The Devil’s In The Detail
It was Blind Beryl who taught me how to see. Her full name’s Beryl Cook, like the artist, and she takes her fashion sense from Cook’s pictures: loud, gaudy frocks and even louder make up. Beryl’s had cataracts for years, which might explain her love for bright colours. She can’t see at all now, so I have to see for both of us.
I visit her twice a week to give her place a bit of a clean, but mostly she doesn’t want any cleaning done, she wants to sit and have a cup of tea. The agency charges her twelve quid an hour, but I see less than half of that, so if she wants to pay me to drink tea, I don’t have a problem with that.
This one time, we were sitting in her front room with a cuppa and a plate of custard creams when she asked me to look out of the window.
‘What do you see?’ Beryl said.
‘Nothing much. There’s a boy playing in the yard.’
‘What’s he like, the boy?’ she asked.
‘What do you mean?’
‘What does he look like, does he look like my Albert?’ She fumbled about on the crowded table next to her chair until her fingers rested on a silver photo frame. She held it out to me.
‘He looks a bit like your Albert, only his hair’s longer, it’s flopping about in front of his face. He has to keep pushing it back.’
Beryl wasn’t satisfied, ‘What colour is his hair?’
‘It looks black from here, but when the sun hits it, you can see gold and red, like it’s on fire.’ I was beginning to get what she wanted, ‘His face is round and smooth, with dimples, like those cherubs you get in fancy churches. I reckon he’s about the same age as your Albert was when this was taken, and -,’
Beryl interrupted, ‘He was twelve. He never saw thirteen, poor little mite. Influenza.’ She paused, her sightless eyes staring out into space, ‘Tell me about the yard, is that tree still there? It was a chestnut tree, I think.’
‘There’s a tree, I couldn’t tell you if it was a chestnut, though. It’s huge, it takes up most of the yard. There’s hardly any grass, must be too shady for it to grow. Of course, it’s autumn so there’s no leaves on the tree, plenty on the ground, though.’
‘What’s the boy doing?’
‘He’s playing.’ I pre-empted her next question, ‘I think he’s playing some kind of pretend game, looks like he’s in a world of his own. Maybe he’s being a knight or something. He’s got a branch, he’s using it as a sword and having a sword fight with the tree.’
‘With the tree?’ Beryl chuckled, ‘Maybe he’s playing David and Goliath. Albert used to play that with his Dad.’ She took another sip of her tea. ‘Does he look happy?’
‘Yes, he’s smiling. He looks like he’s enjoying himself.’
‘My Albert used to smell of conkers, do you think this boy smells of conkers?’
‘I don’t know, he looks a bit dirty, there’s patches of grime on his face. He probably smells a bit ripe.’
‘What do you think his name is? I bet it’s Robert. Does he look like a Robert? If I’d had another child I’d have called him Robert, but I only ever had my Albert.’
‘I don’t know if he looks like a Robert, what does a Robert look like?’ I asked. I checked my watch. One advantage of working with Beryl was that I could check the time when I liked without her noticing. ‘I have to go, Beryl, sorry. But I’ll see you Thursday.’
‘You’ll see me, but I won’t see you!’ Beryl cackled at her own joke. ‘I’ll see the boy in the yard, though, thanks to you.’
I popped the tea things back in the kitchen and grabbed my coat. Beryl called me back.
‘Will you ask him his name, when you go? For me?’
I stepped out into the bracing October air, there wasn’t much of a wind, but what there was stung my cheeks all the same. I pulled my coat tighter round me. The boy was still playing his game.
‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking, would you tell me your name?’
The boy stopped playing and turned, his stick hanging by his side. He looked less cherub-like close up. And I saw that the marks on his face weren’t dirt, they were bruises.
‘Give us a fiver and I’ll tell ya,’ he said.
‘Five pounds? That’s almost an hour’s wages.’
‘Like I care! D’you wanna know or not?’
‘Get lost then, you stupid cow!’ the boy snarled, giving me the finger. He turned and went back to beating the crap out of the tree with his stick, a manic grin on his face. I tucked my bag inside my coat and hurried home.
When I went back to Beryl’s on Thursday, she asked after the boy in the yard.
‘You were right,’ I said. ‘He is called Robert. We had a lovely chat.’
Beryl smiled and held Albert’s photo to her chest.
This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge from the Daily Post was to practice our powers of observation: “Take any person, place, or event, and write three paragraphs describing the subject in great detail.”
Sorry, Daily Post, I’m not very good at doing as I’m told, so I haven’t stuck to the three paragraphs. I’ve written a short story instead, which I hope conveys that the devil really is in the detail.