Twice a year at my Speakers Club we hold a ‘Tall Tales’ Evening. We each tell a story, which can be either fact or fiction. The audience has to guess whether or not our story is true. This was my latest ‘Tall Tales’ contribution:
NIGHT-TIME ADVENTURES (by Jean Davison)
I got up and tiptoed across the room in the dark. After a lot of fumbling about I managed to get dressed. The stairs creaked as I sneaked down. Quietly, I opened the front door and paused, holding my breath, to listen for any stirring from my family. Nothing. Gingerly, I closed the door behind me, leaving it unlocked.
Miranda was already waiting for me by our gate. Her pink pyjama bottoms showed below her school gabardine.
‘C’mon, Jean,’ she said, linking my arm. ‘I thought you wouldn’t come.’
‘Why? I’m not a scare baby,’ I said. My heart was beating furiously.
Familiar places loomed startlingly different in the night. Nobody about. Us alone in the world. The silence made us speak in whispers. We took turns to ride on each other’s backs through moonlit streets.
From then on, about four times a year, we had these night time adventures. The streets were usually deserted, but occasionally a car or footsteps meant hiding behind garden walls or in darkened doorways. Quickly. We, the invincible daredevils, snatched at freedom with lustful longing. Back home safe in bed I’d read my latest Famous Five book with a torch under the covers. Bliss.
These exciting nights stopped because of something that happened a few weeks before my twelfth birthday. On this particular night, things started off the same as usual: piggy back rides in deserted streets, hiding in darkened doorways.
We saw Linda, a young woman we knew, snuggling up to a lanky man with bushy hair. Hiding behind privets we stifled our giggles as we watched them kiss on her doorstep. Suddenly she looked in our direction and shouted ‘Hey!’ We shot off round the corner and hid in someone’s back garden till it felt safe to come out. I was worried that she’d recognised us but, as Miranda pointed out, this wasn’t too likely in the dim light.
On our way home that night, we heard a van and crouched behind a garden fence. It stopped nearby.
Miranda peeped up. ‘It’s Fish-face Frank,’ she whispered. ‘He’s going up Stella’s path.’
We knew Stella lived alone but she was away on holiday. Mesmerised, we saw the man who owned the fish shop smash the glass panel of Stella’s side-door. He slipped inside.
Miranda tugged my arm.
We ran to a phone box and rang the police, telling them a house was being burglared right now. After giving the address, we hung up. Miranda wanted us to wait, and watch for the police to come. I said, no, I was worried now about how I’d left our house door unlocked, not that this had ever bothered me before.
News always travelled fast on our council estate. Next day Mum told me that Stella’s house had been broken into.
‘Fish-face Frank did it,’ I blurted out.
Realising my mistake, I thought quickly and added that I knew because I’d dreamt it.
Mum looked thoughtful. ‘You’re just guessing,’ she said, ‘but Frank does look shifty and, come to think of it, I remember he was there listening when Stella was talking in the fish shop about going on holiday.’
There was a knock on the door. Mum went to answer it. On hearing Linda, the neighbour we’d seen kissing, I shot upstairs. A few minutes later Mum called my name. I pretended not to hear her and she gave up after three tries.
At last, I heard the front door closing. Peeping from behind the curtains of my bedroom I watched Linda clomping down the street in her red high-heels. She was wearing the tight, black skirt, which had once prompted Dad to comment to me that she looked like a loose woman. Funny phrase that, I thought. Loose woman in a tight skirt.
Mum was calling me from the bottom of the stairs.
‘I’ll be down in a bit,’ I shouted.
‘No! Come down right now!’
I entered the living room, trying to look puzzled. ‘What’s up?’ I asked, feigning innocence.
‘Linda said she saw you and Miranda outside in the early hours of this morning.’
‘What? She’s talking daft,’ I said. ‘You know I was in bed long before midnight.’
‘Yes, I know,’ Mum said, ‘I told her I’d never let you go out at that time. Why on earth did she think you were out?’
‘She’s nuts,’ I said, ‘Or she’s lying. Or… Or she must’ve dreamt it.’
My dad, who’d been quiet up to now, raised his eyebrows. ‘Oh yeah,’ he said, ‘and I’ve dreamt that someone deserves a good hiding!’