Family Inheritance

Timothy climbed stealthily to the attic to retrieve the gun he had stolen from his father’s study. No one would hear him. Mother was in the kitchen, listening to ‘Pick of the Pops’, and father was planting dahlias in the back garden: a typical Sunday in the Anderson household.

The four-bed semi in Bury Road was built in the early 30s, with a roof space in which Timothy would hide both himself and his secrets. He was rather slight for his seven years, so he had no difficulty squirreling himself under the rafters, though he would sometimes emerge into the light with cobwebs dusting his hair. Neither the dark nor the spiders bothered him, which was just as well, given the house’s reputation. It was said to have been used as a makeshift hospital during the last war, and that the presence of soldiers back from Dunkirk, calling in vain for the comfort of their mothers, could still be felt. Passing locals had even claimed to have heard ghostly moans coming from the upstairs. Before the Andersons had moved in, a reporter from the local ‘Echo’ had investigated, but written a lurid piece totally devoid of any fact. It was certainly true that the ambience at no. 147 was not conducive to a happy childhood, but this may not have been due to past torments absorbed by a young, impressionable mind.

Was Timothy’s an impressionable mind? He once told his father as they stood watching a regiment parade, that the eyes of the leopard adorning the Drum Major had not just moved, but stared right at him; and, unlike his friends who found ‘Dr Who’ too terrifying to watch, he was riveted by the monsters and would talk all day long in school like a Dalek.

He cradled the gun, as a child might cradle a butterfly. He opened his hands to stroke it, to grasp the butt, slightly too large for his undernourished fingers. Shafts of mote-specked light shot through gaps in the slates, illuminating the barrel like a glitterball. Feeling empowered by its solidity, he resolved to try it out.

The Walther P38 had been passed down from his grandfather, who had taken it as a trophy from a dead German in Berlin. Timothy had only known of its existence because he overheard his parents talking about it. One evening, unable to sleep, he had heard the familiar sound of his father crying. He had tiptoed along the landing, then perched on the top stair, listening to his father’s sobs and the voice on the TV.

‘The carriage bearing the body of Winston Churchill is leaving for St Paul’s…’

‘Get rid of it’ his mother said. Timothy crept down the stairs, risking a closer look through the door jamb. His father’s hand was pointing the gun as if in salute to the wartime hero.

‘I can’t get rid of it, I’ll get into trouble.’

‘It’s pathetic, getting it out now, just because of Churchill. Take it to the pawn shop and get rid of it. And for Christ’s sake stop snivelling!’

Timothy didn’t dare enter the lounge, despite his longing to see the gun properly. He knew he would get a good hiding for not staying in his room, though it was not really his room, in any sense that he made it his. His parents had made no attempt to make it theirs either. The same cold lino covered the floor as when it had been laid by the builders over thirty years before.  The walls were painted the same sickly green that decorated public institutions. There was a gas fire, but it had long since ceased to function, except as an object of fear in his nightmares. On his metal-framed bed, Timothy was allowed one blanket, and a rubber sheet protecting the mattress from his occasional bed wetting.

‘No! I’ve told you before, I’ll never get rid of it. Timothy must have it.’

Startled at the mention of his name, Timothy’s foot slipped off the stair.

‘Is that bloody child out of bed?’ Timothy turned to run up to his room, but he knew that running away was no escape. She would still box his ears. He knew he would deserve it, of course, for stupidly letting curiosity get the better of him.

Now, the gun belonged to Timothy. Coming downstairs from the attic, he saw his father at the sink, scrubbing soil from under his nails. Mother was not there. He pointed the gun at his father’s back and said in his best, most menacing voice,

‘Surrender! Don’t move!’

It is not clear whether Timothy knew the gun was loaded. But he meant to pull the trigger. There was a loud crack. His father uttered a low grunt, then slithered a bloody trail down the sink and onto the floor.  Timothy heard his mother coming in through the back door. He turned towards her and, this time without warning, fired off two shots. Mother staggered backwards, into the back door. It banged shut, and she crashed forward onto the scullery flagstones.

Timothy stood frowning in the reverberating silence. He stared at his mother’s still body. He crouched down beside her and dipped a finger in the blood slowly accumulating around her beehive hair, like honey oozing from a spilled jar. He stood up, pulled a grubby handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his finger, then carefully carried the gun into the kitchen. Ignoring his father's slumped figure, he placed the gun down on the table and went to the larder to fetch the butter, Mother’s Pride and Sun-Pat.  Remembering his mother’s instruction that peanut butter sandwiches didn’t need butter as well, he spread both butter and peanut butter thickly on the stale white bread. Hearing the sound of ‘The Sooty Show’ from the living room, he entered and sat down cross legged in front of the fire.

The sandwich was utterly delicious.

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