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“Daaaaad, I want a Furby. Everyone else at school has got one.” Sammy put the sticky lollipop back into his wet mouth, then wiped some green dribble from his chin with his sleeve.
Mr Melrose put his pen down and sighed. “I’ve told you already Sammy, I can’t afford to get you any more toys just yet. Look at these bills…” and he held up a crinkling sheaf of them. “Money doesn’t grow on trees you know.”
Sammy took the lollipop out again. “But – they can talk to each other! And sing! Kennie Hamble’s has learnt to say ‘Pika-chuuuuu’ and everything.” Sammy’s fat face contorted as he almost screamed out the name of the yellow monster.
“I only bought you that new Action Man last week, why don’t you play with that?”
“He broke when he skydived from the window, and anyway, he can’t TALK. I want a Furby!”
“No, not until I -”
“But look at what they do! And they aren’t a lotta money.” Sammy snatched up the Argos catalogue and carried it over to the table by one page, which started to rip. He put his snot-green lollipop down on his father’s paperwork to grab the catalogue with both hands.
“NO! I will not get you one! Stop being so greedy all the time Sammy!”
“Furby! Furby!” Sammy yelled in pique.
“Right, that’s it! You can get up to your room you selfish brat!” Mr Melrose was exasperated, tired, and clutching at straws – then half-remembered something from his childhood. “And if you carry on being so spoilt the Scissor Man will come one dark night when you’re alone and cut your fingers off! Yes, that’s what he’ll do! Now take your lolly and go up to your room.”
“I don’t want it now, I want a ice-cream!” yelled Sammy as he slammed the door, leaving smudgy fingerprints on the white paint. “I’m not scared of the Scissor Man,” he muttered as he headed towards the kitchen for a choc-ice.
Mr Melrose picked up the lollipop, but it tore the paper as he tried to separate it. He threw the lolly across the room in anger, and it stuck to the side of the sofa. Then he put his head on his arms and sobbed.
“I wish you were still here Catrin. I miss you so much.”
Mr Melrose was in trouble. It wasn’t that he didn’t work hard – he did as much overtime as he could, but it still seemed that he and Sammy only just scraped by. He would get in from work and feel that there was still a mountain of things to do. Washing. Bills. Cooking. Shopping. Housework. Sammy alone could take up all his time: he had to be fed, clothed, unclothed, bathed, entertained, bedded, picked up from school or dropped off there, and so on. He had no social life anymore. He was too tired to have one even if he had the time. Or the inclination. But since Catrin died he didn’t really want to go out anymore. He didn’t want to see the same friends they used to share. It didn’t feel right without her. Nothing did.
He had adored her. To him she had been an angel, unable to do any wrong. She had been kind, generous, and caring. She thought of others before herself: she had always been campaigning on local issues, such as protecting the trees in the park, or forming a neighbourhood watch group; she always did his infirm mother’s weekly shopping; she wouldn’t even eat meat because of the cruelty she said was involved. And she always had a smile for him when he was down – her face would brighten up as she smiled, her blue-grey eyes holding his, and it would be impossible for him not to smile back. And then he would feel better.
But she wasn’t there to lift him anymore.
She had been killed by a drunk driver a year ago. A businessman who had decided he was okay after a few drinks at lunchtime, but had turned off a main road too quickly without looking, as Catrin had started to cross towards a friend who had waved from the other side of the road… But he didn’t want to think about it again. It was just so unfair. So many people died or were injured that way (how he wished she had only been injured!). Afterwards the world carried on without her, without changing or apparently caring. Her death only mattered to the family left behind; to the rest of society she was a cold statistic. And his life since then seemed to have been stopped; a fuzzy grey freeze-frame of a world was all that was left to him.
Of course, Catrin had possessed a few faults. The main one being that she spoilt Sammy. Maybe it was her caring side gone wrong; like a cancer, normal cells reproducing and growing too fast, until the tissue becomes something else, something twisted. Mr Melrose tried to counteract it; God, how he tried! But perhaps it was too late. He didn’t have the energy to resist Sammy for long. Sammy would persist; and win; and consume.
“But my Daddy said the Scissor Man gets you if you’re spoilt. That means if you don’t share. So give me a bite!”
But Andrew held the bar of chocolate closer to himself. “No! It’s mine! I’ll tell teacher on you Sammy.”
“But then the Scissor Man will get you!” Sammy contorted his face into a malicious leer, and made snipping motions near Andrew. Andrew was smaller than Sammy, and suddenly burst into tears and ran to the Dinner Monitor (who was really Kennie Hamble’s mother). She came over to where Sammy was stood by the huge green dustbins – normally the best place to play when you didn’t want to be disturbed by grown-ups, but they had let him down today.
“What are you doing scaring poor little Andrew, Sammy Melrose?” Mrs Hamble frowned down at him, her fists resting on her wide hips.
“I only told him about the Scissor Man. He comes and cuts you up if you’re a horrible person.”
“Oh, tosh! There’s no such thing as the Scissor Man, any more than there is a Bogey Man, Wolf Man, or Lizard Man. What a horrible idea.”
“My Daddy told me about him so it must be true! And if you shout at me the Scissor Man will cut you up into little pieces!”
“I’m not going to shout at you – I never do, do I, Sammy? But your Father shouldn’t be filling your head with such rubbish, and you shouldn’t be going around scaring other children with it. It’s not nice.”
As she walked away Sammy muttered, “The Scissor Man ain’t nice neither.” Then he stuck his (purple gobstopper-stained) tongue out at Mrs Hamble’s back.
“No, I’m sorry.”
Sammy was pretending to read a comic, but was really listening to his Dad on the phone. He liked to do that. His Dad was frowning.
“All children get like that sometimes, it’s just a story Mrs Chiltern.”
Mrs Chiltern was the headmistress. Sammy was probably in trouble for something. He began to move towards the back door with his comic, so he could hide in the garden if Dad got angry.
“No, I didn’t tell him that, and I don’t know where he got it from. You know kids, he must have made it up.”
“Okay, I will do. It was just a misunderstanding Mrs Chiltern. Good night.” He hung up. “Sammy! Get in here!”
Sammy came back into the living room from his secret listening post behind the kitchen door.
“Was that Mrs Chiltern, Daddy?”
“Yes, and I can do without her ringing up complaining about you. You’ve been scaring someone at school…”
“I only said about the Scissor Man, what you told me.”
“Did you tell Mrs Chiltern that you didn’t tell me about him?”
Mr Melrose flushed.
“Well, not quite…”
“You telled a fib Daddy, that means the Scissor Man will come in the night and cut your tongue out! Or is it your nose off?”
“Right, that’s quite enough… There’s no such thing as the Sci-”
“Is! Is! Is! You said him now, you can’t not say him.”
“For Christ’s sake Sammy, stop it!”
“Stop what? I’m not dooooooo-ing anything.”
Sammy threw his comic on the floor and ran into the kitchen, sniggering. Mr Melrose looked at the pile of paperwork on the table, then at the newspaper he’d bought two days ago but not had a chance to read yet. He rubbed his tired eyes, picked up the newspaper, and flopped into his armchair gratefully, then began skimming the headlines, which all seemed bleak.
The dream was not a good one.
Mr Melrose was stood on a box near a petrol station. A long line of cars extended along the road, off into the distance. Thousands of cars. The drivers were impatient, tooting their horns at each other, while at the front of the queue – a big man in a business suit had just finished filling his car with petrol, and was now frantically filling huge plastic petrol cans that were lined up in his car boot. He was grinning maniacally and looking over his shoulder at the other drivers, who were shaking their fists and yelling at him.
It was another ‘petrol crisis’.
Mr Melrose yelled at the driver filling up. “Don’t take it all, there’s enough for everyone.” But his voice was drowned out by the car horns and the yelling. The driver continued collecting all he could for himself, looking satisfied.
“Stop it! Where’s your thought for others? You can’t congratulate yourself for having the forethought to steal all the petrol when it will be needed by the emergency services for people hurt in accidents! Don’t be so selfish!”
Again he was ignored, but a megaphone appeared on the floor. He grabbed it and climbed quickly back on to his box, and began yelling even louder.
“Don’t you think? Don’t any of you? What about petrol prices? You all want them lowered even though using more petrol would be bad for the environment, and the tax would just get added to something else. Christ, cars are cheaper to run now when compared to average income than they ever were in the past!”
The drivers were now glaring at him instead of at the man filling his car boot with petrol (and the car boot seemed to be growing all the time – it was about ten feet wide now).
“Think, why don’t you? THINK!”
Suddenly it seemed like all the cars were facing him, revving their engines. He looked down at his box but his feet were now chained to it. He couldn’t run.
“Don’t take it out on me! I’m trying to help you all!”
But he felt waves of animosity flowing against him, their level rising. Warm waves, that smelt – of petrol! He looked down and saw that he was surrounded by a small lake of green petrol, the source being the pump in the grinning businessman’s hand. He had stopped to listen but the petrol had continued to flow, and now it surrounded Mr Melrose. He then noticed a cigarette in the businessman’s hand. A lit cigarette.
“No, I’m trying to help you! Be careful with that!”
The cigarette fell to the floor, slowly. It ignited the petrol, and suddenly a hungry, roaring fire swept towards Mr Melrose. The heat smashed into him, singeing him, and he was surrounded by burning fire… His clothes and hair began to burn as he screamed, and the metal megaphone began to blister his skin…
His screams ran out, he inhaled, and the flames flew down into his lungs, scorching them too…
There was hot sweat down the middle of his back when he woke, slumped in the armchair. It was getting dark. He had wasted most of the evening.
He got up and put the living room light on, then looked at the carriage clock on the mantelpiece. It was gone 7 pm. He had better prepare something to eat: yet another late meal. But first he tried to tidy up a bit, stacking up magazines and books, putting sweet wrappers in the bin, and toys in a pile. But it was hopeless, and the room didn’t look much better when he had finished. Everything he moved just revealed a stain, or dirt, or a tear; little reminders of how incapable he was. He couldn’t cook. He couldn’t clean. He couldn’t do DIY, or paperwork, or finances… And what was worse, he couldn’t afford to pay someone else to do those things.
“Sammy!” he yelled up the staircase.
“Come down here a minute.”
Mr Melrose looked through the contents of the freezer as Sammy clumped his way into the kitchen.
“What’s for tea then Dad?”
“Turkey drumsticks and chips?”
“No, we had them last night.”
“We didn’t did we? I don’t remember.”
Sammy sniggered. Daddy was often forgetful.
“Errrm… what about pizza?”
“No. I don’t want that. Yuck!”
“Well, what do you want then?”
“Alphabites. And beans.”
Mr Melrose looked through the various boxes in the freezer. His hands were getting cold. He knew there were beans in the cupboard, but Alphabites? He couldn’t see any.
“How about waffles instead?”
“But we haven’t got any!”
“ALPHABITES ‘N’ BEANS! I want them.”
“Oh bloody hell, come on Sammy, don’t mess me around. We haven’t got any. We’ve got loads of other stuff in though. What about sausage rolls?”
There was a bang as Mr Melrose slammed the freezer door, which made Sammy jump. Daddy was angry.
“Right! Alphabites it is then! I’ll go out and buy some from the Spar, it’s not like I haven’t got anything better -” he was now in the hall, putting his coat on, while continuing to exclaim sarcastically “- to do with my time -” and he grabbed his wallet “- or like I haven’t got much money spare. Oh no. You’ll have Alphabites.” And the front door slammed.
“Good-ee! Alphabites!” Sammy danced around the kitchen, then got a Mars and Twix from the ‘Fun Size’ bag of chocolates in the cupboard, and ate them. They left melted chocolate on his fingers, which then smeared on the paintwork. So he wiped his hands clean on the white hand towel (which left brown stains on that as well).
He then went and played with his toy cars on the living room floor, bashing them into each other and the skirting board, picturing crashes and hideous deaths in his head.
“Go on, eat them all.”
“I’m not hungry anymore.”
“But you’ve only eaten a few of them!”
“You have them.” Sammy pushed his plate towards his father, who shoved it back.
“I’m not eating your mauled food! You asked for them, you can bloody well eat them!”
“Don’t swear, it’s bad.” Sammy started prodding reconstituted potato shapes around his plate with his fingers, obviously having no intention of eating the rest of his meal.
His father couldn’t take much more. “No, you’re the bad one! I do everything for you Sammy, and you never appreciate it! It’s never enough! Why? Huh?” Mr Melrose could hear his voice wavering, changing pitch, getting emotional. Every last shred of his patience and strength was being stretched to snapping point.
“I just want sweeties now, but you won’t let me.” Sammy’s bottom lip suddenly curled and he began to cry. “I want sweeties, an’ I want my Mummy back, an’ it’s not fair!”
His father was surprised; then relented, and leaned over and went to hold Sammy. He felt like crying too. “I know it’s not fair, life isn’t. I want your Mummy back too -”
But Sammy jerked back at the touch, his eyes flashing, and he looked fiercely at Mr Melrose. “Don’t touch me! I want my Mummy, not you! And I want a Aero!”
Shock passed, then Mr Melrose yelled. “You can’t have your Mummy! You can’t have everything you want! No-one can, you ungrateful little bastard! Now get up to bed now!”
Sammy scuttled off up the steep dark stairs, muttering. He didn’t bother to brush his teeth, he preferred it when they felt rough. Instead he kicked his Action Man around his bedroom for a bit, imagining his screams as the giant bashed him. Then he put his Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas on and got into bed. He put the lamp out and went under the covers, to play with his glow-in-the-dark skeleton.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Mr Melrose was crying. He had his head resting on his forearms, and sobbed quietly. He needed fresh air. He needed to get away from the house for a bit. More importantly he needed to get away from Sammy.
He decided he would go for a walk. He would go to the cemetery, and crouch by Catrin’s grave for a while. Then he might find peace, even if it was only fleeting; even if it was but a breath of wind to cool him for a second, it would help him to carry on. He put his coat on, and went outside into the neon-lit night.
Sammy heard the front door close, and realised that Daddy had gone out.
“Ha! Now I’m going to get it!” he muttered, thinking of the Aero that would soon be his. He usually had some sweets hidden under the pillow but there were just empty wrappers tonight, so the idea of another bar of chocolate was even more comforting.
He turned his attention back to the grinning, glowing skeleton. He wished he could glow like that. Maybe his Daddy would buy him glow-paint sometime. He would ask him tomorrow.
A few minutes passed while he imagined being able to scare people at school by glowing at them in the dark book cupboard. Then he heard the front door close quietly. He hadn’t heard the usual rattle when it opened. Just the quiet ‘click’ as the catch fell back into place. Sammy lifted up the corner of the quilt, letting in a cool draught from the dark room, and listened. He wanted to know if Daddy had his chocolate – though surely there hadn’t been enough time for Daddy to have gone to the garage already, so Sammy was a bit confused.
He couldn’t hear anything else, so he snuck over to his bedroom door and pulled it ajar to listen more carefully. The landing and staircase was dark, as he had left it – but most of the downstairs lights seemed to be switched off as well. Even as he stood there he heard a click from the kitchen, and the house was plunged into complete blackness. Daddy had turned out the kitchen light too. Why? Then Sammy remembered that Daddy sometimes did that when he was sad, and sat in the dark. Silly daddy.
Something moved in the kitchen. It sounded like a drawer being opened and closed. Maybe Daddy had forgotten his wallet and had come back for it.
Sammy strained to listen but heard nothing else for a whole minute. Then the living room door creaked open. Daddy was moving awfully quietly in the dark. Maybe he thought Sammy was asleep.
Daddy would now either go back out the front door or come up the stairs. Sammy hoped he would come upstairs, and give him some chocolate, and say sorry for shouting, like he did sometimes. A stair creaked! He was coming upstairs!
Sammy rushed over to his bed and climbed inside, then pulled the quilt up over his head again. He would pretend to be asleep, and Daddy would decide not to disturb him. Then Sammy would say ‘Boo!’ and Daddy would laugh and give him chocolate.
The stairs creaked again, higher up. And there was another noise too, quite quiet – a sort of snipping noise. It was eerie. Every few seconds there would be a creak, or a noise like… like a big pair of scissors cutting the air. Sammy’s imagination began to conjure up images he didn’t want to see, not at the moment. Daddy was being quiet, but why were there funny noises? It was like he was so eager about something that he couldn’t help being excited, and giving himself away, and that was why there were funny noises every ten seconds or so.
Snip! The noise was near the top of the stairs. Then the house went quiet again.
Snip! That noise was quieter, more stealthy, and seemed to come from just outside the bedroom door. Sammy wished he had closed it properly. He wished Daddy would just go to bed. He didn’t want an Aero anymore.
He heard the bedroom door creak slightly, almost inaudibly. He didn’t have the courage to peep out from under the covers, so he just huddled up to his grinning toy skeleton. He didn’t feel like saying ‘Boo!’ anymore either.
Snip! The noise was by his bed, in the dark. And it sounded more like a big pair of scissors than ever now.
“Dadd-ee?” Sammy’s voice almost whispered, terrified, from under the covers.
Only Sammy didn’t think it was his Daddy anymore.
Credit To – Karl Drinkwater