Bill and the UFO
Phil was lazing in the comfy chair in front of the window wondering if anybody was going out to play, or whether he should stay in, just to teach them a lesson. He took his time pondering and pickin’ at his nose, with different fingers, like a banjo player and watching The High Chaparral, which was a pretty good programme on a Sunday, but not on a Saturday afternoon when Big Daddy and the wrestling should be on. It was almost bordering on the sacrilegious. There was some kind of fault and a beeping noise from the telly and the picture disappeared into a white dot. He knew what to do. He hit the side of the telly. When that didn’t work, he hit the top of the telly, squinting his eyes up like Little Joe in a shoot-out and then banging the other side again and again so that the legs on the telly wobbled as if it was a drunken cowpoke ready to go down.
‘Stop it, ya idiot, can’t you see that the picture’s away on that side. You’ll need to turn it over.’
Lisa was always moaning about Phil picking his nose or bitting his nails. But she was sitting on the other chair, picking at something on her bare feet. She policed her body, its discharges and smells, like a one girl riot squad. She was ready to react with sufficient force to its nocturnal ability to produce strange smells, boils, bumps and blackheads and worst of all spots on her face, or ‘flea bites’ as her Da’ liked to call them. But these changes were more than that, they were an endless source of fascination, better than any Western, or wrestling, or even Crossroads. Lisa eased her feet down on the good rug beside the electric fire and bent double to get a closer look at them from a different angle, as if she was counting them from outer space and she wasn’t quite sure.
‘It’s probably the tube.’
She mouthed one of Da’s explanations. After banging the telly a few times and not getting it to work, that’s what Da’ would say. He’d wallop it one last time, not in the hope of fixing it, but just to remind the telly that it had let him down again and there would be nothing, but old Gutherie, to see to it now. Then Da’ would get mad. The telly sometimes flickered briefly into life, after getting hit, hit, hit, before dying.
Jo would then need to get a 2p for the phone box and the balled up number of old Guthrie, hidden away like a memento, out of one of the zipped compartments in Ma’s battered black purse , where there was nothing for nosey folk, but old black and white photos and the locked-up smell of the past.
And when old Guthrie’s 49cc Moped, farted and snorted its ragged way up the steep hill, making little dashes and slowing down again and another dash, almost coming to a standstill, like Mr Greer at school’s sport’s day, Ma would put the kettle on. Guthrie was always hurrying, but seemed to stand still in his overcoat and blink a lot with black motorcycle goggles over his Joe 90 NHS specs, which gave the impression of movement, but never speed. He was also weather neutral, either wringing wet, or sweating like a wool coat wearing Emperor Penguin. No matter how much he sweated and even if the two bars on the electric fire were on, he rarely took his coat off, but even if he did, he also wore an itchy looking two-tone grey jumper as a breastplate. Despite the slow broiling, fag smoke and oil and garlic smells its damp wool seemed to soak up sweat and other smells like a charcoal filter.
Guthrie carried all his tools in an old metal box that split into different layered compartments. He’d put it down on the living room floor and peer at them and fiddle with one or two bolts, or dials, or bits of copper wire. He’d turn the telly on and off and turn the tuning dials one way, then the other, and then unscrew it and take it off. He’d select a screwdriver by holding it vertically up pointed at his nose, as if comparing their relative sizes, then see if it was the right one by trying it on one of the screws on the back of the telly. This meant unplugging the aerial, which he’d flap at with his large hands, while steadying the telly with his other hand so that it didn’t fall over. He’d try to burrow into the space between the telly and the wall, like a giant badger, but it would wrong foot him and he’d only succeed in catching it before it went crashing with the help of a less than prayerful ‘suffering Jesus,’ muttering Da’. Guthrie would then unscrew the back of the telly and put one screw after another in his coat pocket for safe keeping. Only when he’d gone through this full TV repairman procedure would he only then bang the telly like a true professional.
Ma’ would be standing behind Da’. Jo would be sitting watching every move and giggling with Lisa, until Da’s bushy eyebrows took on a high- wire life of their own and glowered at them. Then they’d giggle some more and wait, and wait, until Da’ was just about ready to explode at Guthrie, and with them, and at the expense of it all. Only then would they slink away into their room, their laughter echoing down the hall, leaving Phil standing, nearest to Guthrie, wide-eyed, hardly breathing, watching his every move.
‘I think it’s the tube,’ Guthrie would blink looking from Da’ to Ma’ and back again to see if they were going to argue with him, the man holding all the screw drivers, but although Da’ would go through an agony of indecision, they never did.
‘I’ll need to get another one.’
Ma’ would ask how much it would cost and it would be Guthrie’s turn to hum-and-haw and look at his two-tone jumper, before giving a price.
Guthrie would need to race away on his Moped and go through the whole procedure again when he returned and fitted the new tube.
Phil gave up on getting the wrestling back on and trying to fix the telly. Instead, he made grunting noises and a baboon face, that way Lisa couldn’t tell Ma’ that he’d called her a ‘fuck-pig’. He’d heard Summy using the term and had only said it once to Lisa, but she’d whispered what he’d said to Ma,’ who’d threatened to tell Da,’ unless Phil told him where he’d heard ‘that kind of language’. He didn’t mean to grass Summy up, but it was just one of those things.
‘There’s somebody at the door for you,’ Ma’ was ironing in the kitchen and shouted through.
Phil sneaked a look out of the horizontal bars of the Venetian blinds. ‘It’s only Summy, tell him am no’ goin’ out.’
Lisa snorted. ‘Tell him yourself.’
Phil made grunting noises, but Lisa waited until he was passing before springing up and whacking him squarely on his head.
‘Owwwww, I’m telling.’
Phil was rubbing at the side of his head when he opened the door. Summy was sitting on the their wall outside as if he owned the place, which made Phil scowl even more.
‘What?’ Phil eyed him warily, because he looked too full- of-himself happy.
Summy sprung off the wall. He couldn't wait to tell. ‘Bill’s been taken by aliens. His mum’s been greetin’ and roaring and even phoned the police.’
‘So.’ Phil has a determined look on his face. ‘I’m still no’ comin’ out.’
‘A know where he is.’ Summy jumped down the steps and sauntered along the garden path, taking the shortcut through the hedge and out onto the street.
‘Wait for me.’ Phil pulled the front door behind him and ran to catch up.