Admiral Knightsky by David Patrick OC.
Ian examined the skip with an eye well-practiced in such things. Old pine doors semi-shedding varnish of the darkest hue aligned its walls. They were evenly spaced and angled in descending order from back to front allowing him room to view the contents at the lowest end. It was a timeless technique to add volume to the metal bucket. Little, if anything, was significant enough to pick through.
A battered mattress and an assortment of broken wicker chairs were compressed beneath the rubble of shattered porcelain sinks and a cracked toilet. Rusted front forks of a bicycle poked awkwardly out of a pile of damp muck and rotten vegetation like a dinosaur’s ribs awaiting excavation. A scattering of empty white tubes, stinking of adhesive, were jumbled among crumbled cinderblocks and stained floorboards. Crowning the heap was a stew of twisted metals and electrical cables which reminded Ian of the mangled intestines of some savage beast.
Nothing worth his effort, he assured himself again. He was about to leave when something caught his eye. Jutting out from between a knackered washing machine and a wickedly mottled pillow was a slab of plasterboard.
Eagerly moving towards it, he glanced round. Nobody was looking. He reached out and gripped its sides. Ian was surprised at how easily two chunks of the stuff snapped off. As he turned the treasure over to study its condition an angry voice yelled, ‘Oye! Clear off you little git or I’ll…’
He did not wait to hear the rest. Clutching the fragments tightly against his chest, Ian ran. Fearing to look back in case it provided his pursuer with an advantage, he kept pace until he rounded the bend which to his mind was a great distance away.
Worse than getting caught fleecing the skip was the wrath his mother would dish out if she discovered he wandered around the block all by himself. ‘Stay in the Green, I’m warning you,’ she warned. ‘Stay where I can see you.’
At most, he figured, she only looked out for him three times a day: before dinner, before tea and in-time. He knew he had plenty of time having just finished his dinner. There was no way he would have risked going for a walk around the block otherwise. The danger he faced came from the many informers his mother had. She had spies everywhere. Ian couldn’t remember a time when his mother wasn’t chatting to every second person they met. He often spotted his dad raising his eyes to heaven and shaking his head, or checking an invisible watch on his wrist. His dad said she had the tongue of a shirt sleeve flapping on the washing line on a windy day. Ian’s dad often said such things being careful not to let his mother hear. She ruled the house on all fronts and her tongue could wag like the devils if she was not happy.
Out of breath, he reached the cul-de-sac. In all, it was horseshoe shaped with the Green filling up most of its hoof. The circling road and houses were like the horseshoe itself. A little in from the neck of the entrance was Fernley’s gates. Though old man Fernley lived on the main road his back garden encroached in to the entrance of the Green. A long, tall hedge that attracted millions of green-fly during the hot summer months hemmed the side of his garden. At the end of it were two large yellow gates padlocked together. Ian never figured out why they remained standing. Behind them was a thick sprawl of dense bushes. Covered in thorns and clingy vines, they were impassable. The gates made a perfect goal for football and gave off a satisfying clank whenever a ball smashed into them. More than that, however, it was Ian’s favourite hangout.
Sitting there, he was shielded from Mrs McGrath’s, the nosy old cow at number twenty-seven. Always with her head out of the window, that one, threatening she’d take a knife to the football if it ever went into her garden. It often did, but she never did. Still everybody held their breaths when she went off on one of her rants in case she was finally driven to make good her continuing promise.
Ian sat at his spot by the gates. To his left and behind him were several stumpy branches dense with leaves. It took him two days of careful manipulation to worry the branches enough so they would twist aside and spring back into place without revealing the secret spot he used as a hiding place. Even now, a minor sense of pride welled up within at the knowledge nobody knew it existed. His place was even safe from Mr Fernley. On a previously adventure he discovered the shrubs sprawled deeply into the garden. His hide was too far to reach by lawnmower or garden sheers and well concealed.
It started to get chilly. Zipping up his jacket, Ian looked up. The sky had turned into a sheet of grey given the sun a pale haunted appearance. Disregarding the minor inconvenience of the weather, he snapped the plasterboard into several handy sized pieces. He placed all but two of them into his hiding place. Ian pocket one of the pieces and began peeling the card backing from the other. It was time-consuming and involved a lot of carefully placed spit to remove the tough backing without crumbling the plaster, but he had time on his hands.
Scanning the Green, he was confident the older kids hanging out at the top would not bother him and the little ones playing in the front garden of his neighbour’s would never dare venture past the boundary of the driveway. He tested the structure of a chunk of pink plaster on the concrete path beside him. The chalk held together well.
With his treasure he could do many things. Spelling his name in large letters was one option, but he disregarded the idea as soon as he thought of it. His mother walked by the very place on a daily basis. But that was not the main reason. It was the girls. Once they spotted his name, there would be no end to their pestering him for some to etch out a hopscotch grid. Naw, he thought, not my name.
And Clive, he was the worst. Clive was one of his two friends, well, one of the only two boys the same age as him. Apart from the girl because they did not count, everybody else was either five years older or five years younger. Along with Pete, Clive was one of his best friends because he had the best toys of anybody he knew. Clive’s father worked abroad, or so Clive said, and that was why he got more toys than anybody else. He was spoiled rotten, the lucky sod. Maybe it was because he always got what he wanted that Clive always insisted on trying out or using anything Ian had. He would insist on having a chunk of his chalk, without a doubt.
And Pete, he would not really care. Knowing Pete he would probably crush it under his shoe or throw it at Mrs McGrath’s window. Pete did not care what anybody said. He spat all the time and cursed. He did not even have to change his clothing everyday. Ian once counted Pete wearing the same clothes for eight days in a row. Ian’s mother said she felt sorry for the boy, but Ian didn’t. If anything, he was envious by the way Pete could stay out as late as he wanted to. Whenever Ian stayed out for even five minutes longer than he was allowed his mother would give out to him. In fact he was surprised Pete was not at the gates already. But sometimes Pete was like that. Days could pass without a sight of him, and then he would appear and never say where he was.
Pete was the best fighter of the three and the best at making things like catapults or hideouts. He could be very funny at times, but sometimes his mood could change rapidly and it scared Ian a little. Clive was the smart one. He was in Ian’s class and always got top marks. Whenever Clive did well, and was lavished with praise, he would sit with a smugness that drove Ian mad. All the teachers loved him, just to make matters worse.
The only thing Ian was good at was drawing. Even his teacher said he showed potential. He was unsure what that meant, but took it to be a good thing. His father thought him a secret about drawing. It was his secrete and he never told anybody else in case they became as good, or better than him at art.
Every picture, his father said, no matter how complex or easy could be drawn with four simple rules. The first was using a straight line, the second by using a line with one or more curves. The last two involved using different colours to make things shady or bright. With only one colour, Ian did not have to worry about using colours other than pink. By putting more pink in certain places it would make other areas seem shaded or bright. He loved the easy rules because they were easy. The tricky bit comes with knowing when to draw straight and curved lines and where to place thicker areas for shading. He practiced all the time. Every wall in his bed room was covered with artwork. His favourite pictures and drawings were of horses. He loved horses and knew all about them.
Ian’s dad had a passion for horses too. Some evenings he would spend his entire time reading about them in the newspaper. Whenever his mother nagged him about the ‘GGs’ as she called them, his Dad always said if it was not for Admiral Kinghtsky they would never be married. On occasions his father muttered that he still wasn’t sure if he won or lost the bet.
Sometimes when he ran, Ian slapped either side of his thighs with his palms in time to his run. Although Pete and Clive and the older kids use to mock him for it, he didn’t care. He knew with certainty when he ran like that it made him go faster. Ian wished he was a horse at times, but that was something he would never tell his friends.
Smiling, he knew what he was going to draw: a horse at full gallop.
Hunkering down, he began the smooth curve of its belly. That one swooping line was perfect, but his pink chalk had started to whittle quickly. After retrieving the rest of his stash and speedily removing more of the cardboard backing he was ready to continue.
The legs, fetlocks and hooves, muscle lines and veins flowed easily onto the path. From neck to back through to rear and hind quarters were all done in one fluid motion. He was lost in the gliding motion and could almost feel the watery flow of the outline as it took shape. Drawing did that to him sometimes.
Standing, he examined his progress. It was good, perhaps the best he ever accomplished, but it was far from finished. One misjudged stroke and the whole thing could be ruined. The placement of the furthest front leg was difficult, but he struggled through. The powerful neck where it rolled and joined the crux of the jaw was the finest he ever achieved, he was positive. Flaring nostrils, the bridge of its nose, fierce eyes and pricked ears followed shortly. Ian considered placing a saddle, harness and bit on the animal, or even a rider, but he opted not to. He was not the best at drawing people’s faces and was afraid he would spoil the horse. Besides, in Ian’s mind he was the riderless horse running free over a lush grass land. The last of the outlines were slashes of a pink ruffled mane and wild strands of tail hair. His chalk was dwindling fast. He hoped he had enough to complete the shading of the animal’s to add power to its form. With the last of his chalk he managed to lightly etch the grasslands the horse was galloping over. It was finished.
Stiff limbed and covered in pink powder, he stood to take in his work. The light had faded since he begun. He had never been so absorbed in a drawing before, or so pleased with his efforts. Always, even with his favourite drawings at home¸ there were still things he wanted to change or never got quite right. This was by far the finest thing he ever did. He was so lost in his labour that he didn’t notice Pete and Clive standing to the side of the gates.
Embarrassed, he hung his head waiting for the slagging to begin, but it never did. His friends stared at him, before briefly exchanging a look at each other. ‘It’s bloody cool,’ Pete said sincerely.
Clive remained silent, but nodded his agreement. There was something about Clive’s expression Ian never saw before: a look of jealousy. It was right then the first splashes of rain began to fall.
Ian was certain Clive briefly grinned out of spite, but would never admit it. All three looked down silently as a heavy volley or rain bombarded onto his creation. Great splodges of pink erupted with each drop. Ian felt queasy. It was not fair, but he hadn’t time to dwell on it.
‘Ian? Ian, get in here before you catch you death. Tea’s just ready. Get in.’
As he plodded towards his home his mother continued, ‘What on earth happened to your clothes?’
His clothes were blemished in pink dust. Shrugging was the most he could manage. Words escaped him. The best thing he had ever achieved was getting washed away and all his mother cared about was his damn clothes.
‘Up them stairs with you, straight away, and have a wash before tea,’ she said as he stepped into the hallway. She let out a sigh of disapproval and shook her head as he passed her. ‘I only got them dry last night…. I don’t know?’ she muttered as he stomped up the stairs.
‘Ah, leave the boy alone,’ his father called from the kitchen. Ian didn’t wait to hear her reply. In his room, he stood by the window looking at the streams of pink trailing into the shore. A vanishing smudged outline was all that was left and that too would soon be gone along with his joy. Clive and Pete went running back to their homes and all other life in the cul-de-sac had fled. The Green was empty. Ian felt empty too. Closing the curtains, he tried his best not to look at the other pictures upon his wall. Ian undressed and tossed his clothes into the wash basket. A minor thud sounded as something landed on the floor. Bending down, he discovered one last piece of plaster had fallen from his pocket.
Ian snatched it up and buried it in the back of his draw. A slight smile crept across his face. He would ride another day.