Story Selection Three

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A Variety of Short Stories

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  • WILLIAMSON/Story Selection Three.

    1

    UNCLE SAUL AND THE EYE-TEST.

    It is the Spring of 1948. I am ten, living with my mother in a rented house which is

    also a doctors surgery.

    I am alone in the house.

    The doorbell jangles. I open the door a squidgeon. Uncle Saul forces his bulk into

    our hall, saying, mysteriously, Jamie, a wee word afore your Ma gets back.

    His slate-grey eyes try to lift a smile, but before it gets shoulder-high, he pushes me

    into the living room.

    Uncle Saul, I protest, what are you doing?

    Youre goin to help me, boy, roars Uncle Saul. He sits down at the table where I

    was doing my homework. He holds me facing him. Large hands clamp my thin arms. I

    smell the oil, and then the coal-smoke of the steam-engine my uncle drives, and feel

    sickish.

    Its lucky for me your Mas looking after this surgery for Doctor Trent. Uncle

    Saul laughs without mirth. Hes givin me the Companys check-up Friday week. He

    looks at me through slitted eyelids. Dye see?

    I dont know what you mean, I quiver.

    Its like this, Uncle Saul goes on. Im fit as a fiddle, but having a bit of trouble

    with my eyes. He pauses, as if giving me another chance to guess what he wants.

  • WILLIAMSON/Story Selection Three.

    2

    Are you going blind? I see him tapping round Belfast with a white stick.

    I mean, Uncle Sauls mouth tightens. I want to take a look at the eye-chart thats

    hanging in his surgery. He gives me a bit of a shake.

    He tells me he wants to learn it by heart, so that when the doctor comes to examine

    his eyes, therell be no trouble with his sight.

    Thats cheating, I tell him, amazed that he should think of such a thing.

    Come on, says Uncle Saul, ignoring my words. You let me into that surgery. Ill

    copy the eye-chart.

    It wouldnt be right, I say.

    Uncle Saul tells me he knows more about whats right than I do. And do I want

    cousins Arthur and Joseph to starve if he loses his job? Not to mention Aunt Alice and

    himself?

    But, if youre going blind, I begin to argue.

    Damnit, boy. Im not goin blind, explodes Uncle Saul.

    But you have to be able to see the signals clearly. I feel all the horror of a train

    crash with hundreds of people killed.

    I can see the signals, says Uncle Saul. I know the signals like the back of my

    hand, so just let me into that surgery. He gives me another shake.

    Cant. Im glad to say. The surgery is locked and Ma has the key. Its Uncle

    Sauls opinion that the key is hanging up somewhere, and I know where it is.

  • WILLIAMSON/Story Selection Three.

    3

    Ma keeps it in her bag. I glance at the clock, hoping shell be back to rescue me.

    Ask her for it when she comes back. My voice squeaks.

    He tries again. Do I ever go into the surgery while shes cleaning there? Yes. Well

    then, theres half-a-crown, to go and see Laurel and Hardy at the Hippodrome. Next

    time she goes in to clean, write down whats written on the eye-chart, so he can learn it

    off by heart. Hell call round for it the day after tomorrow.

    I dont want to. I hand him back his money. He wont take it. He folds my hand

    over it.

    Write down whats on that chart, Jamie, he orders, putting his face close to mine.

    I wont do it, I stammer. I wish he had never come.

    Do it, says he, ice-cold, with a murderous look. Ill be back Thursday, and, his

    voice sinks ominously, dont tell your Ma.

    He goes then. I really believe he will murder me if I dont do what he says. After

    hes gone, I cry, because I feel so alone and miserable and vulnerable. Where are

    you, I cry out to my absentee father.

    I wish my father didnt just come home to move us from house to house, and then

    go back across the water. I dry my eyes. I can still smell Uncle Saul in the room yet. I

    open the window. I open the back door.

    Whats the matter with you, Ma asks, taking the groceries through to the kitchen,

    when she comes back.

    Nothin, I reply.

  • WILLIAMSON/Story Selection Three.

    4

    Good, says she.

    Later, sitting on the wall overlooking the back entry where all the bins are, I tell

    Tom, who lives next door, about Uncle Saul and what he wants.

    Half-a-crown, he exclaims.

    I tell him I dont want it, and I dont want to do what Uncle Saul says I have to do.

    Give it to me then. Ill go see the Bowery Boys in the Royal Cinema, and tell you

    all about it when I get back.

    I give it to him, glad to get rid of it.

    Whats so wrong with doin what he wants? Tom asks.

    It wouldnt be right. I wonder why I have to explain it to him. Look, if hes

    goin blind, and he cant see the signals, he might kill hundreds of people. I shudder.

    And it would be my fault.

    Mix up the letters a bit, Tom says, hopping down off the wall.

    But then hed fail the test.

    He wont kill nobody then.

    Hell get the sack.

    Then he can keep spuds in it, says Tom, and goes off, laughing.

    I dont sleep too well that night. I lie there, tossing and turning, and hating Uncle

    Saul for what he is doing to me. When I fall asleep I dream of being chased down a

    railway track by Uncle Saul in his engine.

  • WILLIAMSON/Story Selection Three.

    5

    At school I cant concentrate, and get kept in to fill three black boards with lines: I

    must pay attention in class. By the time I get home, Ive decided to do it. Im too

    afraid not to. Im too afraid to mix up the letters like Tom said, even though Id like to

    do that. Ill do it and hope that Uncle Sauls eyesight is not as bad as I think it is.

    What kept you? Ma asks.

    I tell her and she says: Well, you wont do that again.

    Have you cleaned the surgery yet? She hasnt. Ill give you a hand.

    Wondersll never cease, she remarks.

    When I am struggling upstairs with the upright Hoover, my stomach is churning. I

    tell myself I havent done anything wrong yet. That its not too late. I dont have to do

    it. But Uncle Saul is coming tomorrow. Ma helps me through the door with the

    Hoover. She looks at me, worried.

    You all right?

    I try to look surprised that shes asked such a question. I put the plug in the socket.

    She switches on the cleaner and begins to push it busily back and forth. I take the

    opportunity to note down what is written on the eye-chart hanging on the wall.

    Again, I dont sleep well that night. In my dreams, Mr Patterson, my Sunday

    School teacher, who is also a policeman, keeps telling me that even if my mother

    hasnt seen me, God has. He knows Ive done wrong.

  • WILLIAMSON/Story Selection Three.

    6

    Next morning, I want to throw away the piece of paper, but I dont. I tell myself

    that it isnt too late to get rid of it, and make some excuse to Uncle Saul when I see

    him.

    This time he meets me in the street, and just holds out his hand. I give him the

    paper like it was a hot coal Im glad to get rid of. He never even says thanks. Just

    walks off.

    Youre sickening for something, Ma says. Want to tell me about it? She sits

    down, ready to listen. Ive been kept in at school again, and have come home looking

    absolutely miserable.

    Nothings the matter, I lie.

    She tells me my father is on his way home again.

    Will he be movin us again? I am anxious to know, for if he moves us to another

    house, I wont have Tom for a friend.

    I hope not, Ma says. She looks as worried as me.

    Saturday morning Tom brings me a Superman comic, bought with Uncle Sauls

    money. I dont want it. I still feel bad.

    I trudge, next day, to Sunday School and tell Mr Patterson, the policeman. I expect

    him to arrest Uncle Saul, and me as well. Next minute were down on our knees.

    Lord, says he to the ceiling, into your hands we commit Uncle Saul, the sinner. If

    hes one of your elect, call him in. If hes not, call him off. As for wee Jamie, here.

    Hes no better sense than to fear Uncle Saul, so hes not to blame.

  • WILLIAMSON/Story Selection Three.

    7

    Im not to worry. I worry until the Friday evening Uncle Saul turns up, after work,

    for his medical.

    Off by heart, he gives me a broad grin. I hate him.

    I am going upstairs when the doctor calls me into his surgery. He gives me some

    notes to take down to Ma for filing. As I leave, I glance at the eye-chart.

    Thats not the right eye-chart, I exclaim.

    Good observation, Jamie, says the doctor. No, thats new. I got it today.

    Uncle Saul will never believe it. I go down to my mother.

    Doctor Trents got a new eye-chart, I tell her.

    Thats nice, says she.

    Will you tell Uncle Saul that?

    Why?

    He thinks the old ones still there. Hes learned it off by heart.

    How do I know that? I tell her. She begins to laugh. Serve him right. Hell get a

    quare gunk. Then she says, God works in mysterious ways.

    You think God worked all this out?

    God works everything out.

    Everything? I think of my father across the water and never at home. Of how

    many times hes moved us from house to house. I tell her that.

  • WILLIAMSON/Story Selection Three.

    8

    Well, maybe not everything. Your father had choice. God could have found him

    work here as well as anywhere else.

    Doesnt he like being with us?

    She files the notes away