That summer I spent every day guddling about in the wee burn behind our house. Up to my ankles in the trickle, the cracks between my toes collected silt so that my walking was grainy and my feet crunched wherever I stepped. I’d hunt for rocks in the burn to show to Alfie, our local skimming champion. Once I found a smooth brown rock that was shinier than the rest and took it to him. I'd see him whenever we were out playing football and he'd always smile and wave to us. He would work his garden endlessly, growing carrots and potatoes and thin green stalks of celery which I hated - the only thing that wasn't worked on was a chipped white bench. I showed him my ‘prize’ and he invited me in for tea, to sit on one of his three chairs amongst the pictures of his son. I couldn’t sit in the chair next to the TV though because that was his wife’s chair and nobody sat there anymore. I sat in his son’s and slurped at the tea while he watched the news about the war. In those days that was all the grown-ups watched; I hated it and took to playing football in the streets with the kids, the sun dimming over our heads.
He took the stone off of me and said he was going to make me a present – at the time I was so happy because I didn’t usually get presents unless it was my birthday or dad was home. I left it with him and went to tell mum, but she was watching the news too, and it was bad luck to disturb that. A week later Alfie gave me the stone back, except it was polished so that my face gleamed out of it and there was a crown painted on. It had words I didn’t know running round the rim: Dulce Bellum Inexpertis, written in gold. He gave me his son’s cap as well which was dark green and had a silver pin in it. I told him we'd use the hat as a goalpost, and Alfie’s smile almost reached his eyes. He went back to digging in his garden and I took to gathering my team.
Two days later a man in green and brown went to Alfie’s and gave him a present: clothes like he wore, a shiny medal in a glass box and a hat– it had a gold pin through it. Alfie took him inside and ten minutes later the man left, he waved to me and took another present across to number four. I knocked on Alfie's door but there was no sound from within. The TV was off and I could see him in the living room, staring at the black screen. Since then I've not heard from Alfie, his garden’s grown full of weeds around where the old white bench swallowed him. The other kids played football in the street and I put the rock on my windowsill, so it could see the burn.
Jamie Norman is currently studying towards a Masters degree in Creative Writing at The University of Aberdeen. He writes short fiction and poetry, and has been featured in the Eildon Tree magazine and the University Creative Writing Anthology.