portion of Sara Crowley artwork

Ha Ha Bonk
Sara Crowley

Last Tuesday on the bus home, I watched a man crumple his bus ticket and put it in his mouth. Chew, chew, swallow. Nobody else noticed. I pretended to look out of the window, but really I kept watching his reflection. He settled back in his seat in a relaxed pose whilst I sat rigidly. If you start looking at strangers, really looking, not just letting your eyes bounce off their surfaces, they are disgusting. Ostensibly pretty girl’s faces have pimples and grease beneath their beige matte finishes. Scalps sicken me; there are smells, dandruff, oils. Groins are scary too; sweaty pricks in slacks, little ball bulges. Ugh. Too fat, too thin, too shiny, too human. I play the “If you had to who would you fuck” game to pass the time on the bus, and it’s nearly impossible to choose.

* * *

My bus drops me at the corner of the school road. I can get there fifteen minutes early or three minutes late, so I am usually first outside the gates. People are routine creatures; Wendy arrives next, shoving her buggy ahead of her, panting slightly from the exertion. She can’t wait to get out of her scuzzy council flat and have a chat; she lingers in the morning too, and I tell her I’m working even when I’m not. She launches on in with her usual mind-numbing discourse on the price of mince and the size of her bunion or some such, and I notice that the young mums, those with the skinny jeans and tight tops that reveal their tattooed backs, are laughing again. At me? At Wendy? Or just at a private joke? Then Bob rushes at me, nearly bowls me over, and he’s a babble of complaints and indignation.

“John Lowrie spat at me! But Mrs. Lincoln told me off. Mum, s’not fair.”

“Well, what did she say to you, Bob?”

I have to reign in my impulse to march into class and complain. The older Bob gets, the more disingenuous his stories.

“Well, I pushed him, but it was self defence.”

“You pushed him? Did he hurt you?”

“He spat at me.”

“Yes, and that is disgusting. Did he spit at you before you pushed him?”

“I don’t remember.”

“I can go and check with Mrs. Lincoln.”

“Oh yeah, yeah, I do remember. He called me an idiot and I pushed him, kinda hit him with my fist, but it was an accident, and he spat at me and now I have lost my break times for the rest of the week.”

“That seems fair to me,” I say. “How many times do I have to tell you not to be violent?”

“A million?” He smiles at me, and my heart unclenches.

* * *

I went on a bank holiday “jolly” to Southend once. There were sixteen or so of us from work, all acting like school kids on the coach down. Evan sat with his mate Mick; I was a few seats behind, sneaking looks at him, trying not to be obvious. Most of them sat outside a pub near the front for the whole day drinking pints and being loud. Evan, Mick, Sally, and I went for a walk on the pier, played push pennies and shooting games. There was an amusement from the thirties, a creepy model of a sailor in a glass case. His lips painted red, jacket blue, eyes black, the paint blistered and peeling. Evan put a coin in and the figure began to rock back and forth while a scratchy laughter soundtrack played. It looked like one of those ventriloquist dolls that come to life and stab someone in horror films.

“My granddad had a laughing policeman record,” I told them. “He liked to join in.”

Evan stood facing me and began mimicking the “ha ha ha ha ha,” bending over, clutching his stomach, faking mirth.

* * *

As Bob and I walk out of the playground I hear laughter again, and I turn, feeling confrontational. It’s only two little blonde girls, giggling together, leaning their blonde heads close. They’ll catch nits like that, I think. No wonder they spread so fast.

* * *

At home Bob goes through his routine, coat on peg, homework on the counter, lunchbox by the sink, wash hands, choose a sweet treat. He rushes into the lounge and I hear him do a flying leap onto the sofa.

“Oy,” I shout. “Mind the sofa.”

I start rinsing the Tupperware, use my thumbnail to pick off some cheese rind, wonder what to cook for dinner. Then I hear the laughter, an explosive roaring. I think of the sinister model at Southend. There’s something chilling about this sound. I walk through to the lounge and see Bob enjoying SpongeBob. One of the cartoon creatures is laughing, thin and high.

* * *

At Sally’s after-work birthday drinks, Evan sat next to me, his leg pressed hard against mine, which was fine, lovely, worrying. I couldn’t tell if it was intentional or not—he had such long legs it was probably difficult to find enough room for them. I looked at his hands. His fingers were long and slender, his nails squeaky clean and short. His right hand held a pint glass, his left was splayed against his thigh. I wanted to take his fingers into my mouth, suck them, bite them, feel the little bones resist my teeth. I imagined them inside me. I placed my hand on top of his, briefly feeling the cool of his skin against the heat of mine.

“Hey,” I said, casual, yearning. “Do you fancy another?”

“No, you’re all right.”

When I returned from the bar he had moved next to Sally.

* * *

Bob runs out of his classroom the next day clutching a package in one hand.

“I made biscuits in maths, Mum,” he says.

There are lots of other parents around, and his teacher is standing nearby.

“How lovely,” I say, over bright, very enthusiastic, hoping I sound like the sort of mum you’d love to have.

“Have one,” Bob insists.

“Oh,” I say. “I can’t right now, love. I’ve got gum in my mouth, it’d taste all wrong.”

He looks unhappy.

“What have biscuits got to do with maths, then?” I ask.

“Weighing, measuring, that stuff,” he says.

His teacher comes over.

“Tried a biscuit?”

“Not yet,” I say.

“I have, it was delicious.” He turns to Bob. “Why hasn’t your mum had one?”

“She doesn’t want one.”

“No, no, I have gum in my mouth, that’s all.”

God, what a palaver. So what if I don’t want a fucking biscuit. All around there are parents munching on cookies but the very thought of putting it in my mouth makes me feel queasy—all those kids with worm eggs under their fingernails. I start babbling about having one with a lovely cup of coffee when I get home but the teacher won’t leave it.

“There’s a bin over there.” He gestures towards a green bin in the shape of a frog.

“Right.” Twat.

I obediently walk towards the bin, fingers poised to pluck the gum from my mouth like some naughty kid. Behind me I hear the teacher and Bob unite in laughter. I hear other voices join in. It becomes a chorus.

* * *

Bob and I spend Saturday morning snuggled up in my bed watching kids TV. Bob adores those two guys who met on Pop Idol and became best friends. They are cheeky chappies who play pranks on each other and their celebrity guests. I let him eat his toast in bed despite fears that bugs will fatten themselves on the crumbs. I sip at hot tea and flick through the papers. We are cocooned in my sunlit room for a while until I hear the washing machine click off downstairs and know that if I want the clothes to dry I’d better hang them out. I leave Bobby watching a cartoon.

* * *

Full sun with a breeze whipping through it makes for a perfect drying day. Gold and red leaves from next-door’s tree whisk around the lawn and I remember autumn projects from my childhood where we had to glue brittle leaves onto card. I wonder if they still do that at school. I can smell a bonfire, earthy and chewy on the air, and hope the scent doesn’t cling to my washing. As I peg the clothing to the line it begins billowing, moving back and forth though I haven’t even hoisted the prop yet. Bob’s school shirts are white, and I have washed his judo outfit too—they hang brightly, neatly attached with blue pegs. I dip my hand into the peg bag and pull out a red one. It’s a different shape to the others and unrecognisable. I toss it back in the bag, not wanting to mess up the simple beauty of the blue and white, reach in and pull it out again. Looking in the bag I see a jumble of blue pegs and the one single red. I shake the bag, jostling the red one to the bottom, reach in and pull it out again. Dark clouds scuttle across the sun as I fling the peg across the garden where it lands in a flower bed. Stupid peg. Random peg. No need to worry about such a thing, and yet …


“What is it?”

“Can we go out? I’m bored.”

“I thought we’d have a lazy day at home, love.”


He wants to go to the park or the cinema. I want to stay inside and rest.

* * *

Wendy is up ahead of us as we walk to the park and I watch her wobbling rice pudding arse.

“Quick, stay back,” I say and pull Bob close.

“What is it?”

“Wendy,” I whisper and make a face.

“Oh no!” He smiles at me and crouches low against a wall then peers out in an exaggerated way.

“The coast is clear,” he stage whispers. “Quick now.”

We dart along the road on tiptoe, swiveling our heads spy style. Across the road an old man looks at us which makes us giggle. We run through the park gates and over to the swings where we plonk ourselves down. The giggles build and we begin snorting and roaring. With tears in our eyes we laugh our heads off.

Last year I visited a museum display of amusements from the thirties, and the laughing model reminded me of my granddad joining in with the Laughing Policeman record when I was young. It also struck me as sinister, which was my starting point. The narrator is the main character from the novel I am writing, although the story is not from Salted. I like seeing her and her son go off and do stuff elsewhere. This started off way shorter but Ellen Parker encouraged me to expand it.

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