2nd Place Short Story
On the Move by Dee Scallan
I didn’t know which I hated most – the way he’d bark at me or the way his black eyes
followed me. ‘Go see who that is. Move!’ my father said, at the sound of the door bell filling the
hall space below us. ‘I’d be quicker doing this meself, anyway.’
I nearly fell over the bags on the landing as I ran down to see who was at the door. Nosey
Maggie, my friend Thomas’ mother, was standing in the front porch.
‘I saw them loading up the van,’ she said, peering in over my shoulder. ‘The Stanleys are’nt
leaving us, are you?’
‘We’ll be back in a month or two, Margaret,’ he said, coming down the stairs, ‘as soon as my
mother is well again.’
I sucked in my breath. If Grandma were sick, he’d be the last one she’d ask for help.
‘Oh I’m sorry to hear that she’s not well. My Thomas will miss the lessons.’
She beamed at him, as he reassured her that he hoped to be back by mid-April. More lies. Our
lives were full of them. We never did come back. My father always skulked off, letting people
think that we would. All the same, this move had come faster than usual. My first year in
secondary school would be over by mid - term.
‘Your Thomas is a gifted lad,’ he said. ‘One of my best.’
It maddened me – the way that he could switch on the charm when he wanted to. But I figured
this was my chance to have another try.
‘Can I call over to see Thomas, Dad?’
‘I’ve explained already – not now, Patrick,’ he said, shaking his head and doing that thing where
you raise your arms like they weigh a ton. Maggie reacted as he knew she would, giving him one
of those ‘Teenagers! I know what they’re like,’ looks.
But as soon as she was on her way back across the green, he turned on me. ‘I told you, you halfwit. There’s not enough time. Bring your stuff out to the van. And don’t let that bike near my
piano – if they can’t fit it in, it stays behind.’
I gritted my teeth as tears of anger threatened to spill. But I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of
calling me a ‘sissy’, ever again.
My mother’s whining voice reached out to me. ‘Your dad’s just anxious, Patrick. Don’t worry –
the removal men will manage it.’
Mum always took his side, even though he would control her packing, too. As it was, she had
little enough stuff – wearing the same old chunky shoes and drab grey dresses every day. The
gang in my new school called me ‘the granny’s boy’. I should have just told them, from the
start, that she was my grandmother.
‘It’s not fair, Mum,’ I said, checking that he wasn’t listening, ‘the van’s full of Dad’s stuff – and
his stupid piano. I’ve only got a couple of bags. Why can’t he hire a decent removal truck?’
My belongings had been moving with me in the same old bags I had since I was small. I’d be
embarrassed as hell to be seen with them by anyone from my school. But they carried my prized
possessions – everything from a battered teddy bear and building set, to games and chargers.
This time he was threatening to leave my bike behind. Mum might talk to me like I was some
silly five year old, but I knew how vindictive my father could be.
She was frowning at me now. ‘Stop complaining. Your dad’s piano is the most important thing
– he needs it for his work. You know that.’
I was sick of hearing it. All he cared about were his piano lessons. As soon as they started, I was
banished to my room, and Mum into the kitchen. The sitting room was out of bounds, being right
next to the music room. We might interrupt his precious students at their practice. He never even
tried to teach me – or Colette. No wonder she left home. ‘I will too, as soon as I’m 16,’ I thought.
At least the fuss of loading the piano was over. It would start again at the other end, though.
‘Steady!’ he’d growl. ‘It’s not just any old piece of furniture. And it costs a fortune to retune.’
But no matter how careful people were, it always needed retuning.
‘Pianos are such sensitive things,’ my mother would say.
It amazed me how my father’s fingers touched those keys with such loving care. Not that he let
me near it – but sometimes I saw him through the back window. He often pulled the curtains,
though - for fear that the sunlight might cause the wood to fade, he said.
The doorbell rang again. It was a male voice this time. Something about it drew me close.
‘Are you moving, Mr Stanley?’
‘No, officer. Be back in a few months.’
‘Really? And you’re taking the piano, I see.’
‘Yes, family matters to attend to. Still have to make a living. What’s this all about, officer?’
‘I think it best we step into the hallway, Sir.’
My father moved back and the guard stepped in, followed by a young female garda.
‘The name’s Sergeant Morris,’ he said and pointed to the sitting room. ‘Perhaps we could chat in
‘All the same to me,’ my father said.
‘Is Mrs Stanley at home today?’
‘She’s just gone upstairs. She’ll be down in a minute.’
The young guard smiled at me. ‘Patrick, isn’t it? Hi. I’m Martina Hagan.’
I took her outstretched hand.
‘Will you show me where the kitchen is, Patrick? I’m dying for a coffee.’
As I showed her into the kitchen, she kept prattling on about football and stuff – at least I think
that’s what it was. The stairs creaked in the hallway and someone opened the front room door.
That must be Mum.
I filled the kettle and put two mugs on the table. Garda Hagan was still yapping away.
‘Do you not like it, then?’ she said.
Raised voices from the sitting room.
‘The Community School – it must be hard to get used to... Hey, wait a minute,’ she said,
following me out to the hall, just in time to catch my mother’s words.
‘There must be some mistake, Sergeant.’
‘What’s happening, Mum?’ I said. ‘What kind of mistake?’
‘I’m afraid not, Ma’am,’ Sergeant Morris was saying. ‘These reports have come from various
unconnected sources. Would I be right in saying, Mr Stanley, that you lived in Mayo for a while?
Before you moved to Limerick?’
‘What of it?’
‘Then you spent two years in England, before moving the family back to Dublin?’
My father’s white face twitched. I had never seen him look on edge like this before.
‘I’m wondering why you changed your name when you moved home again. Was that for
I had wondered the same thing, myself, but was afraid to ask him. I asked Mum, alright, but she
said something about it being like a new start. Huh. It was just the same old same old. Him
calling the shots, Mum with her head down. Me keeping out of his way as best I could. I often
swore if I were bigger or older that I’d hit him.
‘Stanley is my maiden name,’ said Mum. ‘There’s no law against me using my own name, is there?’
‘Of course not, Ma’am - many ladies do. But it’s more unusual for a man to change his name.’
‘As my wife just said, there’s no law against it.’
‘Am I right in saying that you have family in Leeds, Mrs Stanley?
‘Mum and Dad,’ she said. I barely heard the words.
‘Strange that they didn’t know anything of your whereabouts, isn’t it? What with you being so
attached to the name and everything?’
‘That’s our business,’ said my father.
‘Whatever you say, Mr Manning - sorry, Stanley. Can you tell me where your music room is?’
My father pointed to the double doors. ‘Behind there,’ he said.
‘Behind there.’ Two simple words, yet they troubled me. I reached out to lean against the wall.
‘May I?’ The Sergeant moved to open the doors. ‘Oh. I see they’re locked. This would make a
fine big room without them, wouldn’t it?’
‘Look, what is it you want?’
‘Can you tell me, Mr Manning, how long you’ve been giving piano lessons?’
‘Over twenty years.’
‘And your clients are always young boys, is that so?’
As I looked over at my father, I felt as though a fist were twisting in my gut. Lines of blue and
grey stretched across the parchment of his face. His breathing matched the drumming in my
‘What is this?’ he hissed, spittle dropping down onto his chin.
The noise my mother made sounded like a wounded sparrow squawking. Garda Hagan ran to
catch her fall.
A chill moved through the room. The world went still – just before it started tumbling in on top
of me - each splinter piercing, tearing at my being.
Some gone so deep I still can’t pull them out.