(a chapter within Wonderbread Man, novella, foundation for a film)
“My lad’s a cannie lad, a cannie lad is he..” he sang as he bounced little Jimmy on his knee. He looked directly into his eye with a wide smile. Another rhyme and lilting song finished, “with a face like a squashed tomato, a nose like a pickled onion, and legs like Pit props.”
Johnny Junior sat on the carpet setting up the plastic walls of his square fort. The orange plastic Indians and blue cowboys were still in a heap to the side. As he snapped a few walls into place around the perimeter, he asked, “What’s a Pit props Grandad?”
“At the Pit, we used wooden timbers throughout the mine to create walls, ceilings, walkways, bridges, you’ve never seen such a use of timber, broken bits, stalls, and levers. We’d walk five miles under the North Sea, humpty backed, as the walls were only four feet high in many places, carrying telephone boxes as large as suitcases and heavy as a cement footings, with wires, copper wires, constantly being unraveled. Aye, we often had to piss on the wire to get it going.”
“Kenneth, Kenneth, now none of those stories, ” came from the kitchen. Johnny Jr. jumped on the couch next to him and held one of his hands. One hand was the size of a catcher’s mit with a thumb that he could barely wrap his entire hand around. “Tell me the story of the brown shoes again, Grandad.”
Ken spoke in softer tones but with a hardy northern, England accent. His daughter was often mistaken for Scottish, but the English knew her as Geordie. “Haddaway and shite” became the moniker slang of their tribe.
“Little Donny was a miserable little fellow. He was born with a sour tooth which made him grimace like this all the days of his life.” He mimicked a snarl and pretended to search out a back tooth with his tongue and the image of a 6 foot, 230 pound man astride on the couch struggling for that sour tooth made JJ begin to giggle. “At school, we were sitting at our desks. We had this nasty curmudgeon as a teacher. On the third day, he finally got around to looking at all the students in his class and he got to Donny. He had just been lecturing on the necessity of proper grammar, “I will, I shall” and he happened across Donny’s face. He called him to the front. “What’s your name, boy.” “Donny.” “Well Donny, when my dog snarls at me…”
Ken had gotten from his seat and with a baby in one arm and one invisible cane in the other shouted “…I thrash it!” And with that he took his imaginary cane and continued to thrash the air as if a child were being beaten to the ground.The escalating grunts delivered with each blow.
He sat back down. “And the brown shoes?” said Johnny, Jr.
“Well, Donny was the same at the Pit. Even when he was in my crew, as I became in charge of him at one point before he went on the dole, much later mind you, he would’nt do a thing without hemming and hawing and taking years to take a step or raise a finger. My goodness, it’s amazing he ever got born.” He smiled at his own reckonings.
“Well, Mr. Pilth, the Manager of the mine hated him, too. Couldn’t stand to be in his presence. Would always turn his back on him even though Donny only came up to his, (in a very quiet tone), ass!…. Well, Mr. Pilth had an important job to do for he announced it to the group of us, said he wanted his best men on it. Well, he pointed out five of us: “Ken, Tom, Pat, Rene (Rene the Belgian who had moved up here, that was all he was called and no one knew if that was his first or last name) and Stephenson (people just liked to call him Stephenson). Mr. Pilth’s pointing went over Donny as if he weren’t even there. As the men disbanded, Donny had the courage, mind you the salt, to go up to Mr. Pilth and say, “Why not me?Why not me? I’m as good as any man here.” Well, Mr. Pilth replied, “You Donny, when I look at you, all I see is a pail of hot steaming piss,” and walked away.
Johnny Junior was in rapture. Jimmy so quiet you’d think he’d also understood every single word and nuance.
“That night, in the dark of night. We were at the Cross Keys, you know down the street having our pints, and Donny was in a corner by himself. We knew something was stirring in him. At 2:00 in the morning, Donny walked the streets, through the churchyard gardens, down by the Glebe, and onto Mr. Pilth’s manor. We called it a Manor because it had a double garage. He jumps the fence and relieves himself, number 2 mind you on his back step,” he says as he begins to laugh.
“Kenneth, Kenneth,” the words grew louder for she knew what was coming next.
“Well, Mr. Pilth, wakes up the morning of the next day, opens his back door, and he says, ‘Who bought me a pair these brown shoes?”
Johnny, Jr. was heaving with laughter and fell from the couch to the floor. Kenneth smiled and laughed as if he had told the story for the first time.
Granma came storming from the kitchen, “Now that’s enough, that’s enough, come on man, we’ve got dinner to get ready. It’s almost eleven. Go down to the Freezer and get the ham, peas, potatoes from the garage and start peeling. There’s a cake that needs defrosting from Auntie Vi on the top shelf and the stottie cake…”
Courtney had been in her mother’s old room with the twin beds where her mother and her sister, Auntie Elle, used to sleep. She was done priming her hair in the mirror and left the brushes neatly by the mirror. She heard the ruckus, came running down the hallway, and realized she had missed something, “Granma, can I help with something?”
“Yes, lass, don’t you worry, there is plenty to be done. Now get the silverware…”