“Now look what you’ve done.” Barry had left his mum crying over a cigarette in their flat but he’d brought her voice with him. “Your favourite place to hide and you’ve gone and broken it.”
He didn’t want to hear how he’d end up like his father, wherever he was now, so he screamed. He clenched his fists and screamed and screamed through his knotted throat until he had to lean on the broken-legged table to get his breath back.
All because she’d found his fags, and she said he was too young to smoke. Barry had tried to say he was thirteen. He’d tried to shout it at her in the voice grown-ups used when they didn’t want to be argued with, but his stammer pushed his tongue against the roof of his mouth and shattered the words into grunts and clicks. Mum hadn’t waited for him but decided they needed to have a serious talk, as usual, and somehow ended up talking about his father and started sniffing, as usual. Her shaking hands had fumbled for her fags, only this time they were Barry’s fags, “and now you’ve started me smoking again when I’ve gone all day…”
Barry’s scream filled the portacabin’s wooden walls until he was sobbing for breath. He cuffed the tears off his cheeks and found himself looking at the charcoal drawing on the cupboard above him. It was a harrier jet, like the ones that sometimes flew over the derelict holiday camp the portacabin had been abandoned in. Like the ones he wanted to fly one day.
One day. But now he was too young. Too young to smoke.
The jet looked like something a kid would draw. No kid would know where to put the serial number, or where the refuelling probe was, but jets were what kids drew. Jets were what kids wanted to fly. Barry wasn’t a kid. He was thirteen. Yet almost every flat surface in the cabin was covered with charcoal jets.
He flung open a cupboard door and grabbed the box of charcoals he’d blagged from an art lesson. The sticks scattered across the faded linoleum floor. He got hold of one and slashed it across the harrier. It hurt to destroy his drawing but he slashed harder and harder and his grunts became words.
“Not! Too! Young!”
The charcoal snapped.
“Not too young.”
His voice was more level now.
He turned away and found himself facing a patch of blank wall at the end of the cabin. It was so clean he didn’t understand why he hadn’t drawn on it before. He picked up a new stick of charcoal. He would fill this space with something no kid would draw. Something Dad would draw if he was still around. Dad had left nine years and three months ago. Barry knew exactly. His mum said he’d just walked out and never come back like the total waster he was, but Barry knew she’d driven him away with her serious talks. One of Barry’s earliest memories was her snivelling, just before Dad walked out the door for the last time.
What would Dad draw?
Summer Holidays was published in Albedo One #29, republished in the Suffer the Little Children anthology, both of which are now out of print. It is now available as part of the Steel in the Morning collection, and as a standalone Kindle edition.
Cover by Manda Benson.