God's Own Shop: Summer 1959


 

Martin and Laura Stories

Chapter 7.

Summer 1959.

 

God’s Own Shop.

 

Peering around the corner of Laura’s street, Martin cautiously scanned up and down for a sign of the horrible Frankie Hall. He’d been thumped twice already by him, and he wasn’t keen to make it a hat trick. All was clear, he made a run for it, knocking on Laura’s front door and sliding thankfully inside when her mother opened it.

 

“Hello there Martin, have you been running a race?” Catherine fondly patted the head of the breathless little boy. “Madam mischief is in the garden, go on through, it’s not as if you don’t know the way.” She followed, watching as the boy greeted Laura, a smile of pure pleasure on his bonny face. Catherine liked Martin Mitchell with his posh voice and his nice manners, none of that lot out there, in the street, had kids half as posh as him come to visit them, she sniffed proudly, and that was a fact. Robbie toddled over to him and she smiled as he bent and lifted, or rather heaved, the red haired toddler into his arms. He seemed to have a real soft spot for Laura’s youngest brother and would lug him about chattering ten to the dozen, he was good with Sean too, but there was no doubt that Robbie was his favourite.  Robbie had all of Martin’s attention today, because Sean, poor baby, was in bed with a bad cold and earache. He started crying again, and she went upstairs to attend to him.

*

 

Lying on the rough lawn, Martin watched a small, iridescent, green beetle struggling through the grass.  Robbie kept trying to squash it with his podgy little hands, but Martin wouldn’t let him, patiently pulling the hand away when it got too close.

The baby giggled, thinking it was a game to amuse him. He reached out again, slyly watching Martin, waiting for a hand to grab his, but the bigger boy was distracted, talking to Laura about the dreaded Frankie Hall.

 

“Punch him right in his ugly gob,” scowled Laura.

 

“He’s an awful lot bigger than I am,” Martin gazed at her doubtfully, she seemed a touch out of sorts today, “besides, I’ve never fought with anyone before.”

 

Laura roughly yanked up a few blades of grass by the roots and crushed them before scattering them. “Time you bloody started then!”

 

Martin was saved from replying by Robbie, who tugged at the hem of his t-shirt and held out his chubby hand. “Oh Robbie,” he looked in dismay at the mess in the toddlers palm, “you’ve killed it!”

 

Robbie looked at Martin in bewilderment, not understanding why his big friend seemed upset, then let out a great squeal of shock, bursting into sobs as his sister suddenly slapped his hand hard.

 

Martin stared at her in horror, “don’t do that Laura, he’s only a baby. He didn’t know it was wrong to kill the beetle.” He dragged the heavy child onto his lap, trying to cuddle him, but Robbie was too upset, screaming loudly for his mother. “Now look what you’ve done,” gasped Martin, trying to hold on to the wriggling infant. “You shouldn’t have hit him Laura, that was really naughty.”

 

Laura glared at him indignantly. “He’s my brother, not yours, so mind your own sodding business,” she jealously tried to snatch Robbie away from him, making the distressed child scream even more as she roughly pulled at him.

 

“STOP IT LAURA!” Martin took hold of her wrists to try and stop her tugging at the small boy’s arms, but she wrenched herself free and then, to his utter shock, went for him like a tigress, slapping him hard across the face, pulling his hair and scratching him. He had to let go of Robbie in order to defend himself.  Scrambling quickly to his feet he tried to fend her off. He had been taught that boys don’t hit girls, but when she sank her teeth into his arm, he let out a screech of agony and grabbed her hair, tugging it hard and kicking her shins.

 

Laura kicked back twice as hard, screaming a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse. She seemed totally out of control and a frightened Martin began to cry. To his relief Mrs Archer, having at last heard the commotion, made a hurried appearance, pulling the spitting, fighting hellcat away from him.

 

“Holy Mother of God,” Catherine swung the girl up into her arms and held her tightly, “I could do without this today.”  She quickly carried Laura indoors, still kicking and screaming hysterically.

 

 Martin stared after them for a few moments, then he ran out of the garden by the back gate, he wanted his own mother.

 

*~*~*~

 

Evie happily relaxing and sunning herself in the garden chair started as Martin’s distraught voice broke into her sleepy reverie. She opened her eyes at once, staring in astonishment as he staggered through the kitchen door and out into the garden with a heavy burden in his arms. “Really darling,” she got up, walking towards him.  “I’ve heard of bringing strays home, but this is ridiculous.” She calmly took the toddler from his arms, and led them both back indoors.  Poor Martin, he was exhausted from carrying the child so far, Robbie didn’t believe in walking, not when there was some kind soul willing to carry him. She listened attentively as her son, sitting on her lap for a comforting cuddle, explained what had happened and why he had brought one of Laura’s little brothers home with him. The brother in question sat happily on the sitting room floor munching away on a biscuit, gazing around with interest.

 

Martin had almost reached the corner of Laura’s street when he had heard Robbie bawling for him. Poor Robbie, scared by all the commotion, and then seemingly deserted by his mother and sister, was scurrying after the older boy as fast as his little legs could carry him. Martin had intended to take him back home, but he figured without Frankie Hall, who had materialised out of thin air and stood grinning, blocking the path back to Laura’s house. He had demanded money for the privilege of using ‘his’ street, laughing in Martin’s face when he tried to explain about taking Laura’s brother home. Frightened of being thumped again, Martin had decided to keep Robbie with him. It was only as he neared his own house that he realised the enormity of what he had done.

 

A pale-faced Martin gazed at his mother tearfully. “Mrs Archer will be ever so cross mummy, she might think I’ve stolen him, will you tell her I didn’t mean to steal him.”

 

Evie hugged him affectionately, assuring him that the police wouldn’t think he was a kidnapper. On the other hand they would have to get the child back to his mother as quickly as possible. Mrs Archer would be demented with fear after what had happened to Laura as a toddler.

 

*~*~*

 

Catherine, her heart beating a rapid rhythm of fear, stared around the deserted garden. The gate was open and she frantically ran up the passageway which led to the front of the house, then the street, wildly calling Robbie’s name. Several neighbours joined in the search, enjoying this touch of drama on a summer’s day. 

 

Sitting on the kerb, Frankie Hall watched the proceedings with malicious enjoyment. He shook his head when Laura’s mother asked if he’d seen Robbie. There was talk of calling the police when three people turned into the road. Frankie made himself scarce.

 

Catherine hurried towards the trio, gathering her son in her arms, sobbing with relief. Martin burst into fresh tears and Robbie followed suit. Evelyn took charge, escorting Mrs Archer indoors and closing the door on the little knot of interested spectators. She seated the weeping mother and child in the living room, firmly told Martin to stop crying and come and help her get Mrs Archer a cup of tea.

 

“I’m really very sorry Mrs Archer, I didn’t mean to upset you.”  Martin sat close to his mother.

 

Catherine gave him a weak smile. “It’s not your fault darling. I’ll be having words with that Frankie Hall, wicked little devil that he is, he watched us all running round like headless chickens, when all the time he knew Robbie was with you.”

 

Evelyn stood up, “ Martin, go and make sure the garden gate is closed and locked properly, there’s a dear.” She ruffled the toddler’s vibrant hair, “we don’t want this little man making a bid for freedom again.”

 

As soon as he’d gone, Evie turned to Laura’s mother. “I’m so sorry that Martin’s actions caused you such distress, there was no intent I assure you. I know about Laura, and what happened to her, it must have been horrific, and then to find Robbie had disappeared this afternoon, I can’t begin to imagine how you felt.” She patted the other woman’s shoulder, explaining about Edward Mitchell and her husband’s relationship to him.

 

Catherine nodded, “David said your husband reminded him of one of the police officers, got a memory like a circus elephant my David, never forgets a face, names now that’s a different matter.” She smiled, “Martin’s a lovely boy, Mrs Mitchell, I know he meant no harm. I’m sorry about Laura, she slept badly last night, she has bad dreams from time to time and she’s always a bit wound up afterwards. I gave her some medicine and she’s asleep now. She probably won’t even remember what she’s done when she wakes up. She’s a naughty girl, all the same, so she is, attacking poor Martin like that. I’ll be telling her daddy when he comes in from work.”

 

Evelyn took Martin home, but not before she had called at the house of Frankie Hall and told his mother what she thought of her loathsome offspring, getting a mouthful of abuse for her pains.

*~*

 

“There,” Evie, after cleaning and dressing his wounds, patted Martin’s face gently, “you’ll live. You’ve been taking a walk on the wild side lately, what with that awful boy and now Laura attacking you. I’ll be glad when these holidays are over and you’re safely back in school, at least I’ll know where you are.”

 

 

Sitting quietly on the stairs, Martin brooded over the incident with Laura. Why had she wanted to hurt him, was it because she didn’t want him as a friend anymore? The thought weighed heavy on his mind and when the telephone on the hall table rang loudly, he almost shot out of his skin. He picked up the receiver, a wave of bitter disappointment sweeping over him as his father told him he wouldn’t be home in time for dinner again that evening.  “I never see you,” he complained tearfully. “I’m always in bed when you come home now and it’s not fair. I want to tell you something.”

 

Thomas was tired, stressed and inclined to be irritable. He had enough problems at work without having Martin giving him earache over the telephone. “Martin,” he said sharply, “get your mother at once, I need to talk to her.”

 

“No, I want to talk to you!” Martin stamped his foot on the hall floor, “I want to...”

 

“MARTIN!” Thomas raised his voice, “I’m truly sorry, but I simply haven’t got time...”

 

Evelyn took the receiver out of Martin’s hand. “No need to shout dear, I’m here now, yes, I’m afraid he’s had rather an upset. I’ll tell you later...” she winced as the front door opened, then closed with a bang. Now where was he off to?

*~*~*

 

Colin was surprised when Martin called for him on his own, surprised, but very pleased, he’d thought that he didn’t like him much. They wandered down to the rec, but it was particularly busy and they couldn’t get near the swings or anything else for that matter. Sitting cross-legged on the tinder dry grass they talked about Laura. “She’s a right little bitch sometimes,” said Colin, “she bit me once, it didn’t half hurt, she’s got a shitty temper on her, but she’ll get over it and be sorry.” He grinned and cocked his head on one side, “you really like her don’t you?”

 

Martin nodded, then asked, “what’s a gyppo Colin, that’s what Frankie Hall always calls her?”

 

Colin widened his eyes, “don’t ever say that to Laura or she’ll rip your head off. Her mam’s a gypsy; she used to travel with the fair until she got married to Laura’s dad. Some people hate gypsies.”

 

“Why?”

 

Colin shrugged, “dunno really. I like Laura and her mam and dad.”

 

“So do I,” Martin nodded emphatic agreement, “Mrs Archer doesn’t look like a gypsy does she, I mean she’s got red hair. I thought gypsies had black hair and big gold earrings?”

 

Colin looked wise, “I expect it’s cos she’s an Irish gypsy. Some people think Irish gypsies are even worse than normal ones.”

 

Martin shook his head sadly, “people are silly, and I hate Frankie Hall, he calls Laura a gyppo and he calls me a toffee nosed snob, and I’m not.” Martin paused, “what’s a snob Colin?”

 

Again Colin shrugged, “dunno really, but it won’t be something nice if bum face Frankie calls you it. You’ll have to look it up in the dictionary, that’s what I do if I don’t understand a word.”

 

“Really?” Martin was surprised.

 

“Yeah!” Colin stuck out his chin aggressively, “I’m not daft you know, I CAN read an’ write. I like reading.”

 

Martin hastily changed the subject; Colin could get a bit touchy about certain things. “I wish I was bigger,” he sighed, “then I’d punch fat Frankie right on the nose.”

 

Colin suddenly clutched Martin’s arm and pointed. “C’mon, lets scram. I don’t want me bloody teeth punched out.”  The two boys fled to safety before the Hall brother’s spotted them.

 

“Got any money?”  Colin spat out the blade of grass he’d been chewing on.

 

 Martin stared at it, a little dismayed, he’d swallowed his blade of grass, he didn’t realise you were supposed to spit it out, his parent’s didn’t approve of spitting. He shook his head in reply to the question.

 

“I thought you’d have loads of money,” said Colin, “your mam and dad must be rich, living in a posh house and paying for you to go to a posh school. How much pocket money do you get?”

 

“I don’t get any pocket money.”

 

Colin stared at him incredulously, “what, nowt at all, ever, not even for a few sweets?”

 

Martin shook his head, “mummy buys me sweets sometimes, but she doesn’t like me having too many, she says they’re bad for my teeth.”

 

“I get threepence for my pocket money, most times anyhow, sometimes even a sixpence, if dad’s in a good mood, or had some luck on the horses.”

 

Martin was impressed, “what do you buy with it?”

 

“Sweets and comics usually, I haven’t had none this week though, cos I was cheeky to me mam and she told me dad on me, so the rotten bugger wouldn’t give me none.”

 

“I’ve never even read a comic,” said Martin sadly, “my parents say they’re trashy and I’m not allowed to look at them.”

 

“Bloody hell Mart, what a rotten life you have. You’ve put me off being a rich kid, you don’t have much fun.” Colin grinned mischievously, “fancy a bit of fun thisafty?”

 

Martin nodded eagerly he was game for anything. These holidays were turning out to be the most exciting he’d ever had.

 

“Great, we’ll go down town, there’s loads to do there.”

 

“How are we going to get on the bus without any money?” Martin looked puzzled.

 

Colin winked, “stick with me kid.” They walked to the bus stop; he nudged Martin and inclined his head, “see that big woman with the basket?”

 

Martin nodded.

 

“She’s our mam today,” Colin laughed at Martin’s facial expression. “Stick as close to her as you can when you get on the bus. The conductor will think we’re with her. Once we’re on the bus we nip upstairs quick and keep our heads down, he always does the top deck last.”

 

“But what happens when the conductor finds out?”

 

“He’ll clip our lugs and chuck us off the bus, but with a bit of luck we’ll be in the town by then.”

 

The conductor finally twigged that he had two little fare dodgers aboard and put them off the bus, depositing them on the pavement with a shake of his fist, calling them cheeky young buggers. Colin blew a loud raspberry and stuck out his tongue. They both gave a squeal of fright and broke into a run as the conductor then jumped off the platform and made a move towards them.

 

Martin was out of breath by the time they stopped running. He looked at Colin who was also puffing and panting and burst into giggles.  He felt exhilarated, there was something wonderfully liberating in being deliberately, deliciously naughty. It didn’t take them long to walk the rest of the way into town, they’d only been two or three stops away when they were collared. Martin was very excited, he had never been this far from home on his own. The sense of freedom was intoxicating.

 

They wandered around the shops. Martin liked Brownes best, because there were so many wonderful toys to look at and it was nice to look at them without his mother hurrying him up.

 

Colin, watching the train set in the glass display case, stared enviously at Martin as he told him that he had a much bigger layout in his playroom at home. “You have a room all to yourself, just to play in, as well as a bedroom to yourself?”

 

Martin nodded, “yes of course, don’t you?”

 

“Don’t be bloody soft,” growled Colin, “we live in a two bedroom council house. I share a bedroom with me brothers, and we don’t have no room just to play in.”

 

He went quiet for a while and Martin felt bad. “You can come and play with my train set if you like,” he offered, trying to make amends for something he didn’t understand.

 

“Really?” Colin cheered up and gave Martin a friendly shove, “I’d like that, ta. Let’s get summat to eat, I’m starved.”

 

“We haven’t got any money Colin, how are we going to get something to eat without money.”

 

Colin winked at his diminutive, innocent friend, “me mam always sez that God helps them what helps themselves. So, let’s go to the co-op, our Jed calls it God’s own shop.”

 

Martin watched with pounding heart as his friend, glancing casually round the dimly lit store, removed the stopper from a large glass biscuit jar and helped himself to the contents. He passed one to Martin who took it with a shaking hand, shoving it quickly in his pocket. They wandered round, Colin brazenly eating his biscuit as if it was legitimately come by. When they finally left the shop, Colin had two apples and a large bar of chocolate stuffed in his pockets.

 

Martin was very impressed, “how did you do that Colin, I never even saw you take those.”

 

Colin grinned, preening himself slightly, “the hand is quicker than the eye,” he said, gesticulating like a magician. Catching a movement out of the corner of his eye, he grabbed Martin’s sleeve, “and the legs are quicker still. Run for it Mart, we’ve been eyeballed.”

 

At last they outran the furious shop assistant, dodging in and out of narrow alleyways, pushing their way through crowds of shoppers before collapsing in a heap on the pavement. Martin, red faced with exertion, his heart thumping with fright, looked at Colin shakily. Suddenly they were laughing again, lying on their backs and giggling until the tears ran down their cheeks.

 

They shared the apples and the chocolate. Martin found that he didn’t really enjoy his spoils, they didn’t taste as good as they ought to somehow. However, all guilt vanished when he was awarded the ultimate accolade, Colin grinned, punched him on the shoulder and said, “you’re alright you are, for a posh kid.”

**

 

Martin’s day of adventure ended on a sour note when he trundled home late at almost seven o clock. His mother was simply furious that he had stayed out for so long without telling her where he was going and with whom. She was even angrier when he told her where he had been.

 

Evie glared at him frostily, “and just how did you manage two bus rides without any money?”

 

“Colin paid, he had some pocket money,” lied Martin, gazing at his mother appealingly, “I’m very sorry about worrying you mummy.”

 

Evie wagged a stern finger, “the town is out of bounds young man, you will not go there again, is that clear?”

 

Martin, fingers crossed tightly behind his back, nodded solemnly. Laura, Colin and Amy had all told him that a promise didn’t count if you kept your fingers crossed behind your back while making it. He yawned, it had been an eventful day, he’d done an awful lot of running and was more than happy to have his dinner and prepare for bed. He snuggled sleepily down, without complaint for once.

 

Evie tidied around the bedroom, picking up his discarded shorts and t-shirt to put in the laundry basket. “What’s this,” she asked, taking the rather squashed biscuit out of his pocket, “where did you get it?”

 

“God’s own shop,” mumbled Martin, thumb already in his mouth, “the co-op, where God helps those who help themselves.”

 

Evie froze, scalp prickling. Pulling back the sheet she lifted Martin into a sitting position, giving him a little shake, “where did you get this young man, you tell me the truth at once, did you take it?”

 

“I didn’t, I didn’t take it mummy, I didn’t take anything, not apples or chocolate or anything.” Martin burst into noisy tears, “I’m tired, I’m tired, I want to go to sleep.”

 

Evelyn let him lie back down; she couldn’t get a clear story out of him in this state. Sitting on the bed, she said quietly, “You know that it’s very wrong to steal, don’t you Martin?”

 

“Yes mummy, I promise I never stole anything.” This was true in an absolute sense; Martin hadn’t actually stolen anything, except a bus ride perhaps.

 

Evie kissed her small, angelic looking son goodnight; he was asleep before she had even closed his door. She went downstairs, deeply troubled, suspecting that her angel wasn’t quite as innocent as he looked. She decided it would be wisest and best not to voice her suspicions to Thomas for the time being. 

 

After breakfast next day, Evie took Martin aside and had a very serious talk with him about the standards of behaviour and honesty that she and his father expected from him. “Make no mistake Martin, you transgress from these standards and you’ll be severely punished. Do you understand?”

 

Martin nodded, “yes mummy.”

 

“As I told you last evening, absolutely no going into town, it’s totally out of bounds.”

 

“Yes mummy.”

 

“I want to know where you’re going and who you’re with at all times, is that clear?”

 

“Yes mummy.”

 

“Martin?” Evie put her hands on her hips and frowned at him.

 

“Yes mummy?”

 

“Why do you keep putting your hands behind your back?”

 

“No reason mummy.”