Image by Christine Renney
The sun was directly overhead and it beat down on them. Tom squinted at it and craved the cool of his room. It was early, just twelve, midday, the halfway mark and he couldn’t pretend any longer that his hopes for today were not lost and he wondered how long he would have to sit and listen to his dad. Listen to his drivel, that’s what his mum always said; ‘Don’t listen to your dad, don’t pay any attention to his drivel.’ But drivel didn’t feel like the correct word to describe his dad’s ranting. ‘Drivel’ sounded like something that was harmless and when his dad got like this the words that escaped him were hard and misshapen and they didn‘t sound harmless. Tom wondered could drivel be harmful and he wanted to talk about this, to ask someone, but who?
Tom studied the man on the bank opposite. He was from Bosnia or Poland or Romania; it really didn’t matter which. Tom had recognised him straight away as one of those who would set his dad going. He was a trigger and Tom wanted to tell him this, to shout it across the river:
‘YOU ARE A TRIGGER AND NOT A DISPLACED PERSON.’
He had learned about them in history at school but his dad had told him that the Second World War had been a long, long time ago and that things were different now.
When they arrived the river had been almost deserted and they had had the pick of the swims but his dad had decided to settle here and, as they set up, he had started with his ranting. By the time he sat on his basket and cast his line he was already so tightly wound there would be no stopping him.
Tom was all too aware that it would be society’s ills and the state of the country for the rest of the day. He wondered if the man on the opposite bank could hear his dad, if he could understand English well enough to be able to make sense of his dad’s barely contained monotonous drawl. Tom hoped that he could but, looking across the river and studying him, he had to admit the man appeared entirely at ease and completely unperturbed by his dad. And Tom realised that this made him feel angry.
The man was sitting on the ground, he didn’t even have a stool. No basket and no tackle box but just a rod and reel and he had fashioned a rest from an old branch. His dad now focused on this.
‘Desecrating our countryside,’ he mumbled, ‘I should wrap it round his neck.’
‘Why don’t you?’ Tom asked.
‘Looks like he picked it up off the ground,’ his dad replied. ‘Doesn’t look like its been ripped or cut from a tree but you get my point.’
‘Why don’t you?’ Tom repeated.
Ignoring him, his dad reached into the keep net and pulled out one of the six cans of Special Brew he had sunk into the river earlier. Tom let it drop. At least he had started drinking and when he had drunk all six cans his dad would be ready to make a move. Tom tried to work out how long he would now have to wait. If it took his dad half an hour to drink each can then they would be here for another three hours. But judging from past experience Tom reckoned that he would finish the beer much quicker than this. In half the time and that, in just one and a half hours, two at most, he would back home in his room.
His dad tipped back his head and sucked desperately at the can. He then crushed it, discarding it, and reached for another. Watching him, Tom realised that his dad was annoyed, that his words had got through. He had touched a nerve and Tom decided to nudge him a little more, to push him a little further.
‘You should do it.’ he goaded.
His dad glanced across at him.
‘You what?’ he mumbled.
‘Why don’t you do it? What you said, with the stick?’
His dad leaned forward and carefully placed the can between his feet. He then flung out his right arm and struck Tom in the face with the side of his fist. Tom toppled from his stool and hit the ground with a thud. He scrambled backward and sat on the grass at the edge of the path. Determined not to cry he blinked and tried to focus. If the man on the other side had noticed him being hit he certainly wanted no part of it.
‘Then I’ll do it,’ Tom said, standing up, ‘if you won’t do it then I will.’
He stepped forward and, kneeling down, he quickly grabbed the still unopened can of Special Brew. He ran along the footpath until he reached the Horse Bridge. From there he could see them both, sitting and staring into the water. He made his way down the other side and toward the stranger but moved wide and out into the adjacent field. As he came up behind him his dad was watching. Tom tossed the can from hand to hand, testing its weight and readying to throw it. He was close now and couldn’t miss but when he did, when he flung it, the can soared high above the man’ head. His dad, jumping up from his basket, stumbled forward but the can fell short and plunged into the reeds and sank.