ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON. | By: Terry Collett | | Category: Short Story - Chronical Bookmark and Share


1961. Late spring early summer. Tony poses his legs spread apart, arms folded and face saying: I'm from London not from these parts. And remembers a few months back when Doug Greenfield said he hated Londoners and Tony socked his mouth. Next to him, Baz arms folded likewise, but with a smile and his imaginary horse over his shoulder nudging him forward. By his side Lydia, tall and a nervous smile as if she thinks smiles might not be allowed but are and standing on the tufts of grass as if on eggshells. Then Geraldine poses dark-haired, smirking, knowing cousin Caroline is ready to say, Cheese and Watch the Birdy and Smile all in one phrase. Then there's Dad tall, erect soldier-like, arms around the youngsters with a cigarette in his right hand and a glance that says, You're all right while I'm here. And below before him, Debs and Jan. Debs smiling relaxed and Jan staring pouting cuddling her toy. And behind Dad is Mum, young, smiling, happy, her swollen legs hardly noticing in the long grass.

Snap. The camera captures and the group moves away. Tony turns and walks in the grass kicking the tufts and thinking of school tomorrow and hating it and thinking if Greenfield says anything I'll sock his mouth. Baz rides his imaginary mount across the range of grass followed by Jan who holds her toy firmly as her pretend horse canters after her brother.

- Looks like it might rain, Dad says stretching out his hand for rain but feeling none pulls it back again.

- Don't think so, Ed, says Mum holding Debs back from an old gravestone. I think it'll be all right. She moves steadily through the tall grass and follows Ed as he makes his way to the old church.

Ed opens the creaky door and pokes his head inside. - Smallest church in England, this, he says. And enters followed by Mum and Debs. Tony turns his head and says - I wrote an essay about it at school and came tops. He moves to the church door and stands outside looking in the gap.

- Good for you, says Dad. He moves forward and stands looking about the small interior. Baz pushes pass and his pretend horse enters.

- A holy place this, Baz, Dad says and his voice echoes around the walls and filters down like snow. Baz stops his horse and stares at the walls and roof. Geraldine and cousin Caroline enter behind Mum. They gaze quickly around and muse silently to themselves.

- This place could be full if more than half dozen entered, Geraldine informs moving out into the air again. Quaint though, she adds tripping over tufts of grass. She and Caroline chuckle as she nearly rolls onto an old gravestone.

Lydia watches and turns back to the roof and walls and muses darkly.

Looks spooky, she says. Wouldn't want to spend time here alone at night. Tony hoots behind her and she shakes her head at him as he runs off outside.

- Holy place, Dad says.

- Holly pliss, Debs says and looks up at her mum gazing away into space.

Dad turns and he and Mum and Debs go out into the air. The sun has hidden behind a cloud and the sky darkens. - Could be rain, Dad says.

Mum looks up at the grey sky and searches hard. - Should be all right, Ed, she informs letting Debs run off to be with Jan who pulls at grass to feed her horse. Far away, thunder sounds like distant guns in war.

Dad looks up at the sky and points to the Downs. - I'm working out there, he says to all in general. Up there in that group of trees, he adds putting his hand over his brow to see clearer. Thunder again sounds. Lydia cringes next to Mum. Debs and Jan ride back to Dad and shelter in his shade. Better get back, Etty, he says. Looking round he sees Tony standing apart with eyes up at the Downs. Come on, Tony we're going back before it rains.

Tony turns and nods. And following behind wonders how far you can see from the very top and would like to see someday, although not now, he muses, trudging behind kicking at the tufts of grass.

Before they leave, they take one last look back. Smallest church in England or maybe elsewhere too, Tony muses lagging back. Fancy being buried there far from home and friends, Lydia muses darkly, taking hold of Mum's free hand. Baz canters behind, stopping occasionally as his imaginary horse pauses to eat. Geraldine and cousin Caroline walk together wondering why there are no pavements or lights and how narrow the lanes are.

Thunder claps again far off and cousin Caroline says, - Sounds just like you Uncle Ed when you snored last night. And Geraldine and Caroline break into a giggle making Dad smile and shake his head.

Auntie Et, how do you sleep at night with that noise going on? they ask mockingly and run up pass Dad and tap his head as he shakes his head again and grins after them.

- My horse can't walk much more, says Baz. Tired it is.

- Me too, says Jan. My horsy tired can't walk no more. Dad lifts Jan into his arms as her horse limps behind invisible to others.

- Horse can't walk, Baz complains. Tony sighs, lifts him onto his back, and piggybacks him along the narrow lane leaving the imaginary horse to its fate. Again, thunder. Nearer now. Lydia cringes and her eyes wide open, clutches Mum's arm tightly.

- The next song will be a dance, Dad sings against the thunder.

Sung by a female gentleman, sitting at the corner of a round table, Smoking his paper and reading his pipe. And as he finishes thunder claps louder and his voice sweeps away along the lane like a wounded bird.

- What's a female gentleman? Baz asks over Tony's shoulder.

- Don't ask, Tony says, don't ask.

And Geraldine and cousin Caroline break out into a fresh giggle like loose coins falling. Thunder. Rain. And just over the hill home. Warm. Warm and cosy.




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