I’m two years old and my father has realised children can’t eat music. Our hungry murmurs gum up his whiskers and weigh down his head, so he shaves and puts his guitar away, and we start making antiques.
I’m four, chubby legs swinging from the back of the van on my first trip to Banana Mike’s yard, listening to him complain about this thing called Ikea. “Started by Nazis,” he says, while selling my father newish hardwood furniture for less than he wants to. Before my sister started school, when she spent her afternoons dozing under the windscreen as our father sang with the radio, Banana Mike would make her banana sandwiches. Now my father packs cheese rolls and drives in silence, and I miss my mother’s pasta.
Time is new to me, and for two summers it’s steady and diffident. There’s a workshop, which is closet-sized. My father keeps tools there and works in the sunshine where brambles cling to brick somehow. Flaunting tart stunted berries, they slash his bare calves, and I sit on a step playing games with woodlice and admiring the unearthly violet of methylated spirit.
My father will curse when his hammer misses or he saws into the flesh between thumb and finger, and I’ll envy the woodlice their ability to hide in hard little balls. Somewhere I’ve heard they can survive anything: nuclear war, even what killed the dinosaurs.
The end of each day smells like ale and tobacco, varnish and sawdust, cheese and onion crisps. I drink cherry syrup that hangs in the bottom of my glass. My father gets red-faced and affectionate before we drive home, and he falls asleep hunched over his guitar, hand hanging limp on the sound hole like it’s another mouth to feed.
I know that between Banana Mike’s yard and the dusty basement showroom where well-spoken people can’t believe their luck, my father makes centuries pass. I learn this magic can be acquired when my sister comes home with a browning treasure map and tells me that tea can tame time as well. I say I can’t wait to go to school, and she shows me how.
I’m ten and my sister is locked in the bathroom. Our father hammers the door, but when she opens up he has nothing to tell her. That night a little red hangs in the toilet like cherry syrup, and I know that when he used to cut himself our father’s cursing wasn’t for his blood, but his failure.
I’m thirteen and my sister is sixteen. Her cheek is tea stained and swollen. She takes a chance on a map and a man, and she never comes back.
I’m fifteen, and I know that when I come home late and a little high my father will still be on the sofa, chin low on his chest and hands in his lap. If the bottle isn’t empty I’ll return it to his hiding place; if it is, I’ll cast it away like a message to an unknown future.
I’m nineteen, and the daughters of doctors and lawyers ask what my parents do, waiting with puckered, wine stained lips. I say my father makes antiques, and they look confused before smiling indulgently. Then they ask why I’m reading history, and I smile back and say that time is my family trade, but so far we’ve only mastered it one way.
Ned Carter Miles is an audio producer, writer, artist and critic based in London. He makes radio programmes for the BBC and Audible, and is UK Desk Editor of ArtAsiaPacific Magazine. Ned began writing fiction again in Autumn 2019 following a long break. He has since won the Creative Writing NZ Flash prize and the Museum of Walking’s One Small Step competition, and has been long isted for the Reflex Flash and Flash 500 quarterly competitions. His father really did make antiques.
You can find more things Ned has made at www.ncmiles.com.