Pulp.net - Uncle Genie Man

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December 2008

Keith Jarrett
They wheel it in yesterday, day after the funeral, bubble wrap round so it look about twice the size. A big bembem of a drum. Tick. Solid. Mahogany.

And these string come down round it. There weren’t even space for it up in my room, so I had to go and move the chest of drawers in front of the wardrobe. I was thinking, this is a long ting, soon as the removal guy go way, I’m gonna chuck it out again. But then Dad got all on my tits about it.

‘Throw out that rubbish,’ he said.

I just choopsed and bit off a piece of sellotape.

He shook his head. ‘What kind of madness is this, hmm? Where you gonna find time to take up drumming now? You should be doing your studies…’

Reh, reh, reh. You know how the ’rents get. I let him rail up a lickle bit.

‘Uncle Trev give me this,’ I said.

‘What you wasting your time for with a stupid drum?’

‘It’s what he done left me though...’

He look at me funny, creasing up the side of his mouth like he wanted to tell me someting big. Only then that it got me thinking why he even care. I made up my mind to keep it.

‘That thing’s going, ok? I don’t wanna see it in your room tomorrow.’

‘Is my room though.’

‘And it’s my house. So you do what I say.’

‘What about what Mum say?’

‘Don’t get feisty with me. That thing’s going’

I started popping the bubble wrap. That kinda ting pisses him off, you know. He kissed his teeth and left. End of, I thought.

• • •

My dad’s a Wilson, true and true. Tall, red-skin, and angry half the time. But he got none of the madness of the Webley’s, my mum’s side. Uncle Trev was on my mum’s side, even though he look a bit like Dad. No money, so when he drop dead all of a sudden, there was no tug-a-war business. No late-night meetings, and no family sitting in cliques with fold-up arms at the funeral, giving bad look to this one because this one got this, while they only got that. And there weren’t no bad talking over the coffin, like when Granddad died and Auntie Ruth took the mic and say how mean he was. That day was madness. She just say: ‘But I don’t feel no way ’bout it no more, just look ’pon me, daddy. I’m bigger than you now!’ And she push out her chest and flash her gold teeth at all of us.

Auntie Ruth got issues, granted, but my family’s mad like that – any excuse to bring up old grief.

I was Uncle Trev’s favourite. I knew there weren’t no money coming my way, but I was kinda hoping for something. I wasn’t expecking that drum sitting in the corner of the room but there you go. Don’t get me wrong, yeah, I was sad and everything but it was kinda waiting to happen.

Dad use to call him dat junkard. Cussing him in front of Mum was the only time he go rago and slip into his back-a-yard patois. True say, you go anywhere near Shepherd’s Bush Green and you know you gonna see Uncle Trev half-naked on a bench surrounded by beer, and not even Red Stripe. And he’d be chatting some foolishness with a bunch of dreads and some white gals, or playing dominoes in the rain.

Dad said once I shouldn’t waste my time with people like Uncle Trev, cos I’m better than them, or someting like that. So Mum got vex. She say blood is thicker and they have a bust-up about it.

‘You cyaan backbite my brudder like that!’ Mum said.

‘He’s crazy. And I don’t want him corrupt—’ His voice lowered, so I never catch that last bit.

‘You don’t know it will happen. You can’t say them tings bout him.’

‘I can say what I like. There’s no way that man’s setting foot in my house again.

‘Come again? …Your house? You mean our house!’

And then Mum went all rago and bust out screaming and the spoons went flying and everything. But by the time dad went off to work, they made up. Typical. I always wanted them to split so I could get two birthday presents. It never happened.

• • •

Mum come in the door and didn’t even bother knocking. I know she been talking after me with Dad.

‘Look chil’, why you hold onto this?’ She was pointing at the drum, screwing up her face, just to prove a point. She went over to it. ‘See how it old and mash up.’

She bash the drum once with her fist and the sound go round the whole house. A low rumble like when your belly run. When it stop I kinda feel dizzy like I’ve been hitting the bong hard. I never heard nuttin like that in my life. I guess the skin needed tightening up.

‘Sound like new to me,’ I said, even though I could see the skin look like paper from the olden days. ‘Why you and Dad so hung up on this drum?’

‘Don’t you mind that, ok? …There’s tings about you huncle… There’s tings about you family you don’t know. And that… that drum not staying here.’ She had her head crooked looking over at it and I swear it had gone twice the size. The whole ting come nearly up to her chest.

‘I thought you was on my side.’

‘Lord-ah-mercy. You ears deaf or someting? Don’t mind yourself about sides. It not about sides.’

When she shouts she always move her hand up and down. So down it went slap and I think she kinda did this on purpose, but the skin broke.

Mum run out the room.

‘Now look what you’ve done!’ I say to her breeze. ‘It was mine. Mine!’

And I went over to it and go to grab it for the first time. It was pushing up against the wall and the wardrobe. It must have grown. I touch it and it’s warm and everything. Like more than room warm, or body warm. This ting was like an oven. By now, it was big, like up to up to my neck. And the bit that go in like an egg timer, I swear it was going in and out, like breathing, but I didn’t scream, just come closer, till I was reaching in and everything.

It wasn’t a drum, this ting was alive.

When I reach over and touch the top, the yellow paper skin, it crackle. And I reach over some more and look in and catch shock.

That’s when my life went downhill.

• • •

Mum was real vex when Sister Campbell tell her Uncle Trev dead. One of the first tings she come out with was like why it couldn’t have been Glenroy? That’s deep.

Uncle Glenroy’s another story. He drink twice as much as Uncle Trev, but he’s only half as bad with it. Uncle Glenroy liver must have shrivel down to the size of a Chicken McNugget by now – which get smaller every year – but the old man so bitter he don’t want anyone getting their hand on his tings. So says Mum, so not quite the truth, but kinda halfway there.

Two twos, Sister Campbell came round to break the news five minutes after I got back from school. Sis Campbell, she like telling you she know something you don’t know and rub it in. So she come in and breeze through the corridor like listen here to what I have to say and she sat down on my beanbag. The big fat mumpah squeeze all the air out of it then she pull out the remote control from under her rass and she switch off the TV and she tell Mum sit down, it’s someting big she have to say. And there we are thinking her son Fitz has well and truly got himself done for, that boy so crazy I know he gonna end up killing someone. But then she break the news and tell us Uncle Trev dead, all the while her eyes on me with this pity-fi-sorry-fuh look. And Mum just push up her face, shrug her shoulder, look up and say may the Lord bless his soul.

‘That Trevor always wanna be first,’ she said.

They was twins, yeah, Uncle Trevor and Uncle Glenroy, but Uncle Trevor swear blind he was the oldest. So he marry first, divorce first, and of course, he die first. It’s this twin rival ting they have. My own mum, you know, once she tell me I’m lucky I don’t have no twin cos she would have done given me to grandma and granddad the moment I pop out of her belly. But then she say something else.

She turn around and look at me, while still stirring the stew peas.

‘You know, the Webleys… we have a… a ting about the first child.’

‘What you mean mum?’

‘I never tell you this before, but you need to watch out…’


And she look behind her all suspicious-like, then clear her throat like she was gonna tell me some story and everything, but the doorbell rang that same second and it was Bruce from next door come to play on my PSP. I don’t even like the boy – he’s off. I wish I’d made her tell me.

Anyways, Sister Campbell was sat there on my cushion, shaking her head and saying how bad it is how people is dying so young and not getting to know the Lord and how there’ll be no men left in mum’s family, since Uncle Glenroy surely got to be the next and Uncle Christian is living a life of Sodom and Gomorrah. I was trying not to crack up cos I’d been blazing all afternoon with these kids round the corner I don’t even know from Adam, and I was a bit lean still. The way she was talking and not stopping even to breathe was pure jokes. Her arms were flapping about and, bumper to belly, her whole front was moving up and down like a mini Mexican wave, you had to be there. Out of this world. Cos she might as well have been talking to herself.

Mum was going in and out the kitchen, first with tea, then with handfuls of washing which she laid out on the heater, then with a bag full of guinep she put out on the stool for us, like we were guests. But Sister Campbell’s not a guest; she’s almost here more than me. And she just kept on and on, looking at the blank screen on the TV. All that was missing was some popcorn; pure madness. And then mum came in again and just busted out with it.

‘Oh no, Kieron, I’m gonna have to go buy you another suit! Why him have to die now, right at the beginning of the month, when we done spend all the money? He couldn’t just hold out a lickle bit?’

Then she bust out crying. She just curl up in the middle of the floor and cry. I nearly wet myself laughing, until Sister Campbell stop talking and give me one look.

‘See the way these pickney stay, sister?’ she said to mum. ‘All uh oonu too disrespectful. Yu never heed your elders, just laugh after them… And then come cry cry afterward when oonuh find destruction.’

And I tried to tell her it wasn’t mum I was laughing at, but seeing her cry on the floor, over some suit… And it’s not like she was doing anything about it. Just going off again on some long about young people not listening. I had one mind to answer back, cos when all these old people do is talk in some roundabout way, or tell you you’ll understand one day if you ask them about something, how you supposed to listen to them?

I got up from the stool I was on and went over to her. I knew she was alright, cos she don’t cry for nothing like paying for suits. I got a suit that fit me fine that I wore to Nanny Glenda’s funeral last month, so I figured she was doing that ting again parents do.

I squeeze her shoulders and she shook me off.

‘You have no idea, chil’…’ she say, and curl up again.

Sandra next door, she does that crying trick whenever her ex-husband come round. I hear her chatting with Mum when they don’t think I’m listening. ‘Just get the waterworks going,’ she says in that well-Cockney voice, ‘and he coughs up every time.’

Sister Campbell waited a good minute after Mum got herself back together and she start up again, chatting some next shit. She’s not even blood family, but I swear she makes out she knows everything about everyone. She know more about our family than any of us know about each other. Her head full up with so much rubbish, the only ting make her hurry out the door is when people talk duppy stories.

She was looking way too comfy with her rass on my tings, so I was gonna start chatting some shit about seeing spirits next door. I look over at mum. Her face was still all twisted up, so I kept it buttoned and stood up to leave myself.

Sister Campbell stretch her hand up and grab mine.

‘Poor pickney,’ she said. ‘You nuh have no idea.’

I let that one slide.

• • •

When I look in again, it was still there. What look like a little worm, no a snake. It was getting bigger and fatter, looking up at me, right into my face with it two big yellow eye. The head of this ting was what shock the most. Its face weren’t no creature face. It was my Uncle Trevor’s face, joined onto the body of this fat snake, and he gave me this wide grin like we ain’t seen each other for days. True say, we hadn’t.

‘You look like you see a duppy!’ he said to me, and I never even have it in me to scream. I wonder if he really alive, or if I was alive, or if it’s the snake thing that ate him.

‘So, bwoy-bwoy, why you no get me a jink?’ he said and I just stay there, mouth wide open. I scream now but no sound come out.

When I close my eyes and open them again, he still there. And he was big and green and he kinda look squidgy. As he get bigger his head come up and out and it don’t look comfortable at all. The broken skin was all round his neck like a collar.

‘Wha’ mek?’ he said, giving me this look I never seen before. ‘You never see a genie man before?’

‘A wha—?’

‘A G-E-NEE MAN,’ he shouted, and I watch his wobbly mouth move. His face was all green like the rest of him, and all the time I was like, what the fuck this ugly version of Uncle Trev chatting about? Genee? What? I was so shock I never even got what he was saying. This genie ting was on some next level.

‘Come again?’ I said.

I was struggling to get this. I knew this had to be a dream, my little fat, green uncle sticking out of a drum in my room, telling me about being a “genie man”.

‘You ears mus’ be deaf or sometin. I say a GEN-‘

‘Nah, nah. I heard that bit. But wha…? Wha…? This is messed up.’

And suddenly, like ping, what he was saying hit me. ‘You mean a genie – like six wishes an’ everything?’

‘Never seen a tin boy suh tick,’ he come back at me. ‘Is tree wishes you have. You mudder never learn you that?’

I bust up laughing. This had better be good. This had better be some messed up joke. A genie?

‘Need to catch some shut-eye,’ he said, and his yellow eyes sunk in. He started deflating and slid down into the drum again, until there was this drip-drip sound. And when I look over again, he was the size of a tiny little worm and I think I must’ve made the whole thing up.

• • • 

I sat down on my bed for a while, head back and pounding. I see Mum standing in the corner by the door and just look at her. She started to say something but I wasn’t about to hear that.

‘Leave me alone,’ I screamed, and she left.

I didn’t even know what this was about, still. Didn’t know why she’d been looking at me like I had all of twenty-four hours to live. Couldn’t get the two and two together, until, after my mind went blank, it started to click. I thought about the closed coffin at the funeral, the whispers of my uncles and aunts with my mum, the looks towards me – which I thought was cos they knew I was the favourite nephew.

My first thoughts were like, cool. This guy gonna make me rich and everything. A genie? I’ve seen the films, yeah. Since when weren’t that good news? Magic carpets, allow that. I could make it big time. I almost start ordering a big old mansion for starters, with my own private room – with a lock, so the ’rents learn how to knock. Then I was putting all these tings on top, the Jacuzzi, cinema, a tick maid, and everything…. But something in me was saying, hol’ on a minute. I was missing something.

Why ain’t this good news? I was thinking. Why was there this sick feeling in my belly inside that made me think something was seriously wrong? And how come I already knew deep down what the score was? Somehow, sometime, I knew I was gonna end up trapped in this drum, and I was gonna end up green as one of Uncle Trev’s beer bottles. A genie man, just like him.

• • •

This morning, the alarm sounds early. So early I don’t even know where I am. I wake up on the floor, sweaty and shaking, so I realise things are serious. In my dreams, Uncle Glenroy warning me about the genie in the room. I don’t know how real this is, but why would I choose to dream about Uncle Glenroy when there’s a poster of Halle Berry on my wall, you get me? I know now that there’s things I could never have thought about before, right in my own room. But not for long.

I came up with a plan last night. If it doesn’t work, I’ll still have two more wishes before things go wrong. Careful not to wake anyone – especially the genie-worm thing that is my Uncle Trev – I pick up what’s left of the wrapping. I’d been popping it all afternoon, so it was kind of flat, but it still make this whooshy noise. It only go round once this time, cos the drum’s still big. But I bite off some sellotape and stick down the bubble wrap. I wonder how I’m going to manage this. But I tap on the side three time and say my wish.

Like it was never there, the thing disappear and the chest-of-drawers go back to its position and it even look like the floor hoover, it’s so clean. I stand there for a few minutes until the feeling come back to me. Poor Sister Campbell, I think, then I go to the shower and get ready for school. And I’m a whole hour early, for once.

© Keith Jarrett 2009