Jake Mutant - Chapter Five
By Jane Hyphen
The good weather continued for the next few days. Jake decided his Grandad needed a helping hand, a bit of support, more than anyone had realised. They went to the village together and also into town, shopping and running errands. There were a number of small things in Grandad’s life that needed sorting out; dripping taps, new tyres for his car, weedkiller for the driveway. Local people quickly got to know Jake, they greeted him by name, he began to feel like he was part of something, he had a sense of belonging and he liked it. In his hometown adults either completely ignored him or thought the worst of him and primed themselves to tell him off.
They dropped most of Grandma’s things off at the charity shop. Grandad kept her purse containing her library cards, bus pass and various tickets she’d kept from days out and holidays they’d had together. He couldn’t bear to move the tattered walking shoes she’d worn on her long wanders around the surrounding countryside; these remained in the shoe cupboard by the back door. Afterwards he seemed to have more energy and even tidied out the kitchen cupboards; he found a jar of fenugreek dated 1989, ‘We must have brought that with us from the old house!’ he said returning it to the cupboard.
Jake became very familiar with the routines of the village, he even recognised the faces on the eight o’clock train in the morning. Binoculars enabled him to discern their clothing and the features of their faces. It was an odd feeling, he knew of them but they had no idea at all who he was and that they were being observed. Was it a form of power? Perhaps, but there was nothing he could do with that knowledge except feel a little bit warm inside knowing that, in this little part of the world, everything was running as expected. Barbara moved to another corner. The nights became colder and he was glad of his scratchy blanket and the little warm patch that Bristol left when he suddenly decided to go to his own bed downstairs.
Mrs Gordon arranged with Grandad that Jake and Toby should go to the cinema together in town. This was to be a most unpleasant experience for Jake. He hated it when adults thought they knew what he should enjoy because they almost always got it wrong. For some reason he never seemed to like doing what other kids liked doing and it had been liked that ever since he was a very young child at nursery. All those repetitive songs with actions had traumatised his early years. If it hadn’t been for the relief he derived from lego he might never have started to speak at all. For some children these feelings may have been very isolating but Jake was comforted by stars in the sky, wildlife and weather, familiar strangers on a passing train. Grandad seemed to have a suspicion that the cinema maybe wasn’t Jake’s thing but Mrs Gordon was thoroughly gleeful about the whole event.
She grinned as she pulled up outside. It was another beautiful day and to spend it inside a cinema seemed like a terrible waste. Grandad shifted on his feet, he looked concerned and sort of guilty but he liked Mrs Gordon and his eyes came alive when he saw her. ‘He don’t say much does he your grandson!’ she said leaning out of the car window laughing.
Jake felt a dark flash ripple through his body. He tried to control his facial expression but the voice in his head said, no but why does that give you the right to talk about me as if I’m not actually here?
Grandad nodded slowly. ‘Thanks for….for this,’ he said.
‘Oh it’s no bother. I know it’s pretty boring round here for lads this age. I like to help them to, you know, enjoy themselves and have a good time if I can.’
It’s not boring at all actually, though Jake, and no you’re really not helping me to have a good time, you’re actually spoiling my precious bit of time here.
She dropped them off waving energetically having given them five pounds each for the ticket and three pounds for ‘treats’. There were girls there from Toby’s school in the foyer, he stared at them and his body language changed. He stood up straight, trying to look bigger and greeted them individually by name as if to prove to Jake how well he knew them. ‘Hi Jess, Sian, hey Rhi. This is Jake my mate. Sorry he doesn’t speak,’ Toby said grinning.
That was a mean trick, thought Jake, making me look weirder than you and extinguishing the bit of energy I had free for a smile, a nod, possibly even a hello. He pulled an awkward face and the girls turned their backs on them.
The entire experience of being in a cinema was unpleasant for Jake; the ridiculously loud noise, the silly adverts for trendy, expensive items, the lack of fresh air, the drink that was big enough for a horse and too cold to swallow. The actual film which was total rubbish as far as he was concerned. He survived it by trying to concentrate on how the film had been made, the camera angles, whether the scenery was genuine or created in a set, did some of the extras appear more than once? The sounds of people’s mouths eating and drinking seemed unnaturally loud and almost intolerable, at times he had to block his ears with his fingers. Toby kept nudging him to tell him the names of the actors in a very loud voice, occasionally turning around to see if any of the girls heard. He couldn’t wait to get out of there but even when the film ended everyone just sat there looking at the credits as if they were really interested in knowing the name of the person that provided the props and the junior makeup artist.
During their two and a half hours inside the cinema the weather had flipped. The sky was low with thick, dark clouds and there was a sort of stillness in the air. Mrs Gordon was waiting for them in her car. Small drops of rain starting to tap the windscreen, then larger, heavier drops. She put on the wipers, flicking the lever so that they were at maximum speed. Toby talked non-stop about how good the film was then he coughed in an affected manner and told his mum to ask Jake about ‘the thing’.
‘Oh yes, that thing. You’ll stay for tea won’t you Jake?’ she said. ‘We’re going to have tacos.’
Before Jake could protest, Toby punched his fist in the air. ‘Yayyyyyyyyy!’ he yelled.
She’d said it in a voice that made Jake feel like he had no choice. It simply hadn’t occurred to her that he might not want to stay for tea and the tacos thing seemed a bit manipulative. Well he didn’t want to go and he wouldn’t be hooked in by tacos, besides whenever his mum had bought them they’d always been smashed to bits inside the packaging. He squirmed in the back of the car thinking about Holly and Mr Gordon, the awkwardness inside their house, the Ultimate Worst Case Scenario book, had he finished reading it? Perhaps broken tacos were the worst case scenario and his knowledge would now be tested.
‘No!’ Jake blurted out suddenly. The urgency of his voice surprised even himself. ‘Grandad needs me at home.’
‘Oh,’ Mrs Gordon sat up in the driving seat and made eye contact with him via the rear-view mirror. ‘Isn’t he coping?’ she said, frowning. ‘Does he need help. I know some ladies in the village who could come and visit….’
‘Oh no,’ Jake was worried now incase he’d made the situation worse, Ladies from the village wouldn’t be welcome at Grandad’s, or would they? He wasn’t sure. ‘It’s not that he’s not coping, it’s just that……..we’re having a clear out, of Grandma’s things. I need to supervise it, my mum said he might go overboard and throw everything out.’ Well that was partly true.
‘Oh - okay,’ she said, sounding a bit shocked. ‘I saw a big plume of smoke coming from your house a few nights ago, guess he was having a bonfire. Nevermind, more tacos for us ah Tobynuts!’
Tobynuts? Right get me out of here now, thought Jake. The rain was really heavy now and he got soaked just walking from Mrs Gordon’s car to the front door. Grandad was waiting in the doorway. Thankfully the rain prevented her from getting out of her car and coming in to chat and nose around. He turned and gave them a quick wave then slammed the door behind him.
Grandad seemed to be searching his face, reading it like the page of a book. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘you didn’t enjoy that did you. I was worried you wouldn’t.’
Jake shrugged. ‘It was alright. At least it’s over. She wanted me to stay for tea but I refused.’
‘You weren’t rude were you?’
‘No Grandad. I’m going upstairs, a storm’s coming.’
‘I know. We’re in for bad weather.’
‘I want to see everything.’
Jake was doubly happy now; he’d got away from the Gordons and exciting weather was occurring. He raced upstairs with Bristol getting under his feet, he scorned the dog and skidded onto his knees into a kneeling position in front of the window. The raindrops pelted the window pane, their tip, tip, tipping sound made Jake feel warm inside and very grateful to be indoors. The mountain top had disappeared into cloud. Jake imagined the dragon waking up, stretching its wings, perhaps looking up to the sky and roaring out a few puffs of its fiery breath. Faint rumbles and cracks of thunder could be heard with increasing regularity now. The accompanying lightning flashes were beyond the mountain, over the sea. They seemed to occur whenever Jake looked away towards the room and he just caught them just on the edge of his field of vision. Bristol’s face, in particular his ears had become very animated, moving up, down and back.
A sudden bolt of lightning came down in a white line, hitting the railway line, it was so bright that Jake saw it again beneath his eyelids each time he blinked. He started to count for the thunder but it came almost straight away as a boom so loud as to dent to surface of the ground. Bristol dived under the bed. The sheep had huddled together to form a single white form in the corner of their field; he could just make them out through the mist and rain. Jake wondered if their ear tags were made from metal and whether a lightning strike would travel from sheep to sheep through the whole herd.
He kept his eyes fixed upon the view now. This time it came down in three places simultaneously, hitting the earth in three jagged lines of bright yellowish white. Jake backed away from the window, he pictured the holes burned in the cloud by the lightning, how big were they? A long, deafening boom of thunder sounded as the cloud holes closed up again and the whole house seemed to shake. The storm passed over the property, striking somewhere in the wood and then travelling farther inland becoming fainter and fainter but the rain continued and there were no gaps in the cloud. Grandad described the weather as ‘set in’. Jake hadn’t quite realised what this meant in Wales.
The rain continued day and night. Daytime was gloomy and it never got light, nighttime was gloomy and it never got dark, there were no stars to look at. It was as if a thick grey curtain had been drawn across their little corner of the world and it induced a weary apathy in the residents beneath it. The train went up and down, always with its lights switched on, the sheep hardly moved, the wind was mild for it wasn’t cold but it just continued to blow in more and more rain.
Jake sat on his bed, drawing, thinking, feeling the rough and smooth of the stone wall in his bedroom; when something worried him he was drawn to the rougher surfaced slates, he ran his fingers along them until it almost hurt. Barbara moved to the ceiling corner above the door. The only outing he had was a lunch out in The Feathers pub in the village. Grandad had insisted they both have ploughman’s lunch because you ‘couldn’t go wrong with it’. It was just bread and cheese, their usual daily lunch except there was a pickled onion on the plate and a number of old man who sat in silence and appeared to be watching them eat. Jake had tried a few slithers together with the cheese and wasn’t sure whether he liked it.
‘A pickled onion is a thing that’ll grow on you,’ Grandad said.