I submitted this story for inclusion in the 24 Stories project, created by Paul Jenkins, R. Martin, Steve Thompson and Kathy Burke, in support of survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. It never made the published version but the book is available here.
Saturdays are my favourite days.
The worst thing about a Saturday is that I always wake up at the same time I normally do for school. For a split second I look at the clock and think it’s a school day. Then I remember it’s Saturday and this makes me happy.
Last Christmas I got a bike. I don’t know how Father Christmas got it from the chimney to the garage but anyway, that’s where I found it. It’s probably my favourite thing. Well, dogs are my favourite thing but after that, it’s riding my bike.
Or – at least till Mum told me that every Saturday from now I have to ride my bike and visit an old lady who I don’t know. Mum says she lives alone and needs help or something. She has an upstairs but doesn’t go upstairs very much. I don’t know why she lives in a house that she can’t go upstairs in.
Mum says one day it will make me very happy if I visit the old lady but I don’t understand why I have to go on a Saturday. I did honestly feel like crying and the only thing that stopped me is when Mum said the old lady sometimes has a dog. I don’t know why it’s only sometimes, but Mum said I can’t find out if she has a dog before I go and stay at home if she hasn’t because life isn’t like that.
Mum said I have to take care on the road but that I should be alright because the old lady doesn’t live very far away. It’s only three roads and none of them are ‘main’ and I shouldn’t see many cars.
“What is her name?” I asked Mum.
“Mrs. Coomber” she said.
It didn’t take me very long to get there. Before I knocked on the door I saw that the curtains upstairs were closed but the downstairs ones were open. After I knocked on the door I hoped I would hear a dog bark or run to the door on the inside, but I didn’t hear anything.
I counted to maybe six before I knocked again. This time I heard a voice telling me to wait a second. I thought it was odd because I already waited six. But the door opened and the old lady was there.
“Are you Mrs. Coomber?” I asked.
“Yes I am, lad. Come in.”
Mum told me other people’s houses smell funny and I thought Mrs. Coomber’s house smelt of socks. I’m quite good with my nose. It’s something me and dogs have in common. The only other thing I think I noticed was that her TV was really old and wasn’t tuned far enough in. Oh, and she had a fancy clock above the fire. It had a gold ball inside it that swung forwards and backwards.
“It’s very good of you to visit. Thank you.” she said.
Mum always told me to say “you are welcome” whenever anyone in the world thanks me for anything. I think it’s a silly thing to say.
“Do you want to help me in the garden?” Mrs. Coomber asked.
I nodded and watched as she walked through the kitchen into the back garden. She doesn’t walk very well. She hobbles. And she is very slow.
Mrs. Coomber’s garden is bigger than my garden but hers is a mess. I don’t know why she keeps it untidy. My Dad always complains and mutters to himself when he knows he has to mow the lawn but he always does it. He is usually in a bad mood when he is finished but our garden looks nicer than Mrs. Coomber’s.
She has a tiny house in the middle which is made of glass and it looked like she keeps dead flowers in it. There isn’t a lot of grass in her garden, just stones and pebbles like at the beach. Although these are small so they probably wouldn’t hurt my feet like the beach does. When I’m at the beach I always ask my Mum where the sand is and she always says I’ll see a sandy beach when I’m grown up.
“You see that?” Mrs. Coomber asked. “Can you fill up that bag?”
Near the wall there was a pile of rubbish like tin cans and crisp packets and next to it a bag like you see the rubbish men with.
I walked over and opened the bag up a little bit and started to fill it up.
“Where did all this come from?” I asked her.
“People throw it into the garden from the path. I swept it up this morning. But my back started to hurt.”
I looked around the garden and saw a brush. It was bigger than I thought it would be.
“Did you use that brush?”
“Yes I did, lad.”
Mrs. Coomber walked along the garden path and into the tiny house made of glass. I wanted to see what she does in there but I also needed to pick up rubbish.
When the bag was full I walked to the tiny house and went inside.
“Wow, it’s so hot!”
“The glass makes it hotter in here.” she said. “But it’s alright because the plants like it hot.”
I watched as she used a dirty cloth to wipe the inside of the glass.
“I like to keep the panes clean,” she said. “Keeps the plants happy too.”
I don’t think I’ll ever understand gardening.
Later on Mrs. Coomber showed me how to make sausage sandwiches. With the grill inside the oven and everything. Mum says I’m not allowed to go near the cooker at home, especially after she’s been making tea, because it stays hot for hours and can still burn people. Mrs. Coomber’s cooker is not very clean compared to Mum’s. It has big knobs on the front but Mum’s is electronic. I remember when my Mum told my Dad she wanted a new cooker. They argued about whether the one she already had was broken or not. Dad said there was nothing wrong with it but the next Saturday a man brought a new one round.
“Cut them sausages there in half.” she said, pointing to a pack on the kitchen counter. “Long ways. Use this knife – it’s not very sharp but you’ll manage.”
While I cut the sausages Mrs. Coomber turned on the cooker. She opened a door on the front and pulled out a big pan with a handle.
“Put them on here, lad.”
I put the sausage halves on the pan and when Mrs. Coomber said the cooker was hot enough we put the pan back inside. She told me to keep an eye on them and sometimes turn them over which I did.
“Butter this bread lad, and we can make sandwiches when them bangers are done.” she said, pulling thick sliced white bread from a bag.
When the sausage halves were proper brown I took the pan out by myself. It was heavy and I needed two hands.
“Do you like brown sauce?” she asked me.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had it.”
In the lounge we sat down and ate the sandwiches.
“Eat up lad, then we can watch wrestling.”
I’ll never forget the first time I watched wrestling. It’s basically fat men dressed in girls P.E. kit messing around in a boxing ring. They fall on the floor a lot and there’s a bell that rings. At the end they shout about winning a big belt made of gold. Mrs. Coomber loved watching wrestling. She would laugh, then cough a little bit, then laugh again. For an hour.
After wrestling was finished Mrs. Coomber turned off the TV with the remote. I didn’t know if that meant it was time for me to go.
“Mum says you don’t get any visitors.”
“Of course I get visitors, lad. Usually I’m too busy to make a fuss. Got a garden to look after. And this house.”
I wonder if I annoyed her saying that.
“She says you sometimes have a dog.”
“Sometimes I do, yes. If my friends go on holiday I always take their dog in. Better than them kennels.”
“Will you have a dog next week?”
“I might have, lad. I might well have.”
“I love dogs. Mum won’t let me have one though.”
“Quite right.” Mrs. Coomber said. “You have to look after them forever. And not everyone does.”
We sat quietly. After a good few seconds the clock near the fire chimed but the hands didn’t really line up to 2 o’clock. It’s probably really old, like everything else here.
“Do you think I should go now?” I ask her.
“Probably should, lad. You’ve been very useful, thank you.”
She pulls herself out of her chair and I follow her to the front door.
“Do you think I should come next week? Mum says I don’t have anything better to do on Saturdays.”
Mrs. Coomber smiled at me and said “It’s up to you, lad. I can always make work for idle hands.”
I didn’t really know whether that meant yes or no, but I was excited to tell Mum that I used a real cooker and watched fat men on the TV.
The next Saturday when I woke up I asked Mum if she knew anyone that had gone on holiday that week. She said she didn’t know and she said the people in our street generally keep themselves to themselves.
I rode my bike really fast down the three roads to Mrs. Coomber’s house. I can tell which his her house easily now because no-one else has the curtains shut upstairs on a Saturday.
“Come in lad!” she shouted from inside the house. I only knocked once this time.
I went in but there was no dog. I was sure there would be one. The weather is nice and people should be on holiday. And they should leave their dogs with Mrs. Coomber.
“I’m in the garden.” I heard her say. I walked through her lounge to the kitchen and then to the garden.
“There you are.” she said. “The bag’s there.”
She pointed to a black bag on the ground. It had half a brick on it so it didn’t blow away. Her garden had a lot of rubbish in it again. More tin cans and sweet wrappers and crisp packets.
This time I had to clean the inside of the house made of glass. I was sweating after two minutes because it was so hot in there. But I thought the plants looked better than they did last week so it made me clean harder. I don’t want the plants to die.
After I’d picked up all the rubbish in the garden and cleaned the inside of the house made of glass, I was hungry. When we went inside Mrs. Coomber nodded at a packet of sausages on the kitchen counter.
“You know what to do with them, lad.” she said. She turned on the cooker and went and sat down in the lounge.
I was just about finished making the sandwiches when I heard the music from wrestling starting on the TV. I carried two plates to the lounge, gave one to Mrs. Coomber and sat down.
“Thank you.” she said. “You put brown sauce in them didn’t you?”
“Yes I did, Mrs. Coomber.”
Mrs. Coomber had taken two bites before she started laughing at the TV.
After wrestling had finished Mrs. Coomber turned off the TV.
“Do you know them that live at number 34?” she asked me.
“No, I don’t”
“Well, them’s the Davies’.”
“They have a dog.”
She waited for a moment and then:
“They’re on holiday next week.”
The next Saturday I woke up early because I think I was excited. It was like Christmas but not as good. Maybe half as good as Christmas. But I love dogs and I thought if Mrs. Coomber had a dog I’ll probably get to play with it after I tidy the garden up. I wondered if the dog liked sausages.
I didn’t even get to knock on the door once before I heard the dog. It was wagging its tail and I could hear the tail hitting the front door on the inside. After I knocked, it started barking, but it sounded like a friendly bark.
When the door opened I saw Mrs. Coomber and she was bent over holding the dog by it’s collar. It was quite small and brown and was trying to jump up to say hello to me. I knew we would be friends.
I got on my knees and the dog came up to me and licked my face. Then he rolled onto his back and lay still.
“He wants you to tickle his tummy, lad.” Mrs. Coomber said.
“What’s his name?”
“Ben.” she said.
I loved Ben from the first minute and he followed me everywhere. I didn’t mind picking up rubbish from the garden. Ben even helped me. He sniffed for anything left inside the crisp packets and tasted the tops of all the tin cans. I was so happy but I was sad that people always threw rubbish into Mrs. Coomber’s garden.
Ben followed me into the house made of glass and he sat in the corner while I told him how the house works and how it helps the plants. I told him that the first time I visited Mrs. Coomber the plants definitely weren’t very happy but now they were happy. I told Ben exactly how Mrs. Coomber likes to clean the glass on the inside and he sat and watched me do it. I thought he was a very good dog seeing we had only just met.
When we were finished we went inside. Mrs. Coomber was in the lounge with her feet up. She didn’t look at me but she said “You know what’s next, lad.”
Ben was right behind me and as soon as I opened the packet of sausages he got very excited! I told him to wait for at least three minutes on each side and he did. Because he was so good I gave him half of my sausages. He’d finished them before I had even sat down.
Ben didn’t seem too interested in watching wrestling. Instead he lay down and fell asleep with his head on my foot. I wanted to stay at Mrs. Coomber’s house all afternoon. Or at least until Ben woke up.
When I got on my bike later on, I checked the road for cars before setting off. I looked back and saw Mrs. Coomber at her door holding Ben by his collar. I think Ben was as sad that I was leaving as I was. I nearly asked Mrs. Coomber if Ben would ever visit again, but really I didn’t want to know the answer.
Every day for the next week I asked Mum if we could have a dog at home because I knew how to look after one and because I would love it very much. Every day she said no. But she did say when I was grown up I could have my own dog.
I can’t even wait till next Saturday, let alone till I’m a grown up.
The next Friday Mum told me Mrs. Coomber had phoned and said that she wasn’t very well. So it was best if I didn’t visit. But she said I could go the week after and to be prepared because the garden would be twice as messy as usual. I knew I could tidy up in no time but Saturday without visiting Mrs. Coomber was not the same. I spent two hours in my garden talking to an imaginary dog. He sat just like Ben had done in the house made of glass and he listened to me teach him all about Mum and Dad and school and holidays and pebbles on the beach.
The next Saturday I was excited to visit Mrs. Coomber because I knew her garden would be a lot better after I’d cleaned up after two weeks. And who knows – she may have another dog. I would miss Ben because he would always be my favourite, but I’d love to give another dog half of my sausages.
I knocked on the door and waited. I didn’t hear any barking or scampering. I waited at least twelve seconds before knocking again. Mrs. Coomber didn’t answer the door. I opened the door and called for her. I thought she is probably already in the garden making a start on tidying up.
When I got to the lounge I saw a man I didn’t know. I was a little bit scared but before I could say anything another man walked in from the kitchen. It was strange because both men had all black clothes on and I wondered if they were friends of Mrs. Coomber.
“You shouldn’t be here, son.” one of the men said.
“Where’s Mrs. Coomber?” I asked.
“She’s had to go away for a while, son. Why don’t you go and play in the park?”
“OK then.” I said. “Do you know when she’ll be back? If it’s another week the garden will be even more of a mess.”
“I’m sorry son, I don’t know.”
I thought it was very odd that Mrs. Coomber went away and didn’t tell me. Mum never said she would be going away.
I got on my bike and cycled back home slowly. I was sad I didn’t get to see Mrs. Coomber and sad I didn’t get to tidy the garden and watch wrestling. Maybe she was on holiday or at a beach with real sand. Still, I hope she was having a nice time wherever she was. And I hope there was a dog there too.