We’ve been slinking down the back alleys of all the empty houses on the block. It’s quite good, counting how far along the terrace the house with the ‘To Let’ sign is, then going round the back and figuring out which is its gate. There was one with a load of mouldy furniture piled like Jenga beneath the kitchen window, one with a ferocious dog and one with a gate that swung open so that Tom fell into the yard when he tried to peer through it.
“I think we should stop this now Mum,” he said, standing up and brushing himself down, “people might fink we’re burgallohs.”
He was right. And none of them had yards much bigger than ours anyway. So, I went back to thinking we should stay put and pay off some debt.
Then, last night, when I collected Tom from his holiday club, we walked down our alley and someone had tried to blow up a wheelchair outside our back gate.
“What is it Mum?”
There was the wheelchair, with a big hole in the seat, lots of white ash flakes and some cans of Lynx.
“Someone has tried to set fire to a wheelchair.”
“Why did somebody try to set fire to a wheelchair?”
“I don’t know.”
We went to the supermarket and tried to buy light bulbs. That’s the other thing about our house. It has those fancy halogen spotlights which are impossible to replace, unless you’re ten feet tall and patient. And every time one blows, the power to the entire upstairs / downstairs goes. Invariably it happens when I come in from a night out. I have to feel around in the dark electrics box with its spindly spiders and slug trails. I feel like I am stuck in a never-ending cycle of forking out for expensive light bulbs and sitting in the dark, psyching myself up to shove my hand in the cupboard of horrors or climb up the wobbly step ladders. (I have three main fears: the dark, spiders and heights.)
The supermarket didn’t have the right light bulbs and it was dusk by the time we got home again. Children were pushing each other fast along the cobbles in the burnt-out wheelchair. Last weekend, we stayed in a beautiful Somerset Farmhouse (a prize I won) and I’d watched Tom running round the garden with the little boy who lives there. He got really excited when he found a legless cricket and some blackberries and I got the countryside guilt again.
The dark nights are coming on quick and I realised it was bin night too late. I promised to read Tom a story right after I’d put the rubbish out. I opened the back gate and the wheelchair had gone. It was black and scary and I saw something moving and jumped. It was a hedgehog. Some teenage girls were passing and I pointed it out to them and they screamed, said it might bite them and ran away. When I was a child, we were always seeing hedgehogs in our garden. I ran back inside and told Tom to grab his torch and my camera and come with me. He thought it was magic and so did I. I picked it up and put it in the bushes so it didn’t get kicked or run over by the burnt-out wheelchair. Tom called it Ryan. After I washed my hands, I could still feel the prickles on my palms. I put Tom to bed and he did dot-to-dot on the tiny red dints in my skin.
“Fanks for showing me Ryan. You’re the best Mum I’ve ever had.”