​Stuart F. Dodds

The Paper Boy

I was 13 years old and a thief.

  Months back, my dad drove away from the marital home in his battered Rover and my mum fell ill. I was an only child.
  I escaped from home life, every morning by delivering newspapers. The round became my territory and retreat.
  On my first morning at the newsagents, I slung the bulging bag of papers over my shoulder and fell forward straight onto my knees. The papers spilled out onto the pavement in front of the other paperboys. I had the largest round in the area, but was paid the same as everyone else. 
  I went home and fixed a bracket over the back wheel of my bike, so I could rest the bag on it the next morning. I tried to ride with one hand holding the bag and the other steering, but kept falling off. So I ended up pushing the bike until I had delivered enough papers for it to be light enough to ride.
  It took me quite a few days to learn the best route. You also had to consider the weather, where to prop the bike, how to get to the front door, which type of letterbox it was, and then where to go next. Also, there was a difference between weekdays and Sundays. Sundays was a curse because of the Sunday supplements. At least the round started later, giving me an extra hour lay in.
  My mum woke me every morning, as she didn't sleep very well I would get dressed, wheel my bike around the side to the front door, open the letterbox, and say ‘bye’ or something like that. Often she would stick her hand back through the letterbox as if she had caught me and I would mock surprise.   The marker at the shop had a comfortable job. He would write the road and house number on the newspapers, but every now and again, he made a mistake. He once wrote the address as 32, when I knew it should have been 34. I knew this was wrong, but I posted the paper anyway. Got hell for that one.
  I had three roads. The main one was like the spine, which ran downhill, and the other two crisscrossed it. It was a nice area; some of the houses were detached with driveways. I only lived two miles away on an estate where you had to keep your wits about you when you saw the local boys. 
  It was a Times area as opposed to The Sun. There were doctors (The Telegraph) accountants (The Times) a bookmaker (Racing Times) and an old lady (Knitting Times) living next to each other. There was also a boxer (Boxing Times); I didn’t make any mistakes at that house.
  It was always quiet in the early hours and often there was a light mist hanging low casting a sheen on the pavement and around the streetlights.
  I liked to post the first paper by 6.15am as often I could finish the round and be back at the top of the hill before the other paperboys passed by. I may have the largest round, but I could still finish it quicker than some of them
  You got to know letterboxes. Some were narrow, some would bite your hand off, and others were just fine. Sometimes I would push my hand further into the letterbox and feel the warmth inside. Other times I would lift the cover up slowly and look inside. 
  My conscience was tested occasionally. I once went up to a front door, which looked shut but was slightly ajar. The key was in the lock. I couldn’t resist a quite look inside, so I held the door edge and put my head around. There was a dark silent hallway with four coats hanging on hooks under the stairs. Who slept inside? I put my hand through the letterbox ledge from the outside, pulled the door back a little, and pushed in the paper from the outside. 
  Some people leave money in an envelope propped up against a milk bottle.                                                                                                                          ***
  The day started out as normal, but my mum was coughing a bit more and couldn’t wave me off. 
  I got to the newsagents, collected my papers, and made my way to the round. It was a bit misty, cold and the air was still. First paper in at 6.14, so it was shaping up to be a good day.
  I was folding up a copy of the Telegraph and was just about to pop it in when I saw the front door key was still in the lock. It was attached to a key wallet which had others keys inside. The door was shut, so I put the paper through and looked again at the keys. I reached up, pulled the key out and put it in my pocket. I cannot fully describe what happened during that moment, it is impossible to say at which point I decided to take the keys or why. Was I rebelling, was I angry about something?

  I walked back up the drive past the Rover car on the driveway and pushed my bike down to the next house. I continued the round with the keys feeling heavy in my pocket. When I cycled up past the house, on the way home, I expected the house owner to run out after me.
  I could have put the key back, but I didn’t. When I was well away from the house and half way home, I examined the keys. 
  I stopped my bike and kept it upright against my leg. The wallet was battered brown leather with the name ‘Thompson’ in faded ink across the centre. The other key inside had Rover printed on it. 
  I had the urge to take the keys back and I felt a hot sensation down my neck, which I usually got when I was in trouble. I could always go back and say I found them in the street, I could even get a reward for it. It was too late for that now, but if I told my mum that I found them near to a house, she may take them back for me. Yes, that was the best plan.
  I cycled back home and was greeted by a neighbour who was fussing about, but managed to say that her husband was driving mum to hospital because she couldn’t breathe properly. 
  It was a bit of a blur, but I ended up sitting in a waiting room inside the emergency ward. I kept the door open a fraction and peaked out. All I could hear was various sounds, garbled talk, and curtains swishing. 
  A flustered man appeared and spoke to a nurse. I couldn’t hear what he said but he darted off into a nearby room. A short while later he came back out with a nurse. He appeared calmer, so hopefully his wife was okay. 
  I could hear part of their conversation. “I couldn’t find my car keys ... hunted high and low for them ... couldn’t find the spare, so had to get a cab. I was too late to help, poor woman. I feel sorry for the family.”
  “Not to worry Dr Thompson, I’m sure your keys will turn up.”
  Decades later, I found myself driving around my old paper round. It was the first time I had been back there. I fished the keys out of my pocket. Two keys in a battered key wallet with Thompson barely visible on the side. I then kissed the wallet gently, got out of my car, walked up the drive, and posted them through the letterbox. Without looking around, I got back in the car and drove off.

The Paperboy. ©Stuart F. Dodds 2017. All Rights Reserved.