Today I decided to write using the first-person point of view, in the present tense. I don’t usually write in the present tense and so it is an experiment in expanding my repertoire. Here is story number 2; I hope you like it:
On Piccolo Row
“We used to live on Piccolo Row; me and my Grandpappy. We’d sit on the porch and I’d eat strawberries and drink lemonade whenever I wanted.”
I sit back upon my heels and set the scrubbing brush into the bucket, as I imagine the breeze brushing lightly against my face and let the memories of the icy lemonade cool my insides.
“That sounds divine Alice,” Fi says airily, as she leans lazily on her broom.
Fi is my best friend in this place. She is my stability. We are long past the age where anyone would take an interest in either of us, I’m twelve and Fi is eleven, and so we are biding our time until we can branch out into the wide world together and claim each other as our own.
“If you come from such rich stock, what are you doing here with us lowly folk? Where’s your Mama and Papa?” Mildred glowers from the corner.
Mildred never helps us with the cleaning, she sits in her corner and tells us about all the spots that we have missed with the scrubbing brush. She’s very harsh on me, especially. But then again, she has been in this place for much longer than anyone else and all I can think is that it has broken her. She has seen her friends come and go and no one has ever paid her a second thought. I suppose I know how that feels, but I still have my Fi.
“The war took them. My Grandpappy said that they were heroes. And after he died, I had nowhere else to go.”
“That’s not how I heard it,” Mildred continues. “Mrs Philpott told Mr Philpott that your Papa’s a fall-down drunk and your Mama stands down by the docks, waiting for the ships to come in.”
My Grandpappy used to always say that the first punch is the easiest to throw. No one sees it coming – you can catch the vermin unawares. A mixture of spittle and blood flies from the corner of their mouth and if you’re lucky, you can knock them out with one fine blow. It’s the next punch that you always have to worry about – especially when your opponent is double your size and twice as angry.
The next thing I know, I see black, with bright stars shooting through the middle. At least the tiles are cool, as I wake up flat on my back. Fi kneels next to me, cradles my head and dabs at my bloody nose with her sleeve.
“You can’t let her get to you like that Alice. She just wants to make you miserable, just the same as she is,” Fi says.
The door opens. We both freeze – like two little thieves caught in the act of stealing. A couple walks in and Mrs Philpott comes to greet them. They look nervous and I can see hope dripping through the woman’s eyes. They don’t see me, but that’s nothing new. I pick up my brush and my bucket and I walk towards the stairs.
Fi isn’t with me. I can feel the absence of her shoulder next to mine almost immediately. I swing around and it ploughs into my stomach like an out of control steam train.
“Mum?” Fi says in a small voice, a singular tear trailing down her cheek.
The woman hesitates at the sound of Fi’s voice. It’s as though she had never expected to hear that word again.
“Fiona? Baby?” the woman says and she wraps her arms around Fi.
The man wraps his arms around the both of them and they look like a cosy, happy family. One which had never been apart, ready for a photograph in front of their perfect picket-fence. I never really believed Fi when she told me that her parents were still alive. Most of us like to fantasise that one day our parents will come and claim us; I never gave her insistence a second thought.
She’s my best friend. I want to be happy for her, but I feel a searing hot lump of coal, burning through my insides; a tempest within my chest, surging through me. I throw my bucket and I run upstairs.
I didn’t say goodbye to Fi that day. I buried myself under the covers and ignored her pleas for me to come out. I couldn’t face her. I felt so ashamed that I could feel such hatred and anger towards someone who I loved. It has been six months since that day and I miss her terribly. Mildred must have noticed how all my hope has drained away, because she has stopped trying to goad me. Although the last punch I gave her did leave its mark.
Mildred sits quietly in the corner while I scrub the foyer. My hands and knees are scraped bare, the muscles in my neck and back ache. My fingers have been worn down by a mixture of caustic and hard work. It’s freezing inside and out and icy lemonade couldn’t be further from my mind. There is a dull melancholy which permeates the room.
Mrs Philpott opens her office door. She says something to Mildred and then leaves through the front door. When Mildred visits the toilet, I take my chance. The filing cabinet is unlocked. I’m going to find out where Fi lives and I’m going to visit her. I need to tell her that I didn’t mean to be angry with her.
I find the file I need and take down the address. I don’t know how I’m going to get there, but I just know that it’s something I need to do. As I close the drawer, my own file catches my eye. Maybe I can find proof of my parents’ heroics and stick it in Mildred’s face. I open the file. It is empty, except for a small hand drawn map. It shows a neat line of houses and in the yard of one of them – towards the very back, is a red X.
I recognise Piccolo Row straight away. I just knew that my Grandpappy would never have left me with nothing. There’s no time to waste. I race to the kitchen and pack two slices of bread. It’s beginning to get dark outside, but I know that I’ll be able to find my way.
The snow is deep and my shoes aren’t waterproof. I can’t remember the last time that I had new shoes. Maybe once I find Grandpappy’s treasure, I will buy a pair for everyone in the orphanage. Wouldn’t it be special to show up to Fi’s house with a shiny, new pair of shoes for the both of us? I move as fast as I can, hardly noticing the numbness in my toes. My jacket has holes in it, but I don’t care. I just need to make it to Piccolo Row and everything will be fine.
The journey has been long and I have already eaten my bread. My tummy rumbles. It is completely dark, except for a smattering of street lamps. I can’t feel my legs anymore, but I have reached Piccolo Row. I count the houses as I walk. It helps to keep my mind from my burning lips and fingers.
When I reach number 9, I take out the map. I squeeze beside the hedge and the fence. My jacket is stuck – caught on the wire. I pull, but it doesn’t come free. I don’t need it anymore anyway; not once I find my fortune. I take it off and leave it hanging on the fence – like a red flag goading a bull.
I follow the serpentine path of the map, making sure to step out the distances until finally I find the spot. I swish away the snow and try to dig with my hands. The ground is frozen solid. I claw and I scratch but make no impression. I can’t feel the cold anymore, I am now immune. All that matters, is that I find my treasure.
My exhalations form a swirling mist around my head. I decide that it is time to take a break. I sit in the snow and lean against the fence behind me. The red jacket looks so beautiful, waving in the wind against the white backdrop. A few moments of sleep won’t matter. As I close my eyes, the sounds of the wind and snow lulling me to sleep, I suddenly feel a warmth surround me, and there is my Grandpappy, shrouded in gold.