Excerpt from The Tip of My Tongue by Trezza Azzopardi (New Stories from the Mabinogion, Seren - October 2013)
Uncle Horace’s Study is the brownest room I have ever seen. Every single thing is done in brown apart from the light on his table which is green. Uncle Horace is brown as well because he has on the brown jumper Aunty Celia’s sister gave him for his birthday which is not until next month. When he opened the parcel, he went, O joy, and he must love it a lot because he wears it all the time when he is doing the garden.
He is sitting behind his table talking on the phone and writing things down on a paper with his fountain pen and apart from his red nose he could be the Invisible Man. I’m wondering if this room is like my dad’s Brown Dudgeon. I’m not surprised he has to get pills from the doctor if it’s brown like this inside his head.
I have to wait while Uncle Horace talks to someone about mines. I know they have mines in Russia, because I borrowed a book out of the library to help me learn Russian and be a spy, so I’m thinking he might be sending me to the coal mines so I must be in Serious Trouble. That is why I am here in the brown room.
After Geraint bust my head open with my mother’s poems, I had this brilliant idea that I could use the Pears Encyclopaedia for spying. It was a very boring book anyway, so while Aunty Celia was having a lie down I got a pen out of the Secretaire in the hall which is just a dear sideboard, and put my gun on the top page of the Encyclopaedia and traced all round it like we did with our hands once at St Saviour’s. Then I got the pointiest knife out of the kitchen drawer and cut all round where I traced. It took ages but it was worth it because after I cut out all the pages I had a secret place to hide my gun, which is called A Concealment Device which all spies must have for their weapons and secret files. But I ended up with loads of pages shaped like a gun that I had to get rid of because as a spy you have to Destroy The Evidence.
I put the pages on the bonfire in the garden that Uncle Horace likes to do in his jumper, because that is Destroying The Evidence. But at teatime Uncle Horace came in holding a bit of paper that looked like a gun shape and said, What the devil might this be?
I didn’t tell, because spies don’t ever spill the beans even when they are tortured. But he must have bugged me with a special microphone because here I am waiting to Discover my Fate. Even though I didn’t tell anyone except now I think of it I might have told my mother when I was saying my prayers last night.
He comes off the phone and goes, Sorry, Enid. Now, come here, and makes his finger in a little crook. I go round the table but not very near in case he is going to stab me with the fountain pen which often have poison inside them and are one of the best ways of killing a spy.
Let me look at you, he says, and turns the green light round and points it in my face. He is going to interrogate me!
I will never spill the beans! I say, and he does a big laugh like a hoot and then he goes, It’s alright, Enid, I think we both know who’s responsible for this, and as he’s saying it he’s staring at the plaster on my head which is nearly falling off because I haven’t had a new one since yesterday when it happened. He has a brown drink on his desk and he gulps it like medicine and says, We’ll just wait for your Aunty, dear, and get to the bottom of it, shall we?
Then he goes in his desk and he puts the glass in the drawer and gets out a little shiny tin and he says, Want one of these? and inside the tin are white pills. They are just like the ones spies have to take when they need to die, so I say, No thank you, Uncle Horace. But then he puts a
pill in his own mouth and I’m sorry I didn’t have one because they’re only mints and I love mints.
How did you get that cut, Enid, he says, all casual, and I say, all casual back, Oh, just a book just fell on me.
A book? You mean – let’s use an example – the Pears Encyclopaedia that Aunty Celia bought you?
Umm, no, my mother’s book of poems, I say, because his eyes are twinkling at me. I think he must be On To Me and the interrogation about the gun will start any minute now.
That’s not a very heavy book, Enid, he says.
I don’t really know what he means so I say, No, but the corners are really sharp.
At that second he has to stop his interrogation because Aunty Celia comes in and her hair is a fright like a nest all over her head, and she says, You rang, m’lud? in a very sulky voice. I’m wondering if she might be a Double Agent.
Look at the child, he goes, and she looks at me all down to my socks and then she looks back at him with the same face.
Notice anything different about her? he goes, which makes me Stand By For Action because I haven’t noticed anything different about me and I’m me.
Look at her head, at her head, you appalling lush! She’s got a bloody great cut on it! That useless waste of space has gone and injured her!
What? Not the pool man? says Aunty Celia, He didn’t he let her fall in again?
No! Not Mr Lock, you loon! Our lazy good-for-nothing son!
Uncle Horace’s face goes the same colour as his nose, nearly, and Aunty Celia has a tizzy and puts her hands up to her cheeks and says, Oh, no, I’m such a bad mother. Whatever happened? What did he do, darling?
So I start to say, You know when – and I’m going to say – when Geraint hit me with the book yesterday and you shouted at us to clean up the pigsty, but instead I don’t say anything. My mother told me my tongue is The Most Potent Weapon in my armoury but you must only use your most potent weapon when you’ve got no other weapons left and I have still got my gun. And anyway my tongue doesn’t want to be a weapon against Geraint, even if he is a Useless Waste of Space and a Good For Nothing.
What shall we do, Horace? she goes, and he flops back in his seat and has a long think and says, Enid, can you wait outside please? We won’t be a minute.
I am really happy to wait outside because it is easier to spy on people when they aren’t watching you. I leave the door open a little crack so that I don’t have to bend down to the keyhole because bending makes my head go bang bang like that on the cut bit, and I hear Uncle Horace with his strict voice on going,
Firstly, you will take her to Doctor Phipps and get that wound checked out this morning. She’ll probably need a tetanus jab. Secondly, you will drive her there and you will drive her back and there will be no incidents of the gypsy variety. And thirdly, you will keep your nib out of the Quink and look after this child properly until we have to give her back to that orang-utan she calls her father. Have I made myself clear?
What about Geraint? says Aunty Celia, I told you he needs help with his problems, but would you listen, would you?
I will help Geraint with his problems, he says, Leave that to me.
Then it goes quiet so I run quick over to the Secretaire and pretend to be admiring the shininess of the top bit and Aunty Celia comes out putting her hanky up her sleeve and says, Get your coat, sweetheart, it looks like rain again.
The interrogation must be over and They Know Nothing! If I say so myself, I am becoming a very professional spy.