The Back of the Scythe Works – Belbroughton

Bronwen Griffiths

 

It’s a sunny day when Geoffrey Hoskins stabs Tony Owen with a rusty penknife. The whole incident is all over the school in five minutes flat. Like a wildfire.

No one is surprised because Geoffrey Hoskins is a gypsy and everyone knows what gypsies do. They steal the clothes off your back. They even steal babies. And they smell bad, like old smoke and farts.

The village gypsies live in caravans down the back of the scythe works. Washing hanging on lines tied to sticks. Rusty old caravans with broken windows. Dogs too. They have lots of dogs. Scary ones with big teeth. Barking dogs. Chained-up dogs. Howling dogs.

There’s one caravan that’s different. It’s wooden and painted pretty colours and there are flowers on the step. Not that we go that far. My brother and I peer from a safe distance. Anyhow, gypsies are bad and Geoffrey Hoskins has stabbed Tony Owen. Mind you, Tony might have deserved it. Might have. I’m not saying. Neither of them are in my class.  I’m not that old or that big, not yet.

After the incident, Geoffrey Hoskins vanishes. I don’t think anyone goes looking for him. Anyhow it’s not as though Tony Owen is about to die or anything. I think he goes to the school nurse. Maybe he gets a jab. I don’t know.

The hubbub soon dies down. The school holidays come around. The nettles grow tall and the water in the pool recedes, leaving muddy edges. I get sick eating too many strawberries.

*

At the end of July my brother and I start looking for Geoffrey Hoskins. We look for him at Hill Pool. Along the cinder track where the old rusted containers live. The rotten oak tree. The back of the New Inn. The cricket pavilion. We even walk as far as Pepper Wood.

It’s silly, I say, looking for Geoffrey Hoskins in all these places. We have to go to the caravans where the dogs are. That’s where he’ll be.
My brother doesn’t want to go there. He’s scared of dogs. I’m scared of dogs. Especially ones that bark.
I say if we take biscuits the dogs won’t mind us.
What about the gypsies, my brother says. They steal babies.
You’re not a baby, I say.
He starts crying. You are a baby, I say.

*

But the caravans are gone. All that’s left are patches of yellow grass, an old mattress and a pile of half-burnt rubbish. And the things is, the gypsies never come back. Years pass and they don’t return. The scythe works closes. The New Inn turns into a restaurant, then a private house. The rusty oil containers vanish. Even the strawberry fields disappear. As for Geoffrey Hoskins, who knows? Though I do wonder if he remembers stabbing Tony Owen with a rusty penknife and if there was any good reason.
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Biography

Bronwen Griffiths grew up in the West Midlands. She now lives on the East Sussex/Kent border. Her collection of stories Not Here Not Us, exploring the crisis in Syria, came out in 2017 – a result of working with refugees and Syria Solidarity UK. Bronwen’s debut novel A Bird in the House (set in an English country garden and war-torn Libya) was published in 2014. A new novel, Here Casts No Shadow, will be published by Matador in April 2018.

www.bronwengriff.co.uk