I’ve been a bit slow to add this story to the site, for reasons that will be explained in Pangolin Issue 6. It is a bit dated now, but was my first success in an open writing competition – ‘Silver Threads’ – run by People in Action, a Leeds charity, to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2008.
“479, 313, 821, that’s ten in twenty three minutes, thirty-five seconds,” I say to Dad, as he drives his car along the main road to the seaside.
“Excellent, well done,” says Dad.
It is going to be a good day. I have just broken my previous record for the first ten three digit prime numbers on car number plates. Now I will have to move on to working out a mathematical link between the first two letters and the first two numbers of each registration number that I see.
I had let myself out of the house when Dad came to pick me up, Mum waved to me from her bedroom window. Dad said we were going to look for the silver-studded blue. I said that was OK. He asked me how my week had been. I said it was alright. We set off.
The ‘silver-studded blue’, like the ‘silver-washed fritillary’, is a silly name. There is no silver on them, they are silver-coloured. You cannot wash things in silver, unless it is very hot, which would certainly kill a butterfly. A blue cannot have silver studs, it would not be able to fly. Things should be called what they are. Cream crackers, silverfish, willy are all on my list of silly words. This list has six hundred and seven words in it, so far.
It is the same with make-up. People should look as they are. They should not pretend to be something different. All the girls in my class wear make-up when they can, except for Amy. I like to look at Amy. She does not like me to look at her.
“Don’t stare,” she says.
Sometimes she swears at me. I still like to look at Amy. I would like to have sex with Amy. Mum’s man friend Gary has a silver stud in his left ear, I am not sure about jewellery. It is not the same as make-up. I am not sure about Gary. He has lived with Mum and me for three years. They have had a baby together. She is called Abbie. She is very small and she cries a lot. I don’t like it when she cries.
Mum says I should practice making conversation. She says that with my brain I should be able to learn some small talk. The girls in school don’t use the same words as Mum does. They just laugh at me. Dad’s not much help. Mum says he is on the spectrum. Dad says I should learn some jokes. I tried a few of Dad’s jokes at school. Nobody laughed at the jokes. When I looked up ‘small talk’ on Google, I discovered that it was a computer language. I have taught myself ‘Smalltalk’ but this is not what Mum wanted.
Today is going to be a good day. I have put on my I-Pod and am listening to music composed by J.S.Bach. Dad switches on the radio. By the time my music finishes we have turned off the main road, onto a lane that leads to a car park at the top of the cliffs. We have been here before, on July 17th 2005. There is a blue Nissan Micra and a red Ford Focus there. A woman with purple hair is putting on her walking boots at the back of the Micra. She waves to us as we arrive. I do not wave back. She sets off along the path. Dad checks his bag.
“Have you got enough water?” Dad asks, “It’s going to be hot.”
“I’ve got one point eight decilitres,” I say. “It’s still cool.”
“Have you got your pack-up?”
“Yes,” I say, “Two ham in Mighty White bread and a Granny Smith apple.”
“You should try something different one day.”
“Why?” I reply.
There is no answer to that. Dad starts to put on his walking boots. I have my trainers on already. I put on my baseball cap and go to look at the sea. There is a warm breeze. I can hear the breakers down below and the skylarks up above. I like the smell of the sea.
We walk quickly along the narrow path. I am almost as tall as Dad now. Our feet are the same size. We both like to walk fast. After one thousand three hundred and twenty two double paces Dad looks around at the vegetation and feels the wind direction with a wet finger.
“This looks like a good place for base camp,” he announces. He takes off his rucsac and I take off mine. We eat our sandwiches, I save my apple for later.
Two people pass by. One of them says “Hi!”
The other says, “Sun’s hot isn’t it?”
“Yes it is,” I say, “that’s because it is a huge thermonuclear reaction.”
“Thanks for that,” he says, as he walks past.
“You’re welcome,” I reply, trying some small talk.
After lunch, Dad shows me the picture of the silver-studded blue. We set off in different directions. The yellow gorse flowers have a sweet smell that bees like but I don’t. I go over the heather towards the edge of the cliff. There is the same probability of me seeing the silver-studded blue if I stay in one place or if I move around, so I find somewhere to look down at the sea and watch out for butterflies at the same time. I like to look at the sea. I like the way the light reflects off the waves. I like to think about all the water covering the planet and how the gravity of the moon makes the tides move.
On the stony beach thirty-five metres below me I see the woman with purple hair. I do not know how she got there. The cliff is very steep. She is lying flat on her front on a green mat. She has no clothes on, they are in a pile next to her. She is reading a book. I see a Wall, three Six-Spotted Burnets but no Blues. After twenty minutes, she turns onto her back, she is wearing sun-glasses. A pair of peregrine falcons flaps high into the sky, squawking, and then dive on a rock pigeon, which they kill. The woman sits up to look at them. She puts on her flip-flops and walks to the edge of the water. She wades out into the sea and starts swimming. The peregrines take off again. I watch them swooping and climbing, flapping and gliding. “Free as a bird.” I lie on my back in the heather.
Dad calls for me, as he strides over the hill, with his camera round his neck and his tripod over his right shoulder. I sit up.
“Hello Dad, did you find any?”
“No, but I got a really good picture of an Orange Tip so I’m not too disappointed. I’m not sure the Silver-Studded Blues are here any more, the last sighting was three years ago.”
He looks at the water below and says,
“What’s that in the sea?”
I stand up and look down.
“It’s the woman from the car park, she’s swimming.”
We watch her for a short time. She gets out of the water. She rubs her eyes. She looks at us, shakes her fist and shouts. She puts on her flip-flops in a hurry. She runs towards her clothes. She falls over. She gets up and rubs her knee. She shouts again.
“Oh dear,” says Dad, “I think we had better be going.”
We walk very quickly back to the car park. My Dad jogs for part of the way, with his tripod in the bag banging against his back.
“What’s the hurry?” I ask.
“That woman’s not a happy bunny,” puffs Dad.
“She’s not a bunny Dad, was that a joke?”
“It’s no joke Adam, just get in the car.”
I eat my apple in the car on the way back. I do not look at car number plates. On return journeys I usually count up makes of car, but today I am trying to think of what to say to Mum when I get back. It is very hot.
“Can we stop for an icecream, Dad?”
“You can have one when you get home, have some water.”
I look at the speedometer. “The car is going too fast, Dad.”
“Sorry Adam, I don’t know what’s got into me.”
“Sandwiches, don’t you remember?”
“Forget it, Adam.”
Dad turns on the radio and listens to the football.
When we get to my house, Mum’s bedroom curtains are still closed.
“I had better be going,” says Dad.
“Why not stay for a cup of tea?”
“Alright then, but I don’t want to disturb your Mum if she’s resting.”
I unlock the back door, put on the kettle and get a ‘Solero’ out of the freezer. It is three twenty-six in the afternoon. I can hear my Mum laughing and screaming at the same time. I don’t think she is resting. I make a mug of tea for Dad. His face is red.
“Are you too hot Dad?”
“No I’m fine.”
Abbie starts to cry. I hear footsteps across the landing. There is a sound of splashing water, somebody is in the shower. After a few minutes, I hear footsteps coming downstairs. Dad stares at his tea while he stirs it. Mum opens the kitchen door. She has the baby in her arms. Mum is wearing her pink dressing gown. Abbie is making grumpy noises. Mum’s face goes very red. She pulls her dressing gown round her.
“Hello boys, you’re back early, anything the matter?” she says, quietly.
“Not really,” says Dad, “it was a beautiful day but …”
“Where’s my babe?” shouts Gary, running down the stairs.
He bumps into Mum as he comes through the door. He is wet all over. He puts his blue towel round his middle.
“Careful, tiger,” says Mum, “I almost dropped her.”
“Hi guys,” says Gary, “how’s your day, did you find what you were looking for?”
“I had a good day,” I reply. “We didn’t find what we were looking for, but we did see a Purple Hairstreak, didn’t we Dad?”
“Nice one Adam,” says Dad.
© David Cundall