THAT House

Everyone knows that house; the overgrown mess that no one ever leaves because no one ever enters. Finn knows that house too and he wants to know its story.

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3. Chapter 3

Finn had hoped that they’d forget.

“Push over!”

“Wimp!” They shouted.

Finn hadn’t meant to cause surge an upsurge at school. He hadn’t meant to and, more to the point, hadn’t wanted to. Everyone, it seemed, had heard of Jonathan and Robert’s antics and Finn’s subsequent attack. It was very clear that rumours had circulated that were so far bent they no longer resembled any part of the truth. Finn hadn’t needed any reassurance but if he had, this just confirmed his existence as an outcast.

“Mr Mackenzie!” one of his teachers greeted him. “How nice of you to join us again!”

Finn bowed his head. A squealing came from across the classroom.

“Dying…Finn help! Can’t…breathe…”

Finn looked over at Declan who was smiling wryly.

“Shut up!” Finn retorted.

“You little-”

“Mr Batimore will pack it in! Finn, get to your seat now! This isn’t the best way to start off the day, is it?”

Although he felt as though he could have said a few words more to Declan, Finn kept quiet. He was one of the heftier boys and, against him, Finn stood no chance in the inevitable confrontation that would have taken place had he said anything.

Finn found it hard to source evidence that supported the fact that the world was a just place. It seemed quite the opposite. Every one of his imperfections was oil to ignite a fire of laughter and beatings that were in constant supply. He wore glasses; pinch. He had a mole the shape of India above his left eye; slap. Occasionally, only when he was really excited, Finn had a stutter that was terribly obvious; punch. The fact that it was always Finn who should be the target of every joke filled his school days with an irrevocable dread and sense of panic. He couldn’t change what happened to him on a daily basis and it was as though he was the Pentecostal sacrifice. Apparently, it appeared, he was a painfully willing candidate.

*

At lunchtime, Finn went down to the canteen and picked up a plain cheese Panini. A cold chill whistled through the benches as he sat alone and warmed his hands on the soft bread.

“Mr Mackenzie, you’re back.”

Mrs O’Keefe made her way over to Finn, stuffing her hands deep into her thick parka.

“How ya feeling?”

Finn swallowed down his mouthful.

“Ok.”

He rested his hands on his legs so that his Panini sat in his crotch.

“I’m glad to hear that. You’re looking much better, anyway. You were so peaky the other day. I was a little worried.”

Finn nodded.

“I’m fine.”

Though he didn’t appreciate having to sit alone, he could hardly value Mrs O’Keefe’s presence either, as nice as she was.

“Well, I suppose now you can get back to normality.”

“Yeah right,” Finn said, sarcastically.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“No one has stopped talking about what happened all morning. They say I’m a wimp. They think I faked it just because I could handle a fight between Jonathan and Robert.”

“Could you have?”

Finn’s hands tightened around his sandwich and he began to scowl.

“Finn, look, I don’t mean to be rude but those boys could’ve really hurt you. It’s probably just as well what happened, did.”

Finn was silent.

“I’m sorry, Finn. I just meant…you’re not half like them.”

A silence passed between the two. Then Mrs O’Keefe sighed.

“Well then, I best leave you to your lunch. It’ll get cold.”

“It already is,” Finn replied, examining the Panini.

“Let me see.” Mrs O’Keefe took the sandwich out of Finn’s hand.

As she held the sandwich above her face and examined the filling, a chant began across the playground.

“Ohh! Finn Mackenzie sharing his lunch with the nurse. How romantic!”

Laughter began to envelop the playground.

“Am not!” shouted Finn.

He was only met by further sniggering.

“Finn,” Mrs O’Keefe stood up behind him. “I’ve got this,” she whispered putting a hand on his shoulder.

The laughter increased.

“When’s the wedding?” someone sneered.  

“That’s quite enough!” Mrs O’Keefe called above the commotion.

Finn shrugged Mrs O’Keefe’s hand off brusquely and ran through the playground to the school entrance. The doors were open like the arms of a warm embrace. From the corner of his peripheral vision, he saw a group of students congregate near the entrance to his left. They stood there; girls in furred macs and boys in grey, oversized, collarless jumpers, and glared at Finn. He drew to a halt.

“Where are you running to now, four eyes?” taunted a voice from behind.

Finn spun on his heels. Jonathan stood, arms crossed and grinning in front of two other boys who were both slight and sheepishly grey in the face.

Finn looked hard into Jonathan’s eyes and crumpled his thin lips. At his side, he balled his fist and dug his fine cut nails into his palm.      

“Ready, freak? This is what you get!” Jonathan started and raised his fist above his head.

Finn flinched and planted his own fist into Jonathan’s crotch. He reeled back immediately and fell to his knees cradling in between his loins.

“FINN! You IDIOT!”

The other two boys that besides Jonathan looked surprisingly shocked and both bent down to comfort Jonathan.

“Get him!” Jonathan shouted, stifling a cry.

“You’ll stop that right NOW! Finley Mackenzie, get yourself to the principal this instant! Jonathan Hartley, get up and follow him!” The transformation in Mrs O’Keefe’s voice was unmistakeable. Her tranquil façade was now bed-ridden and her eyes were uncharacteristically demonic.

“I’ve had just about enough, these past few days.” She was still holding Finn’s Panini and upon her departure from the playground, she slammed it in the bin, ridding herself of further comments.

*

Finn spent the remainder of the afternoon facing a poster of good-citizenship tacked to the wall in the principal’s office. He could have guessed that his father would land him in a seemingly more severe punishment than he deserved rather than sacrifice a business meeting which was sure to be of little importance anyway. Jonathan, who had started the situation in the first place, had left almost two hours ago with a much less demanding sentence. Finn’s father should have come in a spoke to the principal. Then he would have only spent, perhaps, twenty minutes with Mr Thompson. Instead, his father had refused to pick up his mobile, allowing it to transfer to a polite voice mail, which completely falsified his professional and good-willed nature, leaving his only son to copy pages from a memoir titled; “My Friend; Maths”.

“Mr Mackenzie, I don’t reckon that your father’s coming, is he?”

Finn shrugged.

“I don’t think so. I’ll let you leave today but see to it that he, at least, calls me. This rift between you and Jonathan has to stop. Otherwise, our meetings are far from over.”

“Yes Sir.”

Mr Thompson rolled his cuffs and glanced at his watch.

“You’re free to go. Stay safe and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Finn drew together his papers and slung his backpack on one shoulder.

*

It was only five thirty when he left school, but the winter nights meant that it was already dark. Finn waited in a damp bus shelter perching on the peeling half-seat. He shivered as drizzle seeped through the roof.

The number eleven bus arrived before the number eight which was the one that Finn usually took home. He boarded although the route, he knew, was overcomplicated and indirect that took him half a kilometre away from his house, which meant that he’d have to walk a fair way, but he didn’t feel the need to waste any more time than he already had.

Finn sat on a double seat at the very back of the bus and rested his knees on the chair in front. The bus wasn’t particularly full to his relief. The bus that he took after school was usually full of students, providing an extension of the school taunts.

Finn rested his head on the window pane as it pulled out of the layby. The rain has become progressively heavier now and droplets solemnly spilt down the sides of the windows. Finn wondered whether the walk home would be worth it. He probably wouldn’t have got as wet if he’d have waited for the number eight. It was too late now.

He, only, roughly knew the route. It would pass the Mason corner shop then take a right onto Brockwell Avenue. There were two stops on this stretch alone where it would be lucky if anyone boarded at all. Finn didn’t quite know the route past there until the bus reached Albert Street which was around 20 minutes away. Then it would head for Green Lane and Finn knew exactly what was at Green Lane; it was that house - number 4.

As the bus driver pulled into the shelter adjacent, the house came into view. It was still shrouded in its black, weedy veil but Finn watched it intently. He couldn’t help but feel a sense of childish anticipation. His age hadn’t hindered the excitement in him at all. He knew not what he was waiting for though he continued doing just that. He tried to look through the windows into the obscure front room. He couldn’t. No furniture, no shapes, no nothing. He continued to gaze at it, nonetheless. Whatever had happened in that house seemed locked in the darkness of its rooms. Finn couldn’t and wouldn’t ever know but he had a right to speculate.

A murder? He proposed.

This made sense to him. He definitely wouldn’t want to live anywhere that anyone else had had the chance to and he was sure, no matter how hard he tried to press his masculinity that he father wouldn’t either. He guessed that the agents couldn’t rent the place and left it and so, what with the dilapidating economy, left it for ruin.

Finn relaxed a little. As he heard the driver shuffle to rotate the wheel he took in the house, savouring all it was worth – which may not have been much at all. As the engine of the bus grew hoarse, Finn realised the meeting was over. He sat back in his chair but in doing so saw a reflection on the window pane which made him fix his eyes once again on the house. A light. There was brightness in the house. It couldn’t be. How was that possible? It slightly illuminated the front of the house but in the time it took for Finn to remove his glasses from the bridge of his nose,  the darkness choked it once again.   

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