Just back in from work that very moment, Jack was standing in the hallway, and although he hadn’t been round the flat yet, hadn’t even taken his jacket off, although the flat was making all the noises it usually made – telly buzzing, fridge wheezing, waterpipes, the lot, he sensed in an instant –
“Nina? Ben, where’s ya mum?”
“Dunno. Said that she was going out n that you’re not the only one who’s got cronies.”
With a sigh, expelled from the caverns of his fed up lungs, Jack:
hung his jacket up next to her empty peg,
pushed his working boots into place along the skirting board next to where her outdoor shoes were missing,
threw himself into a chair in the kitchen.
Them in the flat upstairs, trampling around again. Why couldn’t their kids just
and behave themselves, sit down and watch telly quietly like his kids did.
“Oi! You up there!” one hand cupped over his mouth. An angry voice carries far. Propels saliva. Turns the veins that scale the temple hard, blue.
Pack of anti-social bleeders! What he wouldn’t give to get off that council estate, but it was hopeless; with only two kids? They would need another three before getting on the list for somewhere bigger. He felt sorry enough as it was that his two had to stay cooped up in the house all evening, all day when they were on school holidays, but he would not have them mixing with the kids round there. Not that he had anything against his two inviting a friend home so they could watch telly or play upstairs, but they would not be going out. A few months back it must have been by now, when Ben had run in crying because some of the boys on the estate had thrown stones at him. His father had simply tutted with even greater disdain for his son than he had shown for the gratuitous violence impregnating the headlines of his local newspaper, had just said, “Stop crying, you sissy. They’re just jealous. Riff-raff like that don’t know the meaning of the word family. Next time they chuck stones at you, you pick up a couple yourself and pelt them back good and proper.” The following evening Jack had braved the cold, had gone down with Ben to practise pelting stones at a wooden wall, some of them council kids watching at a distance.
“Look at em,” Jack head-butted their way, “gawping like they’ve never seen a son having fun with his dad before.”
Ben pelted, harder, like a cricketer, imagining them council kids yelping every time he slung a stone, every time he got them right where he wanted to, egged on by his dad, teaching him the right angle, guiding his pitch. Inside, behind the ostentatious ruffling of hair or vocabular praise, it pained Jack Dunbar to have to teach his son how to pelt other boys, poor little bleeders they were, with all the cards stacked against them no wonder they turned rough. They pelted for ages, till their shoulders ached and them council kids had wandered off, one by one, driven home by hunger and the cold. The next time Ben asked if he could play out, his father still said,
‘Words dance, breathe, rejoice, titillate, pulsate, quiver in this brilliantly crafted volume of what may be her best-loved novel. Couldn’t put it down.’ (Amazon)
From Long Time Walk on Water: