© Copyright 2021 by Mick Shawyer
My submission opens with our protagonist job hunting. In a humorous encounter he jousts with a grumpy newsagent, finally negotiating a paper round. The newsagent and his wife charmed by the 13 year old giving them a different perspective of teenagers.
Tom spun as a bicycle careered towards him, the panic-stricken rider squeezing the brakes and the front wheel locked. He flew over the handlebars, spinning, yelling. Praying it wouldn’t hurt.
No time to move, Tom caught a flailing foot, grabbing the ankle with both hands. The bicycle followed, handlebars swishing from side to side. He straight-legged the front wheel - the two-wheeler flopping on its side, scraping to a halt and leaving shallow gouges in the tarmac.
‘Holy crap,’ the cyclist not believing he was unhurt - last time he’d broken an arm. ‘Can you put me down?’
Tom laughed. ‘You deserve putting down. Riding like that someone’s gonna get hurt.’
‘I’m late for football, don’t usually short cut through here.’ The rider picking up the bicycle and they checked it over, realigning the handlebars. An empty paperbag hung from the cyclist’s neck.
I could do that. Papers instead of bottles. Tom had spent the morning hunting for a part-time job and would take anything the sleepy village had little to offer. Garden centres with seasonal work but not much else. The thirteen year old missed the first job he’d had, milkboy with Ernie an hilariously funny milkman. Then his family moved home and it was back to square one.
He held out his hand, ‘I’m Tom. You work for someone local?’
‘Yeah, Wally Smith, down there,’ pointing at a rutted, overgrown drive.
‘Does he need anyone? I’m looking for a part-time job.’
‘Dunno, best thing is ask, say Chris Peyton told you. That’s me.’
‘Thanks. We’ve moved here, Flowerdown the government base up the top.’
‘By the security gate?’
‘Yeah, Chestnut Avenue.’
‘I’m on the base too, further down past the football pitch. Grand Parade.’
‘Maybe we can catch up later. I play football, left wing.’
Chris nodded, ‘Great. I’ll get you a game. We have a kickabout most evenings. See ya.’
Tom walked along the track, hoping Wally would be home. A noisy family of small dogs charged toward him and he knelt, offering a hand for inspection, The Jack Russells hopping around like circus clowns. A farmyard, row of greenhouses alongside a red house.
A gargantuan backside emerged from the back of a Morris Minor. The biggest man he’d ever seen unfolding like a giant pocket-knife. What’s that, a maggot? - Fierce eyes looking Tom up and down.
‘Good morning sir,’ Tom feeling he was on the menu. ‘I’m looking for Wally Smith.’
Sir! That’s a first - is he for real?
‘I’m hoping he needs a paperboy ‘cos I need a job.’
The giant scratched at his hairy, hanging over the belt belly.
‘You’ve done a round before?’
‘No, but I’ve worked with a milkman. I’m very reliable, a good worker.’
‘My sister, she speaks posh. “One should always use my brother for ventures of this nature. He’s most reliable.”’
The giant’s grumpy outlook softened. ‘Who thinks you’re a good worker?’
‘He’s the milkman I worked for, he paid me a bonus if I made him laugh.’
‘A bonus! None of that tomfoolery here. You earn much?’
‘Hmmm,’ the giant wondering for the second time if this sparkly youngster was the real ticket.
Tom stepped forward offering his hand. ‘I’m pleased to meet you Sir, my name’s Tom but you can’t fool me.’
He smiled, hoping the giant might get his joke. Silence, a glare.
‘Chris Peyton told me to see you.’
‘Where’d you live?’
‘Flowerdown, I’ve got a bike,’ Tom hoping this would seal the deal.
It’s rude to stare, his mother’s warning rattled through his mind as he stared. Wally’s multiple chins wouldn’t keep still, reminding him of a stranded jellyfish.
‘Well a bike could be useful,’ Wally monotoned and Tom crossed his fingers, hoping he’d passed the interview.
Christ he’s skinny, a good puff of wind’ll blow him over, the paperman trying to inject some enthusiasm in his voice. ‘We only have one round available, far end of the village.’
A difficult round, boys took it on then gave up after two or three weeks. Tom buoyant - Yes!
‘When can I start?’
Wally taken aback but held his tongue - hardly a queue of boys for that round. ‘Tomorrow 6.00am. Seven and six a week.’
‘Thank you Mr. Smith, Sir. I’ll see you in the morning.’
‘Don’t be late, and don’t forget your bike. It can be useful for a paperboy.’
Delivered straight-faced and Tom laughed, ‘I won’t forget.’
‘I can see there’s no fooling you Tom.’
The boy took off, he loved running. Gottajob, gottajob, gottajob.
‘And call me Wally.’
Tom stopped, spun to face the paperman. ‘You’re laughing, do I get a bonus?’
Wally’s diminutive wife Mary stood in the doorway of the nearest greenhouse displaying eggs and vegetables for sale. She’d heard every word, found herself giggling. Cheeky little sod.
She looked at her husband; unusual to see him happy and felt a glow. ‘You’re a good man Walter.’
Touching his arm. ‘Does anyone feed that boy?’
Tom had half-smiled in her direction before running off, the dogs in hot pursuit. I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil.
Her husband laughed again, his buttonless waistcoat flapping. ‘You’re kidding my lovely, two days more like.’
‘Still look on the bright side, it gives you a break. AND you laughed three times in the last five minutes. More than you’ve done in the last three months.’
Whenever a boy failed to turn in or a round was vacant Wally would load his car and deliver papers. He’d been covering this round nobody wanted for over ten weeks. He felt like smiling. Singing. Dancing a jig.
5.00am, a spring in his step as he loaded newspapers in his Morris Minor Traveller. The bundles seemed lighter and he whistled happily.
It had been a cold start to the day, his car needing encouragement with the starting handle. Undaunted he’d spun the handle - even patting the bonnet affectionately.
Tom leant his bike against the greenhouse, tyres freshly pumped, brakes adjusted. He made a fuss of the dogs as the paperman returned, the fully laden Morris making light work of the bumpy driveway.
“Morning Wally,” he chirped, picking up a bundle and heaving in the greenhouse. Mary already busy, cutting strings, sorting. “Mornin’ Mrs. Smith.”
She looked over her shoulder, surprised at how anyone could be happy in the morning. Better get him out quick before Wally bites his head off and she pencilled details on the corner of each paper. The new boy looking on in amazement.
‘You do all that from memory?’
She nodded as Wally brought in the last bundle. ‘Last week we saw the local policeman in town. Mary said, “Here comes Daily Mirror and Woman’s Weekly on Tuesdays.”’
Wally guffawed, surprising his wife of twelve years.
This happy morning thing is catching - I’d better think of a new nickname; the uncharitable moniker miseryguts would have to go. She smiled.
Even the sun was shining.
author has no
formal education but can tell a tale. Self-taught in life,
self-taught in writing. Sit next to him on a bus or a park bench and
he’ll describe the adventures of something nearby – on
the bus a grab handle – in the park a waste bin. A brit
residing in South Africa, fishing or cooking when he’s not