At the Winchester Writers’ Conference in July 2012, I won first place in the ‘Slim Volume, Short Edition’ competition. The prize gave me the opportunity to have sixty copies of Four Buses printed. This is a collection of short stories and flash fiction and the piece below comes from this book. For further information about Four Buses, please click here.
You never know
Taking a break from pruning roses, I sit on the wall and study the street. The windows of the terraced houses stare over the cars parked bumper to bumper in the residential bays. The bloke that lives two doors along is washing his car, and he nods at me while he sloshes a bucket of clean water over, indicating that the job is done. A bee sounds in my ear then heads for the jasmine bush. I take off my gloves and enjoy the spring sunshine that chases over my arms.
Joel turns the corner into the street, his hair is a mass of dark curls and he’s clutching a large, rectangular object. I dread to think what he’s bought at the car-boot sale this week. Other kids spend their pocket money on sweets, but Joel’s into collecting. He thinks he’ll unearth a treasure that no-one else has spotted. I blame my mother: they spend too much time watching antique shows on afternoon TV when Joel’s supposed to be doing homework. But I can’t complain, she offers the childcare for love not money.
He’s got the edge of the painting balanced on his trainer and with each step he moves a little closer to home. I cross the road to help him, and he lets me take one end. It’s heavy, the frame is chipped and the canvass spotted with mould. We rest it against the wall and I take a step back to admire his purchase.
‘Hmm, is it a ship?’ I ask.
‘It’s a sailing boat out on a wild sea. There are waves blasting against the hull. See the mast leaning? It’s likely to be a painting of the Cutty Sark or some other important vessel.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Look at the frame.’ He points to the place where a label displays the artist’s name. ‘He’s got to be important with a name like War Wick.’ I laugh – Joel hasn’t learnt how to pronounce Warwick – and he stares at me accusingly.
‘That’s a giant-sized purchase you’ve made this week.’
‘I know.’ He widens his eyes giving a flash of blue and smiles. ‘I was lucky to get it.’
‘How much did it cost?’
‘Two pounds,’ he says. ‘A man tried to buy if off me once the deal was done. That must mean it’s a worth something. He offered me a fiver but I’d said he’d have to go higher than that.’
‘Are you sure he wasn’t being kind? Didn’t want you to be out of pocket with a dud?’
‘I don’t think so.’ His shoulders hunch and I wish I’d never shared my suspicion. ‘I thought we could put it in the lounge. It’s got a wire to hang it by and everything.’
I’m thrown by Joel’s suggestion. There’s no way I’m ruining the wallpaper to display that monstrosity.
‘Wouldn’t it be better in your room? I mean it is your special purchase after all.’
‘No.’ He stares at the painting. ‘I want to share it with you, Mum.’
‘You’re right, darling.’ I swallow my objections. ‘Perhaps we can find a place for it in the hall. Important paintings are usually hung above the stairs.’
‘D’you really think it’s important?’
‘It could be.’ I choke on my lies. ‘You never know.’
‘You’re right.’ He nods his head. ‘You never know.’