by Mario Coleman
Ritchie loved Saturdays. It was his all-time favourite day of the week by far. On any other day he would fight the sunlight peering into his room between the curtains by scrunching his eyes up tight and pulling the cover up over his head. This would leave his feet sticking out from under the covers, so he would pull them in and curl up into a ball, which is how he would stay until his mother demanded that he “Get up and get ready for school” or his full bladder couldn’t take it anymore and he had to run to the toilet. But not on a Saturday. On Saturdays, Ritchie would be up and awake between six and seven in the morning. He would jump out of bed, throw his dressing gown on and run downstairs. Once he had fixed himself a bowl of cereal he would sit in front of the TV and watch cartoons until his parents got up. There was something magical to him about this two or three hour period that he had to himself. He would feel special, like the man of the house with the responsibility of guarding the downstairs all to himself whilst Mummy and Daddy slept. It was a little slice of liberty for him too, as this was the only time in the week he could think of that he had to himself and he enjoyed this small sample of solitude. By nine thirty his folks would be up and Mum would be grilling bacon whilst Dad made a pot of coffee. The aroma from the kitchen was indelibly carved into his mind like a lovers promise in the side of a tree and it gave him the same safe, warm, fuzzy feeling every time. He was probably too young to realise it, but he loved his life. He was happy to be in a good place and without knowing it, he appreciated it immensely.
His father, Joseph, was a fork lift truck driver and his mother, Catherine, worked at a bakery. During the week, Joseph would get home from work tired and would crash out on the sofa. He always had time to spend with Ritchie, but Catherine would be in the kitchen preparing dinner or cleaning up afterwards. Not on a Saturday morning though. They would both be in the kitchen making breakfast and laughing and joking with each other. Joseph would hold Catherine in his arms and they would act like kids again, young and in love. Sometimes he would chase her around the kitchen, sometimes he would just hold her tight and close his eyes, nestle his head between her head and shoulder and kiss her neck, breathing her into his soul. She always smelled like fresh bread and half of the time he would be tempted to nibble on her, though ever so gently. Ritchie never saw them fight, a blessing he was also unaware of, but on Saturday mornings when they would cuddle in the kitchen, he would get his half bacon sandwich and run out of the room, half with a childish sense of embarrassment and half to let them have their time together.
At ten thirty, Joseph would take the boy to football training at the playing fields and Ritchie would run around for the next two hours whilst Dad stood on the side-line and cheered him on. He was always Ritchie’s biggest supporter and when the under elevens season was under way, he would go to all of the games and let him know that he was supported. He was a proud father who had made up his mind a long time ago that he would always be there for his son.
This particular Saturday was an extremely hot summer’s day. One of those horrible humid days that keep your clothes clinging to you with sweat and no matter which method you try to cool yourself off, the heat just won’t quit. The football field was dry and dusty and by the time Ritchie had finished practice, his knees were scuffed and his shirt was drenched. He didn’t bat an eyelid though as he ran off the pitch towards Joseph with a Cheshire cat grin. “How was I Dad?” Ritchie asked as his father passed him a water bottle. “You were incredible as always. You keep the practice up and you’ll be playing professionally when you grow up.” He responded. “Can we get ice cream on the way home?” Ritchie asked hopefully. “On a day like today, I think it would be wrong not to get some ice cream.” To which Ritchie beamed. He loved Saturdays.
The car pulled into the drive as Ritchie was finishing up his ice cream. He had a double scoop, one Chocolate and the other Vanilla, with raspberry sauce and chocolate sprinkles. He wasn’t generally a messy eater, but somehow he had managed to get a dribble of chocolate ice cream down his chin that he hadn’t realised was there. Joseph had a brown paper bag with a pint of pistachio ice cream for Catherine. It was her favourite and even though he himself wasn’t overly keen on it, he knew it would make her smile and that was all he ever wanted to see. She had the most beautiful smile that made her eyes sparkle and Joseph’s heart would still skip a beat at the sight of it. That alone was worth the extortionate amount of money that they charged him for this tub of ice cream. “I want you to jump in the shower right away. Don’t sit and watch cartoons whilst you’re still dirty. Not on my couch mister.” Joseph ordered Ritchie who gave his Dad a nod of affirmation back to him. They got out of the car and walked up to the front door. Ritchie ran in front and pushed the door open without noticing that it was already ever so slightly ajar. He ran straight upstairs and into the bathroom and by the time Joseph stepped in over the threshold, he could hear the shower running. “Cathy.” Joseph called out as he rummaged in his pockets to pull out his wallet and mobile phone and put them, along with his keys, in a fruit bowl on the living room table that was cluttered with bits and bobs rather than any actual fruit. There was a small pile of unopened letters on the table next to the bowl and Joseph picked them up and sifted through them. Catherine usually opened the mail as soon as it arrived. She was a stickler for making sure that the bills were all sorted and taken care of and that they were filed away in neat file folders and placed on a shelf on the bookcase. Maybe the post had only just arrived. “Cathy?” he called again as he left the living room back into the hall on his way to the kitchen.
Ritchie was never overly keen on showering. He found it boring. Plus, if his smell didn’t bother him, why should it bother anyone else. He had found that his opinion on the matter didn’t really count for anything though as his parents wouldn’t allow him to watch cartoons, get a sandwich or go out to meet his friends unless he had showered after football practice. So instead of complaining, he had submitted to just getting on with it, jump in the shower and scrub up as quickly as possible because then the rest of the afternoon would be all his. Today he had planned to watch some more cartoons until wrestling was on at three. There was to be a World Tag Team championship match and his favourite tag team was going for the gold. He lathered up his hair with shampoo and did his best not to wince as the soap stung his eyes. If he was ever going to be a professional wrestler when he grew up, he would have to be tough and only a sissy would let shampoo in the eye bother him. This lasted all of about three seconds until his eyes were burning and he was rinsing them under the cleansing water of the shower. Maybe he wasn’t cut out to be a tough guy. Maybe football would be his calling. He was at an age where he wanted to be everything that was ever considered cool and wasn’t overly concerned with how the future would turn out. As long as his Saturdays remained as fun as this, he would be content. After a few minutes of rinsing the soap from his body, Ritchie grabbed the big fluffy towel on the rail next to the shower and wrapped himself up in it. He shivered a little as the warm water ceased to run over him and the outside of the shower was a little cooler, though the day was too hot for him to feel any cold for long. Ritchie left the bathroom and went into his bedroom, where he proceeded to dry himself off and throw on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Now he was ready to enjoy the rest of his day.
Ritchie descended the staircase, entered the living room and went straight for the remote control. He turned on the TV set and switched it to the channel that was playing his favourite cartoons. Happy with this, he turned to head for the kitchen where he intended to fix himself a cheese sandwich and a glass of milk. He walked down the hall and entered the kitchen.
This is the moment in time that Ritchie lost his innocence and his care free existence, as he stepped into the kitchen and was immediately hit with panic and nausea. His head spun and went cold, as if rebelling from the heat of the day. Shock set in and he began to shiver as he lost control of his bladder and bowels. He couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing, never in his worst nightmares. There was a man, dressed all in black with a black balaclava, straddling his father who was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The man in black had his back to Ritchie, but turned to look at him as he entered the room. Dark eyes peered through the window of the hood and caught Ritchie’s and the little boy, petrified, was frozen in place. The stranger was clutching a large knife, smooth on one edge, serrated along the other side and dripping with his father’s blood. The man stared a hole right through him, as big as the gaping wound in Joseph’s chest and may well have been considering using the knife on the child when his father stirred, coughing up a globule of dark crimson liquid. Surprising the stranger, he turned back to Joseph and began hacking away at his neck, sliding the jagged edge across his windpipe and through his spinal cord. It was at this point that Ritchie, desperate to look away, spotted his Mother looking down on him. “Mummy!” he cried out at Catherine, reaching his arms out towards her. He could only see the top of her head, as she seemed to be ducked down, hiding behind the kitchen counter. Ritchie ran past the stranger, who was still working on his father, and around the counter. There he saw his mother’s headless corpse on the floor and as he turned to look up at the counter he could now see that her head had been placed neatly on top and sticky red blood pooled on the surface mixing with the melted green ice cream that was leaking out of the brown paper bag next to it. The stranger then got up, wiped the blood off of his knife using the top of his trousers and headed towards the boy.
Ritchie blacked out…
To Be Continued Next Week.