Footprints* ** (excerpt)

I haven’t done this for a long time. Not since Ma died. She got upset so I promised not to do it again, but she’s gone now. What she can’t see won’t hurt her and I’ll be really careful. This time no one will know except me.

I’ve been watching the house from my room across the road. I’ve seen them come and go, the tall girl with bouncy red curls like shiny new chestnuts, the smaller one with long golden hair and a coat that almost touches the ground and the tiny little guy who looks like one of Ma’s garden gnomes, but without the fishing rod. The girls look fresh and clean, the types that have a bath every day. I think Ma would like them. They’re students. I can tell from the way they dress and the hours they keep. They go out about ten o’clock and usually come back late evening, any time after nine. It’s not a good place for nice girls like them.

I know that Goldie has the front bedroom, so Red must be at the back. The gnome sleeps in the front downstairs room and I can see it’s a mess when they open the door. I don’t know how he can live like that. My room is always clean and tidy, even though the walls are brown near the ceiling and the paper’s peeling off. I like to know where things are. Ma used to say, “Teddy, always put things where you expect to find them,” and it works like magic.

Ma’s favourite saying was, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” so I’m pretty sure she’s close to God now. Arthur says she’ll soon have heaven spick and span. She kept me clean too. I got scrubbed from head to toe in a tin bath by the fire every Sunday until I was bright pink. I hated the bit when she twisted the cloth into a point and jammed it into my ears. They hummed for ages afterwards. When I couldn’t hear the teacher at school he said I wasn’t listening and gave me a smack on the side of my head. That made them buzz even more. I told Ma, but she said a clip round the ear never hurt anyone.

***

I was lucky Arthur took me in after Ma died. Said he owed it to her. I used to call him Uncle Arthur but he isn’t my real uncle, just an old friend of Ma’s from before she was married. I think he likes the company now his customers have gone and the place is shut down. Everything downstairs is the same as it always was. The Lounge Bar still has a sticky carpet and wooden tables worn smooth from years of Ma’s elbow grease. The Public’s got bare floorboards, a fluffed-out dart board and torn chairs. It’s all covered in a thick layer of dust and when I open the door it swirls into the air and dances in the sunlight. I like it, it’s peaceful, but Ma would have a blue fit.

There’s another lodger in the room over the front door. Her name’s Angie and she’s always nice to me. Arthur calls her a Lady of the Night, but I know what she is. Men are up and down the stairs at all hours but they’re no trouble really. They’re pretty quiet, on the whole. If I ever hear shouting I bang on her door and as soon as the men see me they shut up. Being this big can be useful although it’s got me blamed for a lot of things I didn’t do. Especially at school. Why do people always think it’s the biggest guy who starts things? The teachers wouldn’t listen and I got so fed up with getting the stick that I stopped going. Just hung around doing odd jobs and running errands, trying to stay out of trouble. It’s quite easy, being invisible, when you’ve had as much practice as me.

I’m going to do it tomorrow. Friday. I like Fridays, always have. The weekend coming up with trips to the playground and maybe even the pictures. The flicks we used to call them. Anyway, I’m looking forward to it. My hands are fidgety and I’ve got butterflies. I’ll go to bed early and then it’ll come quicker.

***

Arthur says those houses, the ones where Red and Goldie live, have been condemned since the war. That finished over thirty years ago, when I was just a baby. One end of the terrace got bombed and it shook all the others so they’re not safe. Most of them are boarded up, but the others are let out to students and women like Angie. I see the lamps in their windows that colour the pavement red, and cars stopping outside. They don’t know I’m watching but I am. I see the same ones over and over again and I recognise a couple of the blokes who go there. Angie says they’re plain clothes policemen, so I stay out of their way.

It’s not right that girls like Red and Goldie have to live here. If I had kids I’d never bring them to a place like this, but Ma said I wasn’t cut out for getting married and having children.

“You stay at home and look after your old ma.”

She’d pat my hand and make me cheese on toast, because she could see I was sad.

When me and Angie go to the launderette she says we’re like an old married couple, folding sheets together. She doesn’t let me touch her clothes, but she has loads of sheets, all different types. I like the silky black and purple ones and sometimes I close my eyes and rub them against my cheeks. I say I’d like some for myself, but Angie says they’re not very nice to sleep in because you slide around and the pillow keeps slipping off the bed. She picks up the soft cotton ones with stripes and says,“You stick with these, Teddy. I’d have them too, if I could.”

If she married me, I’d let her have whatever she wanted and I tell her so.

I say, “Would you marry me if you weren’t a Lady of the Night?”

And she laughs and says, “Yes, Teddy. Course I would. Lots of girls would be glad to have you.”

So Ma was wrong. Maybe I just haven’t found the right one yet.

***

The complete story is now published by Alfie Dog in a variety of formats. Also published in Triclops. To order a copy, please go to the link below.

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