Don’t Know Much

By Phillip Townsley

It looks like I burned all me potatoes again. That’s the fourth time this week. Ma said it’s not me fault. She said it’s summat to do with the stove bein all wrong, like somehow it’s hotter than it ses it is. But she ses a lot of things, does me Ma, so I’m not too sure whether to believe her or not.

It’s worse this time, though. I burned em on Monday and then I burned em twice on Wednesday, once in the mornin and then again when I come in at night after goin for me walk, but this time’s definitely the worst because they said over the loudspeakers that we’re on a curfew. Whole town, on a curfew. No goin out until next weekend at the earliest. They ses it’s summat in the air. Summat brought up from the mines. Nowt to worry about. That’s what Ma said – she said that, she did. She said, “look, it’s nowt to worry about.” But Ma hasn’t been out of bed in six months and I can’t remember the last time she could even get up to go to the window. Last time she saw what everythin looked like out there.

She ant seen any of this stuff in the gutters. All this stuff on the pavements, cloggin up the drains and all that. They say it’s sludge or summat like that. Summat from the mines again. I eard from someone that if you touch it when it’s glowing you get gangrene from it. It’ll turn you black and blue and it all starts rottin and then it falls off. I don’t know about that. But I do know I can smell it when it rains. It’s a little sour, that smell. Like bad apples, apples gone brown, like bitin into one of em. A bit like that, I guess. When I’m out on me post round and it starts I’ve got to get indoors because they said too much exposure is bad for your health now. They said it can do some proper awful things to you, things you wunt even dream about. Like it could give you cancer or summat.

Well. I don’t know about that. I don’t know many things, but I do know that I aven’t been able to do the post in a month now, and all that stuff out there on the roads, that stuff what come in the rain, that’s not helpin. So I sit here and I just listen to it when it’s comin down, just this taptaptaptap on the window, like it’s tryin to put me to sleep, like it’s got me in this trance. Like it’s tryin to tell me summat. But if it is I can’t make nowt of it. Ma ses it’ll pass soon but I don’t know about that. It don’t look like it’s set to stop now. Or maybe ever.

What I do know is that I burned me potatoes again today. And then when I went out to fetch some more from the pantry in the shed out back it were still rainin, and I went out with this brolly I got new just this other week with the last of me brass that weren’t spent on more tatties for Ma, and it were just eatin through it was this rain, just pourin through as if me brolly weren’t even there at all. As if it’d never bin there at all. And when I looked in the pantry we only had eight tatties left. That’s it, just eight. And I’ll probably burn em, too. I burn everythin nowadays. Maybe there is a problem with the stove. Maybe I should try and sort summat out. Make it better or summat.

I reckon we can make em last a week if I don’t burn em. If I’m smart. Ma eats less these days anyway. She just sits there. Like there’s always summat she wants to say but she never does, like she’s caught in this place where she wants to be spillin summat to me, summat important. But she just sits there all white-faced and proper pale and barely moving and sometimes she’ll tell me she needs the toilet and I’ll help her up out of bed and when she’s done I’ll carry her back and that’s about it for Ma now. But I guess she don’t need the tatties as much either, so it’s sort of balances out. I don’t know. I think maybe I can make em last as well, if I pretend I’m not hungry sometimes. I don’t think it can be that hard.

I’m just scared we’ll ave nowt left to eat after a while. Not until I’m back doin me post rounds, at least, when that rain clears and we’re allowed back out, and that’s only if folks are takin to receivin the post anymore anyways. Some of em round ere ave got this idea that they don’t need the mail any longer. And what am I to say to that? What can I even. I just hope they’ll say yes. I know I would.

You know, I was thinkin about summat the other day. When I was young, I used to ave these dreams, and in em I was livin in a big city somewhere, and there was these cars everywhere and just people on all these streets, like they was all breathin or summat, like they had their own pulse, and I used to hope I could stay in em for a while longer before I woke up because that was where I wanted to be. I didn’t even know why. I still don’t. Not really.

I used to watch the planes, too. When I was still a kid, maybe six or seven, when I could still look up and see the sky and the sun and not just all these clouds and all this smoke and all this damn rain, I used to watch the planes fly by and imagine I was on em, flyin away, wavin down, never to come back. I’ve never bin on a plane in me life. I just had this image of what they looked like. And I just knew I could do it then, too. I just knew it, even it were impossible. I guess it’s summat only a kid can do. Like when you’re still young you’ve got this intrinsic power to be able to wish owt you want into existence. To believe you can do absolutely anythin. That’s summat that you lose with age. It wears away. And after a while you forget you ever had it in the first place. Forget it was ever a part of you.

I told Ma about this once and she said I’d probably never leave this place. There was this look on her face when she said it too, and she wunt dare look me in the eye for some reason, and I think maybe she was even cryin a little, which was strange because Ma never cries anymore. She’s never got the energy for it. But she said that to me and what she meant by it, I don’t know. I don’t know much. Never ave. Never bin the type to do well in school. I always used to get told I wunt amount to much. I would just be like this. Like me. I used to get picked on a lot in school, a real lot. I never found out why. I suppose maybe some people are just sort of wired like that, like to think differently, like they don’t ave a good bone in their bodies. Like maybe some people are just bad people, I don’t know. I just remember they used to ask how I could go home at night knowin me Ma thought of me as a failure. That was I just embarassin her. I never really figured out why they said that. I think kids can be the meanest people of all when they want. Sometimes I look at Ma there and I just get this real bad feelin in my chest and it ses: what if they were right? Maybe they were. I just hope I’ve been able to put all this right in the end. I don’t think I’m too bad of a person meself. I get by. That’s what I do, I think. I get by.

And I don’t say owt bad about me Ma, never would. I don’t agree with the sort of people that’d do that. I don’t think it’s really right. But I remember that time she told me I’d never leave this place and it was the only time I’d ever gone against her before. I don’t know much. I wish for even less. But sometimes I think back to what she said to me that day and I wish with all me heart she was wrong, and sometimes it hurts but I do it anyway. Sorry, Ma. I just wish it. I don’t know why. I just do.

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