February Short Story Winner

Admiral Knightsky

David O’Connor

Ian examined the skip with an eye well practiced in such things. Old
pine doors with dark semi-shedding varnish 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 dinosaur bones 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 to Ian resembled 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 around. 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 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 centre 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 into the entrance of the Green. A long and tall
hedge that attracted millions of greenfly 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 goal was scored. More importantly, 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 previous
adventure, he discovered the shrubs sprawled deep into the garden. His hide was
too far to reach by lawnmower or garden shears and was well concealed.

It started to get chilly. Zipping up his jacket, Ian looked up. The sky had turned into a
sheet of grey giving 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 pocketed
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 chalk 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 girls 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 he did well and was praised, he would sit with a
smugness that drove Ian mad. All the teachers loved him just to make matters

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 taught him a secret
about drawing. It was his secret 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 bedroom 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 Knightsky, 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 contours 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 peoples faces and was afraid he would spoil the
horse. Besides, in Ian’s mind he was the riderless horse running free over lush
grassland. 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 the plaster 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 had
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 of 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 up on 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 drawer. A slight smile crept across his face. He
would ride another day.