Tony when good. Anthony when bad.
ONE DAY during the summer holidays young Tony was sitting looking bored as Grandpa watched the morning news, the anchorman’s face expressionless, his perfect diction and level tone of voice couldn’t bring boredom any relief. Serial killers, inappropriately named hurricanes, lottery winners and local heroes. Same face.
Unusually, Grandpa pointed the remote at the TV and it switched off. He looked over at Tony – smiling – he had something to cure that bored face. “Come with me to the kitchen Tony!” Getting up in instalments, he shuffled over the worn rug, gesticulating at Tony, who was still in shock that he didn’t have to sit through a whole hour of the Saturday gardening programme as was routine.
He joined Grandpa in the kitchen. “What is it Grandpa?” Looking upwards, snapping vertebrae, as Grandpa stood over three feet taller than him, defined by sun spots and a forlorn moustache.
“I’ve got a trick for you!” He wagged his finger in triumph. “All I need, is for you to catch a fly! You do that, I’ll show you a trick.”
Tony needed no more encouragement. If he knew anything about that twinkle in Grandpa’s eyes, this was going to be exciting.
“I’ll make us a drink. Now get hunting!” His voice still carried a thick unshakable Aussie accent since he’d moved back ‘home’.
Tony’s eyes doubled in size, looking intensely all over the surfaces, from the floor, to the table with the fruit bowl, to the fridge, the ceiling! Typical! He couldn’t see any anywhere. There was always at least a couple buzzing around until then. Ha! Rushing to the window, joy soured to disappointed. The flies were all dead, on their backs, baking in the sunlight.
As Grandpa stirred at the counter, Tony excitedly searched, looking for black specks on the dull yellow palette. “There’s one!” He pointed upwards at the manky lampshade. The fly moved in jerky bursts.
“I’m not helping you!” Grandpa said, dinking the spoon on the side of a glass, shaking the drips.
Yes! Tony zipped over to the fridge door, spying a perfect specimen as it weaved in and out of the magnet alphabet, and family photos. Slowly he advanced, cupping his small hands, concentrating, not breathing, inching closer, casting a shadow that made the fly hesitate. Pow! He placed his hands over it, trying to see through the narrow crack he left, to see if he’d caught it. His prey flew off, bumping lightly against his palm, and he closed the gap, grinning at Grandpa. “I got one!”
Leaving the glasses on the side, Grandpa came over to the fridge. “Good hunting! Now for the tricky part!” He opened the freezer door, and beckoned Tony over lifting him up without warning. “Put your hands right to the back, ok? Then when you’re ready to release it, move out of the way and I’ll shut the door. As quick as possible alright?” Tony nodded, looking at his hands out in front of him, the fly bouncing of his skin.
Tony did as he was told, opening his hands and quickly retracting his arms out of the way as Grandpa slammed the door shut.
“Now, we wait!” Tapping at his wrist watch, he said, “Five minutes!”
They sat at the table, slowly sipping on the watermelon flavour juice, Tony kicking his legs, watching the hands of the kitchen clock go around.
With half of the juice gone Grandpa got up slowly, and nodded at Tony to join him, shuffling over to the fridge. Tony was eager to catch the fly when the door opened. Grandpa read his intentions. “No need for that! Watch!”
Lying on an inch of frost accompanied by stray peas, was the fly, contrasting with the white surroundings, dwarfed by the half empty ice cube tray. But dead.
Deftly, Grandpa picked the fly up and put it in his palm for Tony to see. “Dead isn’t it?” Tony nodded, looking intently at it, wondering what the hell Granpda was up to.
They sat back at the table, and while Tony sipped on his juice, Grandpa maintained one hand on top of the other, forming a perfect seal, never taking his eyes off them, as if studying them, while minutes ticked past. Suddenly Grandpa’s eyes lit up, then moved around as if trying to ascertain something. “Are you ready Tony?”
He nodded vigorously, putting the glass down. Grandpa moved his hands over so his grandson could see properly. Lifting the top hand away, there, was the fly, alive, back from the dead, walking along the lines of the palm. Tony reached his hand up, amazed, moving his index finger towards it, closer, and closer still, nearly touching. Then away it went! Flying up into the open. Magic! Grandpa winked as Tony followed the fly, open mouthed.
“You can show your friends that one!” Grandpa said, smiling, patting Tony’s shoulder. “Just don’t tell em how it’s done! You only show them the last part, ok?” he added seriously.
No birthday party or family gathering was spared Tony’s new trick. He’d amaze his friends, and dazzle his enemies, until one day at school, one of them refused to be dazzled. “It’s just a fly! Who cares!” they’d taunted.
Whocares! Who cares! WHO CARES! Those two words dashed Tony’s confidence a little, but got his mind working on his next trick. From what he could glean from TV, all the great magicians moved on to bigger, and better things. But he didn’t know how to saw any of the girls in his class in half. Or how to make the bully disappear. All he knew was the fly trick.
“Anthony!” yelled Tony’s Mum from down the stairs. “Clean your Lego up! And where’s Rusty?”
Tony froze on the floor of his bedroom, looking through his illustrated encyclopedia of animals, hearing her stomping up each step. She appeared, in the doorway, a monster, towering above in her work clothes, his very own Godzilla.
“Anthony! Listen to me! Tidy the Lego up, it’s all over the living room! And where’s Rusty?”
Looking guilty, Tony peeled his eyes away from The Anatomy of Mammals, a cross section of an elephant. “Sorry..”
“Where’s Rusty?” she demanded.
“Errm, he’s over there.” Tony pointed toward the other side of the room. His Mum had to enter the room fully. And there he was, facing away, sleeping on a beanbag, his face buried into his body, his sides moving up and down with each breath. Nevertheless, Tony’s Mum walked over to him and put her hand on the dog’s body, just to double check. She felt the coarse hairs of the chocolate Labrador, moving with his breaths. Satisfied, she let him be. Then she turned to Anthony – suspiciously – she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Maybe it was the fact he’d been home alone for a few hours after his Grandpa had had to cancel babysitting duties…
Feeling the eyes boring down, Tony closed the book and got to his feet, walking ahead of Mum, faced with the task of clearing up all the plastic on the carpet downstairs. It wasn’t everywhere. He’d kept the mess to a small patch at the back, next to the sofa. Nobody even walked there he reasoned.
After he’d dumped the heaps of Lego pieces back into their boxes, a process he’d done so many times, Tony heard the front door unlocking. It could mean only one thing: Dad was home from his run!
“Dad! Dad!” Tony raced around the corner to the hallway, his Dad standing there in his tracksuit, panting and sweating, a wedge of his grey t-shirt soaked. He grimaced more than smiled, kicking off his trainers instead of untying the laces.
“How you doing kiddo?”
“Dad! Come and see!” Tony grabbed a handful of wet nylon and dragged his Dad by the sleeve, feeling his weight shift as he reluctantly followed into the living room where Tony guided him to the big window with a view of the road and the neighbours grass field beyond it. “Look!” Tony encouraged, pointing outwards excitedly.
His Dad still breathing hard, wiping sweat away tried to focus in on whatever Tony was talking about but couldn’t see anything auspicious.
“All I need,” Tony said with relish, looking directly at his father, “is a bigger freezer!”
His Dad scanned the foreground and looked across the road, in the field. What the..? Lying on its side, near the barb wire fence, was Lucky, legs stiff, pointing unnaturally in the air. Dad focused harder. Are ponies meant to lie like that?!