David R Ewens

The Kid

2nd February 2009

The evening had been disastrous. Richard Burns sensed that it wouldn’t be go well as soon as he and Sarah had stepped into the new restaurant, one of the treats they’d planned on their weekend away in the small north Norfolk town near the Lincolnshire border. The flashing neon sign in faux-oriental letters had been bold and bright. It had tempted them in. But poor service and successive disasters throughout the evening had made an indelible mark on their mood. They had gone in at seven o’clock, and left, having given up all hope of pudding, at half past nine. The distress of the pretty Thai waitresses, and the propitiatory offer of a little porcelain ‘lucky elephant’, with 10% off the bill, had barely headed off Richard’s natural streak of intolerant impatience or his wife’s hotheadedness. It had been noisy. His hearing aids had been useless except for picking up meaningless background noise.

The couple stepped into the dark, drizzly night feeling nothing less than murderous. Across the road, they could see through a striking stained glass window embellished with the words of a long-disappeared brewer. ‘Cobb and Sons, makers of fine ales and beers’. Ketches and barges in rich translucent red and green in a miniature seascape formed a nostalgic Victorian background. They could hear faint waves of laughter. At the bar, refracted through the glass, the landlord tossed back his head with a great guffaw as he deftly pulled another pint.Richard and Sarah’s shoulders sagged as they looked in as outsiders on the cheerful scene.

Richard was always deafer at times like this, worn out by the effort of concentrating and bad-tempered because he felt so isolated. Sarah could hardly contain her irritation. As they started their trudge back to the hotel, a kind of raucous blob of people approached them on the same slippery pavement. Neither was in the mood to give ground. They were enveloped by the mob, its members too busy shouting and laughing to notice anyone in their path. Richard and Sarah winced and slowed. Tiny embers from a flicked away cigarette butt brushed against the arm of Richard’s coat. He could smell the smoke on the coats of his tormentors. Their breath billowed out in the cold night. A particularly loud boy, plump and oblivious, cannoned into him and stumbled.

‘Oi!’ shouted an aggrieved voice at Richard. ‘Watch where you’re going. You knocked into the kid.’

Richard clenched his fists in his pockets, but he thought he knew how to play it, risky as it might be. He walked on as if nothing had happened.

‘Oi!’ Now there was a low rumble of supporting voices. ‘What’s your game, mate?’ Richard hated the familiarity of being called ‘mate’. ‘I am not your ‘mate’’, he thought to himself. Sarah butted in, red spots on each cheek, her whole body quivering.

‘He’s deaf. He can’t hear you. And anyway, it wasn’t his fault. None of you is looking where you are going.’

The rumbling continued, but Richard just beamed as he faced the group.

‘No harm done. No hurt intended. Why don’t we just all pop into that pub and have a friendly drink?’

Sarah looked at him, utterly confused. If she knew him at all, she knew that he couldn’t bear the company of such people. The ‘hoi polloi’, he’d call them.

But as quickly as the mood of a football match crowd can change when its team scores a goal, the atmosphere changed. There had been a stand-off, at least between Sarah and the blob. Now there was bonhomie. Everyone piled into the pub. Richard bought a round. All his charm was directed at the large extended family that he learned had just been to the February fair.

‘Oh, you go every year. How wonderful! And it’s an old agricultural fair, as I understand it. So farmers would bring their implements and machines in for reconditioning and repair. Fascinating. All bumper cars and big wheels now, of course. Yes, I understand that it’s better for you to sign on than get exploited in the fields. Let the ethnics pick the cucumbers!’

The more he beamed, the more confusedSarah became. She knew he was pretending to hear, pretending to be interested. A small, tight smile played on her lips, and one of her eyebrows arched as it always did when she clearly felt a mixture of irony and amusement. In every other instance Richard would dismiss these bumpkins as uncouth, the types of idiots who know their rights but ignore their responsibilities. Why wasn’t he finding Darren, the loud-mouthed, fat and unruly kid, in whose vocabulary the words ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ simply did not appear, completely obnoxious? She surveyed the corner of the pub colonised by the party. She shuddered at the sticky touch of dried beer on her table. At the next, the dregs of a glass someone had knocked over and not bothered to put back upright dripped onto the carpet. There was a smell of age and staleness. Cigarette smoke from before the smoking ban had made a brown whirl of staining on the ceiling above a tired and frayed lampshade. The pub had clearly not been redecorated for twenty years. It had looked so bright and cheerful from the outside. Sarah could hear her long departed mother: ‘All that glisters is not gold’.

Drinks downed, and in the little wretch Darren’s case a jumbo-sized bag of crisps to go with the Pepsi, the group lurched in drunken unity back into the night, Richard and Sarah swept along in the feverish excitement. Richard stationed himself just adjacent to the kid. Yes, it was risky. But he’d had enough. Timing. That’s what he’d got to get right. His glance flickered back and forth, taking in the traffic behind him, the bodies around him, the kid next to him on the outside of the pavement. Now.

The toe of his foot caught the kid’s ankle, causing one leg to tangle with the other. The swivel of his hip knocked the kid further off balance and he plunged into the road. There was a screech and a thump. By the time Richard had put on his mask of shock and horror, matching the blanched faces in the melée, he was tucked right in the heart of the group, far away from the lifeless, crushed and bloodied body at the side of the road.

David R Ewens

 

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