Saturday, October 9, 2010

New Series:, Pater Familia: Tales of Dukinfield: Fishing with Sharon

FruitImage via Wikipedia

Fishing with Sharon

There have to be fish in here. They’ll like my maggot: a fat bluebottle. His brothers are wrestling in the sawdust of my aluminum bait-tin. My little sister Sharon is bored, but brightens up at the camera, then gets all shy as Mum clicks the shutter. My float is drifting toward a dead dog. Never know when you’ll need a dead dog; once its belly bursts, there’ll be maggots for everybody, provided it doesn’t hit the oil slick. Oil slicks nearby are good; they cut through the bad egg smell of the dog. Also, fish sometimes lie under the oil, basking in its warmth. They don’t taste too chemical if you wash them well. And once you learn how to spot their dorsal fins, they’re easy to net if you’re quick, because they can’t see you coming through the oil. I like oil slicks, but not if they get the dog and kill the maggots. Then the dog’s no good and he’s supposed to be Man’s Best Friend.

On the far bank of the canal is an elder bush. Their flowers smell sweet. They taste good, too, if you dip them in batter and fry them. You can’t pick them all, though, or else grandma shouts at you. And really, it’s stupid to pick them all, because then there’ll be no berries for elderberry wine. And then grandma won’t be able to give us a nip every morning on the way to school. It’s so sweet and warm.

Behind the elder bush is the safe place where me and Susan Ashmore go to soothe each other and snuggle. She’s sweet and warm, too. The warmth of her insides surprised me at first, but it felt comforting and secret, like when your mum tucks you into bed, even though both of you know you’re too old for that. We’ve been best friends since we were eight, even though we live at opposite ends of town. Being top of the class meant the teachers always sat us together and we could whisper and stroke each other while they taught the dunces.

We used to take turns being top of the class by making deliberate mistakes in the Friday test. If we were upset with each other, we’d both get them all right on purpose. So when one of us got a perfect score, we were happy, but if we both got a perfect score, we’d cry. It gave the teachers conniptions.

We talked about failing, but decided we ought to pass our exams for our mums’ and dads’ sake. Now Susan has gone to the girls’ grammar school in Dukinfield, while I have to take the bus to the boys’ grammar school in Hyde. I haven’t seen her in almost a year. I wish we had a telephone or a motor car. Maybe I’ll get a bike next Christmas.

Anyhow, what I was going to say is, there’s an old cotton mill behind the elder bush too, where a gang of us stripped the lead off the roof to weigh it in. We had two prams full, but as we were struggling to steer them along the towpath we saw two coppers coming, so we dumped the whole lot into the canal, right across from where I’m fishing, now. We ran back across the top of the lock gate, where the coppers were scared to follow.

We laughed at them struggling to pull the prams back out. Silly buggers broke the handles, so we had to come back at night with our grappling hooks. Same ones we use for dead dogs. Same ones we use for German helmets, gas masks and other treasure. And Mrs. Mc Arthur. I used to run errands for Mrs. Mc Arthur for a shilling, but my mum told me it was too much, so we settled on sixpence. It was hard for me to do, since I’d already talked her down from two shillings, but I felt responsible for her, so I kept going.

Then the council condemned our street. Talked about us having unsafe gas lights in our houses, unsanitary tippler toilets outside, coal grates inside, no hot water and zinc bathtubs hanging on nails in the ginnels behind the houses. We got two hundred pound for our house, but nobody in the village got enough to buy a new house, so there was this slow-motion explosion of people scattering out to the council estates. All my friends went away. Except Mrs. Mc Arthur, who hadn’t got a council house or an old-age home yet. She couldn’t walk very well, and the shops had closed down and left, so I stopped by every morning before school to get her list and shopped for her after school.

It was a long walk to the shops that were still open and I started to miss a day here and there. Gradually, I began to ignore her and spend more time with the boys from my new school in Hyde. I won a prize for scholarship in my first term. In my second term, they found her clothes neatly folded on the canal bank, with her purse in her shoes. She kept her underwear on. Her bra only came off when one of the grappling hooks came out of her shoulder. It was indecent, the way they towed her in like a barge, that one breast with its own bow wave in front and lots of little fish following behind, rooting at her, like she was abandoning all her little babies. I shouted at the men to cover her up, but they couldn’t and I was ashamed. I tried not to, but I cried when they lifted her out and the bones pulled up through her flesh like an overcooked chicken. I washed my hook and went behind the elder bush to cry.

I’m fishing here with Sharon because the canal is the only place I want to go to. I think Mum sent Sharon to keep an eye on me because I’m sad again. Maybe Mum’s taking our photograph just to get me to smile. She’s saying “cheese”, yet she looks frightened and this picture’s so very important to her. If she doesn’t get it, I think she’ll cry. That’s why I’m smiling, so she’ll have a nice picture of me in my thinking place. I think I’ll remember Mrs. Mc Arthur even when I’m thirty, no, forty.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment