The little boy with the dark blue eyes and shiny cap of dark hair looked up guiltily. The little girl he'd been kissing giggled and ran away. Mrs Jamieson stood scowling, her hands planted on her ample hips.
"William Bodie - get back into that classroom now."
Young William slunk past her, receiving a sharp clip around the ear for his pains. Oh dear.... And it was only last week Mrs Jamieson had collared his mother when she'd come to collect him, and recited a lengthy catalogue of complaints about the infant miscreant's wrongdoings...
William pouted. It wasn't his fault that the other boys looked to him to lead them: it just so happened that he made up all the best games. That one about rescuing the princess from the dragon, now - that had been fun! Especially when Gracie Shepherd - the prettiest girl in the class - had let him tie her to the school railings so she could be the princess. It wasn't his fault that they hadn't been able to get the knots undone, and Gracie had ended up screaming blue murder and soaked to the skin in the sudden downpour. William had got just as wet, struggling with the knots, but where Gracie was swaddled in a large towel and given some of the headmistress's very own hot chocolate to drink, Bodie was made to stand in the corner, dripping quietly, while someone went to fetch his mother...
May Bodie had listened to the headmistress, her face serious, nodding her agreement that yes, her young son really should have some common sense beaten in to him and what were they to say to Mr Shepherd? He'd not be very pleased when he saw the state his daughter was in. And William's reading needed some work, too, and his arithmetic, and couldn't they stop the boy doodling guns and swords in his exercise book when he was supposed to be writing?... William had drifted off into his own little world at that point, a world where he was knight and soldier and king and explorer all rolled into one. He was only half aware of his mother making vague agreeing type noises, taking him by the hand and leading him home.
Once inside she hustled him straight through to the narrow kitchen, a tiny room not much more than the width of the passage that ran through the little terraced house. Lighting the gas and filling a large pan with water, she pulled off his sopping clothes and bundled him up in a towel, kneeling to pull him onto her lap. She sighed as she hugged him close.
"Oh Bodie-boy, what am I to do with you?"
He half-smiled, sheepishly, and wrapped his arms around his mother's slim shoulders, whispering, "Sorry, Mama."
He was, too. He adored his Mama, with her long black ringlets and dark green eyes, and the softness of her creamy skin and the sweetness of her voice and her love and her understanding. Nobody had a Mama like his. He hated disappointing her. She pushed him back a little, smiling ruefully.
"I should be telling you to behave yourself. But you're such a little time a child, and grown up for so long... But it would make me happy if you'd try not to get into any more trouble. Will you try? For me?"
He'd nodded and kissed her. And he did try, too, for a whole week...
The trouble was, of course, that he wasn't suited to life in this big, smelly, grey, old city. He could still - just - remember the wide open spaces and greenness of his Mama's home, where he'd learned to walk by holding onto the tail of the big old dog his Gran'mama kept for company - and for hunting rabbits - since his Gran'papa had died, long before he was born. Gran'mama used to tell him stories as he sat by the fire of an evening, eating thickly cut slices of the bread she used to bake slathered with butter and home-made blackberry jam - stories of how his Gran'papa had been a sailor, roaming the seven seas in search of adventure. On very special days she'd even show him some of the treasures Gran'papa had brought back from his travels: a silk handkerchief, so fine it was hardly there, with a map of India on it, and a coconut all hollowed out inside to hold tobacco, perched on the backs of three tiny carved elephants, and a carved ivory bracelet. And most precious of all, a China tea set, so delicate the light shone through it - a beautiful thing of red and gold and royal blue and the purest white. He'd wanted so to touch it. And when he'd at last cajoled Gran'mama into letting him hold one of the saucers, he'd dropped it, watching with horror as it slipped from his little hands and fell, almost in slow motion, to shatter on the stone-flagged floor. He'd burst into tears, and Gran'mama had pulled him to her into a bear hug.
"Don't fret, Bodie-lad. 'Tis only cold clay, after all. Warm child's more precious..."
But he still felt guilty, sometimes.
When he was four, Dada had returned to the village, sweeping his young wife off her feet and back into his arms where she belonged. And while William drowsed the grownups had talked for a long time by the fire. William hadn't understood most of what was said, but a short while later they were all exchanging tearful farewells with Gran'mama and heading off to Dublin, and a few days after that he found himself waking up in a tiny box of a room in their little house in a street in Liverpool. He'd hated it all, and Mama had tried to explain.
"Dada found work here, a way to make enough money so that we can all be together."
"Why can't we all be together at Gran'mama's? Don't like it here."
Mama had hugged him close, sighing. "I know, Bodie-boy, I know. I don't like it either. But it's Dada's hometown, and it's where you were born, and for a while, at least, we'd best make the best of it."
So they made the best of it. And a year later, young William was enrolled at the nearest school, where he was instantly an object of considerable interest and some hostility. Luckily, Andrew Bodie believed in teaching children the art of survival at a young age...
Andrew Bodie used to take his young son into the yard at the back of the house, a tiny square of concrete with a border of scrubby grass, and make of himself a punchbag for the little warrior, laughing at William's early efforts, but helping him to learn how and what to hit or kick. But at the end he would lift the lad to his broad shoulder and carry him back into the house, all the while telling him that although it was good that he learn how to take care of himself, he must only ever use what he learned to defend himself and his loved ones. Only a fool attacked first.
And William would nod gravely, imagining himself fending off hordes of attacking wolves, all under the control of a fearsome Mrs Jamieson dressed in a suit of armour...
If he adored his Mama, William absolutely idolised his Dada. Tall, handsome, with a mop of heavy black hair, wide blue eyes and a mouth just made for kissing, Andrew Bodie was without doubt a force to be reckoned with.
Smiling ruefully, Mama had called him a rogue and a ladykiller on many an occasion (this last had worried young William until Mama had explained what it meant). And William had spent not a few nights anxiously biting his lip and lying very still, listening to Mama weeping quietly in the next room, waiting for Dada to come home.
But he always did come home, bringing Mama a little bunch of flowers - violets, Michaelmas daisies, even roses once or twice. And just once a tiny posy of snowdrops, their shy, dazzling whiteness almost blinding in the dim and dingy room. She'd held them against her face, tears brimming, gazing at her husband with all the love in the world in her eyes. William could only just hear her words.
Dada had swept Mama into his arms and kissed her, long and deep, then turned to William and raised him up to join them. William had twined one hand in his Mama's hair and the other in his Dada's, for one moment lifted almost to heaven in their shared love.
May Bodie always went to Mass on Sunday. For a few months she'd taken young William with her, but he soon grew bored: he couldn't understand the language, and the spoken bits seemed to go on forever, and he didn't see why his Mama should spend so much time talking to someone she couldn't even see when she had him and Dada to love...
So Andrew started taking his son out for walks while May was at church. Young William loved these outings, so proud to be seen with his Dada. And so many ladies stopped to speak to them, smiling at William and blushing when Dada smiled at them! They'd arrive back to find Mama setting the table ready for the Sunday roast: Dada would put his arms around her waist from behind and hug her, and she'd turn and hug him back, gathering William into the embrace.
Over dinner, they'd talk about the future, about how when Dada had made enough money they'd go back to Ireland and live happily ever after. And Andrew Bodie would kiss his wife, his eyes twinkling, and after dinner take her up to their bedroom while Bodie played quietly downstairs, listening to Dada's deep voice and Mama's giggles, and the creaking of the floorboards.
No matter what the weather, no matter how much he hated the city and disliked his teachers, when Mama and Dada and he were together it felt like the sun was shining.
Andrew Bodie came home late that night. William had been asleep, but roused when he heard the door slam shut. Mama had hastened to meet Dada, shushing him. William crept to the head of the stairs to listen.
"The lad's asleep. Don't wake him, you great..."
Whatever else she was going to say was silenced in the kiss her husband gave her, and she sighed.
"Whyever did I have to fall for a ne'er-do-well like you?"
Andrew chuckled. "Because I'm tall, dark and handsome?"
"Aye, and so's Clark Gable."
"Because you can't resist me?"
She pretended to consider it, gazing up at him. His smile softened.
"Then maybe it's because I love you, May darlin'. It'd be a darker world without you."
She kissed him. Above them, William smiled sleepily and went back to his own bed, certain that whatever Mama told Dada about the kissing incident, he wasn't going to be in trouble for it. After all, they did it all the time, so it couldn't be wrong, could it...
And anyway, it was his birthday in three days time, his sixth birthday. Mama and Dada wouldn't be angry with him so close to his birthday! He smiled as he snuggled under the eiderdown. Mama had promised him a special treat, a grown up treat - a visit to the Gaumont to see Fantasia (William half thought it was as much a treat for Mama as for himself) and a special tea in town. And even better, Dada was coming with them! William hugged himself, a tremor of excitement thrilling through him, then slipped into sleep, happy, safe and secure in his parents' loving world.
They'd travelled into town on the top of the bus, William holding Mama's hand - 'looking after her', as his Dada had asked - chattering happily about things he could see out of the window, children at school, his teachers... Mama had smiled and stroked his hair, and let him prattle on, remembering what it was like to be so excited you couldn't keep it in, and had to talk to stop yourself from bursting...
As they got off the bus, Mama had spotted Dada waiting at the opposite corner. William saw her face light up with happiness as she waved, then hastened across the road...
It all seemed to happen in slow motion. His Mama lifted him, screaming, throwing him onto the pavement. He landed awkwardly. Pulled himself onto his hands and knees, blood running down his face from the cut over his eyebrow. He saw the car hit his Mama. He saw his Mama thrown upwards, then down onto the road. He saw the car speeding away. He saw his Dada, his face a mask of disbelief and horror, flinging himself onto the road to lift the limp form, cradling it against him, tears pouring down his face. He saw himself, pushing through the gathering crowd, moving numbly to his Dada, Dada pulling him into a crushing hug, live son in one arm, dead wife in the other. Sobbing his heart out.
When Bodie was six, his life changed forever...
© 2000 (October) Joules Taylor
© 2000 WordWrights.
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