The peaches

The grass-green cart, with 'J. Jones, Gorsehill' painted shakily on it, stopped in the cobblestone passage between 'The Hare's Foot' and 'The Pure Drop.' It was late on an April evening. Uncle Jim, in his black market suit with a stiff white shirt and no collar, loud new boots, and a plaid cap, creaked and climbed down. He dragged out a thick wicker basket from a heap of straw in the corner of the cart and swung it over his shoulder. I heard a squeal from the basket and saw the tip of a pink tail curling out as Uncle Jim opened the public door of 'The Pure Drop.'
     "I won't be two minutes," he said to me. The bar was full; two fat women in bright dresses sat near the door, one with a small, dark child on her knee; they saw Uncle Jim and nudged up on the bench.
     "I'll be out straight away," he said fiercely, as though I had contradicted him, "you stay there quiet."
     The woman without the child raised up her hands. "Oh, Mr Jones," she said in a high laughing voice. She shook like a jelly.
     Then the door closed and the voices were muffled.
     I sat alone on the shaft of the cart in the narrow passage, staring through a side window of 'The Hare's Foot.' A stained blind was drawn half over it. I could see into half of a smoky, secret room, where four men were playing cards. One man was huge and swarthy, with a handlebar moustache and a love-curl on his forehead; seated by his side was a thin, bald, pale old man with his cheeks in his mouth; the faces of the other two were in shadow. They all drank out of brown pint tankards and never spoke, laying the cards down with a smack, scraping at their matchboxes, puffing at their pipes, swallowing unhappily, ringing the brass bell, ordering more, by a sign of the fingers, from a sour woman with a flowered blouse and a man's cap.
     The passage grew dark too suddenly, the walls crowded in, and the roofs crouched down. To me, staring timidly there in a dark passage in a strange town, the swarthy man appeared like a giant in a cage surrounded by clouds, and the bald old man withered into a black hump with a white top; two white hands darted out of the corner with invisible cards. A man with spring-heeled boots and a two-edged knife might be bouncing towards me from Union Street.
     I called, "Uncle Jim, Uncle Jim," softly so that he should not hear.
     I began to whistle between my teeth, but when I stopped I thought the sound went hissing on behind me. I climbed down from the shaft and stepped close to the half-blind window; a hand clawed up the pane to the tassel of the blind; in the little, packed space between me on the cobbles and the card-players at the table, I could not tell which side of the glass was the hand that dragged the blind down slowly. I was cut from the night by a stained square. A story I had made in the warm, safe island of my bed, with sleepy midnight Swansea flowing and rolling round outside the house, came blowing down to me then with a noise on the cobbles. I remembered the demon in the story, with his wings and hooks, who clung like a bat to my hair as I battled up and down Wales after a tall, wise, golden, royal girl from Swansea Convent. I tried to remember her true name, her proper, long, black-stockinged legs, her giggle and paper curls, but the hooked wings tore at me and the colour of her hair and eyes faded and vanished like the grass-green of the cart that was a dark, grey mountain now standing between the passage walls.
     And all this time the old, broad, patient, nameless mare stood without stirring, not stamping once on the cobbles or shaking her reins. I called her a good girl and stood on tiptoe to try to stroke her ears as the door of 'The Pure Drop' swung open and the warm lamplight from the bar dazzled me and burned my story up. I felt frightened no longer, only angry and hungry. The two fat women near the door giggled "Good night, Mr Jones" out of the rich noise and the comfortable smells. The child lay curled asleep under the bench. Uncle Jim kissed the two women on the lips.
     "Good night."
     "Good night."
     "Good night."
     Then the passage was dark again.
     He backed the mare into Union Street, lurching against her side, cursing her patience and patting her nose, and we both climbed into the cart.
     "There are too many drunken gipsies," he said as we rolled and rattled through the flickering, lamp-lit town.
     He sang hymns all the way to Gorsehill in an affectionate bass voice, and conducted the wind with his whip. He did not need to touch the reins. Once on the rough road, between hedges twisting out to twig the mare by the bridle and poke our caps, we stopped, at a whispered "Whoa," for uncle to light his pipe and set the darkness on fire and show his long, red, drunken, fox's face to me, with its bristling side-bushes and wet, sensitive nose. A white house with a light in one bedroom window shone in a field on a short hill beyond the road.
     Uncle whispered, "Easy, easy, girl," to the mare, though she was standing calmly, and said to me over his shoulder in a suddenly loud voice: "A hangman lived there."
     He stamped on the shaft, and we rattled on through a cutting wind. Uncle shivered, pulling down his cap to hide his ears; but the mare was like a clumsy statue trotting, and all the demons of my stories, if they trotted by her side or crowded together and grinned into her eyes, would not make her shake her head or hurry.
     "I wish he'd have hung Mrs Jesus," uncle said.
     Between hymns he cursed the mare in Welsh. The white house was left behind, the light and the hill were swallowed up.
     "Nobody lives there now," he said.
     We drove into the farm-yard of Gorsehill, where the cobbles rang and the black, empty stables took up the ringing and hollowed it so that we drew up in a hollow circle of darkness and the mare was a hollow animal and nothing lived in the hollow house at the end of the yard but two sticks with faces scooped out of turnips.
     "You run and see Annie," said uncle. "There'll be hot broth and potatoes."
     He led the hollow, shaggy statue towards the stable; clop, clop to the mice-house. I heard locks rattle as I ran to the farm-house door.
     The front of the house was the single side of a black shell, and the arched door was the listening ear. I pushed the door open and walked into the passage out of the wind. I might have been walking into the hollow night and the wind, passing through a tall vertical shell on an inland seashore. Then a door at the end of the passage opened; I saw the plates on the shelves, the lighted lamp on the long, oilclothed table, 'Prepare to Meet Thy God' knitted over the fire-place, the smiling china dogs, the brown-stained settle, the grandmother clock, and I ran into the kitchen and into Annie's arms.
     There was a welcome, then. The clock struck twelve as she kissed me, and I stood among the shining and striking like a prince taking off his disguise. One minute I was small and cold, skulking dead-scared down a black passage in my stiff, best suit, with my hollow belly thumping and my heart like a time bomb, clutching my grammar school cap, unfamiliar to myself, a snub-nosed story-teller lost in his own adventures and longing to be home; the next I was a royal nephew in smart town clothes, embraced and welcomed, standing in the snug centre of my stories and listening to the clock announcing me. She hurried me to the seat in the side of the cavernous fire-place and took off my shoes. The bright lamps and the ceremonial gongs blazed and rang for me.
     She made a mustard bath and strong tea, told me to put on a pair of my cousin Gwilym's socks and an old coat of uncle's that smelt of rabbit and tobacco. She fussed and clucked and nodded and told me, as she cut bread and butter, how Gwilym was still studying to be a minister, and how Aunt Rach Morgan, who was ninety years old, had fallen on her belly on a scythe.
     Then Uncle Jim came in like the devil with a red face and a wet nose and trembling, hairy hands. His walk was thick. He stumbled against the dresser and shook the coronation plates, and a lean cat shot booted out from the settle corner. Uncle looked nearly twice as tall as Annie. He could have carried her about under his coat and brought her out suddenly, a little, brown-skinned, toothless, hunchbacked woman with a cracked, sing-song voice.
     "You shouldn't have kept him out so long," she said, angry and timid.
     He sat down in his special chair, which was the broken throne of a bankrupt bard, and lit his pipe and stretched his legs and puffed clouds at the ceiling.
     "He might catch his death of cold," she said.
     She talked at the back of his head while he wrapped himself in clouds. The cat slunk back. I sat at the table with my supper finished, and found a little empty bottle and a white balloon in the pockets of my coat.
     "Run off to bed, there's a dear," Annie whispered.
     "Can I go and look at the pigs?"
     "In the morning, dear," she said.
     So I said good night to Uncle Jim, who turned and smiled at me and winked through the smoke, and I kissed Annie and lit my candle.
     "Good night."
     "Good night."
     "Good night."
     I climbed the stairs; each had a different voice. The house smelt of rotten wood and damp and animals. I thought that I had been walking long, damp passages all my life, and climbing stairs in the dark, alone. I stopped outside Gwilym's door on the draughty landing.
     "Good night."
     The candle flame jumped in my bedroom where a lamp was burning very low, and the curtains waved; the water in a glass on a round table by the bed stirred, I thought, as the door closed, and lapped against the sides. There was a stream below the window; I thought it lapped against the house all night until I slept.
     "Can I go and see the pigs?" I asked Gwilym next morning. The hollow fear of the house was gone, and, running downstairs to my breakfast, I smelt the sweetness of wood and the fresh spring grass and the quiet untidy farm-yard, with its tumbledown dirty-white cow-house and empty stables open.
     Gwilym was a tall young man aged nearly twenty, with a thin stick of a body and spade-shaped face. You could dig the garden with him. He had a deep voice that cracked in half when he was excited, and he sang songs to himself, treble and bass, with the same sad hymn tune, and wrote hymns in the barn. He told me stories about girls who died for love. "And she put a rope round a tree but it was too short," he said; "she stuck a penknife in her bosom but it was too blunt." We were sitting together on the straw heaps that day in the half-dark of the shuttered stable. He twisted and leaned near to me, raising his big finger, and the straw creaked.
     "She jumped in the cold river, she jumped," he said, his mouth against my ear, "arse over tip and, Diu, she was dead." He squeaked like a bat.
     The pigsties were at the far end of the yard. We walked towards them, Gwilym dressed in minister's black, though it was a weekday morning, and me in a serge suit with a darned bottom, past three hens scrabbling the muddy cobbles and a collie with one eye, sleeping with it open. The ramshackle outhouses had tumbling, rotten roofs, jagged holes in their sides, broken shutters, and peeling whitewash; rusty screws ripped out from the dangling, crooked boards; the lean cat of the night before sat snugly between the splintered jaws of bottles, cleaning its face, on the tip of the rubbish pile that rose triangular and smelling sweet and strong to the level of the riddled cart-house roof. There was nowhere like that farm-yard in all the slap dash county, nowhere so poor and grand and dirty as that square of mud and rubbish and bad wood and falling stone, where a bucketful of old and bedraggled hens scratched and laid small eggs. A duck quacked out of the trough in one deserted sty. Now a young man and a curly boy stood staring and sniffing over a wall at a sow, with its tits on the mud, giving suck.
     "How many pigs are there?"
     "Five. The bitch ate one," said Gwilym.
     We counted them as they squirmed and wriggled, rolled on their backs and bellies, edged and pinched and pushed and squealed about their mother. There were four. We counted again. Four pigs, four naked pink tails curling up as their mouths guzzled down and the sow grunted with pain and joy.
     "She must have ate another," I said, and picked up a scratching stick and prodded the grunting sow and rubbed her crusted bristles backwards. "Or a fox jumped over the wall," I said.
     "It wasn't the sow or the fox," said Gwilym. "It was father."
     I could see uncle, tall and sly and red, holding the writhing pig in his two hairy hands, sinking his teeth in its thigh, crunching its trotters up; I could see him leaning over the wall of the sty with the pig's legs sticking out of his mouth. "Did Uncle Jim eat the pig?"
     Now, at this minute, behind the rotting sheds, he was standing, knee-deep in feathers, chewing off the live heads of the poultry.
     "He sold it to go on the drink," said Gwilym in his deepest rebuking whisper, his eyes fixed on the sky. "Last Christmas he took a sheep over his shoulder, and he was pissed for ten days."
     The sow rolled near the scratching stick, and the small pigs sucking at her, lost and squealing in the sudden darkness, struggled under her folds and pouches.
     "Come and see my chapel," said Gwilym. He forgot the lost pig at once and began to talk about the towns he had visited on a religious tour, Neath and Bridgend and Bristol and Newport, with their lakes and luxury gardens, their bright, coloured streets roaring with temptation. We walked away from the sty and the disappointed sow.
     "I met actress after actress," he said.
     Gwilym's chapel was the last old barn before the field that led down to the river; it stood well above the farmyard, on a mucky hill. There was one whole door with a heavy padlock, but you could get in easily through the holes on either side of it. He took out a ring of keys and shook them gently and tried each one in the lock. "Very posh," he said; "I bought them from the junk-shop in Carmarthen." We climbed into the chapel through a hole.
     A dusty wagon with the name painted out and a whitewash cross on its side stood in the middle. "My pulpit cart," he said, and walked solemnly into it up the broken shaft. "You sit on the hay; mind the mice," he said. Then he brought out his deepest voice again, and cried to the heavens and the bat-lined rafters and the hanging webs: "Bless us this holy day, O Lord, bless me and Dylan and this Thy little chapel for ever and ever, Amen. I've done a lot of improvements to this place."
     I sat on the hay and stared at Gwilym preaching, and heard his voice rise and crack and sink to a whisper and break into singing and Welsh and ring triumphantly and be wild and meek. The sun, through a hole, shone on his praying shoulders, and he said: "O God, Thou art everywhere all the time, in the dew of the morning, in the frost of the evening, in the field and the town, in the preacher and the sinner, in the sparrow and the big buzzard. Thou canst see everything, right down deep in our hearts; Thou canst see us when the sun is gone; Thou canst see us when there aren't any stars, in the gravy blackness, in the deep, deep, deep, deep pit; Thou canst see and spy and watch us all the time, in the little black corners, in the big cowboys' prairies, under the blankets when we're snoring fast, in the terrible shadows, pitch black, pitch black; Thou canst see everything we do, in the night and the day, in the day and the night, everything, everything; Thou canst see all the time. O God mun, you're like a bloody cat."
     He let his clasped hands fall. The chapel in the barn was still, and shafted with sunlight. There was nobody to cry Hallelujah or God-bless; I was too small and enamoured in the silence. The one duck quacked outside.
     "Now I take a collection," Gwilym said.
     He stepped down from the cart and groped about in the hay beneath it and held out a battered tin to me.
     "I haven't got a proper box," he said.
     I put two pennies in the tin.
     "It's time for dinner," he said, and we went back to the house without a word.
     Annie said, when we had finished dinner: "Put on your nice suit for this afternoon. The one with stripes."
     It was to be a special afternoon, for my best friend, Jack Williams, from Swansea, was coming down with his rich mother in a motor car, and Jack was to spend a fortnight's holiday with me.
     "Where's Uncle Jim?"
     "He's gone to market," said Annie.
     Gwilym made a small pig's noise. We knew where uncle was; he was sitting in a public house with a heifer over his shoulder and two pigs nosing out of his pockets, and his lips were wet with bull's blood.
     "Is Mrs Williams very rich?" asked Gwilym.
     I told him she had three motor cars and two houses, which was a lie. "She's the richest woman in Wales, and once she was a mayoress," I said. "Are we going to have tea in the best room?"
     Annie nodded. "And a large tin of peaches," she said.
     "That old tin's been in the cupboard since Christmas," said Gwilym, "mother's been keeping it for a day like this!"
     "They're lovely peaches," Annie said. She went upstairs to dress like Sunday.
     The best room smelt of moth-balls and fur and damp and dead plants and stale, sour air. Two glass cases on wooden coffin-boxes lined the window wall. You looked at the weedgrown vegetable garden through a stuffed fox's legs, over a partridge's head, along the red-paint-stained breast of a stiff wild duck. A case of china and pewter, trinkets, teeth, family brooches, stood beyond the bandy table; there was a large oil lamp on the patchwork tablecloth, a Bible with a clasp, a tall vase with a draped woman about to bathe on it, and a framed photograph of Annie, Uncle Jim, and Gwilym smiling in front of a fern-pot. On the mantlepiece were two clocks, some dogs, brass candlesticks, a shepherdess, a man in a kilt, and a tinted photograph of Annie, with high hair and her breasts coming out. There were chairs around the table and in each corner, straight, curved, stained, padded, all with lace cloths hanging over their backs. A patched white sheet shrouded the harmonium. The fireplace was full of brass tongs, shovels, and pokers. The best room was rarely used. Annie dusted and brushed and polished there once a week, but the carpet still sent up a grey cloud when you trod on it, and dust lay evenly on the seats of the chairs, and balls of cotton and dirt and black stuffing and long black horse hairs were wedged in the cracks of the sofa. I blew on the glass to see the pictures. Gwilym and castles and cattle.
     "Change your suit now," said Gwilym.
     I wanted to wear my old suit, to look like a proper farm boy and have manure in my shoes and hear it squelch as I walked, to see a cow have calves and a bull on top of a cow, to run down in the dingle and wet my stockings, to go out and shout, "Come on, you bugger," and pelt the hens and talk in a proper voice. But I went upstairs to put my striped suit on.
     From my bedroom I heard the noise of a motor car drawing up in the yard. It was Jack Williams and his mother.
     Gwilym shouted, "They're here, in a Daimler!" from the foot of the stairs, and I ran down to meet them with my tie undone and my hair uncombed.
     Annie was saying at the door: "Good afternoon, Mrs Williams, good afternoon. Come right in, it's a lovely day, Mrs Williams. Did you have a nice journey then? This way, Mrs Williams, mind the step."
     Annie wore a black, shining dress that smelt of mothballs, like the chair covers in the best room; she had forgotten to change her gym-shoes, which were caked with mud and all holes. She fussed on before Mrs Williams down the stone passage, darting her head round, clucking, fidgetting, excusing the small house, anxiously tidying her hair with one rough, stubby hand.
     Mrs Williams was tall and stout, with a jutting bosom and thick legs, her ankles swollen over her pointed shoes; she was fitted out like a mayoress or a ship, and she swayed after Annie into the best room.
     She said: "Please don't put yourself out for me, Mrs Jones, there's a dear." She dusted the seat of a chair with a lace handkerchief from her bag before sitting down.
     "I can't stop, you know," she said.
     "Oh, you must stay for a cup of tea," said Annie, shifting and scraping the chairs away from the table so that nobody could move and Mrs Williams was hemmed in fast with her bosom and her rings and her bag, opening the china cupboard, upsetting the Bible on the floor, picking it up, dusting it hurriedly with her sleeve.
     "And peaches," Gwilym said. He was standing in the passage with his hat on.
     Annie said, "Take your hat off, Gwilym, make Mrs Williams comfortable," and she put the lamp on the shrouded harmonium and spread out a white tablecloth that had a tea stain in the centre, and brought out the china and laid knives and cups for five.
     "Don't bother about me, there's a dear," said Mrs Williams. "There's a lovely fox!" She flashed a finger of rings at the glass case.
     "It's real blood," I told Jack, and we climbed over the sofa to the table.
     "No it isn't," he said, "it's red ink."
     "Oh, your shoes!" said Annie.
     "Don't tread on the sofa, Jack, there's a dear."
     "If it isn't ink it's paint then."
     Gwilym said: "Shall I get you a bit of cake, Mrs Williams?"
     Annie rattled the tea-cups. "There isn't a single bit of cake in the house," she said; "we forgot to order it from the shop; not a single bit. Oh, Mrs Williams!"
     Mrs Williams said: "Just a cup of tea, thanks." She was still sweating because she had walked all the way from the car. It spoiled her powder. She sparkled her rings and dabbed at her face.
     "Three lumps," she said. "And I'm sure Jack will be very happy here."
     "Happy as sandboys." Gwilym sat down.
     "Now, you must have some peaches, Mrs Williams, they're lovely."
     "They should be, they've been here long enough," said Gwilym.
     Annie rattled the tea-cups at him again.
     "No peaches, thanks," Mrs Williams said.
     "Oh, you must, Mrs Williams, just one. With cream."
     "No, no, Mrs Jones, thanks the same," she said. "I don't mind pears or chunks, but I can't bear peaches."
     Jack and I had stopped talking. Annie stared down at her gym-shoes. One of the two clocks on the mantel-piece coughed, and struck. Mrs Williams struggled from her chair.
     "There, time flies!" she said.
     She pushed her way past the furniture, jostled against the cupboard, rattled the trinkets and brooches, and kissed Jack on the forehead.
     "You've got scent on," he said.
     She patted my head.
     "Now, behave yourselves."
     To Annie, she said in a whisper: "And remember, Mrs Jones, just good plain food. No spoiling his appetite."
     Annie followed her out of the room. She moved slowly now. "I'll do my very best, Mrs Williams."
     We heard her say, "Good-bye then, Mrs Williams," and go down the steps of the kitchen and close the door. The motor car roared in the yard, then the noise grew softer and died.
     Down the thick dingle Jack and I ran shouting, scalping the brambles with our thin stick-hatchets, dancing, hallooing. We skidded to a stop and prowled on the bushy banks of the stream. Up above, sat one-eyed, dead-eyed, sinister, slim, tennotched Gwilym, loading his guns in Gallows Farm. We crawled and rat-tatted through the bushes, hid, at a whistled signal, in the deep grass, and crouched there, waiting for the crack of a twig or the secret breaking of boughs.
     On my haunches, eager and alone, casting an ebony shadow, with the Gorsehill jungle swarming, the violent, impossible birds and fishes leaping, hidden under four-stemmed flowers the height of horses, in the early evening in a dingle near Carmarthen, my friend Jack Williams invisibly near me, I felt all my young body like an excited animal surrounding me, the torn knees bent, the bumping heart, the long heat and depth between the legs, the sweat prickling in the hands, the tunnels down to the eardrums, the little balls of dirt between the toes, the eyes in the sockets, the tucked-up voice, the blood racing, the memory around and within flying, jumping, swimming, and waiting to pounce. There, playing Indians in the evening, I was aware of me myself in the exact middle of a living story, and my body was my adventure and my name. I sprang with excitement and scrambled up through the scratching brambles again.
     Jack cried: "I see you! I see you!" He scampered after me. "Bang! bang! you're dead!"
     But I was young and loud and alive, though I lay down obediently.
     "Now you try and kill me," said Jack. "Count a hundred."
     I closed one eye, saw him rush and stamp towards the upper field, then tiptoe back and begin to climb a tree, and I counted fifty and ran to the foot of the tree and killed him as he climbed. "You fall down," I said.
     He refused to fall, so I climbed too, and we clung to the top branches and stared down at the lavatory in the corner of the field. Gwilym was sitting on the seat with his trousers down. He looked small and black. He was reading a book and moving his hands.
"We can see you!" we shouted.
     He snatched his trousers up and put the book in his pocket. "We can see you, Gwilym!"
     He came out into the field. "Where are you, then?"
     We waved our caps at him.
     "In the sky!" Jack shouted.
     "Flying!" I shouted.
     We stretched our arms out like wings.
     "Fly down here."
     We swung and laughed on the branches.
     "There's birds!" cried Gwilym.
     Our jackets were torn and our stockings were wet and our shoes were sticky; we had green moss and brown bark on our hands and faces when we went in for supper and a scolding. Annie was quiet that night, though she called me a ragamuffin and said she didn't know what Mrs Williams would think and told Gwilym he should know better. We made faces at Gwilym and put salt in his tea, but after supper he said: "You can come to chapel if you like. Just before bed."
     He lit a candle on the top of the pulpit cart. It was a small light in the big barn. The bats were gone. Shadows still clung upside down along the roof. Gwilym was no longer my cousin in a Sunday suit, but a tall stranger shaped like a spade in a cloak, and his voice grew too deep. The straw heaps were lively. I thought of the sermon on the cart: we were watched, Jack's heart was watched, Gwilym's tongue was marked down, my whisper, 'Look at the little eyes,' was remembered always.
     "Now I take confessions," said Gwilym from the cart.
     Jack and I stood bareheaded in the circle of the candle, and I could feel the trembling of Jack's body.
     "You first." Gwilym's finger, as bright as though he had held it in the candle flame until it burned, pointed me out, and I took a step towards the pulpit cart, raising my head.
     "Now you confess," said Gwilym.
     "What have I got to confess?"
     "The worst thing you've done."
     I let Edgar Reynolds be whipped because I had taken his homework; I stole from my mother's bag; I stole from Gwyneth's bag; I stole twelve books in three visits from the library, and threw them away in the park; I drank a cup of my water to see what it tasted like; I beat a dog with a stick so that it would roll over and lick my hand afterwards; I looked with Dan Jones through the keyhole while his maid had a bath; I cut my knee with a penknife, and put the blood on my handkerchief and said it had come out of my ears so that I could pretend I was ill and frighten my mother; I pulled my trousers down and showed Jack Williams; I saw Billy Jones beat a pigeon to death with a fire-shovel, and laughed and got sick; Cedric Williams and I broke into Mrs Samuels's house and poured ink over the bedclothes.
     I said: "I haven't done anything bad."
     "Go on, confess!" said Gwilym. He was frowning down at me.
     "I can't! I can't!" I said. "I haven't done anything bad."
     "Go on, confess!"
     "I won't! I won't!"
     Jack began to cry. "I want to go home," he said.
     Gwilym opened the chapel door and we followed him into the yard, down past the black, humped sheds, towards the house, and Jack sobbed all the way.
     In bed together, Jack and I confessed our sins.
     "I steal from my mother's bag, too; there are pounds and pounds."
     "How much do you steal?"
     "I killed a man once."
     "No you didn't then."
     "Honest to Christ, I shot him through the heart."
     "What was his name?"
     "Did he bleed?"
     I thought the stream was lapping against the house.
     "Like a bloody pig," I said.
     Jack's tears had dried. "I don't like Gwilym, he's barmy."
     "No, he isn't. I found a lot of poems in his bedroom once. They were all written to girls. And he showed them to me afterwards, and he'd changed all the girls' names to God."
     "He's religious."
     "No he isn't, he goes with actresses. He knows Corinne Griffith."
     Our door was open. I liked the door locked at night, because I would rather have a ghost in the bedroom than think of one coming in; but Jack liked it open, and we tossed and he won. We heard the front door rattle and footsteps in the kitchen passage.
     "That's Uncle Jim."
     "What's he like?"
     "He's like a fox, he eats pigs and chickens."
     The ceiling was thin and we heard every sound, the creaking of the bard's chair, the clatter of plates, Annie's voice saying: "Midnight!"
     "He's drunk," I said. We lay quite still, hoping to hear a quarrel.
     "Perhaps he'll throw plates," I said.
     But Annie scolded him softly: "There's a fine state, Jim."
     He murmured to her.
     "There's one pig gone," she said. "Oh, why do you have to do it, Jim? There's nothing left now. We'll never be able to carry on."
     "Money! money! money!" he said. I knew he would be lighting his pipe.
     Then Annie's voice grew so soft we could not hear the words, and uncle said: "Did she pay you the thirty shillings?"
     "They're talking about your mother," I told Jack.
     For a long time Annie spoke in a low voice, and we waited for words. "Mrs Williams," she said, and "motor car," and "Jack," and "peaches." I thought she was crying, for her voice broke on the last word.
     Uncle Jim's chair creaked again, he might have struck his fist on the table, and we heard him shout: "I'll give her peaches! Peaches, peaches! Who does she think she is? Aren't peaches good enough for her? To hell with her bloody motor car and her bloody son! Making us small."
     "Don't, don't, Jim!" Annie said, "you'll wake the boys."
     "I'll wake them and whip the hell out of them, too!"
     "Please, please, Jim!"
     "You send the boy away," he said, "or I'll do it myself. Back to his three bloody houses."
     Jack pulled the bedclothes over his head and sobbed into the pillow: "I don't want to hear, I don't want to hear. I'll write to my mother. She'll take me away."
     I climbed out to close the door. Jack would not talk to me again, and I fell asleep to the noise of the voices below, which soon grew gentle.
     Uncle Jim was not at breakfast. When we came down, Jack's shoes were cleaned for him and his jacket was darned and pressed. Annie gave two boiled eggs to Jack and one to me. She forgave me when I drank tea from the saucer.
     After breakfast, Jack walked to the post office. I took the one-eyed collie to chase rabbits in the upper fields, but it barked at ducks and brought me a tramp's shoe from a hedge, and lay down with its tail wagging in a rabbit hole. I threw stones at the deserted duck pond, and the collie ambled back with sticks.
     Jack went skulking into the damp dingle, his hands in his pockets, his cap over one eye. I left the collie sniffing at a molehill, and climbed to the tree-top in the corner of the lavatory field. Below me, Jack was playing Inaians all alone, scalping through the bushes, surprising himself round a tree, hiding from himself in the grass. I called to him once, but he pretended not to hear. He played alone, silently and savagely. I saw him standing with his hands in his pockets, swaying like a Kelly, on the mud-bank by the stream at the foot of the dingle. My bough lurched, the heads of the dingle bushes spun up towards me like green tops, "I'm falling!" I cried, my trousers saved me, I swung and grasped, this was one minute of wild adventure, but Jack did not look up and the minute was lost. I climbed, without dignity, to the ground.
     Early in the afternoon, after a silent meal, when Gwilym was reading the scriptures or writing hymns to girls or sleeping in his chapel, Annie was baking bread, and I was cutting a wooden whistle in the loft over the stable, the motor car drove up in the yard again.
     Out of the house Jack, in his best suit, ran to meet his mother, and I heard him say as she stepped, raising her short skirts, on to the cobbles: "And he called you a bloody cow, and he said he'd whip the hell out of me, and Gwilym took me to the barn in the dark and let the mice run over me, and Dylan's a thief, and that old woman's spoilt my jacket."
     Mrs Williams sent the chauffeur for Jack's luggage. Annie came to the door, trying to smile and curtsy, tidying her hair, wiping her hands on her pinafore.
     Mrs Williams said, "Good afternoon," and sat with Jack in the back of the car and stared at the ruin of Gorsehill.
     The chauffeur came back. The car drove off, scattering the hens. I ran out of the stable to wave to Jack. He sat still and stiff by his mother's side. I waved my handkerchief.

From A Prospect of the Sea: and other stories and prose writings, published by J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London, 1955
Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1956, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1971, 1977 The Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas.

The Life And Work Of Dylan Thomas written, designed, and copyright (except where otherwise noted) © by Willem Jonkman. All rights reserved. Contact: [email protected]

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Acknowledgements: Constantine FitzGibbon, The Life Of Dylan Thomas © 1965; Annis Pratt, Dylan Thomas' Early Prose: A Study In Creative Mythology © 1970; Andrew Sinclair, Dylan Thomas © 1975; Paul Ferris, Dylan Thomas - A Biography © 1977; John Ackerman, Welsh Dylan © 1979; Susan Richardson, The Legacy Of Dylan Thomas In Wales © 2000; Joan Gooding, Britain's Last Romantic Poet: Dylan Thomas © 2000.