The two brothers had arrived home expecting their mother to be back. She wasn’t.
The house was cold and dark when they entered. Somehow, Michael had lost his phone; perhaps it was in his room. It had been a joint Christmas present so that they could be easily contacted in case of emergencies. She was having fewer emergencies these days.
All the lights were off as they approached the house. The was an empty space where the Volvo should have been.
“Looks like they’re not home.”
Chris sometimes had the knack of stating the obvious.
Michael riffled his pockets for his key.
“I wonder where they are,” he muttered and slipped the key into the lock.
The house still had that smell about it that reminded Michael of a dream he thought he had once had.
“Probably gone shopping,” Chris offered.
They were back late because of what had happened at school. The head teacher had wanted to speak to them, but had been called to another urgent meeting, so it had been left to Mr Hunter to deal with the incident. He listened to their side and nodded. He told them that he understood why they had done what they had yet could not condone it. In any case, getting on the wrong side of that gang spelt trouble.
“If you take my advice lads,” he had said. “You’ll keep your heads low for a while and let it blow over.”
It was not a summer storm that would disappear over the horizon. What had happened in the playground was the start of something that was set to continue. Podrall’s gang didn’t take prisoners and they didn’t fight one on one. The boys had made the worst possible start to their new school. They had stood up to the gang and were now targets. They called it honour.
Mr Hunter knew that many of the teachers had been on the receiving and of this gang’s perticularly persuasive ways. Many were more than a little fearful of reprisals so they kept their heads down.
“Sir,” asked Chris, “are we in trouble?”
“Yes you are, but not from school. You’ve got to watch your backs because that bunch will be after you. Does anyone know where you live?”
Michael looked at Chris and they both shook their heads.
“That’s good. Keep it that way. Make sure nobody follows you home.”
Later, sitting in the new lounge, Chris turned to his older brother.
“Mike. There’s something wrong isn’t there?”
“There’s something wrong at that school. It’s as if the kids are running it and doing just what they like. We should have been in serious trouble there but no one seemed to want to do anything about it.”
“It could be that the teachers aren’t the ones to hand out the punishments. I get the feeling that the Podrall kid has his own little bunch of enforcers and they don’t go in for detentions or lines.”
Chris looked at his older brother and smiled.
“What are you smirking at?”
“You. I was impressed. You caught that kid like you’d been working out in the ring. It took me by surprise. It took him by surprise.”
“Yes. It felt good somehow. I’ve never hit anyone like that before. It felt like I had a right to do it. Is that normal?”
“I don’t know. I’ve only ever fought in the ring and that’s not the same. If it makes you feel any better, I had the same thought. When I hit that big kid, I felt good. It wasn’t like hitting someone else. It was like hitting… a thing.”
They both fell silent and thought about the strange events of the day, trying to make sense of a school and a situation that defied it. The phone rang and broke the silence.
“Michael, is that you? Where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you, but you didn’t answer your phone.”
“I don’t know where it is. I think I’ve lost it.”
“You’ve lost your phone, the new one that cost me an arm and a leg?” She was angry, but fought it back. “So why have you just got home?”
“We were held up at school, Mum. Where are you?”
“I’m still at the supermarket. The car’s broken down, but there’s a nice bloke here who’s trying to fix it. He reckons it’s the spark plugs.”
Michael could hear a voice in the background.
“Hang on, Michael, he says he’s done it. He’s a star. I should be home in fifteen minutes. Get the kettle on.”
And with that she was gone.
Chris looked towards Michael questioningly.
“It was Mum. She says that the car broke down and that some guy has fixed it for her.”
“I don’t know, but his voice sounded familiar.”
Michael attempted to recreate the voice again by placing it alongside others that he had stored in his memory.
When he did so, logic told him that his memory was incorrect.
The voice at the other end of the phone could never have been that of his dead father.