A version of this story has been published by East Jasmine Review
Pelly tugged the light cord in the attic. Dust and damp furred his tongue. Clothes had been bundled in knotted bed sheets. Crumpled boxes had given way beneath the weight of hardback books and stacks of vinyl records. A cracked fish tank was filled with old coins and toy soldiers, airmail letters and photos. It was a miracle the ceiling hadn’t fallen in.
Pelly began by chucking stuff out, sending it crashing to a dust-sheet on the landing. He was wondering if he could finish what he’d started when he spotted the packing crate.
The crate was stacked against the chimney breast. It once held Pear’s soap, but had been filled with his mother’s Wedgwood plates and curios wrapped in crumpled newspaper. Pelly couldn’t resist exploring. He took out a pirate’s flintlock pistol – one of his father’s novelty cigarette lighters – and sparked it, but the lighter fluid had dried up. He found a vicious-looking letter knife from Cyprus and a spaniel made from seashells. Pelly rummaged deeper.
He took out a book from a bundle of dusty newspapers, running a fingertip along the pale blue cloth spine. Pelly grinned. The pages were warped like a clamshell where he’d once dropped them in the bath.
In August Dad would drive them to a caravan in north Wales for a week. It was rusting and wedged on a slope between a dry-stone wall and a knot of hawthorns. Mum spent the first afternoon scrubbing it clean. She said it was all they could afford. She read Catherine Cookson by torchlight, while Dad went night-fishing clutching a flask of brandy.
Pelly prodded rock-pools searching for Spanish gold. The other kids wanted dodgems and burgers and candy floss, but Pelly’s pockets were empty and he hated the arcades. He didn’t understand why people came to the seaside and spent their savings trying to grab a teddy bear with a giant claw.
Pelly would go off on his own exploring derelict chapels and crumbling ruins. He’d rub his palms over the lichen on rocks, listen to the breaking waves and sniff the stinking piles of seaweed. Dad said Pelly was different to other boys and needed toughening up. He called Pelly a ‘worry.’ Mindful of Dad’s drinking and temper Pelly took to walking. One day Pelly kept on walking without looking back.
By the second day he had only pocket change left, a handful of dirty copper and fluff. He walked the prom, hands stuffed in pockets, head bowed from the wind. His hair was stiff and gritty with saltwater and sand and he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. His stomach growled and he felt light-headed, in need of sugar.
A family skipped past, hands linked, buttoned up in blue cagoules with the drawstrings knotted beneath their chins. Pelly thought of Mum and a steaming plate of Irish stew or pie and mash. They’d have apple pie and custard from trays on their laps while they watched Midlands Today. They’d be worried sick at home, but he’d made a choice. When you got Mum you got Dad too. Rain began to slant in from the Irish Sea. Pelly ran for the bandstand, ducking into the shelter as the rain lashed the glass like buckshot. He was breathless and cold, with rain dripping from his forehead.