For Pete's Sake
Photograph by Darrin Zammit Lupi, Story by Rose McGinty
Those eyes, they said it all. You didn’t need words and I wouldn’t have been able to hear them anyway as the car you were in sped away. I ran for a bit, trying to follow, ducking through legs on the crowded pavement, trying not to bump into the wares of shopkeepers, stacked right to the kerb. The jumble of limbs, smell of spices, slops of gutted fish in the road – I tried hard to not let them distract me, even that mangy ginger cat hissing as I ran past. But it didn’t matter, distractions or not, I couldn’t keep up with your car as it became just a mouse in the distance.
I heard her last night, your Mum, ‘For Pete’s sake, you’ll make other friends, real friends, I told you before.’
You argued with her, refused to box up your toys. She threatened you would just have to do without them as anything that didn’t get packed up right away would be left behind. Can you pack up a friendship? I wanted to know. What size box would it need?
You left the toys anyway and came out to play with me.
‘Let him be,’ said your Dad, ‘it’s their last night together.’
We climbed the fig tree.
You were up the fig tree the day we became friends. It’s juicy fruit attracted the birds and your grandmother was forever running out of the kitchen, waving a tea towel at them, spitting fearful curses. I’d heard rumours that if she caught any, then they ended up in a pie. If she could do that to birds, what might she do to me? It kept me from climbing over your garden wall and up into those enticing branches.
You were high in the dappled leaves, just a flash of sock and smile showing. You dared me. I couldn’t resist, took a running jump, scrambled over your garden wall and clambered up the tree to reach you. It was one of those bone-baking days where all you could do was find a shady spot and lie there, tell each other your life’s adventures. Plan some more. We bonded over our love of high places. Both wanted to be like a pair of swallows, swooping giddy on the currents.
I know it must seem strange, me wanting to be a bird, especially when I was the best jumper and climber in the neighbourhood anyway. I could never tell you why. It wasn’t the freedom. I could pretty much do as I pleased anyway. You always envied me that. Your parents kept you confined to the backyard, away from the cruel taunts. That’s why you climbed the fig tree, it gave you the illusion of slipping free. Mine, were long gone. I could roam the streets as much as I liked, and that’s exactly what your Mum didn’t like about me. I was feral and would lead you astray. If only she knew how we roamed the rooftops once the night came, and she thought you were tucked up in bed. Now, I can tell you why I want to be a bird, because then I could fly and I could have followed your car, you.
‘They’re always up that tree. It makes me nervous. He’s getting too big to go up that high, following that scrawny good for nothing. He needs open space, somewhere to run.’ Your Mum nagged your Dad. We heard, as we lay on the tiles above their open bedroom window. You promised me you’d never go. And if they made you go, then you’d run back across the rooftops to find me.
You argued with her over breakfast, telling her it wasn’t fair and you didn’t want a bigger garden and other friends. I was your friend. I was waiting for you outside, and wanted to roll around with joy at your words. But it was dusty and if your Mum opened the door and saw me covered in filth, there would be nothing you could say to persuade her of my suitability. I resisted the urge, stayed deep in the shadows listening for our reprieve. ‘For Pete’s sake, you need real friends. He won’t be loyal, his sort never are.’
Three weeks now I’ve been running over rooftops, climbed over the city wall, into the forest, out into the open fields, where the swallows circle. My envy of their view as sharp as a claw, a view that must include you, somewhere. Have you already forgotten me? Gone to find real friends, loyal friends? Should I just give up now?
No, those eyes. I see them before me and I run on.
Your new garden is big but there’s no fig tree and you’re not running around in all that space. You sit in the furthest corner, hunched. Your family sit on a bench at the other end, beside a large bush. They’re sitting with their backs to the open gate so they don’t see me slide in and slip within the bush.
‘It breaks my heart,’ says your Mum. ‘I thought the village boys would be kinder, not laugh at his different ways like they did in the city. I hoped he would find real friends here.’
‘They’re too young, they don’t understand he’s autistic,’ your Dad replies.
‘We should have stayed in the city, at least he had his little friend there,’ scolds your grandmother.
She’s not going to bake me in a pie, I can tell. I slink out from the bush, rub against her legs. She cries out to you,
‘Look, who’s here.’
‘For Pete’s sake,’ your Mum gasps.
You come running, bend down, and pick me up. I curl in your arms.
‘My friend, my true, loyal friend,’ you whisper.
‘Seeing as though he’s come all this way, he’d better stay,’ declares your Dad.
‘If he’s staying, then he needs a name,’ your Mum concedes, wiping away her tears and smiling at us both.
‘Pete,’ you say and I purr.
Rose McGinty is the author of Electric Souk, published in 2017 by Urbane Publications and Spokenword Audio. She lives in Kent and is a creative writing tutor and editor at Retreat West. Previously she worked for the NHS. She is an alumni of the Trinity College, Dublin and the Faber Academy. Rose has won a number of writing competitions and had short stories selected for anthologies. She is currently co-editing with Amanda Saint an anthology to celebrate one hundred years of women’s suffrage with Retreat West, in aid of Hestia. She also enjoys facilitating creative writing workshops in support of social causes. Rose is now completing her second novel, a thriller that has taken her to some rather gothic hospital corridors! @rosemcginty
is an award winning photographer from Malta. His work for Reuters has been published worldwide featuring in publications such as TIME, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Paris Match, Der Spiegel and others. He holds a Masters Degree with Distinction in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from the University of the Arts, London. Two books of his work have been published and his work forms part of the permanent collection at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Malta, as well as in private collections in different countries. See more of his work at @darrinzl