A Button. An old bus ticket from when he went to visit Nana in hospital… No, these would never do. Wait… 20p!
The boy ran down the remaining stairs and through the living room, then through the grease stained kitchen and out of the back door. He rummaged behind the wheelie bins, retrieving his bicycle. He swung his leg over the top and began pedalling. Pedalling as fast as he could. He felt the cold wind blow through his hair and pinch his cheeks. His breath quickened, his eyes narrowed against the breeze, and a smile spread across his face.
For a brief moment, Sean had forgotten why he was riding his bike. He was carried away by the excitement, his heart racing. It was the same sense of euphoria he had the day he had first ridden it. When his brother Tim was still around. They had gone together, to the docks, right outside the courthouse. The red building had loomed above them, casting a large shadow over the car park as it caught the afternoon sun. It felt safer that way. It had to be in daylight. Tim had told him so.
‘Everyone will be at work. Most people cycle round ‘ere.’ Sean could still hear his voice, mocking and laden with menace. Tim was always full of menace.
‘-Just fuckin’ pick one I’m not waiting all bleedin’ day mate.’ Sean was never sure why Tim swore so much. It annoyed their father to no end, like most of Tim’s habits. Nevertheless, the child responded to his elder brother’s request obediently, selecting a bike. Tim laughed whole-heartedly at the child’s choice, ruffling Sean’s hair.
‘I ‘ad a feeling you’d pick that one.’
He’d chosen the newest, it had thick wheels with deep tread and a sturdy light blue frame. The seat was black and streamlined- leather not fabric- and was decorated with white flames. Sean had never seen a bike that new before. That one. That was the one he wanted.
He watched nervously as his brother cut the lock. He was quick and efficient, skilled in his practice.
‘Happy Birthday, little man. ’ Tim smiled as Sean took the bike from him, shaking with excitement. ‘Go on then mate, give it a go.’
Sean attempted to swing his leg over the top, but ceased to get more than his knee above the frame. Tim laughed again.
‘Bit big eh? Give us it ‘ere a sec.’ The older brother took the bike and began adjusting various bolts. Sean did not watch what Tim was doing. He just wanted to ride it. Before long Tim had lowered the seat and Sean mounted the bike with ease. He began to pedal. Although he’d ridden before he wobbled slightly at first, nearly losing his balance. He then rode more smoothly, circling the car park whilst Tim claimed a bike for himself.
‘Good eh?’ Tim called over his shoulder.
‘Right come on lets get out of ‘ere…’ His voice trailed off as he noticed the fire exit into the car park swing open.
‘Oh shit.’ His brother exhaled, and both boys began to pedal away, leaving the balding, suited man shouting after them. The exhilaration rose through Sean’s body as he pedalled faster and faster, attempting to keep up with his older brother. He could probably beat Tim now, he thought, as he flew down the hill, his speed increasing as he passed the stadium and Moor Park, both a grey-green blur as he tried to focus on the road ahead.
He wished that Tim was with him. He was a grown up now, he’d surely know what to do. If only Dad hadn’t made him leave. Sean felt a little resentment towards Tim for this. He hadn’t seen him in years after he and his Dad had argued over school and jobs and money. He knew Dad was ill. Why wasn’t he here?
He finally reached the supermarket, and once inside he furtively scanned the shelves for some food for his father. Something he could get with 20p.
There was bread, Sean thought, running his hands over the crackling cellophane of one particular loaf. No, they already had that. ‘And I’m sick of eating plain bread,’ he said to himself, his voice mimicking his father’s. Energy is what he needs. The boy mused over what would give his father some energy. What did Nana always say?
‘That’s it!’ He whispered. And ran towards the aisle that held his chosen item. He looked at the price. It was £1.20. He couldn’t afford it. Glancing over his shoulder, he pocketed a small bag of sugar, and briskly walked towards the exit. He left his 20p on a nearby till.
‘I’ll pay yer back later.’ He said, addressing the supermarket as he retrieved his bike.
Upon returning home, the boy removed the product from his pocket and placed it on the counter. He retrieved a slice of bread, slightly staler than the one he had eaten earlier, and cut it in half. Using a teaspoon, he piled some sugar on top of one half of bread, before using the back of the spoon to spread it around. It looked like tiny pearls, he thought, wondering if in fact sugar was made by lots of tiny oysters. That’s where Tim said pearls come from. Maybe that’s why sugar is so expensive? Sean continued spreading the small white crystals until he was happy that it was an even layer. He then placed the other slice on top and used a grubby hand to squash it together. He put it on the plate and carried it into his father’s room.
‘Dad?’ He said, placing he the plate by his bedside. ‘I got yer summat to keep you going. I found some money.’
‘Thanks son.’ His father replied. He felt too weak to question how he came across the money. ‘What did yer put in it? Ham? Bacon?’
Sean smiled, pleased with himself.