Highly Commended, Butch by Stella Townson


BUTCH

Butch leaned against the back garden fence. He was watching the girl come up the alley towards him, her sweater a pale patch on the dusk. He knew Chrissie had deliberately come that way from the factory. He didn’t mind. He liked her.

‘Hi,’ she said and leaned beside him against the fence.

‘You’re late,’ Butch said. He cleared his throat. ‘Just finished?’

She nodded.

‘Willis kept me late. He’s pleased with my quotas.’

Her hair fell in a crooked fringe when she looked up at him.

‘Maybe you’ll get a bonus,’ he said and couldn’t think of anything else to say.

‘Maybe,’ she said.

She wears a lot of lipstick, he thought.

‘What shift are you doing tomorrow?’ she asked.

‘Usual. Eight till five.’

He wondered why she asked. He knew she was going out with Mickey Grange.

‘Got to get in,’ he said.

They said goodnight and the girl walked on through the alley to where it came out to the road.

He went indoors. The old man was in the armchair with the paper. Butch could see the headlines, some politician telling them they’d never had it so good.

‘Did you bet on Moonshine in the 3 o’clock?’ Butch asked his dad.

The old man shook his head and carried on reading. Butch looked at his mum and she nodded over to her bag on the sideboard. She knew what he was after. He took two one pound notes out of her purse.

‘Pay you back.’

‘See you do, Davey,’ she said.

When he came home from work next day, there was a group of lads at the kerb standing round Jim Bradshaw’s bike. It was a racer with 5 speed gears. Mickey Grange was bending over it; he said something to Jim and Jim nodded. Mickey leaped on the bike and came fast along the street. He rode right up to Butch as if he was going to run into him.

‘What’s the big idea?’ Butch shouted, jumping out of the way.

Mickey circled and came for him again. This time Butch pulled at Mickey’s jacket as he came close. Mickey hopped a bit and fell off, then came at him. Butch pushed him off. The other lads were watching.

‘What’s the idea?’ Butch said again, fear making his voice rough.

Mickey leered at him. ‘You know,’ he said.

Butch thought of Chrissie. He’d been thinking of her since she came up the alley and stood beside him. Jim was shouting for Mickey to bring his bike back.

Mickey said ‘Watch it or else – ’ circling before riding back and dumping the bike on the ground. Jim swore at him.

Butch shouted ‘Tough bastard!’

He walked towards the alley slowly so they wouldn’t know he was afraid. He’d nearly reached it; his thoughts had switched to his mother indoors and

the money he’d have to pay back. He felt a strong pull at his jacket and swung round. Mickey, his eyes angry, hit him hard above the ear. Butch felt his eyes blur and lashed out. Mickey dodged and tripped but recovered himself. He came for Butch and punched him again. Butch fell against a nearby fence. An old woman was picking white daisies in her front garden. She went indoors quickly. The next punch landed in his gut and Butch went down. This time he felt only the pain and knew he couldn’t get up again. He could hear Mickey crowing as he ran off after the other lads, Jim joggling the bike.

The grey sky was clear and uncaring. His mother would be mad at him for getting into a fight. Butch thought of her tight face the other times he’d upset her. He gripped the fence and pulled himself to his feet. He began to limp forward, stopped and drew in a breath which hurt. A mate of his on the other side of the road waved as he passed the glimmering streetlight. Butch waved back.

‘Coming Saturday?’ called Rog. ‘The Saxons are playing at home.’

Butch lifted his thumb in the air.

He reached the alley and hesitated. Better go in the front. The shock was fading a bit now. In the hall, he could hear the tele babble from the living room. He began to climb the stairs.

‘That you, Davey?’ his mother called.

‘Course it’s me,’ he said but his voice wouldn’t come normally. ‘Course it’s me,’ he said again, stronger. He heard her say something about dinner.

In bed, he tried not to move. The pain in his gut was worse. He might be badly hurt, his spleen or something. He might die in the night. His parents wouldn’t know why. Mickey wouldn’t tell them about the fight. His mother would wear a big hat at his funeral. Then their lives would go on as usual, Dad doing a bit in the garden, Mum cooking and cleaning the house. She sometimes had a neighbour in for a cup of tea in the afternoon. Mickey’s mum, probably. He laughed in the dark at the thought and began to enjoy the ache. He’d lost but he’d put up a good fight over the girl, it was something men did. He pictured Chrissie helping her mother at home, her lipsticked smile above the ironing board, and felt excited at the thought of meeting her again. He liked bumping into her, kidding around, but if he saw her again, he’d want more than that. Supposing he asked her out? He’d be committed then, taking her away from another bloke. He thought of the two of them walking on the moors. Not that there were any moors round here but he’d seen it in films. Couples swinging their joined hands loosely and smiling at each other. He didn’t want rings and mortgages and kids, though. He used to walk with his dad when he was a little kid past the housing estate, the old man telling him how he’d been part of the gang who built it. He’d looked up to his dad then. It was different when the old man gave up work early because of ulcers. Butch didn’t want to be like him any more. Old before his time, sitting in the corner reading the paper every night while his mum sat opposite, darning his socks. It was what other couples did but it wasn’t like the movies, it wasn’t – big enough for Butch. It wasn’t going for something you wanted. He wondered what he could do that would count.

When he woke, his mother had come into his room and was searching through the pockets of his jeans at the foot of the bed.

He watched her from where he lay.

‘What’re you doing? You’ll have to wait till payday.’

‘Breakfast is ready,’ she said.

She went out of the room. She shouldn’t go through his pockets.

He knew before he pulled the bedroom curtains he’d see his dad walking down the garden like he did every morning, examining the shoots he’d planted. Poor old bugger, Butch thought. But I’ve got my whole life yet. He stretched and stopped as the pain hit. He hobbled to the small basin in the corner and washed carefully, examining his bruises in the narrow mirror. He didn’t feel heroic now. His face looked pale and old.

He went into the living room, moving carefully. His mother immediately noticed.

‘What’s the matter with you?’

He didn’t answer. He wasn’t a kid, telling his mother everything. His dad was munching with loose jaws. Butch didn’t look at him.

He went out after breakfast and leaned against the fence. The air felt sharp and good on his face. He walked on down to the factory.

After the morning shift, Butch went to the betting office and put a bit of his mum’s two pounds on Jumping Bunny. The horse had done well on his last two outings. Butch got through his afternoon quota and was relieved when it was time to clock out.

He walked home with his mate Pete. Pete had heard about the fight.

‘What’s Mickey Grange got against you?’

Butch didn’t answer. He could see Chrissie idling along by the old fashioned dress shop. He knew she wasn’t interested in the clothes, they were the sort his mother would wear if she was dressing up to go somewhere. Pete had seen the girl too and nudged him.

‘Good luck, mate.’ He sauntered off.

‘See you,’ Butch said.

He felt excited looking at Chrissie – why shouldn’t he ask her out? The ache in his belly reminded him that he’d paid. He watched her for a minute, looking in the window, then she turned and smiled as if she’d just seen him.

‘Oh, hi.’

His feeling for her faded a bit. That’s how it would be with her. Not knowing what was true or false. Wasn’t she treating Mickey badly, hanging around for him? There was an unwritten code for these things.

‘Hello,’ he said and they walked together.

She didn’t meet his eyes while they were walking. He guessed she’d heard about the fight.

‘D’you want to buy me a drink?’ she asked as they drew near the Woodman pub.

He said ‘I’ve got things to do.’

She stopped and faced him.

‘Don’t you like me?’

‘You’re Mickey’s girl,’ he said.

‘I’m nobody’s girl,’ she answered, mocking him.

Butch knew that one too.

‘When you’ve told him, let me know’, he said, swinging off over the bridge and away from her.

Tomorrow he’d stay on at work, do a bit of overtime. He wondered if Jumping Bunny had won the 2.30.

Words: 1,610

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