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March 14, 2016 / hbrowne4

What Didn’t Happen to Phelim by Stephen Brady

The first I heard of it was from that gobshite, Micko Doole. In those days we called ourselves a gang. I suppose I was captain and he was my lieutenant. We used to rob the shops all around those gnarled streets. Sweets, matches, briquettes, anything we could flog for a few pence.  Kids’ stuff. This was in the way-back- when, before you could steal cars and blow cops away on a screen. Back then, if you wanted to be a Master Criminal, you had to do it for real.

“Who is he?” I asked Micko.

“His name is Phelim.”

“How d’you know his name’s Phelim?”

Micko pulled a lump of snot from his nose and wiped it on the wall, which is something he did when he was thinking. “He has it wrote on his schoolbag.”

We were standing on the corner, watching the new kid. He was at the bus stop, and gangly and angled, wearing a school blazer and shorts. He had an enormous, baldin, insectoid head, and was reading a book. A book! My first impulse had been to go over there and beat the shit out of him.

“There he is there,” said Micko, redundantly. “That’s him, lookit.”

“He looks like a spa,” said Disgusting Kevin. He was our “muscle.” “Kill ‘im, Barry. Go on.”

“Naw naw!” Micko gestured, more mucous gathered on his proboscis. “Don’t kill ‘im, lads. Not now, an annyway. We can use ‘im.”

I pondered what Micko had said earlier.

“Why should I let him in the gang?”

“Because. He’s weird! That might come in handy.”

They were looking to me.

I hitched my trousers and spat in the drain. “Come on.”

We approached the ridiculous figure at the bus stop and, on warlike instinct, fanned out to surround.

“Good afternoon!” he smiled. “My name is Phelim. I’m waiting for my Mummy to collect me and reading this jolly book about tigers!”

“Show us!” Disgusting Kevin grabbed the book off him. He pawed through it with his rancid fingers.”Yeah. It’s about tigers.”

“May I have my book back?”

“Shut up,” I told him. It was time to get things on track. “Listen, you. I’m Barry the Bastard. This here is Micko, and that’s Disgusting Kevin. We’re a gang.”

“A gang!” The inscectoid being clapped its hands. “That sounds like tremendous fun! Can I play?”

“Shut up,” I said again. “Listen, weirdo. You can be in our gang if you want. But we’re criminals. If you wanna be in the gang you haveta do crimes.”

“Ooh, I don’t know about that,” he said. “Mummy wouldn’t like my doin anything illegal. She’s a librarian!”

“Can I kill him?” Disgusting Kevin begged. “Can I, Barry? Can I kill him?”

“But it does sound like jolly good fun,” Phelim continued. I saw that he’d retrieved his book from Disgusting Kevin.  He’s done it so fast we hadn’t seen it. “Being in a gang! What a wheeze. Perhaps I could act as your “look-out,” or some such?”

Micko was looking at me intently, as though he was trying to communicate some idea through the bulb of slime that hung from his nose.

And, remarkably, I think I got it.

“We don’t need look-outs.” I took Phelim by the elbow. “I’ve a better use for you.”

We plotted our heist in the alley by the train station.  It had to be a lightning-raid, because Phelim’s Mummy was collecting him at four o’clock. That gave us eleven minutes by the station clock. So we ran through the plan, the moved in.

The target was Minnie Canavan’s All-Purpose Corner Shop.

We sent Phelim in first.

“Good afternoon, Madam!” he crowed.

Old Minnie C nearly hit the roof. “Jaysus tonight, what’re you?”

Phelim presented his book.

“Madam, I’d like to speak to you today about tigers. This one here is a Bengal King. They prowl the wilds of India, and have been known to make off with the odd wounded Colonial! They live communally in extended-”

“NOW!” I hissed. “Go! Go! Go!”

And in we  ran.

Of course, the notorious musketeers of Barry the Bastard’s gang were banned from Minnie C’s, but with Phelim distracting her with the Big Cats of the Subcontinent, we were able to shoot in and raid the shelves.

We got quite the haul that day. I’d as many Fizz Whizzers as I could stuff in my shorts.

And we ran for it (separate ways in case of the cops), and reconvened at the hideout. It was only then we realised we’d left the newest member of our gang behind.

“I told yiz!” Micko wheezed. “Didn’t I tell yiz! I told yz we’d use ‘im!”

I hit him. It seemed only fair.

So Phelim was the fourth horseman of B the B’s Apocalypse. That summer we were the terror of the streets. We robbed newsagents, bicycle shops, supermarkets, all manner of outlet. We’d send Phelim in and he’d mesmerise the propietor with a lecture on an obscure topic while we rifled the place. He had Vinny Dowling in the sweet shop so entranced with a book about magnets we were able to raid the medicine jars at leisure.

And, in the end, I felt moved to give him a quarter of the spoils.

“All this is terrific fun,” he’d chortle as he counted his gobstoppers.

“This is deadly,” said Micko. “We should start doin banks!”

And we grew up and moved apart and all that faded into a dry and sepia chapter in the book of my life. Disgusting Kevin was killed one beautiful summer’s day out messing on the train tracks. Micko was sent into the Army. And I stayed, in the neighbourhood, and got married. I took over the plumbing from my old man, and one day I had kids of my own.

Everything changed, except Phelim. He stayed at the bus stop, in his blazer and grey shorts, with his bulbous cranium gleaming in the sun and the rain. He faded, alright – sometimes you could see the grain of the wall beind him. But he never changed.

Sometimes I’d go past in the van and he’d wave to me. One day I stopped waving back. From then on he just stood there, a bland little smile on his face.

He had no Mummy, it turned out. Nobody was coming to collect him, and nobody ever did.

And that was that, or so I thought.

But last Wednesday I was going down the street with my little girl, and she saw him. She tugged my sleeve and pointed at the spectral figure.

“Who’s that, Da?”

“Somebody I used to know.”

“Who is he, though?”

“I dunno what to tell you, love. He was an odd boy who grew into a strange man. Or maybe that was me.”

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