Extract from Naming of Parts

October 13th, 2000 • Posted in Extracts |

In the morning Jack went to fetch the milk, but the milkman hadn’t been. His father appeared behind him in the doorway, scowling out at the sunlight and the dew steaming slowly from the ground, hands resting lightly on his son’s shoulders.

Something had been playing on Jack’s mind all night, ever since it happened. An image had seeded there, grown and expanded and, in the silence of his parent’s bedroom where none of them had slept, it had blossomed into an all-too-plausible truth. Now, with morning providing an air of normality – though it remained quieter than usual, and stiller – he was certain of what he would find. He did not want to find it, that was for sure, yet he had to see.

He darted away from the back door and was already at the corner of the house before his dad called after him. The shout almost stopped him in his tracks because there was an unbridled panic there, a desperation … but then he was looking around the side of the cottage at something he had least expected.

There was no body, no blood, no disturbed flower-bed where someone had thrashed around in pain. He crunched along the gravel path, his father with him now, standing guard above and behind.

“You didn’t shoot anyone,” Jack said, and the sense of relief was vast.

Then he saw the rosebush.

The petals had been stripped, and they lay scattered on the ground alongside other things. There were bits of clothing there, and grimy white shards of harder stuff, and clumps of something else. There was also a watch.

“Dad, whose watch is that?” Jack could not figure out what he was seeing. If that was bone, where was the blood? Why was there a watch lying in their garden, its face shattered, hands frozen at some cataclysmic hour? And those dried things, tattered and ragged around the edges, like shrivelled steak…

“Gray!” his mother called from the back door, “where are you? Gray! There’s someone coming down the hill.”

“Come on,” Jack’s dad said, grabbing his arm and pulling him to the back door.

Jack twisted around to stare up the hillside, trying to see who his mother was talking about, wondering whether it was the Judes from Berry Hill Farm. He liked Mr Jude, he had a huge Mexican moustache and he did a great impression of a bandito.

“We should stay in the house,” his mum said as they reached the back door. “There’s nothing on the radio.”

If there’s nothing on the radio, what is there to be worried about? Jack wondered.

“Nothing at all?” his dad said quietly.

His mother shook her head, and suddenly she looked older and greyer than Jack had ever noticed. It shocked him, frightened him. Death was something he sometimes thought about on the darkest of nights, but his mother’s death — its possibility was unbearable, and it made him feel black and unreal and sick inside.

“I thought there may be some news…”

And then Jack realised what his mum had really meant … no radio, no radio at all … and he saw three people clambering over a fence higher up the hill.

“Look!” he shouted. “Is that Mr Jude?”

His father darted into the cottage and emerged seconds later with the shotgun – locked and held ready in both hands – and a pair of binoculars hanging around his neck. He handed his mother the shotgun and she held it as if it were a living snake. Then he lifted the binoculars to his eyes and froze, standing there for a full thirty seconds while Jack squinted and tried to see what his dad was seeing. He pretended he had a bionic eye, but it didn’t do any good.

His dad lowered the glasses, and slowly and carefully took the gun from his wife.

“Oh no,” she said, “oh no, Gray, no, no, no…”

“They did warn us,” he murmured.

“But why the Judes? Why not us as well?” his mum whispered.

Jack’s father looked down at him, and suddenly Jack was very afraid. “What, dad?”

“We’ll be leaving now, son,” he said. “Go down to the car with your mum, there’s a good boy.”

“Can I take my books?”

“No, we can’t take anything. We have to go now, because Mr Jude’s coming.”

“But I like Mr Jude!” A tear had spilled down his dad’s cheek, that was terrible, that was a leak in the dam holding back chaos and true terror, because while his dad was here-firm and strong and unflinching-there was always someone to protect him.

His father knelt in front of him “Listen, Jackie. Mr Jude and his family have a … a disease. If we’re still here when they arrive they may try to hurt us, or we may catch the disease. I don’t know which, if either. So we have to go -”

“Why don’t we just not let them in? We can give them tablets and water through the window, and …” He trailed off, feeling cold and unreal.

“Because they’re not the only ones who have the disease. Lots of other people will have it too, by now. We may have to wait a long time for help.”

Jack turned and glanced up the hill at the three people coming down. They didn’t look ill. They looked odd, it was true, they looked different. But not ill. They were moving too quickly for that.

“Okay.” Jack nodded wisely, and he wondered who else had been infected. He guessed it may be something to do with what had been on the telly yesterday, the thing his mum and dad had been all quiet and tense and pale about. An explosion, he remembered, an accident, in a place so far away he didn’t even recognise the name. “Mandy said we should go to Tewton, she said it was safe there.”

“We will,” his father nodded, but Jack knew it was not because Mandy had said so. His parents rarely listened to her any more.

“That big bonfire’s still burning,” Jack said, looking out across the valley for the first time. A plume of smoke hung in the sky like a frozen tornado, spreading out at the top and dispersing in high air currents. And then he saw it was not a bonfire, not really. It was the white farm on the opposite hillside; the whole white farm, burning. He’d never met the people who lived there but he had often seen the farmer in his fields, chugging silently across the landscape in his tractor.

Jack knew where the word bonfire came from, and he could not help wondering whether today this was literally that.

His dad said nothing but looked down at Jack, seeing that he knew what it really was, already reaching out to pick up his son and carry him to their car.

“Dad, I’m scared!”

“I’ve got you, Jackie. Come on Janey. Grab the keys, the shotgun cartridges are on the worktop.”

“Dad, what’s happening?”

“It’s okay.”

“Dad…”

As they reached the car they could hear the Jude family swishing their feet through the sheen of bluebells covering the hillside. There were no voices, there was no talking or laughing. No inane bandito impressions this morning from Mr Jude.

His parents locked the car doors from the inside and faced forward.

Jack took a final look back at their cottage. The car left the gravelled driveway, and just before the hedge cut off the house from view, he saw Mr Jude walk around the corner. From this distance, it looked like he was in black and white.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusmail

Comments

Leave a comment: