Broken Glass, a short story by Dominic Rivron at Spillwords.com
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Broken Glass

Broken Glass

written by: Dominic Rivron

 

Josh could remember the evening they arrived. He’d been sat in the car for a long time and felt sick. He remembered someone (his mother, presumably) opening the door and being hit by the cold air and the smell of the sea. He could see his grandmother stood by the roadside, her stick in one hand, the other on top of the garden gate. He remembered lowered, serious voices, but had no idea what was being said. All he really knew at the time was that something was obviously bothering the grown-ups.

Looking back, he felt sure he’d had it explained to him, but equally sure that he hadn’t really taken it in. His mum and dad had split up and he and his mum were going to live with his grandmother for a while. She lived in a house by the sea, on a remote stretch of coast on the Solway Firth. He’d be able to play on the beach every day, his mother had said, trying to be upbeat about things. His grandmother made up beds for them both in the spare room.

The next morning, his mother said that as they were going to be there for a while, they ought to say hello to the neighbors. Apparently, the people up the road had a little boy about his age. It would be good for them to make friends, she said. It was a warm day, almost too warm. The house was a five-minute walk. They made their way along a path that ran through the strip of waste ground between the road and the beach.

It turned out to be a brick terraced house, without a terrace. There’d once been a row, but all the rest had been pulled down. (Kenneth later told him how they’d been bombed in the war, but this wasn’t true. Kenneth was forever making up stories). There were still scraps of wallpaper on the end wall and a fireplace, hanging in mid-air, where the upstairs bedroom used to be. Kenneth’s mum, Mrs. Mackie, opened the door in a floral pinafore. She was a well-built woman, perhaps a year or two older than his mother, with a mop of thick, wavy red-brown hair. For a moment, she wondered what to do with them then, realizing what was expected, let them in.

The house, though bright enough, smelled of cabbage and pipe-smoke. They were shown into the back room, a cross between a kitchen and a living room, with a TV in the corner, a yellow, Formica dining table in the middle and a red sofa at one end. A large, old fashioned-looking mirror hung on the wall on a chain, over the fireplace. It was a rather dingy room on account of the overgrown privet hedge that separated the thin strip of garden on that side of the house from the road.

Josh was introduced to Kenneth, a boy – as it turned out – a couple of years older than himself. He had his mother’s hair and a green woolly jumper with a zip up the front that looked as if someone had knitted it for him. Mrs. Mackie made herself and Josh’s mum a cup of tea and gave Josh and Kenneth each a glass of lime juice cordial, which they dutifully drank, all the time silently eyeing each other, while the two women talked.

“Kenneth,” said Mrs. Mackie, once the two boys had finished their drinks. “Why don’t you go and show Josh the beach?” This phrase stuck in Josh’s mind, as it struck him as an odd thing to say. He’d seen the beach. Kenneth, showing no visible sign of enthusiasm, got up and did as he was told.

The two of them walked along the shore for a while, looking to see if anything interesting had been washed up (if it had, Josh couldn’t remember). There was a shapeless carcass some yards away, on the sand. It was hard to see, what with the sunlight shining on the water behind it. A flock of seagulls were milling round it. Kenneth picked up a stick and sent it spinning through the air towards it. Josh thought it was wrong – he’d been brought up not to do that kind of thing – but he didn’t say anything. If Kenneth was happy throwing sticks at birds, there was no telling what he might happily do to him. The birds swirled out of the way before returning to the carcass.

On the way back, Kenneth picked up a bigger stick and started swinging it to and fro, knocking pebbles and lumps of kelp out of the way as he did so. “I’m only doing this because my mother told me to, you know,” he said.

The next day, Kenneth came round to call for him. After the day before, Josh was surprised and not that pleased to see him. He wasn’t sure Kenneth was someone he wanted to spend time with, but he didn’t really know how to say ‘no’ and anyway, before he could say anything, his mother, seeing things – as she saw it – panning out the way she hoped they would, had shooed him enthusiastically out of the house.

Kenneth said he knew this really great place to go but that Josh wasn’t to tell anybody. He led the way along the shore for a while, to where the road turned away from the sea. The space between them was filled with an old, deciduous wood. He took them along a faint track through the trees that brought them to the back garden of a very large, dilapidated house.

It was quite obvious no-one lived there anymore. The grass was long, the beds overgrown. There were no curtains visible at the windows except one, on the first floor, where the rail had come away and a furled, shabby-looking curtain that had slipped along it dangled in front of the glass. In the garden stood a substantial Victorian-style greenhouse, an elaborate, white, wooden framework built on brick foundations, the glass almost all still intact. Inside, it was almost empty, save for the wizened skeletons of a few long-dead tomato plants. Next to it was what had once been a vegetable patch. Kenneth ran over to this and Josh followed. There were plenty of stones to be found there. Kenneth picked one up and pitched it at the greenhouse. It hit a pane quite high up on the roof. The glass exploded and the shards fell in onto the concrete floor. Josh picked up a stone and joined in. There was something compulsive about it: the crash of the glass as it shattered, followed by the tinkling sound the shards made as they hit the floor, just made you want to pick up another stone and do it again.

They’d been smashing windows for some minutes when Josh happened to look up at the house. Perhaps he was afraid that someone lived there after all. In the window with the broken curtain-rail he saw a face, looking out. It was just too far away to make out clearly, but it looked, to Josh, like a boy of about his own age. He turned to Kenneth, with the intention of warning him, but decided that before he did, he should double-check to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. When he looked back, up at the window, the face was gone. Perhaps it’d been a trick of the light. Perhaps he’d imagined it. His mother was always telling him he had an over-active imagination. Perhaps this was the sort of thing that happened to people who did.

Kenneth must’ve seen him looking up at the house. There weren’t many windows left to smash. “Do you think we could get in?” he said.

***

The back door was unlocked and slightly ajar. However, the wood had swollen, causing it to scrape on the stone floor, and it took both of them pushing on it to get it open. They found themselves in a corridor, painted with white emulsion, all along one side of which were walk-in store-cupboards, all of which turned out to be empty. On the wall facing the cupboards, there were still several picture-hooks, the ghosts of pictures, rectangles a shade lighter than the wall, hanging beneath them.

The corridor opened onto a kitchen, again with a stone floor, with a large fireplace at one end. There was a stone sink, a drainer and a few old cupboards screwed to the wall. There were the remains of a long-dead jackdaw in one corner, although it was unclear how it might’ve got in. Otherwise, the room was bare. They went on, through a doorway, into a hall. Light shone through the window above the front door and through the open doors that led to the other main downstairs rooms. As with the kitchen, everything had been taken out. The silence was broken by the sound of a lorry going past: the front of the house was not that far from the road.

They decided to go upstairs. A pale, unvarnished strip ran up the middle of the staircase where the carpet had been removed and their footsteps echoed on the bare wood. As with the hall, the doors which led off the landing were open, letting in light from the windows. From where he stood Josh could see, through a doorway, the window with the broken curtain-rail. He made straight for it, curious to discover if there was any sign that anyone had been there earlier. As he approached it, he became aware of noises coming from outside. When he looked out, there were two boys, standing by the greenhouse, throwing stones at it, breaking the windows. As he looked down, one of the boys stopped what he was doing and looked up. He was too far away for Josh to see his face clearly, but he just knew he was staring straight at him. He immediately drew back. He felt a cold wave pass over his body. He stood with his back to the wall next to the window, breathing fast. The noises stopped. In the silence, he looked round the room. On one wall were old, wooden fitted cupboards, painted with a pale gloss paint. A short length of cable hung from the ceiling where the light should be. It occurred to him, for the first time since he’d come upstairs, that there was no sign of Kenneth: no doubt other things had caught his eye and he’d gone off to explore on his own.

Just then, he thought he heard voices, children’s voices, coming from somewhere downstairs. They were getting louder. He heard footsteps on the stairs. He ran back out onto the landing and – as quietly as he could – straight up the stairs to the next floor. He just had time to position himself out of sight, round a corner, when the other children – two boys – arrived on the landing below. He peeped out just in time to catch a back view of them heading off along the landing to explore. As soon as he dare, he scampered down to the ground floor, back the way he’d come. He didn’t stop running until he got home.

***

“Kenneth not with you?” asked his mother. She and his grandma were sat in the lounge, watching TV. Josh wasn’t sure what to say, so made it up as he went along.
“We – we were playing in the woods. I got lost. I’m not sure where he is. I’ve been wandering about – ”
His grandma insisted on ringing Mrs Mackie, to see what was going on. She went out into the hall.
“Tsk. And he’s the older one!” she said, when she returned. “He’s just got home, too. Loses Josh but doesn’t tell anybody. Just like that boy.” She went on to list the Mackie family’s failings to Josh’s mum – all sorts of adult stuff Josh neither understood nor had any interest in.

***

“Rita was saying someone smashed all the glass in the Phillips’ greenhouse,” said Josh’s grandma, the next day. She’d just been on the phone to a friend. They were all in the kitchen and she and his mother were making lunch. “They’re not right pleased, what with the new people moving in next week, and all. It’ll cost them hundreds to put right.” She looked down at Josh as she spoke the last words. Josh felt numb all over. It was as if she could read his mind, but of course she couldn’t.

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