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The topic was a scar. Goodness me, this one was difficult. I quickly got a beginning and an end which amused me and I had a vague idea about how the middle was supposed to go. But could I write the middle? No I could not! I struggled and struggled with it. Eventually I got something. I hope it works. I have no idea whether it does or not...


Smiley Face

I was babysitting David, my four year old nephew. His parents were out celebrating their wedding anniversary and they’d asked me to keep an eye on David for them. It was no great hardship. I like David.

We’d been watching some mindless drivel on the television and he’d been staring at it entranced, with his forefinger jammed so far up his right nostril that I’d swear he was tickling the inside of his skull. When the programme finished, I turned the television off and said, "OK, that’s it for the evening. Time for bed young man."

He blinked up at me and then he asked the question that everyone always asks, sooner or later. "Uncle John," he said, his voice a bit distorted because his nostril was still full of finger, "what are those funny marks on your face?"

"They are scars," I told him. "I got them a long, long time ago."

"How did you get them?" he persisted.

I ran my fingers along the rough scar tissue, remembering…

* * *

I was sixteen years old in 1957. Elvis Presley was scandalising England with his lascivious hips and a call to revolution entitled Jailhouse Rock. My friends and I hung out in a coffee bar in Soho called the 2 i’s. They had the best juke box in London and sometimes they had live music as well. Their most popular singer was called Tommy Steele and the place was always crowded on the nights when he played his guitar and tried to make himself heard over the steamy hiss of espresso machines and the chatter of conversation. The 2 i’s was where I first developed my taste for cold coffee. We didn’t have much money to spend in those austere post war years, and so we soon learned how to make a coffee last for ages and ages while we listened to the music and told each other that we were the face of the future.

One particular night I was there with Jennifer. We’d come because there were rumours of a new rock and roll sensation called Cliff Richard, and we wanted to see what made people think that he was so special. As it turned out, in my opinion he didn’t have much to offer. It seemed to me that he was nothing more than a pale imitation of Elvis. He curled his lip in true Elvis style and thrust his thin, shapeless hips in time to a song called Move It. Without Elvis to steal from he’d be nothing at all. He had no talent of his own, and I knew that he’d never amount to anything. Jennifer liked him though. While he sang, she jiggled back and forth in her chair as she did an enthusiastic hand jive in time to the music. When Cliff finished singing she said, "That was fab!"

"I prefer Tommy Steele," I said. "He’s got a lot more talent and Rock With the Caveman is a much better song."

The door opened, admitting a blast of cold winter air and four teddy boys. Everybody in Soho knew Colin Jeffries and his gang. They were vicious thugs and most people tried to steer clear of them. Their crepe soled shoes, drainpipe trousers, knee-length jackets, bolo ties and hair styled in ridiculously large quiffs that were held in place with their own bodyweight of brylcreem made them stand out in any crowd, so generally it was quite easy to avoid them. But the 2 i’s was a very small and very crowded place, which meant that there wasn’t much Jennifer and I could do to get away from them when they swaggered over to our table. "Clear off," said Colin. "We want to sit here."

"There isn’t anywhere for us to go," said Jennifer. "The place is full."

"Then you’d better leave," said Colin. "That’s our table now."

"No it isn’t," I said, gaining courage from the crowds of people that surrounded us. What could Colin and his thugs do in full view of everyone? "It’s not your table, it’s ours. We’re staying."

Colin cocked his head to one side and examined me closely. "Smile when you talk to me," he said, his voice soft with menace. "That’s the friendly thing to do. If you don’t smile when you speak I’ll think you don’t respect me. Maybe I’ll think you’re threatening me. I don’t respond well to threats." His hands clenched themselves into fists and then relaxed again. His three companions nudged each other and grinned.

"I’m not threatening you," I said. "But I’m not leaving either."

Colin nodded to his three thugs and they held me down in my chair. I struggled, but they were stronger than me and I couldn’t break their grip. Colin wrapped his fingers in my hair, holding my head immobile. With his other hand he pulled a cut throat razor out of his pocket. That razor was famous throughout Soho. Everybody knew that Colin used it for slashing cinema seats. But there were dark rumours that he had other uses for it as well. It seemed that I was about to confirm the truth of those rumours.

"Smile for me, pretty boy," said Colin. "Smile broadly. I want to see a happy face."

The glittering razor opened up a smooth sweeping curve from the corner of my mouth, across my cheek to the top of my ear. Pain like fire and ice raced through my head. I heard myself whimpering and dimly, from far away I heard Jennifer shouting, "No, no. Stop it. Don’t hurt him."

Colin wielded his razor again and a fresh pain raced across my other cheek as another huge gash curved across the other side of my face.

"Now you’ll smile forever," said Colin "You’ve got the biggest smiling face in the world, stretching all the way from ear to ear. Even when you’re feeling sad that new mouth of yours will never stop smiling." He unwound his hand from my hair and his thugs let go their vice like grips. I slumped forward, feeling blood run down my face and drip off my chin. All I could see in front of me was the foam on my coffee gradually turning pink...

* * *

"Uncle John!"

David’s voice called me out of my reveries. I touched the scars on my face again. Colin’s smiling legacy to me. "Uncle John," said David again. "Tell me about your scars." He examined the treasure trove on the end of his finger for a moment and then started to excavate his other nostril.

"I was about your age when it happened," I said to him. "I was picking my nose one day when my finger slipped, and my fingernails tore my face apart. I’ve looked like this ever since."

He turned white and jerked his finger out of his nostril. He looked at it suspiciously and then he looked up at me. "Really?" he asked.

"Really," I confirmed. "Now come on, off to bed with you."

He trotted off to bed looking thoughtful.

After that, he never picked his nose again.


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