Fluffy Gets the Sack

WARNING: Contains violence. Do not read if squeamish

Daddy passes me the tin lid, full of birdseed. I rattle it, call “tom-tom-tom” into the sky and watch for the pigeons coming home. It’s hot up here on the roof of the pigeon loft. My head’s a bit dizzy but it’s a very important job. The pigeons are flying home from France and I need to get them down quickly so Daddy can clock them in.

Mammy won’t like it that I’m on the roof, but she’s gone across the street to help Mrs Diamond get her baby. It can take quite a long time, so that’s all right.

Daddy picks up his air rifle. I’m not allowed to touch it, but when I’m a bit bigger I can go with him to shoot rabbits. He’s not very good at shooting, because he’s been trying to get Miss Barr’s cat for a long time. It still comes after the pigeons, crawling through the hedge from next door. I don’t know why Daddy worries because it never catches one.

I can see it now, sneaking through the grass. It’s big and fat and ginger. Miss Barr calls him Fluffy. Daddy calls him ‘that fuckin’ cat. I’m not allowed to say that word, Mammy would have a fit, and Daddy never says it in the house.

He bangs the gun twice and the cat scoots away, back under the hedge.

I tell Daddy he’s going to stop the pigeons coming home if he makes loud bangs and he laughs and messes my hair up. I like it when he does that.

The garden gate creaks open and two of Daddy’s friends come into the garden. They look funny, because Mr Fitzsimmons is big and fat like Fluffy and Mr O’Neill is not much bigger than my brother, Sam, who’s two years older than me. I don’t like them coming round, because Daddy forgets about me.

He jumps off the roof and stands with his friends, smoking fags and saying ‘fuckin’ cat’ a lot. Mr O’Neill thinks Daddy’s going about it the wrong way, he’ll never get him with the gun, what he needs is a sack.

They get a sack from the red brick outhouse that Daddy built and Mr O’Neill lies down on the ground beside the hedge. Daddy looks up and tells me to stop rattling the tin for a wee while. I don’t want to stop because we need to get the pigeons clocked in, but I don’t want to feel the back of his hand, so I keep quiet. 

From the roof, I can see Fluffy in the next-door garden. He’s playing with a leaf, having fun and getting closer to the hedge. Mr O’Neill nods at Daddy and lift the sack. Fluffy chases the leaf through the gap in the hedge and the nasty little man pounces on him, dropping the sack over poor Fluffy.

Daddy and his friends all laugh and slap each other on the back. I can’t see why they’re so happy when the cat is going crackers inside the sack, fighting to get out. I can hear him crying and spitting from here. I don’t like this and call for Daddy to get me down. He comes over and I jump down into his arms, leaving the tin lid on the roof.

I pull on Daddy’s sleeve to tell him he needs to get up on the roof to clock the pigeons in, but he tells me to get myself away into the house. That’s not fair because Sam is coming up the garden and he gets called over to see Fluffy in the sack. Nobody’s looking at me anymore, so I go round the side of the outhouse to see what happens.

Mr Fitzsimmons has got the sack now and he opens it a bit to show the cat to Sam. Fluffy gets one paw out and rakes his claws down the fat man’s hand. I think Fluffy will get away but Daddy grabs the sack and smacks it on the ground. Fluffy cries really loud. It makes me want to cry as well and I wish I’d got myself indoors when Daddy told me.

Sam laughs when the cat cries, but he’s just doing what the men do. I want him to get the sack and let Fluffy out. Instead, he puts on a pair of Daddy’s gardening gloves and pulls the cat out by his tail. Daddy and his friends are telling Sam to go on and do it. He looks like he’s going to be sick and Fluffy is squirming and clawing at him.  

My head is dizzy again and I’m too hot. I walk round the side of the outhouse to tell Sam to let the cat go. Before I can get to him, he swings Fluffy by the tail and smashes him against the brick wall. I scream at him to stop, but Daddy and his friends are all cheering at Sam to do it again and nobody hears me.

Sam swings the cat again and again. Now he looks like he’s enjoying it. And everybody’s shouting. And I’m screaming. And then I’m sick all over the grass. 

It goes quiet and when I look up, Fluffy is lying ever so still on the ground and there’s blood all over the wall and splattered on Sam’s clothes. He grins all over his face. I hate him so much. And I scream and scream. And Daddy lifts his hand to me. And I run.

I’m never going back to help Daddy again. He can sit on the roof and rattle the tin himself.

I hope his fuckin’ pigeons never come home.

Dinner for Billy

This is my first-ever piece of Flash Fiction (under 1000 words). It was written in haste for a competition on the last available day for entry. The brief was to evoke a childhood memory. So here it is, set in Northern Ireland in 1952. It may or may not be true!

Update: It gained an Honorable Mention.

Imprisoned © Jacqui Jay Grafton

Billy lived alone and wore blue silk drawers. On wash day, Mammy closed the curtains on our kitchen window so she couldn’t see them on Billy’s clothes line. He had a matching vest, a bit frayed at the edges, but without the faint brown stain on the drawers.

He was a Roman Catholic and we were Protestants, but Mammy did her duty and sent me round to Billy’s house every Sunday with a bowl of stew. I had to go out of the front door, which opened directly on to the street, because what was the point in doing a good deed if nobody knew about it?

It was only a few steps to Billy’s front door, just enough time to shove a couple of spoonfuls of stew into my mouth and return the spoon to the bowl. Sometimes, he was waiting behind the net curtain and opened the door before I could kick it.

“Hurry up, get in. I can see Ma McCracken’s curtains twitching.”

“Mammy said can you wash the bowl before you give it back.”

She didn’t, but I never missed a chance to practice my dumb insolence.

“Off you go, out the back way.”

I liked going through Billy’s long, narrow house, surely some kind of architect’s mistake. The narrow living room, barely wide enough to accommodate the front door and the window, led into the bedroom. A glowing Sacred Heart adorned one wall, above a dresser with dusty vials of Holy Water.

Billy was going to Hell, but I wasn’t quite sure why, only that it was something to do with the Pope. His window always got smashed on the Twelfth of July, but he never told the police. No point. My Da fixed it for him and Billy slipped him a bottle of whiskey when Mammy wasn’t looking.

A tiny scullery beyond the bedroom opened on to the communal garden. A quick hop over the dividing wall and I was home again, job done for another week.

I hated the old fucker.

One Sunday in November, after taking Billy’s dinner to him, I overheard a conversation between Mammy and my older sister, Frances, who was getting married in a few weeks. Frances could whinge for Ireland.

“Do we have to invite Billy to the wedding, Mammy?”

“Yes, we do. What would the neighbours think if we didn’t ask him?”

“But he’s – you know –”

“I know, but maybe he won’t come.”

But Billy did come, in spite of being “you know –”. His hair was freshly permed and his overcoat had a velvet collar, which proved to be quite the talking point. I watched him like a hawk all day, but couldn’t work out what “you know –” could possibly mean.

January blew in with sleet and snow. Mammy stepped up Billy’s dinners to twice a week. Well, it was the Christian thing to do. The snow was too deep for me to walk a mile to school, so I was left alone in the empty house while Mammy and Da went to work.

The letterbox thumped and a handful of letters shot into the hallway. I picked them up and had a quick shuffle. We didn’t get many letters as such, usually just bills, but today there was a lavender-perfumed envelope addressed to Mr. W. McParland of number 22a, Reilly Street.

Well, this was interesting.

We were number 22 and, for the briefest of seconds, I considered walking next door and poppng it through the letterbox. But, lavender perfume? Maybe it was a love letter. Maybe it had stuff in it about ‘doing it’.

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I had the envelope ripped open. The writing was flamboyant and written in purple ink with lots of curlicues. I could hardly contain myself, even as I struggled to read it.

My dearest William,

It seems so long since I last saw you, when we ran naked through the grass together.

Boy, this was good.

Unfortunately, that was the best bit. The rest was just a lot of boring arrangements to meet, so I skimmed over it until I got to the bottom of the page.

Yours, in loving friendship,

Harold.

Harold? That wasn’t a lady’s name. Why would a man write that stuff to another man?

I was so engrossed in this conundrum that I didn’t hear Mammy come home.

“What’s that you’re looking at?”

“Nothing.”

She held out her hand “Let’s see nothing, then?”

I didn’t have to wait long for a reaction.

“Where did you get this filth?”

Unseen, I stuffed the envelope into my pocket.

“Uh, it was in the dustbin. It was on top when I took the rubbish out.”

She turned on her heel and stormed out into the street, hammering on Billy’s door and shouting for him to come out.

He opened his door and, before he could speak, Mammy was in there.

“You bloody pervert! You’re not fit to live near decent people! And leaving your filth where a child can see it, you’re evil.”

Billy stood open-mouthed, without a clue what she was talking about.

An interested crowd of neighbours were unashamedly gawking at the spectacle, which lent fuel to Mammy’s ire.

“Yes, you can all look! You don’t know what he’s been up to. Things with men!”

Things? What things? Running in the grass?

She caught sight of me, taking everything in and dying to know more.

“And you, get back inside. You’ve seen enough for one day.”

Back to Billy, now ashen-faced and trying to get his hands on the letter.

“Oh, no. This is going to the priest, he’ll know what to do about it.”

There was much, much more as the neighbours felt it was only right that they had a say in the matter. But I didn’t hear it, as the door closed behind me.

After that, there were no more dinners for Billy.