Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story

See-Through Eyes

Ray Robinson

Charlie. He lived on the same estate as me, with his nana and granddad, mum and dad, his younger brother, Tatlock, and older sister, Greasy Maggie. Seven of them crammed into a tiny three-bedroom council house. They all looked the same: copper-wire hair and piggy little eyes dancing away behind greasy specs. Charlie was always chewing on a wooden clothes peg, and him and Greasy Maggie both had harelips. 

Shifty-looking, Dad called them.

Greasy Maggie was the dirtiest; her hair left a huge greasy stain around the shoulders of the long grey jacket she always wore; that, and her red Wellington boots. Greasy Maggie was a talker, but nothing you’d understand – her twisted mouth working away, ginger hair slapped down with plastic hair slides that glittered. And her eyes were the palest; they all had see-through eyes; not pale blue but light grey – the colour of clouds. We’d shout at Maggie from behind the hedges: 

Greasy Maggie chip pan head,
Pisses her pants and shits the bed.

She’d look up into the sky and scream. Thought it was God calling her.

They used to hang about in Bluebell Wood all day. I’d see them returning in a convoy up the hill, pushing big old prams full of kindling and dead birds, a long line of them with their mouths working. But they must have got money from somewhere; Charlie always seemed to have plenty. 

Standing in the bushes at the edge of the park. It seemed a fair deal; Charlie rolling the wooden peg around his mouth as I looked up at the clouds – the same colour grey as those eyes watching me.

None of us kids knew how old Charlie was, but he had hair on his lip. 

Charlie’s brother, Tatlock, was in the year above me at school. Rumour had it that to punish him his parents tied him to a chair naked and made him watch them having sex. 

I can’t remember how Dad found out. No, I said. He didn’t touch, only looked. Dad clouted me. Get to your fucking room and stay put. I just knew he’d go to Charlie’s house. I followed. He walked straight through their front door. I heard shouting inside. Then he was dragging Charlie out by his hair. Charlie not making a noise, just my father grunting as he punched. Tatlock, Greasy Maggie, the parents and grandparents: piggy faces at the smudged windows.

Soon after, we heard that Greasy Maggie got pregnant and Charlie disappeared. No one knew whether Greasy Maggie had that baby.

Then the graffiti. The smashed windows. The fire. 

They left town.

I hadn’t thought about him for years. Not since I’d got away from that town, from the North. Just a flash he was, a crazy figure running down the street with longs legs like a stilt walker, buckling as he ran, ginger hair wild behind him. Then gone. I wanted to shout down that busy London street; but then I remembered and felt sick. I found a shop doorway and sat down: those strawberry-and-cream cheeks; those see-through eyes. It was just as I remembered him, the summer before he disappeared. But it was my father’s face I saw. Blood on his knuckles. Everything so black and white when you’re a kid.

Then things changed. I started knocking around with the older kids on the estate. Bottles of cider from a hatch in the pub. Sitting round the Hullah’s house watching dirty videos. Shoplifting from Molly Auton’s and stealing trifle sponges out the letterbox from Fine Fare at night. I remembered Billy Firth hanging himself in the woods and how we stole a sofa from Darwins Saleroom and carried it down to the beck, to the secret shed we had down there, where we smoked and first fucked. My cousin Albert on his old black bike, fag in his mouth. Us setting fire to the field. Finding Mark shagging Larinda down by the sewerage work. Sherrif and his little shed selling second-hand crap, keeping warm by the orange bar of his electric fire. Watching ambulances wheel dead bodies out the back of the old folks’ home. Christmases drunk, going round the streets carol singing to get cash.

I got the Tube home and phoned in sick at work. I stood by the window and watched the clouds go by. I thought about Charlie running away from it all. Remembered the day I left home. Running and running from the end that summer.

And never stop.