His Best Jacket – a short story
Youth Kills Best Friend’s Mother – report in local paper
One of the bastards had sent him a text message.
“Screwed yr mum did he? Lovely!!!!”
He had guessed that there might be something like this. He had tried to ignore the possibility but uncertainty had undermined his determination to take no notice of them. Then he had switched on his mobile.
They had taken him back to his father’s sister and she had found a room for him. The doctor had prescribed something to help him sleep and the police had come for him each morning of the trial, until Gary’s solicitor had called Gary into the witness box. Charlie had watched his former friend, led out from the dock so he could speak up for himself.
One of the lawyers explained to Charlie that he would not be called as a witness. By the time that he had realised that his mother was dead all the neighbours had been in and had found her and Gary. All the court wanted to learn now was why Gary had attacked her.
Charlie forced himself to look over to the other boy. There was something different about Gary this morning, not just that he was standing up to one side for once, looking across the court from the witness box. It was the jacket. It was a black leather jacket which the boys had found after a football match, at the back of the stadium. They were the last of the fans to reach the staircase and Charlie had spotted it. Gary had followed him back up between the rows of seats; by the time he had caught up Charlie was trying it on.
It looked good on Gary now and Charlie found that he could watch the other boy, could see him slide his hands in and out of the side pockets and look down at the jacket as if he was wondering whether it suited him, whether he should buy it. His old friend turned to look around the public gallery and Gary saw him nod to some kids. He wondered whether it had been one of them who had sent the text.
A man in a black gown stood in front of Gary, just below him, and handed him a book. The man said some words which Gary repeated before returning the book to him. As he straightened up, the creases in the front of the jacket melted away and another lawyer began his questions.
Earlier Charlie had listened to a police officer describe to the court the carnage he had found when he had stepped inside Charlie’s home, the neighbours in and out of the front door, the woman’s body slumped in the hallway and the defendant, terrified and terrifying, trapped by the neighbours in the hall cupboard. By the time a doctor had described his mother’s wounds and the way she had died Charlie had accepted the numbness inside his head and no longer had to force himself to stay in his seat and not run screaming from the court. As he listened he watched the back of Gary’s head.
The question why had been troubling him for weeks, since he had learnt that the killer was his best friend and the police had questioned him about Gary. On one occasion this question had driven him back to the house and the police had caught him trying to break in – a crime scene, those were the words they had used. Later his aunt had taken him round there to meet the police and Charlie had seen the place, cleaned up, empty and cold. He had taken some of this things and he kept them now round at his aunt’s. Gary had not taken anything; the police were quite clear about that.
Gary’s lawyer was asking questions still and Charlie found himself paying attention. What was it, the lawyer asked, what was it that Gary did not want his girlfriend to find out? Charlie remembered the girl – she had been in their class at school; he had fancied her once. He looked round, but could not see her. Some more words reached him now, the sound familiar, Gary’s voice making sense among the other voices in the court. The voice made sense, a voice that had made sense for years, but the words, the words were a different matter.
No, not Gary, not one of his mates. Gary was telling the court that Charlie’s mother had laughed at him and he had tried to tell her that it was only the girl that he was really interested in and Charlie’s mother had kept laughing at him. Charlie had seen a picture of his mother in the paper – it was not one that he had seen before, but he had recognised the face, creased with an amused smile, the face that she had once used to challenge her boyfriend.
Gary explained that he could not stop her laughing, that she had ignored his pleas not to upset things with this new girlfriend. Everything was a big joke to her, the fact that she had come on to him and teased him for being shy and then asked him if he had got a headache. She would not stop and there was his new girlfriend. At first he had simply shaken her and she had fought back, laughing still. She had wound him up, he said. She couldn’t have cared less about the new girlfriend. She wanted to tell everyone what they had done.
If it had been anyone else’s mother – Gary and his friends had talked about their friend’s mothers; some they said they fancied, others were old dogs. But you either laughed at them, or kept away.
Gary was talking again. Charlie could sense that Gary was trying not to look at him. He watched the boy in the witness box and his limping, halting claims, about what his mother had said to him, how she had touched him then trapped him in a doorway. On another occasion, the boy claimed, she had grabbed him from behind and he was too frightened of her to fight her off.
Somewhere, Charlie knew that he would have laughed had it been anyone else’s mother, but now, now all his friends would know now what had been said in court. How could he know, how could anyone know? He thought of his dead mother. It was not fair: she couldn’t speak up for herself. For a moment he could see her there in the witness box.
“Bollocks,” that’s what she would have said and then there would have been the sound of her laughter.
The thought stayed with him while Gary returned to the dock. Later there was the verdict and no one was surprised. Gary was taken down and the court began to clear.
Later, his aunt had put him something to eat on the table in the kitchen. As he ate he found another text on his mobile. When he had finished he tried to remember where his aunt kept her kitchen knives, then he stood up and walked across to the drawer next to the sink.