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Miss Best and Mr. Marvel

(From Small Displacements)
Vanessa Furse Jackson

“I saw a thrush this morning,” Mr. Marvel said.

“A thrush?” Miss Best exclaimed. “You didn’t!”

“I did,” Mr. Marvel said, with some satisfaction. “On the bank at the far side of the lawn, hopping about on the grass.”

“Looking for snails?”

“And finding one, too,” he said. “Bang-banging it on one of the big grey stones by the ornamental bridge.”

Miss Best looked out of her window. There were no lawns or ornamental bridges to be seen, just the wide concrete path between her building and the building next to it, which had quite nice brickwork, but no windows. “How fantastic!” she said. “And I was just watching a television show about the disappearance of native birds. Thrushes are getting so rare.”

“And house sparrows,” added Mr. Marvel.

“Oh, I do hope robins are safe,” Miss Best said, anxiously. “I couldn’t bear it if robins disappeared.”

“Christmas cards would never be the same.” Mr. Marvel shook his head. “It doesn’t bear thinking of,” he said.

They sat there for a moment in a silence.

“Still,” Miss Best said. “You saw a thrush. We must remember that and rejoice.”

Mr. Marvel puffed out his moustache. “Beautiful breast. Quite beautiful. I remember once . .” His eyes grew dreamy.

Miss Best sighed with pleasure. He’d brought her a story. “Yes?” she breathed.

“It was a summer at Ashenleigh, right at the end of the war,” he began. “I’d brought Ada down to meet my parents. Well, to meet my father, really, I suppose. Ma would have loved anyone who loved me, but the old boy could be prickly—thought all modern girls were light-skirts, only after one thing.”

“Your money?” hazarded Miss Best.

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Darrell’s Garage

(From What I Cannot Say to You: Stories)
Vanessa Furse Jackson

Mr. Darrell only had one arm. He’d lost the other in Burma, so we knew he’d been a soldier like Daddy, but less said soonest mended was all he’d tell us, so we talked to him about his car instead. Quite unlike the sedate Morris Oxford that we were used to, Mr. Darrell’s turquoise and chrome-winged car came straight out of the future, which in our case meant America. The steering wheel was on the left-hand side and the car changed gear by itself with little clicks and surges that never failed to give me butterflies of pleasure. The front seat was so wide it could fit the three of us on it and still have room for another, and it was covered with leopard skin, soft and furry. Mr. Darrell had a glowing red lighter in the dashboard to light his cigarette, which he did while steering with his knee, and then he would whistle with the cigarette alight in his mouth. There were mysterious dials on the dashboard and switches that we weren’t allowed to touch, and our endless questions and his brief, incomprehensible answers would form our conversation with him. We listened to the purr of the car, we listened to his slow, masculine voice, and when we reached the little lane that climbed up to our house, we listened to the hedgerow grass slap like hair against the wing mirrors on both sides of the car.

“How’s your ma today, then?” was the only question he’d ask us, and the faint smell of motor oil that came from his overalls would mingle with the smell of his cigarette smoke in the car.

Mackenna and I would look at each other quickly to see who should answer, then one of us, usually me, would say, “she’s all right, thanks,” and the ritual would be over.

He’d grunt, shift in his seat a little, and settle his stump along the edge of the window. He wore an oil-flecked white shirt under his overalls, and the left sleeve was folded into a neat cylindrical package that was held fast with an expandable metal bracelet. It was odd to see this package lift and move by itself.

Mum still drove us to the bus-stop every morning to catch the scarlet, double-decker, Thames Valley bus into Reading, where we’d change onto a maroon city bus that took us to school. But in the evenings, we’d get off at the stop outside the pub, The Cunning Man, go next door to Darrell’s Garage (Frank Darrell, Sole Prop.), and sit in the car on the furry leopard-skin seat until Mr. Darrell could get away from Old Ernie, his assistant, or from whichever customer it was who was engaging him in head-shaking, cigarette-dragging conversation. Mackenna and I would watch him impatiently in the rear-view mirror. When at last he walked over to the car and sunk into his seat so that the car rocked over to the left, he would shut his door with that deep hollow thunk, start up the low growl of motor, readjust the rear-view mirror with a sideways glance at us, then push in the choke halfway, and back slowly down the forecourt and onto the road. It was the best moment of my day.

We didn’t fully understand why Mum could take us in the morning but was always too tired to come for us in the evening, but I don’t remember asking her about it. We never asked her much about herself. We just assumed it was something to do with her being pregnant, an event we knew would bring us another brother or sister in September, though we had no idea exactly how. We vaguely disapproved, having believed for years that she loved the two of us exclusively, and anyway considering thirty-four too old for babies, so we talked about it as little as possible.

I didn’t mind that her tiredness meant us riding home in Mr. Darrell’s car, though, even if somewhere in a cloudy unformed thought I inextricably linked the baby’s coming (a gift, Mum said) to the joy of riding in his leopard and turquoise monster.

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