Alby Stone: Roger and Out

My friend Roger was a peculiar-looking boy with a head far too big for his body, silly short legs, and arms that hung to his knees and ended in hands that twitched and scrabbled like frightened crabs. He had thin, straggly ginger hair and a squint. He was run over by a lorry when he was nine after crossing a busy road without looking properly. Well, he did look but he wasn’t wearing his glasses. He hated wearing them because they were cheap and had really thick glass and people made fun of them, and his ginger hair. He probably didn’t even see the lorry coming until it hit him. It was a Thursday afternoon after school. Shane Russell in our class says he saw it happen. He reckons there was a right old mess, all over the road, blood and everything. I’m not sure whether to believe him, though. Shane’s dad lets him watch films about serial killers and cannibals and zombies and he’s always going on about blood and guts and people’s heads getting chopped off.

Poor Roger. Still, it was probably just as well, as his life hadn’t been much cop up to then and showed no sign of getting any better.

Does that sound callous? I’m sorry if it does. It wasn’t meant to be. Roger was my best friend and I was very sad when he died and missed him for ages. But that was a long time ago, nearly a whole year, and I’m moving on. I’m ten now. Roger would have been ten a couple of months before me but he’s dead. Does that mean he’s still older than me? Or is dead as old as you can get?

‘Moving on’ is something my mother says a lot, usually when she’s talking about my father. I’m not exactly sure what it means – something like ‘feeling better’, I think – but it sounds sensible and grown-up. Mum’s moved on from Dad, she says. She says it a lot. Sometimes I hear her saying it when she’s alone in the kitchen or the bathroom, or when she’s drinking wine. That’s usually just before she starts crying.

Roger’s moved on too. He doesn’t have to worry about his uncle now. Or the other kids at school, the big boys who hit him and stole his money and sweets or those girls who said nasty things to him. Or his father, who drank too much beer and hit him even worse than the boys at school did. The teachers weren’t very nice to him either. I don’t know what his uncle did because Roger only mentioned it once and wouldn’t talk about it after that. He just said it hurt a lot, then he went all quiet.

Mum says some very strange things sometimes. She reckons the trouble with Dad is that he lets his best friend do all his thinking for him. That was a big surprise. I didn’t even know Dad had a friend called Dick.

Last Friday I had to stay with Grandma because Mum went out with her friends. She phoned at about eleven o’clock to ask Grandma if I could stay there the night. When I went home the next morning she was in an awful mood. She kept complaining about a headache and when I went into the bathroom I could smell sick. I think she’d been drinking wine again. She’s done that a lot since Dad went and she always feels terrible afterwards. Dad used to drink beer sometimes and he usually came home singing and with a big, silly grin on his face. He was never nasty like Roger’s father. He must have been drinking different beer. Wine doesn’t seem to make Mum happy at all. I’m not going to drink wine or beer when I grow up. I don’t like the smell. Or being sick.

Later that afternoon her friend Rita phoned. Rita works in the same office as Mum. I only overheard a bit of the conversation but Mum was saying something about closure. I don’t know what closure is but it sounded like it was something to do with moving on, because she kept saying that too. She was also talking about Dick. I couldn’t work out what Dad’s best friend had to do with anything. I did find out that Dick’s a big bloke, though – much bigger than Dad, she said to Rita. Then she started complaining that he came a long time before she did. It was very confusing because she used to moan that Dad was always late for everything. You’d think she’d be pleased that Dick came so early. It shows he’s keen, doesn’t it? Honestly, there’s no pleasing some people. She sounded more upset than ever when she put the phone down.

I think I’m not supposed to know where Dad is these days, or what he’s doing. I did ask Mum once but she said he went wherever Dick pointed. Then she started crying and shouting about moving on again. Perhaps that’s why she won’t tell me about the postcards he sends me, the ones she puts in the recycling box. I only found out by accident, when I was looking for a comic she’d put in with the old newspapers by mistake. That was after she told me that about him and Dick. The postcard said he was OK and that he was travelling. It was from a place called Singapore, which is on an island quite near China. At least, it looks close in the atlas. After that I started checking the recycling regularly and found more. He sends me at least one every month. He’s been to Beijing, which is the capital city of China; Hong Kong, which is another island but this one is either part of China or very near. I read about it on Wikipedia but it seemed to be Chinese, British and independent all at once. Dad’s also been to Darwin and Sydney in Australia and Tokyo in Japan, and somewhere called Goa, which I think is in India. He also sent me a card from Thailand, a town called Phuket, which sounds rude but I don’t think you pronounce it that way. Sometimes I wish I could travel with him, then I wouldn’t have to listen to Mum whingeing about him and Dick all the time. But if I did that, who’d look after Mum?

I’m good at English, probably because I read a lot. Dad got me a big dictionary for my last birthday before he went. I know some good words. Roger was very good at geography. He could tell you the names of all the world’s capital cities, and what their money was called. He’d probably know all about Hong Kong. I wish he was still here. Losing him and Dad at the same time was very upsetting. Mum had taken me away to Grandma’s place for a couple of days because Dad had left us. If I’d been there to look after him, like I usually did on the way home from school, Roger probably wouldn’t have been run over.

Mum’s just been on the phone to Rita again. I think she may be going out again tonight. She told Rita that she’s been dreaming of Dick all week and can’t wait to get more of him. Then she started talking about moving on and closure again. I’m glad things are getting better for Mum. I just wish she’d pay me a bit more attention. She hardly talks to me nowadays except to complain about something I’ve done or haven’t done, and all I get to eat is cornflakes and microwaved ready-made meals from Tesco. She doesn’t even notice when my clothes need replacing. She used to really fuss over my appearance, said she didn’t want me showing her up by going around with my arse hanging out of my trousers. I’ve been telling her for the last few days that I need new shoes because the ones I have are too small for me now. They pinch my toes. And my legs are getting longer so my trousers are too short and you can see the tops of my socks. But she says I’ll have to wait until she can afford it, though she seems to have enough money to buy herself new clothes and make-up and bottles of wine.

I still don’t understand how she can be seeing so much of Dick when Dad is supposed to be following him around the world, or why she likes Dick so much if it was him that made Dad walk out. Mind you, I wonder if really she blames me for Dad going, because she says if it hadn’t been for me she would still have her figure and Dad wouldn’t have got a roving eye. I think that means he would have wanted to stay at home and not go travelling. So Dad’s leaving was my fault, really. And if I hadn’t ruined Mum’s figure and driven Dad away, I wouldn’t have been at Grandma’s house that day and I would have been there to keep Roger out of trouble. And Mum wouldn’t be talking about Dick all the time and getting so upset. So I feel guilty about – well, just about everything, I suppose.

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