Reading Time: 7 minutes
Winner of our Winter Short Story Competition 2017-2018
A Lefty Winter Tale
By Anthony Franks
I am Sinister. Adam Sinister.
Born in a cross-fire hurricane as Mick and the boys sang. Well, actually it was Christmas Day. My old Ma, God rest her soul (even though I am a hard-core atheist), used to say on that particular Christmas Day the snow had lain all around deep and crisp and even.
Which is why the ambulance taking her to hospital – as she was bleeding badly and all – crashed into the phonebox and she gave birth to me on the street while some poor sod tried to finish a Christmas greeting to his brother in Australia with a couple of tons of ambulance wedging the door shut.
Story of my life really. Accidents and incidents became precedents.
I grew up on a dodgy council estate in Sarf Lunnan, where even the squirrels were armed. From an early age I carried a shank, just in case. The boys in blue were more like the boys in yellow in our area and never used to show their faces unless protected by full-face helmets and hidden safely behind riot shields.
My gang was The SureShank Convention, as we would use our blades, dangerous as feral dogs, roaming the streets. Stayed out of the way of the squirrels, mind you.
One night we were taking on the The RatPack, who wore leather jackets with two huge white teeth on the back. It was a territorial dispute that required Balance be Restored to The Force. All was progessing violently until the freezing air was split by the shriek of sirens and bells and whistles as PC Plod cascaded into the park like a dark river of panting blue woodentops.
Quick as Jumping Jack Flash, I threw my shank far away, put my head down and ran like the wind followed by a couple of clodhoppers. I practiced sprinting dragging a sack of stones, so I was pretty swift.
I was wearing gloves so I wasn’t worried about fingerprints, and a scarf so I wasn’t fussed about photographs. I turned to see if the Old Bill were still after me, and because it was dark, ran full tilt into a sodding tree. Accident. Incident. Like I said. I was out for the count.
The judge had no problem in counting. He gave me 100 hours community service. The Old Bill could not actually prove I had been in the ruck as it was too dark, there were no CCTV cameras working and none of the The Convention ever dobbed another SureShanker. The Judge said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt I had been involved, intoning something like “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk,” and then said, “I have therefore decided to sentence you to 100 hours community service clearing public land, in South London, which is I believe what is known as your ‘Manor.’” He smirked, “Take him down.”
100 days. That’s like a whole lifetime. Cleaning parks. Delete lifetime, insert afterlife.
So there I am, December the 1st, wearing a natty Guantanamo style jumpsuit, scarf to keep me from icing up, Raybans so I can’t be recognised, walking in the snow to the park with my court-appointed minder where we would meet other innocent victims of the repressive state.
“Orright Adam!!?” bellowed Jumpstart as he rode by on another motorbike he had nicked.
I waved vaguely, noncommittally, dismissively.
“Friend of yours?” enquired my minder attentively, “Looks like a right crim to me.”
“Innocent till proven guilty, Guv’nor,” I answered, “How are we going to clear this public place while it looks like Ice Station Zebra?”
He looked thoughtful, least that’s what I think the writhing facial muscles meant, and said “You know what? Haven’t got a clue. But that’s your problem, not mine.”
We walked into the park where I was greeted by a barrage of “Orright Adam!? How’s it going Adam?!! You good, Adam?!” I waved vaguely, noncommittally, dismissively.
The snow was flat and shone with a million diamond points. The dark green trees hung like frozen shadows, their leaves tipped with flashing points of light. There was that extraordinary stillness, that echoing sound of silence that falls with the snow. I picked up a shovel and a broom, and started to clear the park’s perimeter path. “I’ll clear round the edges,” I told my bodyguard, “And then have a brew over there,” I pointed vaguely with my thermos flask.
“Righto,” he said, “I am going be in the cafe over there, enjoying a cup of hot sweet coffee and chatting up the waitress. In between enjoying my coffee and my fantasies, I will be keeping an eye on you. Don’t do a runner, ‘cos you’ll just end up in the nick.”
“Fair enough,” I said, “Happy leching.”
I worked well away from all the other innocent victims: I did not feel like talking. After about half an hour, I was getting warm, and my sunglasses were fogging up, and my scarf round my face was getting wet. So I put my glasses in their case and unwound the scarf, and stuck it in my backpack.
After another half an hour, I had cleared a few hundred yards, and had branched out and cleared some park benches.
A little old lady walking her dog came walking slowly towards me. She was about five foot tall – if that – and weighed about five stone, dripping wet. She wore a black wool coat, red gloves, and a grey hat. She sported a white scarf knotted around her neck. But man, it was her eyes. They were as blue as sapphire, as glittering blue as the heart of a diamond, the blue of deep-space stars firing their dying explosions of luminescence at us. The dog was some large sort of Heinz 57 variety, a mixture of cool and drool.
“Watch your step, Grandma,” I suggested, “It’s seriously dodgy underfoot.” She looked at me with amusement, “Grandma?! Dear me, that won’t do young man. Only my grandchildren can call me Grandma. My name is Alice. You can call me Mrs. Diadem.”
“Diadem?” I blurted out, before I could stop myself, “Like a tiara or a crown?”
She smiled, “Yes. Just like that. You are not as stupid as you look, plainly.”
“Err… right,” I said, “I’ll take that. I like crosswords. Love dictionaries. Rubbish at school.”
“Ah dear me, a whole life in 10 words. What admirable brevity. You should think about a new career rather than being a small-time criminal in big bad world where you will be swallowed like so much small fry. Throw your knife away and pick up a pen.”
This was getting seriously weird.
“Well, ‘scuse me Mrs. Diadem, I have got to clear some more path before I have a cup of coffee.” I asked quickly and started to shovel away the snow, “And you don’t want to be walking in deep snow. You’ll get wet, and then like my Mum said (God rest her soul) ….”
“…. You’ll catch your death of cold?” said Mrs. Diadem.
“You’ll catch your death of cold,” I repeated slowly.
“Don’t worry, young man, it’s the sort of thing old people like me say all the time. We are renowned for it. Along with Alzheimer’s, dementia and incontinence. Fortunately I have been spared all those ailments,” she smiled sweetly and from the depths of her beautifully cut wool coat produced a hipflask. “Do you want a slosh of brandy in your coffee? Shut your mouth dear, it’s not a good look.”
I shut my mouth. I brushed clear another park bench, unfolded a space blanket and a thermal blanket and folded it so it formed a barrier to the buttock-freezing planks of the park bench.
“Would you like to sit down Mrs. Diadem; fancy a coffee?” I asked.
“That’s very sweet of you, young man,” she said, “Just for a few minutes. I cannot keep calling you young man all the time. What is your name?”
“Sinister,” I said, trying not to lapse into my notorious Sean Connery impersonation, “Adam Sinister.”
Her laugh was so loud it made the squirrels drop their Uzis and scramble panicking back into the trees.
“Adam Sinister!?” she guffawed, “What kind of name is that, exactly? Did your parents hate you?”
“Dunno,” I answered, “My Dad ran off after I was born, and my Mum died when I was 10. Been living with my Gran since then. And she’s is not … umm … well, let’s just say she has challenges with reality.”
“But that’s not your real name, is it?” she looked piercingly at me, “I refuse to believe that.”
“Well, no, it’s not,” I confessed somewhat embarrassedly.
“So, Mr. Sinister,” she bubbled with mirth, “What is your real name?”
“Adrian,” I said, trying not to giggle, “Adrian Lefty.”
“Aha! Mr. A Lefty. It all becomes clear. Hence ‘Sinister’,” she nodded approvingly, “A good plan, I think I would have done much the same. Sometimes names can conceal as much as they explain. Drink up. I must be going soon.” I obeyed. I mean, who wouldn’t?
“I used to love walking in this park when I was young,” she said reflectively, “I used to love the summer best of all. But then my husband died and somehow the winter became the time of year when I loved it most,” she sipped her coffee, “The ice and snow bring a clarity to me that is somehow lost in the summer months.”
We chatted for a few minutes, mainly about family stuff, sipping our fortified coffee in chilly companionship. She passed me her empty cup.
“Come on Corbyn,” she said to her dog, and smiled at me, those glittering ice-blue eyes seeing right through me, “I have enjoyed myself. Perhaps we could meet again one day?”
“I would like that very much,” I said, “Goodbye, and thanks for the brandy”
“What brandy?” she winked, “Your Minder – over there – drinking coffee and flirting, would be appalled. Good bye Adam,” she smiled.
“Adrian,” I said, “My name is Adrian.”
“Whatever,” she said, “Isn’t that what I am meant to say nowadays? Laters.” Just like that she walked off behind the trees and I could see her no more.
“You feeling alright then, son?” said my minder who had sidled up like some Ninja, “Finished your coffee?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Met a nice old lady who chatted to me like I was a real person, you know?” The minder narrowed his eyes. Maybe he had done a course.
“What are you talking about? I have been watching you all the time, and you have been sat here waving your arms around and laughing like a monkey on speed. I thought maybe the cold had frozen your brain into rent-a-nutter mode, and I was going to have to turn you off and turn you on again.”
I look at him like he had at least two heads and the second was uglier than the first. “I have been nattering to Mrs. Diadem. A lovely little old lady with the bluest eyes you have ever seen. And a dog called Corbyn.”
“‘Course you have son,” said the Minder easily, “And the moon is made of cream cheese. Come on, you’ve done enough for today. Only 95 hours to go.”
“Marvellous,” I said heavily, “See you tomorrow.”
I got back to my Gran’s and dozed in a warm bath.
Suddenly, I got out, dried myself, and grabbed the pad I use for doing crossword stuff.
What was her name?
Yeah, that was it. I wrote down A DIADEM. And then I looked at what I wrote for about 30 seconds. Then I rearranged the letters.
They now spelled I AM DEAD.
I looked out of the window.
The snow had started to fall again, obscuring the tracks, smoothing the paths and hiding every secret under a thickening sheet of pure white.