Pantry Prose: Spangles, Swarfega And Silk Stockings by Sally Shaw

“Get out!” The Scholl clog belts the shut bedroom door, its vibration whacks my back.

“I know you’re there, you…you retard, give them back now or I’ll cave your fat head in.”

I suck hard on the sweet, it fizzes on my tongue. I slurp in a deep breath, flick down the door handle and shove open the door. Dangle the red and white packet of Spangles clasped between my thumb and fingers, through the unguarded space, like a flag of surrender.

“Hey Sis, this what you’re looking for?”

I withdraw my arm sharpish and slam the door shut. The second clog bounces off the door, swiftly followed by the door being flung open. Bud catapults herself out the bedroom, clutches my shoulders her swiftness knocks me to the floor. She plops on top of me.

“What’ve I told you about touching my stuff.”

She’s got me in a Big Daddy hold on the narrow landing. I’m flat on my back, her knees squeeze into my ribs, the wind is squashed from my lungs. Her body weight is diverted down her arms to hands that pin my wrists above my head, flat to the golden square-ridged carpet. The force of Bud’s body pressing on me has lodged the Spangle in my throat. The packet of Spangles, my fingers tighten like a vice around them as the sweet ambushes my air.

“Give them back, you bitch.”

My eyes shout HELP. Her eyes scream I HATE YOU. The Spangle red flashes and then black.

“Told you I’d make you give them back.”

The pressure pops off. I’m discombobulated, rolled on my side coughing, in the centre of a golden square a half-sucked Spangle. I stare at the sweet, let it come into focus, the bedroom door clicks. I stretch my arm out, crawl my hand across the contours of the carpet like a crab on Southport beach. I grab the Spangle, a brief fluff check, not enough to put me off. I sit up, press my back against the bedroom door and put the sweet back in my mouth. Enjoy its sharpness as the gravity of what’s happened smacks me in my face. I keep perfectly still for what seems like ages before I go to our swing at the bottom of the garden.

Bud is my twin sister, younger by twenty minutes. When we were born she was so tiny the midwife wanted to send her to the hospital. All the incubators were full of other small babies. My dad had an old heat lamp for chicks. Dad and Mum are in shock they’re expecting one baby, me. So, when my mum thinks it’s over and the final push is for the placenta, it’s an almighty surprise when the placenta has a head, arms, and legs.

Placing Bud in a Pedigree Chum box beneath a heat lamp seemed the right thing to do. That’s where it started, the bond between Bud and Dad. He’d check on her like she was a day-old chick. I was placed into my cot and my mum took charge of me. Mum took care of both of us when our dad was out at work. When he got in from work dad took charge of Bud. Bud got extra feeds and was put into doll’s clothes. I can’t bear witness to any of this, I know it through the stories my dad told us and the many photographs. The Pedigree Chum bed is famous and there are loads of black and white photographs of Bud beneath the heat lamp. The photograph our friends ask to see over and over again is the beer glass one. When Bud is a day-old, dad pops her inside his pint glass. I often laughed to myself as dad took our photographs. Each photograph would take ages and ages as he held the light meter. Our faces ached with smiling for so long. I often wonder how long Bud was in that beer glass. The thing is, she survived none the worse and we became two, until we weren’t.

The Spangles episode is the latest and nastiest of loads of scraps, between us recently, has got me thinking. It used to bug me, Dad and Bud. Like the time a year ago, Nan Goodall had put money in our thirteenth birthday cards. We’d set our hearts on having a pet tortoise each. Bud and me drew a picture of how we wanted the tortoise’s house and run to be. We knew dad would be able to build it and we’d help. What niggled me the most was this, there was one slop jacket, Bud got to wear it, an empty Swarfega tin, she got it, screws needed tightening, Bud got to use the screwdriver. I didn’t make a fuss. The tortoises have a lovely house and run. Mine is called Fred he’s narrow and small, Bud’s is Sam, he’s like a walking rock. In the winter they go in the Pedigree Chum boxes with ripped up newspaper and air holes punched in the sides. They’re lowered through the hatch beneath the coconut doormat in the kitchen. Dad says the constant temperature in the space under the floorboards stops them waking up too early and dying. I wish dad would pick me sometimes to tighten the screws or to get the empty Swarfega tin. I never battered Bud for it, because when it was her and me, well we made a good team.

We’re twins but we don’t look the same and we’re not the same. I’m big and for that reason they call me Lobby and my hair is straight and blonde, Bud is small and has wavy mousy hair. Mum says Bud is determined. I remember when we were small and getting on mum’s nerves, mum went to rattle the back of Bud’s legs. She told mum, “You can smack me, I won’t cry.” I couldn’t do that. I felt safe with her. We shared our toys and we made friends together, so apart from Dad thinking more of Bud than me, being a twin was great. We were best friends and now we’re not.

The swing I’m sat on thinking about all this, Dad made from railway sleepers and the seat once had a rope in the centre so both me and Bud could sit side by side. That rope is gone. I sit and swing back and too. I half expect Bud to come bombing down the crazy paved path waving her precious tin above her head, accusing me of stealing whatever. She doesn’t appear.

The tin sits on the windowsill in our bedroom, above her bed. My bed is against the wall, Bud’s is in the best spot the furthest from the door, she’s got a bedside table and the windowsill for all her stuff. I have a bedside table. We share the wardrobe and drawers, we don’t share a bed anymore. She puts the things she doesn’t want me to see in her tin. The Spangles were in the tin. I saw her hide them, two days before she flattened me on the landing. I took my chance to pinch them during the night when she got up for a wee. I managed to find the tin in the dark, flip off the lid, got my hand stuck for a sweaty-few-seconds, heard the toilet flush, prised my hand free of Spangles and all, lid back on and dived back into my bed. I slid the Spangles under my pillow and there they stayed until the morning. I hid them down my sock as I got dressed. It’s Saturday so I’m wearing my lime green trousers, mum says I ought to wear more dresses, like Bud. It’s the raised lid on the tin that set her off, and me making a dive for the door.

The swing makes me feel better. I’ve located some fluff on the roof of my mouth picked up from the Spangle. I spit it out. I lean forward while my legs scoop the air to swing higher and then I’m still. I’ve hooked my arms around the ropes so I don’t fall. I close my eyes, I don’t know why ‘cos I’m not tired, I’ve only been up an hour. My brain plays a trick on me. It’s not this Saturday, it’s the one two weeks after we get the tortoises. We’re out on our newspaper rounds. It’s my first morning, the bag’s heavy. I can’t read Mr Tootle’s neat handwriting on the tops of the papers of the addresses. I can’t even read the words on the road signs. I don’t know what to do. I get off my bike and sit on a garden wall.

I’m not sure how long I sit there but my bum’s numb and cold. I couldn’t move cos I’m scared until I notice whose wall I’m sat on. It’s Janet Dixon’s gran’s. I lug the bag strap over my head onto my shoulder, get on my bike and start to peddle in the direction of the newsagents.

I’m going to tell Mr Tootle I can’t read properly. I approach the playground where me and Bud loved to play, it’s too early for playtime. I pull on the breaks and rest one foot on the pavement. The roundabout turns slowly. I don’t see anything at first. As the roundabout creaks round two bodies, one on top of the other, come into view. My heart’s going like the clappers. I can’t move, I gawk at the legs that come into view. Flesh-stockinged legs relax beneath his blue jeans. I puff out a load of air, it’s not a murderer after all. It’s teenagers. I feel sick. I recognise those shoes, and the bike up against the slide. I head across the playing field instead of taking the short cut over the playground.

On my way out the shop, I spot dad’s car pulling out of the carpark opposite the playground. Dad didn’t see me, he looked troubled. Turns out Mr Tootle isn’t as nasty as Bud said. He’s going to have a think what job I can do. I meet up with Bud at the top of our road.

“You finished quick for your first time, took me ages to find my way when I started.”

I look at her legs, they’ve got knee length socks on, maybe another girl has the same shoes and bike. Must be that. I don’t mention the incident on the roundabout or seeing dad. As we cycle side by side I’m bursting to tell her about Mr Tootle. When she finally notices I’ve not got my newspaper bag I tell her the whole story about my reading. She stops, turns to me and tells me I was brave telling Mr Tootle. That’s the last time she’s nice to me. As we’re pushing our bikes into the garage something drops from her coat pocket. She’s not noticed so I pick it up, a silk stocking dangles in front of my face. I stand stock still, the thought of the roundabout spinning in my head. I watch Bud as she rests her bike against mine. She turns around, my face must’ve told her what I’m thinking.

“What? What’s up with you?”

“I saw…” she spots her stocking lurches at me, snatches it, “Keep quiet.”

The swing’s stopped. I open my eyes. Later, that Saturday after the roundabout incident, Bud came storming into the bedroom, bounced face down onto her bed screaming. She lifted up her head and turned her blotchy face to me. “Snitch.” I didn’t explain.

I squeeze my eyes shut and make a wish. The swing wobbles as she shuffles in next to me. A Spangle is pressed into my palm.

Sally Shaw has an MA Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. She writes short stories and poetry and is working on her novel set in 1950s Liverpool. She is inspired by Sandra Cisneros, Deborah Morgan and Liz Berry. Published online by NEWMAG, Ink Pantry and AnotherNorth. She writes book reviews for Sabotage Reviews and Everybody’s Reviewing.

You can find more of Sally‘s work here on Ink Pantry.

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