Growing Pains 2
Martin sat in the field behind his grandmother’s house. It might well be spring, but there was no promise of warmth in the April breeze. He shivered slightly; glad that she had insisted he put on a jersey before allowing him out. He shaded his eyes, looking across the fields, admiring the way they seemed to fade away into the distance, blending in with the skyline; a pleasing harmony of misty, pastel colours. He got up as his gran’s voice hailed him, calling to tell him lunch was ready.
“Snow in April?” Martin stared wonderingly out of his grandmother’s kitchen window as the pale flakes floated down.
Frances smiled, “it’s not uncommon, especially round here. Winter is letting us know he hasn’t finished his reign quite yet. It won’t lay, it seldom does at this time of year.” She watched him as he nibbled at his sandwich. Dark shadows under his eyes telling tales of restless nights. He had cried himself to sleep the previous evening, she had heard his muffled weeping as she prepared herself for bed, but when she knocked on the door and quietly asked if he was alright, he had pretended to be asleep. “Why don’t you telephone your mother, ask how she is?”
Martin shook his head, keeping his eyes lowered. As far as he was concerned, he had been sent away in disgrace. His parents hadn’t even said goodbye. He had got up the day after the row with his father to find that a bag had been packed and he was to go and stay with his grandmother. His father had already left for work and his mother was still in bed. Gran had told him she was ill and needed to rest. Martin laid down his sandwich, his stomach tightening at the memory. “May I leave this, granny? I’m really not hungry.”
“Happy Easter, darling.” Fran looked critically at her daughter, “you shouldn’t have made the trip Evie, you don’t look well.”
“Happy Easter, mum,” Evie handed over a small bouquet of fragrant spring flowers, before embracing her mother.
Fran exchanged a dutiful kiss with her son in law. “You shouldn’t have let her come Thomas.”
“I’m her husband, Fran, not her keeper. I told her she should rest, but she insisted.”
“I’m fine, mum, don’t fuss. I was like this with Martin in the early months, if you remember; only I was twelve years younger. Where is he?” She looked round eagerly, she hadn’t seen her son for almost a week and she had missed him. She was looking forward to taking him home with them later that day. The house was empty without him.
“He’s gone for a walk,” Fran was vexed with her grandson. She had told him not to leave the garden, “he won’t be long, he knows you’re coming and what time lunch is.”
Evie was rather hurt. She had expected her son to waiting with open arms. He was by nature an affectionate boy, especially if he’d been separated from his parents for any length of time, greeting them with cuddles and kisses and talking them to death about what he’d been up to.
“Come into the kitchen, I’ll put these in water and make us a cup of tea while I finish the lunch preparations.” Fran led the way, sniffing the posy of flowers appreciatively.
“Have you taken up art, Frances?” Thomas picked up one of the sketches that were lying on the dresser top. “This one is quite good, you’ve got the perspective right.”
Fran shook her head, “those are Martin’s drawings, not mine.”
“Really?” Thomas raised his eyebrows, as he leafed through the small collection. “I didn’t know he had an interest in art.”
“I don’t think he realised it himself, Thomas. I saw him doodling on the back of an envelope and I thought it was good. It was a little sketch of Monkey, she was lying on top of the range, purring her head off and Martin just caught a certain something. I told him about his grandfather, Martin; he enjoyed drawing and painting when he had time. Anyway I found my Martin’s old paint box and pencils, bought a sketch pad and away he went.”
“How has he been mum?”
“Very quiet, not his usual self at all. He hasn’t mentioned Laura once; he changes the subject if I mention her. Whatever they quarrelled about has upset him deeply. He keeps asking if there’s any post. I suspect that he was hoping for a letter from her.”
Martin could easily see the backdoor of his gran’s house from his perch in the oak tree, at the bottom of the field that adjoined her garden. He watched closely, waiting for it to open and someone come to the garden wall to call him. Martin’s heart gave a spontaneous leap of excitement when the door opened at last, but no one came out, not human anyway. Monkey, gran’s old tabby cat, sauntered into the garden and the door closed again. Blinking back tears, Martin leaned his head against the rough bark, wallowing in misery. He wasn’t even going to get the chance to snub his parents. He folded his arms, hugging himself for warmth. It was freezing sitting in the barely budded tree. Gran was right, the snow hadn’t laid, but it had left a memory of its presence in the bite of the wind. His tummy rumbled, reminding him that gran was cooking a large joint of pork, his mouth watered as a tempting vision of hot, crunchy crackling and applesauce loomed before his mind’s eye. He forced it away, replacing it with a mental picture of his father’s angry face as he threatened to flay the skin from his backside, the night before he was sent away. He’d sounded as if he really meant it. Martin had been scared. His father was strong and Martin suspected that he had never felt the full force of that strength, that his father held it very much in check.
Cold defeated him in the end, climbing stiffly from the tree he slunk towards the house, creeping through the kitchen and hall. He sat quietly on the stairs, hugging his knees, listening to the murmur of voices from his grandmother’s small, and rarely used dining room. She preferred the informality of the kitchen, except when she had visitors. No point in messing up two rooms just for herself, she would say. He knew that he’d be welcomed with smiles and kisses if he went in, that his place at the table would be waiting, but he wasn’t going to, even if meant going hungry.
“You’ve finally decided to put in an appearance I see,” Thomas (going into kitchen for water?) gazed unsmilingly at the small, dark haired figure, like Evie, he had missed his son and had been looking forward to seeing him. “What have you got to say for yourself?”
“I’m hungry, is there any meat left?” Martin gazed defiantly at his father.
Thomas took a deep breath, overcame an urge to box Martin’s ears and said coldly, “You’ve spoiled Easter Sunday with your petulant behaviour. I’m so disappointed in you. If you’re hungry you’ve only got yourself to blame, you’ll have to wait until tea time now.”
“Martin, there you are.” Evie beaming with pleasure came into the hall at the sound of his voice to greet him.
Martin turned and ran up the stairs to his room.
“It’s a shame that door slamming isn’t designated an Olympic event. Martin would excel at it,” said Thomas dryly, putting an arm round his wife, “he’s still in a temper, he’ll come out of it soon, and if he doesn’t, I’m going to put him over my knee and give him a jolly good spanking!”
“Have you got your bus fare?”
Martin nodded, his stomach was a tight drum of fear, he hadn’t been able to eat a bite of breakfast.
“Have you got all the books you need?”
Again Martin nodded, his tie felt as if it was throttling him, he pulled at the knot irritably.
“Off you go then, you don’t want to be late on the first day of term,” Evie made to kiss him, but he sidestepped her. She listened sadly to the slam of the front door, rubbing the small of her fiercely aching back. The last week of the Easter holiday had been a miserable affair. Thomas had taken a few days off work, so he could spend time with Martin, while she rested. Usually Martin would have been pleased, he enjoyed his father’s company, but not this time. Thomas had tried to have a talk with him about his school report, and the baby, but Martin had refused to discuss it. He had turned down offers of walks, trips to the cinema, the swimming baths. Offers to play football and cricket had been treated with lip curling contempt. Martin hid himself away in his playroom, or went for solitary rides on his bike. Matters deteriorated further when Laura, Colin and Amy had called for him. Evie had been delighted, inviting them in, she had called Martin down, expecting to see his face light up at the sight of them. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Hiya, Martin,” Laura had darted forward, her pretty features radiating pleasure. “Do you want to come to the rec with us?”
Martin had pointedly turned his back, marching straight back upstairs, without a word.
Laura had burst into tears and ran from the house. Neither she nor Thomas would forget the look on her face. The row that followed was not pleasant.
Thomas, his patience exhausted, had taken Martin into the dining room, pulled down his shorts and underpants, put him over his knee and administered a severe spanking to his bare bottom, after which he put him to bed for the rest of the day. They’d barely had a civil word out of him since. It was a profound relief to Evie when the first day of the new school term dawned. She abandoned attempts to clear away the breakfast dishes, going upstairs to lie down. She was permanently exhausted these days.
“Hello,” Evie smiled brightly, “Had a good day sweetheart?”
Martin nodded unsmilingly, avoiding his mother’s eye as well as her embrace, making his way straight upstairs, just as he’d done the day before.
“Remember what your father said, Martin,” Evie glared crossly at his disappearing back. When was he going to stop sulking? “Homework as soon as you come home, no going out until it’s done, and no rushing it. You’ve got to spend at least an hour and a half.”
Martin slammed his bedroom door by way of reply.
“How did the interview go?”
“Interview?” Martin stopped poking at his dinner and looked at his father, heart pounding.
“The interview with your headmaster, about the dreadful performance you put in last term. You told me yesterday that it had been postponed, because Mr Brownlow was busy.” He stared at his son suspiciously, “are you being deliberately obtuse Martin?”
“He gave me good telling off. I had to stay in at break and lunch time to do lines, that’s all.”
“Well, you’ve been very lucky, Martin. I hope you appreciate it. Frankly I’m amazed you got off so lightly. I felt certain you’d get a caning this time.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Don’t be impertinent!” Thomas gave his son an icy glare. “Did you get any homework today?”
Martin swallowed, horrified to feel a warm tide of colour creep across his face, he stared at his father, “what?”
“Homework, I want to see it later.”
“We didn’t get any.”
“Thomas stared at him suspiciously, “what’s going on Martin?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Martin carefully averted his eyes. He really hadn’t got any homework that day, or the day before, but then, he hadn’t actually been to school.
Thomas silently surveyed his rosy-cheeked son. Something was most definitely amiss.
Martin picked half-heartedly at his food; he’d barely eaten for two days, nervous tension robbing him of his appetite. If he stayed off any longer without explanation, someone from school was bound to contact his parents. If he went back he’d have the dreaded interview with Mr Brown to face, as well as having to explain why he’d been absent for two days. Either way his parents would discover he’d been playing truant and he’d be in big trouble at home and at school.
“Go and rest, Evelyn, you look exhausted,” Thomas leaned across the table and squeezed his wife’s hand gently. “In fact, why don’t you have a warm bath and go to bed. Martin and I will clear up down here.”
“Thank you, Tom,” Evie smiled gratefully. The telephone rang as she made her way into the hall. “Hello,” There was a silence as she listened to the speaker at the other end of the line, then, “Tom,” she called
Martin took one look at his father’s tight face as he re entered the dining room and knew immediately who had telephoned. He began to cry, great frightened sobs, covering his face with his hands.
Thomas’ anger evaporated. He sat down, pulling Martin onto his lap, cuddling him until his sobs quietened. “Better?”
Martin nodded, taking his father’s handkerchief to wipe his eyes and nose.
Thomas began wagging the parental digit in his son’s blotchy countenance. “This is a fine old pickle you’ve got yourself in.”
Martin lowered his eyes, whispering miserably, “I’m very sorry.”
“Talk to us Martin,” Evie knelt down and took his hand, “tell us what’s bothering you and why you’ve behaved so badly lately.”
The tears started again, “everything’s different,” he wept, “since starting upper school. I don’t understand what I do wrong. I get shouted at in class, then you and dad yell at me when I come home. You praise Laura and Amy, but you’re always cross with me, and dad spends more time with Colin than me. He never helps me with my homework,” he broke off to blow his nose, “and he played chess with him the night before I was sent away to grandma’s house.” Saying the words out loud made the hurt resurface. “I know why you want this baby,” Martin suddenly burst out, “it’s because I’m stupid, a stupid disappointment. Everyone thinks I’m stupid, even Laura, she said so. That’s why you like them better than me, because they’re clever and I’m not.” He sobbed afresh.
“Martin, first of all, you’re not stupid. Far from it.” Thomas patted the heaving shoulders, “but you are lazy, admit it. You’re entering a stage now where you’re expected to work a little harder. Laura and the others have realised that. I’m afraid it’s time you did too. It doesn’t mean you can’t play and have fun as well. As for me never helping you with your homework, well, you never ask me to.”
“You’ve never been, nor will you ever be a disappointment to us,” Evie stroked his face with her hand, “we might be disappointed with your behaviour from time to time, but we love you very much. This baby isn’t a replacement, it’s an addition, a precious addition, just as you were, and still are.”
Martin leaned forward and hugged his mother tightly, “sorry, I’ve been a nuisance.”
“I’ll sort things out with the school, make sure you never play truant again, for any reason. Go and wash your face, get ready for bed, then come down and we’ll talk some more.” Thomas pushed him off his knee, “bring me some of those drawings you’ve been doing lately, you haven’t shown me them yet.”
“Okay,” Martin smiled at his father for the first time in weeks.
“This looks interesting,” Thomas picked out a sheet of paper. “Tell me about it.”
“It’s a plan for a model I’m going to build.” Martin was rather proud of it; it was his first attempt at such a thing. He sat himself on his father’s knee, settling back and taking him through the plan.
“It’s excellent. You’ve used quite complicated maths to work out the dimensions, though I can see one small mistake. Get me a piece of paper, we’ll go through it together.”
“What are you doing?” Evie stood in the door of the playroom, she felt better for having had a nap. “It’s almost ten o clock, Martin should have been in bed an hour ago.”
Thomas looked guilty, “my fault, Evie. I lost track of the time. Go and brush your teeth ,Martin, go to bed. We’ll continue this tomorrow evening if you like. I think I know why that bridge isn’t working properly.”
Evie raised her eyes heavenward as they bent back over the model they were in process of constructing, “ten more minutes, boys, then I’m putting my foot down.”