A short story about leaving home.
There is an optimum time for dunking biscuits. Everybody knows that. If you take them out too soon they remain hard and unappetising. If you leave them in the brown murky liquid too long they become soft, they disintegrate, they fall apart. There’s an optimum time for leaving home too. Depart too early you’re unprepared, green, and abrasive. However if you leave home too late then you are soft. I refuse to be seen as soft. I refuse to be seen as a mummy’s boy.
16. Funny age. I can still get on the bus for half price. I can get through the football turnstiles as a youth, then go the pub and have a pint. Grow up! Don’t cry! Be a man! Stop acting childish! You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can check it’s publication date.
Sitting in the park alone, perched on my dad’s old suitcase. Perhaps it was this case that he packed when he left his childhood home. Times were different then. There was a war. He left to serve. King and Country. No war now. Still loss and misery. I let a tear go. Warm and wet. Did he cry too? Conscript or volunteer? Is there really choice and free will? When it’s time to go, whatever the reason, you can’t ignore the old father. They say the grass is always greener on the other side. But I know the greenest grass attracts sheep. I am not a sheep. I am a boy. I am a man. Am I Steve?
In the park at 5am. It’s not dark nor light, its neither night nor morning. Am I moving from or moving to? My legs are slightly parted, covered in pimples. Each hair angrily strikes upwards to trap air, The blotchy effect on my skin mimicking the pattern on mum’s red dress which doesn’t go past my bare knees. It must be the right time. My old bedroom is blue not pink. Blue in mood and blue in emotion. It seethes expectation of my maturation. Be a man, don’t cry!
A month ago, mum left home. In a mahogany carriage. It was her time. She had grown thin and pale. Washy, like weak tea. A soft faltering voice could no longer chastise. Consumption consumed her. First her fat and muscles. Her stubborn wheezy breath chiming the decline. At last the eyes becoming dimmer and more watery. Closing. Full stop. No more.
I am not my dad. He is hard. A factory worker. He is like the steel he forges. I ask him if I can. He says I can’t. I ask why. He says “Because I said so”. No need for explanation. It’s just the way things are. He is bigger than me. I have to just get on with it. It is his voice I hear in my head. And I cannot be my mum. It’s against the rules. Boys become their dad, girls become their mum.
5.30am. The buses start at 6. I have my correct change in mum’s purse. It is getting lighter and the sun will shine a spotlight on me. The thing in the red dress. And black heels. 16 and not yet shaving. 16 and voice unbroken. Adam’s apple not yet prominent. Less Adam more Eve. More madam and less Steve. A red dawn arriving and a red Dawn emerging. Dad will be getting up now. He won’t notice the empty bed in the blue room. Things to be done. Clock on at 6 and work ’til 4. Working to the tune of hard metal. The day broken up with pickle and Spam. No sissies amongst the brothers in arms.
6.00am. The bus is on time. I’m standing on the pavement with my arm outstretched. I indicate, it indicates and pulls over to swallow me up. The conductor approaches. It is full fare today. The first time. Dawn isn’t a girl, she is a woman. Not off to the school nor to the stadium now. 4 pence to the railway station. I have the right money. The conductor gives me a sneer or a leer, I only want from him the ticket. Print it, whir it, click it. I blush – the colour of my dress. Judgement is real. It can be felt, it can be expressed, it can be experienced. The transaction is done. The transition continues.
Alighting at the station my eyes are fixed ahead. Just one more ticket to purchase. One more ticket, one way. I am going to where the streets are paved with gold. Where Steve can be Dawn, and pink can be blue. Where the only judges are those with wigs, and all else in wigs are not judged. I will swap the colliery brass band for The Kinks, and my cotton and nylon for satin and denim. I will exchange servitude and duty for the chance to fail, the chance to be free.
6.30am. I am on the train. A half empty carriage full of half empty people. The sun has now climbed fully over the horizon. It is shining brightly through the carriage window. It is shining on triumph in a red dress. A new bright Dawn. A new bright start.