The Only Way to Fly
FYI – What folks in the US call the first floor, we in the UK call the ground floor, and what the US call the second floor is what we in the UK call the first floor.
In the car, Billy sat in the back with his eyes closed while Daley sat up front and directed me to the D'Marco house; a rambling old farmhouse set on a hill in the middle of pastureland with the nearest neighbour half a mile away down the approach lane. Daley explained that the previous owner bought the farm to extend his own pasturage but didn't want the house so Bill and Daley had found themselves a bargain. Daley warned me to drive slowly as we turned into the hedge free lane, as sheep and cattle were allowed to roam free around the place - a small price to pay for having a secluded place to make a noise in peace. At the end of the lane, a farm gate allowed us entry into a fenced off area around the house itself, where there was plenty of parking space in front of a short flight of steps leading to a well preserved rustic door. I loved the place already and I hadn't even seen inside; it reminded me of Christmas cards with snow covered lanes and wreaths on the door. It also reminded me of the farmhouse I had been born in on the other side of Manchester.
Daley got out of the car unaided but Billy was flat out on the back seat. Daley tried to wake him up but in the end we eased him out and I lifted him in my arms. He was easy to carry; being no weight at all, and instinctively the boy's arm came round my neck, almost as if he knew he was safe. I gazed down at his face resting against my shoulder, long thick eyelashes splayed against smooth cheeks, and I felt it was so right to have him in my arms, to care for him. I looked up at Daley and found him smiling at me, causing me to blush. He turned and walked up the steps and used a key from his pocket to unlock the door. I followed him into the house and he led me into a room on the left of the hallway, a spacious lounge full of old but comfortable furniture with three huge settees drawn up round an open fireplace, each covered with warm throws and lots of cushions. Several floor cushions lay about the place and the room had a friendly, lived in appearance with the odd book and newspaper lying around, but it reminded me of my dad's farmhouse and I felt homesick all of a sudden.
The place was chilly so I settled Billy on one of the settees and put a throw over him while Daley got a fire going in the grate. Then we thought about food. Both of us were hungry and we knew the kid must have been starving, so we headed for the kitchen down the hall. The place was massive, a real old world stone-flagged farm kitchen with a double oven Aga cooker as well as a cottage range. The sink was full of dishes and a half eaten meal lay on the large oak table.
The cupboards were sparse of food, indicating that Billy had been more concerned about his dad than housework or shopping, but we found some bread in a freezer, some vegetables past their freshness, and some stewing beef, and while I tackled the dishes, Daley made up a stew, which he partly microwaved to speed up the cooking time.
An hour and a half later, the kitchen was tidy and the stew was ready to eat. We placed the food and a pot of tea on the coffee table between the settees and set about waking Billy up. It was a task and a half, and it took us several minutes before he finally opened his eyes enough to realise what was going on. Finally we had him sitting up; we pushed the table closer to him and placed a bowl of stew in front of him with a chunk of bread and butter. At first he just stared at the food, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his thumbs. We tucked into ours and left him to his own devices, and then he finally reached for his spoon and stirred the stew with it. The aroma did the trick and he lifted a small spoonful to his mouth. After that he ate half the bowl in small spoonfuls then stopped and dropped his spoon into the bowl, his chin trembling. Without looking at either of us, he got to his feet and walked out of the room and up the stairs. We heard an upstairs door slam and Daley stopped eating too.
"Shouldn't you go up to him?" I asked him.
Daley shook his head. "I think we'll leave him alone for a bit. He probably wants to have a damn good cry and to go back to sleep. I'll go up later; meanwhile, we have phone calls to make." He reached into his trouser pocket and brought out his mobile phone, and handed it to me. "Find Trilby's number on there and tell him what's going on while I find this undertaker the nurse talked about. Then there's the obit to write and put in the paper after we've set a date for the funeral. I have to contact his solicitor as well so I guess we ought to move to Bill's study."
After we finished eating, I followed Daley into a back room next door to the kitchen and found myself in a small but comfortable room stacked with music, magazines and shelves full of files. A desk, two chairs and an old sofa occupied most of the floor-space. Daley sat at the desk and rummaged through Bill's files while I sat down on the sofa and contacted Trilby. The band sent their condolences and promised to come up as soon as they could; and Trilby said he'd let Daley's dad know what was going on. Daley found Bill's will and other papers, insurance details etc. Using Bill's address book, he found various numbers to call including his solicitor who promised to come round the next morning and take care of everything including organising the funeral. After that, there wasn't much we could do, so we made a fresh pot of tea and sat by the fire. Daley nodded off after a while and I decide to explore the house.
There were four double bedrooms on the first floor. All a bit shabby but comfortable and welcoming, and three singles on the top floor besides two roomy attics used for storage; Billy was asleep in one of the doubles. I crept back out and closed the door. Across the hall from the first lounge downstairs was another one, much smaller with a computer and accessories. Posters of pop stars and musicians adorned the walls, and schoolwork and several textbooks lay about the desk. This was definitely Billy's den. I looked through a couple of the exercise books and found evidence of a bright kid; this I gleaned from various remarks written in the margins by interested teachers. From there, I went into the kitchen to clear away the remains of our meal. I needed to put some rubbish out, found a key to the back door and carried the rubbish out to the bins, and found myself in what must have been the working area of the farmhouse, with a cobblestone yard and an old horse trough now used as a raised herb garden, Several old sheds housed farm equipment and a large stable had been renovated and now had double glazed windows. The double doors were locked so I peered in through one of the windows, and got the surprise of my life. Not one, but two full drum kits sat side by side with various pieces of sound equipment close by. So that was what the double-glazing was for! Soundproofing! Someone was or had been teaching someone else, and I had a good idea who that someone else was. It seemed a perfectly natural idea to me, a father passing on his knowledge to a son.
I hurried back into the house to tell Daley what I had discovered and found the lounge empty. He wasn't in the study either, so I went to the bottom of the stairs and I heard a sound from the room Billy had been sleeping in. I'm a naturally curious person, knowing that one of these days I would end up with a bloody nose, so I crept up the stairs, fully expecting to be told to mind my own business. The door to Billy's bedroom door was open and I saw Daley standing by the bed with Billy in his arms. He was talking to him in a gently soothing voice as the boy clung to him. Daley spotted me and mouthed "nightmare" to me. Understandable in the circumstances, I thought. I went downstairs to wait for Daley with my news. But my excitement lasted only until Daley came downstairs and said, "Oh that! I don't think Billy's the pupil. His dad was a peripatetic tutor for several schools round this area, and also had private pupils."
"But why not Billy?"
"Well, for one thing, he isn't a kid who can be taught much."
"Because he's autistic."
I shook my head in disbelief. "Who says?"
"The doctors at the mental hospital."
I got to my feet, dragged him into Billy's den, and shoved one of Billy's exercise books at him. "Does that look like the work of an autistic child? Look at what the teachers have written. That means he's been going to school." Daley opened the book and turned the pages, his look of scorn turning to one of surprise. I shoved another exercise book at him, "I think we ought to talk to his doctors about this. I don't believe he's autistic at all. They gave him that label because they couldn't find out what happened to him to make him like he is. He's probably shy and frightened, and hides what he's feeling by showing symptoms similar to autism."
Daley glared at me and I realised I had begun to shout. "Calm down; you hardly know the boy."
"So what! Maybe a new pair of eyes is what's needed around here. Maybe his dad didn't want to argue with the doctor's diagnosis. Some parents are like that; I know from personal experience. They said I was bi-polar but I proved them wrong. My dad used to make me angry just for the hell of it. The old grouch just liked someone to argue with. The best thing I ever did was to leave home at sixteen and put myself through Music College. I chucked all my tablets down the drain and sorted myself out; I think Billy has the right to do the same, and if I'm still around I'll help him do it too."
Daley cocked his head to one side and studied me with a questioning look. Suddenly he smiled. "Are you planning on going anywhere?"
"No, although you'll probably want me to after shooting my mouth off."
"I'm not your dad, so there'll be no arguments from me. I don't think you'll be going anywhere soon, except to the nearest supermarket. We need some groceries."
Suitably calmer, I drove out of the farm and, made my way to Urmston, five miles away, and found a food store. I drove back with the Peugeot loaded with enough food to last a couple of weeks, based on my own healthy appetite. From the looks of the horse trough and the contents of the cupboards, and also the layout of the kitchen I guessed Billy and his dad weren't too keen on fast foods and were good at cooking their own meals, so I had chosen a selection of meat and fish, lots of fresh vegetables, country style crusty bread, and a good range of fruit. Daley went ballistic when he saw the amount of stuff I had bought but calmed down when I refused to take a penny in repayment. This was a gift from me to the kid. Billy was in the kitchen when I got back and he seemed to appreciate the food even if Daley didn't, bringing my first tentative smile from the kid; that made me feel ten feet tall. After the evening meal the kid disappeared into the back somewhere. Daley and I cleared the dishes and put the groceries away and had just made us some coffee when the drumming started; faint but steady.
I gave Daley a wide smile. "What did I tell you?" We hurried out into the back yard and found a couple of the barn windows had the top vents open. We looked in through the windows and sure enough, Billy was seated behind one of the drum kits with a pair of headphones on his head, listening to a backing track.
"Oh, My God!" Daley breathed. "That kid is amazing! You recognise the piece he's playing?"
"Yeah. CSI Miami. 'Won't Get Fooled Again' by The Who."
There was no mistaking the rhythms, the heavy base drum, and the riffs. Billy's right knee bounced as he worked the bass pedal, his back straight and the drum sticks a blur of movement, and I thought how sexy he looked. My Aunt Millie said that when she went to rock concerts, the only player on stage she ever focused on was the drummer. No other musician mattered to her. Now I knew what she meant.
"That's no autistic child," I said and Daley nodded his agreement. I smiled to myself, round one to me.
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