by Justine Dunn
“Grandad, tell us again about Charlie Shields.” Danny said, dropping onto the sofa next to me.
“Alright sunshine.” His sister, two years younger and just as blonde, climbed onto my knee and settled herself into the crook of my arm.
“Best friends we were; we played together, fought together, and shat together,” I laughed, remembering how we would each be sitting on carzey’s at the bottom of our gardens, shouting out jokes as we did our business. “Those were the days when you shat out and ate in,” I whispered, making sure their Grandmother didn’t hear. “Not like today with all these fancy restaurants, no-one wants to cook anymore.” The children giggled, and snuggled down further.
“He was a good looking little fella, gaps in his teeth and you’d never see him without his cap on. Tufts of hair sticking out from the bottom, colour of brown sugar it was. The only thing he’d ever talk about was being an explorer; he was going to go to all the way to the other side of the world, and when he’d got there he was gonna keep going.”
“But there’s nowhere further than the other side of the world.” Sally said.
“That wouldn’t stop Charlie Shields.” I told her, “He was going to explore the whole universe!”
“Did he go Grandad, did he make it to the other side of the world?” Josh asked.
“Well, there’s the funny thing, we don’t know where he went.” I said, sadly. “The last time I saw Charlie Shields was one Wednesday night, we’d played marbles in the backyard. As we were playing, the heavens opened. Raindrops as big as eggs were falling from the sky, soaked in seconds we were. Our mum’s called us in quick sharp, didn’t want us catching our death. We scooped the marbles, Charlie ducked through the hole in the fence and went home and I ran indoors. As I stripped off my wet clothes I looked at the marbles. My favourite one was missing, the lilac one; the prettiest colour I’d ever seen. I hoped Charlie had it, I couldn’t bare the thought of it getting washed away by the rain. Mum wouldn’t let me go out again that night, the rain just didn’t stop. I watched the sky for hours, on and on that water fell; didn’t know the sky could hold so much. Come the morning and everything was back to normal, well, so I thought. But then there was a knock at the door, it was a policeman. Charlie was missing. They asked me lots of questions; where might he have gone? Had he told me anything? But I didn’t know, I had no idea where he was.”
“So where was he, Grandad?” Danny asked.
“Nobody knew, everyone was worried, he was only nine years old after all.”
“Did he come home that night?” Asked Sally.
“He didn’t come home that night, nor the next night, nor the one after that. In fact he never came home again.”
“Not ever Grandad?” Sally asked, sadly.
“Well, that’s not quite true.” I said, giving her a squeeze of reassurance.
“I was sitting out in that very back yard one cool summers evening. The decades had rolled on; my parents were long gone, just like the outside toilet. I’d got married, had a family of my own. But after all the years that passed, I still thought about Charlie Shields. I’d look up at the window that used to be his bedroom and wonder where he was. His parents passed away a long time ago and lots of people have lived there since. They died never knowing what happened their little Charlie.”
“So what did happen to him?” Danny asked.
“Well that’s the funny thing. There I sat one day, out in my little backyard, enjoying the last of the evening sun, and your Grandma came out. ‘What’s up Love?,’ I asked.
She looked at me with a frown. ‘I was just coming in the front door and a young lad asked me if you still lived here, asked me to give you this.’
She handed me a marble; not a scratch on it, the lilac in the middle as bright and beautiful as I remembered it. ‘What did he look like, this lad?’ I asked.
‘I couldn’t see his face properly,’ she said, ‘he was wearing a tatty old cap. But he had a lovely big grin, happy looking boy he was. And his hair was just sticking out the bottom of his cap, it was the colour of…’
‘Brown sugar’, I said, finishing her sentence for her.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘It was exactly the colour of brown sugar.’”
Justine Dunn lives in Slovenia, where her imagination is currently running wild. She has recently entered the world of blogging.