What follows is something I have been working on as a result of an assignment for the degree last year. It is loosly based on my childhood although while some events actually happened (the opening scene, to my shame, is an example), I have fictionalised many others. Names, however, have been changed. I would love to know what readers think. For those international readers Shibden valley is in Yorkshire, England. Click the Shibden link within the text for more details.
#Shibden # Bradford #Yorkshire #Writing
‘Go on then, cut it.’
‘I will, just gis us a minute.’
‘You’re not scared are you.’
‘ Don’t be stupid Tip, it’s just a stupid bird.’
‘So what’s stopping you?’
‘I was just thinking.’
Death had been on my mind a lot the past year, even more so since Nan died five weeks ago. Death seemed to cling to me like that awful sticky willy, fern like plant found on the hillsides of Shibden Valley, its tacky leaves are a reminder of where we’ve been just as death reminds us of where we’re going.
‘Com’on Carrot, just do it. You want to find out don’t you?
‘It was my idea wasn’t it?
The dead blackbird now lay in a mass of plucked black and dark grey feathers spread over my desk. Some had fallen onto the previously clean carpeted floor of what was now my new bedroom since moving into Nan’s old house with our Adrian at the beginning of the Easter holidays. Mum thought it was a good idea because school was closer to where my Doris used to live and with my CSE’s looming I would be able to focus more, I have a tendency to drift off track and do other stuff, even in mid conversation I lose where I am and go off on a different subject. Dad would like to tell me I’m as focused as a fart. Mum, on the other hand, would jokingly suggest I’d be a procrastinator but I’d probably put that off too. It’s a big word for Mum, probably read it in a book somewhere or heard in a song, she’s always listening to music, ABBA, John Denver, Dolly Parton and other stuff. Often at home the sound of John Denver blasting through the house wakes me up and then there’s heard the irritated cry from mum as the needle sticks on the chorus of Aye Calypso causing the singer to have a pronounced stutter. Anyway, Doris was my late nan’s name. We were never allowed to call her ‘nan’ on account she thought she was too young at thirty five to be a grandma. So Doris it was. Granddad Gerald didn’t mind even though he was a similar age. He’d passed eight months earlier. Mum said Doris died of a broken heart as she couldn’t live without Granddad. Can you die of a broken heart? If that’s true I’ve been on the verge of death so many times. There’s this girl at school who breaks my heart every time I see her. Anyway, back up to Shibden, and Hillcrest estate, I went, to where I’d spent most of my childhood until mum and dad, on expecting my baby brother, decided we needed a bigger house and moved closer to Bradford. It was no trouble for me though, Shibden was always home. Never wanted to leave in the first place.
Tip placed his grubby, hardly ever washed fingers on the bird’s mustard yellow beak and prized the two rostrums apart (they were called rostrums according to the bird anatomy book opened on the edge of the desk) and attempted, as would a ventriloquist, to make the bird talk.
‘Do it Carrot, do it.’ Tip squawked through giggles.
Returning the kind of smile that acknowledged the humour but still maintaining the melancholy of the moment, I eased the scalpel from my microscope set into the bird’s chest. Strangely that pensive feeling is lifted as I, at once, became filled with purpose as if a skilled veterinary surgeon had just entered my body. ‘Breastbone should be through here.’ the surgeon in me said as I sought to expose the ivory coloured bone below. Tip giggled at the word ‘breast’ but soon composed himself as a cut was further made through the flesh. Thick blood, a dirty red in colour oozed from the cut and mingled with the feathers. In the background, appropriately enough, the sound of Michael Jackson’s new song ‘Thriller’ drifted from my brother’s room and I couldn’t help but hum along. On reaching the chorus both me and Tip shouted out ‘thriller’ in our scariest voices.
The teeth on the small saw squelched and ground their way through a bone that resembled the keel of a boat, part of which looked like something had taken a snip as it was chipped leaving a jagged edge. Tip manoeuvred the saw skilfully though that could have been because he was used to cutting and shredding things up. He’d spend many an hour down at the council tip searching and tearing up anything he could use, mostly for bogies he’d race down Jackson hill, hence the nickname Tip (that and his surname was Tipton). Tip was just over a year younger than me at fourteen and though shorter we did look alike, both of us having flaming red hair. Tip’s face was more rounded than mine (some would say chubby but not me, Tip had a hard punch) and covered in freckles. Mum often said I could hide behind lamp posts, something I used to my advantage during hide and seek or Rollocks but Tip, well Tip didn’t like hide and seek. We’d been friends for years though as we grew I could sense a distance developing between us. Soon school would be saying bye bye to another Carrell kid as I left to go on one of those government YTS schemes. People die, friendship dies, it’s the nature of things. It’s the why that puzzles me and the possible how. Looking at this bird that has filled our spring afternoon, those questions still get to me.
Moving on, the ribs are pulled apart far too easily causing me to think of my own fragility, after all we are all just skin and bone. Wish I had feathers and wings so I could fly away, to someplace where I could find those who had gone, to a place where I can rise away from Christopher Blandell. Tip always says we’ll all have wings in heaven cos we all become angels so maybe, one day, that wish would come true. Not sure if I share that belief though. Not like Tip, he really believes in God. Don’t know if I can accept the idea of an all knowing being having access to all my strange thoughts and me lying exposed as this bird is now. Makes me shudder. As the ribs are moved the secret of this dead creature’s doom is revealed. ‘Tweezers.’ Tip called as he peered between the heart and lungs. ‘That’s it, that’s what killed it.’ Tip held the small pellet in the mouth of the tweezers. ‘Now who do we know with a pellet gun.’
It had been that way for me and Tip ever since Crimewatch had started on the BBC. In the weeks since it had began the idea of investigating crime had inspired us both and we now saw ourselves as Shibden’s version of Nick Ross (not Sue Cook, obviously) so finding the dead blackbird had led us on our own version of Crimewatch. Of course we knew who the culprit was, though how to deal with it was a big problem for me, and Tip for that matter. Christopher ‘Bad lad’ Blandell was know on the estate for being a bully, I had first hand knowledge of that, and a thug. He’d proved he was the hardest around when he chose to fight a copper the night his dad was arrested for breaking into someone’s house. Bad lad had been given a caution but he always bragged that he got the better of the cops, something about a bust lip.
Tip held the pellet between his fingers and lifted it up to the sun as we both lay on the rough and uncomfortable outhouse roof, its uneven surface made of cheap compressed council hardcore dug into our backs which would, eventually, create jagged dimples in our skin. Despite the lack of comfort it was the best place to sit or lay and catch the sun and to look out on Shibden Valley, a landscape synonymous with what you would expect Yorkshire to look like. I loved this view especially the way it would stir up memories of the many summers spent here. From our viewpoint Shibden Valley looks like a broken basin spread out over a few miles, a crack in one side forms the road to Halifax but on our side part of the bowl was missing as if some giant had been clumsy and broken the bowl. Here the valley levels before a small hill leads to the Hillcrest council estate. I look intently at the view and recall in my mind the first ever time I walked through this valley to the big park beyond. ‘Hey Tip, you remember when we first walked to Shibden Park?’
‘I remember like it was yesterday. Ten years ago that was.’
Tip still examined the pellet. ‘Suppose that’s why I don’t remember it much. Younger than you aren’t I.’
‘I remember Andy Wolfenden throwing my new watch in Shibden beck. Funny what sticks in your mind.’ Sighing, I lifted myself onto my elbows. ‘Wish I never moved away.’
‘Back now though hey?’ Tip gave me a reassuring grin, ‘I remember us once coming back from the valley and the whole estate has been looking for us, police and everything.’
‘That’s the same time you wally.’ I slapped his shoulder playfully and reach over for the pellet in his hand. ‘Gis a look then.’ Tip lets me take it.
‘Got to be Bad lad.’ Tip suggested.
‘Typical of him, Rotten bastard.’ Mum would kill me if she heard me swearing but here I was safe to do what I wanted. ‘Nowt we can do. I’m not messin’ with Bad lad.’
‘You wouldn’t stand a chance anyway.’ Tip laughed
‘What, and you would?’
‘I think his mum made a deal with the devil so he could be spawned.’
‘Yeah,’ I joined, ‘but the devil disowned him because he was so bad.’
Tip jumped up and attempted the same Michael Jackson impression from earlier, singing the tune to Thriller, ‘Because he’s bad lad, bad lad, bad bad lad.’ As I joined in we shouted our improvised words across the valley hoping all of Shibden could hear us, well, except for Christopher Blandell.
As the time nudged toward tea, Tip made a moved to go home. ‘What you doing later?’ He asked, walking up the path from my back garden..
‘Our Aidie got his mate Jason coming up. They’ll be getting beer in if you want to come round.’
‘Yeah okay, should be a laugh. Ask mum first though.’
‘Don’t tell about the beer.’
‘I won’t, don’t call me Carrot.’ Tip shouted sarcastically as he ran across the road. I watched him disappear into the same house he’d lived in all the years I had know him.
The Tipton’s were here when my family first moved onto Hillcrest Avenue, a small collection of seven housing blocks each containing four flats on two levels. We used to live at number 14, right opposite Tip’s but now, at my nan’s flat Adrian and I lived at No19. It felt like Hillcrest Ave was the absolute centre of my universe and no matter what I would always be drawn to this place. I don’t remember when Tip and I met just that he has always been there, and his crazy family. Actually I don’t mean crazy, or even mad, maybe strange is closer. Well actually, no that’s not it either. All I can tell is that very quickly we as a family were told not to believe a single word that came out of any Tipton’s mouth, especially Tip who had a strange knack of making any event in history fit to his family one way or another. Apparently his granddad was one of the Dambusters and the sycamore branch hanging on their wall was brought back when the aircraft flew too low and snagged on a tree breaking the said branch off. It wasn’t just the lies though, the Tipton’s were deeply but strangely religious. You could tell this when Tip’s mum and dad were arguing because they would mention Jesus and God loads of times. I remember once going round and they asked me if I knew I was going to heaven or hell. I didn’t know, not given it much thought and was too busy coping with living rather than some afterlife and I didn’t like choice questions very much either. All said though us Carrell’s and the Tipton’s became friends and would often borrow tea, sugar, or coffee or the odd pound note when one family was short. I do remember one time when mum sent me across to borrow a cup of sugar, and Jeff, Tip’s dad, who’d obviously had a bad day told me to eff off. I told mum who then marched across, called Joyce, Tip’s mum, out and proceeded to belt her across the face giving her a bloody nose.
Adrian and Jason noisily climbed the stairs to the flat, the clanging and banging of beer bottles and cans was unmistakable. By now I’d tidied the mess made earlier and was lying on my bed reading Remo Williams – The Destroyer given to me by a neighbour a few months back. Jason popped his head round the door.
‘Come on Robert.’ He always called me Robert, just as our Adrian did. I preferred Rob.
‘Yeah coming, just finishing this chapter. Be out in a min.’ Jason and Adrian could be heard muttering something about the pointlessness of books and that I should get a life. I placed the book down and shouted through to the living room. ‘Oh and Tip is coming over. Hope you don’t mind.’ They both groaned but said nothing.
Jason Hart was a friend from where we’d moved to after Shibden and, unlike his name, he was never one to show he had a heart or feeling for anyone or anything. He had a look of stone with eyes resembling slate both of which mirrored the coldness of his heart. I suppose it could be because his mum left when he was young and having no dad around Jason was brought up by his grandma. He was as chilling to her as he was to anyone else, even more so even though she pandered to his every need though we suspected it was more out of fear than love. He was old enough to leave home but he had an easy life where he was, doing what he wanted, when he wanted and in any way he felt necessary. He was crazy too. Once, me and Adrian slept over at his house and Jason, being mad on Bruce Lee thought we’d have a stick fight using snooker cues which ended up with me being whacked above my eye as I misjudged a swing from him, blood everywhere. Luckily for Jason it didn’t need stitches though I don’t think he would have cared if it had. Over the few years we’d got to know him we learnt to see past the cold, often scary persona and just accept him as our crazy friend but there were times when being around Jason was the most funniest thing ever. One time, in the height of Jason’s martial arts craze, we both dressed up as ninjas and ran through Wyke Woods scaring anyone we came across. Even this, though funny at the beginning, brought out Jason’s evil side when he decided to frighten the crap out of some young kids playing hide and seek together. Jason seemed to get a thrill out of this whilst I just felt bad. Moments like this made me think he was one mental act away from borstal or even prison.
Our Adrian couldn’t have been any different to Jason Hart. Okay, so he may not have had all his cornflakes in a cornflake box and, to be honest, it was hard to believe he beat 100,000 other sperm but, our Adrian, my brother wouldn’t hurt anyone. If his life were a gangster film he would be one of the good guys, dimwitted but good. Couldn’t help wonder if Jason used him or that Adrian genuinely needed someone like Jason to make him look good. Either way they were mates and I couldn’t argue with that.
A can of Special Brew hit me as Jason decided to use my head as target practice. ‘Robert you’re a lame dick. Drink something. There’s cider through there.’ Jason taunted as I slowly sipped on my first and only can of lager, Skol I think, whilst Jason and Adrian were on their sixth of much stronger drink. Tip was grinning as he downed a third being grateful for the chance to get a little drunk while away from his parents. He would often say his mum and dad let him drink at home but judging from his appearance tonight I doubted that. For me, I just didn’t want to get drunk. Never did like the feeling of trying to catch the wardrobe as it spun around the room whilst being incapable of moving from the bed in fear of bringing not only the drink up but every meal I’d had over the last fortnight. And besides I had revision to do. Had to be more focused. Still I quickly drunk that can and chucked it back at Jason who quickly exclaimed he needed a piss. Rather than go across the hall to the loo Jason decided to open a window, facing my beloved Shibden Valley, and pee onto the ground ten feet below. He stopped mid flow as he looked to his left. ‘Hey come look at this.’ he called.
We all ran over and peered through the window in the direction Jason was pointing, making sure that it was safe to do so and not risk getting weed on. The night sky was glowing orange as flames seemed to appear from the farm down a lane at the edge of the estate. I knew the farm well, Tip and I would often go help there with hay baling and collect eggs. ‘It’s Long Lane Farm that is.’ I volunteered. ‘It looks big does that fire.’
Jason jumped down. ‘I’m going to have a look. you coming Ade?’
‘What about us. we’re coming too, aren’t we Tip?’ Tip grinned, drunkenly.
‘No, you keep an eye on him, he’s pissed anyway.’ Adrian pushed me back. ‘Stay here, otherwise I’ll tell dad.’ I looked to Tip for support but he grinned once more and fell off the armchair.
The flames were dying and Tip was sleeping when they returned back to the flat. I’d watched them go, leaping from back garden to back garden until they went out of sight. At some stage I heard shouting but assumed it was in response to the fire which was, at that point blazing out of control. They entered the living room smelling of burnt carbon and their faces resembled those of miners coming from the pit. Jason’s cheek had a smear of crimson as if the devil’s bloody hand had swiped him. ‘What happened to you?’ I asked, concerned.
‘Fell. It’s dark through them gardens. Your Ade’s a good runner. Left me behind.’ Jason answered as he tried to wipe the red and black away and sucking in air like it had gone out of fashion.
‘Was it bad then, the fire?’
‘Oh boy, it were like all ya Sunday roasts had come at once.’ Jason laughed
‘What do you mean?
‘They think a lot of chickens were caught in the fire.’ Adrian, surprisingly intelligible, explained.
Jason had that look again like it was all for his pleasure, the same look a killer would have as he looks down at his prey. ‘Hey Robert, d’ya want to go see what’s left. Ade won’t mind, will ya Ade?’
‘Do what you want, I don’t mind.’ Adrian responded.
I didn’t like Jason when he was like this, he looked…dangerous. ‘Na, I’m tired. I’m going to bed. Someone help us with Tip.’ Adrian obliged leaving Jason, wide eyed and still obviously fuelled with adrenaline.
The stink of stale beer and vomit entered my nostrils reminding me of the rough, sleepless night that had just followed. Looking down at the floor the indisputable form of Tip could be made out, wrapped in a blanket with a bucket by his head filled with remnants and reminders of the last few hours. I smirked glad I’d not drank too much and even happier I didn’t look, or feel, like Tip. Leaving him there I left my room to put the kettle on taking note of the time n the mantelpiece clock. It read 10.34AM. Across the hall the rough sound of dual snoring was heard from Adrian’s room. It was then I was reminded about the fire and hurried to the window from where we’d seen it the night before. It was damp outside, the kind of grey morning more typical of winter than spring, as if the smoke from the fire had set off a chain reaction causing clouds to form and rain to fall. Sort of made me want to believe in God with that kind of providence. Looking further the unmistakable path through the back gardens that both Jason and Adrian had ran could be made out especially where a fence had been broken and shrubbery flattened. A figure came into view, who then inspected the fence and looked around, his eyes following the path of destruction to our back garden. It was then I realised the figure was a policeman.
‘Tip, wake up. some thing’s happened. There’s police everywhere.’
Tip bolted up and his mouth filled with vomit. ‘Blarghhhhhh!’ he retched, spitting into the bucket what he hoped was the last of the contents of his stomach. ‘What, police?’
‘They’re in the back gardens. I think Bald Eagle has called the coppers in because them two have gone and wrecked his garden.’ Bald Eagle was an elderly man we often used to wind up by playing knock a door run.
‘Last night Tip. The fire…you don’t remember a thing do you? Three cans and you’re hopeless.’
‘Three cans of special brew. I remember that much. I don’t feel well Carrot.’
‘Not surprising, you idiot. Hope you’re mum never finds out.’
‘Well I’m not telling.’ Tip attempted his usual smile but instead grimaced as he felt his stomach. ‘What’s for breakfast?’
The knock at the door startled us both. We waited, frozen in position. Another knock, louder, determined. ‘You going to get that Carrot?’ Another knock, harder. Whoever was knocking weren’t prepared to give in.
‘Wait here.’ I motioned to Tip as I gingerly walked down to the door at the foot of the stairs. Another knock, shaking the door causing me to fumble in a panic like state with the key. Eventually I had it opened.
The copper glared at me, authoritarian and unfriendly. ‘Parents in son?’ he asked
I barely got the words out. ‘No, my brother. Live with my brother.’
‘Would you mind getting him for me, there’s a good lad.’ Tip appeared at the top of the stairs. ‘I take it you meant older brother.’
‘What? Oh no, he’s my friend. I’ll get Adrian.’
They didn’t like being woken but when I explained both of them were up as fast as those cans the night before went down. Quickly dressed and presentable Adrian went to the door, Jason not far, though not very close either, behind him. ‘Hi…’ Adrian began.
‘Good morning,’ he looked Adrian and Jason down and paused as if to search for the right form of address and settled on the good old fashioned though not accurate: ‘Sir. I wonder if you, and possibly your friend, would not mind coming for a little chat. Just to help us with our inquiries.’
Jason pushed forward. ‘Why, what’s happened?
‘Do not want to go into detail at this stage Mr..?’
‘Hart, Jason Hart. This is my mates house, Adrian Carrell here.’
‘Have we done something wrong?’ Adrian asked.
‘In time Son, in time.’ The copper motioned them both outside. Parked out front was a waiting police car. As I watched it drive away, my brother’s face a mixture of both confusion and dread, I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened through the night. Was it the fire, had someone died there? Was this just over damaged property? Mrs Blacklett from next door came out, nosey as ever, wrapped in a dressing gown and smoking a fag.
‘Do you know anything?’ I asked her.
She tutted and motioned her head in the direction the police car had gone. ‘All I know is your brother and his friend were spotted running through our gardens in the middle of the night.’
‘And the police were called for that?’ Tip, regaining his strength and composure, joined me outside.
‘You’re mother is looking for you.’ she snarled.
‘She knows where I am.’ Tip bit back.
Mrs Blackett blew out a plume of smoke. ‘Not the damage lads, Mr Simmons died last night. Unexplained they think. And your brother and his friend were seen having a shouting match with him.’ Tip and I look startled.
Bald Eagle was dead.
And death still clung to me.