Authors: Cj Flood
‘Prozzie,’ Sam said.
The woman spun round suddenly, and a teenage boy in rolled-up jeans leaped from the caravan, laughing. He’d obviously startled her. The three dogs ran over to him, the tiny black one
lagging behind, and he bent down to tussle with them. They licked at his bare chest.
Sam didn’t have anything to say for a second. The boy looked about the same age as him. He was clearly the woman’s son, tall and thin like her, but with lighter, ginger-blond hair
that flicked out above his ears and curled on the back of his neck.
don’t go to school,’ Sam said.
‘Come on, Iris,’ Dad called up the stairs. ‘You’re going to be late.’
‘Aw, shame,’ Sam said, because he was on study leave.
Still, I couldn’t help staying a minute longer, watching as the red-haired woman filled a bucket with water from the pot above the fire and began scrubbing her steps.
Dad left the house at the same time as I did. With fists clenched, he headed towards the paddock.
I couldn’t wait till the summer holidays. Everyone at school was getting on my nerves.
Matty. At registration, when I told her about the gypsies, she
told me this story about her second cousin’s boyfriend’s brother: he was on his way to the newsagent’s to buy a magazine when a gypsy girl burst out and cracked him over the head
with a golf ball in a sock. For no reason. I told her we didn’t have any girls, only a boy, and described the way his hair flicked out, but she curled her nostrils at me.
‘Pikeys are gross, Iris,’ she said. ‘You’d get gonorrhoea.’
Matty was always name-checking STDs. She thought it made her look sophisticated.
At dinner time, we watched the boys play football.
‘Your socks are odd,’ Matty told me. ‘Don’t you care?’
‘Maybe you should.’
I took my shoes off and folded my socks down so their oddness was less obvious.
‘That’s your problem, Iris,’ she sighed. ‘You think that makes a difference.’
Before maths, next lesson, I nipped into the toilets and took them off.
Matty had moved to Derby from Guildford four years ago with frizzy black hair and too-big glasses which left red dents on her nose, but every new term she got prettier. Today
her black frizz was tamed into long waves that she twisted round her little finger. Her glasses had shrivelled to contacts, and to make matters worse, her boobs had gone from a size nothing to a
32B in the last six months. As far as Matty was concerned, she was a fully mature woman.
‘Remember, Iris,’ she’d taken to saying to me, ‘
birthday’s in September.
, I’m in the year above you.
, I’m a Year
Every day, after school, I watched the gypsies. They hadn’t listened when Dad told them they weren’t welcome, and much to his annoyance were getting on with their
lives. As well as the teenage boy, the dogs and the red-haired woman, there was a man, a baby and four little girls.
The boy spent a lot of time with his mum. He got in her way while she was cleaning, and made her laugh. Sometimes she grabbed him and ruffled his hair. They reminded me of how Mum and Sam used
The gypsy boy was good to
sisters. They were all loads younger than him, but he still played hide and seek with them, and picked them up when they cried. I couldn’t imagine him
getting mad at them for something as silly as borrowing his socks.
In the evenings, they all sat around the fire, or on the grass nearby, until it was time to eat whatever their mum cooked in the pot, or their dad brought home in the car. Later on, when the mum
had put the little ones to bed, the gypsy boy went to lie underneath the caravan by himself, and I felt as though I understood him completely.
Dad shouted if he caught me watching from his bedroom window.
‘It’s not a game, Iris,’ he said, and so I kept my spying to when he was out.
One night, I left my curtains open so the sun could wake me. I wanted to see what the gypsies did first thing. It was well before six when I crept upstairs, past Dad sleeping
with his head half under the pillow, to my usual perch on his armchair by the window. He didn’t notice. Mum was the light sleeper – the snorer too. She used to make herself jump in the
Underneath the early white sky, the paddock was dotted with poppies, and fat wood pigeons in the tall poplars surrounding the yard called to each other. The boy got up first. He jumped down the
caravan steps and did a lap of the field with the dogs. Occasionally, he stooped to pick up sticks, or tugged dead branches from the hedgerows.
By the entrance to the paddock was a huge pile of logs that Dad and Austin, his apprentice, had cut down over the months – a year’s supply at least. Reaching it, the boy stopped. He
glanced towards our house, and I ducked behind Mum’s rose pincushion cactus. I peered round its spiky dome, which was flowering purple, and watched as he added a couple of long, slim branches
to his pile.
Back at the camp, he knelt to build a fire. By the time the door to the caravan next opened, he was fanning the flames with a sheet of cardboard. His mum emerged carrying a stack of bowls, the
baby wrapped to her back, and the boy changed position to direct the smoke away from them.
‘Eye?’ Dad lifted his head. ‘That you?’
Dad called me Eye, as in ball. Sam had started it. Mum used to tell Dad off for joining in, back when they still talked to each other. ‘She’s named after the flower,’
she’d say, but she didn’t mind really. It was just something they did.
‘What you doing?’ Dad said now.
‘Need some socks,’ I said, pretending to rummage in the unsorted pile I’d been sitting on.
The plastic of Dad’s alarm clock creaked as he looked at it. ‘S’not even seven,’ he groaned. ‘Go back to bed.’
I watched the boy put on a rucksack, pat the baby’s head, and walk to the far end of the field where the paddock dropped into the brook. He reappeared on the other side of the water, and
then disappeared into the cornfields, and I wondered where he could be going.
I was sad to be leaving science for the summer. Biology was the best, not only because I got a break from Matty. I was in the top set, and she was in the bottom, and I paid
extra special attention when Mrs Beever talked about the parenting traits of various birds. Apparently both male and female swans help build the nest, and if the mother dies (or drives off in a van
to Tunisia) there’s no need to spaz out and call the RSPB. The male swan is completely capable of raising his cygnets alone. I
wished Matty was sitting next to me when I heard
All afternoon we bickered, but choosing sweets in the shop after school she still invited me to sleep over at hers that night. ‘We can do a fashion show with my new clothes,’ she
said. ‘Mum’s making spag bol.’
‘Doubt my dad’ll let me,’ I lied, putting ten fizzy cola bottles in a paper bag.
‘He still being unusual?’ she said, and I nodded, but the truth was I couldn’t bear it round hers any more.
Her mum, Donna, asked questions with her best talk-to-me expression: Are you
? And is your dad
? And is everything
at Silverweed Farm? The worst thing was that
Matty didn’t stop her. She just stood there expectantly, as if the two of them had become some kind of talk show mother/daughter duo, and I their favourite guest.
Saturday morning another caravan appeared. It was white, but its car was multicoloured: red boot, blue doors, silver body, and the passenger side mirror dangling off like a
ripped ear. A man with an enormous chin got out, smoking. The gypsy boy was excited to see him. He went straight into his mum and dad’s caravan, then came out with a pile of boxes, grinning.
He spent the morning moving into the new caravan, shooing the little girls out from under his feet.
After he’d fed the dogs, the boy put on his rucksack. I wondered what was in it; maybe a book and a sketch pad and some pencils. I imagined him setting up quietly in a field somewhere to
draw for the day. I imagined myself next to him, reading my book. It would be peaceful and relaxing and no one anywhere would argue.
The dogs followed him down to the brook, running into each other as they went. A minute later, the lot of them scrambled up the bank. They disappeared into the cornfields. His mum went inside to
do the windows, while the little kids fought over some toy. The two men sat in the sunshine smoking and talking. There wasn’t much point watching after the boy had gone.
I waited at the kitchen table for Sam to come down for breakfast. He used to get up early to get the paper for Mum – she couldn’t bear anyone sleeping in. I was
still hoping he would return to this habit; Dad liked to read the paper too.
At ten o’clock I gave up on Sam and went into the front garden with the dog. She still looked like a puppy, even though she was two. Dad had found her, whimpering, in one of the barns of a
derelict farm he’d been clearing out. She was so small he’d brought her home in his pocket. She looked like a cross between a Springer Spaniel and a collie, and her ears were covered in
long curly hair which Sam said made her look like me. She was the most difficult dog we’d ever had to train, which is why I’d named her Fiasco.
The sky was the colour of a sucked-out blue ice-pop as I hit the tennis ball with the coal shovel for Fiasco. It flew over the pick-up, past the stripped-down cars and abandoned chicken coop, to
touch down behind the apple tree. Fiasco snatched it up as it bounced, and came back to drop it at my feet.
‘Last one,’ I told her, and toeing the froth-covered ball onto the shovel, I whacked it as hard as I could. Dog slobber landed on my face, and I ran into the kitchen to wash it
Silverweed Farm had always been messy, but two months without Mum and it was dirty too. The microwave was covered with paw prints where the cats jumped up, and there were dog biscuits on the
floor by the washing machine. Furballs had rolled into the corners of the kitchen and living room. Underneath the plate cupboard I spotted a cat poo, curled up and drying out. I moved it with an
old copy of the
, only breathing out of my mouth until it was safely in the bin.
Just after twelve o’clock, Sam emerged.
‘Summer holidays!’ I cheered, hitting a belter for Fiasco from the back door.
Sam filled the kettle, without answering, and I toned down the enthusiasm. I went to sit at the table.
‘They’ve multiplied,’ I told him.
He lifted one side of his top lip, the way he used to when he was pretending he’d hooked it with a fishing line.
His hair was getting long, like it always did in summer. It curled against the back of his neck, and sprang out all over his head. Matty was more in love with him than ever. She thought his long
hair made him look like a film star.
‘There’s another caravan . . .’ I said.
‘You don’t have to sound so excited,’ he said. Water spilled from the spout as he put the kettle down. It hissed against the Aga. ‘Dad’s really pissed
‘I’m not excited,’ I said, copying his monotone. I bit the inside of my cheek.
‘Yeah, well. They’re dirty bastards. Where d’you think they go to the toilet?’
I hadn’t considered it. Their caravans? The bushes? The brook? My heel bounced under the table.
‘Let’s go and find out.’
‘Find out what?’ Sam said, rummaging around in the pantry.
‘Jesus!’ he said, sounding disgusted, and the blood rushed to my face. ‘There’s never anything in here! What am I supposed to eat?’
I hid my cheeks with my hands. ‘Frosties?’
‘Frosties? Again?’ Sam yanked the box out of the pantry and took a handful. ‘And they’re soft,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Bet you didn’t close the box
I laid my head against the wall.
‘What were you saying?’ he said, through a mouthful of flakes. ‘You want to find out where the gypos take their stinking shits? You serious?’
The way he looked at me made me shake my head. I tried to laugh.