Woolfy and his brother Scrapo belonged to a big man called Baxter Degama who lived in a tiny house in Deepsound Bay with his mother, and it was always she who remembered them. “Don’t forget to take your gloves,” she told Baxter each morning in the cold winter, “and for Heaven’s sakes put them on today.” If Woolfy and Scrapo had been lying together in the stuffy darkness of the bedroom drawer, they’d hear Baxter’s footsteps as he climbed slowly up the stairs and clumped across the floor to get them. Before he reached them, they always inched together for a quick cuddle, twining their woolly fingers around each other, and talking softly and quickly — that is, unless they had been fighting the night before.
“I heard him say we had to go to the dentist today,” Woolfy whispered, one morning, “if he doesn’t put us into the same pocket, just curl up tight and I’ll see you later.”
“What’s a dentist?”
“Something to do with teeth and lips; I heard Mother talking about it yesterday when I got left on the windowsill and you were still in his pocket.”
Before Scrapo could think of his next question, the drawer opened, and light, such as it was, came in upon them as Baxter seized them quickly and shoved them into one of the pockets of his heavy old coat.
“At least we’re together for a while,” Scrapo whispered, lying against his brother in the darkness. “Do you think we’re going on the tram this morning?”
“Very likely we will be,” Woolfy answered, “as I believe the dentist is right in the centre of town. Mother told Baxter to call in and pick up some French Horns from the pastry shop on his way home, so I conclude that the two buildings are fairly close to each other.”
The brothers could feel Baxter making his way down the stairs and sensed that he was in quite a rush. When he reached the bottom, they lay quietly and listened as his kissed Mother and promised he’d come straight home as bad weather was on the way and a hooligan of a wind was already rising. The instant he stepped outside the front door, the gloves knew it was a very cold day indeed. They could hear the crunching of snow beneath Baxter’s boots as he moved off down the road towards town.
Woolfy, being the right hand glove, was naturally a great deal better at directions than Scrapo, and after some time, he heard the whine of a tram. “We’ve gone down Banhurst Street, Scrapo, we’ve just passed the bakery, and I can smell the hotdog van now so we’re definitely going to the tram stop,” he whispered.
He was right; after only a very short time, they heard the noise of the overhead cable and then the great din—the great clatter and clank as the tram stopped in front of them with its brakes screeching and hissing. The gloves linked thumbs in the darkness of Baxter’s pocket and stayed quietly like that until they were aware that they were no longer on the tram but outside again on the street.
Although they were different, Woolfy and Scrapo were close brothers who hardly ever fought, and if they did fight, they did it only inside the drawer in Baxter’s bedroom where no one could see them or hear them. Usually, when one of them was feeling sad, the other, without even meaning to, felt sad also and lately Scrapo had become very mournful because he’d decided that Woolfy’s life was better than his. “You do so much more than I do, being a right hand,” he announced loudly one night as they lay in the drawer listening to Baxter snoring. “Even though I can see everything clearly with my eye, you get taken off and put on more; you get to handle interesting things, textures, surfaces. You get the opportunity to understand much more of the world than I do, Woolfy.”
“No, Scrapo, it isn’t that simple. More than once I have wished Baxter would just leave me alone in the drawer; because the world can be a confusing place. There are hundreds of different smells and sounds out there and sometimes when they all arrive swirling together, I don’t know if we’re coming or going and I get into a big panic.”
“You’ve never told me that before, Woolfy. You remember when he accidently put us on the wrong hands and didn’t notice for the whole morning?”
“Of course I do, it was very funny.”
“It was fascinating for me!” Scrapo said. “The things I saw that day!”
“Don’t shout, Scrapo, you might wake him up.”
“I wasn’t shouting, I was explaining. I saw more on that morning than I’ve ever seen before. Baxter met Rolly’s sister, Gina, on the street and he was telling her how much he’d like to go to India. He was saying the one big wish in his life was to know what the rest of the world was like, but in the end, he said he’d feel better if he could just live in a city for a while instead of out here in the blowy wilderness of Deepsound.”
“I don’t remember that conversation,” Woolfy said.
“Of course you don’t, you were in his pocket all the while on his other hand. In my usual place.”
“Oh, Scrapo, I didn’t know you felt bad about it. You said you were dead tired when we got home that day, said you’d never done as much work in your life before.”
“Yes, but it was good work. Gina turned around on the path when she’d gone about a metre or so, and smiled straight at me.”
“Smiled at Baxter you mean.”
“She was looking at me – and she kept looking at me, and smiling, laughing almost.”
“Then I’m very pleased for you, brother, and I have to say, that on the day you’re talking about, I had a happy time too,” Woolfy said, “all snuggly down in Baxter’s warm pocket, and there were hardly any crumbs in it.”
“Well you wouldn’t always like being me; I can tell you that it gets very boring lying about doing nothing and just staring upwards at the light coming into his pocket and being jostled about all the time.”
“Shush, Scrapo, he’s woken up; I can hear him moving about, keep your voice down.”
Scrapo sighed. “All I mean is that if I was out there more, I could tell you such wonderful things about the world, Woolfy.”
“The world that I can’t see?”
“The world you can’t see.”
“I can hear it though and smell it. I can smell ants’ nests under the pavements, the coming of rain, the scent of the smallest blossom, the sweet oily smell of crickets, the secret underground honey of bumblebees – lots and lots of things,” Woolfy muttered into the darkness of the drawer as they fell away into asleep. “With your help I can, anyway, Scrapo,” he added.
The brothers were very frightened in the dentist’s room. Baxter had taken them off and placed Scrapo on top of Woolfy on the edge of the dentist’s bench. Woolfy was instantly aware of the smell in the room, there was something clean and powerful about it that made him shiver a little while they waited to see what would happen next.
“Can you see Baxter, Scrapo?” Woolfy said eventually in his quietest whisper.
Scrapo ever so slowly and gently moved his index finger in Baxter’s direction, blinked the wool strands out of his tiny dark eye, and stared hard. “He’s sitting in a strange looking chair with one long shiny stalk made of metal for a leg,” he said. “The fellow has white clothes on and something across his mouth so I can’t see his face. He’s putting things right inside Baxter’s mouth, Woolfy, right inside.”
“What’s making that terrible whining noise?”
“I don’t know. The thing in his mouth, I expect.”
“It’s not an alive thing is it?”
“No, no, something pointy made of metal.”
“He should’ve been kind to us and left us in his coat. Can you see where he put it?” Woolfy asked.
Scrapo curled his index finger across the top of his thumb so that he could look behind him. “The coat’s over by the door on a stand. I can see the falling-down hem.”
Before Scrapo could straighten his finger out again, Woolfy lurched violently to one side and the brothers fell quickly to the floor together, Scrapo clinging to Woolfy with all his might as they went.
“Now what!?” Scrapo hissed in alarm, “what did you do that for?”
“We’re going to make our way to the coat and hide in there until all this is over. You move backwards, Scrapo, and keep your eye on both of them, if that fellow so much as moves his head, we stop dead still, right?”
Woolfy had got them in and out of messes many times before and Scrapo had learnt that it was better to go along quietly with what his brother wanted on those occasions. He was very aware of their gawky blackness on the shiny white floor as they moved together infinitely slowly, Woolfy inching forward with questing fingers close behind him, as he himself struggled on only four digits with his index finger raised high so that he could keep the men in his sight.
They reached the coat stand at long last and Scrapo stared upwards into the folds and caves of Baxter’s heavy overcoat. He noticed that the belt had fallen adrift from its loop and the buckle end was only a short distance away from the floor.
“What do you see, brother?” Woolfy whispered. “We’re here aren’t we? I can smell dirty snow and the scent of dogs.”
“We have arrived Woolfy. I want you to ball up into a fist so that I can climb on you and reach the coat buckle, then you hang onto me and I’ll pull us both onto the belt and then we’ll easily make it to the pocket.”
Just at that moment, the gloves heard a shout so sharp and sudden that they quivered with terror. “They’ve seen us; play dead!” Woolfy whispered, flopping instantly into his lifeless stance. Scrapo looked quickly in the direction of the noise as he prepared to do the same, but saw that Baxter had accidentally knocked a glass from the little stand attached to the chair.
“They’re not looking at us, brother, so just do what I told you,” Scrapo said.
As the gloves reached the roomy left hand pocket of Baxter’s coat and tumbled over the rim and downwards, they were truly grateful for the furry warmth and darkness and grateful that they could no longer hear the whining noise so clearly.
“I did some waving today,” Woolfy murmured as the gloves settled down between Baxter’s handkerchiefs and socks to sleep that night. “It makes me tired you know because I have to be on my best behaviour for waving.”
“Oh?” said Scrapo, dully, as he turned over and nudged closer to his brother, “I spent a lot of time in a fist inside his pocket … in the dark amongst some new crumbs and those same old dried up peanuts. Could you work out who he was waving at, Woolfy?”
“It turned out to be Rolly. He came over for a chat with us and he smelt of sea water and fish scales as he usually does.”
“He came over for a chat just with Baxter, Woolfy. You were not included in it.”
“Rolly was talking about the old wooden shed up on the coastal path. They’re thinking of buying it and setting up a fish smoking business.
“Rolly and Baxter together?”
“Yes, and Gina. All three. The old man who owns it used to smoke fish there years ago. I don’t think Mother will much care for the idea though. She’ll consider it a risky venture, I should say.”
“You always think you’re the expert on what’s in Mother’s mind, Woolfy, but you’re not,” Scrapo said – it was something he’d thought on more than one occasion, although he recognised that it was Woolfy’s right-handedness that caused him to have opinions on a large number of matters that were nothing to do with himself. “You’ve heard how Baxter complains about working in Bleary’s Box Factory, Woolfy. He can barely stand the place. I think it’s a great idea for them to start their own business.”
When Woolfy didn’t reply, Scrapo wrapped his little finger around his brother’s thumb and remembered back, as he suspected Woolfy was also doing, to their life in Covington’s Haberdashery and Outfitters. There was drawer after drawer of gloves in that ramshackle shop in Pinnacle Street but Woolfy and Scrapo were the only two who had been placed in the glass-fronted display cabinet right in the middle of the shop, and as a result, they were quite often taken out and handled by gentlemen or working men looking for a decent pair of heavy-duty warm woollen gloves.
To pass the time away, the brothers played a game in which they tried to guess which of the customers who came into Covington’s would ask to see them and try them on. Life was harder for Woolfy in the cabinet than it was for Scrapo, because sound was muffled and there was nothing much to smell except the remnants of some boxes of cigars which must once have occupied the same spot. Scrapo, on the other hand… so to speak… could see all the customers, transactions, and comings and goings. Dogs came into the shop from time to time, large slobbery ones, tiny sharp-nosed ones, ones with comical tails and others that looked muscular and vicious, and the brothers were afraid of them. “Puff up!” Scrapo would hiss when he spotted one of the creatures entering the shop through the revolving doors, and both gloves would expand slowly to twice their size and take on a singularly menacing and slightly quivering stance inside the cabinet.
Their closest encounter with a dog came one autumn after a child smeared the glass of their cabinet with cream from a bun and wandered away, and a dog with a saggy-looking face and droopy eyes padded up and licked the glass clean with its hideous flat pink and black patterned tongue. For days afterwards it was all Scrapo could talk about, he’d been so astonished by the incident, astonished and really very worried.
“What bothers you about it?” Woolfy asked him. “Horrible though it was, the creature has gone now, is that not so?”
“Suppose the one who buys us has a dog?” Scrapo shouted, “and we are forced to touch the creature?” it was late evening when he said this, the lights in the shop were all out except the ones that lit up the window display, and the sun was visible setting between coppery green scuddy clouds embedded in the pink night sky.
“Oh dear, Scrapo, are you still supposing someone is going to buy us after all this time?” Woolfy asked.
Scrapo turned his eye on his brother and stared at him hard. “Why do we play that game then, Woolfy – why do I describe everyone to you, and why do we say we like the looks of this man or that man and wait for him to notice us in here?”
“It’s just pretending, Scrapo, to pass away the time. You told me yourself that on a few occasions when it seemed we were awfully pleasing to someone, that the shopkeeper has hunted in one of the glove drawers and pulled out a similar pair of brothers to us all flattened and wrapped up in crinkly see-through paper and the customer has gone away with those.”
For a moment Scrapo couldn’t find any words of comfort as Woolfy’s despair seemed to fill the tiny cabinet. “That stuff is called cellophane, I believe,” he said.
“It makes squeaky noises,” Woolfy remarked in return.
“Then you think it’s because other gloves are wrapped up and we are not?”
“That they get chosen?” Woolfy asked.
“Yes,” Scrapo said quietly, “that they get chosen.”
“I don’t know, maybe it is.” Woolfy was lying on his back and as he spoke these words, he curled his fingers slowly over his thumb and kept himself in his ball of misery throughout the whole long night, a night in which the moon was as round and silver shining as the spoon the shop-keeper ate his soup with at lunchtime while Covington’s was temporarily shut.
It happened to be the very next day that the brothers were carefully lifted from their cabinet for Mother to inspect. She’d come in while it was still early and the gloves had yet to feel fully awake. They were laid out side by side on the glass topped counter and although, as was customary, they were playing dead, Scrapo was watching Mother as carefully as he could from his position. He could see the large navy blue buttons of her coat, and by straining his eye upwards, he could just see her flat face surrounded by fastidious grey waves that repeated and repeated around her head. Woolfy began to whisper. “Curious smell the person has, Scrapo, wonderful and yet at the same time, not wonderful.”
“It’s a woman, Woolfy.”
“Then all is lost; her hands will be far too small for us. Oh, why is the world so cruel, brother?” he whined.
A year later Woolfy would have been able to describe Mother’s smell as that of violets and almonds and rust, but the brothers’ confinement up until that point had made it fairly impossible to know much at all about the outside world.
As Baxter made his way through the back streets of town, up old stone steps and round sharp corners, he stretched his right hand out to touch the leaves and stems of small trees that hung over the pavement from the tiny front gardens of the adjoining houses. This meant that by the time they arrived at Rolly’s house, Woolfy was pretty much wet through and the only thing he hated more was when he was not only wet but also smelt of dog fur. He was glad to be pushed down into Baxter’s pocket where he found Scrapo dozing quietly in great comfort and perfectly dry.
Scrapo shifted away slightly and drew himself into a tight ball. “You smell really bad, Woolfy, what’s he been making you do?”
“We’ve been touching everything, stone walls, wet leaves, gates, and we had to stop and pat a very big slobber-faced dog on the head a couple of times.”
“Rather you than me,” Scrapo answered.
“You see what I mean then? My life is much harder than yours. You should be glad not to have to encounter upsetting things all the time and not know what’s going to happen next,” Woolfy told him.
The brothers could hear Rolly and Baxter talking together, and they’d worked out that Baxter had hung his coat, in the pocket of which they lay, on the back of a chair. They could hear the clinking of cups, and the puff and wapp of the fridge door opening and closing and the rattling of the window as the merciless wind blew against it.
“Someone’s at the door,” Woolfy whispered after a while. “I heard the gate latch lift up. It’s a woman, but it’s not Mother; different smell. She’s come inside now.”
It wasn’t until the woman was right inside the kitchen that the brothers could hear the sound of her voice, light and pretty and full of sweetness. For a moment the voices of the three people rose up in an excited tangle and what they said was too hard to understand. Later, when the three were seated around the big wooden table, the gloves were able to hear all that was spoken about. For a short while, Scrapo, having climbed up to the top of Baxter’s coat pocket, put his index finger over the rim and inspected the surroundings.
“It’s Gina,” he said, as he slid back down next to Woolfy.
“What does she look like, Scrapo? She has a very fragrant smell, like ripened wheat and gorse bushes.”
“Small white triangular face, pointed chin, hair falling all around her shoulders, the colour of roses, like the ones that hang over the stone wall in Harper’s Lane that I’ve described to you before.”
“I think the first time I knew I wanted to travel,” the gloves heard Baxter saying, “was when Mr Jefferson made us read out the names of countries we liked the looks of from our school atlases. You remember that don’t you Rolly?”
“Not vividly like you do, Baxter. Geography wasn’t my best subject. It was the last lesson on a Friday, wasn’t it? And I used to think about the weekend, and helping my dad mend his fishing nets, and who I was going to play with when all my chores were done.”
“I can remember you as a boy, Baxter,” Gina said. “You were always staring out at the horizon, and when I used to sit with you and ask what you were looking at, you’d say imagine what it must be like to be in Cairo or Timbuktu or Shanghai right now. But I never could.”
“But don’t either of you ever feel like getting away from here?” Baxter asked.
Gina put down her mug of tea. “What’s wrong with Deepsound, Baxter? It’s got just about everything you could want, and I bet there aren’t too many places where you can watch dolphins and whales like the ones out there in the bay. Besides, I’ll bet the world is pretty much the same all over with happy people who laugh a lot and sad people who complain about everything.”
“Maybe so, Gina, but people in other countries see the world differently from us, and that’s what fascinates me, and their stories and songs and the things they make, the things they think.”
“Well, if we can buy the shed and get the fish smoking business working properly, we’ll become rich and you’ll be able to travel about the world all you want,” Rolly said.
“Yes, we should concentrate on our plan, Baxter,” Gina remarked. “Since we last met, I’ve been thinking that I’ll sell my van and put all my savings into the business, and Rolly can sell this house and move in with me. I can’t wait for the day I never have to work in Bleary’s factory again!”
“Did you hear that Scrapo?” Woolfy asked. “Big plans afoot!”
“Well, I’ve been thinking too,” Baxter said, “and I’m going to put my boat on the market along with the two outboard motors; they’re bound to sell quickly.
On the journey home, it began to snow and Baxter pulled both gloves onto his hands and pushed his fists into his pockets. Even through the thick fabric of his coat, the gloves could feel the coldness of the wind. Scrapo in the left hand pocket did his best to keep Baxter warm, while Woolfy, who was thinking hard about what the three friends had been talking about, paid little attention to the frozen tips of Baxter’s fingers on his right hand.
“We owe everything to Mother, Woolfy,” Scrapo said quite all suddenly that night in the drawer. They were lying between Baxter’s fleece-lined singlets and his box of cuff-links.
“I’ll never forget the day she brought us here. That journey in her basket was fantastic, it seemed I could smell every scent, perfume, pong and stench that ever was, and I was so excited, do you remember, Scrapo? We clung to each other, didn’t we?”
“You were frightened, Woolfy, and you were clinging onto me.”
“Never!” I was thrilled.”
“How can you say that, Scrapo? I was delirious with happiness. Someone had finally purchased us.”
“That’s not how I remember it, if you will forgive me.”
“Well, of course I was trepidatious, as were you yourself.”
“I’m happy to admit that I was downright scared. I was able to look upwards from my position in Mother’s basket and that was the first time I’d seen the sky, and what a terrifying wonder it was to me, Woolfy!”
“So you frequently say. I still don’t understand what the sky is meant to be for exactly.”
“I wish it had a smell so that you could enjoy it too,” Scrapo said, flexing his fingers in the darkness, and feeling for once that he was equal to his brother. “You could invent a smell for it though, couldn’t you?”
“Perhaps if you could describe it to me again, I will consider the idea.”
“It’s all around and all above and sometimes it’s empty and sometimes it’s full. I mean full of clouds Woolfy, the curious moving things that change shape that I’ve mentioned before.”
“Yes, but haven’t you worked out the reason for the sky yet, Scrapo? If I am to invent a smell for it, it would help enormously if you could explain its purpose.”
“Since our last conversation about it, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s meant to be a great gazing slate.” Scrapo turned over and linked thumbs with Woolfy. “You know, like the fancy one down in the hall I’ve told you about that Baxter looks into sometimes just before he leaves the house, and when he thinks his hair is sticking out in the wrong direction. Only you don’t exactly see yourself in the sky.”
“No, not yourself, but your thoughts and dreams maybe. There are shapes up there you can find that do, for a fleeting moment, look like people faces or dog faces or sometimes giant fish like the ones on the market stall in the High Street.”
“People faces, you say? Well, well, well. I don’t suppose you’ve ever seen a glove up there have you, Scrapo, or a mitten perhaps?”
Of course the idea of gloves in the sky was perfectly ridiculous and Woolfy began to laugh out aloud, stretching his fingers upwards and wriggling them about. Soon Scrapo joined him until the little drawer was so filled with their mirth that the stuffy air around them seemed almost to sparkle. Having shaken off their drowsiness that way, they began to wrestle with each other, rolling over and over amongst Baxter’s socks and handkerchiefs with their fingers intertwined, until they became tired out and fell asleep still clasping each other.
The following morning, it was not Baxter who opened the drawer, but Mother herself. Her large plate-like face hovered above the gloves as she stared downwards at the chaos the brothers had created in the night. Scrapo and Woolfy’s instinct in the face of such hostility was to puff up, but they’d learnt to restrain themselves in domestic situations as they’d discovered that generally speaking people were fairly quiet and rather kind and nothing to be frightened of.
“Baxter!” Mother shrieked, the light behind her casting a pale aura around her head, “what on earth have you done to your top drawer, it’s a frightful mess in here. What were you looking for? There are hankies and socks everywhere, oh my Heavens!”
The gloves could not help but quiver; Mother was angry and they were afraid she’d quite all suddenly realise that the chaos was their fault.
“Goodness, Mother, I can’t explain it,” Baxter answered as his face appeared beside hers at the open drawer. “It looks as if someone has rifled through my under things.”
While the mess in the drawer always remained a mystery to Baxter and Mother, it had one unintended consequence about which the brothers were glad.
“I have just heard Mother locking the front and back doors, so we’ll be safe and sound now,” Woolfy whispered the following night as they lay rather still exactly where Baxter had placed them. “You see; if it hadn’t been for you and me having a bit of a brouhaha last night, those two might have remained as careless as ever.”
“I’d say before last night they were more carefree than careless, Woolfy, and because of what we did they’ve become cautious and frightened. Is that a good or a bad thing, do you think?”
“Scrapo, just imagine if someone had entered the house uninvited with the intention of taking some of Mother’s possessions away, well they can’t do that if the doors are locked, can they?”
“I suppose not, Woolfy. But what do you imagine they would want to take?”
“You, my brother – with your eye – are in a better position than me to answer that question,” Woolfy said, in what Scrapo thought was a very triumphant way. “Why don’t you describe Mother’s room and the things in it to me so that I can single out the objects I think someone might take?”
Scrapo and Woolfy had been in Mother’s room in the early morning on one or two occasions when Baxter, holding them in his hands, had stooped to kiss her goodbye before he left for work at Bleary’s.
“Well,” began Scrapo, “Her room is large and filled with light. There is a bright yellow jug that is sometimes full of flowers; I think they’re the ones Baxter buys for her from time to time and you carry home for him. The windows are criss-crossed with black metal so they are not easy to look out of, and the curtains are such a distraction anyway that you’d hardly want to look out. Yes, the curtains are white, and covered in giant red roses and caught about the waist with wide bands of material of the same design and at the end of each band is a great bulbous hanging thing I heard Baxter describe as a tassel; the purpose of which is impossible to imagine, it’s rather like a fancy and useless hand-brush. The carpet is red and covered in a pattern of white roses that seem to surge towards her huge bed and disappear beneath in a great rush.” Scrapo stopped for breath, feeling a might dizzy quite all suddenly.
“Goodness!” Woolfy said, “goodness!”
“Yes indeed, brother. And, beneath the window she has a curious small table that seems rather menacing as it squats on its four bowed legs. It has a very fancy three-faced glazing slate on it that seems to glimmer, and in front of that on the lace-covered table Mother keeps her treasures; little wooden boxes, the pearls I have described to you before, her fancy bottles of scent, her water glass with the gold rim, and a ring with a diamond in it that is as beautiful as a star. There’s a picture in a silver frame of Baxter when he was a child that I was able to study that time he placed us on Mother’s chair. Even then his face was meaty and full, but his eyes were round and shining, and now, Woolfy, they are really very squinty indeed.”
“Goodness!” Woolfy said again, “squinty!”
Woolfy and Scrapo felt the jolt of the tram as it sped over the join in the tracks and knew they were headed out of town towards the sea. “Oh happy day,” Woolfy whispered in the warm felty darkness, “we haven’t journeyed this way for some time now. I wonder what we’re up to?”
“I know the answer to that; we’re going to meet Gina and Rolly at the old shed they’re after. I heard Baxter telling Mother about it this morning when you were still upstairs on his bed.”
“It’s unusual for him to forget just one of us,” Woolfy remarked, “I was quite offended by that.”
“I think he’s over-excited about the shed, brother, and doesn’t know if he’s coming or going.”
“Actually I rolled off the bed onto the floor and was making my way towards the door when I heard him coming back. Thank Goodness for Mother. If she didn’t remind him to take us, we’d get left behind all the time and our lives would be terribly boring, don’t you think, Scrapo?”
“Yes, Woolfy, I certainly do. Although your life with all that pointing and holding onto things and waving and so on, is far more exciting than mine in the first place. I’d have loved to have felt the hedges and wet leaves on our way to Rolly’s house the other day.”
“Perhaps, brother, but you wouldn’t have felt so obliging when he wanted you to touch the big dog we came across, so you should count yourself lucky sometimes just to be sitting in the safe darkness.”
Baxter took his gloves out of his pocket twice during the journey and put them on his hands and then back in his pocket again. The day was not colder than any other but the gloves sensed that he was very excited and fidgety. Scrapo got a good look at some of the other passengers as the tram wheezed along the road, and Woolfy smelt all manner of wonderful things, wood chippings, fish scales, damp shoes, hair oil and the buttered toast and kippers the man next to Baxter had eaten for breakfast that morning.
“Nearly there now, Woolfy,” Scrapo said, as Baxter bundled them back into his coat pocket and stood up at the sound of the tram clanking to a halt. “I spotted Gina and Rolly walking up the road just now; I can’t wait to see the building they’re so interested in.”
“Entirely made of corrugated tin, I’ve heard,” Woolfy remarked, as if he had special knowledge of it not shared by his brother. “And that’s a type of tin that has little humpy runnels evenly spaced all along it so it looks a bit as if it’s laughing.”
“I don’t suppose the door latch or the window frames are corrugated as you put it though,” Scrapo was quick to reply.
“That goes without saying,” Woolfy answered, “there is no need to be quite so literal always.”
“Merely accurate, Woolfy. Nothing wrong with that,” and then after a few minutes, feeling slightly aggrieved, Scrapo said, “there’s not much point in having an eye if I make no attempt to observe the world we live in and try to understand it, is there?”
Woolfy could smell the briny sea and the old iron railings along the side of the road. Then Rolly and Gina were quite all suddenly close by talking to Baxter, therefore, being distracted, he did not answer Scrapo’s question.
“I’ve got the key from Mr Croid,” Gina said. “He says there’s nothing in there except the table and the sink and the three big fish smokers. He’d be happy to sell it to us as soon as we like.”
“It’s shabby, but it looks pretty sound,” Rolly remarked.
“I love this rusty old place; I always have ever since I was a child,” Baxter said. “I used to sit at the cliff edge out there and dream about the Amazon River, and how one day, somehow, whatever else happened to me, I’d see it. Let’s have a look inside, then.”
Woolfy and Scrapo lay patiently in Baxter’s pocket, but by the time the three friends were inside the tin shed, Scrapo had inched his way upwards and was looking around too. It was dark in the hut and the light that came through the windows was so bright it nearly hurt his eye. He could see a couple of old plastic chairs, and some tarry planks of wood. Along one side of the shed was a stout bench and at the end an enormous shallow sink with a tiny brass tap above it. Along the other wall were the fish smoking ovens, they looked like great metal wardrobes with fat chimneys.
“The smoking kilns don’t look bad,” Gina said, “but Mr Croid doesn’t know if the tap is working or not, he said he hasn’t been inside for twenty years now. I love the place too, Baxter, but if it has no water, it’s useless to us. We’ve got to be able to gut, wash and salt the fish, and we’ve got to be able to store ice.”
Scrapo slipped down into Baxter’s pocket. “Can you hear what they’re saying, Woolfy?”
“I most certainly can, and of course she’s right, how can they gut and wash the fish without water? Climb up again and see what happens next, Scrapo.”
The three friends stood silently together for a moment before Baxter said, “Otherwise, it’s perfect for us with the path out there leading straight down to the harbour. So one of us has to try the tap.”
“One of us,” repeated Rolly. “I think it should be Gina; she’s always been the lucky one of the two of us. When we were little she used to find wonderful things all the time.”
“That was because I was always looking around me as a child, Rolly, and so I spotted things.”
“What kind of things?” Baxter asked.
“I found a ring once with a blue stone in it, and a piece of whale bone carved into a comb and shaped like a dolphin. And there was one time, late in the afternoon when I was down on the shore … and I found a live mermaid.”
“No, you didn’t Gina,” Rolly said, “and later you got into trouble for lying.”
“Yes I did Rolly, whatever you think, I know I did. She put her hand out and touched me and it was cold and sticky at the same time.”
“So you’ve always said, Sis, and I don’t believe you, but once you did find something wonderful on the dump, didn’t you?”
“The biscuit tin?”
“Yes, full of coins, some of them very old and no use, and others you could spend in the grocery shop,” Rolly reminded her.
“And we took it home to our mother and she said she’d find the owner,” Gina said, “but the next day we had a new pot of strawberry jam on the table and a pot of Mrs. Martin’s best honey, and we’d never ever had the two together before.”
Baxter laughed. “So it sounds like it should be you who tries the tap, Gina,” he said.
Woolfy had inched his way upwards in Baxter’s pocket so that his four fingers were just poking over the top next to Scrapo, “Budge up, Scrapo,” he whispered, “I can’t hear what they’re saying properly anymore.”
“Rolly is saying Gina is the lucky one,” Scrapo explained, “so she has to try the tap.”
“Okay, I’ll be It,” Gina said, “but you two have to hold your breath and keep your fingers crossed.”
“Do as she says, Scrapo; cross your fingers.”
“She doesn’t mean us, Woolfy. Why do you always think you’re part of everything?”
“Do it anyway for luck,” Woolfy replied quickly, and the two gloves crossed their fingers, and waited.
Gina walked slowly to the sink and when she reached it, she turned around and looked for a long moment at Baxter and her brother with her hand just above the tap. “Are you ready?” she asked.
“We’re ready,” Baxter answered.
“And so are we,” Woolfy whispered.
Scrapo blinked and stared hard as Gina turned on the tap. Nothing happened; no water came out, and the way her pretty face saddened, moved him greatly.
“What’s going on now?” Woolfy asked. “Everything’s gone quiet.”
Just at that moment, as Scrapo watched Gina place her hand against her heart and look over at the men, a faint banging noise began which grew loud and shuddery in seconds, and then, from the little tap a belch of thin brown liquid appeared followed quickly by a proper flow of good water that had the three friends laughing and jumping and hugging each other over and over again as the gloves slid down into Baxter’s pocket and clasped each other tightly.
The brothers were lying on top of Baxter’s world atlas on the desk in his bedroom and they’d been there for quite a while. He’d come back to the house happier than they’d seen him for some time, charged into his bedroom, and dropped the gloves right there on his desk rather than putting them in his drawer as his mother would have liked. Now, they could hear Mother laughing in the kitchen, and Baxter saying yippee! And the fragrant smell of fish pie was rising up through the floorboards of Baxter’s room.
“What a day!” Woolfy said, “what a day! You’re so lucky to have been able to see the moment water came from that tap, Scrapo. So lucky.”
Scrapo laughed. “The most exciting thing that’s happened to Baxter for a long time, I should think.”
“To all of us, Scrapo. Just think, when they buy the tin shed, we’ll be going out every single day. I heard Rolly say his cousin will be able to keep them supplied with herrings and they’re going to use apple wood and oak to smoke them with.”
“I think we should calm down now, Woolfy, and talk in quiet voices, just in case …”
“Just in case?”
“Well, we’re right out in the open here and I’m never completely sure that we can’t be heard by people when we’re talking loudly. It’s something that always worries me, Woolfy. I’m not like you; I don’t think they mean to include us in their lives in quite the way you think they do.”
“You’ve never said that before. Know what worries me most?”
“What?” Scrapo asked.
“It’s getting lost outside again like I did once. You remember? I’ve never since felt as desolate as I did as I hung there on that thin twig where the person who found me placed me. Darkness came quite all suddenly that night, and I cannot tell you how terrified I was.”
“Did you think about me as you hung there?” Scrapo whispered.
“Did I think about you?”
“Yes, did you think about being back in the drawer with me, or in Baxter’s pocket? Did you think about me?”
Woolfy was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know, Scrapo. Maybe I did. I don’t remember exactly. I only remember feeling that I was entirely alone in the world.”
“I felt the same way on the night you were gone, alone in Baxter’s drawer. I was useless you see? One glove. Useless.”
“So you missed me?” Woolfy asked, turning towards his brother and linking thumbs across the map of Australia on the front cover of the atlas – careless of whether Baxter walked in at that moment or not.
“I didn’t think there was much point to me without you by my side,” Scrapo explained.
“You didn’t tell me that the next morning when I came back to Baxter’s pocket. You just sighed and turned away from me and shivered a little if I remember correctly. Shivered a little while I sobbed with relieve that I’d been found.”
“I was too overcome to speak properly because I was so glad you were back again, Woolfy. I felt as if I was bursting apart with joy.”
“Do you love me, Scrapo?”
“I believe I must do, Woolfy. I believe I must do very much.”
“Then we are the same in that.”
“Then we are the same at least in that, if in no other way.”
“And Baxter, I think he must love me too, otherwise he wouldn’t have come searching for me in the park that morning and then laughed out aloud when he found me hanging there on that twig for all the world to see,” Woolfy said.
“Like a buffoon glove, or a mitten?”
“Yes, like a very foolish glove indeed, and wet through with the early morning dew.”
“He took you back because he loved you, you think?”
“Of course, Scrapo.”
“Then do you think he loves me too?”
“He loves us both, brother, of that I am sure.
Scrapo thought about that for a moment; being the unimportant left hand glove, he’d never quite felt loved by Baxter. He blinked in the darkness and felt a little sad but hopeful at the same time. “Woolfy?”
“Can I ask you something else?”
“Of course you can; you can ask me anything you want to.”
“Do you love Baxter?”
“Do I love Baxter? I should say I do! Even though he can be very annoying when he puts me through rough moments, I rather adore him,” Woolfy whispered.
“I love him too, even if he doesn’t take a lot of notice of me and I’m always having to crawl up the insides of his pocket to get a glimpse of the world.”
“Do you remember when Mother handed us over to him?”
Scrapo could remember that very clearly. Mother had wrapped the brothers up in some newspaper and tied the parcel up with a piece of brown string. They were for Baxter’s forty-second birthday and after he’d tried them on and admired their woolly strength, he’d laid them on the kitchen table while Mother and he ate French horns either side of a yellow burning candle that cast a halo around itself and all things in the immediate area. Scrapo studied everything he could see as Woolfy lay quietly beside him. He could see Baxter’s face in the candlelight and thought him kind-looking and a bit tired and, as he talked to his mother, the gloves learnt that his father who had been a sea captain was no longer alive and sometimes Mother and Baxter had to be what they called careful with money.
Now the brothers could smell apples and cinnamon drifting through the floorboards and Baxter and Mother were still laughing together downstairs. Scrapo was hoping they weren’t going to be left out all night to sleep on Baxter’s atlas, as it was hard and shiny and Baxter’s snoring would sound twice as irksome and loud from that position as it normally did. “Woolfy, do you remember when we were talking about the person who might have come into Mother’s house before they put locks on the door?” he whispered.
“Yes, what of it?”
“My question is, of all the things I described to you in Mother’s room, all the little jars and pots and boxes, all the filigree and lace, all the tiny figurines, all the textures and clothes and warmish looking things, and slippers and endy bits, sticks and pointy things – of all those, what do you think the intruder would’ve taken away?”
“That’s easy, Scrapo. He’d have taken away the thing that Mother loves most. Because if he has to take other people’s things, surely he must take what they most love, otherwise what would be the point in taking anything at all? And that would’ve been the framed photo of Baxter when he was a child with a moon face, wouldn’t it?”
“I suppose so,” Scrapo said, and then he laughed a little. “Imagine Baxter as a child. What do you think he was like?”
Just as the two of them were trying hard to picture the child Baxter, the bedroom door opened and in he came, humming the fisherman’s song he liked so much. “I wondered where I’d put my gloves,” he said out aloud, and picking Woolfy and Scrapo up off his atlas, he put them carefully away in his drawer next to his bundles of socks.
The gloves were on their way to Rolly’s house again, and as usual Woolfy had been put to the task of touching the hedges and stone walls and hanging leaves and small flowering trees, when he was quite all suddenly snagged on the savage thorn of a rose bush and felt his index finger give way and begin to unravel. “Yikes and blast!” he shouted as Baxter took him off and pushed him down into his pocket, “yikes and yikes!”
“Whatever is the matter, Brother?” Scrapo asked, moving over to let Woolfy have some room. “What’re you rolling about for? Unclench your fingers, you’re making me scared!”
Woolfy moaned and clenched his four fingers over his thumb even tighter.
“I’m done for! I’m done for!” he sobbed. “Badly injured!” And he was so distressed that he began to puff up – a thing he hadn’t done for ages.
“Let me look, Woolfy,” Scrapo said in his strongest voice, and climbing onto his brother, he forced his fingers to uncurl and stared with horror at the hole in Woolfy’s trembling finger. “Oh! Woolfy, that looks awful. Lie still and try to stay calm.”
“He’ll throw me away now, don’t you see? He’ll throw me out as being no good!”
“Well if he throws you out, he’ll throw me out too. But I’ve already been thrown out in the trash before, if you remember, and I can tell you it’s not at all nice in the trash can, Woolfy.”
“Why is it that whenever anything happens to me, you always find something worse that’s happened to you, Scrapo?”
“Do I do that?”
“Yes, and I’ve told you about it before. Please creep up to the top of his pocket and find out where we are. We’ve passed the house with the orange blossom because I just smelt it a while back and so we should be getting to Rolly’s house any minute now.”
Woolfy was right. The gloves heard the gate click and the front door open and then Rolly’s cheerful voice, and behind him a little, Gina calling out hello in her little tinkling voice.
Baxter reached into his pocket, and taking the brothers out, placed them one on top of the other on the table in the kitchen. Scrapo was at the bottom. Then Baxter took his woolly hat off, stroked it for a moment and placed that on the table too. The gloves could hear seagulls screaming outside and the gate click-clacking in the wind. Scrapo looked around him carefully, squinting a little in the light from the window. Woolfy could smell the soot in the chimney, meaning that later on that day there would be a rain storm. He sighed. “I’ll be wet again,” he whispered to himself, “wet all the way through and badly damaged.”
“I’ve advertised in the local paper,” Baxter was saying. “Everyone in Deepsound knows I want to sell the boat, but no-one’s coming forward. I’ve managed to sell one of the outboard engines, that’s all.”
“And it seems this house needs a bit of underpinning work done before I can try to sell it,” Rolly added, “which will mean less money for the shed.”
“We shouldn’t be downhearted though,” Gina said. “Maybe we can persuade the old man to lower his price.”
The three of them stopped talking; Rolly sat with his head in his hands, Gina was frowning and playing with Baxter’s hat and Baxter kept sighing and drumming his fingers on the table. It seemed to Scrapo that no one knew what to say next; he supposed they were all thinking that they’d have to abandon their plan to buy the shed.
“You’ve got a hole in your glove, Baxter,” Gina said quite all suddenly. “Have you still got my sewing kit in the cupboard, Rolly?”
“Baxter can buy another pair, can’t he?” Rolly answered quietly.
“I suppose so. I just thought …”
Baxter laughed. “Gina, I would be delighted if you’d mend my glove. I happen to be very fond of my gloves, and since none of us have any money, it’d be better if I don’t go buying new ones just now.”
Scrapo felt his brother tremble and tighten up above him; he hoped he wasn’t going to puff up as well, and then in an instant, Woolfy was gone; whisked away by Gina and taken to the other end of the table. Scrapo raised his pointing finger slightly and stared hard as Gina found a long savage silver needle and some thin black wool from a little wooden box with claw feet, then a wave of terror and panic overcame him, and he fainted clean away.
When next he was conscious of the world again, he was clinging onto the lapel of Baxter’s coat and they were outside once more in the cold weather. He hoped it wouldn’t start to snow or sleet because he was feeling very feeble and from his position he couldn’t see his brother at all.
It seemed ages before the gloves found themselves together again. Baxter put them on either end of the little shelf in the hall below the window, and went to the kitchen to have tea with Mother. Scrapo waited until he was sure neither of them would come out into the hall and then crawled at high speed towards Woolfy, calling out his name.
“No need to shout,” Woolfy answered feebly.
“Are you feeling all right, Woolfy? I could not bear to see what Gina was doing to you in Rolly’s house. Did it hurt?”
“Yes, a bit; little sharp pains, but no worse than being hit by hail stones. What do I look like?”
“Unfurl and let me see properly.” Scrapo blinked and inspected his brother’s finger carefully, and in exactly the same place as he was fortunate enough to have an eye, Woolfy had a neat criss-crossed black wool patch, slightly bulgy, but not unpleasant to look at. For the first time it occurred to Scrapo that being a left hand glove might not be such a bad thing after all, because if it had been him rather than Woolfy who’d been snagged by the thorn, it would’ve damaged his eye, and the thought of that made him feel strange and shaky.
“Don’t tremble, Scrapo. There’s no need to feel badly for me; I’m all patched up and as good as new because of beautiful, clever Gina.”
“I was thinking that …”
“Yes, I know. You were thinking I might have died. But Gina was so tender and careful with me.”
“No Woolfy, it occurred to me that …”
“… well, I didn’t die, Scrapo. It was just a nasty wound which of course would’ve got bigger had it not been spotted by Gina.”
“If it had been me instead of you, then …”
“I’m sure Gina would’ve patched you up just the same way she did me.”
“I mean that hole is just where my eye is and so …”
“She has such tiny little soft fingers, Scrapo. Not that I have any wish to be a lady glove, but it was wonderful to be cared about so tenderly. Baxter is forever shoving us in his pocket, or snatching us from our drawer, or scooping us up from wherever he last put us. Really quite rough sometimes.”
Scrapo fell silent. There wasn’t much point in talking to his brother if he wasn’t going to listen. He never did listen properly, Scrapo realised, except when he wanted something described. But even so, the idea of being without Woolfy was terrifying. There’d been a day, some time back now, when Baxter had thrown Scrapo away in the trash can and it had been all Woolfy’s fault.
“You’ve woken me up, Scrapo!” Woolfy wailed into the fuzzy blackness of the drawer, “stop fidgeting around like that.”
“Sorry,” Scrapo answered, pulling his fingers inwards and burying his eye in his palm.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“A horrible dream,” Scrapo replied.
“Oh? I thought you only ever had warm and comfortable dreams with pleasing details.”
“Most of the time I do, but this dream was awful. It was about that day …”
“No, I don’t.”
“The day you got stuck behind the radiator in the hall,” Scrapo whispered. The brothers hadn’t belonged to Baxter for very long when the terrible incident occurred.
“Ah, that shocking day! Not something I care to think about.”
“No, I don’t suppose you do, Woolfy.”
“You still blame me for it, don’t you?”
“You shouldn’t have been showing off and it wouldn’t have happened.” Scrapo could still see in his mind’s eye Woolfy making his way at top speed up one of the net curtains across the little window in the hall and then back down again, shouting out, “Way-hay, look at me, look at me!” No matter how Scrapo, who was lying on the little shelf below the window, tried to calm his brother down, he carried on as if it didn’t matter in the slightest if Baxter or Mother came out into the hall and saw him. In fact, one of the biggest differences between the brothers was Scrapo’s uncertainty about whether people knew and understood about gloves; sometimes he thought they might and at other times he was sure they didn’t. Woolfy, however, believed people knew perfectly well about the intelligence of gloves but pretended they didn’t, so what would it matter if he or Scrapo were discovered moving about?
Scrapo had twisted his eye first towards Woolfy and then quickly to the front room door where Baxter and Mother were listening to the radio. One of them could come out at any minute he suspected and what on earth would happen if they found a glove clinging to the curtain? He felt himself puff up with tension and just as he turned once more to stare at his ridiculous brother, Woolfy lost his grip and fell like a leaf onto the tiny shelf. Then before Scrapo – being very puffed up and therefore slow – could reach out to him, Woolfy rolled over once and dropped straight off into the unknown space below.
Scrapo shuddered, and crawling to the edge of the shelf, looked downwards. “Where are you, Woolfy?” he whispered. “I can’t see you at all.”
“I’m behind the radiator,” Woolfy said. “It’s horrible here; there’s dust everywhere, all lumpy and grey, and peeling wallpaper and weird looking spiders with round white faces and thin clickity legs and very glittery eyes.”
Scrapo felt quite all suddenly angry and at the same time, scared. “Since you’re so clever, Woolfy, surely you can find a way up again,” he hissed.
“I’m stuck, Scrapo; I can’t move at all.”
Woolfy began to weep and as he didn’t do that very often, Scrapo felt even more frightened, but before he could think what to do next the front room door opened and Baxter came out and put on his coat and hat… and came to the shelf looking for his gloves.
“Have you seen my other glove, Ma?” he called out, “I left them out here, but there’s only one of them.”
“Be on the floor, I expect,” Mother called back, “you know what you’re like, Baxter.”
“It’s not. I’ve looked. It’s not very cold out though, so I’ll go without them. See you soon.”
The minute Baxter had gone Woolfy’s weeping grew even louder. “I’m done for!” he sobbed, “how will Baxter ever find me down here?”
“Try to wriggle free, Brother, try!” Scrapo called out loudly.
But Woolfy was firmly wedged between the wall and the metal plate that held the radiator in place. Throughout that night the brothers talked to each other in whispers and from time to time, Woolfy sobbed softly. Neither of them slept. When the pale wandering winter light came through the tiny hall window, Scrapo moved to the edge again and looked down again. Now he could see a part of Woolfy’s cuff. “Woolfy!” he called, “you’ve got to try again; it’s morning time now!”
“Tell Baxter, Scrapo, tell him where I am,” Woolfy whimpered.
For a longish while, the brothers listened to the sounds of Baxter and Mother getting up. They could hear the swish of the curtains in Mother’s room and the creaking floorboard in Baxter’s, and then the house pipes began to thrum as they washed themselves and made ready for the day ahead. During breakfast, the gloves heard the scraping sound of knives and forks on plates and the clink of cups. Outside a lone blackbird sang a song of grave melancholy and once more Woolfy began to weep, and Scrapo couldn’t make him stop.
It seemed like a whole mountain full of time before Baxter appeared in the hall and reached for his coat. Scrapo puffed up quickly to get his attention and as Baxter put on his hat and gazed down at him in bewilderment, the black glove, although terrified, spoke. “Excuse me, Mr Baxter, excuse me for mentioning it, but my brother Woolfy has had a terrible accident and is lying hurt behind the radiator and it was because, being too near the edge, he accidently fell off the shelf the other day after you put us here. Please rescue him! Just look downwards and you’ll see him for certain.” At the end Scrapo was shouting although in the beginning he had been merely squeaking.
There was a small and quickly gone moment when Scrapo thought Baxter had heard him. He saw his eyes widen and a strange expression come into his face, half wonder, half alarm. But as soon as ever you can imagine, it was gone again and Baxter reached out and, picking Scrapo up, took him to the kitchen and threw him straight into the trash can on top of some fish heads and backbones and some old envelopes. For the remainder of that day, lying there amongst the stench of the rubbish, Scrapo tried over and over again to get rid of the gluey silver fish scales that had become stuck to his wool, but no matter how he tried, he could not free himself.
Woolfy in the meanwhile had gone floppy with terror. Several times he’d tried to puff up to see if he could force the metal plate away from the wall so that there was room enough for him to wriggle free, but it was a pointless waste of energy – and so was weeping, he realised, since no one was coming to his rescue.
He hadn’t heard Scrapo’s voice for hours and he couldn’t imagine what must have happened to him. When his despair was at its deepest and all his thoughts were desolate, he felt himself wilt and grow thinner and more wretched than he ever had been before and it was at that moment he suddenly found himself free again – he’d pushed feebly with his thumb, one last time, on the edge of the metal plate and his whole hand slid up and out of the trap as easily as anything. In his surprise, he could not stop himself falling and within a second he was lying under the radiator on the stone floor of the hall.
It was night time again and he felt very frightened of the heavy darkness and the chilly air. “Scrapo,” he called out faintly, and then realising how weak his voice sounded, he tried again, “Scrapo, are you there?” But the shakiness of his voice frightened him further. No answer came back, and although he wanted to start weeping again, Woolfy controlled himself and inched forward clear of the radiator so that he could be seen by Mother or Baxter the next morning. “Seen and rescued, seen and rescued,” he muttered as he clenched himself into a fist and fell asleep exhausted on the cold stone floor.
When he awoke again, he felt bruised and unhappy, and terribly in need of Scrapo. I’ll bet he’s upstairs snug against the socks, he thought, or on Baxter’s table, or on his bed maybe. He inched his way forward, feeling the uneven surface of the stone tiles with the tips of his fingers. When he reached what he imagined was the bottom step of the staircase, he stopped. He could, with an almighty effort, climb those stairs he felt, but his purpose was just to be found by Baxter or Mother and taken back to his brother.
He could hear the refuse lorry banging its way down the street towards the house as it did every Wednesday morning, and between the roaring sound of the engine and the shouting voices of the refuse collectors, he could hear the tiny bell-like cries of birds just beneath the window in Mother’s flowering shrubs. Overhead, he heard the bathroom door squeak open and some of his misery left him, as he was sure he’d soon be safe again with Scrapo. As he waited, Baxter came lumbering down the stairs; Woolfy could hear his heavy tread and smell the lemon soap he used.
“I didn’t put the trash out last night, Ma,” Baxter said. “You never remind me!”
“Well hurry up, Baxter, the lorry is only two doors away,” Mother called out to him from her room at the front of the house.
Instead of looking down and finding Woolfy lying there in plain view, in his haste, Baxter accidently kicked him a couple of feet further along the hall so that he landed against the skirting board in the darkness by the umbrella stand.
In the kitchen, Scrapo lay feeble and terrified on top of the fish bones. He’d tried to climb out of the trash can repeatedly the night before, and now all his strength was gone and he could do nothing but whimper and tremble.
As Baxter carried the trash can out into the hall, Mother came downstairs with her wastepaper basket. “Let me empty this into the trash before you take it out, Baxter,” she said. “Just a minute, that’s your glove isn’t it? How on Earth did it get into the rubbish, Baxter?”
“I’ve lost one of them, Ma, like I told you, so I chucked this one away the other day. No point in having just one.”
“I bought you that pair of gloves for your birthday, I chose them particularly. They were the special ones in the glass cabinet in Covington’s Haberdashery and Outfitters. Have you looked for the other one properly? In your drawer, under your bed?
“Yes, Ma. Honestly. I did.”
Scrapo lifted his index finger up and stared at Baxter and Mother. He puffed up as hard as he could to draw their attention and shouted out, “Mother! Mother! Pick me up, get me out of here. Woolfy’s stuck behind the radiator. Oh please, can’t you just look for my brother? Don’t throw me away, please don’t, please don’t …” In his own mind, his voice was loud and full of fear, but he could see that neither person could hear him in the slightest, tiniest, smallest degree.
“It seems such a shame,” Mother said. “They were a stout pair of gloves. You should be more careful, Baxter.”
“I could’ve sworn I left them on the ledge the other day, but the next time I looked there one was gone, so I guess I must have dropped it on the street. The lorry’s almost here, Ma, empty your waste basket quickly.”
Scrapo shuddered as he watched a cascade of white used up tissues and cotton wool balls fall towards him. Then, as he lay covered up, he felt the trash can shifting again, and unable to move in the hideously smelly space he lay still and hopeless amongst jagged tins, pieces of torn cardboard, soggy cabbage leaves, the awful spew of white sauce, and the fish heads with their mouths agape and their eyes misted over horribly.
The lorry rumbled to a stop on the road outside the house. Both gloves could hear its brakes hissing, and beyond that, the whistling and shouting of the refuse collectors.
As Baxter pulled open the front door, Scrapo sensed the change in light. He’d seen inside the back of a refuse lorry once; it had huge grinding bars with teeth all down their length and everything was filthy and clagg-covered. He thought of his brother and the good times they’d had together, he thought quickly and in small intense flashes. And apart from Woolfy and Baxter and Mother, Scrapo realised that it would be the sky he missed most when he no longer existed – the sky on a blowy warm day and full of gigantic white clouds that had all manner of faces, agonised and ecstatic, fleetingly visible in them.
“What’s that on the floor down there?” Scrapo heard Mother say. “You’re such a fool, Baxter; it’s your other glove. Look, there by the umbrella stand.”
Scrapo felt the jolt of the trash can as Baxter put it down. He wondered if he’d heard correctly and began to push his way through the mound of tissues so that he could look over the rim to catch his last sight of dear Woolfy.
“Come along! One of the refuse men called out, “We haven’t got all day!”
“Wait two seconds,” Mother answered.
“Never mind about two seconds, Lady, bring your trash to the road now, or we’re gone.”
“Just wait will you!” Mother replied in a gritty voice that Scrapo had only heard her use once or twice before, and as she spoke he felt her large warm hand close around him and lift him free of the trash he’d lain in for so long.
After that terrible day, the gloves spent an entire night in the calm and perfumed silence of Mother’s bedroom, where there were no loud noises or crazy things happening except the swirling carpet roses and the heavy curtains. They were so tearful and happy just to be together holding thumbs, that it was a long time before they spoke to each other in ordinary voices.
“Scrapo are you awake?”
“Yes, of course I am Woolfy, are you?”
“Yes brother, I can’t sleep for thankfulness at being back with you again.”
“I smell rather bad, don’t I?”
Woolfy thought about it. “Not so bad that I want to crawl away from you – not as bad as all that. I can smell herrings and parsley and orange peel and cardboard and butter and bananas and match stick heads.”
“All of that?”
“Yes, everything you spent last night with as you lay in the bin, I dare say.”
“Yes, but I thought better of mentioning that smell, Scrapo.”
“Thank the sky above for Mother,” Scrapo murmured, “Baxter was a bit too hasty in throwing me out like that, if you ask me.”
“I should say he was!”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was entirely his fault however,” Scrapo said quietly, “… that I nearly ended up in the dust cart this morning ground up into smithereens. Not entirely his fault.”
“Then where else can blame lie for such carelessness?” Woolfy asked, but, really he knew exactly what his brother was hinting at. “A glove can have an accident any time …” he began to say loudly, and then a curious sense of shame pulsed through him as he thought about how he’d clambered up and down the curtains shouting out and making a big thing of his dexterity. “Sorry, Scrapo,” he whispered, “so sorry.”
“It’s all over now Woolfy, but I think you should make the effort to be careful from now on and not get us into any more trouble. You remember when we were at the dentist and you had us drop quite all suddenly onto the floor?”
“I promise I will try to be more thoughtful, Scrapo, please don’t be angry with me.”
Woolfy liked the little café on the corner of Mournful Street; the smells in there were always interesting. He was lying, with Scrapo next to him, on the table close to Baxter’s breakfast plate. He could smell new bread and bacon and orange juice and the scent of the shampoo Gina had washed her hair in.
He shuffled closer to Scrapo. “What’s going on?” he asked, “nobody is saying anything.”
Scrapo had been dozing in the warmth of the metal teapot and didn’t feel like answering questions. “People don’t have to talk all the time,” he whispered. “It’s Saturday, and they don’t have to be at work in the box factory. They’re eating breakfast.”
“Do their faces look happy, Scrapo?”
Scrapo lifted his index finger up slightly and inspected each face solemnly. “No, I can’t say they do. They look thoughtful and withdrawn. Baxter is reading the newspaper, Gina is staring across the room and Rolly is fiddling with the salt and pepper pots.”
“It’ll be about the tin shed, I expect,” Woolfy murmured. “Poor things.”
“Mr Croid says there’s someone else interested in buying the shed if we can’t come up with the money soon,” Gina said, cutting through the silence all of a sudden and making the two men start up and stare in her direction.
“Do you believe him?” Rolly asked.
“No, but I don’t think he’s going to give us much time to find the rest of the money.”
“Maybe buying it was all a stupid dream,” Rolly said, “but it was a good one while it lasted.” He sighed heavily and shifted the weight of his head from one hand to another and stared down at his empty plate. “You know, I’d do anything not to have to work in the box factory again – Bleary’s Box Factory, ‘Boxes made to last, all manner of shapes and sizes’ …Hell!”
The gloves sighed as well; they felt sadder than they had done for a long time.
Baxter turned his newspaper over and folding it in half put it on the table beside the brothers. “Listen to this riddle,” he said, “I have an apple I can’t cut, a diamond I can’t face, a sheet I can’t fold, and so much money I can’t count it. What d’you think it means?”
“Beats me,” Rolly replied. “I never was any good at riddles.”
“Me neither. Any ideas Gina?”
“I don’t have a clue, Baxter. Apples, diamonds, sheets. I don’t know.”
“Well there’s a competition in the paper this week, and whoever solves the riddle wins a round-the-world cruise.”
“Oh!” Gina said, “the very thing you’d love yourself, Baxter. Why not enter it?”
“I was thinking of it. It’s making my heart beat hard, and it says the winner can have a cash prize instead if they don’t want to go round the world.”
The gloves heard Rolly’s mug thump onto the table and his voice sounded quick and alert. “How much money is involved, Baxter?”
“A lot, Rolly, but the money isn’t interesting in itself. The cruise is going to Egypt and Africa and places in the world I’ve always dreamt about.”
Scrapo, more awake now, lifted his finger slightly and stared up at Baxter’s face. Gina and Rolly laughed, but Scrapo sensed that it was a little savage and false and not at all happy.
“Ah, but whoever wins competitions? I never have,” Rolly stated.
“But you’ve never entered a competition, have you Rolly?” Gina asked.
Rolly frowned, and Scrapo watched him make a tiny white mountain in the sugar bowl and stare at it gloomily. “No, I don’t believe I ever have,” he said.
“So that will be why you’ve never won one,” Baxter told him, laughing. “I’m going to have a go at it; what else is there to do around here in Deepsound?”
Gina leaned forward so that her cardigan sleeve soaked up some of the tea that Rolly had spilt on the table. Scrapo looked across at the men and then back to lovely Gina’s face. “What was the riddle again, Baxter?” she asked.
Baxter cleared his throat. “I have an apple I can’t cut, a diamond I can’t face, a sheet I can’t fold, and so much money I can’t count it.”
Without meaning to in the slightest, Scrapo felt himself puff up, for he realised he knew, absolutely knew, the answer without even thinking about it. It was obvious. While the three people were staring at each other’s faces, he inched back towards Woolfy a little and flattened out.
“Woolfy, are you with it?” he said very quietly.
“With what, Scrapo?”
“Did you hear what they were saying?”
“Yes, I’m not deaf, brother, I just don’t see so well.”
“Baxter has to find the answer to a riddle and then he can go on a ship to different countries in the world.”
“So, I understand, Scrapo.”
“And I know the answer to every bit of that riddle,” Scrapo whispered.
“No you don’t, you’re just showing off because you’re getting bored in here. I’m getting bored too I think I might have to do a handstand.”
“Hush, don’t talk so loudly, and don’t be so silly Woolfy. It’s the sky. Don’t you see? The sheet is the sky and the diamond’s the sun and I think the apple must be the moon. And the money, can you guess what that is?”
“The money? No, of course I can’t.”
“The stars in the sky is the money!”
“The stars in the sky are the money, you mean, brother.”
Through the cafe window, Scrapo glimpsed a tiny patch of pale sky. He turned his seeing finger upwards and stared hard into Baxter’s face, willing him to look in the same direction, but Baxter was looking steadily into Gina’s face.
“Okay. An apple he can’t cut… because he doesn’t have a knife. A diamond he can’t face and a sheet he can’t fold… because he doesn’t have any arms, do you think?” she asked.
Rolly laughed. “The answer to the riddle is a man with no arms?”
“Well, you have a go at it then,” Gina said.
“No. I don’t want Baxter to go away and leave us, even if you do.”
Gina made a yelping noise and turned angrily towards her brother. “It’s what Baxter has wanted to do all his life, so at least help him, Rolly!”
“What about so much money, he can’t count it?” Baxter asked. “I don’t think it’s about his arms, Gina. But good try.”
“He can’t count the money because he hasn’t got any fingers, you idiot,” Gina shot back at him.
“Riddles are stupid if you ask me,” Rolly said, laughing again.
“No one is asking you,” Woolfy muttered, “you’re spoiling things.”
The three people fell silent and Scrapo looked at each of them in turn.
Baxter was still looking at Gina, and very tenderly. “Your sleeve is wet,” he whispered, and handed her a paper napkin.
“How am I going to tell him what the answer is?”
“Goodness, Scrapo, why ask me? Are you sure it’s right though?”
“Oh, I feel it tightly; I just know it’s right.”
The gloves fell silent; this was the most difficult task they’d faced for a long time. They were in the drawer on the right hand side. They could hear Baxter snoring and sometimes talking a little in his sleep, and outside Woolfy thought he could hear an owl hooting on a low and plaintive note, and then a dog, somewhere far away on the other side of Deepsound Bay, began to bark as if he was asking, “is there anyone out there in the dark of the night, anyone to talk to… anyone… anyone?”
Woolfy shivered and moving closer to Scrapo, linked thumbs with him.
“What?” Scrapo asked, pulling away a little, “don’t crowd me, Woolfy. I’m trying to work out how to tell Baxter. The sky, the sky, the beautiful sky …”
“You still haven’t told me what you think the sky is really for, Scrapo. The last time I asked you that, we were hanging on the washing line and you were describing the afternoon clouds to me, do you remember? You said there was one cloud that looked like a baby with wings, and another like a horse with human hands.”
Scrapo laughed. “What a wonderful day that was!”
“Thanks to Mother,” Woolfy said, “… it seems to me every good thing that happens to us is because of Mother. But I might say that it wasn’t me who needed washing, but you, brother – you who was the stinky one.”
“In answer to your question about the sky, Woolfy, I think it’s just possible that the purpose of the sky is to hold up the day,” Scrapo ventured, ignoring Woolfy’s comment.
“But you don’t really know, do you?”
“Not yet, Woolfy, but one day I will.”
“And then you’ll tell me?”
“Yes, then I’ll tell you what the sky is actually for.”
The brothers fell silent once more; neither of them were inclined to talk as they lay together in the darkness of the drawer close to Baxter’s stack of newly washed handkerchiefs, for the crisp white squares, some bordered in blue and some with Baxter’s name embroidered on them, still smelt of washing powder and the gloves could not help but remember how Mother had picked them both up after the night they’d spent in her room, and had taken them downstairs to the kitchen for a wash.
What a terrible shock it was to be lowered into the warm soapy water in the enamel bowl in the sink. Scrapo looked around wildly and twisted his finger upwards so that he could see mother’s face. Her grey eyes looked down upon him in a kindly way as she squeezed water and soap into his wool and very gently took away the bad smell from his time in the trash can.
“Scrapo! Scrapo!” Woolfy shouted, “what’s happening to us? I’ve gone all soggy and funny feeling, all shrinking and far too warm. I’m wet through!”
“Don’t struggle, Woolfy. Mother is only trying to make us clean,” Scrapo answered, and spreading his fingers out, he closed his eye tightly and put all his trust in Mother. When she’d squeezed the last of the soap suds out of their wool, she took the brothers outside into the backyard and hung them by their cuffs on the washing line side by side in the wild blowy day. They stayed there until the late afternoon when the sky had begun to dim, and on that day they were as happy as they had ever been swaying in the wind together talking about the sky and the clouds, and Baxter and his friends and how they both adored Mother and how sometimes dogs weren’t as bad as they seemed to be.
“What is it now, Woolfy? I was about to fall asleep.”
“I was just thinking about the day Mother washed us and hung us up outside for the whole day.”
“So was I, exactly the same!”
“I thought you said you were working out how to tell Baxter the answer to the riddle.”
Scrapo sighed. “I haven’t forgotten that task, Woolfy, but it’s not going to be easy, you know.”
Baxter and Rolly were down by the harbour in the late afternoon looking out across the glassy grey sea and watching a pod of whales passing by out near the horizon. Scrapo and Woolfy were in Baxter’s hand and all Scrapo could see were Baxter’s boots and the pale sea pebbles on which the men were standing. Spring was approaching and Woolfy could smell the awakening gorse and the dark thawing soil of the headland.
“Is she going to meet us down here?” Baxter asked.
“Yes, just as dark comes she said. She’s gone to meet Mr Croid to see if he’ll lower the price. But he’s fond of money, some people say he keeps pots full of money in his house all in small change, and he’s got so much of it, that it can’t be counted,” Rolly said.
“Bit like that riddle,” Baxter replied, “a sheet I can’t fold and so much money, I can’t count it.”
Rolly laughed. “I think I’ve worked that riddle out, Baxter,” he said.
Scrapo felt himself stiffen and Woolfy let out a gasp, and as the men began to walk slowly along the shore, Scrapo managed to flip his finger back and look upwards at Rolly’s face.
“Oh, really? I was thinking about it all last night, and I still haven’t come up with anything convincing,” Baxter murmured.
“Well it’s about a man in prison, he’s got some money hidden somewhere and a diamond, but he can’t get to them.”
The men stopped and turned to face each other. “I see what you mean, Rolly, yes,” Baxter said rather slowly.
“No, no, no!” Scrapo shouted because he couldn’t help himself, but neither of the men looked down at him even for a second. Baxter shifted from one foot to the other and then moved his hand to put the gloves in his pocket. “Wriggle free, Woolfy, wriggle free!” Scrapo cried out, and by moving quickly, the gloves fell from Baxter’s hand and landed at his feet. In an instant, Scrapo positioned himself so that his eye finger was pointing straight up at the sky as he kept his balance with his cuff and his three other fingers.
Rolly laughed. “Look at your glove, Baxter,” he said, “isn’t it strange the way it landed?”
“The sheet is the sky!” Scrapo shouted out, staring from one man to the other.
“And the money is the stars!” Woolfy added just as loudly. “Are the stars, that is.”
“Here’s Gina coming now,” Rolly said, and Baxter stooped down, and picking up the brothers, pushed them into his pocket together where they lay very forlorn in the darkness.
“It’s no good,” Gina said as she reached the men, “Mr Croid won’t lower the price, not even a bit. So I think we’ve lost the shed, I’m sorry to say.”
“Well, we’ve had dreams we’ve had to give up before,” Rolly remarked, “only this was our greatest plan ever, it would’ve freed us from Bleary’s forever. But guess what Gina? We know the answer to Baxter’s riddle. It’s a prisoner.”
“I’m going to write into the paper today,” Baxter said, “the only thing is, lots of other people will have guessed it as well, and we won’t necessarily be the ones who win.”
“A prisoner?” Gina said, “a prisoner – like we are working in Bleary’s Box Factory, you mean?”
“I mean he can’t get to his money or diamonds because he’s inside prison, you see.”
“But what about the apple? Surely prisoners get apples sometimes, and why would he be thinking about an apple if he had hidden money and jewels on his mind. And what about the sheet he can’t fold?”
“You tell them, Gina!” the gloves shouted together from Baxter’s pocket, thinking that their combined voices might be loud enough to be heard.
“What’s that squeaking noise?” Gina asked, “it’s coming from you, Baxter.”
“My shoes, I expect,” he answered, “I wish I had so much money I couldn’t count it, then I’d be able to buy new shoes. Imagine having as much money as there are stars in the sky, wouldn’t that be something?”
Without consulting each other, the gloves climbed quickly to the top of Baxter’s pocket and threw themselves out, clenching their fingers into fists as they fell to the stony ground.
“You’ve dropped your gloves, Baxter,” Gina said, and then stopped. The brothers had arranged themselves identically with their index fingers pointing towards Heaven. It was early evening and the stars had just begun to appear in the sky. In an hour or so, darkness falling swiftly in that part of the world, the sky would be heavy and glistening with bright stars. “Just look at that,” Gina murmured, “just look at that, will you?”
Baxter and Rolly stood on either side of Gina and stared down at Scrapo and Woolfy who were trembling with the effort it took to point straight at Heaven. Scrapo bent his finger slightly so that he could watch Baxter as he gazed upwards, his mouth open and great puzzlement on his face. “So many stars,” he whispered, and bent to pick the brothers up.
“You’d think for a second that …” Gina said.
“Think what?” Rolly asked.
“Well, I sometimes wonder if the world is full of signs if only we could see them. That’s the pair of gloves I mended isn’t it, Baxter?”
“The very ones; my beloved gloves.”
“What signs, Gina?” Rolly asked.
“Is my mending still good, Baxter?”
“Have a look,” and Baxter handed Woolfy over to Gina.
“The world is full of what signs?” Rolly asked again.
“That’s very pleasing to me,” Gina told Baxter, “darning is a funny thing, sometimes it works fine and other times it goes lumpy.”
“Like porridge then,” Rolly said, “what did you mean by signs, Gina?”
“Oh, it was just a very strange thought I had for a second back there.”
“Ah, a mermaid girl thought?” Rolly asked.
“Don’t tease me about that, Rolly. She was as real as you and me. She was fully grown but only as big as an eight year old child, which is the age I was at the time, I think. Her skin was slightly shiny and translucent, and deadly cold, and between her fingers were little webs of slimy skin.”
“Stars look like diamonds, don’t they?” Baxter asked. “I wonder if they do in other parts of the world. Do you think all countries have night skies like us?”
“I don’t know,” Rolly said, “and I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out, either.”
“If stars were money …” Baxter whispered, clutching Woolfy and Scrapo in his hand. “If stars were money, then the diamond would be the sun …”
Gina roared – and so quite all suddenly that the gloves began to puff up. “And the sheet is the sky, Baxter. That’s it!”
“What?” Rolly asked.
“I have a diamond I can’t face, a sheet I can’t fold and so much money, I can’t count it!” shouted Baxter. “We’ve got the real answer to the riddle, Rolly.”
“I have an apple I can’t cut. That would have to be the moon,” Gina said, “a bit of a shame to call it an apple when the sun is a diamond. Come on, you two; let’s send a letter off to the newspaper office right now.”
Back again in Baxter’s coat pocket, Woolfy and Scrapo shook hands and hugged each other tightly as the three friends walked quickly back towards Deepsound.
“Okay, okay, I still mustn’t get too excited about this because thousands of people over on the mainland might have guessed correctly too, and so it’ll be the first right answer who gets the round-the-world trip,” Baxter said, his breath coming noisily from him as they strode towards Rolly’s house through the back streets and winding alleyways of town.
“Never been so excited in all my life,” Woolfy said. “What a day, what a day of marvels.”
“Do you think Gina really did see a mermaid once?” Scrapo asked after a minute or two.
“Heavens, Scrapo, I don’t know, do I? If she says she did, then she did, she’s lovely and good and so I believe her.”
“I think Baxter believes her too,” Scrapo answered. “He thinks she’s lovely and good as well.”
The gloves could hear Baxter laughing downstairs with Mother, and in the warmth of the drawer, amongst his socks, where they had bedded themselves down in a cosy dip, they felt that once more the world was a beautiful place full of funny adventures.
“Baxter always asks where Gina is if he’s visiting Rolly and she isn’t there, and
he never interrupts her when she speaks, but he does with Rolly sometimes,” Woolfy whispered, “I notice that a lot.”
“Have you ever heard of those countries Baxter was talking about in the café?… Woolfy?”
“I’m thinking about your question. Don’t rush me. Have I ever heard of the countries Baxter mentioned in the café you say?”
“Yes, have you?”
“Do you know something? I don’t think I have, Scrapo. No, I don’t think so, not that I can recall at the moment, anyway.”
For a while the gloves fell silent. Scrapo turned over and faced the other way and Woolfy hummed a tune he heard most days on Mother’s kitchen radio.
“Have you heard of any other countries or places in the world except Deepsound Bay?”
“Are, now you’re really asking a question, brother!”
“Well, have you?”
“Of course I have, many, many times when persons have conversations with each other on the tram, or in the café, or down by the shore.”
“Can you tell me the names of any of them?”
“Yes, Woolfy, names of places or countries you’ve heard of before.”
“You mean right now?”
“Right now when we should be asleep?”
“Can’t you just tell me, Woolfy?”
“I’ll tell you what, Scrapo. On the day you work out what the sky is for, I’ll tell you all the names of places and countries I’ve ever heard of.”
It seemed like a fair bargain to Scrapo, and so he didn’t insist, but he had the idea that Woolfy was bluffing him and he didn’t know a single name except for Deepsound Bay. It would be just like him to show off about what he knew as much as he did about how fast he could move, or how many cartwheels he could do in one go, or how many songs he’d learnt since the two of them had come to live in Mother’s house and in Baxter’s coat pocket.
Over the next few weeks the pattern of the gloves’ lives changed and they could not decide if it was because Baxter was restless, or because he was spending time in Gina’s company without Rolly. They found themselves together on a series of different tables, a table covered in a white cloth in a quiet restaurant that smelt of fish and garlic, a rough outside table by the waterfront on a day when the wind was strong, a small scratched table with a sewing machine on it at Gina’s house, and her dining room table too, shiny, smooth and brown.
“Nobody ever seems to know where Timbuktu is, Gina, and yet people say the word as if it’s as common as bread and butter, don’t they? They say from here to Timbuktu, meaning a long, long way. I’ve been fascinated by Timbuktu since I was eight. A huge city made of mud in the middle of nowhere, can you imagine that?”
“Are there cruises to Timbuktu, Baxter?”
“Ha! That’s what I mean about nobody knows where it is. It’s in Mali in Africa, Gina, and there are nine countries around it, you’d have to travel miles overland and through the desert to get there. It’s nowhere near water of any kind.”
Gina laughed. “And it would be scorching hot as well.”
“But if you did ever get there, Baxter, would you be able to stand it since you’ve never been out of Deepsound, which is so cold all the time?”
“Oh, I think I’d be able to adapt myself to the heat in time.”
“Imagine not having to put on your coat and hat and gloves every time you went out.”
Woolfy gasped, and Scrapo twisted his seeing finger slightly so that he could look up into Gina’s face.
“Not put on his gloves,” Woolfy whispered, “not actually put us on.”
“But, let’s not talk about it anymore, Gina,” Baxter replied, “because we both know I’m not going to win the cruise, and thinking about distant countries and all the fascinating places to see and people to talk to, just makes me upset.”
“It upsets me too, Baxter,” Gina said.
“Oh? Why on earth?”
“The idea of you not being in Deepsound, I mean.”
Baxter laughed, and Scrapo could hear surprise in the sound he made. “Me not being here?” he repeated.
“I’ve known you most of my life, Baxter. It would be a terrible thing for me if you went.”
Scrapo watched as Baxter stood up slowly and looked down at Gina who was sitting at the table with her head in her hands. “But I’d come back again,” he whispered, half smiling, half frowning.
“How do you know? If you found a place in the world that you loved, you wouldn’t walk away from it, would you?”
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” Woolfy muttered, “what a question to put to him.”
Baxter did not have an answer ready, and so he remained silent and when Gina ducked her head down so that all he and Scrapo could see was her flowing red hair, he seemed to have gone into a gentle trance. “If I found a place in the world I loved,” he said eventually, “I would stay there, Gina, you are quite right.”
Gina raised her head at his words and Scrapo was relieved to see that she was smiling, although in his thinking her smile was a sad one. “Well, considering that you have no money and won’t win the competition, it looks like you’re going to be sticking around here with us after all Baxter. With me and Rolly and all the other boring Deepsound folk.”
“Look, let’s not give up on the fish smoking business just yet, Gina. I think we should try to find another building we could use and forget about the tin shed.”
“That’s more like it!” Woolfy said quite loudly, and Scrapo was fascinated to see Gina’s eyes move quickly to where his brother lay. She blinked and frowned and seemed quite pale for a moment, although the light in her house was dim and Scrapo couldn’t entirely rely upon his eye. But it did cause him to wonder. It did cause him to wonder if it was possible that Gina, who had once met a mermaid, could at least begin to hear something when he or Woolfy spoke. Nevertheless, he sensed that this meeting between Baxter and Gina was a delicate one, and Woolfy’s big booming voice was doing nothing to help the situation.
“Shut up, Woolfy, can’t you?” he whispered.
“Why, why should I? Baxter’s got the right idea; the old tin shed can’t be the only building they could use in Deepsound. We need to encourage him, Scrapo.”
“Yes, but …”
“Never mind about yes but, Scrapo. I’ve got the perfect song for Baxter. Sing with me!” And Woolfy took a deep breath and began to sing a song he’d learnt off Mother’s radio, and really very loudly:
“’He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole wide world in his hands.”
“Hush, Woolfy!” Scrapo whispered, afraid he’d start to do handstands right there on the table in front of Gina and Baxter.
Woolfy pretended he hadn’t heard him:
“He’s got you and me Brother, in his hands,
He’s got you and me Brother, in his hands,
He’s got you and me Brother in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands.’”
Woolfy fell silent finally, out of breath, but after a minute or two had passed, he said, “Scrapo, I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation. I think you missed something in their conversation, or you did hear it, but don’t want to think about it.”
“If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m not going to explain it to you.”
For the remainder of the day the brothers didn’t speak to each other. Half the time they were travelling in separate pockets anyway and so were left to their own devices. Scrapo couldn’t work out what Woolfy had meant even though he tried hard to think back to everything Baxter and Gina had said to each other, so he thought instead about what the sky might be for – because eventually he knew his brother would ask him that question again, although he was pretty sure Woolfy wasn’t going to be able to tell him the names of any countries in exchange as he’d promised, because he, like Scrapo, didn’t know any… except, now they knew one – Malinafrica.
Even when the gloves reached home again, they were disinclined to talk to each other. Woolfy was still in the habit of murmuring about the day Gina darned his finger and had taken to stroking the patch with his thumb whenever he was thinking about things, or upset about something, and all that did was draw Scrapo’s attention to the fact that Gina had cared for his brother on that day and held him between her tiny pale fingers, while he himself had never come to her attention even once.
Woolfy was tired of the way Scrapo was so frightened of everything and always trying to stop him being his natural self. What would it matter if the persons knew that he and Scrapo could hear what they were saying? He wondered what it was like to be able to “see” things. Perhaps that was the problem: Scrapo could see things and so it made him think in a different way, made him timid. But some of the sights Scrapo described seemed very wonderful and Woolfy couldn’t understand how having an eye would make you nervous or cautious or fussy, and his brother was all of those things.
In the drawer, Scrapo chose to nest close to the hankies, and Woolfy made his bed by the rough winter socks. Neither of them slept. Woolfy was wondering what would happen if Baxter did win the contest, and was hoping mightily he would not, but he couldn’t quite work out why, and Scrapo was thinking about how Gina had looked when Baxter told her that if ever he found a place in the world he loved, he’d stay there. Her mouth had opened a fraction and a strange bewildered hurt look had rippled quickly across her face, but so quickly that Scrapo thought he might have invented it in his own mind.
The first the gloves knew about the greatest day in Baxter’s life was when they heard a deal of cheering and hooting coming from downstairs. They could hear Baxter’s loud voice and Mother making the strangest squeaking sounds. Then they heard the noise of the radio become very loud and after a second or two dance music blared out over which the sounds of Baxter and Mother’s excited chatter could still be heard.
“What on earth is going on down there do you suppose, Scrapo?”
“I couldn’t tell you, Brother, but it sounds remarkable. I’ve never heard Mother laugh like that before.”
“Or Baxter roar like that, either,” Woolfy put in.
For a while the brothers listened in silence until they became so curious about the brouhaha downstairs that without discussing the wisdom of it, or talking about it together at all, they climbed onto the stack of hankies and eased themselves out of the gap in the not quite shut drawer. Clinging there for only a second, the brothers let go of the drawer’s edge and dropped one after the other onto the floor. Woolfy followed closely behind Scrapo across Baxter’s bedroom and when they reached the open door they hesitated hardly at all before beginning the long journey down the staircase and into the hall.
“They’re in the kitchen,” Scrapo told Woolfy. “Goodness me, what a racket they’re making!”
At the bottom of the stairs the brothers headed for the radiator in the hall and with some dexterous and ingenious climbing arrived at the little shelf below the window and positioned themselves in a casual manner reminiscent of how Baxter might have thrown them there on his way into the interior of the house when returning home.
After some considerable time, Baxter and Mother became calmer, and all the gloves could hear was their low murmuring and the muffled sound of the morning news on the radio.
“I expect they’re having breakfast,” Woolfy whispered, “I can smell bread and eggs, can you, Scrapo?”
“You were always better at smelling things than me, Woolfy,” Scrapo replied after a moment had passed. “I can hear the kettle singing though, so I expect you’re right.”
“Are we friends again, Scrapo?” Woolfy asked cautiously.
“Friends again?” Scrapo repeated. He sighed and turned his eye towards his brother. “Of course we are dear Woolfy. Of course we are.”
Just as the two of them were thinking fondly of each other, Baxter came out of the kitchen with Mother close behind him.
“Can’t you even stay for scrambled eggs, Baxter?”
“Ma! Dear Ma! I have to go and find the others and tell them. I can’t believe it. It’s a miracle!”
Mother laughed. “It’s cold out,” she said, “put your proper boots on. Oh look, you left your gloves on the shelf again. I wish you wouldn’t do that, Son.”
“Sorry Ma, I get distracted,” Baxter replied, scooping Woolfy and Scrapo up quickly and turning to find his hat and coat. As he stepped outside the front door, he put his gloves on firmly and began to walk.
All the way to Rolly’s house Baxter was whistling, or if not whistling, humming, and he was walking with such energy that Scrapo began to feel a little sick as he swung his left hand vigorously in time with his footfalls. Woolfy found himself touching all manner of surfaces on that journey, bushes, brick walls, stone walls, lampposts, the corners of buildings, the side of Baxter’s smiling face, and two cats that were really very stinky.
By the time the Baxter and the brothers reached Rolly’s place, they were quite exhausted.
“Guess what?” Baxter called through the letterbox, “guess what Rolly?” As he waited for Rolly to open the door to let him in, he took Woolfy and Scrapo off and put them in his coat pockets, Woolfy in the right hand pocket and Scrapo in the left hand one.
In an instant Baxter was in the kitchen talking to his friend without taking breath. “Can we go over to Gina’s house?” he asked, “you won’t believe this, but I’ve won the competition. Won it. I’ll be going on a cruise… Ah!… Through the world, the rest of the blessed beautiful world. I can hardly believe it; I had a letter this morning from the newspaper telling me. My heart is beating so hard, Rolly. Let’s tell Gina now.”
“Really?” Rolly asked, and the gloves could hear how surprised he was. “You actually won it? Baxter, that’s fantastic, of course we should go to Gina’s; wait while I get my coat.”
Scrapo wished he was in the same pocket as Woolfy because this new and important development in their lives needed discussing. Woolfy was thinking pretty much the same thing, but he was glad they were all going over to the lovely Gina’s place for the morning and he sunk his black woolly palm deep into Baxter’s pocket and crossing his thumb under his forefinger, he sighed with contentment.
Rolly and Baxter walked fast through the lanes and alleyways that took them to Gina’s house talking loudly as they went.
“Are you absolutely sure you won it, Baxter?” Rolly asked.
“Of course I’m sure. I’ll show you the letter when we reach Gina’s. The cruise is going to some fascinating places Rolly – to Greece and Egypt and through the Arabian Sea to Oman and on to Abu Dhabi and to South Africa. I can’t wait.”
“Well, I’m sure Gina will be pleased for you,” Rolly answered, but Woolfy felt there was something sad in the way he said it and wondered if Scrapo thought the same.
In Gina’s kitchen the gloves found themselves on a wicker chair in the far corner of the room and had it not been for the fact that the three people were talking very loudly, they probably couldn’t have heard what was said. Woolfy could smell jam and lavender and wood smoke and beeswax and Scrapo raised his seeing finger and pointed it at the table where the friends were sitting.
“Gina is smiling, Woolfy, but she has her arms crossed and so it looks strange. Rolly has his head on one side and he’s frowning slightly and Baxter’s face is bright red and shining and I’ve never seen him so happy.”
“You’ll be going in three weeks’ time, Baxter, according to this letter, and you have to go down to the post office on the mainland to claim the prize.”
“And it’s a four month cruise,” Gina said. “What are you going to pack?”
“Oh, Gina, trust you to think of the practical stuff straight away,” her brother exclaimed, “he won’t have had time to think about that yet, will you Baxter?”
“It’s what Mother asked me as well. See it’s going to be hot and she didn’t think I had any suitable clothes to wear.”
“I think you should take as little as possible and pick up clothes on the way when you get to the different ports,” Gina suggested.
Scrapo watched as Baxter leaned back in his seat and beamed at his friends. “Just imagine,” he said, “not having to put on heavy coats and wear scarves and hats and gloves everywhere. I can’t wait.”
Scrapo felt his seeing finger drop heavily onto the wicker seat and at the same time he heard Woolfy whimper and fall silent.
“Stop it Woolfy! Stop crying like that!” Scrapo moved closer to his brother in the nest of heavy winter socks and stroked his little finger.
“When’s he going, Scrapo?” Woolfy asked through his howling.
“In three weeks is what I heard.”
“What will happen to us?”
“We’ll be left right here in the drawer and we’ll have to put up with it until he gets back,” Scrapo said, trying to control the trembling in his voice.
“In prison then, in prison for four whole months, Scrapo. I won’t be able to stand it!”
“You’ll have to stand it, Woolfy. We’ve got no choice in the matter.”
“But you heard him when he was talking to Gina the other day; he said if he ever found a country he liked, he’d stay there,” Woolfy sobbed, “and that means we’d be finished with. We’d stay here in the darkness of this drawer forever. Or perhaps Mother will throw us away.”
Scrapo couldn’t think of what to say; Woolfy was right. “But at least we’d be thrown away together this time,” he whispered finally, twining his fingers through Woolfy’s and resting against him.
“That’s no comfort to me, Scrapo. Not in the slightest degree. I have never felt so wretched in my life before.”
“Me neither, Brother. Me neither,” Scrapo answered.
It was a good while before Woolfy’s shuddering palm became still, and the brothers, listening for once with great fondness to Baxter’s snoring, fell asleep, clinging to each other in the far corner of the drawer where they had crawled in their anguish.
“It was right here, on this big flat rock,” Gina said. “I was coming along the shore. Ma had sent me out to find driftwood for the parlour fire, and just as I bent down to pick up a slab of timber with a big rusty nail in it, I looked towards the waves. I couldn’t see her properly at first; it was as if she was just a sketch against the moving water, but as I walked towards her, she became as solid as the rock she lay upon.” Gina lifted her foot and placed it gently on the rock and Baxter frowned down at her and bit his bottom lip. “They can’t sit up, you know. People think they can, but they’re fish aren’t they? And fish can’t sit up, can they?” Gina whispered.
Baxter sighed without meaning to. He looked down into her face and shook his head. “No, Gina, they can’t,” he said. “It couldn’t talk, I suppose?”
Gina laughed. “Of course not, Baxter; she was fish-like.”
“No intelligence or anything of that sort, then?”
“Well, yes. At least I thought so at the time, but I was a child then.”
Baxter twisted his gloves in his hands and laughed a little. “But when a porpoise or a dolphin looks at you, it feels as if they understand us. Was it like that?”
The gloves puffed up as quickly as they could to stop themselves being hurt in Baxter’s grip. “I wish he wouldn’t do that,” Woolfy whispered, pressed hard against Scrapo. “He always does when he’s alone with Gina, have you noticed?”
Before Scrapo could answer, the brothers found themselves placed side by side on the rock, and squinting upwards, Scrapo could see Gina and Baxter’s silhouettes against the pale silvery sun.
“It was stronger than that, Baxter,” Gina explained, “in my mind there was no doubt that she and I understood each other. That was because I was a child, I expect, and I didn’t know what I was supposed or not supposed to think about the world, and that meant everything was possible. But when we grow up, enchantment leaves us doesn’t it?”
“Her face has gone sad, Woolfy,” Scrapo whispered.
“What about his?”
“His face has gone sad, too.”
“This cruise I’ve won is enchantment to me,” Baxter murmured.
“Yes, I know it is and I’m happy for you,” Gina said, “happy for you,” and she looked towards the horizon. “Only two weeks, now.”
Scrapo lifted his finger up and stared hard at Baxter’s face. He looked astonished and happy at the same time, his face was shining as he smiled, but Gina, as she turned to glance at Baxter looked woebegone and tired.
“Scrapo,” Woolfy murmured, “Gina’s heart is breaking. She thinks he’s never coming back.”
“You’re right, Woolfy, but how do you know that?”
“I can hear it in her voice.”
“Egypt and through the Arabian Sea to Oman, Gina,” Baxter whispered. “Can you imagine what it’ll be like? It makes me shiver just to think about it.”
“No, I can’t imagine,” Gina said in a very dull voice, as she lifted her tangled hair away from her face and clenched her teeth. “Baxter, suppose you decide not to live in Deepsound anymore after you’ve been on that cruise? It’d be really hard for Rolly and me to run the fish smoking business by ourselves.”
Baxter turned to look at her. “Ah, I hadn’t really thought much about that, Gina, I’ve been so overwhelmed.”
“But you can’t promise anything, can you?”
“No. That’s the plain truth of it. I can’t. All I can think about is sunlight, and sand and camels, and beautiful red buildings made of mud, and strange perfumes and night skies with beautiful full moons and welters of stars, like ours.”
“He can’t,” muttered Woolfy, and wriggling across to the edge of the rock, he dropped over the side onto a patch of wet sand. “He can’t promise her. That’s us done for, then,” he said in a loud voice, “we’ll be imprisoned in his sock drawer until forever, or until Mother takes us down to the second hand shop and hands us over.”
Scrapo stared down at his brother and watched him waving his four fingers around. “Stop it, Woolfy!” he hissed, “they might see you.”
“I don’t care if they do. It’s all up with us now, Scrapo; we’re no longer wanted in his life, just as beautiful Gina isn’t. I wish he’d never picked that newspaper up.”
The gloves fell silent, and Scrapo pulled his seeing finger back from the edge of the rock and gazed upwards into the heavily clouded sky.
On the way home, the gloves were together in the left-hand coat pocket. When Gina and Baxter parted company at the cross roads on the edge of town, he to go home to Mother, and she to her small house close to Rolly’s, the gloves realised that Baxter was whistling.
“Do you hear that?” Woolfy said.
“Yes,” Scrapo replied, “he must be the happiest man in Deepsound.”
“Ah, that is where you are wrong; that’s what he whistles when he’s worried, not when he’s happy.”
Scrapo was impressed; it was extraordinary the way Woolfy understood things despite not having an eye. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was frightened by the thought of having to stay in Baxter’s drawer for day after dreary day while the cruise was on, he’d have been thinking harder about what the sky was for as he knew Woolfy so badly wanted to know the answer.
Just as they reached the top of Hare Street, close to Mother’s house, Baxter plunged his hand into his pocket and began to stretch and squeeze the brothers harshly between his fingers. “If I had a mouth, I’d bite him!” Woolfy yelled, “he’s never done this to us before. I know he’s worried, but he shouldn’t take it out on us.”
“Just go limp instead of puffing up,” Scrapo advised, “that way it doesn’t hurt so much.”
When they arrived home, Baxter put the brothers on the kitchen table along with his hat. They could smell the soothing aroma of new bread and scones and they were glad to be safe again. “I’ve a good mind not to warm his hand for him next time we go out,” Woolfy murmured, “see how he’d like that!”
Mother took the bread from the Aga and knocked it out of its pan onto the table. Scrapo shifted away slightly from the sudden wave of moist heat thrown off by the bread. He could see his and Woolfy’s reflections in the big silver teapot; they were lying close together next to Baxter’s plate. There was jam and honey and cream on the table and a great wedge of pale cheese.
“Where did you go today, Baxter?” Mother asked.
“Oh, down by the water with Gina, Ma. We were talking about the cruise.”
“Terrible that it coincides with your plan to buy Croid’s old tin shed, isn’t it?”
“I’ll only be away for four months, Ma,” Baxter told her, shrugging his shoulders and smiling slightly.
“But you could lose the shed in that time. Martin Croid was always mean, even when we were kids. I remember him in class; he never let anyone borrow his coloured pencils.”
“We’ve tried to persuade him to lower the price, Ma. But he’s not budging.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, Son, not in the least. But you could buy the shed outright now if you really wanted to. I saw Gina at the market the other day and she told me that the prize could’ve been cash instead of the cruise if you’d wanted it that way.”
Baxter straightened up and put his cup down slowly. “How did she seem to you, Ma?”
“Not at her best, I’d say. Not at all at her best.”
“Did she speak about me?” Baxter asked.
“Of course. Everyone in Deepsound is speaking about you now.”
“Well what did she say, Ma?”
Mother laughed and Scrapo looked carefully into her face. “She said how wonderful it was that you understood the riddle and won the prize.”
“Is that all?”
“What else is there, Baxter? What do you mean?”
Before Baxter spoke again, it was so silent that the gloves could hear the little puffing sound the silver teapot always made when it was half full. Scrapo stared at Baxter’s face in wonder; his eyes looked dark and hurt as he stared across at Mother. “Did she seem sad, Ma?” he whispered.
“Why on earth would she be sad, Baxter?”
“Because she thinks that if I go on the cruise, I won’t want to come back to Deepsound … once I’ve glimpsed the world that is.
“Travelling is something you’ve wanted to do since you were six years old. Now you have the chance,” Mother replied, staring hard at Baxter. “I’ve always known you might leave some day anyway,” she added.
“… she and Rolly have got their hearts set on the fish smoking business,” Baxter continued as if he hadn’t heard his mother. “She doesn’t want to lose the chance of it. Nobody would who works in Bleary’s Factory, Ma. It’s hell in there, sticky, stinky, overheated, slimy, and the whole place is grey.”
“Woolfy, are you asleep, can you hear them?” Scrapo whispered.
“I certainly can,” Woolfy replied, “and Baxter is about as blind as I am if he thinks all she cares about is the business.”
“It’s what I thought too.”
“I’ve known about it for ages, Scrapo.”
“The fondness, you mean?”
“Yes, the fondness between Baxter and Gina. Poor little thing, poor little beautiful thing thinks she’s going to lose him.”
“Woolfy, you’re talking loudly. Shut up.”
“Gina and Rolly have their hearts set on the business, that’s true enough,” Mother said, “but things go a little deeper than that, Baxter. Can’t you even see it?”
Scrapo turned his seeing finger quickly in Baxter’s direction as his face puckered up in confusion. He stared without blinking at Mother, holding his butter knife loosely and forgotten in his hand, but although she smiled back at him, he couldn’t persuade her to explain what she meant in plain words.
“Fancy that!” Woolfy yelled, “fancy leaving us on the kitchen table. How are we supposed to get any sleep here?”
“We can crawl inside his hat, I suppose,” Scrapo answered. He was feeling so miserable that he didn’t much care if he slept that night or not. Woolfy had stretched himself over the side of the table and was feeling for its legs with all his fingers. “Where are you going now?” Scrapo wailed, “please don’t get into trouble again.”
“Again?” Woolfy answered.
“Like falling behind the radiator that time. Please stay up here with me.”
“Tell me what you can see in the room, Scrapo. I’m looking for a decent place to spend the night; Baxter’s hat smells horrible and I’m not going in it.”
Scrapo let out a shuddering sigh and inched his way towards his brother. “Well from where we are now,” he began, “the Aga is in front of us, there’s an old chair next to it, and Mother’s newspaper is on the floor beside it. Otherwise it’s just the benches and cupboards and pots and pans and jars and curtains and so on all in the gloom.”
“Right-oh, the chair will have to do for the night. Come on Scrapo, lead the way down the table leg.”
Scrapo knew there was little point in refusing because when Woolfy was in this determined and angry mood he’d do what he was intent upon anyway. “Do you want a ride?” He asked gloomily.
“If you would be so good,” Woolfy answered, and felt his way carefully onto Scrapo’s back.
The journey down the table leg was slow and a little frightening, but Woolfy kept quiet the while and Scrapo silently thanked him for it. As they reached the cold stone floor, they could feel the heat from the Aga and made towards it with linked thumbs.
“Is this the newspaper I can feel?” Woolfy asked.
“Yes, Brother, that’s right.”
“So, this is the plan; we’re going to tear it into strips and make a cosy nest.”
“No, Woolfy. That’s a foolish idea.”
“It’s the only way we’re going to be warm tonight, it’s not foolish at all. We’re going to take the newspaper up onto the chair and build the nest there.”
Scrapo closed his tiny eye and sighed. He didn’t feel as if he had the strength to argue with his brother, and a draught was blowing under the gap in the kitchen door and making him stiff with coldness. Nothing that he or Woolfy did now would change what was going to happen to them; they’d be imprisoned in Baxter’s underwear drawer, perhaps even for years if he settled in Timbuktu or Egypt. For one moment, Scrapo thought with fondness of their life in the display cabinet at Covington’s Haberdashery and Outfitters.
“Okay then, Woolfy, let’s do it,” he said, “and let’s sing that song about Baxter’s hands again at the same time.”
Woolfy roared. “That’s the ticket, Scrapo! Come along then, take the edge of the paper and climb up the chair leg and I’ll bring up the rear.”
It took a good long time to build the nest that night, but as it felt like one of their last nights of freedom, they were bent on enjoying it thoroughly. For once, Scrapo was noisier and wickeder than his brother, shouting out the chorus to the song loudly:
“‘He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole wide world in his hands.’”
On the morning, way back in time now, that Mother’s face had appeared over the rim of Baxter’s top drawer, her eyes glinting and wild in the dim light, the gloves had been afraid. They’d lain still and flat amongst the churned up socks and handkerchiefs as if the mess in the drawer had not been caused by them in the slightest degree. Scrapo remembered Mother calling out to Baxter. He remembered her very words: “Baxter!” she had shrieked, “what on earth have you done to your top drawer, it’s a frightful mess in here; what were you looking for? There are hankies and socks everywhere, oh my Heavens!” This time, as Mother stared down at the elaborate newspaper nest the brothers had constructed, Scrapo didn’t care. He stared up into her face calmly as she frowned, shook her head from side to side slowly and then began to laugh. “Baxter, are you up yet?” she called out.
“Just coming, Mother,” he called back, and the gloves heard the heavy sound of his feet on the stairs.
“You are a funny man,” she said as Baxter shuffled up beside her and stared down at the Aga chair. “You don’t have to show me how fond you are of those gloves, I already know.”
Baxter turned his head slowly and gazed at his mother’s face. “When did you make that?” he whispered, “that … that nest? You went to bed before me last night, Ma.”
“Ah, so I’ve done it, have I? As if I’d dream up such a thing. I thought it was you who had all the imagination, Son.”
“I never made that construction, Ma.”
“No. Alright, Baxter, you never made it.”
“No, I mean it; I’m not joking.”
“Do you remember when you were a little boy? All the jokes you used to play on me then?”
“Yes, but …” Baxter reached into the nest carefully and took Woolfy and Scrapo out, “I left my gloves on the table with my hat last night,” he whispered, perfectly transfixed, “look, my hat is still there.”
“Ah well, it must have been the fairies who made it then,” his mother said wandering away towards the tall cupboard to get the breakfast plates out and laughing loudly as she did so.
“It’s beautifully constructed, Ma. Look at the way the strips are woven into each other.”
“And are we having scrambled or fried eggs this morning? Mother asked. Baxter stood next to the Aga with his gloves held loosely in his left hand, staring at his mother in puzzlement. “You know I sometimes think some of the things that go on in Deepsound are just as interesting and peculiar as anything I’m likely to see in the rest of the world,” he declared.
“Such as what?” Mother asked.
“Well such as … mermaids.”
“Gina saw one once by Bindell’s Cove when she was a kid.”
“She’s not the only one to have made that claim.”
“That’s Mr Croid’s big story too.”
“Mr Croid saw a mermaid, Ma?”
“So he always says if you spend any time chatting with him.”
“My Heavens!” Baxter said loudly. “Deepsound is really something, isn’t it?”
“I think so. I love the place,” Mother answered. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
Baxter placed the gloves on the table just where they’d been the night before. “Well, I love Deepsound too, Ma,” he answered as if she’d accused him of not doing so.
“Until you find somewhere better, you mean?”
“Ah, no, Ma. I didn’t say that.”
“You told Gina that.”
Baxter pulled a chair out quickly and sat down on it. Scrapo watched his big round face carefully. He was blushing, and for an instant he looked angry, and then sorrowful and finally thoughtful and calm.
“What’s happening?” Woolfy whispered.
“Baxter is thinking hard about something and Mother is making toast.”
“There’s a funny atmosphere in here. Are they fighting?”
“Not exactly, Woolfy. But something important might be happening.”
“You don’t think I should go on this cruise, do you Ma?” Baxter said suddenly.
“That’s for you to decide, Son. It’s your money.”
“It’s only four months; then I’ll be back.”
“But will you be content when you do?”
“I don’t know; I’ve never thought about what might happen afterwards.”
“You haven’t thought about the fish smoking business with Rolly and Gina and what’s going to happen to it if you’re not here to help?”
“Yes, of course I’ve thought about that. I’ve thought about it every day. Tell me what you really think, Ma.”
Mother came over to the table with the silver teapot that made noises and set it down gently next to Baxter’s hat. “Well, I think if you don’t put all your effort into the fish smokery, you’ll lose it and then you’ll be spending the rest of your life working for Mr. Bleary in his box factory. If you go on the cruise, I think it’ll make it even worse to have to work in the factory when you get back because you’ll have seen so many wonderful sights and they’ll make you hanker – hanker for different and exciting things that you can’t find in Deepsound.”
“Yes, Baxter, hanker.”
Baxter stood up abruptly. “I don’t want breakfast. I’m going out. I have to think.”
“Don’t forget that if you make the fish smokery work, all three of you could go on a cruise together after a few years.”
“What with Rolly? I can’t imagine him in a different country, Ma. He’s so inward-looking.”
“You could go with Gina,” Ma said rather softly.
Scrapo watched as Baxter’s mouth opened of its own accord. “With Gina? Go on a cruise with Gina?” he asked.
“Well, why not, Baxter? I expect a woman who has met a mermaid might be delighted to see what the rest of the world is like.”
Baxter walked for a long time out of town and up the steep coastal path, and around several ragged coves of towering black rock split asunder, and against which the sea threw its wild and mournful-sounding waves. Finally he arrived in a scented place that Woolfy in particular found delightful. The tiny clinging coastal plants were beginning to flower in the spring air and release their subtle perfumes. Scrapo could see patches of startling orange lichen on the rocks close by. They were near the cliff edge and in front of them the whole wide ocean was greenish and lively. Seals came past in small groups and gazed upwards at the solitary man, and he gazed back down at them. From time to time he sighed and then, strangely, laughed out aloud, looking upwards into the fast-moving clouds as if there was something of spectacular delight to be seen there.
After some time, he sat down on the rocky earth, leant his elbows upon his knees and held his face in his hands. He hadn’t taken his gloves off and Woolfy and Scrapo could feel the warmth of his cheeks in their wool. Then, slowly, their fingers became damp. Scrapo looked upwards to check for rain, but there was none. For Deepsound, a place on the edge of nowhere, as Baxter often called it, the weather was, although cold, quite dry and windless.
“Oh!” Woolfy cried out, “Is it raining now, Scrapo? I don’t want to get wet today; I sleep so much better at night when I come home dry.”
Scrapo blinked and swivelled his beady black eye, smaller than the eye of an ant, until he could see Baxter’s lower eyelid where his eyelashes, heavy with water, were clinging to each other in twos and threes. As the darkness in the sky gave way to the sun, Baxter’s tears trembled and shimmered on the cusp of his eye like diamonds before they fell downwards onto Scrapo and his brother.
Finally, Baxter stood up and after taking his gloves off and putting them together in one pocket, he began walking again. Woolfy tried his hardest to work out where they were going, but there was little in the way of clues. In town, he knew exactly where they were because for the most part as he had, like a dog and with Scrapo’s help, learnt all the different smells that rose up in Deepsound. He knew when they were going under the archway in Otter Street, because he could smell the glue from Bleary’s Box Factory. He knew when they were in the street where the bakery was because of the wonderful doughy smells that drifted out of it. He knew when they were in Pinnacle Street at lunch time close to Covington’s Haberdashery because he could smell the soup the owner ate. When he smelt the hotdog van, he was pretty sure what area they were in, if not the exact street. Then further up the hill, for Deepsound was a steep little town, he could sense where they were by the smells that drifted out of the market in Marlin Place, the market in which Mother had been talking to Gina a day or so ago.
When they passed the market, perhaps on the way to Gina’s or Rolly’s, Woolfy could smell the cheeses in the little stall just inside the market gates, and close by, the peppery smell of the flower stall. From deep within the market, the scent of chocolate and biscuits drifted to meet the cold outside air, and Woolfy knew that before long they would be going left down a road that Scrapo had described as being narrow and made of little round stones so that everything on it sounded loud and clattery.
All Woolfy could smell when Baxter finally stopped walking was iron and rust, and green lichen, and the salty spume of the waves. “Climb up to the top of his pocket, and find out where we are,” he murmured. “I was hoping we might be going to Gina’s. It’s so cheerful in her house and I think Baxter needs cheering up today.”
“How can you tell, Woolfy?”
“By the way he was walking, all slow and plodding and with no vigour.”
“Do you know what it was that made us wet earlier?”
“No, not exactly, Scrapo. I couldn’t work it out.”
“It was water coming out of Baxter’s eyes.”
“Is that something you’ve told me about before, Brother?”
“It was something I didn’t care to tell you about. I have seen it before once or twice, usually in very young people.”
“What is it for?”
“I’m still working on that, Woolfy. I’ll admit that I’m a bit puzzled by it. I saw Mother do it once when she was looking at that picture she has in her room of Baxter’s father.”
“Where was I at the time?” Woolfy asked.
“Next to me on her bed where Baxter had left us.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
“I can’t tell you everything, Woolfy.”
“You can’t tell me what the sky is for, and now you can’t tell me what the eye water is for. You can’t tell me much, can you?” Woolfy was right, but Scrapo didn’t feeling like admitting it. It was true that he’d seen many very strange things in Deepsound, although perhaps not as strange as mermaids, but it wasn’t so much that he didn’t want to tell Woolfy about them, as he had no idea how to describe them. As much as Scrapo loved Woolfy, he sometimes felt the weight of responsibility that lay upon him because of his eye. “I said, you can’t tell me much, can you Scrapo?” Woolfy repeated, angrily.
“And you can’t tell me the names of any countries in the world, can you?” Scrapo replied quietly.
“I promised I’d tell you on the day you work out what the sky is for, and so I will.”
“I know one anyway,” Scrapo whispered, “and I think it’s the place Baxter will try to get to in the end.”
“I know that place too,” Woolfy replied, “it’s Malinafrica, the hottest place on earth where there is not a single glove or mitten to be found. Not even fingerless gloves exist there I dare say.”
For a few moments, the brothers were silent.
“So, climb to the top of the pocket and find out where we are,” Woolfy repeated miserably.
Scrapo inched his way upwards and poked his eye finger out into the coldness of the day. Baxter was sitting perfectly still on the rusty bench against one wall of the tin shed. He was staring into the distance, across the water of the ocean which had gone grey in the lessening of the light. Scrapo collapsed into Baxter’s coat pocket again and curled up with Woolfy. “I’ve never seen Baxter as serious as he is now,” he whispered. “He’s as still as that stone statue in the town square I told you about.”
“These are hard times,” Woolfy muttered, “not only is he going to abandon us, but he’ll be leaving Deepsound in a very bad mood, if nothing changes. It’s only eight days now until he goes, isn’t it, Scrapo?”
It was a long while before they were on the move again, and Baxter’s walk still had no vigour in it. He stopped several times to talk to people on the street about the cruise, and they seemed almost as excited as he had been about the idea of it. The newspaper office on the mainland had printed an article about Baxter Degama winning the cruise, and the one question that people asked him time and time again was how he’d worked out the riddle. Each time, he answered with a joke or a laugh, or was downright vague about it, because, of course, it was not he who had worked it out, and even if his evasiveness puzzled the people of Deepsound, the gloves knew why.
“It’s a perfect tragedy,” Woolfy murmured, “a perfect tragedy. That’s what comes of being clever as well as beautiful.”
“I don’t think Gina understood the consequences of her actions when she told Baxter and Rolly the answer,” Scrapo replied. “After all, as she said, hundreds of other people might have guessed too, and their answers could’ve reached the newspaper office before Baxter’s did.”
“Could’ve, but didn’t,” Woolfy replied.
The gloves were in the left hand side of Baxter’s drawer, at the front. Neither of them were feeling tired. They’d talked for a long time that night about the idea of running away from Mother’s house and taking their chances in the wide world. They had no doubt they could escape; Baxter was forever leaving them around, on the window sill in the hall, on the kitchen table, in Mother’s room. They even thought of a hiding place they could go to until Mother or Baxter opened the front door. “But we’d have to be really quick!” Woolfy declared. “As soon as the door opens, we move rapidly out from under the coat stand, along the skirting boards in the hall on what you call the darker side, and out onto the doorstep as quickly as can be, and we should move sideways for more speed. Then we hide in the dry leaves you told me about under the bush until the coast is clear and no one can see us. That’s where you come in Scrapo, and you must be alert. You must move out to the front gate while I wait under the bush. You must look up and down the street carefully, and come back for me only when no one is in sight. Not the postman or anybody. And watch out for dogs!” Woolfy was panting heavily by the time he’d finished giving his brother instructions.
Scrapo held his thumb tightly inside his four fingers. “I’m afraid just thinking about it, Woolfy.”
“It’s either that, or we stay imprisoned in this drawer. You’ve told me many times about the free gloves of Deepsound, Scrapo, haven’t you? I say we should join them.”
“But they’re never in pairs. It’s always just one of them, and some of them look so wretched and shabby, Woolfy, you can’t imagine. Sometimes, I wonder if they’re lost gloves. Of all the times I’ve seen gloves on the streets, I’ve only ever seen a pair together once, and they were, I believe, the gasman’s gloves, and he was working close by.”
Woolfy had no real answer. He couldn’t bear the idea of being separated from his brother. “And what were his gloves doing while he worked?” he asked flippantly.
“Wrestling with each other and fooling about. Like we do sometimes.”
The following morning Woolfy and Scrapo awoke to find Baxter staring down at them. They kept very still. They’d fallen asleep curled around each other and nothing in the night, not the owl hooting outside, nor the creaking and sighing of the house, nor Baxter’s snoring, had woken them up. Scrapo stared straight back at Baxter, his tiny sharp eye unblinking amongst his rough black wool. He knew that Woolfy was aware of Baxter; he could smell him clearly. Once in an idle moment as the brothers lay on Mother’s dressing table and Woolfy was urging Scrapo to describe the many curious objects surrounding them, items such as hair brushes and scent bottles and powder puffs, Scrapo had grown tired of the game and stopped talking.
“Go on, you were just telling me about the scent bottle, Scrapo.”
“I can’t talk now, Mother has just come in.”
“No she hasn’t, otherwise I’d have smelt her.”
Scrapo sighed. “Okay, no she hasn’t. I just don’t want to talk, Woolfy.”
The responsibility for mapping out Woolfy’s world for him by naming the things his brother could smell and hear, laid heavily upon him at that moment. Woolfy needed to know the origins of every odour, aroma, perfume or stink that he detected, and to know what made every sound he could hear, however tiny. Even the squeaky sound of cellophane in Covington’s Haberdashery had been of interest to him. In that way he was able to create a mental map of the world, so when he and Scrapo were out with Baxter, it was often Woolfy who recognised where they were before Scrapo had paid any attention to it. And, with a sudden hideous thrill it came to Scrapo that when they were left alone in the drawer on Baxter’s departure, he would no longer have the responsibility of looking after Woolfy, or putting up with his bad behaviour and recklessness. After all, there was nothing much you could do in an underwear drawer, or top drawer, as Mother called it – nothing much at all. It was a good place to wake up in amongst the sweet scent of handkerchiefs and the rough warmth of Baxter’s winter socks, but would such feelings of comfort and well-being last long into the day?
As Scrapo stared upwards at Baxter he realised there was something different about him; although the geography of his face was the same, the same rounded hills and gentle plains, there was something in the way he held his head, and in the expression of his eyes that had changed. He looked as if he had already been to distant lands and seen people who were wondrous in their clothes and habits, as if he had already heard their music and their language, and eaten their foods and gazed at their cities and gardens and their ornaments.
“What’s happening?” Woolfy whispered. “The drawer is open, I can feel that, but Baxter’s not taking us out?” But just as he spoke, Baxter reached in and took both gloves in his hands, and Woolfy could hear that they were going downstairs. “Not starting our prison sentence today, then?” he remarked curtly, as he lay squashed up against Scrapo’s underbelly.
“Oh, shut up, will you, Woolfy? Please don’t let it be a day when you can’t stop talking.”
“You and I didn’t come to an agreement last night about whether we were going to join the free gloves or not.”
“I’m still considering it, Woolfy.”
“I think you’re stalling. I think you’re too frightened to try it.”
“You could go by yourself. You could slide out of Baxter’s pocket anytime during today and land on the road, or in the gutter, or by the curb, and make your way into the undergrowth and be hidden from the world forever.”
Scrapo felt Woolfy puff up slightly and then shrink in on himself quite all suddenly, and he was sorry he’d challenged him so graphically. But all night he’d been trying to imagine what it would be like to be homeless – Woolfy might call it being free, but to Scrapo there was nothing romantic about it at all. He thought again about the free gloves he’d seen from time to time while he was on Baxter’s hand, and they’d always looked dirty and woebegone, never happy and clean. Often the free ones tried to hide in grass or under dead leaves so they’d not be noticed, and Scrapo couldn’t decide if it was because they were ashamed of having been separated from their other one, or frightened that someone would discover them and harm them. It was probably dogs with their huge wet noses they were afraid of more than anything else, he conjectured.
On the doorstep, Baxter put on his hat and gloves. It was another snappy cold day, so cold that even the breath of songbirds could be seen, and as he set off down the road, Scrapo tried to catch sight of Woolfy on Baxter’s other hand. But this was to no avail, as half the time his brother was in the coat pocket, and for the remainder, he was moving restlessly along neatly clipped hedges and stone walls. Then quite all suddenly, Scrapo felt himself to be very ridiculous because he was about to spend a length of time, possibly forever, cooped up with his brother in a stuffy old drawer – why should he want to look at him now? Woolfy had always been impulsive and vain; he had no common sense, no thought for anyone except his very own self; he shouldn’t want to look at him ever, and he certainly wouldn’t do were it not for the fact that he loved him. Scrapo closed his tiny eye and felt terribly sad and strangely alone.
When they reached the flower shop with its gingery-peppery smells, Scrapo allowed himself to glimpse the world once more and was startled to find Baxter buying flowers. He bought some long stemmed golden poppies with some ferny looking leaves, but when it came to paying for them, he took Scrapo and Woolfy off and put them together in his left-hand pocket in the darkness.
“I know we’re at the flower stall by the market, because I can smell it,” Woolfy announced. “What’s happening, Scrapo?”
“Baxter has just bought flowers; that is all I know.”
“I sense something odd about him today. He’s anxious and fidgety. I suppose as the time draws near for his departure, he’ll be nervous. I don’t think Baxter Degama has ever been out of Deepsound. I expect he’s pretty scared.”
“You’re right, Woolfy. He’ll be about as scared as I am at the thought of being a free glove.”
“Ah – so you’ve been considering it, have you?”
“Yes, I have.”
“So, what do you think, will you give it a go?”
“I can’t decide. Maybe I will, but you’ve never seen what free gloves look like, Woolfy. You think they’re just happy lone fellows, well they’re not. The ones I’ve seen have been very beaten down by life. Some have holes in them, some have shrunk, some have missing fingers. I don’t know if I could stand a life as abject as that.”
“Abject – do you mean object?”
“No, you mitten – abject, meaning something craven, something with no dignity.”
“You always were a terrible coward, Scrapo. What is the matter with you, do you want to spend the rest of your life in a drawer amongst socks and handkerchiefs who never have a single interesting thing to say?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Woolfy, socks and handkerchiefs can’t talk.”
“Maybe so, but you know perfectly well what I mean. If Baxter goes on this cruise for what is it? Four months … anyway, what does four months actually mean?”
Scrapo shifted away from his brother slightly, and put his thumb inside his four fingers. He had no idea how to answer the question.
The next time Woolfy spoke, it was to announce that they’d all arrived at Gina’s house. “I can smell her things,” he told Scrapo. “I can smell beach wood, shells, marmalade, lavender, washing powder and those metal rings she wears.”
You give something a name and it takes on significance where before it had none, Scrapo thought. It was, of course, he who had carefully told Woolfy what made each and every smell in Gina’s house so that he could have a map of her world.
The brothers were left on the little table in the hall along with Baxter’s hat. As the door to the kitchen closed, it took away the warm and gentle smells and the sounds that the gloves had always loved, the burbling of her radio, the ticking of her clock, and the distant sound of sparrows on her rooftop. The idea that they would be imprisoned in Baxter’s top drawer within a very few days – what was it five or six? – made them leaden with horror.
“Come on, Scrapo,” Woolfy whispered, “we’ve got to try to hide ourselves now and wait until the opportunity for escape comes our way.”
“I can’t do it, Woolfy.”
“Of course you can, what alternative is there? Lead the way down the table leg and we’ll hide in the shadows below until that door is open.”
“I can’t live the life of a free glove.”
“How do you know? You’ve never tried.”
“I don’t think you could either, Woolfy.”
“Why not? I yearn for that life.”
“Because you don’t have an eye. How would you survive? How would you know when to cross a road so buses and cars and bicycles didn’t squash you?”
“By the sound of them coming my way of course, and their increasing stench.”
“Why do you want me to come with you if you’re so confident about it all, Brother?”
Woolfy was about to answer when Baxter and Gina came into the hall and the two gloves were taken gently from the table by her little hands and put upon Baxter’s huge ones.
Baxter left Gina’s place with the gloves on his hands where she had put them, much to Woolfy’s delight – for he thrilled at the feel of her fingers on his wool – but the instant they’d left her street, he’d taken them off and put them together in the right hand pocket of his coat. They’d stayed just as he’d placed them for some time, not speaking, nor moving. They could feel the rhythm of his stride, the different smells in the streets he passed through, the sounds of life outside his pocket. They sensed the sunlight and the shade and even the sky. He’d accidentally left Mother’s flowers at Gina’s place however, and both gloves had noticed it. “Mind you, it’s to our advantage he’s forgotten them…”
Finally Woolfy spoke: “We are going back to Hare Street to be put away in the drawer. Maybe Baxter will wear us again, but who knows? Are you ready to escape now, Brother?”
Scrapo was, and he wasn’t, and then he was again. He did not know, he could not decide, except that he didn’t think he could live without his brother, and even if Woolfy felt the same, he would not have realised it or understood it in the same way as Scrapo did. So, finally Scrapo was resolved; he would try to be a free glove. He had nothing left to lose except the company of his beloved and annoying brother.
“Yes,” he said, “I am ready.”
The two of them climbed quickly to the top of Baxter’s coat pocket and threw themselves sideways into the gutter, Woolfy first and Scrapo following. They landed near the heavy iron bars of a public drain from which the foul smell of all human life and human hope, arose.
“Quickly, lead us across the road, Scrapo, and find shelter,” Woolfy said, “are there bushes or grassy bits nearby, or nests of litter?”
Scrapo raised his index finger and looked about. He could see nothing but concrete, nothing at all. He felt very frightened; they’d escaped from Baxter’s pocket and it would mean that they would never again see Mother, or hear the creaking of the small house in Hare Street, or listen to Baxter and Mother laughing together in the kitchen. They would need to learn quickly how to hide themselves in undergrowth, in leaves, within the blades of grass – oh! all sorts of places, and be constantly on the lookout for every type of danger, from dogs to slugs to the wheels of bicycles.
“Hold onto my thumb,” Scrapo said. “I think I can get us over the pavement and underneath a hedge if we’re quick about it.”
It can only have been a matter of minutes as the brothers moved towards the dark sourness of the hedge, going sideways to gain extra speed, that they sensed the approach of a person and flattened themselves out onto the ground. Too late! They were scooped up and carried quickly onwards in a strange-feeling hand.
“Smells like creosote,” Woolfy muttered, “and sawdust.”
“Keep still,” Scrapo whispered. “Stop puffing up like that.”
“You just weren’t quick enough Brother,” Woolfy whispered back, trembling slightly.
“Excuse me, but you dropped your gloves,” the person called out as he hurried after Baxter. Scrapo watched as Baxter extended his big hand and took the brothers into his own keeping. “Aren’t you Baxter Degama?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“It’s you who’s going on a cruise around the world, isn’t it? I saw your picture in the local paper.”
“Yes, that was me.”
“Was the riddle hard to work out?”
“I didn’t work it out alone, I got the first thought, and then a friend put the pieces together for me,” Baxter said slowly.
“I bet he regrets telling you!”
Baxter didn’t reply for a moment. “I think she did regret it,” he said finally, “although I didn’t realise that at first. However, she no longer has to,” he continued.
“My! How I envy you, Deepsound is such a boring little place. You must be so excited!”
Scrapo was aware of the curious hesitation that followed, Baxter’s breathing seemed to quicken and his hand tightened over the two brothers quite all suddenly. “Excited, yes,” he agreed, “I can certainly say I am. But Deepsound is far from boring, far from it, if you know where to look.”
All the way back to Hare Street, Baxter tossed the gloves from one hand to another until they were breathless and quite sick feeling. They each clung to the other so as not to fall even though minutes before they had been intent on escaping. They were exhausted by the time they arrived home and although unhappy that their escape plan had not worked, they were relieved to be back in the dark and stuffy drawer that smelt of new laundry and the tiny scales from the wing of a low level moth. The brothers had had a strange day indeed; one that they found hard to understand.
It wasn’t long before a row broke out between the two gloves as they rested in the gloom.
“I’m leaving at the first chance I get!” Woolfy roared. “You can come or stay; I don’t care one way or the other.”
“You don’t care?”
“I just told you. If ever Baxter opens this drawer again, or Mother, I’m going to find a way of escaping from this house. I’m going to head for the market, and live behind those big waste bins you told me about.”
“You’ll die of boredom, Woolfy.”
“I thought you said you’ve decided to come with me, now you’ve changed your mind.”
“Well what does it matter to you, if you don’t care?”
“I really meant I can’t care, because I must go! I must be free!”
“You’ll die of boredom behind the bins, Woolfy.”
“So you said, but Baxter told the man who picked us up that Deepsound is far from boring if you know where to look.”
“Yes, he did, but what did it mean?”
“I don’t know, Scrapo, it was a riddle.”
“Yes, and it was a riddle that’s got us into this mess; I hate riddles. And I hate you.”
Scrapo closed his eye slowly and lowered his index finger gently onto the pile of handkerchiefs he was resting on. “Have you ever stopped to think of what I do for you, Woolfy?” he asked quietly.
“You just hold me back, Brother, that’s all you do. I want to do something, you say no. Do you ever think what it’s like living with someone as cowardly and stupid as you are?”
Before Scrapo could answer, Woolfy leapt on him and grappled him off the pile of handkerchiefs. As they fell downwards to the lining paper that had a curious pattern of swallows and daisies, the handkerchief pile toppled onto them. Never-the-less, they fought each other savagely as if inside a tent. Woolfy had Scrapo squeezed tightly in his palm, and Scrapo had pushed his thumb sharply into the gap between Woolfy’s first two fingers and he knew it was hurting him badly. But if he could’ve bitten him, he would have done so, and hard. He’d have bitten Woolfy for all the times he’d told him to lead the way down a table leg, he’d have bitten him for the awful day in the dentist, he’d have bitten him for that time he dropped behind the radiator – he still couldn’t forgive him for that, and what happened later. After all it was Woolfy’s fault that he was nearly thrown out with the trash that day.
As the brothers fought on, scattering the handkerchiefs and socks around the top drawer until all was chaos, the door opened quite all suddenly and Baxter walked into the room.
The gloves froze, not only was it an unusual time for Baxter to be in his bedroom, but they’d paid no attention to the destruction they’d caused in the drawer, and in the morning, they realised, there would be terrifying consequences, at least there might be if Mother were to stare down at them.
Woolfy released his grip and Scrapo fell out of his fingers and lay flattened and frightened by the green winter socks with the black heels. He heard Woolfy gasp, and just as he did so, the drawer opened and Baxter’s hand placed a small box in one corner, and, Scrapo observed, he did so without actually looking downwards.
It was a while before either of the brothers stirred; they needed stillness so that they could recover from the pain each had caused the other, and find their pride again.
“I’m not sorry!” Woolfy hissed in the darkness, finally. “I’d rather you didn’t come anyway, since we’d never take any risks and nothing in life can happen to the good without risks.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” Scrapo whispered. “I’ll come. We should leave tomorrow. I’ll be eyes for both of us. Even if I’m frightened, I’ll be able to look at the sky whenever I want.”
“Ha!” Woolfy shouted, “then you’ll have plenty of time to work out what it’s for.”
“Shhh, you’re being really loud.”
“And you will tell me what it’s for, won’t you?”
“I’ve always said I would, but don’t forget what you promised me in return.”
“I didn’t promise you anything, Scrapo,” Woolfy replied, emerging from beneath a spotted handkerchief and moving slowly across to his brother.
“You most certainly did, Woolfy. You most certainly did. I’m surprised that under the circumstances, you’ve forgotten.”
Baxter was never particularly quiet when he got up and prepared for the day, but on the morning the brothers intended to run away from the little house in Hare Street, they were awoken by the almighty din-dong he was making. He began by stomping around his room in a circle, humming, and then he began to whistle. Next he made the sound of trumpets through his lips and sang snatches of curious songs. After a while the gloves heard Mother call out to him from her bedroom. They heard Baxter leave his room and walk across the corridor, and then the two people were laughing loudly and in the breathless in-betweens, speaking quickly and fondly to each other.
“What’s going on?” Scrapo asked. “Nothing seems in order this morning.”
“Everything smells the same,” Woolfy replied, not yet quite awake.
“Mother is usually up long before Baxter, but they’re talking in her room.”
Scrapo shuddered. “Never mind that, Woolfy. Today you and I must leave this house. What is it now, four days or so before he goes?”
“I’ve lost count in my terror,” Woolfy whispered. “Six I think.”
They heard Baxter come back into the room and a few seconds later, daylight appeared in the drawer as he pulled it open. They heard him gasp and then mutter. Woolfy in his embarrassment found it difficult not to puff up knowing that Baxter was staring down at the mess they’d made in the night.
Scrapo gazed upwards at Baxter’s puzzled face as he reached in to bring the brothers out.
“Can ghosts live in drawers?” Baxter said out aloud. “Or is it mice? It certainly isn’t mermaids!”
Baxter carried Woolfy and Scrapo to his bed and laid them down close to each other.
“We’re on his bed, right?” Woolfy whispered.
“How did you know that?”
“I can smell his pillow. Smells just like his hat does when he parks it near us.”
“Looks like he’s going to put more things in his suitcase, he’s opened it, and he’s staring into it. He’s frowning very hard indeed,” Scrapo reported.
On the very day Baxter heard that he’d won the cruise, he’d pulled the brown suitcase off the top of his wardrobe, removed the moth balls from it, and began to pack. Since then, he’d fiddled with the suitcase every day; he’d put in a white shirt and take out a black one, remove some underwear and put in a tee shirt. Or, he’d take everything out and start packing again. Once he deliberated for ages on which of his two combs he’d take; the blue or the black. In the end he packed the blue one. Eventually, the brothers lost interest in Baxter’s dithering activities. It was almost as if he was trying to make the packing of his suitcase as difficult as he could do, without knowing it.
Now, as the brothers lay side by side on the bed, Scrapo watched with no interest as Baxter began yet again to take clothes out of the suitcase. “Ho-hum,” he said under his breath, “another re-packing session.”
“What?” Woolfy asked.
“Same old fussing about with his things,” Scrapo replied. “He’s got everything out of the suitcase, even those dreadful sandals that you say smell of tar and seaweed and old cigarettes.”
Woolfy signed, and moved a little closer to his brother. “Today is the day we must run away, Scrapo. We must be constantly alert. I am relying on you to watch out for the exact right moment for our escape.”
Scrapo shuddered, and a small fluttering of fear started up in his wool. Then he thought of the sky and how day after day out there in the open, he’d be able to look upwards and gaze at the clouds in their beauty and see the sky change colour. He’d be able to see the sunset whenever he felt so inclined; he’d only seen it a few times and quite briefly, and each time it had made him feeble with joy. He’d tried to describe the colours to Woolfy, the impossible coppery green that faded to blue and mauve, the rosy pinks and the flame reds all intermingled with strands of subtle gold. Woolfy always listened patiently, but Scrapo suspected he didn’t really know how to make sense of the wonder of the sky in his blind world. “Yes, but have you worked out what the sky is actually for yet, Scrapo?” he’d ask each time. “You promised me you would.”
Scrapo watched Baxter with little interest as he fussed about with his suitcase. He began to wonder how he’d know what his brother called the right moment for their escape. Perhaps Baxter would take them outside and place them on one of the benches in town along with his hat, as he sometimes did, and then the two of them could slip off the back and lie beneath the bench unnoticed amongst the dust and sweetie wrappers, the old sticks and crumpled tram tickets. Or, maybe they’d be going through the covered market, such a noisy and distracting place, that if the two of them found themselves in the same coat pocket, they could claw their way up to the opening and drop down to the ground together. But if they were not to be trodden on by other people, they’d have to scurry pretty quickly to cover. Going sideways would be the fastest way to do it Scrapo thought. He shuddered with horror as it came to him that the success of the escape plan depended entirely upon him as the brother with the eye.
“What’s he done with the sandals?” Woolfy asked quite all suddenly, “I can’t smell them anymore.” Scrapo came out of his reverie, and stared at Baxter. “Did you hear me, Brother?”
“I heard you Woolfy. He’s put them back in the wardrobe.”
“And his shirts and jeans and tee-shirts; he’s put everything back. Woolfy, he’s unpacking completely!”
“Oh! That’s rather extreme, surely?”
“He’s put the suitcase back on top of the wardrobe, and now he’s over at our drawer. He’s tidying everything up, folding the handkerchiefs, moving the socks, looking inside that little box. Now he’s shut our drawer …”
“I can hear that, Scrapo, you don’t need to tell me; the drawer squeals when he shuts it.”
The smell of bacon drifted up through the floorboards, and instead of the morning news, they heard the sound of radio music. Within a second, Baxter had gone and shortly afterwards the gloves could hear muffled laughter from below.
“Woolfy, hang onto me, we’re going back to the drawer.”
“That’s the last place I want to be!”
“Please don’t argue; there’s something we have to know about.” Scrapo turned, and without any gentleness, pulled Woolfy by his thumb until the pair of them reached the edge of the bed and tumbled off onto the floor below. “Get onto my back,” Scrapo said, speaking loudly and with more authority than he usually did. Woolfy obeyed him silently, and within a short time, Scrapo was clinging to one of the handles of the bottom drawer and stretching upwards towards the next.
That was one of the hardest climbs Scrapo had ever done, but at least it was instigated by him alone, rather than through one of Woolfy’s silly impulses.
Baxter had left the top drawer half-open as he turned to go down to breakfast at his mother’s call, and now Scrapo and Woolfy had reached the drawer and dropped down amongst the half-tidied socks and handkerchiefs.
“What are we doing? Is this part of the escape plan? If so, you shouldn’t keep me in the dark,” Woolfy said. “Are we hiding?”
“Just wait here,” Scrapo replied, and made his way to the small box in the corner. The lid was hard to get off, but when Scrapo managed it, what he saw astonished him. “My, my, my!” he said.
“What, what, what?” Woolfy asked.
“It’s Mother’s ring, Woolfy. The one I told you about that looks like a star.”
“That used to be next to her scent bottles?”
“That’s right. She must have given it to Baxter.”
“It’s obvious why, Scrapo.”
“Of course. He can sell it, you see. He’ll need extra money for his journey. The Degamas may have had money when the Captain was alive, but no longer.”
The journey back to the bed was less perilous, although in the first instant they had to fling themselves out of the drawer and not mind at all that they landed on the floor quite close to the squeaky board that had two lose nails they could snag themselves on. The journey up Baxter’s bedspread was easily done, as it was a rough old thing, hairy and oily and very unlike Mother’s satin one. When they arrived back on the bed, they arranged themselves casually side by side, just as Baxter had left them, and there they stayed in a state of bewilderment for the best part of the day. As lunchtime came round and the afternoon approached, dragging the darkening air along with it, they heard what they thought were Mother and Baxter moving furniture about downstairs. They heard a van draw up outside the house. They heard neighbours knocking at the front door, and Mother talking to them excitedly.
It wasn’t until late afternoon, when the bedroom was full of shadows, and the little songbirds on the flowering bush were silent, that the brothers concluded that Baxter would not be taking them outside that day.
“The way I see it is that with so much brouhaha and coming and going in the house, you and I, Scrapo, should go downstairs and wait on the dark side of the hall until someone leaves the door open, and then make a dash for it.”
“Never mind about making a dash for it, Woolfy; we’ll have to creep very slowly, and not draw attention to ourselves in the slightest degree.”
“Well, anyway, let’s hasten to be slow then, Brother, we’ll need to build a sturdy outdoors’ nest before proper dark comes down.”
“What are you thinking we can build a nest with, Woolfy?”
“I was hoping you’d be able to tell me what kind of nest building material there was in the world outside, Scrapo, as you must have seen many things while you were on Baxter’s hand looking downwards at the ground… when you were not in his pocket, I mean.”
“I suppose I have,” Scrapo answered. “I suppose I have.”
“What things have you seen?”
“Dried grass, birds’ feathers, polystyrene beads, tram tickets, swarms of plastic bags of all types of shapes and sizes, scraps of paper and small sticks.”
“All of those items will be adequate,” Woolfy said pompously.
Although Woolfy and Scrapo were not inclined to notice time particularly in the normal course of events, the journey from Baxter’s bedroom to the middle of the staircase took an age. As usual, Scrapo led the way with Woolfy close behind him, his index finger placed on his brother’s cuff as they crept forward inch by tiny inch.
For a good while, they stayed on the curved step that twisted around in the middle of the staircase. They lay as if abandoned, yet all the while, Scrapo was watching what was happening in the hall below. Were it not for the fact that Woolfy was impatient to reach the bottom of the stairs so they could scarper into the hallway, Scrapo would have been content simply to observe the scene below him as things were happening in Mother’s house that he had never seen before. There were balloons bobbling against the low hall ceiling with ribbons dangling from them, and the front door was wide open. Strangers came into the house with packages and plates of food. Other people who he did recognise arrived as well:- the Clutchbag twins, the man from the hardware shop, Mr and Mrs Almond who lived next door, Mr Tritonson and his small, neat-jawed dog, and many more.
At regular intervals, Woolfy told his brother what he could smell. “Fragrant nutmeg in that apple pie,” he’d say, or “what’s that, lobster or prawns, or perhaps crab, what do you think Scrapo, can you see what the person is carrying?”
There came a moment in time, while Woolfy and Scrapo lay on the step at the turn in the staircase, when Baxter walked into the house with Gina. Scrapo could see their feet, and straining upwards with his index finger, he could see their faces, and their faces were peaceful and radiant.
“Woolfy, Baxter has just come in with Gina, and they look as if they are glowing.” As Scrapo stared at them, he realised he’d understood nothing of the day, and yet now, quite all suddenly, it was clear: Baxter had unpacked his suitcase, activity of an unusual kind had been going on in the house, there’d been an exaggerated amount of laughter throughout the day, strangers had come, food that had not been made by Mother was being transported into the kitchen from the street outside. “Woolfy, Baxter is not going on the cruise.”
“I don’t think Baxter is going on the cruise after all.”
“No, Woolfy, it’s not. He’s really not going.”
“What evidence have you found to support your theory?” Woolfy asked in his especially grand manner that he used to disguise his excitement.
“Baxter just came into the house with Gina. He is wearing a shiny suit and a tie with small pink crabs on it. She’s wearing a lacy thing, white, flimsy, and on her feet are some tiny yellow trod-down shoes, one with a hole in it at the toe, and not those big gumboots she normally wears.”
“But they’re having a goodbye party, aren’t they? It is to be expected.”
“Have you forgotten that he unpacked his suitcase, brother?”
“Ah!” Woolfy exclaimed, and rose up on his four fingers behind Scrapo even though he could see nothing of the world.
“He’s not going on the cruise, Woolfy. He’s not going.”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as sure, Brother. As sure as sure.”
“Are you even more sure than that?”
Scrapo thought for a moment. “I am, Woolfy. I could not be surer.”
Night time had set in, and Woolfy and Scrapo should’ve been in the top drawer in Baxter’s bedroom, but they were still on the step at the turn in the staircase listening to the music coming from the kitchen, at first softly and then raucously as people danced, and clapped and chattered.
Woolfy’s hearing was much better than his brother’s, and by concentrating he was able to understand much of what was going on in the kitchen. He heard people laughing and talking excitedly and laughing again. There was loud radio music, and someone started drumming, perhaps on the kitchen table. There were children and dogs in the house; Woolfy could hear them squealing and yipping, barking and shouting.
“Woolfy,” Scrapo whispered, “I think I’ve worked something out. Something important.”
“So have I brother. Baxter and Gina are getting married. I know we had a long conversation about Baxter leaving those golden poppies for Mother at Gina’s house. But, I now think he hadn’t bought them for Mother at all. He bought them for Gina. He loves Gina.”
“But we knew that all along, Woolfy, didn’t we?”
“Yes, I do believe we did.”
“I wondered if you’d care to dance with me.”
“What, right here on the stairs?”
“They won’t see us; they’re all in the kitchen.”
“I’m very surprised at you, Scrapo, aren’t you afraid of being spotted?”
“I’m not sure I care anymore. I am so happy that I feel as if I no longer have to be nervous of anything.”
The brothers turned to face each other, and rising up on three fingers and their thumbs, came together gently and swayed from side to side with the tips of their index fingers touching. Scrapo squeezed his eye shut to avoid harm, and counting to three under his breath he prompted his brother to move forward with him in a slow dance that began a little shakily. Soon they found their pace and rhythm with one moving backwards at the persuasion of the other, and then the followed becoming the follower, until the two gloves had lost their shyness completely. As the music from the kitchen grew more melodious, and the laughter of the guests became richer, the brothers, in their happiness, moved elegantly together, and even when Woolfy made some complicated and clever moves with his little finger, Scrapo did not mind in the slightest.
At the very height of their dance, Scrapo, whose eye was now open, glimpsed someone in the shadows of the hall, and as they created yet another fantastic shape between their fingers, he realised who it was that was watching them.
“Oh, my Lord, Woolfy, stop quickly. We are watched!”
“Hunker down and puff up!” Woolfy shouted, tossing himself away from Scrapo and falling to the ground dramatically as if dead.
But it was too late; they had been caught. Gina climbed slowly up the stairs towards them, and stooping down, picked them up gently one in each hand, and Scrapo could see that she was staring at them hard with a small and strange smile on her face.
“And how is my darning?” she whispered, moving Woolfy’s index finger a little. “Good as new, I see. I hope I didn’t hurt you that day.”
Scrapo could see Woolfy in her other hand as she turned and walked down stairs with them. He had puffed up horribly when he first played dead, but now he was back to his normal size as was Scrapo himself.
Gina carried the brothers to the little window sill in the hall where Baxter so often put them and laid them down gently side by side. “Now then, you two, you must stay here in a safe place. Anyone could have trod on you on their way up the stairs. I cannot imagine how you came to be on the stairs in the first place.” She laughed a little and turning back to the noisy kitchen, she opened the door quietly, and gave them one last look before she was gone.
“She called me darling,” Woolfy whispered. “Did you hear her? How is my darling? she asked.”
Scrapo turned slightly and gazed at his brother. He was about to answer him when he stopped himself. They were safe. Baxter was not going on the cruise. They would be with him every day as he got about his business in Deepsound, as he worked in the old tin shed to make it into a fish smoking factory.
“I heard her, Woolfy. I distinctly heard her call you darling,” Scrapo answered, twining his thumb with that of his brother’s. Some while later, as the party became quieter in the kitchen and the music smoother, Scrapo said, “I’ve got the answer Woolfy.”
“Answer to what?”
“The purpose of the sky.”
“Do you want me to tell you?”
“Then you have to tell me the names of all the countries you know. That was our bargain.”
“So it was. But your turn first, Scrapo.”
“Well, it’s taken me some time to work out, but now I have an answer that has a good right feeling about it.”
“I am waiting.”
“Well, dear brother, the sky is there so that we constantly know how very small we are in all we do and all we think and all we imagine.”
“Is it? That’s a wonderful idea, Scrapo.”
“That is my conclusion. So, tell me, how many countries do you know the names of, brother?”
“Apart from this country, you mean?”
“Well, as you know there is Malinafrica, a huge and magnificent country on the other side of the world full of wind and sand and camels.”
“And what other countries?”
Woolfy turned around sharply and faced his brother on the small windowsill. “I am still working on it, Scrapo; serious matters take time to sort out, surely you know that? But I will tell you the names of every single country in the whole world when I have learnt them all. Is that good enough?”
“Yes, dear Woolfy. It is good enough.”
Rebecca Lloyd writes short stories and novels. Her story collection Mercy (Tartarus Press 2014) was nominated for a World Fantasy Award, and Whelp and Other Stories was a finalist in the Paul Bowles Short Fiction Award. Recent publications include Ragman and Other Family Curses (Egaeus Press) and Jack Werrett, the Flood Man (Dunhams Manor Press). Her novel, Oothangbart, was published this year by Pillar International Publishing.