by Vanessa Gebbie
"Jemmy Jarhead. In a home.
Cannae use the telling phone
Cannae listen cannae peek,
Cannae walk, and cannae speak
Jemmy Jarhead in a home,
Looking like a garden gnome."
We used to sing that down the park when they came round, all of the Jemmy Jarheads, holding hands, grown up at the front, grown up at the back, 'cept they was all grownups weren't they? We'd sit on the horse, the squeaky horse that rocked back and fore, seats enough that we could get the whole team on with two sitting on laps, and we wouldn't give up places for Jemmy Jarheads would we?
They dribbled, God, we learned not to dribble when we were small, 'cept on the pitch, course, then it were ok. But this lot. Mam said why weren't they done away with at birth, drowned like cats babies she said. They're not cats babies I said they're kittens, and May she said Oh Clever clogs. But I know what Mam meant now.
Two by two holding hands, and one with a beard. They go in the Co-op. Look at the sweets, and smell of socks. No one wants to buy sweets when they's been. Then they put sweets in wrappers after that. I remember so don't tell me it was because of summat else. They put sweets in wrappers in the factories, for the shops, because Jemmy Jarheads were dribbling over them, that's why. So the pink prawns we nicked came in packets after that. And the blackjacks. And the Spanish.
They put Jemmy Jarheads in the schools now. I know, because there's one in the class above us. Mam says its not good enough and that if she was paying she'd kick up a right stink. I say that its Ok really, because why shouldn't they go to school. Idiots like me can go so why not real idiots, I said. And Da whacked me across the mouth. But not hard. S'OK you don't need to go to the social.
So anyway, I saw this Jemmy Jarhead, and he was on his own in the playground, and he'd wet. He was all dark and clammy down the front because no one had told him where to go to the lav. He smelt. No one wanted to help. But I thought of Mam saying about the drowning baby cats.
I took him to Miss. And she went Oh and raised her eyes up to the roof, so I looked but there were only pigeons. Pigeons, what have they got to do with anything, I said, This bloke needs trousers, doesn't he. And she went quiet, well, she wasn't making a noise before, but her face sort of went quiet. And she took him in and after he had beige ones not green. Trousers.
I told Mam at tea. She nearly spilled the baked beans on the floor from the pan, and didn't give me any cheese on top either. I don't want you 'sociating with Jemmy Jarheads, she said, and went to read the paper. Later after I'd nearly finished the beans, Dad came in and cuffed me over the mouth. and i said what's that for then, because Ii hadn't finished my beans. But he didn't say,
Next day Jemmy Jarhead wasn't there at school, and I don't think they never got the trousers back. It's funny, next time we were in the park on the squeaky horse Will said to me that his Mam had said because someone had told her down the chippy, that my Mam had no tolerance of Jemmy Jarheads.
Why? Steve's Mam? Will had said, and I think he said something about funny families. But my Mam is OK and so'm I, and Dad, and May, so I said, Nah.
But what about your brother, he said.
The horse sort of squeaked and squeaked.
It’s OK ...because I haven't got a brother.
Vanessa Gebbie lives in the UK, and has been writing seriously for two years. She was short listed for the Asham Prize for new woman writers in 2003. She joined the author Alex Keegan's web based writing community, Boot Camp Keegan, in November 2003, and has since had stories accepted for publication here, in Buzzwords and Smokelong Quarterly. Most formative influence? Spending time for years, but not enough, with her grandmother in South Wales. When did life begin? At fifty. Learning to ski, and deciding to write, as well as she could.