Sounding Line from Chapter 2

Nobody seemed to have noticed or cared that Pocket hadn’t gone to school. Both his father and Scratch had simply nodded when he came back downstairs without his schoolbooks. After breakfast, Wilf wandered off to Crosbey’s to look for a teapot. When he came back, “they’re all talking about aliens,” he said, and shook his head before holding up both hands, empty. “No teapots,” he said, then: “Call me if you need me. I’m goin out to the shed.”

Pocket, on his way back to his room with a mid-morning sandwich and a glass of milk, had paused to see his uncle sitting beside his mother’s bed, asking her opinion on this word or that as he filled in the boxes on the crossword puzzle in his lap, while beside him, Pocket’s mother murmured possible answers. Scratch looked up.

“Yer mother’s always been better at these than me,” he said.

“That’s because he doesn’t read near enough,” Merle told Pocket. “I hope yer goin up to study.”

Sitting on his bed, Pocket took a bite of peanut butter and jam. He opened the comic he’d dug out the night before and read the words on the inside cover:

Face the facts!
Our radar has tracked them!
Our scientists have seen them!
Our airmen have fought them!
What is the truth?
What is the mystery behind the weird objects that streak through our skies?

The cartoons were silly: Pocket could see that, now. But as a kid he’d been fascinated. He remembered wishing he could see something like that. There were times, he knew, when he’d have welcomed an alien abduction to another planet. Anywhere but Perry’s Harbour. He turned the page. In the first panel, a saucer-shaped object drifted above a city of skyscrapers.

Tucked inside the back cover was a drawing on lined schoolbook paper. Pocket had no recollection of it, but knew it to be his. He’d drawn himself waving from a flying saucer lifting off from the schoolyard. On the ground, three unrecognizable students and his teacher, Miss Zwicker, with tears splashing on the ground as she waved goodbye. He had loved Miss Zwicker, the only thing that had made school bearable. She had become quite round in the belly, he remembered, and was replaced before Christmas.

The drawing reminded Pocket of the sketchbook he’d had that year, the real art paper sketchbook Uncle Scratch had brought him from the city. He retrieved it from the closet and thumbed through idly, cringing at the clumsiness in the renderings of his ten-year-old hand, but intrigued by the memories his drawings conjured. Fantastic happenings in familiar settings. Their old dog, Biscuit, grown wings and a devil tail. A brontosaurus that reared its head between Cape Island fishing boats. He remembered his mother and father laughing over that one at the kitchen table. Happier times.

His drawings had been proudly displayed on the refrigerator, then. “When your father builds me some new cupboards,” his mother had told him, “we’ll put them up on the cupboard doors and have a real art show in here.”

“Can we invite Miss Zwicker?” Pocket remembered asking the question, but he couldn’t remember his mother’s answer.

Of course, Pocket now knew the reason for Miss Zwicker’s departure. What he really wanted to know was where she had gone. In a book, he thought, there was always an ending. In life it was not so clear. He closed the sketchbook and turned back to the comic book, propped himself on his bed, and read it as he finished his sandwich. Each story, he noticed, ended with a mystery.

…the case has never been put to rest.
…to this day, authorities wonder.
…no explanation has ever been found.

From the direction of the kitchen came a dull thump, then another. When he came downstairs, Pocket saw that Scratch had created some space on the arborite table and was kneading bread dough. As he whumped the dough on the table, small clouds of flour rose. Pocket liked the storebought bread better, but you couldn’t say something like that to Scratch.

“Where’s Dad?” Pocket asked, looking around the room at the chaos of his father’s new project. On the stove, a pot of beans simmered.
“Out in the back shed. Doin what, I don’t know. Came in for lunch and helped yer mum eat, helped her with her private stuff, went back out.”
Pocket sat down on a kitchen chair.  He pushed some of the loose flour into a small pile, then ran his finger through the centre.

“How is she, d’ya think?”


“Is it hurtin her?”

Scratch stopped kneading and looked up. “Yeah, Son. I ’magin it does. Mostly, I ’magin it hurts her not to be gettin up and doin for you. Or jus doin the things she likes to do. Must be killin her not to be out walkin, like she does. She used to cover miles.”


“And rowin out on the bay.”

“She hasn’t done that for a long time.”

“No, but she liked to row out to some spot with a picnic when you was small. Or just on her own sometimes, made yer dad some mad, though.” Scratch went back to the bread dough, talking between the push and pull of it. “Said she liked to be out in the middle of the Sound. Like she was in another world, she said. No laundry, no cookin.”

“Ya think she hates it so much? Cookin and stuff?”

“Nah. I think she’d give a lot to be in here doin this.”

Scratch’s muscles flexed in sinewy arms. On one forearm was a leaping tiger, but the fur on Scratch’s arm, now dusted white with flour, almost obliterated the animal’s striations.

“Didn’t have so much hair there when I was twenty,” Scratch had explained about the tattoo when Pocket had asked, once, curious. He’d have been nine or ten, he thought now, his uncle down for a visit, his mother making finnan haddie for dinner. He loved it when his Uncle came, loved the air of elsewhere he brought with him. And the joviality. After dinner, there would always be the slap of cards. Crazy eights with Scratch until Pocket’s bedtime, then the sound of Cribbage below while he lay in his bed listening: fifteen two, fifteen four, double run makes twelve and one for the jack.

“She’s a strong woman, yer mother,” Scratch said now. “Strong willed, always has been. Hard to say no to. Yer dad thought she was a fragile wee thing when he met her, but she soon proved her mettle. Wasn’t nothin she couldn’t do ’bout as well as anyone. She could split wood like a lumberjack.” He laughed. “Wouldn’t want to have an argument with yer mother when she has an axe in her hand.”

Pocket hated splitting wood. His aim was off, causing his mother to wonder if he needed glasses. As he watched Scratch work, he recalled the time—he was coming up to his twelfth birthday—when he’d sat in his usual spot on the second-from-top stair and heard his parents and Scratch talking in earnest tones. His mother’s voice:  He’s shyer’n hen’s teeth. He doesn’t play, just stays home drawin or readin; his dad’s voice: Could be worse. Could be getting into trouble like some a those hooligans over t’ the Island; and then his Uncle Scratch: leave him be, Merle. He’ll be himself, that’s all.

Roll, push, pound, flip. The motion of the bread as it was kneaded against the table’s green-flecked surface mirrored the roll of Scratch’s biceps. Pocket, mesmerized for a moment by the motion, shook himself back.

“Maybe Dad’s buildin cupboards.”

“Hmmph. That’d be something, wouldn’t it?”

A noise from the living room, and Scratch nodded to Pocket to go. Merle opened her eyes when he pulled the chair up beside. Her thin hair was in disarray and her colour pale, but her eyes were bright. Pocket smiled.

“Hello Dear,” she said. “My, that was a good sleep. I was dreaming…I was dreaming of…baking, I think. Do I smell yeast?”

“Uncle Scratch is making bread.”


Pocket sat there for a while, unsure of what to say, as always. Finally, “did you sleep well, Mum?” he asked.

“Oh, I always sleep well. Always have, ever since I was a little girl. We lived behind the firehall in South Head, did I tell you?” Pocket nodded. Of course he knew where his mother grew up. “Slept through every siren. Could sleep through the end of the world, I could.” Then: “Could you get your father? I need some freshening up, and then you come back and sit a while, wouldja, dear?”

In the shed, Wilf was swearing over a rusty t-square, chewed pencil gripped sideways in his teeth. He took it out and set it on the scarred bench. “My own dad always said I couldn’t make a square drift,” he said to Pocket. “’S’pose he was right. Ya think, Son?”

Pocket looked at the half-assembled cupboard.

“Mum wants you,” he said.

Wilf laughed. “Good answer.” He put his cigarette out. “She okay?”

“Yeah, think so.”

Pocket stood in the dim shed light feeling the cold rise through the dirt floor. Along one wall was stacked salvaged boards and plywood sheets of various shapes and sizes, all deemed useful at one time or another. His father’s workbench was cluttered with paint cans and stiff brushes, scattered tools and wires. The heavy glass ashtray was full of cigarette butts. A dark movement, accompanied by a sound like washing snapping on a line in a windstorm, and Pocket jumped and turned in time to see a barn swallow escape through a broken window into the fresh blue day.

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