Waifs and Strays

August 9, 2012

The sound of the doorbell followed by the bang of the front gate and the loud revving of a car engine brought Ellen McDonald out of her light sleep. Lately She found sleep harder to attain, a state not helped by her Husband’s snoring that seemed to echo through the house like a trumpet. Ellen glared at his sleeping form, his deep breathing showing her he was still in a deep sleep.

‘Bill, was that the door bell?’

Bill McDonald muttered an unintelligible reply and turned deeper into the dream in which he was watching Gina Lollobrigida emerging from the rolling surf and striding towards him with her arms wide to hug him tight.

Ellen sighed loudly, slipped out of bed and into her slippers, before going don to the door muttering ‘A fat lot of use you are Bill McDonald. If a burglar attacks me, then you’ll be sorry!’ The fact that burglars seldom ring doorbells, but usually prefer a quieter mode of entry and exit seemed to have escaped her.

Ellen stood at the door, her ear pressed tightly against the wood and listened intently. She thought She heard a small noise as She held her breath, her heart beating loudly in her chest ‘Who’s out there?’ She called but when She heard no reply, turned the large key and pulled the door open; hoping that if any one was standing there the sudden movement of the door would startle them

.

Her imagination had created all sorts of visions when she opened the door, A neighbour in trouble perhaps? The last thing She expected to see was the Moses basket on her step or the note that protruded from the bottom at the feet of a baby swaddled tightly in a blanket.

‘Bill! Bill! Will you get up! Someone has left a baby on our front step!’

Gina was just sliding down the straps of her bathing costume to allow him to admire her voluptuous attributes when Bill found himself being dragged away by the sound of his wife’s voice. Gine smiled sadly and began to pull the straps back up, ‘No don’t go, don’t go’.

‘I have to,’ she replied and then in Ellen’s voice ‘you better GET UP!’

Bill rolled out of bed and stumbled downstairs.

‘What is it Ellen? Has there been a fire? I have work in a couple of hours.’ He rubbed sleep from his tried eyes.

Ellen pursed her lips and thrust a note towards his hands ‘Read this!’

Bill glanced down at the note, ‘Alice you know I can’t see a thing without my glasses. What’s going on?’

Ellen took the note back ‘Listen to this “Mum, Dad no time to contact you. This is Moonchild, my son. I have a last minute chance to go to Ayia Napa with my pals so I am going. I am not dragging a baby with me, so you can look after your grandchild till I come home. Sun and Sand here I come! Jill”. That irresponsible wee bitch has dumped her son on us without a bye your leave!’

Bill glanced at the Moses basket that was still sitting in the doorway ‘Our Jill has had a baby?’ Blinking in confusion he lifted the basket and brought it into the house ‘We best get you inside wee man.’ carrying the basket into the living room where he placed it gingerly onto the floor.

‘I am a Grandpa’ he muttered as a small hand appeared from beneath the blankets and a thumb was pushed firmly into a waiting mouth. ‘I am a Grandpa’ he repeated and sat down heavily on the sofa.

‘What has that stupid, selfish girl done now. We haven’t seen or heard from her in over a year and now this. Ellen sat down next to Bill on the sofa, ‘What’ll we do now?’

Bill smiled and, looking towards the Moses basket. ‘We’ll look after the wee man as best as we can till his Mum comes back to get him.’

‘And if she doesn’t come back?’

‘She will be back. She may be wild and unpredictable, but she’ll be back in a couple of weeks and then we will get this fixed out.’

Ellen snorted ‘That daughter of yours! You always find excuses for her. In the mean time I will be left to cope whilst you swan off to work!’

‘Jill is your daughter too you know. Speaking of work I am up for an early and the wee man is asleep. Let’s try to grab a couple of hours. Somehow I think we will need it.’

‘Well lift him up and we can put the basket on to the bedroom floor. I will tell you one thing, no grandchild of mine is going to be called Moonchild. What kind of name is that! Let’s call him Robert, after my dad.’

‘Aye Bob is a good solid name. Come on then,’ he said picking up the basket ‘else the alarm will be going off before we even get back to bed.’.

————————————————————

Two weeks went past and Bill and Ellen looked after baby Bob as best as they could. Some days Ellen would mutter ‘I will have a few words to say to that madam when she gets back from swanning around on the Med.’ but Bill saw the loving glances that she would give Bob and he knew it wasn’t only the baby who was thriving.

The postcard, arrived with a soft plop on the door mat but it made a huge bang in their lives. Ellen read it in silence, then frowning handed it to Bill to Read

Dear Mum and Dad, Great news I have met someone who has helped me to get a job her for the rest of the season. Cyprus is great and I am having a great time. I will be back when the season is over so you will need to look after my boy for a while longer, Love Jill. P.S. Love to Moonchild!”

Ellen seethed ‘How are we supposed to manage. We are supposed to be finished with all of this baby stuff.’.

‘You know it keeps you young and Bob is no trouble is he?’

Bob gurgled in agreement and both Grandparents gazed at him lovingly.

————————————————————

Sixth months later a rapid knocking on the door preceded a hurried Jill.

‘Just here for Moonchild. Where is he?’

‘Fast asleep. Leave him and have let’s have a cuppa and a chat. Your Mum’s at the bingo with her sister.’

‘I know, She always goes on a Thursday at this time.’

Aye, but She’s not very well these days. It’s the boy that I sometimes think keep her going.’

‘If She isn’t well, all the more reason to take him home with me. Anyway I have a taxi outside and I can’t spend time here chatting. Where is he Dad?’

‘Look I will pay the Taxi, at least wait here and see your Mum. She worries about you.’

‘Sorry, Dad, but he is my Son and he is coming home with me.’

‘Your Mum will be heartbroken.’

Jill was losing patience ‘Dad!’

Bill felt his shoulders slump and pointed to Jill’s old bedroom ‘He’s in your room.’

With a flurry and a kiss on the cheek, Jill and Bob were gone, leaving Bill to explain to Ellen when She came home, what had happened.

————————————————————

Over the next few years a familiar pattern developed, Jill would bring Moonchild to her parents and then pretty much do what she wanted, then return and claim him. Ellen would frown and shake her head ‘Jillian you have to settle down!’ but Jill would just smile and shake her head

‘Not read for that yet, Mum. There’s a big world out there and I want my share.’

The pattern changed just before Bob’s fifth birthday. Jill had met a new man,

‘He’s the one, the real thing.’

The trouble was the new man didn’t want to raise another man’s child.

‘Schools are good here and Moonie needs to settle and get some Schooling.’

‘Only if he stays here full-time, you can come and visit, but the boy stays here.’

‘But Mum, this might give me time for Gary to change his mind.’

‘No He stays here with us and you get some papers drawn up by a lawyer to prove that or it’s no.’

And so it was agreed. The papers were issued and duly signed and Bob was moved back into Jill’s bedroom, which was now Bob’s room.

————————————————————

Bob wasn’t what you would describe as a bad boy; like all children He got into the odd bit of mischief, but nothing Ellen couldn’t deal with. His Teachers thought him as a pleasant, though rather dreamy child who often had to be reminded of the task at hand. Ellen, however, trusted him completely, so that by the age of eight he was allowed to walk to and from School alone.

Now mind you don’t go down by the Canal’ She would remind him every morning and he would agree with her wise words, though he was often tempted to take a peek and see what it was he was meant to stay away from.

Everything would have been fine, if it hadn’t been for another boy in his class, Tommy. For some reason Tommy didn’t like Bob and if Tommy didn’t like him, neither did his friends Asif and Paul. Mostly this took the form, of pushes and name-calling and Bob would do his best to avoid the three boys. A challenge when they were classmates, but somehow, he managed. It all came to the boil when Asif saw Bob talking to Carol, the girl that Tommy adored and called his girlfriend. Asif rushed to tell Tommy what he had seen, Bob chatting Carol up, though what he had actually saw was Carol asking Bob for an eraser.

Right. We will get him after school. I’ll teach him to try to kop off with my girlfriend!’

The School bell rang signalling the end of the day and all the children hopped, skipped ran or walked sedately (if a Teacher was nearby) out of the School gates where someone waited to escort them home.

Bob had seen his three enemies whispering together and watching him as they went from lesson to lesson. Something felt wrong and he made up his mind to avoid meeting them when School was finished. He knew there was no point calling home as his Grandpa would be at work and Grandma Ellen would tell him to face up to the bullies and stand his ground. Fight back against Tommy and his gang, he thought, that’s never going to happen.

When the bell rang Bob hurried to the rear of the School. He had heard of a gap in the fence that the Council were supposed to have mended, but so far hadn’t. The Head Teacher had promised real trouble to any child who loitered near that gap or trying to squeeze through to leave the School grounds. Worse, behind the fence was the forbidden Canal, but though he felt guilty for breaking his promise, that seemed better than walking out to face the bullies outside the School gates.

Outside the gates the gang waited for Bob to appear, laughing and exchanging ideas on how they were going to make him pay. As the crowd thinned to the few remaining stragglers, they rushed into the playground to search for him.

Where is he?’ snarled Tommy, scanning around the playground.

Just then Mrs. Robinson, the Head Teacher appeared from the building. She had spotted the three boys from her Office window and wondered why they had re-entered the school.

What are you boys doing here? Not going home? You know the School policy is for Pupils to leave straight for home unless they are a club member.’ Mrs. Jones loved after School clubs and activities. She would have enrolled the whole School in one or another if She had the authority to do it,

The Boys grimaced and replied in unison ‘Nothing, Miss’.

Mrs. Robinson scowled ‘Then get yourselves off home and don’t dawdle on the way.’ She turned to walk away and whirled back as the boys sighed in relief ‘Get moving then.’

Tommy glanced around ‘Come on boys, we can settle this tomorrow. He won’t find getting away so easy next time.’

————————————————————

Bob hurried along the overgrown towpath that ran adjacent to the Canal. When he was out of sight of School and realised that there was no one following behind, he slowed down to catch his breathe and look around. From his history lessons he remembered that the Forth and Clyde Canal had been constructed to link the two mighty Scottish rivers and had been heavily used until the coming of the railroads. The final nail in its coffin was the decision not to build bridges over it when motorways began their relentless sprawl across the country. Much of its length lay derelict and neglected, regeneration lying far into the future. The water was stagnant, green pond wee growing in the water and trees branches overhung the water creating shaded patterns on its surface.

Bob tried to imagine the boats chugging to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh; a time when big ships could still sail up the Clyde, before silt prevented them, and the Ship Yards still produced mighty ships that sailed around the globe. History fascinated him and he would lose himself in stories of the past.

He was walking along day dreaming when he thought he heard a small noise. He stopped and listened intently and was about to move off, thinking he had imagined it, when he heard the sound again. He moved carefully to the edge of the Canal, worried he lost his footing and fell in, trying to find the source of the noise. Floating in the water was a brown sack, that had got snagged on a low hanging branch at the edge of the Canal. Bob knew he couldn’t reach it, gazing around for something to help him pull it towards him. Underneath one of the trees he found a large branch that he used the hook the branch and drag it in from the water.

The sack was heavy with water that spilled from it as he lifted it to the bank, its contents still and silent. After much effort he opened the bag and out spilled four white puppies. Bob felt tears spring to his eyes as he looked at the small, still bodies. He began to stroke them, one after another, thinking them dead, but as he touched the final puppy he felt a faint fluttering beneath his hand. He lifted the puppy and vigorously rubbed its back, the puppy gave a small gasp and water ran out of its mouth. Bob quickly opened his schoolbag and pulled out the jumper his mother insisted that he wear every day in case he felt cold. He wrapped it around the little dog and looked sadly at the other dead puppies. ‘I need to leave you just now as I can help this wee one, not you. I am sorry. I will come back.’ Covering the puppies with the sack, he lifted up his bag and, carefully carrying the puppy, he hurried home.

As he got nearer home, he found himself slowing down. What will Gran think? He wondered. He sometimes felt she would rather He wasn’t living with them and this was an extra mouth to feed and a four legged one at that. Bob decided there was only one way to handle thing, smuggle the puppy into his bedroom and hide him there. The puppy was showing small signs of recovery; his breathing was deeper and more steady, his coat nearly dry. ‘Good dog,’ he whispered ‘just stay quiet until I get you upstairs.’ He dropped his bag on the floor ‘Just going upstairs to my room, Gran.’ And ran upstairs.

Ellen heard his feet thundering as he ran upstairs ‘I hope you have taken your shoes off, young man.’

Gingerly Bob slipped his feet out of his shoes ‘Yes Gran!’

He put the puppy, which was still asleep, on to his bed. ‘Stay there, I need the toilet, I am bursting.’

Ellen stood in the kitchen mulling over Bob’s behaviour when he came home. He never ran upstairs to his room like that; instead he was always hungry, bursting to know when his dinner was or to impart some piece of arcane knowledge that he had gleaned in his school day. No, She thought, something isn’t right. Ellen walked quietly upstairs, avoiding the creaky step that Bob and Bill always stepped on. She put her ear to the door and listened.

Come on, wake up wee man.’

Ellen, nodded grimly, She knew something was going on. Without knocking She thrust open the door as Bob guiltily jumped away from the small dog curled up on his bed.’

What’s going on here?’ here eyes took in the scene ‘Where did you get that puppy?’

I found him in the canal.’

The Canal! We will talk about that later. Go and get my hot water bottle and put on the kettle, this one needs some heat.’ Bob dashed from the room, so didn’t hear Ellen whisper ‘and his mother.’ She looked at the puppy stretched out on the bed ‘Poor wee thing did someone try to drown you?’. Carefully She scooped the puppy into her arms, ‘I don’t know what we will feed you on. I’ll ask Pat next door, he keeps greyhounds.’

Downstairs She swaddled the puppy in an old towel and placed him onto the hot water bottle. ‘Go next door and ask Pat what a puppy needs for food. I am sure cows’ milk would just kill it.’ Whilst Bob was away She looked at the puppy wondering what to do with him, knowing She couldn’t, or wouldn’t keep him.

Bob hurried back with a baby bottle and a bag, ‘He said we needed Puppy Formula and that we are lucky as He has some left over from when one of his bitches couldn’t produce enough milk for her litter.’ He held everything up for Ellen to view ‘And he says He can get more from the pet shop when he goes down there later. You can pay him when he comes over with it.’

Ellen nodded, wondering how bets to break it to Bob that they couldn’t keep the puppy. She rested her hand on it’s side, a small eye fluttered open, the puppy weakly raised his head and a warm tongue briefly touched the back of her hand, before his head sank back again. Something melted inside Ellen and She resolved that the Puppy was her dog and would be staying.

By the time that Bill came home, the puppy was sitting up and taking notice of his surroundings. Bob and Ellen were already in competition for his affections.

Who is this then?’

The story tumbled out of Bob, with much shaking of adult heads and scowls when they heard the actions of the bullies. Finally Bill nodded ‘I am glad you owned up to going down to the Canal, you know you aren’t allowed there. But I can see why you did it and I am sure this youngster is glad you did. As for these Bullies, I think maybe I should go down to School and see about them.’

No’ chimed Bob and Ellen in unison.

Grandpa you will only make things worse.’

The boy is right, Bill. Besides He has to face these thugs himself. We can’t be there every day.’

Aye but the Teachers are and they should do their job.’

And what about this wee chappie? I don’t suppose we have room for another waif and stray.’ Ellen gave Bill one of her looks over the top of her glasses at which point He knew that the fight was over.

Please let me keep him.’ Pleaded Bob

Ellen?’

I suppose we could, providing a certain boy helps to look after him and still does all his Schoolwork.’

I will, Gran. What will we call him/’ asked Bob, full of excitement.

Bill looked at Ellen, his heart bursting with pride at the kindness of his wife and in unison, Bill and Ellen both said ‘Lucky.’

Aye,’ said Bill ‘It was his lucky day when you found him. Now you best show me where the rest of these puppies are before it get dark. I want to give them a decent burial. I do hate cruelty, especially to poor animals.’

————————————————————

Bob hurried to school, full of news of his puppy. Not having yet acquired the awkward gracelessness that visits and plagues so many teenagers, (that would plague him during his years in secondary school), he happily told the tale to anyone who would listen. One person who seemed to listen attentively to every retelling was Carol.

Tommy looked on, furious at the attention that Tommy was earning.

‘I am gonna have him. He is pan bread.’

‘Tommy, he isn’t worth getting expelled for. I don’t want that on my record, I need it clean to get into university when I am older.’

Tommy snorted ‘Swot! He’s with my girlfriend and rubbing my nose in it. He’s gonna get a kicking.’

Tommy watched and waited. He wanted to make sure that Tommy wouldn’t escape from him again at the end of the day, hoping to get his revenge in the crush of bodies leaving the school gates.

Bob could was aware that Tommy was watching him. Every time he turned around, he saw his frowning face. But Bob had decided he wouldn’t run away, not this time.

When the school bell rang Tommy and his friends were waiting for Bob outside the school gates. Bob pushed past the gang, aiming to ignore them.

‘Where do you think you are gaun?’

‘Home’ he answered simply.

‘No tae I have a wee word.’ replied Tommy with a smirk.

‘Make it bye, bye then.’ laughed Bob as he made to leave.

‘I will gee you bye bye ya cheeky wee arse hole.’Tommy made a grab at Bob who lashed out with his right hand connecting to Tommy’s left cheek with a satisfying smack.

‘You’ve done it now.’ gasped Asif

The boys’ fists and feet were flying as a cordon of children bunched around shouting ‘fight, fight.’ in the manner of all playground squabbles. As Carol pushed her way through she could see that Bob was getting the worst of it.

‘Leave him alone, Tommy.’ she called in to the mass.

‘He deserves a kicking.’

‘You are a bully, I hate you.’ shouted Carol as she reached in to pull Tommy away from Bob. He pushed her off and turned towards her, his fist raised.

‘Want a bit of what he got then?’ he moved menacingly towards Carol.

Suddenly Paul grasped him from behind, pinning his arms to his side. ‘We don’t hit girls.’

‘Whose side are you on.’

‘Not your if you hit girls.’ replied Paul, tightening his grip.

Tommy squirmed, ‘I will hit you in a minute.’

Something glinted in Paul’s eyes ‘Do you think you could try it. Come ahead big man, give it a go.’

He let go fo Tommy, who saw the look in his eyes ‘Another time when I am ready, you will be sorry. Come on Asif, let’s leave these losers.’

Asif shook his head ‘Naw I think I will stay here a bit longer, then I better get home.’

‘You as well! Well I don’t need neither of you.’

‘Teacher’ called someone from the crowd which suddenly began to disperse as quickly as it had formed, leaving only Bob and Carol.

As he moved away Paul called over his shoulder ‘Haw Bob, don’t worry, he will leave you alone in future, I will make sure of it.’

Mr Hargreaves stormed towards them.

‘What’s going on here?’

‘Nothing, sir, I fell.’ Bob knew better than to “grass up” a fellow pupil.

‘Fell?’ Mr Hargreaves snorted.

‘Yes, sir.’

Mr Hargreaves turned to Carol ‘Well what happened?’

‘I think he must have fallen, sir, I didn’t see.’

‘He must have fallen repeatedly to get into that state. I suppose whomever fell with you will tell the same tale. In future can you do your falling away from the school gates. Off home the pair of you.’ with a snort Mr Harbreaves was gone.

Carol helped Bob up ‘You can’t go home like that, your gran will have a canary. You’d best come back to ours and get cleaned up.’

‘Where do you stay then?’

Carol pointed to a green gate across the street ‘Just over there. Maybe I could come to yours and see the puppy late?’

Bob grinned broadly.

————————————————————

Several weeks later a letter arrived, post marked Milton Keynes.

Dear Mum,

As you can see I have moved again and am settled down south to give life down here a chance. Everything is going well. I have a nice new flat, though I do hate all of the roundabouts here

I love the shops. I was rummaging and found Moonie’s birth certificate, so thought you best have it as you might need it in future! Tell him I love him.

Love

Jill

Ellen felt her heart beat faster as she opened up the folded sheet of paper expecting to find under his name Moonchild or some other new age nonsense. Instead she read, Robert William McDonald. Ellen laughed, so Bob really was a Robert after all. She decided to show him later, when he came back from walking Lucky, along with Carol, naturally.

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