Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mr Jennings

(The first line of this story appeared from nowhere and stuck itself firmly in my mind. Not that I had any idea where it would go, let alone theme or premise, but I had to get it down on paper and let it develop. I thought of the twist around the middle of the second paragraph and thought, given the season, it would be an interesting exercise to see if I could maintain one direction while bearing another in mind. I'm not sure if I managed it :-)

Update: A version of this story won me 2nd place in the 2007 Basingstoke Music and Arts Festival! )

I don't remember the first time I saw Mr Jennings. He just seemed to always be there, in every Christmas photo and every birthday photo. Just one of those people who always seem to be there and no one questions it. He always bought useful things for my presents. Not big, expensive things, mind you, but the things I really needed, the things that other people forgot, or didn't have the time to look for, or didn't make the time to look for. It would be things like the rare action figure that completed the set Mum and Dad had gotten for me. The bulk pack of batteries that let me play my Space Invaders game for days on end until I had amassed such a high score that no one could beat me and had gained extremely sore thumbs.

He'd be there to congratulate me when I did well in a test or got good marks on my work. He'd tell me how proud he was of me, just like my parents did, but his praise was just that little more heartfelt, like he really meant it. He'd be there for the bad things too, holding me while I cried because of the bullies or the bee-sting. He held me the whole night when Granddad Jack died, telling me he had gone to a lovely place and he'd be fine, just fine.

Of course, I was curious about him. I asked Mum and Dad, but they just smiled and said nothing. Nonetheless, I asked. "Who is he?" "Is he my uncle?" As I got older, the questions changed, becoming more precise. "Why does he dress that way?" "Why does everyone seem to ignore him?"

Then one day, we moved, and just like that, he was gone. I lay awake the night before my birthday, hoping that he'd be there the next day, but he wasn't and my life felt emptier for it. Christmas Eve, I lay awake again, hoping and begging the Powers That Be to let him be there, but he wasn't.

I was worried that he'd been going to the wrong house, perhaps he hadn't gotten our change of address letter. So I trudged out in the January slush, wrapped up against the biting cold, the end of my nose red, fingers and toes going numb. I walked all the way back to our old house, knocking on that familiar wooden front door, with the familiar brass door knocker, with a stranger's face answering.

"Has Mr Jennings been here?", I asked, eagerly. The lady apologised and told me no one by that name had been there. I turned and walked away sadly, but something made me turn back. A shiver down my spine? A prickling on the back of my neck? I looked back and my heart soared with joy. He was there, standing in an upstairs window, waving slowly at me, a half-smile on his face. I waved back and started to run to the house, but a change in his demeanour stopped me in my tracks. My heart sank like a stone as his smile left his face, a look of sadness replacing it. He shook his head sadly and mouthed, "I'm sorry. Be a good boy for me, lil one."

And with that, as I watched, he faded into nothingness.

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