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‘There’s a radio in the kitchen. Bush. Looks new,’ said the shorter man. The taller man nodded and Terry understood what that meant. He shouted,
But the two men ignored him.
It hadn’t taken them long to look round the maisonette and Terry felt both scared and guilty. Scared because these two men wore grey suits and carried clipboards and though the suits were old and the cuffs frayed, still they were suits. He was only twelve but knew it was not a good thing when two men in suits knocked on the door. And the guilt he felt was for letting them in.
Terry ran into the kitchen. His mother sat at the small table, drawing on her cigarette, picking at the cracked Formica table top.
She looked over to the radio. Dusty Springfield was singing You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me. ‘What else is there?’ she said then sang along in a whisper with Dusty.
‘Do you know where dad is?’ Terry asked.
She forced a smile and gently raised a hand to cradle his face.
Terry understood. He hadn’t seen his father for weeks.
One of the men called to her, ‘No telly?’
Terry went back to the men. ‘Oven?’
‘Worthless. Maybe if it was clean but …’
‘We have a set of best china,’ Terry tried.
‘A full set? Nothing missing?’
Terry looked to his mother who shook her head.
The other man tapped a pen against his clipboard. ‘Jewellery?’
Terry’s mother nodded towards the bedroom. There was a small box covered in torn pink satin on the bedside table. Terry brought it. The taller man opened it. A tiny ballerina jerked upright and turned as it played a staccato and metallic version of Tulips From Amsterdam.
‘Junk,’ said the man, sifting through the brooches and bracelets. ‘What about a wedding ring?’
‘Pawned,’ whispered Terry’s mother.
The taller man sighed. He looked to the shorter man who shook his head. ‘The Bush might cover a quarter of it.’
Terry watched the looks pass between them. They didn’t want to be here. They didn’t want to do this. But they had grey suits, clipboards and a court order, whatever that was. ‘No. Please.’ He stood in the kitchen doorway, trying to fill the frame. ‘She needs it. It’s all she has.’
‘Terry,’ his mother called softly, ‘it’ll be all right.’
No one believed her. One of the men moved into the kitchen.
‘Wait,’ said Terry, ‘The Captain will know what to do.’
‘Don’t,’ said his mother but he was already gone. He ran round the side of the house and up the stairs to the maisonette above. He rapped furiously at the front door, peering through the opaque glass, calling, ‘Captain, Captain!’
‘Terence?’ The Captain asked softly, but not quietly, as he opened the door. The Captain’s left sleeve dangled empty and useless. Though it was no surprise Terry’s eye was drawn to it.
‘Captain, some men are here. Mum doesn’t know what to do, they’ll listen to you. Please, come.’
‘What men? Why …’ but the fear in Terry’s eyes was reason enough for The Captain. He took a jacket from the peg in the hall. It was awkward to dress with only one arm but he had a method. Terry waited at the bottom of the stairs then led the way through his own front door.
His mother was still at the kitchen table, silently tearful. The two men were at the sink, discussing the radio that now played Sunny Afternoon. They stopped talking on seeing The Captain. His left jacket sleeve was folded sharply and the cuff pinned neatly to the breast pocket. The missing arm held their attention.
Terry’s mother looked up as The Captain came in. He was not a big man but held himself tall and straight.
‘Gilda?’ he asked.
Terry’s mother forced a smile and drew on her cigarette.
The shorter man stood to his full height and passed a paper to The Captain, who smiled easily, putting the man back at ease without a word. The Captain read the paper carefully. One of the men started to speak but The Captain hushed him with a gesture that was neither arrogant nor aggressive.
‘I understand,’ said The Captain. ‘Gilda, where’s Archie?’
‘Dad’s not been around for days.’ Terry answered for his mother.
The taller man in the suit coughed. ‘We need to take something.’
The Captain looked around but came back to the radio as Cilla Black sang the opening line to Alfie. Gilda smiled; a smile not of happiness but of ironic acceptance.
‘The radio,’ said The Captain.
The man in the grey suit nodded.
‘But she needs it. Without it …’ Terry’s voice faded.
The Captain understood. He had moved in upstairs last year. He heard the radio every day. Every day he heard. More importantly, he heard the sweet, heartfelt voice that sang along. He heard Gilda singing.
At first the radio had been a disturbance, especially late at night. But the more he’d heard Gilda sing the more he’d understood.
He looked back at the court paper before returning it, saying, ‘The radio is mine. I bought it last week. I’ve just come down to pay the balance.’ He tugged his wallet from a back pocket and put two five pound notes on the table in front of Gilda.
Gilda’s eyes watered as she passed the money to the men in suits.
‘Expensive radio,’ said the taller man.
The Captain stared at the man who looked away and started to write the receipt. The Captain smiled at Terry and gently instructed, ‘Best make your mother a cup of tea,’ before touching her lightly on the shoulder and turning to leave. He was half way down the hall when the suited man called,
‘Aren’t you going to take your radio?’
The Captain turned. ‘It sounds much, much better down here.’