The Canvas of God

"So silent I would sit and watch Dai and Nerys act out this fantasy life, a voyeur through an open window that harked to those trees by the knoll, the ones that would bode mischief and glee in their scent, we the people who would bode mischief and glee in our wake, the immortality of those seldom had summer days when there was just Dai, Nerys and I. Just the three of us..." A tale of childhood and the brutality which we are all capable of, set in the South Wales Valleys during the early 1950s.


1. -

I sometimes think of what happened. The things we did. Dai, Nerys and I. Rarely does it come all as once, but rather as a series of stilted images and frames that stutter and halt every now and then, for when the kaleidoscope of memory shifts onto something new altogether. But sometimes are they vivid, and sometimes the ribbons seem to coil themselves around one thing in particular until I can’t not give them the attention they want. Like Dai’s grin and the voice with which he yelled through the trees and the flutter of wings above that came nevermore. Like the way Nerys would scold him and yet her youthful face would soften and be one of us again. Oh, the hours we played! And yelled! And sang! But that was before. Before the Bad Thing. And now I find it hard to sleep and play and yell and sing, when my weary mind strays to the mountains and the things we did. Dai, Nerys and I. The Bad Thing.

   I sometimes think of what happened though rarely does it come all as once, and sometimes the stilted images hardly stutter or halt so as to flow like liquid, the patter of pouring water and the sun rising after through the chalky wisps of clouds, the clouds, the water, the sun, the playing and the yelling and the hitting and the blood, the blood, the blood, his blood on the mountainside seen through the chalky wisps of clouds and the… and the… And The Bad Thing, yes, The Bad Thing, can’t forget The Bad Thing we did, Dai and Nerys and I and I sometimes think of what happened and then… and then I… Stop. But the memories don’t. They never do. Never, never, never, never… Never stop. Never. Never, never, never…




   “Where are we going, Dai?”

“To the trees. The knoll up over by there, on the mountain. C’mon! My Mam-gu walks faster than you and she’s been buried in the cemetery for ten years, and my Tad-cu, maybe even the dog and Lolly only had one leg and…”

The summer days stretched on like years and beneath the chalky wisps of clouds were the mountains, solid, the solid mountains that Dai dragged us up every other day, always to the knoll and to the trees, right by the side of the largest mountain that sloped down to the village. Always the same, always the same. Never different, always the same, Dai in front, Nerys and I pulling up the rear. Sluggishly we’d move like the weeks if heat while Dai bounded ahead, always ahead, never behind, no, never behind, Dai was always in front and never behind Nerys and I.

   Pounding his chest as Tarzan and the merry cry on his lips, the birds grew frightened but Dai just laughed. And laughed. Oh, how he laughed! “Stop it!” Nerys would growl and being the only girl she’d always manage to take charge with maternal contempt though barely she hid the careless abandon of youth wearing through the cracks.

   When we would get to the top of the mountain he would also proclaim that we should play Mammies and Daddies. Naturally, he would always, always, always designate himself as the Daddy leaving room, naturally, for Nerys to always, always, always be the Mammy. The most I could often hope for was the role of the mute dog, sitting obediently in the corner while Dai and Nerys nursed their fifty children, him going to an imaginary office while she wiped imaginary dishes and cared for imaginary infants until he’d return. Sometimes when he got home he’d fake hit her and fake kick her, “like real Mammies and Daddies did” and then they’d drink fake bottles of wine, one after the other, while the imaginary babies cried in their soiled cots because “that was what real Mammies and Daddies did too,” according to Dai, and Nerys tended to agree. Whenever I’d protest they’d both glare and tell me that dogs couldn’t talk, so silent I would sit and watch Dai and Nerys act out this fantasy life, a voyeur through an open window that harked to those trees by the knoll, the ones that would bode mischief and glee in their scent, we the people who would bode mischief and glee in our wake, the immortality of those seldom had summer days when there was just Dai, Nerys and I. Just the three of us.

   Until Dewi came along one day. Dewi was a boy from the village that we’d known from school, chubby and bespectacled with always an aspiration to follow us, Dai and Nerys in particular, close to which that he’d follow us around and up the knoll at one point without Dai’s explicit permission to join the exclusive club we had there, and above the birds fluttering through the trees while Dewi trampled on our privacy. He hadn’t been asked along, far from it, though beneath the chalky wisps of clouds and fluttering birds he would come and not leave whatever Dai or Nerys or I did. Struggling up the mountain Nerys and I would be, with Dai ahead and Dewi but a dot on the canvas of God in our eyes as he scaled the valley with his flushed cheeks aflame.

   But he would always get there in the end, by the time Mammies and Daddies was in full swing. At first Dai refused him a role, but Nerys would declare that I’d been promoted to the baby while Dewi was cast as the new dog, now with even fewer allowances to speak or bark or do anything that would actually have Dai acknowledge his presence there. Sometimes Nerys would get cross at him for doing that, but then after a while she too would ignore him and we three were engaged in a new game, aside from Mammies and Daddies entirely, the much preferred Let’s Ignore Dewi game. Dewi was not too bright and on occasion he would also participate in the game at his own expense, trying to win over Dai and Nerys as best he could so he could carry on joining in with us and the things we did. He didn’t seem to realise that Dai didn’t want him there in the first place and his misguided attempts to rid the group of the nuisance that was Dewi. Yet Dai would think of a solution, same as he always did.

   Dai said “Let’s play Push Downsies.” Push Downsies was a game in which you had to try and push other players down the mountain, the last standing the winner and we hadn’t played since Nerys had sprained her ankle weeks before following an especially violent round, though she said it was now fine and she was prepared to play, as was I (though I wondered why he showed such enthusiasm after a barren period during which it hadn’t even been mentioned) and Dewi was also happy to take part if it was to please Dai.

   “Good,” Dai purred and a maniacal twinkle shimmered behind his eyes, with the smile that tugged at his lips aimed squarely at Dewi, hardly of grace but of the spiked cruelty of the young, ready to pounce on the opportunity that had newly presented itself. An opportunity named Dewi. Dewi, whom he pushed down the mountain.

   Rapidly, the boy tumbled down the slope and Nerys gasped with horror at that which had happened in such a short space of time though had dissipated the atmosphere so completely. Saved by the heather he grabbed was Dewi and fear glinted in his glasses, rays of sun spitting in his face just as Dai would moments later. Don’t, Nerys would moan. Dai, please don’t. Dai looked as if he were about to offer Dewi his hand. But he didn’t. Instead, he bent to toss a stone at the fallen boy’s head, shattering his glasses and his nose, a gash and a scab gaping like Nerys’ mouth as she exclaimed for him to stop, please stop. The stones grew to be rocks and despite Nerys tugging at his arm he had sauntered down and begun to kick him in the head over and over and over until the blood flowed down the face of the mountain and the face of the child, congealing with the tears and dirt and the quiet passing, rapture of the Lord to deliver Dewi’s soul while it was but a body, an empty shell for the sky that had been canted to be a causeway for the saints and Dewi’s chubby, bespectacled soul, though Dai kept beating his body until there was no more blood to shed or fists to pound or words for Nerys and I to scream.

   Soon, the chalky wisps of clouds slowed and the mountains, solid, solid mountains remained constant in the ethereal hour, gilded by the half light and the corpse at the foot of the mountain. Nerys cried that he was dead, as did I, and Dai too, for some reason, wept until the scenes and frames ebbed and receded like the sun beneath the valley. Until there was nothing but children, children, children gasping for ragged breaths and one with none to fill his lungs.

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