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Craig by Jay Merill

I started off wanting to be a magician, fooling people, making things vanish and then appear again. Before your very eyes. Mum and her friends would be sitting in the kitchen in a state of wonder, looking in vain for the knife, fork and spoon I’d hidden up my sleeve that had been lying on the table only a minute ago. Three sharp taps of the magic wand and there they’d be, turning up where no one expected them. I’d open the fridge door, and out they’d pop. Then everybody would be cheering and laughing, all calling out at once: ‘Craig, how did you do that?’
     Came up to London from Plymouth last March, when my mum died. I had no other family so was on my own. Couldn’t find work locally and thought there’d be better opportunities. The idea came to me at Mum’s funeral. True I didn’t know anyone in London but I said to myself that everything would be okay and soon I’d be sorted. These thoughts passed through my mind as I followed the coffin with Mum inside. I wanted to tear it open to see if she was really there. And then the coffin edged along on a conveyor belt like luggage at an airport and disappeared behind a velvet curtain. Part of me thought it would re-appear on the altar and next minute Mum would leap out smiling and waving and everyone would clap. I worked myself up into a state of expectation. But everybody else knew best. I called out for Mum at the last minute as loud as I could. Surely she would hear my voice? In the end I was led away.
     I kept seeing Mum of an evening. It was a comfort to watch her in the kitchen as usual, frying up a bit of steak for the two of us like she used to, or doing us a sausage and mash. But the dinners now were hard and burnt as cinders and I found I couldn’t eat. So then Mum started yelling at me, saying as how I was wasting food and would make myself ill. And when I went to bed she was still there. ‘Listen to me Craig!’ she kept on shrieking. Couldn’t see her in the dark but I knew that she saw me. Every time my eyes closed she shouted out and woke me up. What with one thing and another I wasn’t sorry I was going to leave the flat and I promised myself I’d start over again in London. It would be like having a brand new life.
     My bit of money ran out after a month or two in a B&B and I decided to camp for a bit as the weather was getting nice and warm. But Mum had travelled up with me, and now she was worried about what was going to become of me. And even worse, her old friend Davy who’d died a couple of years back, he was with her. Then Lorna, our next-door-neighbour from Plymouth turned up, and the car-mechanic from the other side. And the four of them kept on arguing about what I should do and what I shouldn’t. Not only that but I sensed they were watching my every move.
     Now the weather’s colder. Today it’s raining. I’m sitting huddled behind the War Memorial in St James’s Park. Mum is on her high horse and ticking me off as usual. She says I’ll catch my death. She and her cronies start shouting at me and squabbling with one another. Getting louder, angrier. All the voices. I can hardly hear myself think. I saunter down the path as if I’m going nowhere in particular and then spring round suddenly, leaping high with my arms waving in the air to cause confusion. Next minute I duck quickly and run bent double behind the line of a hedge, I’m that desperate to get away from them. If I hear another voice I’ll scream. On view one minute, out of sight the next to fool them, is what I’m aiming at. Now you see me, now you don’t.
Jay Merill is the winner of the Salt Short Story Prize with her story ‘As Birds Fly’ which is now included in the ‘Salt Anthology of New Writing, 2013’. Her two recent short story collections, (both Salt), were nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award. She is currently working on flash fiction stories about rough-sleepers in London, UK. The 1st 4 were published as a mini-series in the Big Issue, a well- known UK journal on homelessness. Further stories are coming out shortly in ‘The Newer York’, ‘The Legendary’, ‘Blue Lake Review’, ‘Eunoia Review‘ and ‘Vine Leaves Literary Journal’. Jay has an Award from Arts Council England and is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing.