Phil Mitchell and the Birthday Present

‘What are we doing here, Charlie?’ Linda leans back in her wheelchair and frowns up at the shop entrance, dazzled by the bright lights.
‘It’s your birthday,’ Charlie tries to get his breath back. ‘We’re here for your present.’
‘You can’t afford anything in here, Charlie?’
It’s only too true. God knows Charlie has tried to save his pocket money, the two pounds Mum hands out on a Friday evening. But the corner shop is so close and tempting and despite all his good intentions, his piggy bank is empty. Except for a foreign coin he found down the back of the sofa.
‘Let’s go watch some TV,’ Charlie says as the doors swish close behind them. ‘They might have Star Wars on again.’
Fluorescent lights gleam off cookers and washing machines and add a dazzle of highlights to the display cases filled with MP3 players and digital cameras. But today they’re out of luck. In the TV section there’s no Star Wars, just screen after screen showing EastEnders: Phil Mitchell red faced in High Definition.
Why do they do that, Charlie wonders. Why buy an enormous, flash TV and just watch EastEnders on it? What was the point?
‘So what’s my present, Charlie?’ Linda tries to hide her disappointment. ‘You’re not…’ she lowers her voice. ‘You’re not going to steal something?’
‘Yeah right. Stuff a sandwich toaster under my jumper?’
Star Wars is Linda’s favourite. They’ve got all the videos at home. She can quote whole scenes from memory, even with Charlie teasing her. They’ve got the posters, the models, loads of the figures, even a pack of Star Wars Top Trumps, which Charlie has to deal carefully to make sure Linda always gets the Millennium Falcon.
A flock of shop assistants chat by the microwaves, ignoring them. Wednesdays are quiet, particularly at this hour when all the mums are on the school run.
‘Tell me?’ Linda demands, in the voice Charlie doesn’t like, the whiny voice he hears when she’s been stuck in the house for too long.
‘You’ll see.’ Charlie trundles her past DVD recorders, even a few VCR machines on special offer.
‘Come on,’ she demands, jamming the brakes on and forcing him to stop. ‘What are you up to?’
‘Look…’ he wants to tell her, but they’re short of time – they’re already late getting home. ‘Just trust me. Trust the Force, Luke!’
It’s just enough to make her laugh, break the tension.
‘Just sit back and enjoy…’ he stops himself, desperate not to give too much away.
‘Well, this had better be good, that’s all.’ Linda relaxes back in the chair as he begins pushing again. At home, she stumps around on her walking sticks, but she stopped using them outside. The kids on the estate weren’t cruel exactly, just curious; always asking questions.
What happened to you?
Does it hurt?
Will you die?
In the end, it was simpler to use the chair or stay at home.
Target in sight, Charlie thinks: the freezer aisle, running half the length of the store.
‘Whatever happens…’ he stops the chair to catch his breath before the big effort.
‘Charlie, what are you talking about?’
‘Whatever happens Linda, Happy Birthday.’
‘What?’
Charlie gets rolling again, shoving the chair as hard as he can. As they build up speed Linda whoops in surprise and amazement, her hands tight on the arm rests. He pushes and pushes, digging his trainers into the vinyl flooring, accelerating as fast as he can, bread-makers and Digital Radios whipping past them.
‘Charlie? Are you mad?’
‘Yes,’ he gasps for breath. ‘Just hold on.’ Charlie has been planning this for days, sneaking in after school to memorise the route, even scribbling notes in the back of his homework diary.
At the start of the freezer aisle Charlie turns sharp right, the chair tilting at a crazy angle. Linda screams – half fear, half joy – and for a second he’s convinced they won’t make it, they’ll tip over. He throws all his weight on the wheelchair, and just when he thinks they’re going to tip over, the starboard wheels wham back down on the floor, almost bouncing Linda out altogether.
‘Charlie!’
They race down the long alley between the fridges and freezers and Linda gets it immediately, she makes the connection as he knew she would.
‘Ha! This is Red Four,’ she shouts. ‘I’m starting my approach now!’
‘Use the Force, Luke.’ Charlie shouts back. ‘Just use the Force.’
They rattle down the aisle, going like the clappers. Only now they’re not Charlie and Linda, trundling past mere fridges and freezers in a branch of Curry’s on a quiet rainy Wednesday, not any more.
Now they are Luke Skywalker and R2D2, hurtling in their X-Wing fighter along that deadly canyon on the Death Star, armed only with their skill and their daring and their Photon torpedoes, ready to blast the whole thing to oblivion, ready to give their lives for the Rebel Alliance. Charlie bleeps in Linda’s ear and she whoops with delight. The fridges and freezers whip past and it’s so like the film he could weep; Charlie can almost see the laser bolts blasting past them, slashes of deadly green light. A security guard shouts after them. But Charlie doesn’t care. Doesn’t care that they will soon be thrown out. Or worse, marched home to face their mother’s fury.
Linda is in seventh heaven and who can blame her: how many kids get to destroy the Death Star?
‘Remember Luke,’ Charlie shouts, as the mission is accomplished, as the red-faced security guard closes in. ‘The Force will always be with You!’

One thought on “Phil Mitchell and the Birthday Present

  1. Wow! Double imagination overlay. That’s 3 worlds in one experience: Linda/Charlie’s world + Luke/Xwing run + our agreed reality in which the wind howls at my window and I”m gasping for a cuppa.
    Phew. Looking forward to the rest of the collection… Off to Amazon *now*! 😀

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