One day after school, the girl handed something to the boy. It was a small something loosely wrapped in white shoebox tissue. She didn’t say anything as she thrust it into his hands, head bowed, eyes peeking behind picket fence fringe. He took it, and she took a step back, interlocked her hands behind her and found a nervy tap for her right foot. The boy peeled the small something open. It was one of the troll-like dolls won at the fairground if the wooden hoop lands clean over the square block, at least that was the boy’s first thought. The troll-like doll had bug eyes and straw-scraggy hair and carried a placard with I’m Blue Without You written on it.
The boy stared at it a while, then mumbled something that the girl wished had been something more, something else.
The girl wiped her eyes, and, in a voice close to breaking, said: Maybe see you tomorrow.
Okay, replied the boy.
He hid the troll-like doll in a cupboard behind some half-empty bottles. He wondered how close I’m Blue Without You was to I Love You.
The father found the troll that evening, and said it was nothing but soppy nonsense. He asked the boy where he got it, and was not slow to air his disapproval of the girl once he was told her name and where she lived. He said she was dirty, that the family was dirty, and the boy got all in a muddle trying to think what he meant by it. But it wasn’t the father’s words that led to the boy distancing himself from the girl; he’d just never known how to let the light in.
The boy discovered the budgerigar lying on its side, stone dead. The father said it must have eaten the newspaper that lined the bottom of the cage. The father saw upset in the boy, and said they could bury it in the garden if he wanted to, but like most things he said trying to sound kind, the way he said it sounded like he didn’t mean it, so the boy said he’d do it himself, and the father shrugged an okay and said nothing as he left the house. The boy whispered the first verse from Morning Has Broken as he sprinkled earth over the body; that being the only hymn-not-hymn whose words he could remember from assembly at school. He disliked the song, but knew that you had to say something when you bury the dead; otherwise you leave an emptiness that can never be filled.
The boy painted the walls of his bedroom black. He pierced his ears with a safety pin and wore silver hoops in them even as they got infected. He sat in his room smoking twenty a day and listening to loud angry three-chord music. Of course the father minded, but he pretended not to.
The boy became a man and went on his way. For many years neither knew much of the goings on in the other’s life; and neither minded it being so. Then, as is the way when there are newborns or deaths to celebrate or mourn, the boy and father crossed paths once again. They took a step closer, shook hands, and talked as strangers do. It was a start.
One day, the father asked the boy to help him in his garden; the wooden fence-posts had rotted away and needed replacing. The father was now an old man, and not as strong as he once was. The boy was now a man, and more understanding of forgiveness than he once was. The boy followed the father’s instruction as best he could, as unlike the father, he was never one so good with his hands that he could be called a man’s man. Whilst resting, and to break an uncomfortable silence, he asked the father about days gone by. The father smiled, and said: Remember every Sunday in summer we would pack up the hamper and drive down to the coast. Remember the time at the horses when you picked the winner of every race. Remember the boat trip along the river when you nearly fell in… We had some great times back then, didn’t we?
The boy remembered none of this, but pretended that he did… and from somewhere far away, the mother watched on.
Lee Hamblin is from the UK, now living in Greece where he teaches yoga. Short stories published in FlashBack Fiction, MoonPark Review, formercactus, Reflex, Ellipsis, Fictive Dream, Atlas and Alice, Spelk, F(r)online, and other places. He tweets @kali_thea and you can find links to his stories here: hamblin1.wordpress.com.