Pork Balls – This is about bringing up teenagers

They are in my kitchen. My boy Tom and his mate. Laughing. As you do at thirteen, fourteen. As I did. I am thinking about food. Sunday. Warm. Late afternoon. I think I should offer. Be a good Dad. Shafts of late summer sun dappling the hall as I approach them.

“You boys. Either of you boys fancy a takeaway? I’m ordering Chinese.”

They smirk. A smirk is something at that age. An option. It gets to be less so. But I don’t tell them that. I clarify my question for them.

“I just don’t want to end up with not enough or. There is lots of other stuff you can have. There are baked beans. I just fancy Chinese so…”

I trail off here. This negotiation is one-sided. These are children.

“I’m going home for tea” says his friend, Daniel is it? Yes, Daniel. The taller one.

“We’re ok Dad” my boy confirms.

So I call up the Takeaway. We are on first name terms and, speaking to Hai-yen, I have a premonition and I almost order extra anyway. I hang up and prepare for my feast. Plate on low in the oven. Cutlery. Soy. Extra sweet chilli sauce. Kitchen Roll. Where are they now? I hear a ball being kicked. I look out of the French doors to see my boy and his floppy haired friend. No structure. No shots or even passing. One of them speaks and rolls the tattered football underfoot for a bit, then the other might have it for a while. Just conversation and possibly not much of that. They seem to me entirely free. My table is ready.

* * * * *

The bell rings. I collect and pay. I take the bags in. Decant. Pork balls in their vivid sauce. Lids off. Egg fried. Duck. Hoisin. Pancakes. Dumplings. Done. I need a wee before I eat. I hear them laughing again. They are coming inside. That resonant adolescent boom. The fresh broken voice not yet fully formed. Doltish and like a rebuke. I do the stairs fast. As I pee I watch the bubbles form a froth. On my way back downstairs my mouth moistens.

I walk in and there they are. Standing next to each other, giggling. I get it really quick. Really quick. A glance up reveals a little glutinous orange-red remnant on the lips of my boy. Next to him I have time to take in the stuffed mouth of Daniel. They are trying not to laugh. I glance down. There were five pork balls. There are now two.

“You said you didn’t want any.”

They still suppress laughter. The best kind of laughter. The laughter with your mate that is almost irrepressible but you have to stop because you can see that someone else does not find it funny and that just makes it funnier. There is less of that too, as you get older. But I don’t tell them that either.

“You said you didn’t want any.”

And then I take the pork balls. The prawn crackers. The duck. The whole lot of it. And sweep it up in my arms. And walk out to the kitchen and dump it in the sink, crockery and all. And I walk back to them and now they are not laughing and actually the friend looks a little scared and my Tom. My boy Tom has an expression I don’t see often. A wrinkling above his eyebrows, an alarm and an anger in his eyes. The lips tightly together. I can’t read this face. Fear, disappointment, or just not understanding? Just not understanding my world. And I do not care. Or I do not care in this moment. And of course I know that I should care. And I think of his mother. What she will say when she learns of this. You are the grown-up. It is hard enough having one child to manage. Step up. Man up. I know all this, but they still stand there, silent. And I am enthralled and horrified by my anger. So I scream at them this time. The same words.

“You said you didn’t want any.”

I go up the stairs and into my office. I lock the door. And sit for a long time. And my boy has gone to bed and his mother is home and his friend has gone. I don’t care about any of that. Or I don’t think I care about any of that. On the shelf nearest the window at the far end, behind the grey box files, is my brandy. I reach for it, the slim neck in my grip. Push away my laptop. Rip the plastic off the lid. Twist. Up to my mouth. Into my mouth. Into my throat. Into my belly. Warm. Burning. And then quickly to my brain. And again.

About the Author

Dick Bradnum

Dick is an actor and a writer. His acting credits in a career spanning 25 years include Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth for the English Shakespeare Company and Malvolio in Twelfth Night for York Theatre Royal. Television includes The Office, My Hero, High Hopes and Belonging (BBCTV) and Caerdydd (S4C). He has appeared in many Radio Dramas for Radios 3 and 4, and was for several years a compere on the comedy circuit. In 2016 his one-man show Dick Johns What Midlife Crisis? played to sell-out houses at Chapter, Cardiff; and the sequel Let’s Talk About Death, Baby will play at the same venue in September 2018. Dick is Lead Tutor at Young Actors Studio, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. He is a veteran pantomime Dame, most recently in Jack and the Beanstalk at Blackwood Miners Institute. Dick lives in Penarth with his wife and three children. As the writer Dick Johns he won the 2015 Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook Short Story Award for his story ‘Joy’. His short story collection Dignity and Other Stories is available to buy at www.dickjohns.co.uk