Magical Flash Fiction – Miss Fallon’s Doorstep by Roland Miles
Beaky Fallon’s front step was spotlessly clean. She would be down on her knees scrubbing hard as we set off for school each morning, and would mutter at us as we sidled by. If she had been a dog, I swear she would have growled. We dared not laugh to her face, but exploded hysterically as soon as we rounded the corner on to Church Hill.
‘Did you see that look she gi’ us?’
‘It could’ve soured lemons.’
‘Frozen the Ouse!’
‘Turned us into blocks of stone!’
We loved the sound of our noisy, clever voices and we laughed our way on to that bus. We knew no fear. Beaky Fallon didn’t bother us. We were kings.
She lived opposite in a stark-looking bungalow whose bricks were as pale as her washed-out face. She wore the same clothes every day; greys and browns and fading yellows, beneath a fraying floral pinny. She lived all by herself. Served her right.
Alex lived two houses down and would knock on our door at 8. ‘Look sharpish!’ he’d yell and hunker down to wait. It wouldn’t have done to be late, not in our first year at the big school. I would be ready on the dot but my brother Freddie would drag himself down the stairs behind the pace, wrestling with his shirt buttons. ‘Alrignt, alright,’ he’d yell, as he struggled into his jacket. ‘I’ll not be a minute.’ All three of us would scramble out of the house, shouting and shoving, satchels swinging. Across the way would be Beaky Fallon, wearing down the stone step with brush or broom. And our voices would be stilled under her evil eye, until we turned into the corner and were released from her gaze. We would reach the stop just in time for the school bus, laughing.
The Old Grammar was a voluntary controlled school with a crest on the gate and a Headmaster with plenty of letters after his name. It insisted on ‘standards’, a word we were sick of. ‘Do up that top button at once, Armitage, you little yob!’ Good results counted but came a poor second to tucked-in shirts, tightly-knotted ties and buttoned-up blazers, adjustments which we made as close to the school as we could.
‘Boys!’ hollered Beaky Fallon one morning. ‘Come ower here.’ It was the first time she had ever spoken to us. ‘If it wasn’t you hammered on my door last night, then who was it?’ She stared us down.
‘It wasn’t us!’ I said.
Freddie swallowed the last of his toast. ‘We didn’t do owt,’ he added.
She sniffed and a smile crept across her face. ‘You must think I’m daft,’ she said. ‘Knocky Nine Doors – I know that game. I’ll speak to your mothers. I’ll telephone your headmaster. I know which school you go to. It’s me they’ll believe, not you. You’ll see.’ She peered down that nose of hers as if we were nobody.
Freddie swallowed the last of his toast. ‘We didn’t do owt.’
‘No, Miss Fallon,’ I blurted. ‘It couldn’t be us. We were doing our homework at the time.’
‘An alibi, is it?’ she sneered. ‘And what time was it that you weren’t at my door when you were so busy with your homework?’ We stared at her blankly. ‘Gotcha!’ she said and darted inside.
Freddie, Alex and I were called into the Headman’s office at first break. It was the first time I had been caned.
We sat in Freddie’s bedroom that night and had a council of war. ‘I’ve a fair few stink bombs left from my birthday,’ said Alex.
‘Mebbe we could puncture the tops off her milk,’ I said. ‘And drop slugs in. Stopper them with slime. Let them sink to the bottom so their juices mix with the milk as they drown. It would be great to see her drink that.’
‘That’ll really blow her boots off, I don’t think,’ Freddie grunted.
‘Ah, shut yer gob,’ I said.
Freddie raised his hand, then dropped it again. We looked at him expectantly. He was in no hurry but eventually, a smile spread across his face. ‘We could push dog mess through her letter box,’ he said. ‘I reckon our Scottie is bigger on the inside than the outside and he’s only a terrier. He could make us a mighty big number two.’
‘Or a snake,’ offered Alex. ‘That’d fit through the flap. There’s plenty up the Copse. That would fright her. Mebbe a grass snake. We wouldn’t want to kill her completely.’
‘No, not completely. Just half kill her,’ I sneered. ‘It might give her a stroke and then we’d catch more than a beating.’
We tossed ideas round like a slowly deflating ball. ‘Fireworks?’
‘We could wait ’til bin day and empty…’ But after pitching that ball round for a few hours, it drifted into the long grass and stayed there.
There was no unhappy ending for Beaky Fallon that day; no grand stories to tell of how she was struck dumb for her lies; of apologies from the Head in front of the school; of her weaselly eyes weeping all down her warty cheeks in shame.
Beaky Fallon was there for the whole of my childhood, all the way until my final year of school. For Freddie and me and Alex, she was as much a part of our daily routine as Maths and Latin and detentions.
And then she died. Old age, said the street. Freddie reckoned it was the worms eating away from the inside. When the Co-op hearse collected her body, we all gathered to watch. We might have been mistaken for grieving mourners, standing respectfully on the path by our house, blazers buttoned up neatly, regretting the passing of a much-loved neighbour. ‘Crabby auld witch,’ whispered Freddie out of the corner of his mouth. ‘Good riddance, that’s what I say.’
I saw her once, Beaky Fallon, maybe a year before she went, standing on her step with a black kitten rubbing against her legs. She was bending down to stroke it, grinning and cooing and whispering to it, picking it up and nursing it as if it was the best thing in the whole world. Whenever she saw us, though, she would lean on her broomstick and scowl.