Most evenings after school, Tony now comes home with me so that we can spend time doing things together. Mainly our homework!
As we enter the house, I can hear the sound of talking in our front room. Of course one voice is Mum’s. The other I recognise as Mrs Next Door. I poke my head into the room to report that we are back from school and that I am going to put the kettle on. I know if those two are busy gossiping and I want a brew, a) I’ll have to mash it myself and, b) they’ll want one, too.
“Hello, dear,” says Mrs Next Door. “Don’t bother with one for me.” So today is to be the exception that proves the rule. “I must be going to pack.” She stands up as she continues. “Your mother has agreed you will look after Spencer for a few days.”
“Will you boys go and fetch the dog and his bedding, please?” Mum instructs. “I’ll have some tea ready for you when you get back.”
Although the dog knows Tony, our neighbour hasn’t met my boyfriend before.
“You must be Tony,” she says when she sees him in the kitchen. “I’ve heard all about you.”
Trigger maximum embarrassment for both of us. At least Mum has the decency to look guilty of being the information source. Tony recovers first.
“All good, I hope?” he asks.
“I think so.” She has a slight smile that suggests she is teasing him. Then we are the subject of her closer scrutiny before she addresses Mum.
“Your lad is growing up. These two will soon be starting to shave, if they aren’t already.”
Mum lets out a little squawk. I’m not sure if it is a suppressed giggle or dismay at me no longer being her little boy. Knowing Mum, probably both.
“My son, Bernard, was already shaving daily when he turned twelve.” Mrs Next Door adds for emphasis.
Wary of where this conversation might go, I suggest that we should go and collect Spencer.
As we three walk round to her house to fetch the dog, Mrs Next Door tells us she’s invited herself to London to visit Bernard since he can’t be bothered to come and see her. “I think he’s forgotten there is anything north of Watford.”
Spencer seems pleaded to see us. He climbs out of his bed and shuffles over and makes a fuss of both Tony and me. His stubby tail is wagging.
We put the lead on the dog and gather up all his paraphernalia before wishing Mrs Next Door a pleasant trip. She has to have the last word for Spencer.
“Now mind you look after these two and don’t cause any accidents,” she says as she gives him a biscuit treat.
Thanks for reminding me of when I my busted knee in January, the last time he stayed with us.
Surprisingly, Spencer is not dragging his feet as we walk back round to my house. In fact, he is pulling on his lead.
“He seems keen,” I say.
“Maybe he’s looking forward his ‘holiday’. It’s a change of scenery and you are a bit more dynamic than his mum — just a bit!” I ignore his implied insult — for now.
Spencer supplies a reason for his urgency when he stops to water our lawn. While we wait for him to finish, Tony casts his eyes over the patch of grass.
“Told you it would come back green where he pissed before.” Tony points out the various areas that are lusher than the rest. I can’t deny that I hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out. Our lawn is always a bit patchy. Dad doesn’t obsess over it the way Tony tells me his dad does over theirs.
Mum has tea and some biscuits ready for us when we go into the house.
“It’s light until well after eight,” she says as she hands us the tray. “You will be able to do your homework first and take the dog for his walk after.”
That’s us told.
We take our tea upstairs to my room. I like to change out of my school uniform before I start homework. Even when Tony is there. Especially when Tony is there! He always goes a cute shade of pink, pretending to be embarrassed, but I can tell he enjoys what he calls my floor show.
Today he seems to be more engrossed than usual.
“Our neighbour was suggesting we should be shaving. I’m not yet. Are you?” I ask to distract him. With Mum downstairs, it’s probably not a good idea to get too carried away.
“Er,” he stalls as his attention comes back to my question. “Only I when I see a shadow appearing. The hairs are still quite fine. So every few days. Hadn’t you noticed? Not very observant are you?”
Well, I have observed that his pubes are more luxuriant than mine, but probably best not to go there just now in case we make too much noise and Mum hears us.
I finish dressing and we get the books out.
“I don’t know what has got into the dog,” Mum says when our homework is done and we go back downstairs.
“What do you mean?”
“All he has done is lie next to the door to the cupboard under the stairs and let out the occasional whimper. He’s not even in his bed.”
Strange. He seemed pleased to be here earlier on. I look round and there he is. Slumped on the floor, facing the cupboard doing the big soulful eyes thing dogs do so well.
“Do you think he is after something in there?” Tony asks.
“One way to find out.”
I open the door and the dog stands up, watching me. I don’t know what he wants, but maybe he can find it himself. “Go on then, Spencer. Find it!” I instruct and point into the cupboard.
The dog purposefully marches in, crashes around knocking a few things over before emerging again, triumphant.
He is dragging my skateboard. I had forgotten I had put it in there after my accident. He must have remembered or could detect the scent.
Mum has been watching the dog’s antics.
“If you’re going out with your board, don’t forget your knee and elbow pads,” she commands. “Remember what happened last time you were on the board with the dog. You don’t want a trip to A&E, do you?”
“No, Mum…” before I can say more, Mum continues.
“Use your helmet, too, to protect what little brain you have.”
I should have seen that one coming. Tony sniggers at her remark. Thanks for the support, suppos-ed boyfriend.
“Mum, I’ve given up using the board after busting my knee. That’s why it was buried in the cupboard.”
Tony does now come to my aid. “Spencer must want to ride the board. He’s the one that dragged it out.”
Mum gives a grudging acceptance of our arguments but it doesn’t stop her adding more instructions.
“When you’re out, will you get some things from the supermarket, please?”
She writes me a list while I sort out Spencer’s lead and some poo bags.
Spencer hasn’t forgotten how to scoot along on the board. I keep him close on his lead as he rides along the pavement between our house and the park just to be sure he doesn’t veer off into the traffic. Once in the park I give him free rein.
“He seems better on the board than I remember,” Tony remarks. “Almost as though he has been thinking about its possibilities.”
I think I agree. It does look as though he is moving his weight about on the board to control both it and his balance.
Although we don’t have to worry about traffic, the park is busier at this time of year than when we were here in January. We often have to steer Spencer onto the grass to avoid other people on the paths. Not ideal. The board tends to stop dead and Spencer tumbles off in a heap. It doesn’t take him many such falls to learn to watch where he is going and use his momentum to walk off the board as it shudders to a halt.
Spencer enjoys himself for a while before Tony says he needs to be getting home and reminds me I still have to go to the supermarket. From where we are in the park he has to pass the shop on his way home, so he walks with us.
Then we realise there is a problem. I can’t take the dog on the board into the store. Tony agrees to stay with him while I get the things for Mum.
Shopping always takes longer than you think and Tony and the dog are not where I left them. I look across the car park in front of the shop but can’t see them, so I turn to look towards the back of the store where deliveries are made. There they are, and they appear to have attracted a couple of onlookers.
I understand why as I walk over to join them. There is a slight incline parallel to the site boundary; it drops down towards the store loading dock. A fence and grassed area mark the boundary and between that and the main roadway there is a footpath protected by a kerb. Spencer is making twists and turns as he rolls down the slope before scooting himself back up to the top. The onlookers are making encouraging suggestions from the side-lines. He sees me when I get near and messes up his last run, smacking the board square-on into the kerb. He finesses his walk off onto the pavement and the grass, while the board bounces back across the roadway.
“I wondered where you had got to,” I say to Tony.
“Spencer was getting bored without his board so we came over here, away from the cars coming and going.”
“What about trucks making deliveries?”
One of the onlookers is escorting Spencer with the board back up the slope and overhears my question.
“Oh, I work here. They’re mostly overnight or in the early morning,” he comments. “Anyway, they have to drive slowly to set up reversing onto the dock. You’d have plenty of time to get out of the way.”
“Thanks,” I reply, and then I notice the dog is readying himself for another run. “No more, Spencer. Time to go home.”
Too late. The dog is trundling down the slope again.
Tony confirms it is time to stop the dog’s fun by handing me the lead. “Must be going or I’ll be late for supper. See you tomorrow,” he says.
I meet Spencer coming back up the slope and put him on his lead. We then make our own way home.
“No accidents?” Mum queries as I hand over the shopping. Do I detect an element of sarcasm there?
Spencer watches me closely when I put the board away in the cupboard.
Dad is already home, so it is not long before Mum has our evening meal ready.
“I gather we’ve got the dog for a few days.” He looks at me. “I understand you’ve had him out with your skateboard already. You be careful, lad. Remember what happened last time he was here.”
“As if I could forget!” They won’t give me the chance! “Anyway, Spencer was on the board. It was his idea.” I go on to report how much he seems to enjoy it. “You take him, Dad, and you’ll see.”
“Not ruddy likely!”
When Mum leaves the room to fetch our afters (rhubarb crumble and custard) I get the opportunity ask Dad something.
“When will I need to start shaving? Tony says he has to shave every few days. And Mrs Next Door said her Bernard was shaving every day when he was twelve. There’s nothing wrong with me is there?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Dad chuckles. “As far as I could see your development looked fine that time after your crash when you were lying on the couch in your underpants, engrossed with texting Tony.”
Dad looks across to inspect my red face. “More seriously, don’t forget Tony is darker then you, so any facial hair growing will show up more on him. He is also several months older than you.”
Dad chuckles again. “Not only do boys develop at different rates, the results are different too. You’ve never seen Bernard without a shirt. Hairy chest isn’t in it. His back is even worse. He’s looks like a gorilla.”
“Who’s like a gorilla?” Mum has returned with our crumble and custard.
“Bernard, next door.”
Mum pulls a face. She must also have seen him at some time.
“He’s gross. I couldn’t cope with that. It must be like cuddling a coir doormat. At least that’s one problem I don’t have with you!” Mum teases. Dad just grunts in reply, effectively closing the conversation.
Mum is right though. Dad doesn’t have a hairy chest. I suppose that means I won’t either.
“I’ve been thinking,” I say when I catch up with Tony in the morning break. He doesn’t reply, just raises an eyebrow. “Down by the supermarket seemed to be a good place for Spencer to ride his board. Better than the park.”
“There is certainly more room than on the narrow paths in the park, the slope is convenient, and there’re are no people in the way. As long as you keep away from the car park,” Tony replies.
“The clincher is that there weren’t any cats about. There are often cats in the park. Especially Merkin from school. She’s always patrolling there and I’m sure it was her that Spencer was chasing when he pulled me over.”
“Try it again, if you want, but make sure you keep out of the way of any wagons delivering. Arguing with one of them could bust more than your knee.”
That doesn’t sound very positive but I suppose Tony is just being realistic.
However, the decision is made for us.
Even if we were intending to go to the park after our homework in the evening, Spencer has other ideas. He refuses deviate from the direct route to the supermarket.
As we turn into the car park, we can see a truck on the loading dock.
“Looks like you’re out of luck,” I say to the dog. I don’t want him riding down the slope towards the dock while there is a vehicle there. Apart from the risk, it might attract the attention of the supermarket security.
No sooner than the words are out of my mouth than we hear the sound of a big diesel starting up. We watch the truck move off the dock, up the grade and stop on the level area at the top. The driver climbs out of the cab, goes round to the back of the wagon and checks the tailgate is properly closed and latched. Then he gives a thumb up sign to the loading dock, before climbing back into his cab and driving off.
By the time we have walked across the car park, we can see that the loading dock door is closed, so Spencer can have his fun after all.
He attracts some onlookers again, including the store employee we were talking to yesterday. We mention that Spencer nearly didn’t get his ride when we saw the truck and ask if stopping at the top of the slope is a routine all the drivers do.
“Pretty much,” he replies. “They’re supposed to check and report everything is secure before leaving the site. They can’t do it on the dock itself. Also they will park up there if they are due a tacho break* . We don’t allow them to have their breaks on the dock in case another wagon comes in.”
We let Spencer do his thing until it is time to go to our homes for supper.
Dad comes to my room after we have finished our meal.
“I’ve got something for you after our conversation yesterday.”
He hands me a small package. I can see from the box that it is an electric razor.
“It might just have been shadow, but I thought when we were talking that I could see a bit of bum fluff on your top lip.” Dad’s tone changes from teasing to serious. “I’ve only got you a simple razor to tide you over until your beard develops fully. You can decide then if you want another electric or if you’d prefer wet shaving. I use an electric most of the time, but like a wet shave occasionally.”
I thank Dad for the gift.
“I’ll leave you to it. Read the instructions, try it and see how you get on,” he says as he heads for the door.
I unpack the razor and try it. I feel an odd sensation running it across my face but I soon get used to it. As listed in the instructions, I check the cavity behind the cutters when I have finished. Yes, if I look closely, there are a few fine hairs there, which I clean out. Funny, I didn’t think I had started growing facial hair. I’d better check in the mirror more often.
“Of course your dad bought you an electric one,” Tony says when I tell him about the razor. “There’d be blood all over the bathroom if you were wet shaving. You know: death by a thousand cuts!”
“Ha, ha. Very funny — I don’t think.”
I have to take the dog for a walk in the mornings, so I am a bit rushed getting ready for school. Conversation with Mum while I have breakfast is limited. She does manage to get answering grunts out of me when she asks about Dad giving me the razor and if I have tried it yet. She gives my face some scrutiny from across the table.
“Yes, I can see there is a difference.”
At least Mum gives me respect by not coming round to my side for a close inspection. Then she has to spoil it.
“Ah, my poor baby, all grown up and having to shave,” she says, laughing.
I tell Tony about Mum laughing when I see him in school. He laughs, too.
“I would have expected your mum to see the funny side. My mum went all weepy when she realised I had started shaving.”
Of course, while we are talking, Tony is also inspecting me. He states his conclusion.
“Yep, I can see there is a difference, too!”
After school, just to complete my embarrassment, Tony and Mum compare notes about my shaving while I am getting Spencer ready for his walk. At least he can’t make any comments.
Once again Spencer leads the two of us to the supermarket. Although it is definitely a better area for him — larger than the park and without other people getting in the way — I have some misgivings when I see an artic parked at the top of the slope. However, as we get closer, I notice that the driver is in the cab. I see him eat a sandwich and pour a drink from a flask. He must be on his break.
I mention it to Tony and, as the loading dock door is closed, we agree he has probably unloaded already. We let Spencer off his lead to ride his board and stand watching him. Oddly enough we are on our own this evening. No audience for Spencer.
After several runs, the dog is scooting his board back up the slope as we hear engine of the tractor roar into life. I am not concerned as I am expecting the vehicle to leave.
Spencer is in position for his next run when there is a new sound behind us.
“Vehicle reversing. Vehicle reversing.”
We both look round. The trailer is coming towards us.
I leap for the kerb and the safety of the pavement. Tony does too. But where is the dog? I look back and see he is rolling down the slope.
Double oh shit!
I run down the path yelling for Spencer to come to me. Tony follows. All the time the wagon is gaining on the dog on the board.
Whether the dog finally understands what we want him to do or whether he sees the wagon in his peripheral vision, I don’t know, but at last he steers the board to crash into the kerb, nonchalantly stepping off to cross the pavement and walk onto the grass.
Meanwhile the board bounces off the kerb and rolls back under the trailer and is smashed to bits by the wheels of the tractor unit as the artic continues to reverse down to the dock.
“Geez! That was close,” I say as I put the lead on the dog, then stand up.
“Not kidding,” Tony replies. “Maybe coming here isn’t such a good idea after all.”
“I think you’re right.” I look back down at the dog. “Back to the park in future for you, Spencer.”
Spencer is lying down looking sorrowfully at the pile of debris in the road that was once his board.
I give the lead to Tony and say that I’d better pick up the pieces. I move to step off the kerb and promptly do the clumsy teenager bit and trip over my own feet. I land sitting on the road in the middle of remnants of the board. I have to smile.
“Classic move,” Tony says, grinning. At least he isn’t laughing.
I gather up the bits and Tony does his Boy Scout thing and produces a plastic bag for me to carry them home in.
We discuss what happened, and come to the conclusion we must have been is the driver’s blind spot when he started reversing.
“Probably best not say anything to the ’rents,” I say as I take the dog’s lead back from Tony.
Tony and I say goodbye. Then I walk home with Spencer.
I manage to smuggle the bag of bits up to my room without being seen by the parents. Mum says our meal is ready when I come back downstairs.
Dad and I are sitting at the table while Mum is in the kitchen dishing up.
“I gather you’ve had a close shave,” Dad states.
Bloody hell, news travels fast.
I’m trying to think how he would have heard when I realise he is rubbing his chin meaning that sort of shave. It’s too late though. I know I have gone a serious shade of red.
“Er, yes. I tried the razor last night. Thank you.” At least I manage to avoid incriminating myself verbally.
After the meal, Dad invites himself to my room again.
“Now, lad. I didn’t want to say anything in front of your mother, but you went a very funny shade when I ask if you had used your new razor. What have you been up to?”
There’s no point trying to blag it. He knows me too well and will be able to tell if I am lying.
“I wasn’t going to say anything but…” I come clean and give him the full story. Including my decision to only take the dog to the park in future. “…not that he has a board to ride anymore.”
Dad patiently listens to my story. Grim-faced occasionally, but he doesn’t interrupt.
“Any injuries? You, Tony or the dog?” he asks when I have finished.
“No. Only the board.”
“Any comeback from the driver or the store?”
“No. I don’t think the driver knew we had been behind him or that he had run over the board.”
Dad briefly goes into thinking mode.
“Right. Do you now realise how dangerous it is to be around large vehicles?”
“And how stupid you have been?”
I can see he can tell that I am not answering by rote. I am genuinely contrite.
“I could be angry with you but that wouldn’t help. I am disappointed though, but I think you realise that.
“I’ll not say anything to your mother. Nor will I say anything to Bert although I’m also a bit disappointed with Tony. I thought he had more sense.
“One more thing. Never, ever, mention this to your grandad. With his background he would go ballistic. Not just with you, me too!”
I only have a vague idea of what job Grandad does now and those he has had over the years, but I know enough to know Dad isn’t joking.
“Good. Are we sorted then?”
“Yes. Thanks, Dad.”
A smile appears on Dad’s face.
“Now, what are you going to do for the dog?”
“What do you mean?”“You can’t leave him without his board. Have you got the pieces?”
“They’re here.” I hand him the bag and he tips everything out onto the floor. He picks up the trucks and checks them over.
“These seem to have survived. There is some plywood in the garage that should be good enough for you to get him rolling again. I can show you what to do this weekend.”
“Thanks, Dad. You’re a star.”
*Tachograph break: a driving hours legal requirement. Not to be confused with a taco break.
©Copyright Pedro, September2023
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