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The Other Way Round

by Nick Allen

The estate we lived on was populated by a fair sprinkling of lowlife. You know the kind, on disability but labouring on the side, women having blokes live with them and not declaring it to social security. Houses were generally tatty, gardens uncared for, every other family seemed to have a Doberman and loud arguments were de rigueur, often followed by the wearing of dark glasses for a week or so.

Amongst this detritus we were the worst.

My Ma tried her best, but with four kids was always struggling. She’d been quite a catch in her day apparently and met Dad when he’d been at the top of his game. He’d worn flash clothes, commanded respect from other minor villains around the estate and always had a big wad in his wallet. He’d been the archetypal big fish in a rotten pond.

But eighteen months in jail changed all that. He’d come out to find other fish, sharks, in his place. He also had a new-found fear of prisons (other inmates had apparently taken a dislike to him and made his life hell) all of which put paid to his nefarious activities.

So he became a flat slob who left everything to Ma while he watched TV all day eating junk.

I was still at school and swotting for exams the summer Ma snapped.

The garden was awful, hadn’t been tended for years, and even on our street it stood out as a disgrace. But why Ma chose the hottest day I could ever remember to tell my Dad to do something about it, I don’t know. What I do know was that there was something in her tone that day that told Dad he’d better get his act together.

And, to be fair, he worked hard. The sun blazed fiercely all that day, and when he finally came in at tea time he was breathing hard and fast, his white vest was filthy with sweat and dirt, and his brow leaking onto his sunburnt face. But he looked pretty proud, telling us what a great job he’d done.

Ma looked out of the window and saw a garden that, quite incredibly, looked worse than when he’d started, like something an inept and lazy teenager might have tried to get away with.

The hot weather must have got to her because she started screaming at him, telling him what a useless idle bugger he was. He began shouting back, turning puce as he did so. Ma would normally back off at this point, aware that he had a nasty streak, but she was so incensed, so disappointed, fear didn’t register — even when he raised his fist.

That’s when I could stand by no longer and with all my strength, I shoved him. I was only trying to protect Ma from herself, but Dad stumbled, catching his head on the stone hearth as he fell. The sound of his skull cracking was awful, and a red pool of blood quickly formed under his head.

He was dead, we knew that, but we called the ambulance anyway. It was a long frightening wait, and we both thought I’d be charged with murder. The post-mortem, however, said he’d had a heart attack and as a consequence fallen, hitting his head.

We won’t be telling anyone in hurry, but Ma and me, we both know it was the other way round.

Copyright © 2010 by Nick Allen

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