Thursday, 3 June 2010

THE TEST - a short story by GC

After the phone call he told his boss he must have had a dodgy prawn sandwich at lunch and needed to go home.
He walked along the north bank of the Thames until he came to Cleopatra’s Needle, where close by he found an empty bench.

He opened his eyes when he became conscious of two people circling the bench before sitting down. He didn’t look at them directly but the knee next to his, in pale blue trousers, white socks, and brown shoes were unmistakably those of an American tourist.
The final proof was the big box of popcorn held in the man’s lap. But it wasn’t he that was eating. From the far side a large hand reached across the man, dived in to the box, grabbed at a handful of corn, and withdrew losing a quarter on the way.
“Shoot, Dwight, you damn near knocked the thing out of my hand.”
He sneaked a look at the owner of the popcorn box. White hair and ruddy creased face, the gaudiness of the blue and red baseball jacket only seemed to emphasise his age.
The old man saw he was being observed and without a smile or a nod held out the box towards him. But at the same time the hand of the other man reached out for more, caught the side of the box, spilling most of the corn.
“Now didn’t I tell you that was going to happen.”
The big hand began to descend on the fallen popcorn before the old man slapped it away.
“Leave it. I told you when it’s been on the ground it’s bad.”
He leant forward and looked across the old man to his companion. A short, thickset man perhaps in his thirties dressed in a similar jacket was looking dejectedly at the lost corn.
Dwight glanced up at him and he recognised the Asiatic eyes and half-smile of Down’s Syndrome.
“Damn fool boy’d eat anything off the ground if I let him.”
Dwight said something he didn’t catch. The old man relented and gave Dwight the box. “That’s OK, you finish it,” he said. “It weren’t your fault.” They both watched while Dwight, carefully this time, fed the corn in to his mouth.”
“Crap British popcorn away – but he don’t mind.”
The old man sat back. He could have left then but the old man asked, “Did that thing ever have anything to do with Queen Cleo?”
“I think so,” he replied.
“Me to. Damn the guidebooks.” He turned to Dwight. “That there belonged to Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Don’t ask me what for. You just remember that and you can draw it when we get back to the hotel.” Dwight nodded and smiled.
“We seen the big clock Big Ben and now we’re going to see the Crown Jewels at the Tower. The book says it’s straight up the river.”
“It’s probably too far for you to walk. You can take the Tube.”
“Dwight didn’t like the subway in New York. Twenty years ago and some when we saw all the doctors. I don’t suppose he’s changed now. I’ll take one of your black cabs. That’s how we get around.”
“Expensive.”
“It ain’t so bad. I got the money; it’s the time I ain’t got.” And then after a short pause, “It won’t be long before the queers get him.”
“Who?”
“Queers, gays, homosexuals. You got plenty in this country, don’t y’. More I bet. My daughter don’t want him, her own brother. So when I go they’ll put him in an institution. And you know the queers work there.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Sure. And they’ll want my boy because he is so good-natured.”
“Well, I’d better get moving...”
“We’re not rich folk. Hell, no. But the Lord was kind. And my wife’s people left her a good farm. And when we were young he blessed us with a daughter. And when we were older and already sold to the airport people along came Dwight, here.”
“I told my wife I’d come straight home.”
“My wife was a good Christian woman. She said it’s God’s will to test us. She made me promise I’d bring Dwight to Europe. Just before she died, February 13 last year. Go forth and you shall find comfort.”
Dwight gave his father the now empty popcorn box. The old man gave him a gentle punch on the arm as if to say “You son of a gun have finished the lot.” Dwight grinned.
The old man threw the box under the bench. “You got any kids?”
“No. Well, yes, sort of. My wife just rang to say the test checked out. We’re having a baby. Our first. I suppose I’m going to be a dad myself.”
“I’m sure pleased to hear that. Kids make you part of the future. My grandchildren – even Dwight. If only I didn’t have to worry about those damn queers.”
The old man stood up slowly. Dwight joined him. “We got to find this Tower of London place. Nice talking to you, sir. Come, son, let’s walk a ways.”
He pointed out something about the Needle and Dwight shielded his eyes as he looked at the top of the monument.
The old man gave a little wave as they moved off. Dwight plucked at his sleeve – the nearest they got to hold hands.
After a while he caught a cab home having first bought a bunch of roses.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks GC, I enjoyed this story so much it encouraged me to read your other two. Are there any more?

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  2. Thank you anon. Praise indeed. Just for you I've added THE COMMANDER, quite a raunchy tale as you will see.
    A couple of years ago I put together a collection of 18 short stories but failed to find an agent. GC

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