The Yoraths are a respectable, lower middle class family who have survived the Second World War in which Sidney served in the infantry. Olive fought her own battles on the home front, forever frightened of the telegram announcing Sidney’s death, while cherishing their son, Tony, who is now eight.
There was joy at the end of hostilities, but it was short-lived: Sidney was brought up to show no weakness in the face of adversity a trait that served him well as a soldier but, latterly, is useless in his fruitless search for a peacetime job. Olive, the centre of the family and who, despite rationing, provided sustaining and tasty meals, is in hospital, diagnosed with cervical cancer.
It’s teatime in the Yorath kitchen. Sidney isn’t used to caring for Tony and has no cooking skills, these being Olive’s province. I can manage, he thinks, at the same time as feeling that his head’s like a grenade from which the pin has been pulled. He wants to protect his son from the fear in which he’s engulfed like a coracle in an Atlantic storm.
Sidney places two bowls of cockles on the table. Tony has never seen cockles before.
Sidney sprinkles his bowl of cockles with vinegar and black pepper and eats, noisily relishing every mouthful.
Tony stares at his bowl.
Eat up, they’re good for you, Sidney commands.
All Tony sees are shrivelled finger ends that have been in water for too long.
Sidney tells him, They’re full of vitamins, so eat up.
Tony puts a cockle in his mouth. Not eating my nose bogies, he thinks, almost gagging. Very carefully he brings the bowl to his mouth and lets the bogie roll off the end of his trembling tongue into the bowl.
Why are you spitting out good food like that? Sidney demands.
Tony tries again. He can’t do it. Tries again. Fails.
The grenade in Sidney’s head detonates. I must feed him! We can’t afford waste. He sees the bamboo cane Olive uses to push up the kitchen sash-window. He stands over Tony holding the cane and commands, Eat!
Tony tries. Gags. Spits it out.
The cane lashes into Tony’s back, who gasps in pain as Sidney screams, Eat!
Sidney strikes again. Tony, weeping, slumps onto the table, the bowl of cockles beside his face. Sidney sobs as he drops the cane. It rattles on the quarry-tile floor. He’s shaking as he removes the cockles, goes to the cupboard and takes out a tin of Heinz baked beans. From a drawer he removes a can opener and through uncontrolled shaking he tries to open the can – he fails. Screaming, Fuck! he hurls the opener away.
Dad? Tony asks. Is Mum dead?
No, son, she’s having a big operation to make her better. Sobbing, he sags onto a chair. I’m sorry, he gasps. Don’t tell Mum what I did, will you?
Neither looks at the other. The silence between them is deafening and defines them forever.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.