1 Oct

I’m re-editing this story, changing bits and pieces here and there and adding to it. So this is a new chapter, and it fits between “The Girl Next Door” and “The Gentle Friend”. The whole story is intended to be an exaggerated account of the malign influence of some parents on their young.

Bernard couldn’t help it. His mind raced back to the teenage years when he’d stood there with his awful mother, soaking for a moment the minute amount of maternal affection that she’d shown him.

To start with the girl next door had almost intrigued him. Almost, but not quite. The careful conditioning by his parents had moulded him until the kind word to describe him would be misogynist. He had been taught to be too aware of the evil of her gender and the wanton things she would want to do to any lad she caught in her spidery web to be properly intrigued by her. But he did feel something, maybe a sort of curiosity, maybe the need to have his own teenage reactions modified by what was becoming a new understanding of himself.

“But you can’t change the past,” he whispered to himself.

“The past is immutable,” agreed the Devil, who’d heard him. “Remember the fish and chips?”

And he did, the moment the words were out. The fish and chips they never had. And to help him the mirror cleared and he saw himself again. It was a different day, he was wearing last year’s school uniform, which meant it wasn’t a school day … all he’d had back then had been school clothes. His parents hadn’t been poor, but they hadn’t particularly liked him or ever wanted him, which he supposed had made them mean. So his casual weekend clothes consisted of worn-out school uniforms from previous years, and often they were a little on the snug side as well as getting tatty.

“You’re to go to get the fish and chips,” his mother said, handing him a ten shilling note. “And I want the change, all the change. No sneakily stealing the odd penny like you boys do!”

He never had, but then she must have known that and anyway he was tired of protesting his innocence of imagined crimes. It happened too often.

“Have you taken that new packet of biscuits?” she would ask on random occasions. And of course he hadn’t. Why should he do that, risk his place in Eternity at the side of his sacred Lord just because he wanted a packet of biscuits.

“No,” he would reply. “You’re holding them in your hand. Why would you blame me when you’ve not even lost them?”

And she would swipe him with something for his cheek. His innocence was cheek. Or it was dumb insolence if he remained quiet, and that would earn a swipe too.

He saw himself take the ten shilling note and set off down the road to the fish and chip shop. He knew what he was to get all right. Three fish and a shilling’s worth of chips, and there would be change from ten shillings. It was the same every Saturday, fish and chips for lunch because he wasn’t at school where he had school meals and mother (mummy) was too busy to peel potatoes or cook anything herself. Of course she was! She had one of her committees to worry about, little children in a far land dying of so many diseases he’d long ago lost count of them or animals in that same far land being hunted to extinction by greedy killers who needed to learn the meaning of extinction before it was too late. So he had to get fish and chips while she wrote letters to members of Patliament about the atrocities in far off lands.

Anyway, it hadn’t mattered. He liked fish and chips. It was much better than the thin stews she sometimes prepared herself when she could find the time.

Or when she could be bothered!

The looking-glass was brighter than usual. It was a gorgeous autumn day … there were loads of scurrying piles of dead leaves recently fallen from the few trees that lined the road. And he felt cheerful for once. The teenage Bernard was normally a stranger to good cheer.

“Bernard,” came the girl’s voice, and that spoilt everything.

Somehow she’d learned his name, though he didn’t know hers. He’d never spoken to her. You didn’t speak to girls, not if his mother was likely to find out … and anyway he didn’t want to. He believed what he’d been told and chose to ignore any evidence to the contrary that came his way.

And here she was calling him by name.

He turned to face her. What else could he do? He could hardly pretend he hadn’t heard her and ignoring her would be as rude as he’d been told she was. So he turned to face her.

“They said your name was Bernard,” she said.

Had that voice sounded sweet and innocent and music to his ears and totally captivating or had it been filthy, reprehensible and tarnished by the original sin piled onto humanity when Eve had stolen the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden?

It had sounded sweet enough. And the mouth that uttered the words smiled, the eyes were bright and the hair clean and fragrant. At least, he thought the hair was fragrant.

The voice that called him by his name hadn’t sounded evil. There didn’t seem to be even an undertone of sin in it.

Anyway, what did sin sound like? Was it devious, kindly words designed to lure him into a sense of false security followed by some fiendish and filthy assault on his genitals by fingers willing to grasp and torment? Mummy (that’s what he’d called her) had warned him many times that girls only wanted that one thing, to acquaint themselves with his private parts and by so doing condemn him to an eternity in Hell when his time for the Afterlife came. It’s how they manipulated the sin started by Eve, with nasty, greedy, diseased sex.

“Is that right? Are you Bernard?” she asked, smiling brightly.

He watched himself as he nodded dumbly. He looked what he was, an ignorant fool way out of his depth in the presence of girls. It was only natural. Now he was at secondary school he went to a boys only school and the nearest girls’ school was a couple of streets away. He never saw any girls. Never spoke to any, never played with any.

“I’m Susan,” she said. “Are you going to the chip shop?”

Again he nodded dumbly.

I looked such a fool. How could anyone have taken me seriously, last year’s school uniform instead of play clothes and so tongue-tied that even now, in this Afterlife, I can feel myself squirming.

“I’ll come with you then. My mum says you look like a decent boy. She says some boys are after only one thing, but you look all right, not that it really matters what parents think. Don’t you agree? You can hold my hand if you want to,” she said in a single torrent of words, and that smile of hers was … treacherous?

It looked quite sweet. It really did. And pretty. She had a pretty smile, even he could see that. But hold hands? He felt those same hands sweating as a kind of irrational fear grabbed him. He needed to get away from her. Now, this instant, before she touched him anywhere.

My trousers are old and at least two of the fly buttons are missing, the Bernard in front of a celestial looking-glass thought. I thought she would take advantage of me. I thought she would touch me … there.

The dead Bernard cringed when he saw the way he’d been.

Susan. Such a pretty girl with gorgeous hair and wonderful eyes, staring at him, suddenly confused by what he did next.

He turned and ran back home, without going to the fish and chip shop, without saying anything to her, without finding even a feeble excuse for being the way he was.

“I’m sorry, mummy,” he had wept when he slammed the door and cut out the world and its obnoxious girls, “the girl next door wanted to go with me. She wanted to hold my hand! I had to…”

And, out of the blue, “There, there, darling,” mummy had cooed, “of course you had to come home to mummy! Girls are wicked, you know that, so wicked a good boy could only do one thing and return home even though we’ll all go hungry today, with no fish and chips for lunch!”

© Peter Rogerson 1.10.16


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