FICTION: The Statue, a short story about boyhood

So that was how it ended. With a turned back and swallowed tears and a tiny no-longer-beating heart.

How it began was another thing entirely, a thing with fur and teeth and needle-sharp claws. With stolen pennies. With a homesickness for mountains. And with expletives thrown at freshly-washed laundry.

"Bastard tea towel."

A hand rummaging in a basket of wooden pegs.

"Buggering shirt. You bugger."

Victor sat on the front step, the stone warming his
behind through the thin cotton of his shorts, and picked at
the scab on his knee. He watched Old Daphne through his fringe. She shook out a pair of damp dark jeans,snapping them into the air in front of her as if warding off demons,and pegged them out on the line that stretched above her.

"Bloody, bastard trousers."

She addressed each piece of clothing as she hung them up, berating each for their crimes. Finally, draping the sleeves of a wine-red cardigan over the line ("Arsing cardi"), she wiped her hands on her hips. She picked up the empty basket and as she turned to go threw a brilliant smile over her shoulder to Victor, who acknowledged it by looking away, back towards the admonished clothes that swayed and cooled in the breeze. OldDaphne’s door slammed.

Victor got up and walked down the garden path, digging in his pocket to make sure the money was there. Out of the gate and down the road, only looking back once to see whether he
was noticed. His mother, though, would be asleep in her darkened room, one arm thrown over her eyes, even this late in the morning when others were taking their children for ice cream and strolling through the park. She wouldn’t notice he was gone.

As he walked he thought about Old Daphne's anger at her husband's clean clothes, wondered whether this was something that often happened in this new place where he knew no one, where the food was bland and heavy and there were no purple-heathered mountains on the horizon.

***

A high blue sky hung over the park and the gargoyles that sat coiled on top of the iron gate watched the boy's entrance, as they always did, saw his face, eager and hunting, as it always was in that place. They did not turn to look as he walked below them and into the park for they knew in their black hearts without looking that he was headed, as he always was, towards the fountain in the centre.

***

Crouched beneath the stone folds of her robe he found it.

"Hello," he said, and knelt on the dusty path.


A pair of unblinking yellow eyes stared at him from the shadows underneath the statue of the Sea Queen as she sat on her immense spiralled seashell, her trident held aloft and crowned with a diadem of crab claws and tiny starfish. Her long neck bent forward and she gazed into the dark water that surrounded her.

The boy had found this place the day they moved to the town, five months ago, and had talked with the Sea Queen every day since. The orange kitten that lived among her cold skirts had shown itself after a few days more,though it was wild and would not come near. He spoke to the Sea Queen each day he visited while he waited for the animal to creep out from its den of marbled seaweed and anemones. He would tell her of the golden eagles that drifted on the mountain top currents where he was from. Of the striped wild cats that haunted the moorlands there, of his wish to have one of his own, the only wish he really had. Although now he had another. To be back there, away from this dry, dusty place of tall buildings and closed faces.

He would be a statue from now on, hard and unblinking as the Sea Queen in the fountain

He held out the scrap of good ham he had bought with
money that wasn't his. The cat was used to him by now but its paws still tested each step with care, its nose questing towards the boy, whiskers quivering. Soon it tottered out from the shadows and went straight to the boy’s hand. He held the meat as the cat gnawed on it, passed his other hand gently, slowly under the cat as it ate -- stay here, stay with me -- and scooped it slowly into his arms. The kitten did not protest but finished its meal, licked its nose and whiskers and curled up under the boy’s arm. He smiled and unzipped his jacket, tucking the tiny creature into him,folding its tail against its body and marvelling at it. The heat of its belly, the flutter of heart against fragile ribs.

"There. There you are now."

He stroked the kitten under its orange chin and a trembling shook it. The kitten was purring. The boy's eyes stung for a moment as he watched the little cat's eyes close.

"Shall we go home?"

***

"I told you. Time and time again."

The boy folded in on himself, gathered himself around the sleeping cat. He stared at the floor of his mother's room, the weft and warp of the turquoise rug, the balled tissues that 
lay there.

"No pets, I said, and especially no cats. I've told you. Why don't you listen to me?"

She sighed and brought her eyebrows together as a shadow of pain passed across her face.

"Why doesn't anyone ever listen to me?”

She turned towards the wall and said nothing more. Her shoulders and curled back told the boy all he needed to know, spoke loudly in the silence of the room, stopped the words in his throat and clenched a hard hand around his heart.

He would be a statue from now on, hard and unblinking as the Sea Queen in the fountain. He clutched the sleeping cat into his chest and went down to the garden. The sky was empty. The drying clothes drooped on the line as if taking to heart the words thrown at them earlier. Victor knelt and set the kitten on the warm grass,leaned his face into the down warm fur. The animal crouched and sniffed at the white flowers, at the line of ants that marched down the path, at Victor’s fingers as they stroked its silken head, its soft neck. He could feel the strings of its throat vibrate through his fingertips and as he began to squeeze he saw the eagles again, circling against the clouds, the striped cats walking away from him into the felten grey hills of home.

***

Justine's first novel, Advice for Strays, is available at Amazon or The Book Depository. Her Tumblr is fun and you can follow her on Twitter @sniffyjenkins

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