Harry scuffed along the street. He knew he had no business messing about; he should get there as fast as he could. But with shoulders slouched and hands in pockets, he still kicked at imaginary stones as he headed towards his childhood playground.
Coming closer, he lifted his eyes to see the well-known, well-worn, gates to the scrapyard. The once royal blue paint was peeling off in places. The wood was cracked and damaged where wind, rain and the occasional kick or knock had taken their toll. The huge hinges were rusting and one side of the gate was out of kilter, hanging down and leaning on the other. At one time there’d been lettering across the tops of the gates; black, outlined in gold. Not much left of that now. Even the ‘For Sale or Lease’ sign was starting to fade.
He could see the gates were locked, the great black padlock still firmly in place, but set within one of them was a smaller, man-sized door. ‘The punters’ entrance’ his dad had always called it. Harry swallowed hard, then tried the old iron door handle. It felt smooth but strong in his grasp. Turning it, he pushed at the door with his shoulder. The wood had swollen, but it gave way easily enough. He ducked his head, lifted his foot over the bottom panel and stepped inside.
The battered gates might suggest something different, but this was no scrap heap. Though his dad hadn’t worked for over a year, this was still a well-ordered scrap merchant’s yard. Each pile sorted and stacked professionally. He could almost hear his dad’s proud declaration, ‘there’s no bugger gonna lose a leg to a loose Fiat door – not while I’ve got something to do with it’.
Ahead of him were the car stacks. Whole cars, squashed cars, doors, wings, bonnets and bumpers. To the right of those, the old household goods; washing machines, vacuums, tumble driers. Still and silent now, but created from parts that had once rotated and whirred, throbbed and hummed.
A less orderly pile to his left held all the ‘bits’. A nest of pipes, connectors, belts and wires, snaking in and out of each other. The screws, bolts and nails were held separately; his first after-school job at the yard had been to carefully sort, grade and store them in a multi-drawered cabinet.
Harry stood, rooted to the spot. He breathed in the smell and taste of the yard, felt it seeping into his hair and skin. Dust, rust, oil and rubber; the combination once so familiar but now almost forgotten. Washed away by his teenage years.
He’d loved that smell once. It was his dad and adventure rolled into one. And as he stood there, he could almost hear his father singing the song he’d claimed as his own anthem.
‘Any old iron, any old iron, any, any, any old iron.
You look sweet, talk abaht a treat.
You look dapper from yer napper to yer feet.
Dressed in style, brand new tile and your father’s old green tie on.
But I wouldn’t give you tuppence for yer old watch chain - old iron, old iron.’
He’d never really known what a napper or a tile were, but he’d loved singing the song to his friends. And he’d loved bringing them back to the adventure playground of the yard, where a pile of wooden pallets could be turned into a lion’s cage, and an old tin bath could become a pirate’s ship, setting out on the trail of Spanish gold.
Harry shook himself from his reverie. No point remembering what had been. It was the here and now that mattered and had to be dealt with; the reason he was here at the yard today.
He looked across to the old stables, one-time home for the succession of carthorses who’d pulled and dragged the scrap-cart when his dad first set up the business. The horses had long since been replaced by a flat-bed truck, but the stables remained. Harry approached them; half knowing, half dreading to know what they now held.
There in the deep gloom he could make out a shrunken and crumpled figure, like a puppet whose strings have been cut. His father looked up from his task of repeatedly buckling and un-buckling an old girdle. A worried, confused look crossed his face and halted his tuneless humming.
Harry stepped forward. Cupping his hand gently round his father’s elbow, he helped him to his feet.
‘Come on dad, time to come home.’