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June 21, 2016 / hbrowne4

The Thin End of the Wedge by Stephen Brady

Simon had collected the precious parcel in the allotted place at the allotted hour, and Mrs Harris had secured it to the back of his old bicycle with her special silver twine.

“Now Simon,” she’d said. “That’s for your Mammy. I promised her that, since she’s been too poorly to get out. So you go straight home now, and no messin’. I know what you’re like. You’d be off chasin’ pigeons or lookin’ at the clouds or watchin’ the boats on the water and some scut would come along and rob it on you. So straight home, d’you hear me now?”

Simon wanted to protest his innocence of these heinous charges but was unable. So he nodded meekly, mounted his age-old shopboy’s bicycle and peddled away up the ashy, sloping street.

Mrs Harris watched him pedal off, and shook her head. “Gormless gom. If he makes it home with that intact ’twill be a miracle. But we try, Lord, we do try.”

Simon laboured up the hill and turned down at the undertakers. The street here went into a regal decline, and as the ancient bicycle gathered velocity the boy felt a maddening of the colours in his head.

Simon was a stammerer, and he wore thick glasses and corrective shoes and went to a special school away from all the other kids. When his Mammy let him out, it was on errands defined with crystal clarity. For the world was a fatal distraction to Simon, and he knew in his malfunctioning heart that it was a febrile and malevolent thing that would one day swallow him whole.

But as he came out of the slope and onto the straight, heading for his own street, he was smiling a little. He thought of how his mother’s wasted face would brighten when she saw what he had for her. She was dying, and he knew this quite well. And he knew that when she made her ultimate departure he faced a life at the uncertain mercy of the State. So he wanted to make her time with him, however short it was, not without sweetness.

The rock came looping out of the air and crashed into his shoulder, knocking him sideways off the saddle. He hit the road with a gulp of alarm, and the bicycle ran on a few yards before it was halted by a boot. He heard voices, and laughter, and smelled bitter smoke.

“There he is, there.”

“It’s that spastic. The one chases the pigeons.”

Simon struggled to his feet and goggled through his imperfect spectacles. There were four of them, Teddy Boys, in their outlandish jackets and cliffs of hair and sideburn. The shapes moved, blurring toward him. But through his pain and confusion, he thought of just one thing: the package.

“Well,” said the one who’d spoke first. Foley, Simon thought, that was it. “What has you out and about in the big bad world, young Carmichael? Shouldn’t you be in a rubber room somewhere? Or playin with yourself down be the tracks?”

The other guffawed. They had spread out, and surrounded him. One was holding his bicycle in a lazy grip. The box sat undamaged on the back.

“Hoy!” Foley snapped his nicotine-stained fingers. “I’m talkin’ to you, retard. Where’re you goin’?”

“H-h-h-h-home,” Simon muttered miserably.

The rest mocked him with hoots, but Foley stayed looking coldly at him.

“What’s in the box?”

Simon did not reply.

Foley kicked his ankle. “You deaf as well as thick an’ ugly? What’s in the fuckin’ box?”

 Simon shook his head.

“What’s that mean?” Foley barked.

Simon was edging back towards the bicycle. He had a muddy idea of grabbing the box and making a run for it. Then he recalled how well Mrs Harris had secured it, and realised he would have to take the bike from them too.

His heart sank.

“Tell us,” said Foley, almost reasonably. “Tell us, gobshite. What’s in the box?”

Simon muttered, “C-c-c-c-c-”

“Crap!” said a Ted.

“Cocaine!” crowed another.

“Fuck this,” said the third, lunging for the box.

Moving with a lightning speed the streets had never witnessed, Simon grabbed the bicycle and swung it. The lunging Ted was struck full in the face. He staggered back with a mouthful of blood. His fellows roared on the attack.

Simon lifted the whole bike and swung it a full 360, dropping the rest of them to the tarmac.

By the time they’d sat up he’d pedalled to the top of the road and was almost out of sight.

“COFFEE CAKE!” he roared in triumph as he rounded the corner and disappeared, and the cry sent the birds flocking from the rancid eaves and out into the empty sky.

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