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Submerged by a Wave of Relief
"Ouch". The screwdriver had glanced on the skin between nail and thumb. A vermillion pearl pooled. He stuck his thumb in his mouth and sucked. "Damn". He was putting the final touches on the new wireless radio set, he had constructed from scratch. On his first, he had needed, pre-war : copper wires, bolts and screws; dials, a bulb, a needle and finally the framing. Today, he used slightly more modern materials but the method was the same.
The first of six screws to close the lid fast was always the trickiest. Pressing down with his left palm and forearm, at the same time, he inserted the screw with his right thumb and forefinger; he really needed a third hand. The screwdriver lay on the wooden workbench biding its time, before it was set into action.
Grandpa Albert, still tending to the nick on his skin, took out the screw, lifted the lid and swore again. The afternoon light streamed in through the dirty pane from the back common; bees were dancing around the new-born yellow petals of the gorse bushes. The lid joined the screwdriver on the workbench, both abandoned for the time being. The planked door of the garage behind him, creaked invitingly. He brushed down his hands on his apron, hung it on its peg and followed the beckoning cool sea breeze out of his shed. Dust, mixed with sand, coated his old coupé car, bought secondhand and fixed up between odd jobs. The green paintwork captured the reverberating sun and glared reproachfully into his eyes.
He turned the corner and gathered up his tobacco pouch and pipe from the stool by the wooden wall, then sat down. His back rested on the the overgrown and invading ivy. The match fizzed as he sucked on the stem to fire up, his thumb, still smarting, and the heel of his hand firmly holding the polished cup of the pipe. Albert inhaled, brief puffs at first, so the leaves caught; then he released his grip and the reassuring aroma rose straight into the late afternoon air. No draft in his niche. He exhaled with a sigh of pleasure, well earned. A squabble of blue tits pricked at his ears and he turned his head towards the laurel bushes separating the square of back garden from the dirt track leading to the common. The birds suddenly flew off, startled, each taking a different trajectory, up towards the streaks of clouds above Albert's head. 'It will probably rain tonight', he thought. A bell tingled in the road, down beyond the front part of the house, 'the landlady has a visitor'.
Grandpa Albert's thoughts drifted back to memories of his childhood: his father in his workshop in Hackney. He could see him, as clearly as yesterday, fiddling with bicycle frames, hoses, tires, wheel spokes; Albert chuckled: he imagined him pinching one of his fingers while adjusting a bolt and screw. He would beckon to his son and say: "Don't just stand there, hand me that cloth. mind you run it under the tap first, you silly lad."
A frown appeared on Albert's brow and he looked up at the sky again: fluffy clouds were now drifting further inland, chased by the tide. "May rain, early morning", he muttered. To the North, they were building up, dark grey, over the downs. Showers, if they were to come, would catch house wives unawares, as they scrambled to yank the clothes from the lines, grab at the pegs and drop them in the basket, before pattering quickly inside before the first drops. Albert was enjoying his pipe.
His daydream was shattered by the clatter of tiny shapes on the steps from the house, then the rapid thumping on wood, as his youngest grand-daughter, still with boy-length hair around her ears, climbed up the slope to the garden and grabbed the swing; she then settled her bottom on the nail-ridden seat, all in an arc of a swoop. 'Blimey', thought Albert, 'what's she got under her bonnet !' the little girl was oblivious to his presence, intent on her play-goal. She soaked in the sun, the salty mixture of cool and stimulating air, the tobacco smoke, all up like a sponge, all senses alert.
Pushing off from the ground, her frail, long arms strongly gripping the ropes, she sailed away into one of her adventures, of which she was the sole keeper, humming some tune or other that Albert, far removed from her land, didn't recognise. He shrugged, slightly annoyed at having his peace and quiet interrupted, and watched on as she swung up and down, up and down, like a pendulum gaining momentum. Grandpa Albert, as her pace picked up, what with the smoke and the lingering taste of blood from his thumb, started to feel giddy. However, nothing could seemingly destroy the child's rhythm and energy.
"Not too high, dear, you'll fall off", said Albert, half mumbling between puffs. Higher and higher, the child rose, as if she hadn't heard, or maybe she hadn't.
"Be careful", he bellowed.
She turned her head sharply towards the shed behind her; the ropes twisted in her left hand and she lost her balance, flying from the swing. She landed in the rockery, smack onto stone, earth; crushing flowers, all in an instant. Albert had stood up, stepped forward, too late: the grandchild's knees were scrapped clean and starting to ooze. She let out a yelp, followed by a flow of tears and cries. Grandpa Albert drew forward to her side and picked her up by both arms: "stupid, stupid girl".
Just as sister, mother and grandmother burst up the slope, having emerged from the house, as if by magic, the little girl's lungs pushed out a loud wail, enough to wake the hedgehogs. The sister grabbed the freed swing, the mother knelt to brush down her daughter, tut-tutting and soothing at the same time. She then took hold of her hand and led her, still crying and protesting back to the house to clean and bandage the knobby knees. Grandpa Albert's wife didn't utter a word, arms crossed; bent down to evaluate the damage, shook her head then glanced sharply at him, a downward smile on pursed lips, sighing. She then turned away and followed the drama back down the steps, confident that the older child on the swing, now, could be left to her own devices and Albert's care.
Albert looked at his other little charge, just sitting there, and sat back down onto his stool. He picked up his pipe and lit it once more. As he drew in his breath, a wave of relief surged, then subsided in his breast. No harm come, this time; though, he could expect a dressing down that evening in bed.
©susanbauryrouchard FCA 1140 words.
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