The Challenge That is Tony

by Pedro

A Spark in Marks

Late July, Year Ten

"I got blindsided," Dad grouches when I ask why we aren't heading straight for the motorway. "I asked your mother what she wanted to do this weekend," Dad grumbles on, "and she said she wanted to go the big shops in Sheffield. She never said so at the time but we have to take your Aunt Doris with us."

Mum is sitting next to him in the front of the car, so I know Dad's moaning isn't serious, just banter between them. Mind you, Mum still makes a defensive play.

"You should thank me. Don't forget we are also meeting up with your parents," she says. "By inviting my sister along, it makes the party up to six: too many to all traipse round the shops together. So you boys can split off and do your own thing and not have to pretend to be interested in what we girls are looking at. See how I think of you!"

Although he is driving, Dad's posture seems to relax. I breathe a sigh of relief: visiting Aunt Doris can be a chore at times, but Grandma always seems to be hard work. I shall have a much better day with just Dad and Grandad.

Mum must have heard my sigh because she turns in her seat to look at me.

"And when we pick up Doris, I'll sit in the back with her so we can talk. You can have the front seat. Aren't I good to you?"

"Aw, thanks Mum!"

Dad has arranged that we meet up with his parents at Meadowhall, the big shopping complex on the edge of the city. All the major chains have a store there. With more independent shops, I prefer mooching round in the old city centre — as long as it is not raining, which it is. I know Dad agrees with me but he has to point out that Meadowhall is under cover and has the advantage of easy, free, parking. Most importantly, he says, it has the right stores for the women folk to exorcise their shopping demons.

We find Grandad and Grandma sitting in one of the coffee concessions. Dad makes me smile when he says the concessions remind him of sheep pens the way they are corralled off in the middle of the aisles between the shops. All run by national chains serving pretentious overpriced fancy stuff. I like the café in our local arcade better. And not just because of Simon, the cute waiter; the coffee is better too.

We get our own drinks before joining the grands. There is a round of greetings. Of course, this is followed by Grandma asking the inevitable. How am I doing at school?

"Er... okay, I think."

Grandad interrupts and saves me from having to reply in more detail.

"Is Miss Rutherford still teaching? She must be due for retirement."

"Yes," I reply, "but she will still be there for my GCSE exams, next year."

"Good, good," comments Grandad. "Give her my regards when you next see her."

Mum, Grandma and Aunt Doris start planning their attack on the shops. When they have finished their drinks and stand up, ready to leave, Dad intercepts them trying to get them to agree on a time and place to meet back up. While Dad is occupied, Grandad leans across to me.

"He's pushing on a rope there," he says, indicating in Dad's direction.

I have to chuckle; that's not one I've heard before!

"Now, lad," Grandad's tone has changed to serious. "How's Tony? You and him still good?"

"Yes, thanks, Grandad. He's fine and so are we."

"Good. You'll no doubt have your ups and downs, but you'll get through if you work at it."

I am wondering if Dad might have told him about the time, a couple of months ago, I thought Tony had dumped me, when Grandad mutters something I am not sure he means me to hear.

"God knows, I've had to work at it wi' her."

For a moment there is a sad look on Grandad's face that I think could be described as one of resignation, but then it passes and he brightens.

"What's Tony doing today, then?" he asks.

"I think his dad has him caddying for him at golf again. That or working in the garden."

Dad comes back and drops into his chair with a big sigh.

"Finally," he announces. "A time and a place for us to meet up again." He gives us the details, then adds that we are to get a snack at lunchtime if we want.

"One other thing, lad," Dad looks at me. "Your mother says you're cooking tonight!"

Geez! Thanks for the warning!

I must be looking gob-smacked, because Grandad nudges me and, with a chuckle, says he won't mind if I swear. I recover enough to interrogate Dad.

"Did Mum say what I am supposed to be cooking?"

He shakes his head.

"Or anything about what's in the fridge or freezer?"



Dad shakes his head again. Helpful, not!

"Locks bol," I curse.

Grandad gets it and giggles. Dad has heard me say it before.

"You'd better plan on calling at the supermarket on the way home," I tell Dad. "There are none here, are there, Grandad?"

"Well. There's Marks and Sparks. They have food. But they're expensive and probably don't have what you'll want anyway."

Marks and Sparks? I guess Grandad means Marks and Spencers.

"We can go and have a look. It'll give us something to do," Dad chips in.

"It might give me some ideas," I concede.

We leave the sheep-pen café and wander along in the direction of Marks, looking in shops that catch our interest along the way. There is one selling kitchen paraphernalia. (Nice word: paraphernalia – sort of feels like what it means). When Grandad sees me looking at some of the knives and other stuff, he tells me that he knows a couple of shops elsewhere in the city that sell commercial catering equipment. If I want, he will take me to them next time I visit. He knows the owners of both and thinks he should be able to get me some discount if I buy anything. Now I know where Dad gets his eye for a bargain.

Of course, when we get to Marks we are on the wrong floor for the food section. Searching for the escalators down, we get lost in women's clothing, correction: ladies' fashions. As we look around, I notice this kid in a white sweatshirt. Not un-cute, so I take a second look. Then I have to giggle. Grandad asks me what is so funny. So I turn my back to the boy and explain.

"The kid behind me with the white shirt and looking at his phone. He looks taller than I thought he was, but I'm sure that I've seen him a few times in the swimming pool in our town. The brand name or whatever is so appropriate because he's a ruddy good swimmer."

"Do you know him?" Dad asks. "Does he go to your school?"

"No. I think he must go to school in another town."

"He looks taller, because he is wearing high heels," Grandad observes.

"I could do with being taller. Do you think I should try something like that?"

Grandad gets a wry smile.

"No, I don't think so, lad," he says. "I'm short, like you. When I was your age, platform soles were all the rage. So, I got a pair thinking they would make me look taller. Bloody dangerous they were. I kept misjudging my step and twisting my ankles. And that was with wide heels, never mind stilettos like that lad is wearing."

I see Grandad's face change as if he is thinking of something serious.

"Lad. Even if you don't know him, I want you to go over there and say you think you have seen him before and ask him if he uses the pool in your town. If he says yes, introduce yourself then bring him over here. If he says no, that's more difficult, but I still want you to try and bring him over here to talk to me." Grandad looks at me. "Got that? I'll tell you why when you get back."

I pluck up courage and do as I'm instructed. Fortunately, he is the kid I thought he was, so that makes things easier. I lead him over to meet Dad and Grandad, except Dad isn't there.

"Grandad, this is Ewan," I say. "Where's Dad?"

"I've sent him to get us some socks. He doesn't need to hear what I'm about to say to you two."

Grandad shakes Ewan's hand.

"Ewan, good to meet you. Thank you for coming over. I would ask you to hear me out even if you think what I am saying doesn't concern you.

"When he saw you were wearing high heels, my grandson here asked if he should get some to make him look taller and I was telling him about wearing platforms when I was your age and how they were dangerous. But it put me in mind of summat else. You can't run in heels.

"It may not be happening out where you two live, but in this city 'gay bashing' is on the increase. I know: I've access to the reports. And it's not just in this city, it's across the country.

"Now, I lost my nephew to the queer-bashers. I don't know if you're gay or not and I don't want to know. The problem is those bastards who get their jollies doing a spot of queer-bashing don't really want to know either. They certainly don't stop and ask. If you look the part you are a target. High heels make you a target. And you can't make a run for it. As I said before you can't run in high heels – or platforms.

"So think about it. I don't want either of you — or anyone you know — to be in one of the reports I read. Oh! And remember: those bastards hunt in packs and are about at all times of the day. Not just at night."

Grandad's posture changes. He must be coming to the end of his speech.

"Thank you, Ewan, for indulging an old git and listening to me." Grandad points in my direction as he continues. "He has to listen. I'm his grandfather."

"Dad once told me his cousin John was killed because they thought he was gay," I say.

"Yes, my nephew. It wasn't that long ago either: about the time you were born. That's one of the reasons I didn't want your dad here." Grandad is looking over my shoulder. "Speaking of your dad, I can see him coming this way, so we'll have to be off now," he says, turning to Ewan. "Good bye, Ewan. Nice to meet you. Take care."

Grandad goes to intercept Dad.

"Sorry about that," I say. "See you around."

I leave Ewan looking a bit non-plussed as I go to catch up with the oldies.

We have a quick look around the food section in Marks but I don't get any inspiration for what to cook for our evening meal.

Dad has arranged that we are all to meet up in the same sheep-pen where we met his parents in the morning. When we get there, Dad points out that the others are nowhere to be seen.

"No surprise there then," Grandad says to him. "Make yourself useful and go and get us some tea, while we grab a table."

We leave Dad in the queue and find somewhere to sit.

"That Ewan is gay," Grandad says. It is the first opportunity he has had to comment without Dad being there. "Do you agree?"

"Yes, I think so too," I reply. Apart from his clothes and shoes, he seemed a bit camp when I was talking to him before introducing him to Grandad.

"If he hasn't got one, he could do with a boyfriend. Then he won't need to dress to advertise and he would be a lot safer. He's definitely not safe in those shoes. If you see him again and know anybody who might be interested, you could try playing matchmaker."

"I'll have to think about it," I say. "That's if I do see him again."

"Let me know how you get on."

We change the subject when Grandma, Mum and her sister arrive. They are followed by Dad with a tray of drinks. They had caught him in the queue.

After the drinks, we say goodbye to the grands, find the car and head for home. When we get on the motorway, I remind Dad that we have to stop at a supermarket on the way to get the makings of our supper. Aunt Doris must have been listening.

"You know what I fancy for supper," she says. "Fish, chips and mushy peas! If you go that way round, past the chippy, to pick them up, I'll pay."

Now there's a result!

"How was your day, yesterday?" I ask Tony when I catch up with him the next afternoon.

"Okay, if you like walking in the rain carrying a two stone bag of golf clubs. At least he let me try some swings this time, so I wasn't just watching him."

I think Tony must secretly like golf. Otherwise, why doesn't he object to being his dad's bag carrier?

"If it's that bad why do you do it?"

"Same reason you visit your Aunt Doris every week."

It's not every week and it's probably not exactly the same reason, but I see Tony's point.

"Anyway, how was your trip to Sheffield?"

Of course, after his previous comment, Tony laughs when I say Mum's sister was with us.

I try to describe Ewan when I start telling Tony about meeting him in Marks.

"I've probably seen him around, but I don't recognise him from your description. And we don't have anyone called Ewan in my scout troop. You'll have to point him out if he's there the next time we are at the pool. Go on, what happened?"

I tell him about the high heels and Grandad's sermon. I finish with Grandad's comments to me later in the coffee pen.

"…Grandad said he thought Ewan was gay and needed a boyfriend. He said if we knew anyone who might be interested, we should play matchmaker."

Tony chuckles. "You did have some success with Brussels and the new physics teacher, Mr Morgan, early last term. At least according to Miss Rutherford."

"Whatever," I grumble. "Anyway, who do we know who might be a candidate?"

"There's Donny. He's a keen swimmer, so they would have that in common," Tony pauses. "It's just I'm not sure if Donny knows what he wants."

"He was hitting on Paul big time when we did that walk on Froggatt Edge," it's my turn to pause. "There again, he claimed to be lusting after Sam when she was here."

"That's just it: a claim. I know what Virginia would say: that he wants anything that's going, but would run a mile if he was actually given the opportunity."

We process that thought for a bit, before Tony announces his conclusion.

"It's worth a try. If it works, it would do Donny good to have a boyfriend, and if your grandad is right, Ewan too."

I manage to work it so that Tony, Ewan and Donny are all at the pool together one day and I can introduce them. Ewan and Donny have seen each other before but never spoken. Tony and I leave them racing, doing lengths. Maybe there's a chance. At least they are now talking.

Tony and I are not surprised when we hear our efforts have been in vain.

Poor Donny. Something about him reminds me of the bachelor in that old Monty Python 'Nudge Nudge' sketch. I mention it to Tony.

"God! Does your dad make you watch that old stuff too? Mine does!"

© copyright Pedro February 2022

My thanks to Cole for unwittingly giving me part of the plot, and also for his help in disguising my pig's ear as a silk purse.


This story is part of the 2021 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Going Out". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 17 Dec ember 2021 to 7 January 2022 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

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2022 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - Going Out

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A Spark in Marks

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