The sun shone brightly as I walked down the pleasant, leafy road. New to the district, I had managed, after several wrong turns, to find my way to the local Library, but like many small towns the roads followed no pattern, so although I had managed to get there without trouble I was finding myself completely lost trying to remember my way home.
Roads were suddenly lanes, lanes opened into farms, and suddenly a small estate with bus stops and Post office.. One leafy turn took me onto a pretty green where two boys, aged about nine or ten, were playing with a yellow football. I was near a small block of flats and a curved terrace of red-brick houses bordering a cul-de-sac. The last house in the terrace caught my eye, not only because of its beautiful garden, but by the presence of a cheery little lady in a straw hat purposefully wielding a garden rake. I approached her rose-covered wall.
“Good afternoon. I hate disturbing you, but I’m hopelessly lost and wondered if you could tell me how I get to Mile-end Road.”
Two bright blue eyes appeared from under the straw brim..
“Oh! My dear – you have gone astray! I’m afraid my directions will sound very complicated! but I’ve got a little map inside. Come in and I’ll show you.” She gave me a lovely smile, parked the rake and peeled off her gardening gloves.
I apologised for being a nuisance and admired her garden. She told me enthusiastically how much she loved it, and when we reached the house even suggested that I might like to join both her and her husband for a cup of tea which she knew would arrive in about ten minutes as by that time he would have made it! She laughingly explained that it was his daily duty, ans sure enough in minutes, walking slowly with a stick, a smiling man pushed a wooden trolley into the room. My new library book was beside me on the table and they noticed with delight that it was about Egypt, a country where they had spent many years working for the British Council. Did I know it? Had I ever been there. On hearing that I hadn’t we were soon immersed in their memorabilia; photo albums of past happy years. I recognised their youthful pictures as they stood or sat alongside a lovely young boy, who was, I presumed, their son.
As we drank our tea I commented on a charming round window we had passed in the hall just by the lounge door. Through it I could see a pretty tree, perfectly framed by the unusual window.
“Yes.” said my host “It is beautiful, We had it made specially so my wife and I could always see the rowan tree. We planted it in memory of our son who unhappily died many years ago, but every time we pass the window we say “hello” to him.” He smiled at his wife, who gently smiled back.
We were admiring the photographs when peace was shattered by a rattling of stones hitting the window. The woman cried out; her husband re-assured her
“Its only the boys, Doris. They don’t mean any harm.”
“No Bert – its him – I know its him. He’s evil.”
“Nonsense dear, he’s only ten. A bit wild, but only ten.”
Looking out of the window I saw the two boys I had seen playing with the yellow ball run laughing down the garden path and jump the gate onto the road. When later I prepared to leave a glossy black cat with emerald eyes padded quietly into the room. Doris, still trembling, stooped and picked him up, giving him a big hug, stroking his shining fur.
“We call him Egypt. We named him after that beautiful country because we were all so happy there.” She smiled at me; a sad smile. When I finally left, I promised to return. They seemed to need company.
On my next library journey, as I had promised, I again visited Bert and Doris. The same two boys were playing with their yellow ball on the Green. The older of the two was dark, with broad shoulders and stocky legs, his face freckled, eyebrows thick and black, the younger was a complete opposite, slim, skin pale as porcelain, with hair, almost white, hanging in silken whisps down the sides of his face. Thick lashes bordered almond eyes, almost colourless.
The fair boy stood directly in front of me and kicked his yellow ball straight at me. He was smiling, his pale lips bordering tiny, even teeth. The ball missed me, but the smile never left his face. Retrieving it he followed me, too close for comfort, to the Raymond’s garden gate.
Over tea I asked Bert why the children were not at school.
“No school will have them. They are out of control.” He got up to draw the curtain. The days were getting shorter. “I’m sure they are nice boys really. – just a bit wild”.
Doris shook her head sadly.
“They threw stones at Bert the other day. One hit him on the back of the head and hurt him quite badly. I’m frightened to go to the shops these days. The dark one shouts at me. The other one just laughs, but it’s a horrible laugh.”
It was several weeks before I visited them again. As soon as I arrived I could tell something had upset them. It certainly had. They had opened the front door one morning to find Egypt’s battered body on the doorstep. Later in the day when they had gone together to the shops the dark boy ran behind them calling “Meeow!” and laughing. Doris’s tears were uncontrollable as she told me the awful story.
As I left I saw the boys were, as usual, playing on the Green. I walked over to them and asked what pleasure could they possibly get frightening elderly people, and asked if they were responsible for killed the Raymond’s cat. The fair boy looked at me and smiled. The dark one said –
“He did it. Cotter did it. He don’t like cats. It was a wicked cat.”
“That was a terrible thing to do.” I said. “And you are cruel to frighten elderly people .”
“Silly old buggers – they ought to be put down. We don’t do nothing – they’re stupid.” said the dark one. Cotter just smiled.
On my next visit I suggested to Bert that the police should be told about the damage that had just been done. Plants had been ripped up, the bird table thrown over, but Bert wouldn’t think of it. “They’re only kids.” he said.
As the weeks went by both Bert and Doris were showing signs of their increasing distress. Bert’s hip was giving him a lot of pain, and Doris hardly left the house – even tending her garden made her nervous. When I left for home I found the boys throwing stones at the garage. I asked Cotter “Why do you do this?”
His friend said “He don’t talk much.”
“Why?” I asked. He shrugged
“He weren’t never taught. He’s deaf. He can talk to me though. I understand him. Don’t I Cotter?”
Cotter’s eerie smile never left his face.
“His Mum says he’s the devil’s child. She don’t like him much. But I like him. He does queer things. He eats mice and spiders.”
“But why should he want to hurt people?”
“’Cos people is always hurting him – he’s not happy so why should they be.”
“Has he got a father?”
“Yeah – but his father beats him – and his mother – his pa’s black.”
“Black? But Cotter is so fair!”
“Yeah – funny that!”
I bent down to Cotter’s level and tried with signs to ask him not to bully the Raymonds. He just smiled his beautiful smile.
A few evenings later I was uneasy for some reason, and felt I should visit the Raymonds again. Bert was resting his painful leg. Doris went into the kitchen to make us a pot of tea and soon Bert and I were looking, once more, at the photos of Egypt – when there was a terrible scream. I dashed into the kitchen – but Doris wasn’t there, I ran into the hall and through the round window saw Cotter slashing at the Rowan tree with Bert’s small axe. His eyes were bright, white hair spreading a halo around his smiling, smiling face, saliva shining on his lips.
Then - In a sudden whirl of frenzied movement his head vanished, and a spray of small blood tipped teeth splashed onto the round window as Doris, crazed beyond recall, smashed the heavy spade through Cotter’s skull. Her face, contorted in her anguish, filling the beautiful window as Bert hobbled into the hall.
“Oh God!” he whispered, before glazed horror seized his heart and took away his pain forever.
Slowly I opened the back door and went to Doris, standing in her Bugsbunny apron, bubbles tumbling from her mouth, her nose. Cotter’s hair mixed with blood on her pale green jumper. I took the spade from her hands and we walked slowly into the house, past Bert, past their life, past their future…
I sat in a chair and picked up the telephone.
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