a Women Writers' Showcase
Read "The Human Cannonball" by Irv Pliskin

(c) Anthony Steven
2004 - All rights reserved.

"Yes, dear…"

"And gerrus 'nother cuppa tea while yer up thier!"

"Yes, dear…"

"Eeeh, I do like me tea, yer know."

Yes ,dear. I do know. I know exactly how much you like your tea. I know so well, my dear sister, that I would like to wrench open your mouth, stick in the spout and pour pints of boiling brown liquid down your vile, stinking throat… …but I won't.

Instead, I'll just grind my fingernails into my palms that little bit harder. Maybe I'll hold my hand over the pilot light on the stove till I feel its heat prick my flesh. Or perhaps I'll reach into my pocket where I keep a pin. Just for pricking myself with.

"Fire's nice, in't it?"

"Yes, dear…"

D'yer think it's gunna rain later?"

"Yes, dear…"

Fifty-five years is a long time for you to be widowed. And a long time for me to be living with you in this huddled terrace, with its coke fires, outside privvies, Chapel at one end, foundry at the other and the devil's breath of sulfurous smog over it all.

Fifty-five years of endless, silent pining that one day there'll be the whistling of “When the Boat Comes In,” that strong bronzed arms forged and wrought from striking steel at the furnace will wrap themselves around again. Hoping that sudden, savage laughter and heated breath will send sparks shooting into the sky; that eyes burning like iron ingots will gaze down once more…

But they won't.

Those arms of bronze, those legs of steel, stoked by a heart full of the bubbling, molten fire of battle fell when snaking, leaden tails flailed death across flooded foreign fields. Slow sinking into stinking slime left nothing for a new bride to mourn; nothing for any of us to grieve.

"D'yer want to know what that Mrs Jones's daughter told us yesterday?"

"Yes, dear…"

"You'll never guess – she's 'aving a baby! She asn't even got an 'usband!"

"Yes, dear…"

You were brave, in your own way. Wouldn't hear of giving up your baby. Not your Alfie, not so soon after losing his father. Oh no. Of course, we all pitched in, rallying round, helping here and there, where we could. The Minister was very kind, and so was his wife. Providing endless nice cups of tea, saying it'll be all right. Only it wasn't nice. And it wasn't alright.

At first I though I'd get over it, I'd forget him, but you never do, not when it's for real. And you had young Alfie, at least for a while. Till the next time it happened and the men from the foundry marched off once more.

He was mine. MINE. Not yours, you wicked, scheming slag, but mine. I loved him, I wanted him, I deserved him. Not you, with your ever-so-grownup ways. I longed to caress that metal angel, that incandescent god, who sucked the air from my chest like I'd fallen into an icy pond.

I adored you…

"I see that woman at number 52's been carrying on with another man…"

"Yes, dear…"

"The things people get up to these days, eh?"

"Yes, dear…"

"I think it's disgusting. It's all them contraceptives, yer know."

"Yes, dear…"

But who was the older, the prettier, the flirt, the come-on? You knew men and their ways, didn't you? And how could I ever compete? How could I match your power? Could I turn his head with just a look? Did I make him wait in the street like an unfed dog, while you wriggled into your dress upstairs? Oh, you knew alright. You knew how to ignite the roar of his furnace, till he could contain the molten heat of his desire no more…

"D'yer fancy Bingo on Thursday?"

"Yes, dear."

"Well, you look like you could do with getting out a bit."

"Yes, dear…"

…He shouldn't have teased me. He shouldn't have pulled my hair, made me shriek with fright or made me cry with laughter. He shouldn't have fixed me with his fiery gaze, whispering secrets only we would know. He shouldn't have let me listen to the bellows of his lungs or hear the rush of molten steel surging through the cables of his veins as he carried me pig-a-back through the alleyways from foundry to Chapel. He shouldn't have dropped me by accident, then, in a flash, turned back, and looking down, his face overwhelmed with tenderness and concern, forever scorched me to a smoking cinder.
One day, my dear sister, it won't be just tea you're drinking…

"… and put kettle on again, there's a love. I could just murder another cuppa."

"Yes, Dear…"

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