‘The Airliner’

“Higher . . higher!”

Nige is starting to sound out of breath.   The irrigation pipe is very heavy, even with Glen and Dan holding it too.   They are lifting it towards the sky, while Nige and I try to keep a hold of the other end, on our knees, banging it on the ground to try and get the rabbit out.   It’s really hard to do because we’ve been doing it for so long.   My arms, shoulders and back are aching and I don’t know if I can do this much longer.   I wish I could swap with Dan.
“Higher, higher!”

Nige is starting to sound angry.   He’s the oldest, sixteen, so he decides what we do, mainly, and we don’t mess with him.   Even though Glen is much bigger.   Dan say’s it’s all those burgers and fries Glen eats.   This is worse than the medicine ball at school, I think my arms are going to drop off.
The rabbit must have Velcro feet, as it’s holding on no matter what we do.   Rabbits.   Good pocket money if you can get them.   Nigel taught us; his dad works on the farm.   Find a field where they’ve laid irrigation pipes out, in the trenches between the potatoes or beet or whatever.   They lay the pipes there so they’re ready for when the water sprayer has finished in another field.   If the rabbits get scared they run for the nearest cover, the nearest hole, if they’re too far away from their warren.
We always check out the fields first, watch the rabbits, sometimes for days, to see where they come from, where their warrens are.   In this field they were in the hedge near the road.   So we ran at them from the hedge.   As they couldn’t run to the warrens they ran into the pipes mostly, though some ran all the way to the hedge at the other end of the field.   Nige said they’ll sit in the pipes for hours, terrified until it gets dark and they feel safer.
Rabbit is good eating; I love Mum’s rabbit stew and dumplings.   But the butcher in town will pay 40p for a myxi -free body.   And my Uncle Mike will pay more for a live one.   He breeds ‘em in stacked cages in his back garden.   He’s virtually self-sufficient, has a goat for milk and everything.   Uncle Mike says caught rabbits never have to worry about food again.   They’re caged and healthy and eat well. They eventually get eaten but Uncle Mike reckons they live longer and have a much happier life.   He says they get fat and lazy, like Auntie Ju in front of the telly on a Saturday night.
You have to watch Auntie Ju.   If you sit still near her for too long she’ll eat you, that’s what Uncle Mike says – but he’s only having a laugh.   Wild rabbits are a nightmare to handle.   Often you end up killing ‘em anyway, rather than suffer their kicking and scratching and biting.   Yeah, they bite! Wouldn’t you?
“Higher, higher!”

It’s going to slip from my sweaty hands soon if I’m not careful. Actually the sweat from my forehead is beginning to sting my eyes.   I wanted to come at dusk but Glen said he’d been watching and you get more in the centre of the field at midday, as long as nobody’s walking their dog or anything.   Nige reckons Glen’s more worried about seeing his Dad later, wants to get it over and done with.
Glen’s dad works at the American base, refuelling planes or fixing ‘em or something.   The planes have been busy since the shooting down.;  since the Soviets shot down that Korean airliner.   There was war in Korea before, years ago.   Uncle Bob went, so my Mum and Auntie Hazel say.   But he never talks about it.

He’s a real joker, Uncle Bob.   Tells you things about Auntie and Mum that make you cry you’re laughing so much.   But he never talks about Korea and the army.   Not even if you ask him.   Mum says it’s official secrets.
Dad says the Soviets might drop the bomb because of the airliner. He says they’re trigger happy, like the Yanks.
“Higher, higher!”

The pipe is almost vertical; if it goes any higher it’s gonna twist my hands off.   They hurt so much.   I feel the pipe moving again.   And then blackness.
Sudden, pitch blackness.   And a tingling in my head.   I can’t hear or see anything.   But I remember feeling and hearing a bang.   No, not a bang, more like a vibration through my head.   Like a . . pulse.   Yeah, like a pulse.   Like those pulses the Soviets and Yanks have.   Those magnetic pulses.
They’ve done it!   They’ve dropped the bloody bomb!
I thought I’d be scared, but I’m not.   I’m dead so it doesn’t matter.   If they’ve killed me with the pulse then they’ve killed everyone.   Even the small pulses travel miles, my big brother said.   He’s in the navy, and he said you even get them at sea.   They train for them and everything.   They’re big, even if they’re small.   So, if they got me then they got Dan.   They got Mum and they got Dad.   They got everyone at home.
They got everyone.   ‘Cept maybe my big brother, Paul.   He’s on Battleaxe . . HMS Battleaxe.   It’s miles away.   And it’s a big ship.   And they train for it and everything.   Unless a pulse got the Indian Ocean too, then Paul might be alright.   He might even be fighting the Soviet Navy right now.   He said they follow them.   Sometimes they follow Battleaxe, and sometimes Battleaxe follows them.   Paul will be alright  –  he’s navy.
I can see.   My head is fuzzy but I can see.   As I lift my head I feel dirt falling away from the side of my face.   It’s in my eye and in my mouth.   I haven’t tasted dirt since I was a boy.   I feel drunk.
I got drunk on a bottle of rum once, that one of the working boys in the village traded me for two quid.   He won three of them in the summer fayre tombola.   He only needed two.   It was me, my mate Tom, his friend Alex and a Yank called Paula.  We all sat in a corn field and drank it.   Tom had brought along a ‘concoction’ too, in a milk bottle.   He said it was a bit of everything from the tops of the bottles in his parents’ drinks cabinet (they’re well off and don’t live on the estate).   Tom said that if he took a bit of everything that they had then they didn’t notice that he’d taken anything.   The concoction tasted horrible and burned my throat.   And it made my head swim when I drank it.   It sent Paula silly.   I used to fancy her like crazy but she got so giggly she pissed herself and stank. I didn’t fancy her after that.
My head is clearing a bit but it still feels fuzzy  . I spit twice to get the crunchy dirt out of my mouth.   My hands and knees are stinging like crazy.   I turn my palms up and find they’re bright red, they look really sore, and they burn.   My knees.   There are holes in my jeans, burnt holes, I can smell it.   Nige is on his back.   He has burnt knees too.   I can’t see his palms.

Nige’s dead. His eyes are open and staring.   And his mouth is open, his tongue hanging out one side.
“You ok?” says my brother Dan.   I hadn’t noticed him walk over, or that I could hear again.
“Yeh, Nige’s dead.”  I say.
“Fuck Nige.”   Dan slaps my shoulder and runs off.   Dan; two years younger than me, yet since we’d been in high school together I’d always felt like he was older.   Like he was the one looking out for me.   Odd that he’s running away.   No, not away, running towards Glen.   Glen, who’s running like a sprinter down the field towards us . . chasing the rabbit!
Glen dives forward, arms outstretched and jumps up clutching the kicking little fucker to his chest.   And he and Dan are laughing like idiots, and Dan slaps him on the back too.   They walk over to me . . just as Nige starts to scream. I mean scream like a girl!   He’s the oldest of us, sixteen, and he’s laying there screaming like a girl.   Dan squats down next to him and starts shaking him, slaps him in the face a couple of times.   He finally stops screaming.
“Shock”  says Glen.
Dan walks back over to me, squats and brings his face right up to mine, staring at me a while.   “You’ll be ok.”  he says and points up, then flashes his own red palms at me.   I look up to see the three neat power cables spanning the sky above our heads.   “Shit!”   I say.

Nine hours later and we’re sat round Nige’s.   His mum and dad are the coolest.   They’ve been giving us Marlboros and whisky-laced tea for a couple of hours now.   I have a buzz on.   It’s gone ten and getting dark. Glen left earlier to see his dad.   Nige is upstairs in bed. Dan and I sit talking and watching telly with his folks.
Glen was right, the doctor said Nige had been shocked but he’d be ok.   Hell, we’d all been shocked.   But Nige really wasn’t dealing with it well.   We all had ointment for our hands;  Nige and I for our knees. Nige’s dad said the pipe must have been touching the ground when it hit the power line, otherwise we’d all be toast.   He’d persuaded the doctor to see us too, without telling my mum.   The burns weren’t that bad he said, although my knees would probably scab over.
Nige’s mum had washed my knees and applied the ointment.   We’d have to go home soon enough.   Mum will be upset we missed tea.   I don’t like upsetting mum, but she never hits us.   Dad’s away so we won’t get a kicking.

Nige’s mum sits down next to me again and starts checking my palms.   The feel of her warm, smooth hands is wonderful.   If I was older, I’d marry her.


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