The Angel's Head: Chapter 6 -- The Crescent

Chapter 6 -- The Crescent

Margaret Nuttall was weeping. Not crying like a child with a grazed knee, but proper grown-up weeping. Andrew watched her for a while then put his hand on top of both of her’s clasped tight together on the kitchen table. At this she broke the grip of her own hands and sandwiched Andrew's between them, giving it a squeeze that wasn't quite painful.

'It's alright Ma,' Andrew said quietly. He had been saying this a lot lately. Usually she was like this when Dad disappeared. He would show up with flowers or something and everything would be great for a few days, then it would all go wrong and few weeks later, he would be gone. The time he was at home seemed to growing shorter with each return. Andrew wasn’t sure that he would be back any time soon. He wasn’t sure either whether he wanted him back.

This time though, the crying wasn’t anything to do with his Dad. This time it had been going on for the month since his brother Conor had come back. Andrew thought it was brilliant that Conor was home. Andrew had been the one who had pleaded with Ma to let Conor back in the house. She had called him all sorts: “disgrace”, and “shame on the family” were her current favourites.

It had been the worst when the Police started making regular visits. They said they were just making routine checks. Conor had called them “pigs” but the two policemen who kept showing up seemed nice enough to Andrew. Then, when one of them had scruffed up his hair and asked if Andrew was going to grow up to be like his brother, Ma had gone screaming mental. Even the policemen knew not to mess with her when she was like that. They had disappeared fast. Andrew left too, taking his younger brothers with him. They stayed out of the house for a couple of hours but Conor didn't come back for a week. Even though it wasn't Conor's fault exactly, he knew well enough when to keep out of the way. The police stopped visiting after that too - probably for the same reason.

Andrew didn't know why Ma had got so angry. He liked the idea of being like his older brother. Maybe not the prison part, he didn't want that, but he did want the motorbike and the leather jacket and the way that girls seemed to smile and giggle when Conor was around.It was as if he collected a tankful of every nasty insult and swearword that he had ever heardAndrew also liked the way other kids whispered about his brother. Actually they seemed to whisper about the whole family. He was one of the Nuttalls and the Nuttalls were the best. Andrew knew that he had the toughest brother around, but never once had he said “I'll get my big brother on to you”. Andrew was tough enough to look after himself.

He didn't need anyone to stick up for him but that didn't mean he wouldn't stick up for the rest of his family. He was always having to look after his two younger brothers. They got into trouble so much. Sometimes it seemed like it was every day. Maybe it was because he always looked after them no matter what, and they knew it. Was that why the two of them had such big mouths?

Frankie was the youngest but he was the worst. He was only eight years old and Ma had washed his mouth out with soap more than once this week. It was as if he collected a tankful of every nasty insult and swearword that he had ever heard, then just let them gush out whenever something annoyed him. Johnny was a year older and a bit quieter than Frankie, but he had this way of saying exactly the wrong thing, or rather exactly the right thing – if what you wanted to do was start a fight.

With their hand-me-down clothes and market shoes, they wore a uniform as much as the posh school ties and blazers of the AvenueAndrew hadn't really meant to form a gang. It was just that, with the help of his brothers, he kept getting into scrapes. They seemed to be a magnet for trouble from the stuck up kids on the hill. The best defence for the Crescent kids was to stick together and in that way the gang formed gradually without Andrew having to do any organising. Every time there was a fight, the kids from around would turn up to watch and the ones who looked like the Nuttalls would be on their side. With their hand-me-down clothes and market shoes, they wore a uniform as much as the posh school ties and blazers of the Avenue.

Andrew smiled. Calling them “posh” was Johnny's favourite way to insult the Avenue lot, especially the fat one with the flash bike. That was how he had got thumped in the first place, and when Andrew had got them back by doing a bit of thumping of his own, it wasn't long before there were two definite gangs with a reason to fight.

'You're a good boy.' Mrs Nuttall gave her son's hand a squeeze then she let go, stood up and brushed imaginary crumbs from her skirt. 'Tea's nearly ready. Will you be calling in your brothers from the garden?'

'Yes Ma.'

'And make sure they wash their hands. I don't know why I let them talk me into getting that Ferret. It's a stinking wee rat and no mistake. If any of you knew how to catch rabbits with it, then it might have some use.'

'Yes Ma.' Andrew shrugged. He liked the Ferret with its pale yellow fur and bright red eyes. He didn't even mind the way it smelled. It lived at the back of Dad's old shed so it wasn't as if she ever went in there anyway.

it was Mouse who took charge of actually getting the Angel up into the high branches of the Citadel'Well, go on then.' Andrew slipped quickly out of the back door. He knew that his Ma could switch from weeping to raging at the slightest push and he wasn't going to be the one to do it.

Jimbo and the Youngest were having a great time. As the smallest kids in the gang, they had been chosen by Mouse to be the “ropemen”. That's what he had called it anyway. Even though it had been the Youngest's idea and it was the Eldest that gave the orders, it was Mouse who took charge of actually getting the Angel up into the high branches of the Citadel.

The plan was simple. They had used the same method to pull the timber and wire frame into the tree to build the Citadel in the first place. Jimbo climbed up with a coil of thin nylon string. It was the Youngest's job to help him, even though he didn't really need any help. Then they attached the thicker rope to that. Purr-man had borrowed the big coil of rope from his Dad's garage. The thick rope was long enough to go over one of the big branches and back down to the ground so they could all help pull up the Angel, placed in a thick canvas bag, from the ground. Jimbo had volunteered to climb up with the marble head in the bag strapped to his shoulder. Mouse refused.

'It's not that you're not strong enough. It's just that I don't trust some of those nails to take your weight.'

The Eldest grinned when he heard Mouse say this. He didn't want to put Jimbo off from taking these sorts of risks, but then again, he didn't want to be picking bits of his brain out the undergrowth either.

The Eldest had helped to hammer those nails in. It was partly his work that had turned a tall and featureless tree trunk into secret and daunting spiral ladder. He hadn't been called “The Eldest” then, just “Turner”. The last gang leader had given up being The Eldest soon after his fifteenth birthday. He had found meetings less interesting than spending his evenings in the bus shelter tangled up with Beccy Murgatroyd or sharing a plastic bottle of cider with the other older lads.

The Eldest had no intention of wasting his time like that but he was worried that soon, the nails in the tree wouldn't be strong enough to hold him. He was growing so fast. School was starting again soon and there was no way he would be able to wear last year's blazer. When he showed his Mum she had laughed and then pretended to be cross at how much it was all going to cost. They could afford it alright but it still meant a boring day shopping. His Mum could fuss so much it was like being attacked by kindly wasps. She had started insisting that he had a bath or a 'proper wash ' every day. The Eldest hadn't argued but he would have been happy with the Sunday night soak that had always signalled the end of the weekend.

Since he had made his first climb to the Citadel, the Youngest had been up there four more times. Jimbo had gone with him, happy to help him practice. They made it up to the platform quickly. The Youngest swung around the last branch easily with excitement instead of fear. Well, maybe a little bit of fear, but mainly because he didn't want to look clumsy or useless to the rest of the gang watching below.

Then they were engulfed by the soft green light, standing on the scuffed boarding of their kingdom. The Youngest looked around at the at the five large branches that split from the trunk at that point and realised that the tree reminded him of an arm reaching up. The Citadel was positioned in the palm of the cupped hand, and then the fingers stretched upwards. When the Youngest made this connection, his sense of being held and protected seemed stronger. He loved it up here. It was his place.

More about the author

About the author

Russell McAlpine abandoned his polymath ambitions to concentrate on writing and living a quiet life on the South Coast.

The Angel’s Head is his second novel.

He is also working on the screen play of a low budget zombie movie for children and writes poetry that will go to grave with him.

He spends the rest of his spare time watching the horizon.

Follow Russell on Twitter.

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