About this Short Story
John is eight years old. He describes life as he sees and interprets it in an early 50s Dundee tenement.
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I like cowboys. Mum lets me go to the pictures. I can go three, sometimes four, times a week if I want. Last night I went to see The Ringo Kid with Davie and Geordie and Billy. Ringo had a gunfight with the Waco Kid. I shot Davie and Geordie and Billy three times on the way home. Ringo walked with his hands over his guns so he would be ready to shoot. He sometimes flicked his fingers and his spurs jangled. Ringo never ever shot someone in the back. I didn’t shoot Davie or Geordie or Billy in the back. Me and Flame rode back from the pictures and went through the Sierra Nevada mountains then over the Oregon Pass and Mum was waiting at the end of the close. She wasn’t crying like she was when she gave me the sixpence for the pictures. Betty, my sister, had to go to the doctors. She was crying when she…
Short Story: The Ringo Kid
I like cowboys. Mum lets me go to the pictures. I can go three, sometimes four, times a week if I want. Last night I went to see The Ringo Kid with Davie and Geordie and Billy. Ringo had a gunfight with the Waco Kid. I shot Davie and Geordie and Billy three times on the way home. Ringo walked with his hands over his guns so he would be ready to shoot. He sometimes flicked his fingers and his spurs jangled. Ringo never ever shot someone in the back. I didn’t shoot Davie or Geordie or Billy in the back. Me and Flame rode back from the pictures and went through the Sierra Nevada mountains then over the Oregon Pass and Mum was waiting at the end of the close. She wasn’t crying like she was when she gave me the sixpence for the pictures. Betty, my sister, had to go to the doctors. She was crying when she came back. When Mum was putting me to bed I asked if I could change my name. I liked Ringo better than John. She told me I could and to go to sleep and she started crying again.
I stayed awake all night. Ringo McCallum, Ringo McCallum, Ringo McCallum. Hi Ringo, Hi Davie. Hey Ringo are you going to the pictures? Yup Geordie. I liked that.
Next day Mum took me to Aunty Betty’s. Aunty Betty used to be Mum’s sister when they were wee. We got cakes. When we got there Aunty Betty took me into her bedroom. She gave me ginger and a comic and told me to play. We went home after we got the cakes.
I asked Mum if I could go round to Davie and Geordie and Billy to tell them that my name was Ringo. She said to be back before eight. Geordie lives in the next close. He’s got two stairs and two landings. I can run doon my stairs faster than anybody. Faster than Bert who comes to see my brother Jimmy. Bert's a man. Sometimes he sees Betty as well.
Geordie’s stair has a lavvy half-way up. I was needing but the door was locked. I just did it on the door and it started to run doon the steps I knocked on Geordie's door. He opened the door. I said I’m changing my name to Ringo. He said he wasn’t coming out to play and closed the door. I went out on to the landing and keeked in through his window. It was dim ‘cos the gas was at a low peep. Geordie and his mum were sitting beside the fire and his mum was crying. She had a hankie at her nose. She was crying ‘cos she had the cold. There was a big candle on a big long box in the room cos it was dim and Geordie’s gran was there. She must have had the cold as well and she had beads in her hands cos she went to church. I could run doon Geordie’s stairs two steps at a time. Sometimes three at a time if I wanted. Geordie’s gran was black and so were her beads. I was going doon Geordie’s stair and I heard a man coming up. I knew it was a man ‘cos he said bugger three times when he got to the lavvy so I went back up and stood two steps up the other stair. He went into Geordie’s house. He was black with a black hat on.
Billy lived in Dummy Smith’s and that was across the road where the buses pass. Billy had three stairs and three landings. You could see the railway bridge and the ferries from Billy’s back room. The lamps were lit. I ran up the first two stairs fast. I stopped awhile before going up the last stair. It was really dark ‘cos the light was out. A wifie’s voice said, ‘who’s that?’ from up the stairs where the lavvy was and I said, ‘me’. She said, ‘oh come up then’ and I knew it was Irene. Irene lived next door to Billy. I went up the stairs with my sandshoes on. Tommy Bruce’s big brother said you could creep up on an Indian if you had sandshoes on and he wouldn‘t ken. I crept up. I got up half way where the lavvy was on the stair. It was awfy dark and Irene whispered, ‘wait, wait’. So I did. After a while Irene said, ‘oh Andy, oh Andy’ and she was pechin like Rover Billy’s Aunty Peg’s dog. I said ‘I’m John’ and Irene screamed and a man said ‘bloody hell’ and I ran up the stairs. I think Irene and the man got a flegg.
I knocked on Billy’s door. Billy’s Mum opened the door and shouted for Billy. Billy’s Mum said hello to me and asked how was I doing and she had big red lips on her face and she had big shoulders. She was smoking and she had a tumbler in her hand and their gas lamp was really bright and the wireless was really loud. She asked me how was Betty. Sometimes Billy’s Mum didn’t speak to me if she saw me in the street. She always spoke to me when she had the big red lips. Billy came to the door and I said ‘Hi’. Billy’s mum said, ‘close the door for the draught,’ so he did. I said, ‘my name is now Ringo’. Billy said he had a new Captain Marvel comic from his aunty in America and did I want to see it? I said, ‘yes,’ and he went back into the room and left the door open. Billy’s mum was standing at the main. She was cooking soup and tasting it. That’s what was in the tumbler. I could see the steam and smell the carrots and the turnip and the kale. Billy’s dad was sitting next to the main coughing and singing to the wireless. He was tasting the soup as well. It was Bing Cropley singing. I know him ‘cos my dad used to listen to him and whistle. Billy’s dad started to cough again and I heard him spit. He must have spat in the fire ‘cos there was a great big sizzle. Billy’s dad was a good spitter. Billy’s mum shut the door. I stood there for a long time then I went out onto the landing. Over the railings there was washing hanging on the ropes that were lassooed to the big poles at the back of the shelters. The light from Billy’s window was shining. I saw a pair of Billy’s mum’s things. They were blowing in the wind and had pink bows. Inside Billy’s house I could hear them speaking. Billy’s dad said it was Bert‘s father. I didn’t know Bert had a father. I don’t know what it was that Bert’s father did. After a while I left and went to Davie’s. I didn’t get to see Billy’s new Captain Marvel comic. I think he just forgot about me.
Davie didn’t have a stair. He had an entrance. That’s what Mrs Rae said, an entrance. The entrance was like our close and when you passed Davie’s house, a stair went up to more houses above. The entrance had tiles half-way up the walls and if you stood on Billy‘s back you could see inside Davie‘s house from the pavement outside. Mum said they were posh. There was a car in Davie’s street. A big black one with wheels. Mrs Rae was polishing her door when I came in the entrance. I walked half -way in and stopped. She saw me and said ‘David, David are you there?’ She didn’t stop polishing. She said it just like our teacher says it. She asked me how mum was and if Betty was still working? I never knew what to say when Mrs Rae asked me questions. Davie came out and asked his mum if he could play. Davie’s mum said ‘yes’, but only for ten minutes then he had to do his violin. Davie had loads of marbles. He had them in a big jar with a golliwog on the lid. We walked to the end of the entrance. The bit away from Mrs Rae. I told him my name was now Ringo McCallum but I whispered it like it was a secret and he whispered back. He asked what my mum had said about it. But Mum came to the end of the close and said it was bed-time. Mrs Rae asked her how she was but Mum said it was late and she had to hurry.
I looked out the window. It was Saturday morning. I knew it was Saturday ‘cos everybody walked quicker on Saturdays and they whistled and smiled. Mum said I had to go to the sosh. for the messages and she gave me a line and the coupons. I asked if I could wear my snake belt and she said ‘yes’. I liked going to the sosh. There were chairs there to sit on and the counter where you were served was two miles long and the men wore aprons. Mum wore an apron. The men near the door were bigger than the men at the faraway end of the counter. There were rows and rows of tins opened so you could see the biscuits inside and the men cut butter with a wire. One of the baddies tried to strangle Ringo with a wire. I put the book in the box on the counter. When I was wee I thought it was a magic box. You put your book in the top and on the other side of the counter the book was on the bottom. If you had an orange book and everybody else had a green one you could watch it going doon, doon, doon on our side of the counter. Bert worked in the sosh. He always winked at me. There was sawdust on the floor and sometimes there were footprints going out the shop and along the pavement outside. One of the men shouted, ‘Mrs McCrandle’. She was next to be served. Her book had reached the bottom. The men behind the counter made the wifies in the shop laugh. They said things that weren’t funny but it still made the wifies laugh.
Bert made the wifies laugh when he put on a red nose like a clown. I went to smell the cheese. There was one with blue bits in it and Tommy Bruce said he saw a worm in it once. Some of the cheeses were like wheels and when the man cut them you just got a wee bit. One of the cheeses was red. A big red ball. I’ve never saw red cheese when it was cut. Next to the cheese was the butcher’s counter. There was animals hanging on hooks with no skin. One of them looked like Billy’s Aunty Peg’s dog, Rover. Another man shouted, ‘Mrs Coutts’. I went back to my seat but it wasn’t there. Mrs Blacklaw had taken it. She took Mrs Coutts’s as well. Mrs Blacklaw was fat and she had a beard and she blew out her mouth like the wind up a close. She always had her stockings rolled doon to her sandshoes and she had blue legs. I didn’t like Mrs Blacklaw. She smelt like a lavvy and she didn‘t speak to me unless I was with Mum. Mum had said to mind the coupons. Where were the coupons? I put my hand in my pocket. The one with no hole. I took out my whistle and tennis ball and crocodile and the line with the messages on it and cigarette cards, I had one of Billy Steele, and a lump of chewing gum that Mum didn‘t allow me to chew. Where were the coupons? Oh I needed the lavvy. If I didn’t have the coupons I couldn’t get the messages and Mum would be crying again.
Ringo McCallum. Everybody in the sosh looked at everybody else in the sosh. So did the men behind the counter. I looked over and saw Bert standing beside the book box. Ringo McCallum he shouted again but even louder now. He wasn’t looking at me but all around him. It was like he was saying to everyone, has anybody seen Ringo McCallum? He had our orange book in his hand and I could see the coupons sticking out of one of the pages. I kept my eyes on my shoes when I walked to the bit of the counter that Bert had moved to and put my line on the counter. He said, ‘ok Ringo what can we do for you today?’ He went away with the line and every time he came back he brought something else with him. He got sugar then potatoes then jam then flour then biscuits. I thought he had made a mistake ‘cos they were chocolate biscuits. Mum didn’t buy chocolate biscuits unless it was Christmas or something. When he was finished he put the messages in the bag and wrote something in the book and said, ‘ok Ringo see you tonight at the OK Corral’ and gave me a sweetie. I put the handles of the bag over my head so it hung on my back and walked out the door with my spurs jangling and my hands just clear of my guns. I liked Bert.
When I got home the house was busy. Mum and Betty were cleaning things and the wireless was on and I was told to go and play. I saw Billy in the backs and went to play with him. There was a big boulder near the shelter and Billy was digging around it with a spoon. A bent spoon. I went up to the house and asked Mum if I could get a spoon. She said ‘no’. Geordie’s Mum was in the house. Mum asked me if I wanted to go to the pictures with Geordie. ‘And Billy,’ I said. ‘No with Geordie,’ she said. Then I had my tea. Nobody else had their tea just me. Not Mum not Betty not Jimmy just me. I had to eat it at the bunker next to the main. Mum told me to wash my face and wait for Geordie to come. The table was being set with cups and things. I saw the chocolate biscuits from the sosh. Betty was making sandwiches with cheese and ham. The cups were the pink ones with the green flowers. I remember them when Dad left and at Christmas. On the table was a plate covered with a big white sheet. When Mum wasn’t looking I lifted up one of the corners of the sheet. Cakes! Cakes with cream and chocolate and lemon and jam. Put that doon said Mum and skelped my hand but not sore.
Geordie came to the door and we went up to the pictures. Geordie was awfy quiet. It was John Wayne. I was still thinking about these cakes when the picture started. He was in Hireland and he wanted to get married but this big really big man said no so they started to fight. He fought in the house and the street and the pub and the fields and he won ‘cos he was a boxer before he wanted to get married. Once I looked at Geordie and he was crying. I looked back at the picture ‘cos I didn’t want Geordie to see me seeing him. Mum wasn’t at the close when we got back. I could see the light was on when I got to the top of the stairs and it was quiet. I heard quiet voices in the house and Bert was there and Jimmy and Betty and Mum and a man that looked like Bert and a wifie. Bert said, ‘hi Ringo’, and everybody laughed. The man laughed like Bert. I looked at my shoes. Mum came and lifted me up. She was happy. She was happy ‘cos it was Saturday.
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