Language & Literature

A Short Story – The White Dove

Dad walks over to me. He’s carrying several slices of bread.

‘Hi, Grace.’

‘Hi,’ I say, giving him a look which I hope he understands means, I am so not impressed with this new pre-birthday arrangement.

Dad doesn’t seem to have noticed my look. I wonder what he’s doing with the bread.

‘For the ducks,’ he says when he catches me staring at it.

I nod and decide not to mention that I am no longer five years old and that feeding the ducks in the park doesn’t exactly excite me anymore.

‘Right,’ I say, as we head over to the pond.

‘So, Grace, how have you been?’

We sit down on the bench next to the willow tree.

‘Fine,’ I say, thinking that he wouldn’t have to ask this stupid question if he saw me every day like he used to; if he still made me toast with honey for breakfast, drove me to school and said goodnight after telling me not to read for too long.

Dad sighs. ‘I’m sorry I’m not seeing you tomorrow, Grace. It really can’t be helped. I—’

‘It’s fine,’ I say, even though it isn’t anywhere close. ‘Mum and I are going to Pizza Express.’

‘You’re not seeing Munira and Amelia?’

‘They’re away – on holiday.’

Dad hands me a slice of bread. ‘That’s a shame.’

I tear the corner off my piece of stale bread. It’s brown and full of seeds. It must be Roxanne’s bread. I throw a piece into the pond. A female duck swims over and eats it.

Dad tears several pieces from his own slice and throws them in. A few more ducks swim across to our side of the pond, quacking as they come.

‘You know you shouldn’t feed bread to ducks?’ I say.

‘Really?’ Dad says.

‘Amelia told me. It’s bad for them, or something.’

Dad stops tearing his slice of bread. ‘I guess a small amount won’t hurt.’

‘I guess not.’

‘We could feed the pigeons instead?’ Dad suggests. ‘Like that guy.’

I look over to where Dad’s pointing. On the other side of the pond, a man is feeding pigeons. He’s surrounded by them. I think the guy must be homeless. He’s wearing shabby clothes that look like rags. Some of the pigeons land on his outstretched arms. He’s got a white pigeon on his shoulder. It’s strange how they don’t seem afraid of him.

‘No, thanks,’ I say. ‘I don’t want a load of birds to come and land on me like that.’

Dad smiles. ‘Like in, The Birds, right?’

The Birds is an old film that Dad and I watched together. We used to watch a lot of films together before Dad moved in with Roxanne. In the film flocks of birds start attacking people. It’s actually pretty scary, for an old film.

‘Yeah,’ I say, ‘Like The Birds.’ I smile and then remember I’m supposed to be angry with Dad.

‘You should apologise to Roxanne,’ Dad says. ‘For scaring Kai.’

I shrug and push the toe of my trainer into the dirt. There’s no way I’m apologising. ‘Maybe,’ I say, trying to remain non-committal.

Dad sighs and I can tell I’ve disappointed him. ‘I’m sorry I haven’t got you anything for your birthday,’ he says. ‘I thought I’d ask you what you want first.’

‘I don’t want anything,’ I say, which of course isn’t true. There are lots of things I’d like. I could reel off a long list but I don’t want Dad to think he can just buy me something and then everything will be okay again.

‘I saw these great Converse,’ Dad says. ‘They were purple with a skull and crossbones—’

‘I don’t want anything,’ I say again, cutting him off, even though the Converse actually sound pretty cool.

‘There must be something,’ Dad says. He looks upset.

I feel bad now. I hate being like this with Dad. I remind myself that it’s his fault. He didn’t have to leave us. He told me he was unhappy with Mum. I think he should have tried harder.

I have to be happy, Grace, Dad had said to me. I’ll be a better Dad if I’m a happy Dad.

The bird man has wandered over to our side of the pond. He’s singing a funny song.

Make a wish
A wish for you
Make a wish
And it will come true.

‘There is one thing,’ I say.

Dad looks at me.

I know it’s never going to happen but I say it anyway. ‘I want you and Mum to get back together.’

‘Oh, Grace,’ Dad says. ‘That’s never going to happen, sweetheart.’

I look down at my scuffed trainers. ‘I know,’ I whisper. ‘It’s the only thing I want.’

Dad puts his hand on my shoulder. ‘There must be something else you’d like?’

I think for a moment. ‘I’d like you to stop arguing with Mum,’ I say.

The bird man is very close to us now. He’s got a long beard and small grey eyes. The pigeons flutter at his feet. He continues to throw seeds to them whilst singing his funny song. Dad and I both watch him.

‘He’s a real character, isn’t he?’ Dad says.

‘Yes,’ I say, and it’s true. The bird man looks like a magician from a storybook. He looks like he knows a thousand secrets. I’ve never seen him in the park before, even though I come here all the time.

‘That bird on his shoulder,’ Dad says. ‘It’s a dove.’ I look again at the white bird.

‘Dove’s are the symbol for peace,’ Dad says thoughtfully.

‘Is that why people have them when they get married?’ I ask.

‘I don’t know,’ Dad says ‘Maybe.’

‘Maybe they’re for love too,’ I say.

Dad looks thoughtful. ‘I tell you what, Grace. I’ll make a deal with you. I promise to stop arguing with your Mum. I mean, I’ll really try my best. But I would like you to call Roxanne and apologise for scaring Kai with the worm. It would make things much easier, for all of us.’

I think for a moment. Dove’s are the symbol for peace. It feels like a sign. I look at the bird man. He smiles at me and I notice the crinkly lines around his eyes. He looks as old as time. I guess

Dad’s deal is a fair one. ‘Okay,’ I say. ‘I’ll call her. As long as you stop arguing with Mum.’

Dad leans over and puts his arm around me. ‘That’s my girl,’ he says.

I roll my eyes and try to wriggle away, although it’s kind of nice. I feel relaxed for the first time in weeks. I feel, just for a second, like I’ve got my dad back.

The bird man suddenly lifts his arms and all the birds fly into the air. I shriek and cover my face with my hands. I can’t bear the sound of their wings. The bird man begins to laugh.

 

Emily Critchley grew up in Essex and now lives in North London. She is the author of Notes on My Family, long-listed for the 2018 Branford Boase award. Emily has a degree in Creative Writing from London Metropolitan University and is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. When she isn’t writing she enjoys reading, watching films, and bouncing her mini-trampoline.

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Written By You

The Fall – A Short Story in Three Parts – Part One

Written By You

These posts were written by our young readers. If you'd like to contribute to Jump! Mag, read our guidelines here, and get in touch!

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This is a short story in three parts, by 10 year old Alice

 

 

 

My mates are all leaning against the peeling black-painted gate, chatting and laughing, while I stand, nearby, twitching nervously.

“Oi,” Jules waves for me to come over to him. “Now, I have a suggestion. Kieran here,” he pauses, gesturing to me by his head, “is new to our gang. What about we see if he is worthy, eh?”

They all chuckle, nodding, with sly grins. I don’t understand.

Jules raises his eyebrows. Jules’s blonde curls, flapping in the wind, obviously getting in his eyes, always lure girls in.

A stout boy, leans over, and Jules whispers in his ear. He laughs, and tells the other boys. But not me.

“I have a friend up those steps, Flat 33. Go get some skunk for us, okay?” Jules flings a several notes at me, and I bend over to pick up the missed one.

I have no idea what skunk is. I have no idea what this money is for, what is up those stairs, or what is on the third floor. And I especially have no idea what is on Flat 33. I don’t really want to have an idea what any of them are.

I pause, trying to work out my odds.

“Awh, are you scared? Awh… lil’ baby Kieran is scared…” a spotty boy says, patronisingly.

I flatten out my fleece, and finger my ear piercing that I never really wanted. “Am not,” I say limply, and head towards the stairs Jules was pointing me towards, shivering in fear. Once I am out of the gang’s sight, I scurry to the top of the stairs, and flatten myself on the nearest wall. I check my surroundings. Grimy white walls, dusty steps, bent rails, squawking of birds, faint clomp of high-heels, and a strong musty smell.

Hearing the gang laughing, saying I will never do it, I straighten my back, and I stomp up another two flights of stairs. Once I get to the second floor, I wince. I just want to cower into a ball, and fly back down the stairs, and go right back home – no, not home, to somewhere safe. But I can’t. Ican’tIcan’tIcan’t! While still hunched, I stare along the balconies either side of me. Squinting terribly, I can make out three doors on my right and one says ‘16’. It must be on the other side. Turning towards the left, I hope for no risks. I am still clutching a crumpled collection of notes. I decide this isn’t a safe call, and stuff them into my fleece pockets, trembling. I reach Flat 33. I freeze. Gathering up every last morsel of courage inside me, I force my hand forward. It shoots forward, hitting a single bash on the door.

All I can hear is grumbling, creaking, and soft footsteps. My heart misses a beat as the door opens.

He looks me up and down. “Here to buy?”

I nod my head. He ushers me in. His flat smells strongly of that smell of the wood chip in a children’s playground, and a tomato plant. It made me feel slightly light-headed it was so strong. An over-powering smell of cigarettes oozed from the walls, making me feel dizzy and sick. I try not to breathe it in, but I soon run out of breath. It’s horrible.

“So, who told you about this place?” the man said, his voice crackly with age. He had a pipe in his mouth, sticking out diagonally.

“Jules, he said you were a friend to him,” I say, trying to mimic his bold Cockney accent.

“Ah yes, that arrogant Jules. Brash young thing he is,” he said. “So, what do you want?”

“Skunk,” I say, uncertainly.

He gives me a look, with no real emotions, or indications of what he is thinking. He picks out a small plastic bag, filled with a murky green powdery substance inside. He lifts up his hands, and raises his eyebrows. He obviously doesn’t think I can pay it. Confidently, I stuff the notes into his palm, beaming.
He shuffles through the small heap of crumpled notes. “You’re five quid off.”

My face sinks. “That was all he gave me.”

“Ah, my prices have risen,” he smirks. “I’ll make him pay it when he next comes. That happened last time, made one of his mates get it for him. Lazy lad he is. He has to pay £10 extra you know… and it’s still rising…”

I let him burble for a bit, while I back towards the door, holding the tiny plastic bag in my clammy hand. When I get the chance, I slip, “Thank you!” in his babble, and leave.

I fled down the flights of stairs, but once I was in the eye-view of the gang, I slowed down and coolly strolled. Jules gave everyone a cigarette, who casually slipped it between their fingers, and filled it with a tiny portion of the murky green powder, and inhaled. I tried to copy everyone with holding the cigarette properly, but it kept on slipping. After I filled it with the last of the green powder, I took a long, anticipated breath.

It was…. calming. It was addictive.

 

 

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