SAMPLE - Pigeon by Alys Conran
Gwyn’s Ice Creams come in a pink and yellow van, stickers and posters peeling from the windows. Chugging away beyond a curtain of mountain, and through bloom of cloud, the van clambers the to and fro road up the hillside every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Every weekend of the year it stutters up, choking, and spitting exhaust fumes, but stubborn against the grey of the hill and the town. Whining tunes come from Gwyn’s van as it rattles up the hill, set against the drone and moan of the grumbling engine.
The van’s tunes are sweet on my tongue. Music from the past 200 years all put into that bell-like warble that means ice cream and tickles kids from their houses like the pied piper. Somehow the reel’s connected to the accelerator, so that the tune deepens, slows with the road, and then the tape speeds on at a trot and a gallop whenever the van accelerates, desperately, against the steep hill.
“IIIII shhhhhhoooooouuuuuuulllllllddddddddd beeeeee soo luuckky lucky lcky lki i shd b so lcki in luv,” says the tape.
My mouth waters. As Pigeon and me run, my shoes are still undone and Pigeon’s too small school trousers, which he’s wearing although it’s Sunday, make his steps shorter like in a three legged race. We race anyway, over fences, between the jumble of houses that cluster on the hillside. With snotty noses, with mouths catching at the air like fish out of water, we arrive at the slot in the van. Gwyn’s round brown and red face looks out, smiling. We bend to pant, our breath steaming all round us, white in the frosty air. We bend to breathe, our hands on our knees, backs rounded to the clouds, like that guy off the Olympics, the fastest runner in the world.
Gwyn’s looking down at us through the slot. He has thick, bristly black eyebrows and little dark blue eyes. He has a belly like a pot. Gwyn’s skin’s different to mine or Pigeon’s. Gwyn’s skin is tanned and like oiled leather. On his head there’s some black hair he brushes over his bald patch. This hair always ends up sticking straight up: like a by-mistake mohican. He has black hairs all up his arms too and Gwyn has a hairy face. Not long hair, just bristly like my dad’s was. Gwyn’s voice is bristly too. And he has what Efa calls a stutter, where there’s a blank space where your word should be, and your whole body stops.
“Iawn. B b bois?” he asks us.
Together Pigeon and me breathe “Iawn” back, although everyone knows I’m not a boi, any more than Pigeon is a prissy hogan - but I quite like being called a boi by Gwyn.
“B b be ‘dach chi isio heddiw ‘ta?” Gwyn’s question goes up at the end, really high, as high as here; but we still haven’t decided. Because last week I had one of the chocolate ones with the creamy outside and Pigeon had one of those thin orangey things and we said we’d swap this week but I don’t really want to cause the chocolate one is my favourite and I’m hoping Pigeon agrees but he hasn’t said so yet so I’m on the edge of going right ahead and having something else completely but I wouldn’t want to make the wrong choice. Pigeon’s my best friend.
Waiting, Gwyn, to keep talking, says “Tywydd braf,” and he grins. We grin back because this is no more fine weather than Pigeon is a hogan, or I’m a boi, or Gwyn’s van’s a BMW or we’re all Colin Jackson doing the hurdles.
The weather’s come in again; it sits all over the hill and the clouds are blowing up now like a balloon water bomb and they have a grey colour that’s almost dark blue, so you know it’ll rain forever.
In the end of thinking I have the long orange thing and Pigeon has the chocolate one like we decided last week. See? Pigeon and me, we’re like this.
We’re walking back between the houses, our heads full of thinking like televisions, and our feet scraping along the ground, with our shoelaces left behind. And I lick it.
“Gwyn’s a gypsy.” Pigeon says.
I look at him. I’m not quite sure what that means. “He’s a gyppo.” says Pigeon. Ah.
It’s cos of Gwyn telling on Pigeon. Telling Pigeon’s stepdad about the lolly Pigeon stole. How Pigeon ran off without paying, his coat and his shoelaces trailing and bouncing as if they were running from Gwyn too. Pigeon got a black eye for that. Pigeon hates Gwyn cos all the other kids saw. Saw what happened when Gwyn shouted that he’d tell his ‘dad’, how Pigeon came running back and then followed Gwyn all the way begging him please not to, not to tell. The kids at school say Pigeon was crying, although that isn’t true, is it? I can’t imagine it. It was days before anyone saw him after that, and when he came out again, he had that black eye.
“Ma’ Gwyn yn od.” says Pigeon.
And that’s it forever after that. Gwyn is ‘od’, funny, strange. It’d never occurred to us before. And that’s what started this whole thing off, licking those ice creams, thinking, and then that idea of Pigeon’s: Gwyn = Od.
This morning, before the ice creams, as he sat alone in his shed bedroom, Pigeon had been able to see his new sister Cher getting ready for school in his old room. He didn’t watch, but he could see. Pigeon knelt on his bed. The shadow from the house fell on the shed’s window, and the other window, in the house, with Cher in it, made its impression on Pigeon and the shed.
Cher did up her blouse, buttoning all the way up the front. The cool blue of the shirt, it was so gentle over her soft skin. Cher’s face, serious, quiet and serious, just like Cher’s face always is.
She started combing her hair out, its sleek and lithe mass, heavy down her back. She pulled it all back off her face into a tight ponytail, brushing and brushing so that all the strands were streamlined in the same direction, and it looked smooth, her hair, like a slow and wide river, or like the satin of a ball gown.
Pigeon’s Mam came, making her way down from the kitchen. And she had the tray in her white hands. His mam brought their breakfast down to the shed. And this was the best part of the day. His mam though, always looked tired, and perhaps not very well.
They sat on the bed, Pigeon and his mam, with the cereal and the tea. Pigeon drank black tea, his mam white. The air was cold, so that the tea lifted from the cup in streaks of steam. His mam had a blue mark on her face again, blue and yellow, like a wet sunset. This one was because there were other men looking at her. And He saw them. They were looking because she’s beautiful. But He said it was because she was ‘asking for it’. Which she wasn’t. She’d never ask for anything at all.
Pigeon’s mam ruffled his hair, until it all stuck up, and Pigeon, Pigeon almost smiled then, before she picked up the tray and went to the house.
As she went, she told Pigeon in her cracked, soft voice to “Hurry now, love. Get dressed,” and, although it was Sunday, she told him to get on off to school, as if it was a dream, a hope, and not telling him what to do, and it was as if her voice was getting lost in the air on the way to his ears.
Pigeon pulled on his grey school trousers, and his only black shoes, his only white shirt and his only green jumper. And he hated and hated the way the ugly clothes felt when he pushed his arms through into them, and how the clothes were scraping and pulling at him, trying to skin him alive. And, without going to the house, so that He didn’t see him, or Cher either, with her pretty smooth hair, her perfect clothes and her sorry eyes, Pigeon went on, pretended to his mam to be going to school, to the tit-for-tat-tattletale school where, between Monday and Friday, he kept his head down, right down under the radar.
Pigeon went over the wall, and down the path that was like a snake by the wood as it followed the river as that went down with the weight of the rain and the grey sky and the hill. And then Pigeon stopped. Sat. What to do with an empty Sunday? And with a half-empty mother too?
She appeared. It was Iola, come out of the wood like a genie, small with a pot belly over her skirt, knees as always covered in bruises and grazes, shoes undone, hair so light it’s almost white. Beckoning.
Pigeon took a quick look up the path in case of his mam, and then ran after Iola through the wood and back up the hill again into the grey, into the grey full of purple and orange stories that go on and on and on
They ran together to Iola’s house, to where there was a real kitchen, a real home, and as the van started its meandering songs up the road, Efa and Iola danced in the kitchen, and, smiling a little too brightly, Efa put two fifty p’s in Iola’s white palm.
At the van, Iola and Pigeon, their breath steamy in the cold January air, order one chocolate thing, and one orangey thing, cos, like Pigeon tells Iola, they’re “saff”, and it’s good they’re safe, cause that chocolate one, it’s delicious.
But Pigeon stares at Gwyn’s hands as he hands Iola the ice-creams. He stares at Gwyn’s man’s hands. And he hates him.
Gwyn is growing in Pigeon’s mind. He grows and is altered and bent out of shape. Pigeon would give him horns, would have him turn rotten inside. Pigeon fires up so much anger about Gwyn, that he can still smell him, long after leaving the van, and long after leaving Iola to her home, her chores, her regular life.
The next bit is when I’m on Pigeon’s bed in the shed. I’m reading a comic, lying, bol down, and Pigeon is bol up, his legs stretching up his wall. Ryan Giggs is looking down at us from the poster, looking good, but next to me, Pigeon’s ignoring Ryan and looking at his wood ceiling, where the blue-tack holds part of an old mobile: half an aeroplane and a crumbly cloud. I just read my comic, and I’m almost there, at the end, when “Murdyryr! Dyna be ‘di o: murdyryr!”
I’m looking up from my comic, a bit surprised. We’ve thought of a few things: kiddie fiddler, woman in a man’s body, a ghost, but Pigeon’s never got quite this far. Murderer… It feels like a big word to say, echoing between the four walls of Pigeon’s small room like trying on Efa’s big shoes.
Now Pigeon’s my best friend, but Pigeon keeps cut outs of all sorts of things. He’ll like something, so he’ll cut it out. Recipes, even though he can’t cook, bits and pieces of Cher’s comics, someone’s marked homework, his mam’s birthday card, tickets, bits of receipts. He keeps them all under his bed in the shed, like a hamster making a nest. Paper isn’t the only thing Pigeon keeps, he also keeps money, and he keeps information: names, numbers, jobs, secrets, lies, lined up in his head like a dictionary with the town and the whole world in. This isn’t quite a normal thing, but Pigeon’s my best friend, and anyway he hardly ever talks about all the information he has in his head, and at school they don’t know. They don’t know what he does all day when he’s not there. They don’t really care. And anyway he’ll make a note if they ask. Like the one he made for me.
And with the note you can spend all day free. You can spend the day outside, in the wood or up in the old quarries, sitting, making a fire and laughing and making stories out of everything. With Pigeon everything is bright and big and better than you’d think it was. It’s all freed up when me and Pigeon don’t bother with school. You can stay out all day, until half past three. At half past three me and Pigeon had come back to the shed, and we’d eaten the crackerbreads he’d got stashed under the bed. Sometimes there are cigarettes there, but he hasn’t got any today. Today is a thinking day.
There’s a sound at the door of the shed. Someone trying to get in. Pigeon’s sister, who’s called Cher, after Cher, except actually she’s Cheryl. Cher is new. Which is amazing, that you can have a new sister, new mother excetera. I’d like a new sister or a mother too, except that mine’d smell new and nice, not like Cher, who, Pigeon says, smells like rotten fish.
Cher is good at school, better than me, and a lot better than Pigeon. She’s good at school and she goes every day, and only comes back here when it’s over, like now. Cher has a room in the house, not like Pigeon. Cher has long brown hair and brown eyes, which are very pretty and soft like feathers and cushions and cotton wool. Cher likes doing cartwheels, on the tarmac at school her legs go all round in the air and she looks like a wheel. But Cher only speaks English. English is sludgy.
“PIJIN! Just cause you’ve got stuck in the shed doesn’t mean it’s my fault!”
“I’m not sayin it is, just saying you can’t come in. Anyway, Cher, keep your knickers on and stop bein’ so loud else your dads going to hear us, an we’ll be dead.”
“I’ll only be quiet if you open the door.”
“Shush … just cause, Cher. Just cause.”
“Piss off, Cher!”
“Just stay there an be quiet then okay?”
“Why is she allowed in an I’m not?”
“Cause we’re mates.”
“We can be mates too.”
“Cause you smell bad, an anyway I just don’t.”
“Fine, don’t care anyway.”
“Okay, me either.”
“Jew really think Gwyn’s a murdrer?”
“Dunno - I can smell it.”
“Whas it smell like?”
“So what’re you going to do about it?”
“Can I help?”
“No way. Shut up.”
“Piss off Cher!”
“Can I stay here though? Just to listen,”
“Aright... but don’t shout.”
“What, Cher, spit it out.”
“Pijin… I’m sorry about what He did… I’m sorry about what dad did, Pijin”
“Just shut up Cher okay?
…just shut up.”
I can tell Cher hates me cos she looks at me with big eyes that are sometimes crying. In here, in the dark under the covers, Pigeon holds a torch up to his chin and tells horrible stories to me about Gwyn and all his victims. The duvet glows with the light of the torch.
“Ar noson dywyll” begins Pigeon.
On a dark, dark night.
Gwyn is a psycho and kiddy fiddler, knife carrier, mask wearer, pain-lover, torturer, and all the other things that come from those programmes on the TV that Pigeon watches, and I don’t because of Efa, and which make him speak English like cowboys and say things like “Rho dy hands up or I’ll shoot!” and “Rhedeg i ffwrdd on the count of three, neu dwi mynd i make mincemeat of you!”
Gwyn makes such a good bad guy that sometimes Pigeon even freaks himself out, turns pale under the duvet and goes quiet, like a path that gets lost up a grey hill. He snaps at me like an alligator when I laugh cos he’s scared.
He’s been collecting the evidence against Gwyn, spying on the van, asking for a receipt when he gets an orangey thing, trying to find out where Gwyn lives, and scratching bits of dirt from the van’s wheels to put into little sandwich bags to bring home. Pigeon’s even got an old magnifying glass, stole it from my house, but Efa’ll not notice, and he’s borrowed a microscope from school, carrying it all the way up the hill and stashing it in the shed.
“Wha you going to do with tha?” Cher catches Pigeon and me on the way into the shed with it.
“Anna lice it,” says Pigeon.
“Snot anna lice, stewpit, it’s analyse.”
But Pigeon just lets his shoulders go up and down like he doesn’t care and gets on with analysing the yellow juice that’s what’s left over from his ice lolly.
Pigeon and me suspect Gwyn of a lot of things: poisoning, fraud, drug dealing and spying. We can’t be sure yet, even with the all the facts lined up on the duvet: the evidence, documentary evidence, eggsybit 1. 2. 3. Even with these we can’t be sure. But Gwyn’s dangerous; Pigeon’s sure, and I’m sure too, saying ‘hmm’ and ‘aaahhhh’ at all the eggsybits. And Cher listens from outside. She listens to the English in between, and now she’s getting more and more of the other words that are all wrapped round it. And Cher one hundred per cent believes it all in a funny real kind of a way.
“Ma Gwyn yn od” I tell Efa, at home.
“Gwyn is a Psycho, a Kiddie Fiddler, a Mask Wearer and a Torturer,” I tell Efa, saying the words like prizes.
“Don’t talk like that, Iola,” Efa says back, stirring the hippy soup in the kitchen “Paid a deud petha fel na.” And then she says it, what she always says, says: Be Careful With Pigeon, Iola. Iola Be Careful With That Boy Pigeon.
Although she likes him.
I can tell Efa likes Pigeon cos she sits at the kitchen table and gets him to read her bits from the newspaper. Every time he reads a bit, Efa gives him a chocolate. And I’d bet Pigeon likes Efa too, cos he looks at Efa like she’s some kind of an alien cos of all her beads and hippy smells and skirts. And I feel funny cos it isn’t like as if Efa cares about the newspaper. She’s just getting Pigeon to read, to see if she can, and Pigeon knows it. I’m black blue inside with the two of them making friends, like as if Efa’s his mother or something, and it’s like something inside me’s going bad, before it’s even begun.