Our second assignment is due on 5 January, a 1500 word complete short story. I’ve written the following. Does it make the grade?
We all suffer from some sort of collective climactic hallucination when we look back at our childhoods, don’t we? Summers were always long and hot, Christmases were white. But the summer I’m going to tell you about really was hot – the great drought of 1976.
I stayed with my grandmother that whole summer. I didn’t usually spend so long with her and I didn’t know why I did this time, though to be honest I didn’t think about it too much. Years later, just a few weeks before she died, my mother told me it was because she and Dad were having “problems”: she had found out he was having an affair with the lady from the hairdresser’s below his office. She forgave him though. You did in those days, especially if there was a kid involved.
Point is, I didn’t ask why I was at my Gran’s all summer, mainly because it suited me fine. I loved my Gran. She had a sweet jar that was always full and she kept it on a shelf within easy reach, not like at home where it was in a cupboard where you had to get the steps to reach and Ma always seemed to hear me dragging them across the kitchen, and would be there before I could get to the jar. And Gran’s house had a big garden with with loads of space to kick a ball, not like ours in town, no wider than my Dad’s outstretched arms really, where I was always getting in trouble for planting the ball in some terribly important flowers, or skying it into next door’s garden.
There were loads of kids my age in Gran’s village and that summer we spent all day every day running around the village making mischief. Low-level innocent mischief of course, the sort boys will do when a long hot summer means they can be out all day and the village is safe enough for their parents not to worry about them. It took me a little while to be accepted, because of my townie voice – these Suffolk boys all had strong country accents and at first thought I was snooty, the solicitor’s son from Potter’s Bar who was starting at grammar school in September. But once they saw I could kick a ball and climb a tree as well as any of them, they treated me like one of the gang.
Three of us, me, Kai and Sam, were meeting at Kai’s this one afternoon. We often met at Kai’s because he had a ferret. Yet again the weather was scorching: it was becoming difficult to remember when it had ever been anything else. We soon got tired of playing with the ferret, so headed off into the garden to see what else we could find to do. I don’t know if you remember the summer of 1976, but one thing that sticks in my mind is the number of ladybirds. Rosebushes were red with them as they devoured the equally numerous aphids. So we decided to have a ladybird collecting competition, first to one hundred. It quickly became clear that this wasn’t going to work as they kept flying off, so it was time for something else. We had made our way to the end of Kai’s garden by this point, which backed on to the park of the local manor house. The house had been sold recently and no-one really knew who had bought it. There were stories about huge trucks driving in, and carloads of people from London, but, despite the best efforts of the village gossips, nothing was forthcoming. On that blazing hot afternoon, with the thermometer up at 90, and an inexplicable tension in the air – the weather would break just a few days later – it seemed our role, no, our civic duty to see what we could find out. We would be spies, silently slipping through the overgrown fields to the house, noiselessly finding out what we could and slipping away again like shadows to impart our discoveries to the wider community. A plan of action decided, over the fence we hopped and forward we crept, up towards the house.
The first building we came across was a large barn and this seemed an excellent place to start our investigations, not least, though we would never have admitted it, because we were less likely to get caught there. We moved around the corner of the barn, checking that the coast was clear and jumping out in our best James Bond fashion. The barn door was slightly ajar, so it looked like getting in would be easy. There was a slight hiatus as Kai suggested there should be a lookout but none of us was prepared to take on so lowly a task, which would certainly mean missing out on whatever was in the barn. So we agreed we would all go in and the three of us eased open the large wooden door.
If we had had any expectations of what lay within, the sight that met our eyes exceeded them by several orders of magnitude. Was anything more likely to thrill the hearts of three 11-year-old boys than the most amazing selection of sports cars any of us had ever seen? We didn’t know what they all were by name, but we knew they were beautiful.
Halted on the threshold, we took in the wonder arrayed in front of us in neat rows. Whoever these belonged to, he looked after them. Every single one gleamed and the air resonated with car polish and fresh leather. Whenever I smell those two together now, I am beamed back to 1976, entering that Shangri-La, the rapture of finding it shot through with the dread of being caught.
Sam was the first to utter a sound and he didn’t say the word as much as exhale it: “Woooooooow!” Breaking the silence broke our trance and slowly we moved into the space. There must have been 20 cars: red, black, silver, green, soft-top, hard-top, gull-wing, bucket-seat, low-slung. Although stationary, none felt parked. “Parked” was too static a word. “Crouched” seemed better, brimming with potential energy, ready to move at the slightest touch. We walked in amongst them, peering in windows, running fingers along body work, standing back and inspecting with a knowing air, like we had the slightest clue what we were doing.
It was Kai who said what we had all been thinking. “Let’s get in one.” We gravitated to the same car, a British Racing Green open-top Jag. After another tussle about who got to be in the driving seat, which Kai won as it had been his idea, we all got in, me and Sam squeezing into the front passenger seat, neither prepared to be in the back like a girl.
There we were, the three of us, racing around the circuit at Le Mans. Suddenly we were whipped back to reality by a voice saying “What the bloody hell is going on here?”. We ducked beneath the dashboard, but we knew it was futile: we were well and truly caught in the act. We looked up to see a young man looking into the Jag. He had long dark curly hair and sunglasses like Kojak.
“What are you toe-rags doing in my Jag?” he asked, but he didn’t really sound cross. Still, we all stammered out some incoherent answers, which made him laugh. “Lads from the village, eh?” We nodded dumbly. “Come on then, if you’re going to break in, we may as well make it worth your while.” He held the car door open and we tumbled out, wondering what was going to happen next.
What happened was that David, as he told us to call him, gave us a tour of his collection. The cars had exotic names, names that didn’t seem to belong in that Suffolk barn, that even to an untravelled lad from Potter’s Bar spoke of mystery and excitement and, although I hardly knew what it was, sex. Maserati Bora. Lamborghini Miura. De Tomaso Pantera. Words that tasted like Italian coffee and purred like their engines. They made sounds like no cars I had ever heard, animalistic growls that you felt as much as heard.
After a while David said, “Fun’s over boys. Time to go home.” Our faces must have been comically crestfallen, because he laughed and said, “Come on then, hop in the Jag and I’ll drive you home.” With yelps of delight we ran to the car. We got into the back seat, no argument this time, as if we all understood this was an adventure to complete together. David started her up and away she pulled, the noise of this engine altogether more couth, more restrained, somehow more English.
The drive into the village was the best of my life. The August sun beat down on us, aphids were swept up our noses by the speed we were travelling, and we couldn’t have been any happier. We drew up at the village bus-stop and hopped out. Delight made our thanks to David less than articulate, but undoubtedly genuine. He pulled away with a smile and a wave, leaving the three of us standing looking at each other, unable to comprehend the marvellous good fortune that had just befallen us. And then we each headed home, carrying the memory of that special afternoon like a boiled sweet stuck at the very bottom of our pockets, not to be shared with anyone else.
Gran was making dinner when I got in. “Nice afternoon, dear?”
“S’alright I suppose” and with that I headed up to my room.