A short story by SP Hannaway
A ticking hour, he’s stood here.
The door hasn’t budged. Jib’s rung the bell – ever so quiet, just the once.
He daren’t ruffle Hen.
Her van is sulking in the boxy yard, back from market, town, muddied-up,
gravel-scored. She can’t help tearing up the rutted lane.
April weather jigs about – a warm step, a cold.
Jib’s shoulders bunch up. His neck’s too short for his spindle frame.
– It’s the handle, he mutters.
All the time he’s been stuck here, in between, the front door’s been open.
He tried it once, thought about it twice. It’s caught – or jammed.
He titters, strands of straw-like hair bobbing. Awkwardly, he edges near, grips the handle with a bruised hand.
It’s locked, solid.
Her work, she’s exhausted. She must’ve turned, wrenched the key – an accident.
Jib’s shut out.
If it’s an emergency nap, he won’t wake her, rile her. Not worth it. A lot on her mind: the dolls. She gets hacked off. Her tongue bites.
Jib bites his tongue. He scuttles round the gable of their pebbledash house – gravel, sand, thrown together – he retreats to his field, his little ones.
The field straggles, curves away from him. It dips. It dithers in the hollow. Then it rolls up, up the side of a low mountain to a row of ash. Jib squints over. He searches the motley trees for life. Crows’ nests blot the blue, the rumpled cloud.
He scoots in between the ridges, down, skirts granite, leaps rows. Rock face round about, keeps an eye on him. He daren’t look, thinks Hen raised the stones.
They jut out, poke the cold air.
His seedlings, his babies, cry; strain up through the wormless earth. Potatoes and carrots, icebergs, beets – they’re unsure of their tiddly roots, the soil.
Jib streaks by.
He’s wrung-out as he reaches his potting shed in the hollow, his bolthole.
He settles down on the fold up mattress with his leaning rakes, hoes.
There’s bickering, beaking – a ruckus.
Jib jumps up, stumbles out, hitching up his crumpled cords – can’t hold onto a belt, always walks – and the crows have invaded – a multipronged attack.
They romp and root through the trenches, stealing straw, for their ramshackle nests. They uproot seeds; claw the earth. Jib grabs the nearest spade, the hefty one, and tears across the field, brandishing it.
– Bugger off! he shrieks.
Gripping his waistband, he clambers over rows, swinging this way and that.
– Find your own field!
The crows take off for an airy moment. They float, circle, drop behind him – defy him.
On the slope, he makes a madcap dash at three, four of them. But his trousers trip him. He topples, catches on a Hen-rock, tears the side of his knee.
He winces, his pale face crunching up.
– Bloody stone!
The van revs at the house, startling the mob. They clatter up, away. But one remains, a glint lodged in its burnt-black eye.
The engine rips.
The crow slopes back to its nest – job done.
He hears Hen slam the van door, the wheels skid on gravel, the charge down the narrow hawthorn lane – off to sell her handywork. He pictures the dolls’ faces – babies, toddlers, little ‘uns – up against the grimy window, carted off.
SP Hannaway’s first story appeared in Litro Online in 2014. Since then his work has featured in
journals such as Dream Catcher, Brittle Star, Lighthouse, The Incubator, Neon and The Interpreter’s House. He’s studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths. He has worked as an actor and lives in London.