A piece by June Kerr
Come Fly With Me
‘Look Marky, look, look at me. I told you I could fly, didn’t I. Look. Wheeeeee.’
Mark looked at his younger brother like he usually did, right through him as if he wasn’t there and carried on reading.
‘Wheeeeeee,’ screeched Bobby as he swooped over the treetops, ‘Marky come fly with me, it’s really great, you can see Grampa Neil’s house from here. Look Marky, LOOK.’
Mark, his nose stuck in his book ignored him completely. Bobby carried on ducking and swooping, twisting and turning in mid-air, pretending he was Superman saving the world.
Bobby always knew he could fly. When he was really little he used to jump off the bench round at the back of the shed into the wind and feel it’s tender embrace supporting his weight as it wrapped him in it’s arms and rocked him gently back to earth. Take off was always the tricky bit, you had to jump just right, kind of sideways on and it had to be the right kind of wind, the special flying kind of wind.
Grampa Neil could fly too, and some. He said it was only certain people what could do it, only them special types of people what flew in their dreams could fly proper and then they all did it different like. It was him who had taught Bobby everything he knew about flying – how to land proper and to swoop low and then climb up high real fast and especially how to avoid the trees and the buildings. Bobby had been a bit scared at first, flying real slow and only staying up for a few minutes at a time. That was until he recognised Grampa Neil way up there in the sky laughing and turning in the air as light as a feather and looking younger than a man half his age.
‘Grampa Neil, Grampa Neil it’s me,’ he had screeched excitedly when he realised who it was up above him in the blue yonder.
‘Marky!’ Grampa Neil had exclaimed, ‘is that you Mark?’
‘No silly,’ grinned Bobby, ‘it’s Bobby, you know, me, Bobby.’
Grampa Neil swooped low and stared hard into Bobby’s face,
‘Bobby, is that really you son? You look so like your brother, but, well younger I suppose.’
Bobby felt sad that Grampa Neil was disappointed to see him and not Mark. He had been so excited at the prospect of them both being able to share an adventure without his brother interfering for once. Mark had always been Grampa’s favourite and sometimes Bobby hated him for that, but only until Mark pulled one of his faces and made him laugh. Bobby loved his Grampa more than anything in the world, well more than sweets and football but not really more than Mam or Spike.
Grampa Neil had said he was sorry when he saw Bobby that first day but Bobby wasn’t really sure what he was sorry for and decided it was because Mark was his favourite and he didn’t want Bobby to feel sad, so he took him under his wing and taught him everything he knew about flying. Flying was Bobby’s favourite thing now and he probably loved it more than even Spike, but still not more than he loved Mam.
Mrs O’Grady straightened up, for once forgetting the pain in her back. She looked around the vegetable patch, confused as she flattened the hairs that had risen on the back of her neck. The wind was getting stronger, whipping up the dust at her feet along with her apron all in a frenzy.
‘Must a been the wind Spike,’ she murmured to the crouching body almost hidden by the rhubarb leaves, his tail sticking out between the stalks, ‘Must a just been the wind old boy.’
Spike drew her a look of contempt and carried on watching Bobby as he flew into a cloud shaped like a giant mouse. He licked his lips and wished the cloud was real, it had been a long time since he’d caught a mouse, in fact it had been so long he could hardly remember. He remembered the chase though, oh yes; he would always remember the chase.
Sheila O’Grady straightened again, shaking the dirt off a handful of carrots, rubbing her back, this time remembering her aching bones. She was only forty-six but looked so much older, her hair grey and wiry under her head scarf. The lines around her eyes were etched so deeply, too deep for someone her age, every line telling a story of a life less ordinary.
‘Must a been the pain,’ she heard them murmur in the village as she passed, ‘All that hurt and pain. Shouldn’t a lost all that weight mind, makes her look scrawny, specially in the face.’
They could say what they liked, she didn’t care, after what she’d been through it was all just water off a ducks back anyway.
She looked skyward, sighing and wishing things were different. She thought about her boys and sighed again. She was worried about Mark, worried about how reserved he’d become, so outwardly calm yet so angry inside. She knew he blamed her for everything, especially his father leaving, knew that he had never forgiven her, probably never would, but how could she ever tell him the truth? It was best that he hated her instead. He was too fragile to live with the truth, it would push him over the edge again and as he teetered on it most of the time these days anyway that was a risk she just couldn’t take.
‘Best get these carrots over to Grampa Neil’s house,’ she said as if to Spike but mainly to no-one, ‘Don’t want them city folks complaining they got nothing to eat and not paying the rent again now do we.’
Spike as usual said nothing, preferring instead to scratch his head against the hairy stalk of the nearest rhubarb plant. She could certainly grow fruit and veg all right that Mrs O’Grady and aint that the truth. Just as well, thought Spike, what with all that trouble someone had to keep him in cat food.
Mark pushed his glasses back up his nose, a habit he didn’t even know he had. God he was bored. Bored, bored, bored. What the hell was there to do in this God-forsaken place, this stupid little village in the middle of nowhere? He couldn’t wait to leave, to go somewhere bigger, better, brighter; he didn’t care where, just away from here, away from her, away from everything. He wanted to go and find his father, to tell him he was sorry for what he did, to try and make him love him again and let him stay with him for ever and ever.
It wasn’t really his fault anyway, it was Bobby’s fault, it was all Bobby’s fault, but he knew it didn’t look that way from what his Da could see and his Mam hadn’t let him explain it, wouldn’t even tell him where his Da had gone. All she’d said when Mark woke up was Da was gone and he want never coming back and make no mistake.
Mark’s right foot started to itch and as he bent down to scratch it he was surprised for a milli-second, as he quite often was that his right foot was no longer there. His left foot wasn’t there either, nor were his legs below the knee. Gone but not forgotten his Mam always said when he told her they were itching again.
‘Fuck, fuck, fuck,’ he screamed as he rocked back and forward in his wheelchair trying to stop the memories coming, but nothing would stop them, not the drugs or the pain or the denial. Nothing.
He rocked again and twisted in torment as his mind took him back to that fateful day, back to the day that changed his world and put him in this God-forsaken contraption.
Mark gave into it now and let the memory wash over him,
‘Maybe this time I’ll wake up and it will all just be a dream, just a terrible nightmare that never really happened.’
‘But I can fly Marky, honest I can. I aint telling no lies, promise. I just aint never done it from this high up before.’
Mark swore under his breath as he caught his trousers on the side of the attic window, watching helplessly as his pocket money fell out of his ripped pocket and rolled off the edge of the roof.
‘Well I don’t believe you Bobby and there’s only one way to prove it, so either you’ve got no reason to be scared or you’re a big fat liar like I thought.’
He had pushed Bobby through the attic window ahead of him and watched intently as Bobby peeked over the edge.
‘Please Marky, I’ll show you down by the shed off the bench like I’ve been practicing, but I’m scared up here, it’s too high, I’m too scared to do it, please Marky,’
Marky just looked through him like he always did and took a cautious glance over the edge. He could see his Mam and Da down below, way down there on the ground like little human dolls. Even though they were so far away he could still hear them arguing, snippets of their conversation caught on the wind and drifted up above his head,
‘Please Darren,’ his Mam pleaded, ‘I won’t know how to tell them….’
‘Stupid woman, this is all your fault this is, why could you not have turned a blind eye this time like you’ve done for the past ten bloody years?’
They were always at it these days, Mam and Da, always arguing and shouting and slamming doors. Mark blamed Bobby, it had only been like this since Bobby had come along, back when there was only the three of them it had been perfect.
Mark looked at Bobby now, snivelling and pathetic as he hugged the chimney, hating him for just being born.
‘Come on you big fat baby, prove it, prove you can fly or I aint never gonna talk to you again ever cause you’re a big fat liar.’
Bobby stopped crying, wiped the snot on the sleeve of his cardigan and stared at Mark with his big watery eyes.
‘Okay I’ll do it,’ he said, ‘As long as you promise you won’t be mean to me no more and say I is a liar.’
Mark looked over the edge again, it really was a long way down and of course he wasn’t gonna make Bobby do it, he was just sick of his baby brother getting all the attention, sick of his whining and sick of the way their Da ruffled his hair and not Mark’s anymore. It had got worse since Grampa Neil had died. Mark knew he had always been Grampa Neil’s favourite and when he’d been around Mark hadn’t felt so alone, so left out and so unloved. He blamed Bobby for that too. Grampa Neil wouldn’t have had that heart attack if Bobby hadn’t a made him play Cowboys with him. That was Mark’s game anyway and he would never a made Grampa Neil climb up the ladder to save a stupid bird’s nest just cause he’d hit it with his rope.
Mark could hear his Mam and Da still arguing, ‘stupid woman indeed,’ he thought. If she had never gone and got herself knocked up with bloody Bobby then everything would still have been perfect. No Bobby equalled no arguing, no sharing Da and no dead Grampa. God how he hated him.
Mark turned and watched Bobby shuffling towards the edge, watched as Bobby took a deep breath and held his arms out wide. He hated him alright but he didn’t want him dead, he just wanted to teach him a lesson and remind him who was boss.
Just as he was about to tell Bobby he believed him and he didn’t have to prove it, tell him he knew he wasn’t lying cause he’d seen him in the back garden floating in the wind like he didn’t weigh a thing, he heard the slap. He looked down and saw his Da’s startled expression, saw his Mam clutch her hand to her mouth and wail through her fingers. His Da rubbed at the side of his face and went to turn away but something above him caught his eye. Mark followed his gaze just as Bobby stepped off the edge.
‘NOOOOOOOO,’ Mark screamed as he reached out to grab him, managing only to grasp the cuff of Bobby’s sweater and losing his footing all at the same time. Mark tumbled after Bobby through the air, wondering if this is what it felt like to fly, landing on the ground in a crumpled, twisted heap on top of his little brother.
After that there was nothing, not for a long time, just black and space and nothing until Mark woke up to the pain and the guilt and the hate.
‘Look Grampa, look, look, it’s Mam, I can see Mam and Spike in the vegetable patch.’
‘So it is son, but it’s getting late, we’ve gotta go before the light fades.’
‘But why do we have to go? Why can’t we go home and see Mam and Marky and Spike? I miss them Grampa, I aint seen them for like ever, not proper like, not to talk to and to hug and to love. And Da, I miss him too and Steven wot I haven’t even met proper yet but like we seen on the beach that time and Da told him all about me and I don’t even know nothing about him cept he loved my Da for a long, long time and my Da says he loves him too and will stay with him for ever and ever. ’
‘I know Bobby, but I’ve explained all that, we can see them but they can’t see us, remember?’
‘I remember Grampa, but sometimes it makes me sad cause I miss them, but I know I’ll get to see them all again proper one day, when they’re in heaven too that is. I suppose being an angel aint so bad, at least you get to fly and flying’s the best. Wheeeeee. Comon slow coach I’ll race you to the gates…..wheeeeeee.’