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Matt Mclaren

Matt Mclaren

Matt Mclaren's Woodbridge. England-1975 is included in a collection of short stories he's working on, titled Seven Spaces. Matt also writes and produces independent film, lives in Hollywood, California and stays in his pajamas as much as he can.

Woodbridge England-1975

Bullhorns, that's what they were, bullhorns. I got racing handlebars for my bike at Christmas, but on my Schwinn, they just didn't look right and I felt vulnerable all hunkered down on my daily ride to the candy store. You never knew when a greaser gang would roar up on their mopeds and start giving you the business. Well, they rarely hassled me and I doubt if they were an actual greaser gang but the specter was always there. More than once I had to run the mile home, chased by boys that would lob bricks and rocks and bottles at me. Not easy being the town "Yank Wanker". But the bullhorns made it seem right. I turned the handlebars upside so the ends were sticking up in the air, slightly forward. I was ready for battle, upright, head on a swivel. And if they got too close, I figured I could impale one of them with my "horns", as I secretly called them.

So off I went, out of the shed in the back yard and down my lane. Everything's a lane in England. I had just under a mile to the candy store, I needed to get there before the middle school got out. They all wore uniforms and I would stick out otherwise in my bellbottoms and Levi jacket, my name spelled out in studs on the bottom of the back panel. I figured that in a rumble, I could take off my jacket and swing the studs into someone's face, a wearable weapon. And it looked cool.

I made it to the store in record time. Once inside, I had to make up my mind quickly. There were so many choices, rows of tall glass jars full of candy sat on wooden shelves behind the counter. My standard order was a quarter pound of sugared almonds and a Topic bar. But today I couldn't decide. I was frozen and stood staring. The old man behind the counter kept glancing up from his paper, squinting through his cigarette smoke. Finally he blurted out, "What do you want boy? The kids'll be in here any minute and I won't have time for the likes of you, make up your mind!"

My ears got hot. What did he mean "the likes of me?" The kids. I had forgotten about them. I stared at the jars and my eyes landed on "Pear drops". My sister always made me get them for her and I hated them. "Pear drops," I heard myself say. The old man got up from his stool and took down the jar. "How much you want?" I was about to speak when a group of school kids from the middle school walked in. The old man barked "three at a time, you know the rules!" A few kids left, the other's wandered around the store. "Now come on boy," the old man growled, "how much do you want?" "A pound," I blurted out. "A pound?" I thought to myself. Before I could say anything, the shop keeper poured out the pear drops and quickly bagged them in a paper sack and put the soft ball sized package on the counter. "Ninety pence". I reached into my pocket and pulled out the money, my whole week's candy cash and handed it over.

I could feel the school boys surrounding me, looking over my shoulder at the huge bag of candy. "Gonna rot your teeth with all them sweets". They all laughed, including the old man, his sour breath hitting me in the face, sharp and wet, a wave of nausea passing though me."My choice", I mumbled weakly in my best English accent. They all stared at me like they knew something was wrong but couldn't figure out what. I stormed out of the store and walked right into another group of boys, bigger than me. They were gathered around my bike, smoking. They were touching my horns.

I wished I had my nun-chucks, but the shoestring/sawed off broom handle assembly had broken when I practiced "taking out the trash" on my radiator. I pushed into the crowd and swung my leg over the seat. A very large boy with crooked teeth stood in front the bike holding onto my horns. He smiled at me and said "you got these on upside down, mate." I pushed the bike hard and he backed up. "I like them this way, so fuck off!" The "fuck off" came out as a sort of yodel. They all laughed. Choking back tears, I made my way to the street. I could hear someone behind me whisper "He's a fuckin yank".

The bag of pear drops was so large, it wouldn't fit in the pocket of my jacket. I had to ride as fast as I could with one hand, not an easy task with the bullhorn angle. Even though I was pedaling furiously, I was losing ground fast with the group of five or six boys that were chasing me. Rocks were flying past my head as I turned the corner and whizzed right past a Bobby making his rounds of the neighborhood. The boys rounded the corner and ran directly into him, instantly stopping and dropping their rocks. If I could have mustered a Tarzan yell, it would have been that moment, but all I could do was smile and pedal even faster.

Back inside the shed I leaned against the door, panting and sweating. The air was thick with the smell of lawnmowers and grass and mold. The paper bag in my hand was coming apart, soaked with sweat. I popped a handful of pear drops in my mouth and for the first time, I realized why they were my sister's favorite and I knew she wasn't getting even one of them.

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