The Piper 19

At less than five years of age, Pete could tell the time. He also knew an awful lot about time. Although, he had kept this to himself along with the other things he could do.

It was now almost twenty-five minutes to six which meant that his mother was at least twenty-five minutes late. At such a tenderly young age, Pete should have had little concept of minutes and hours. Others of his age, and older, only responded to their body clocks which rang when they were hungry or needed to use the toilet. Pete had a much more detailed understanding of how time worked and knew that his mother being late was not a good thing.

Another thing that was not good was the way the big nursery nurse looked at him when she thought nobody could see. This was the big lady’s third day at the nursery and, at first, she had seemed to be just like everyone else. She smiled and made the children laugh. She had a good way with Katy, the younger lady, and Pete had thought nothing about her beyond what he thought about most normal adults, until he spotted the looks.

It was wrong to go looking at people that way and she knew it. She had dark thoughts that she didn’t want anybody else to see. There were lots of people like that. Sometimes he had read what they were thinking in a way that one would overhear a particularly loud conversation. It wasn’t that he was prying into their minds, no certainly not because that would have been wrong. It was just that he could not avoid hearing what they had to say.

Some, like the man buying whisky at the supermarket, were literally screaming out their thoughts. Such thoughts as well. Pete overheard a whole lot of things which he did not, definitely would not have wished to have heard. That man had been consumed by a hatred of everything that constituted his existence. His wife, his children, his job and himself, had all been fermented in the vile concoction of the man’s inner torment.

Pete found himself looking at the calm expression that hid the scary eyes from the world. For the briefest time possible, their gazes were locked in a form of telepathic symbiosis. Time here meant nothing. Whilst a second passed, Pete lived a lifetime’s disappointments and injustices before travelling forward to the final ignominy of a death that would be self-inflicted.

The man had reached out and had held on to the boy. He had laid his soul bare before him and had moved on. Pete could not watch as the man paid his bill and left, but he understood time and anguish a little more.

SAMANTHA, that was her name, or the name she liked to give people, reminded Pete of the man who would now be dead. It was as if she had practised each letter in capitals, just to remind herself. It also reminded him of Nick, the man in the supermarket car park, the man who had brought Brian back to life. Pete couldn’t explain it, couldn’t make sense of it, but he knew that Nick was like the reflection you could see if you looked at yourself in a puddle or a pond. Nick was hidden somewhere away from the light.

This lady made Pete think of Nick as she also appeared to have a veil over her real thoughts. He thought of it as an extra pair of eyelids. Pete did not want to look, could not even say her name and found it difficult to make himself meet her gaze. On top of this, he knew that she too knew things about him that others did not. He wondered if she knew that he could read the hands of the clock and he wished, not for the first time, that he couldn’t do that or any of the other things.

“Pete do you love me?” It was Amy.

Pete looked at Amy, a preposterously beautiful girl with the biggest, brownest eyes imaginable. She had been the first one to have talked to him at the nursery and had been his first kiss. In another world, they may have gone on to be childhood sweethearts.

“Pete, I love you. Do you love me?”

“A little bit, yes. Shall we play with Thomas the Tank Engine?”

This was their favourite game in which they shared a complex understanding of the motivations and characterisation that fuelled their stories. When Pete played Thomas the Tank Engine, he was lost to the thoughts of others and had no need of time. His mother would be there to pick him up sooner or later, but for the moment Thomas was having a little trouble with his track that seemed to have been taken by somebody else.


It was his mum and she was upset. She had been crying.

She rushed towards her son and picked him up from the floor, squeezing him against her so tightly that he thought she would take the breath away from him. Over her shoulder, he saw an incisive glance from SAMANTHA that was cut off when she noticed that he was watching her.

Her eyes fell again almost immediately away from him, but not before he saw that unmistakable knife edge of resentment.

Behind her eyes, he did not wish to wander.


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