The Challenge That is Tony
Not Carrot Cake
It’s Donny. He has that furtive excitement about him that he gets when he’s been up to some mischief.
“You’re not Jewish,” says Tony. “We’ve seen you in the showers.”
“What has Jewish got to do with it?” Donny and I ask in unison. Tony puts on that cute smile of his, the one he uses when he’s going to demonstrate what a swot he is.
“Goy: it’s a Jewish term for a gentile or non-Jew. Not really polite,” he says. “What did you think it meant?”
“I just made it up as short for gay boys. I thought you might not appreciate me shouting ‘Oi! Gay boys,’ at you here in the street.” Donny’s tone shows his excitement has been dampened by Tony’s challenge. “Anyway,” he continues, “how do you know that? Are you Jewish?”
I know the answer to that. Well, I would, wouldn’t I, as its my boyfriend Donny is talking about, but Donny shouldn’t need to ask.
“Come on, Donny,” I say, “Engage brain. You’ve seen him in the showers at school. Don’t say you haven’t because we’ve seen you checking us out.”
Donny blushes as the penny drops. “Duh! Uncut.” he mumbles. We both grin and nod at him.
Tony and I have started doing our homework together after school, so we carry on walking towards my house. Donny tags along, his school rucksack hooked over one shoulder.
We all greet Mum as we pass through the kitchen.
“Hi, boys,” she says. “I’ll put the kettle on and make a pot of tea. I think there is some cake somewhere too.”
“Thanks, Mum. We’re just going up to my room so that I can change, then we will be down and start on homework.”
We troop up the stairs to my room and I push the door closed.
“Talking of cake,” says Donny. “Did you see that big plastic container full of muffins on the Wicked Witch’s desk in art class this afternoon?”
The Wicked Witch is Donny’s nickname for Mrs O’Reilly, the art teacher. I think he calls her that because she has a fortune-telling tent at the school fete. She usually has Merkin, the school cat, sit in the tent with her. We actually think she is OK. She has an odd taste in clothes — bohemian Tony calls it — and she can be a bit intense, like when she’s doing her fortune-telling. So maybe she is a little strange, but she is an art teacher after all, and they’re all odd.
“Muffins?” I query. “I didn’t know Mrs O’Reilly made bread. It’s more the sort of thing Miss Rutherford might do.”
“Not that sort of muffin, dummy!” Donny laughs. “No, the sticky cake sort you get in Starbucks.”
“Since I don’t go in ‘cost-a-lot’ coffee shops, I wouldn’t know,” I say, reinforcing our family’s reputation for having to be careful where money is concerned.
“I’ll show you.” Donny digs around in his rucksack and pulls out two muffins and puts them on my nightstand. “I liberated them after class when she left the room. I could only get two; otherwise it would have been too obvious that some had been taken.”
So that’s why Donny was excited when he caught up with us outside school.
“Are you sure you weren’t spotted?” Tony asks.
“Nah. Merkin hissed a bit from her place on top of the cupboard when I went behind the desk onto the teacher’s podium, but nobody came into the room while I was there...”
Donny’s voice dies away. I look round at him and Tony. Tony is doing that tooth picking thing he does when he gets flustered and Donny’s eyes seem to be focussed on my briefs. The pervs. They are getting off watching me change my trousers. I take my time since they seem to be appreciating the show.
There’s a knock on my door. It’ll be Mum. She will have decided we’re taking too long before we get down to work. I hastily finish pulling on my trousers and sweep Donny’s contraband into the drawer in the top of my nightstand. Leaving the muffins on show would only risk Mum asking questions about them. I open the door.
“I’ve brought your tea up. It was getting cold,” Mum says as she casts a suspicious eye around the room. Satisfied there is nothing going on, she hands over the tray that has three mugs of tea and three pieces of cake on it.
“Were you planning on doing anything tonight for Halloween?” Mum asks. “Only I thought your dad and I would have a romantic night out and go to the new Indian restaurant. You’ll be all right on your own, won’t you?”
“We were going to stay in and watch a horror video,” I say, “We’ll be fine.”
Mum looks at Donny. “Are you stopping as well, Donny?”
“No. I’ll be going home. As it’s Halloween I can scare my sisters and they can’t complain.”
Mum turns her attention to Tony.
“Although it’s school tomorrow, no doubt it’ll be late when you’ve finished watching the film. You’d better stop over. I don’t want you walking home in the dark on Halloween with goons like Donny around trying to scare everybody.”
Mum’s grin is enough for Donny to realise she is pulling his leg. She turns and leaves the room, firing a parting shot as she goes.
“Don’t be long before you come down to do your homework and don’t forget to bring the cups down with you.”
Tony rings his mum for permission to stop over while we all scarf down our tea and cake. When we’ve finished, Donny announces that it’s time for him to go. I gather up the tea things and follow him downstairs. Tony brings our homework. Donny thanks Mum for the tea and shouts a cheery goodbye before he leaves.
Sitting on our gatepost watching Donny go is a black cat. Funny that: I’ve never seen a black cat in our neighbourhood. The only black cat I can think of is Merkin but I have never known her roam this far.
Homework done, Tony and I snuggle up on the couch watching the telly until Dad comes home. We get to greet him before Mum tells him to hurry get up and ready because they are going out for the evening.
“I’m not the one who’ll need to hurry up,” Dad says after Mum has disappeared into the kitchen. He potters off upstairs to get washed and changed.
“I’ve made some savoury ducks in onion gravy and put them in the oven,” Mum tells us when she reappears from the kitchen. “They will be ready in about an hour. There should be enough for six. So make sure you leave enough to freeze for us to have next week. Do some potatoes for mash and put them on in about half an hour. Peas are in the freezer; they’ll take about ten minutes.”
“Yeah, okay,” I grumble. “I’m not a total dummy you know.”
“Maybe not in the kitchen. Otherwise I’m not sure.” Grinning like a Cheshire cat, she follows Dad upstairs.
Thanks, Mum, for trying to show me up in front of my boyfriend. And what’s with the savoury ducks? (I’m calling them savoury ducks here, as I think their other name would only cause confusion — even though Tony thinks it is appropriate for us, but then he is in a funny mood.) The ‘rents are spending money going out for a meal and we get one of the cheapest meals there is. Made using offal and other cheap cuts of pork, the result is something between a nice juicy sausage and haggis.
At least Tony and I both like savoury ducks, especially the spicy homemade ones Mum does. Tony would say we both like a nice fat juicy sausage as well, although I’m not sure what sort of sausage he’d have in mind when saying it.
Half an hour goes past so I head into the kitchen to do the spuds and set them to boil and then go back and join Tony watching the telly. Dad has been watching with us for the last twenty minutes. There is no sign of Mum.
Eventually she appears as I get up to put the peas on.
“Are you doing the potatoes, dear?” she asks.
“No, they’re already on,” I reply. “I’m going to do the peas.”
“Have we been that long? I told your Dad to hurry up.”
“Pity she didn’t tell herself to hurry up,” Dad mutters.
Tony and I struggle not to laugh. Mum glares at the three of us.
“Go on. Off you go,” I say before she can think of some tart comment. “If you don’t go they might have stopped serving! Enjoy yourselves!”
“Because we will,” Tony whispers in my ear as Dad finally manages to shove Mum out of the door.
With the parents out of the way, things are soon hot and steamy between us in the kitchen: not surprising since I forgot to put the lid on the saucepan with the peas in it!
Tony lays the table whilst I finish off the meal without burning myself or spilling anything on the floor. Tony has found some candles, so we have what I think is our first meal alone together by candlelight. Quite romantic really, in spite of it being Halloween. I’m not sure romance is something that should be associated with Halloween and evil spirits. I put that thought to Tony.
“With evil spirits about, don’t you think Halloween is an odd time for Mum and Dad to pick for a romantic night out?” I ask.
“Perhaps it appeals to their sense of humour,” he replies. “Or some anniversary. It’s not their wedding anniversary, is it?”
I should know when their anniversary is but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten.
“Don’t think so,” I say, looking across at Tony. As I watch his face he starts to smirk.
“Perhaps it’s the anniversary of the last time they had sex!”
That’s not something any kid wants to think about, their parents having sex.
“Eew, gross!” I say. “How did you work that out?”
“Your birthday is early August. If your mum was a bit over term, it’s possible you were conceived on Halloween. Nine months would take you to the end of July. Add a bit for the over term part.”
I don’t really want to think about it but I have to ask.
“Why would that stop them having sex?”
“And risk having another like you? You being an only child proves my point.”
I told you Tony was in a funny mood. He redeems himself though.
“They have never said anything about us,” he says. “But have you thought they might be giving us the opportunity of enjoying a romantic night in? After all, it was your mum that suggested I stop over.”
“Mm,” I grunt. “You’ve got a point, but I’m not convinced. I can’t see Mum missing out on the chance of a jibe at my expense if she has guessed about us.”
“Perhaps she thinks it’s too serious to tease you about it.”
He has another point there.
Our conversation falters as we stare into each other’s eyes whilst eating our meal. When we realise we have finished, we clear the table, put the leftovers away and clean up in the kitchen. Then we snuggle back together on the couch.
Tony has brought a horror video for us to watch. One with shapeshifting bird creatures and strange, colour-change effects. To be honest it is a bit naff, but we enjoy ourselves trying to read a gay sub-plot into the story. After a while, even that no longer holds our attention, and we start to enjoy ourselves in a different way.
The end credit music of the film disturbs our activities, and we decide it is time to go up to bed. We tidy ourselves and the room and Tony goes upstairs.
I go into the kitchen to make a bedtime drink for us. With uncanny timing, Mum and Dad walk in, back from their evening at the Indian. Oops! We had forgotten they were still out and if they’d come back five minute earlier, Mum would have found something to say to us.
“I’m making a hot drink,” I say. “Do you two want one?”
“Please,” says Dad. “Cocoa would be nice. It is a bit cold out there.”
“No need to tell me that, Dad. I felt the cold reaching into the house as you came in the door.”
I make enough cocoa for four. I’m not messing about with different drinks for everyone.
“Where have you been until now?” I ask as I’m making the drinks. “I thought you would have been in ages ago. You haven’t been in the restaurant all this time have you?”
Dad giggles. “Lad. You sound just like your grandad did when I was courting your mother. It’s a nice clear night even if it is a bit cold. The full moon is so bright we’ve been able to go for a walk round the park for old times’ sake — back to when we were courting again! Thought it might work off the booze too. We’ve had a bit more than we’re used to.”
It’s then that I notice that Mum is managing to maintain some strange angle to the vertical and realise Dad is slurring his words a bit.
“A good night then,” I say as I put their drinks on the counter for them. I don’t want to risk them dropping them.
“We brought you some samosas, but we ate them in the park,” says Mum, a silly grin playing on her face.
Dad winks at me as he says “We thought you two would have been in bed by now.”
“The film has only just finished,” I say as innocently as I can, but I can feel myself blush; he’ll know I’ve caught his meaning.
With their cups in hand, Dad steers Mum towards the stairs. After grabbing our own drinks and turning off the lights, I follow them upstairs in time to hear their conversation as they go into their room.
“It’s really bright out there tonight,” says Dad. “A good night for Halloween.”
“Yes,” Mum replies. “Did you see that cat on our garage roof as we came home?”
“I thought it was your familiar.”
“Not mine. You know I don’t get on with cats!”
They are chuckling away as they close their bedroom door.
I go to my room and close — and lock — my door. Tony has turned on my bedside light but is still dressed. He’s been waiting for me.
“They’re a bit pissed,” I say as I hand him his cocoa. “I hope Dad will be in a fit state to drive to work tomorrow.”
I tell Tony about Dad’s comment that he expected us to be in bed and I waggle my eyebrows at him suggestively. He smiles his cute smile back at me.
“The state they’re in, I don’t think the ‘rents will hear us if we make any noise,” I say. “They’re probably snoring their heads off already.”
I open the drawer to my nightstand to check on the supplies I have hidden at the back but see the two muffins.
“Donny’s buns!” I say.
“What about them?” Tony asks then grins. “They’re cute if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“No, silly, not those. He’s left behind the muffins he pinched from Mrs O’Reilly,” I say. “I suppose we had better dispose of the evidence,” I hold them up so that Tony can see them, and then I hand him one to eat with his cocoa.
The buns must have been dredged with icing sugar. I can see some still sticking to the top but the rest must have fallen off in Donny’s bag. Good. I don’t like things covered in loose icing sugar. It makes me choke when I inhale trying to take a bite of the cake.
The muffins are a bit big to bite into so I break mine open. It is a lurid orange inside.
“Are they carrot cakes?” I ask Tony. “I’ve never had carrot cake before. I can’t get my head round the idea of putting vegetables into a cake.”
Tony hasn’t broken into his bun yet.
“Carrot cake? I love carrot cake,” he replies. “It doesn’t really taste of carrot. Anyway you like your veggies so try it.”
I put a piece in my mouth as Tony breaks open his muffin and looks at it.
“Ah!” he says. “I don’t think this is carrot cake. Carrot cake is usually darker than this. Maybe Mrs O’Reilly put some colouring into ordinary cake because it’s Halloween.” He takes a bite.
As I swallow my first piece I realise that it isn’t a plain sponge cake that has been coloured. I take a second piece and take time to work it across my tongue trying to identity the flavours.
“It’s not plain cake,” I say. “It’s got a strange taste. A bit like raw greens. What do you think?”
Tony savours the remains of his mouthful.
“I see what you mean. It’s definitely not carrot cake. I quite like it though,” he says, taking another bite.
“You always did have strange tastes.” He feeds me all the best lines.
“None more so than in my taste in boyfriends.”
Correction. I feed him all the best lines.
I eat about half of my muffin, but I don’t really like the taste. Tony takes what’s left from me and finishes it. Yup! He has strange tastes.
We finish our cocoa and start to make out, intending that undressing each other will be part of our fun. It doesn’t work out like that. Although we spend some time kissing and cuddling we never get any further. Something seems off. Maybe we have been desensitised by our fun while we were watching the film, or perhaps the thought of Halloween means we are distracted by every owl’s hoot and cat’s cry as the sounds carry in the clear night.
Then I get the distinct feeling that we are being watched. I break off our cuddle and look across at the window. We must have forgotten to close the curtains because there are two eyes staring in at us. I can’t see clearly because my room is reflected in the dark window glass, but they must belong to the cat that Mum saw, its eyes bright, reflecting the light from my bedside lamp. I get up to draw the curtains.
I hear the cat mewl as I turn back and look at Tony sitting cross-legged on my bed. My eyes feel heavy and his clothes seem to have taken on iridescence like something out of the video. I must be more tired than I thought.
“Put the light out. We’ve got school in the morning,” I say as I crash, still fully clothed, onto the bed next to Tony. I do not hear the click of the lamp switch before I am asleep.
I awake shivering. The room is bathed in moonlight. I turn over, expecting to see Tony next to me, but he is not there. Perhaps he has gone to the loo and that is what has woken me. It is then I realise the curtains must be open for the moon to be shining in. I thought I closed them before I fell asleep.
The air in the room is cold, colder than I ever remember it. I get up, intending to shut the curtains again, and I see that the window is open. No wonder it is cold — but why the hell would it be open? Tony?
Reaching to close the window, I look out into the garden and across to our garage roof, the scene monochrome in the moonlight.
Tony is crouched near the apex of the sloping garage roof. He must have opened the window, climbed out and crossed the flat roof of the utility room that joins the garage to the house. What’s up with him?
“Tony! Wot ya doing out there?” I hiss at him. “Come in! It’s effin’ cold.” It is, too. The garage roof is glistening with frost.
It’s no use. He doesn’t appear to be listening. He is looking towards the garden muttering something to himself.
In the clear, night the sound carries well enough that I can just make out what he is saying.
“I can fly. I know I can fly. I just need to make that first leap and I shall be flying. I can.”
“No, you bloody can’t,” I shout, no longer bothered about waking the parents or the neighbours.
He turns towards me. At least I’ve attracted his attention.
“Yes, I can!” He smiles at me as if to say that he will prove me wrong. I don’t like what I see in his eyes. I’ve got to do something but I can’t leave him alone while I get help. I’ll have to go out there and try and distract him.
“Keep looking at me,” I say as I start to climb out of the window. If he does jump, I hope it will be towards where he is looking. If so, watching me would mean his fall will be less than a metre onto the utility room roof.
Although I have climbed out of the window many times, I still have to take my eyes off Tony and look down to make sure my feet won’t miss the roof, as I’ll be very close to the edge. Satisfied my aim is right, I look back across to Tony and see that I am not the only one watching him. A black cat, presumably the same one I saw earlier, is on the roof between us, its attention concentrated on Tony as if stalking him as prey.
Before I can make the metre drop onto the flat roof, I can see Tony change his position on the garage roof and tense as if preparing to make his jump. Shit! I am still too far away to stop him or catch him. I push off the windowsill and drop onto the roof.
Whether I spook the cat as I land on the roof, or whether Tony’s movement is the trigger, I don’t know, but the cat leaps to pounce on Tony, striking him in the shoulder.
The impact is enough for Tony to lose his balance and fall back against the sloping garage roof. His feet can’t maintain traction on the frosty surface, and he slides down the slope until his legs are lying on the utility room roof. He stays there, making no attempt to move or get up.
I rush over, worried that he might have banged his head as he fell back. The cat has hitched a ride as Tony slid and is now lying on the roof next to Tony’s head, its front paws holding firmly onto Tony’s shoulder. It looks up at me as if it is presenting me with its catch.
I hear a thrumming sound. Tony could be badly hurt and seems the cat is purring, enjoying it.
Nah! He’s just sleeping. That’s his snoring you can hear. Huh? Where did that thought come from?
I crouch down next to Tony. He is indeed snoring. I shake him trying to wake him. We need to get back into my bedroom. It’s too cold for us to stay outside. I’m starting to shiver.
You’ll not wake him. You’ll have to move him yourself. Why am I thinking to myself in the third person? And in a girlish voice as if my balls hadn’t dropped?
The cat lets out a squeak as it yawns. The expression on its face is the same as the one I get from Mum when I am being a bit thick, the one just before she says ‘stupid boy!’ I shrug my shoulders and go back to thinking about how I am going to move Tony. It won’t be easy. He’s bigger than me and will be a dead weight if he’s asleep.
I’ve never heard it called that before but I get this mental image of Tony over my shoulder, head and chest hanging down my back, legs in front where I can grip them to keep him in position. I must have seen it in some disaster movie.
I am about to try lifting Tony when I think of a snag. Which shoulder do I need to put him over so that I can get him onto the windowsill without his weight tipping us both over the edge of the roof? I turn round to look at the window and see there is another problem. How do I actually get him through the window? I can’t climb up with him on my shoulder and the window isn’t wide enough for me to squeeze past him then pull him in. I’ll have to push him in first, but then he will smack his head as he falls through onto the floor. I’ll have to move the bed under the window for him to fall onto.
I look back at Tony to check he will be alright while I move the bed.
He’s not going anywhere.
I climb through the window, move the bed, and then return to fetch Tony. The cat releases its hold on him and moves up the roof to where it can sit and watch us.
Somehow I seem to understand what I need to do to move him; the voice in my head is giving me instructions. Squat, pull him towards me using my own body weight, use my legs when I need to lift him vertically, keep my back straight.
The easy bit is carrying him once he is over my shoulder.
The frightening bit is getting him onto the windowsill and pushing him through without misjudging things and stepping off the edge of the roof.
You would both be flying then!
I get myself through the window, climbing over Tony’s legs, and then pull him up the bed so that I can close the window.
The cat is still on the garage roof watching me reach out to shut the window. I press the button on the security lock to make sure Tony doesn’t try getting out again. I hope I can find the key in the morning
I can see the cat move off as I close the curtains.
I suddenly feel exhausted. The adrenaline rush has worn off. I’m too knackered to try to push the bed back to its usual place or to get us undressed. I do manage to set the alarm before I snuggle up next to Tony, pulling the duvet over us. We need to get warm.
The alarm does its insistent best to rouse me. It is more successful than usual as, with the bed on the wrong side of the room, I have to get out from under the duvet to turn it off. I turn on the lamp next to the clock, then crawl back under the cover and start to think about what happened last night. It frightens me to think that Tony might have jumped from the roof and crashed onto the paving below.
The thought makes me pull him into a tight hug. It wakes him up.
“Ugh. Is it morning already?” he says, looking at me bleary-eyed.
“Yeah. Time to get up. We’ve got school.” I don’t know why I sound cheerful; I don’t feel it. I feel about as bright as Tony looks.
“Can’t we have five minutes to come round?”
“I suppose so,” I say, knowing the alarm is set to give me ten minutes recovery time and I have only hit the snooze button.
“I had a strange dream last night,” Tony says.
“Go on,” I say encouraging him to say more.
“I must have been thinking of that shapeshifter video last night. I thought I was a bird and could fly, but before I could try it, this cat grabs me and pins me down. It ended with you picking me off the ground and putting me back in the nest. You must have been a bit rough though: my shoulder hurts and my stomach feels as though I have walked into the branch of a tree.”
Tony has been looking at me as he told his story. As I’m trying to think of what to say to him, he looks around. A worried look appears on his face.
“Why are we both fully dressed and why has your bed been moved over to the window?”
“Because what you’ve told me wasn’t just a dream. You were out on the roof threatening to jump.” I can feel my nose tingle and my eyes start to smart. “I thought you were going to kill yourself and I would lose you,” I manage to blurt out before I burst into tears.
Tony comforts me and I calm down enough to tell him what actually happened. We finish up holding each other quietly reflecting on what the other has said.
Ordinary life reasserts itself with the alarm going off again. Our ten minutes is up.
To save queuing time, we go to the bathroom together. As we shower, I can see Tony has grazed his arms as he slid down the roof. He also a bruise developing on his shoulder where the cat leapt at him, and higher up there are two sets of bloodied pinpricks. The cat must have held him down with its claws out. The marks look a bit sore.
“You had better keep an eye on those,” I say. “Cats’ claws can carry infections.”
Back in my room, we get dressed and then push the bed back where it belongs. I push the drawers to my nightstand closed. We never got to use the supplies in there. Hopefully there will be other opportunities.
We grab our school bags and clatter downstairs for breakfast.
“Shush! Don’t make so much noise!”
It’s Dad. He doesn’t look too bright.
“You’re late going to work,” I say, “and where’s Mum?”
“Still in bed. Hungover.”
I narrow my eyes to give him the look he usually gives me. “You don’t look too clever this morning either. Just how much did you two have to drink last night?”
“That’s what I’m trying to work out.”
Tony has sensibly started work on our breakfast: making tea and putting bread in the toaster. He has been listening to us though.
“Does it say anything on the bill from the restaurant?” he asks.
“Tried that,” says Dad. “Except it doesn’t show how we divided up the two bottles of wine. Nor does it show the complimentary whiskies they gave us.”
“Dad! If you had that much between you, you will still be over the limit to drive. You’re not going to work, are you?”
“Well, I should,” he says drawing it out.
“Dad! That’s totally irresponsible.” I’m shocked that he should even think about it. It’s not like him at all.
A smile appears on his face. He’s been winding me up. In spite of the state he’s in.
“But with the hangover I’ve got,” he says, “I’m going to have to throw a sickie. I’ve already rung in. I’m off back to sleep when you two have gone to school.”
“I hope they didn’t say anything,” I say. “You’re never off.”
“This is only the second time. Thrown a sickie that is, as opposed to being properly ill.”
Tony joins us, bringing our tea and toast. He has even put butter and marmalade on the toast for us.
“When was the last time?” he asks.
“When we wet the baby’s head.”
“What on earth does that mean,” I ask.
“Celebrating with some of my mates when we found out your mother was pregnant with you.”
I can sense Tony trying not to laugh. If he dares to ask Dad what they were celebrating last night, he is so dead. I tap his shins with my shoe to distract him. We haven’t got time for the question anyway. We have to get on with it or we will be late for school.
“You laid into your dad a bit,” Tony says as we are walking to school.
“Who said ‘often offence is the best defence’?” I reply. “I don’t know about you, but I feel as rough as Dad looked this morning. If he had noticed it, we would have had the full inquisition treatment. I don’t think he needs to know we spent half the night on the garage roof. Nor do I want him thinking we’re knackered because we spent the night going at it like rabbits when we didn’t.”
“Good point,” says Tony. “And to answer your question: George Washington said something similar.”
I told you my boyfriend is smart.
Approaching school I spot Donny ready to ambush us.
“I think it best if we don’t tell anyone the full details of last night,” I say, nudging Tony and pointing out where Donny is waiting.
“Agreed,” Tony replies. “Especially Donny!”
We can see Donny checking us over as we walk towards him.
“Hi guys,” he says, “You two look a bit rough this morning. Good night was it?”
We know what he is implying by his waggling eyebrows and grin. Lewd is the word I would use. Tony would probably say it was salacious.
“You’re a gossipy little perv, aren’t you?” I say as we stand either side of him. “If you must know we didn’t get up to anything — not that we would tell you if we had. We stayed in and watched a crummy horror pic.”
“It was pretty naff,” Tony chips in. “But it still gave us both nightmares so we didn’t sleep well which is why we look rough. Okay?”
“If you say so,” Donny replies. He shrugs his shoulders as if he is not entirely convinced, and then he changes the subject.
“Did you bring the muffins?” he asks looking at me. “I forgot them yesterday because you hid them in your drawer when your mum came in with the tea.”
“Er, no,” I reply. “We remembered them last night and thought we had better dispose of them.”
“Dispose of them?”
“Ate them,” Tony adds to clarify.
“So after cleaning all the mess of icing sugar off everything in my schoolbag, I don’t even get to try them.” We can tell Donny feels as though he has missed out.
“To be honest,” I say, “they had a funny taste. They weren’t very nice. I only ate half of mine.” I don’t say Tony ate the rest.
We both put a one-arm shoulder hug on him and march him into school between us.
We have not forgotten our frightening Halloween experience. Tony assures me he has never walked in his sleep or done anything like it before. With their strange taste we did wonder if there was something in Mrs O’Reilly’s muffins, but, although she is a bit odd we have never thought her to be into that sort of thing. Even if she was, why would she bring the muffins to school and risk them being nicked by the pupils? Maybe we were more affected by the horror film than we expected and it is just one of those weird things that happen. Two things are for sure, we don’t want it to happen again, and we don’t want to discuss it with anyone else — especially our parents.
The week rolls around and it is the day of our art class again. Donny catches up with Tony and me before we go into the room.
“Mrs O’Reilly can’t have noticed the missing muffins, otherwise we might have heard something,” he says keeping his voice down so as not to be overheard.
“Perhaps she hasn’t worked out who nicked them,” says Tony. Donny looks relieved until Tony carries on. “Or she has and is waiting for an opportunity to call you out.”
Merkin is in her place on top of the cupboard at the back of the teacher’s podium. She is watching us carefully as we all file into the classroom. I am sure her tail swishes with more menace than usual when she sees the three of us.
Mrs O’Reilly is dressed all in black today with only a pentangle pendant for jewellery. Austere is the word Tony uses to describe her look. It certainly isn’t her usual bohemian style. There is something about her new look I find intimidating if not frightening. She seems her normal pleasant self, though, when she tells us all to get on with our art projects.
Tony is sitting at the desk next to me doing his project on his laptop. He is creating one of those photo mosaics where the picture is made up of thousands of other tiny images. It is a bit embarrassing really. It is to be a picture of me made of more pictures of me including some of me in the nude that I didn’t know he had. He says they will be so small in the finished project nobody will be able to see anything. Of course one of my so-called friends suggested it was so small, nobody would be able to see anything even if the pictures were normal size.
Donny is at one of the desks that has an easel attached. He is working on a piece of fantasy art in acrylics. A beautiful dragon. I am jealous of the skill he shows. He’s not happy with it, though, as he wanted to do it in oils, but Mrs O’Reilly said we could use oils next year and then only if we had learnt not to spill paint everywhere. Acrylics are easier to clean up.
Me? I am trying to improve my coordination and draughting techniques by copying pictures from a book of plants. I’m doing a study of a canna lily.
When she sees we have all settled down to work on our project, Mrs O’Reilly starts to walk around the room looking at what each of us is doing and answering any questions we might have. She also asks her own questions and makes suggestions on how we might develop our ideas.
I catch a movement in the corner of my eye. I look up and see that Merkin has jumped down from the cupboard and is sitting upright on the teacher’s desk scanning the room. I can’t remember ever seeing her do that before. Although I try to go back to my drawing, I am fascinated by her unusual behaviour and keep glancing back in her direction.
After a few minutes the cat stands, does that stretching thing cats do, then walks along the desk before jumping down and walking purposefully towards Donny’s desk where she leaps up and sits next to his easel staring at him. I can tell Merkin’s scrutiny is unsettling Donny, so much that, as a dips a brush into it, he knocks over the beaker of water he uses for cleaning brushes and thinning his paint.
Donny’s muttered expletive is enough to attract Mrs O’Reilly’s attention. Of course she too could have been watching what Merkin was doing and seen Donny tip the beaker over. She goes over to Donny and says something to him which he acknowledges.
Merkin meanwhile has appeared on Tony’s desk and is leaning against the back of his laptop washing herself. When she has finished she leaps across to my desk and sits next to me watching me trying to draw. For some reason I am not nervous with her next to me even though the only time I have tried to stroke her she attacked my hand, drawing blood.
My drawing of the canna is nearly complete but I am not happy with the composition of the picture but I can’t work out what is troubling me.
Merkin stands up and walks across my desk before jumping over to the nearby windowsill. As she passes the book I’m copying she makes enough draught for the page to turn. A striking picture of foliage is revealed. Just the contrast I need in my drawing. I look at the caption. It is a study of the cannabis plant.
“Thanks, Merkin,” I mutter to myself.
I hear Mrs O’Reilly call my name, so I turn towards her.
“Let Merkin, out would you please?” she says.
I am about to remonstrate that we are not on the ground floor, when I see the cat grinning at me. Once again, her expression is the one that says ‘stupid boy’. I decide there is no point in arguing so I open the window and look down. I needn’t have worried. There is a van parked below the window. The cat jumps onto the van roof dividing the fall into two easily managed drops.
Mrs O’Reilly slowly works her way round the room and eventually gets to Tony and me.
“I like your idea to give the composition more balance,” she says to me, pointing at the cannabis leaf I have started to draw. “Interesting choice of plant, though.”
I am wondering why she should think the choice significant when she tells us both to see her after the lesson.
After class, we are not surprised to see Donny as also been asked to stay behind.
“I believe you three are implicated in the disappearance of two muffins from my cake tin last week,” Mrs O’Reilly says as she commences our cross-examination.
She is sitting behind her desk; we are standing facing her. Merkin is on the right, sitting upright on the desk. The cat has that satisfied air of a detective who has just handed the prosecutor a watertight case.
“Which one of you actually took the buns?”
By the way Mrs O’Reilly is looking at Donny, I think she has already guessed. Merkin stretches, then strolls to the edge of the desk and sits in front of Donny. Under the combined scrutiny, he breaks.
“That would be me, miss,” he confesses.
Mrs O’Reilly turns her gaze to us.
“So you two would be the receivers of the stolen property?”
Put like that, things sound more serious than we have treated them up to now.
“Er, yes miss.” Tony and I say together.
“And what did you do with them? Ate them I suppose?” There is a hint of amusement in Mrs O’Reilly’s voice.
“As you ate them, you two might have some idea,” she says before turning towards Donny to finish her question, “but do you know what it was you stole?”
“Muffins, miss.” Donny says.
“A statement of the obvious, don’t you think? Perhaps you could be more explicit. What sort of muffin?”
Donny has to think for a bit.
“Well, they were sort of orangey-brown on the outside. I thought they might be carrot cake.”
“But they weren’t, were they?” Mrs O’Reilly is looking at Tony and me again.
“No, miss,” we say.
“Any idea what was in them?”
“Except they weren’t very nice,” I add.
Mrs O’Reilly laughs.
“I won’t take that as a criticism of my baking skills. They weren’t meant to be nice.”
She draws a breath.
“Did you not think there might be something different about them when you saw the pattern in the icing sugar dusted on the tops and the colour when you broke into the muffins?”
She looks at Donny first for an answer. He shuffles his feet. Merkin must have lost interest in the proceedings as she starts washing herself again.
“I don’t know about the colour, miss. I did see there was some sort of pattern in the sugar but as I was rushing, I didn’t look closely before I stuffed them in my bag,” he says. “When I took them out, all the sugar had fallen off. I had to clean it off all my books and things.”
“I think that is known as poetic justice.” Mrs O’Reilly smiles as she makes the remark. “And the colour?”
“Bright orange, miss,” I say.
“You didn’t think that might be some sort of warning?”
“We thought it was for Halloween, miss.”
We can see that has wrong-footed her.
“Silly me! You would think I would have remembered it was Halloween,” she says. “But then I didn’t bake them to be stolen by young boys, did I?”
We are not sure if the question is rhetorical but we answer anyway.
“When you had eaten the buns,” she says, turning her attention back to me and Tony. “Did your Halloween start to get interesting, or weird perhaps?”
The cat lowers the leg she has been waving in the air as she washed herself and sits up staring at me. An image of Tony crouching on the roof plays in my head and I know I am unable to deny Mrs O’Reilly’s assertion.
I am surprised she doesn’t ask how it was weird. Instead she asks if we might ever want to repeat the experience.
“No way!” I say.
“No, miss.” There is a note of doubt in his reply. Merkin has that ‘stupid boy!’ look on her face again.
Mrs O’Reilly turns to cupboard behind her, opens it and brings some things across to the desk. I can see that two are a sieve and a packet of icing sugar.
“I suppose you want to know what was in the muffins?” she says.
We all make positive noises.
Mrs O’Reilly puts a piece of brown art paper on the desk then lays a cut-out pattern attached to a stick on the paper. She then pours some of the sugar into the sieve. With one hand she holds the sieve above the pattern and taps the side with her free hand. A powdery shower of sugar falls on and around the pattern. She puts the sieve down and removes the cut-out.
“Donny. Is this the pattern that was on the muffins?”
Donny steps forward to look at the pattern left on the paper. “I think so, miss,” he replies. “I really didn’t look that closely.”
“Do you recognise what it is supposed to be?”
“Donny, for one so prone to mischief, you are surprisingly naive.”
Mrs O’Reilly waves me forward to look at the design. I recognise it immediately from the picture I was copying earlier. No wonder she thought my choice interesting.
“Tell him!” she commands me.
“It’s cannabis,” I say.
Mrs O’Reilly goes on to explain that the cakes contained cannabis and were intended for medicinal use by the partner of another member of staff and who is undergoing chemotherapy. They find it helps reduce the nausea and vomiting associated with the treatment. As Tony and I found out, the cannabis can also make the user hallucinate and do strange things under the influence.
Seeking to make the punishment fit the crime, Mrs O’Reilly gives Tony and me detention during which we are to independently write up our memories of that Halloween night. We can go when we have handed the copies in to her. Donny gets two lots of detention. For the first he has to write notes on the effects of substance abuse on society and for the second he has to read our pieces and write his own thoughts on what we have written.
We are dismissed and Donny dashes off. We see Mrs O’Reilly roll her eyes at him as he goes before she says: “Tony. Rub your shoulder.”
He does and winces in pain. I thought those claw marks had healed. The cat and Mrs O’Reilly are watching his reaction.
“Do that to remind yourself of last week if ever you should be tempted to take recreational drugs,” she says then dismisses us by starting to clear away the paper and sugar.
As we leave the room we hear her talking to Merkin.
“I still think I should have borrowed the pointy hat from the Drama group. ‘Wicked Witch’ indeed!”
© Copyright Pedro October 2018