Mum always said I was simple but vain: a lethal cocktail in her book. Granddad said I was ‘as smug us a bug in a rug’; whatever that meant. But I’ve always had this notion that I could be a hero, something, someone to look up to, a pinnacle.
‘An icon, lad,’ Mum said. ‘They call this an icon.’
‘Not on a plinth to stare up at, but a fully fledged blood and guts hero.’
‘So how do I do it?’
‘Do it?’ Mum said. ‘You’re crackers, lad. Just stop with all the dirty talk, your brain is made up of crumbs: crackers plain and simple, that’s what you are.’
Jacob’s Cream my brother used to call me. Only he meant it in a sly, saucy Old Testament way.
‘You’ll end up with a permanent spot on Looney Tunes like your brother if you don’t shut down the hero talk!’ Mum warned.
My brother had shut it down. He’d followed the words of an angry bishop who said radical Muslims were damaging status quo. Devoted to Saint Francis (Rossi,) my brother tried to crucify our neighbour, Mister Khan’s cat. Cat would have none of it and backed him up in an alleyway and clawed at his face.
I visited him by his new bed in his new room. ‘Cover my foot in coal dust and hand me a bandana,’ Granddad used to say to us when we were small. We had no idea what he meant but it always made us laugh. I tried the line again but my brother didn’t even smile.
‘Still spitting crumbs, Jacob?’ he asked, rubbing the scratches on his cheeks.
When it was clear he wasn’t returning, I tried to shut down the hero impulses for good but the hero words just kept coming.
* * *
Many years later, Mrs Vance, who lived next door, got herself in a spot of bother.
‘I’ve got myself in a spot of bother, Thomas.’ (that’s my name. Please, remember it!)
Sidney Groat was a moneylender, old school. Kneecap Sid some called him: one tap on each knee with a hammer for each day you were late with a payment. Mrs Vance was four days late, plastic hips, plastic kneecaps and all. ‘Call me the bionic woman,’ she used to say whilst pulling out her dentures, and then holding them above her head to make chopping shapes in the clouds.
‘Could you help an old woman in distress, Thomas?’ she asked.
‘I’ll sort it, whatever it is!’ I said.
I lay in wait for his next visit. Tap he went on Mrs Vance’s door, which I was sure she felt as a threat deep in her (knee) bones.
I burst out of a bush with my nephew’s Spiderman mask on. ‘Step back, Mister Groat or you’ll be spinning in my web and eating worms for dinner,’ (another of Granddad’s phrases).
‘Who, the fuck are you?’
‘Jacob Cream,’ I said.
He laughed, and this gave me my chance.
I took out my carrier bag (‘5p, daylight bloody robbery!’ Mum would have said if she were still alive), and pulled it over his head and tied. His arms waved, his face made moving shadows inside the bag, an angry wide mouth. He fell onto his knees after a while.
Mrs Vance stepped out. ‘What have you gone and done? I only meant you to warn him off!’
Hard this hero stuff, hard to know where to draw the line. I didn’t fancy ending up sitting on a hospital bench next to my brother making hedgehogs from pinecones so I ran.
Mrs Vance helped Mister Groat up and they looked down the street to see if they could spot me. Mrs Vance should have got out her dentures, I was high up in the trees beside the clouds.
I’m up here now. If you look carefully you can see fine crumbs falling from the sky when I speak. And if you’re in trouble, I’ll stop talking and come down and help you. Like most heroes I’m a better listener than talker anyway, ‘a transistor radio with knobs on and no battery inside’, as Granddad used to say.
Short Story // Cream Crackers
Alan McCormick lives with his family by the sea in Wicklow. He’s been writer in residence at Kingston University’s Writing School and for the charity, InterAct Stroke Support. His fiction has won prizes and been widely published, including in Salt’s Best British Short Stories, Confingo, The Bridport Prize anthology, online at 3:AM and the époque press ezine ‘Illumination’. His short story collection, Dogsbodies and Scumsters, was long-listed for the 2012 Edge Hill Prize.
He also writes shorter pieces, known as Scumsters, in response to pictures by Jonny Voss, who provided the tile illustration for Cream Crackers.
See more at www.dogsbodiesandscumsters.wordpress.com