The Third Person – Steve Luckham

‘Flash the ash.’ 

The red pack of Marlboro was offered around reluctantly by Julie to her two companions on the park bench. The day was cold for June and an angry sky foretold rain. 

‘You know these fags cost more than fifty pence each?’ said Julie. ‘I saw Granddad yesterday and he said in his day you could get ten cigarettes for one and three.’ 

‘What’s ‘one and three’ when it’s at home? Julie’s brother Dom asked. 

‘How the fuck should I know,’ Julie shrugged. ‘But it doesn’t sound very much.’ 

‘It’s old money. Your granddad meant one shilling and threepence. In today’s money that’s around six-pence. I’m doing a project on it at school,’ said Boff. 

‘Dom glanced at Boff and looked incredulously at Julie: 

‘Granddad was having you on. You’re telling me that in his day you could get twenty fags for,’ Dom’s face screwed up in concentration, ‘twelve pence, and now it costs over ten quid?’ 

Looking at his phone, Boff said, ‘According to my calculations, that makes fags these days about eighty-five times more expensive.’ 

‘Nah, unbelievable sis,’ said Dom putting his arm around Julie’s shoulders. ‘Don’t believe Granddad, he’s a shyster.’ 

Boff laughed and Julie, her face reddening, pulled away from Dom. 

‘Anyone got a light?’ asked Dom? 

Julie said, ‘I’ve got this,’ and with a flourish pulled out from her pocket a weighty looking smoked brass Zippo lighter with a Pirelli logo embossed on it. 

‘Where the fuck did you get that?’ said Dom. ‘You haven’t been nicking again, have you?’ 

‘Looks like it’s worth a few shekels,’ said Boff.’. 

‘Granddad gave it to me. He says it’s Japanese.’ 

Dom snatched the lighter from Julie: 

I’ll get this back to Granddad before he misses it.’ 

‘Can I have a look at the lighter?’ 

Dom handed it over and Boff weighed it appreciatively in his hand. 

‘Nice. My uncle sells these.’ 

‘Well, he’s not selling this one,’ said Dom. ‘What about a light?’ 

‘Ladies first,’ said Boff as he flipped open the lighter. 

‘She’s no lady. She’s my little sister.’ 

They sat in silence for a minute or two looking around at the park life. 

‘That’s bad luck, you know,’ said Julie. 

Dom rolled his eyes at Boff: 

‘What’s bad luck sis?’ 

‘Taking the third light. Boff took the third light.’ 

‘He was being polite. Remember? Ladies first, then me, and then him.’ 

‘I know, but Granddad …….’ 

‘Not Granddad again. What shit’s he been telling you? 

‘It’s not shit. He said when his Granddad …’ 

Boff and Dom laughed: 

‘I didn’t know Granddad had a Granddad. Who was he? The Granddaddy of all Granddads?’ 

Despite herself, Julie smiled: 

‘Shut up. When Granddad’s Granddad was in the war, he was with two of his mates in the trenches. They were on a break and one of them lit his fag and handed the match to Granddad’s Granddad. He lit up and handed the match to his mate who started to light up and his head exploded.’ 

A stunned silence followed, interrupted by Boff:

‘My head hasn’t exploded.’ 

‘No, you don’t get it. He’d been shot in the head by a sniper who’d had time to line up his shot by the third light. So, it’s bad luck to take the third light.’ 

‘Sis, you shouldn’t believe everything Granddad tells you. He’s a schmuck.’ 

Boff grinned: 

‘You’re getting good at the lingo, Dom. We’ll make a Jew of you yet.’ 

Big blobs of rain started falling. 

‘Time for me to go,’ said Boff pulling his jacket around him. ‘See you soon.’ 

Boff hurried through the park hoping to miss the worst of the impending storm. It had turned colder. He put his hands in his pockets and felt the Zippo. 

‘No worries,’ he mumbled. I’ll return it tomorrow.’ 

Lost in thought as he hurried along Boff only noticed the three older kids when he was nearly upon them. They blocked his way. 

‘Who’re you looking at, Yid.’ one of them said. 

‘I’m not looking at anyone. I’m just on my way home.’ 

‘Fuck off home then, and don’t let me see you ‘round here again or I’ll have a gas chamber waiting just for you.’ 

His friends laughed. As they let Boff pass, one of them slapped him on the back of the head. Boff fought back tears of fright and anger as he ran home. 

His mother greeted him: 

‘Jacob, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. Is everything alright?’ 

‘Yes, everything’s fine mum.’ 

‘Well, you’re just in time. People will be arriving soon for your father’s birthday. I could have done with some help.’ 

Jacob looked at the feast set out on the large dining table, but he didn’t feel hungry. He remembered the Zippo. 

‘I’ll light the candles, Mum.’ 

Jacob lit the first candle, then the second. As he reached the third he felt sick and faint. He didn’t hear his mother’s screams when she found him. 

Julie and Dom never got to see Boff again and Granddad never got his Zippo back. The coroner recorded death by natural causes.

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