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Vincent Duvell by Thomas Giddins

Vincent Duvell Jr was an odd soul who, at the unexceptional age of forty-three, still occupied the top floor of his quite exceptionally aged ninety-nine-year-old mothers house on Monkeyspinach Road in Walthamstow, east London. Their rickety dwelling played host to a gentle toing and froing of life.

Shuffled feet, softly spoken words and, due to his old dear's depleted memory, repeated conversation were as common as the bumbled twang of their accents.

Delivered into a family of professional light bulb fitters, Vincent Jr bore an iron forearm and steadiness of toe only those in his business could boast. But boast he did not.

For Vincent Jr suffered from an incurable disease he’d acquired at the age of eight. A disease he’d been unable to rid of for the following thirty-five years and one so detrimental it not only hampered his career in the art of illumination, but had also begotten a similar fate on his father's will to live.

Being a steadfast Duvell, Vincent Sr took pride in his ancestry and its continued ability to outshine darkness with a swift sleight of hand. Never before had a single family dominated their trade so stubbornly and during these prolonged times of doom and gloom the Duvell’s prospered, generation after generation.

That is until Vincent Jr turned eight.

Upon striking this grand old age, Vincent Jr had shown real promise. Born with a thickness of wrist usually reserved for a champion of tug o' war, and the accomplished poise of a first class gymnast, he reminded Vincent Sr of Lord Ashcroft Duvell, Vincent Sr’s Grandfather, and a man many considered a grandmaster of light bulb fitting.

It was Lord Ashcroft who’d cemented the Duvell’s notoriety as the only family to turn to should one need a re-fit. By developing a breathtaking technique encompassing speed, skill and a deftness more commonly attributed to a Ballerina, Lord Ashcroft had transformed a mere trade into an exercise of beauty.

He’d acquired his title after delivering his expertise at the request of the Queen. One morning, on finding a spider in his bathtub, the King discharged a high-pitched trill so loud it shattered every last light bulb in Buckingham Palace, chandeliers included.

The unfortunate event took place approximately one hour before the Palace was due to host their annual game of Tiddlywinks in which royals and dignitaries from around the world were invited to take part. Through the recommendation of the Queen's butler, Ashcroft Duvell was immediately hurried in and on replacing all two-thousand and thirty-nine light bulbs, within less than forty-five minutes, was thereafter known as Lord Ashcroft Duvell.

It was this extraordinary ability that Vincent Sr had recognized in his only son the very first time he’d witnessed Vincent Jr change a bulb, aged three. Amidst his excitement he immediately made the decision to withhold Vincent Jr from traditional education to allow him to pursue his trade with the wholeheartedness of a lion. Who needs math when you can change a light bulb with such aptness? he thought with a frightening assuredness.

However his adulation was to be short lived. By the time Vincent Jr was approaching his eighth birthday, Vincent Sr was becoming concerned with his son’s bizarre fascination with maroon mittens.

His initial hint of worry surfaced when Mrs. Duvell had knitted Vincent Jr his very first pair.

The colour of the mittens was determined by whatever batch of wool Mrs. Duvell had at that given time and maroon was the particular shade very much in vogue. Keen to keep up her appearance as a lady in trend, Mrs. Duvell stocked an abundance of the dark red wool and ensured everything from the families socks, to the household tea cosies and dish cloths, were indeed this very colour.

On handing Vincent Jr his freshly knitted maroon mittens, both Mrs. Duvell and Vincent Sr watched the lad carefully encase his tiny paws before proceeding to outstretch his arms and stare at his hands for a good ten minutes.

“Vincent Jr! Vincent Jr!! Vincent Jr dear boy!!! VINCENT BOY! YOUNG MAN LOOK AT ME WHEN I’M SPEAKING TO YOU!!!!”

Vincent Sr roared, aghast at Vincent Jr’s eternal gaze.

Vincent Jr didn’t blink and before Vincent Sr had raised his left arm to discipline the boy’s right ear, off shot Vincent Jr up the stairs and into his bedroom, slamming his door behind him.

Very odd behaviour.

Around an hour later, Vincent Jr surfaced from his bedroom, minus his mittens and looking rather flustered. Sheepishly, and without coming up for air, he explained how his poor mittens had been swept away by a gust of wind after he’d left them on his windowsill, how deeply foolish he’d been to leave them there in the first place, and how please could he have a new pair because the hands of a light bulb extraordinaire are his most precious tools, and the rigors of winter can cause rigidness in the fingers enough to play havoc with the toughest of fitters, never mind an upcoming seven-and-two-thirds-year-old!

Vincent Sr agreed, disappointedly, Vincent Jr had been foolish but also confirmed the necessity of keeping his hands warm before instructing Mrs. Duvell to knit him a new pair.

After his original pair had apparently blown from the windowsill it took only five days before his new pair unraveled after he caught them on a rosebush. Four days later he’d removed his next pair in a shop to reach for change in his pockets, only for someone else to pick them up. His fourth pair was ripped off his hands by an angry cat and his fifth pair somehow disappeared into thin air whilst he was still wearing them.

By the time Vincent Jrs birthday was all but a week away, he was onto his fifty-third pair; his excuses as to how he’d lost the one before last becoming more and more elaborate and his behaviour unusually erratic.

Coinciding with his increasingly common and noticeable knack for losing mittens, his once beaming bright eyes, now dull and unfocussed, lugged around heavy dark bags. His pallid appearance dragged what was once a glowing smile to the floor, and the beautiful posture that had excitedly reminded Vincent Sr of Lord Ashcroft Duvell was starting to loll. The amount of time he’d spend locked away in his room was also beginning to raise eyebrows.

Vincent Jr blamed his odd behavior on numerous factors including the common cold, the pressures of work, and the fact that anyone would be upset and depressed if they’d had the same bad luck when it came to mittens.

His parents just couldn’t understand it. How could someone be so unlucky with mittens? They pondered this theme for many hours, on one occasion even considering replacing his mittens with gloves due to the possibility of his association with them being cursed. But time after time they lapped up Vincent Jr's excuses and churned out pair after pair of replacement maroon mittens.

Due to his father’s somewhat overbearing judgment in deeming a traditional education pointless for Vincent Jr, he worried his increasing concerns might push his son further away and start affecting his ability to change light bulbs. Not only would this leave Vincent Jr with nothing to fall back on, it would also, and more importantly, destroy the family name, leaving their dynasty in tatters.

With this in mind Vincent Sr was reluctantly happy to overlook his son’s strange behavior and although his mother was knitting him a new pair of mittens a day, Vincent Jr’s light-bulb fitting performance was still exceptional.

However, this was a problem they were soon unable to ignore.

It was the day before Vincent Jr’s eighth birthday and the Duvell household was in good spirits. Regardless of the mystery surrounding the mittens Vincent Sr was proud of his son and the legend he was carving in the light-bulb fitting industry. Mrs. Duvell was baking Vincent Jr’s favourite cake and Vincent Jr himself had managed to muster a whisper of his former self due to his excitement at the list of birthday presents he’d requested.

A list that included: a new pair of Nike trainers; the permission to get a pineapple tree shaved into the back of his cropped head; an electric toothbrush; and ten pairs of maroon mittens—a rather excessive but necessary amount to allow his mother some time off from knitting, especially given that Vincent Jr would almost definitely ‘misplace’ one after the other, day after day."

Due to the high regard in which he was held Vincent Jr was certain he’d have each birthday wish fulfilled, and although he couldn’t wait to rock into town flaunting his excellent new haircut and snazzy trainers, it was the mittens, unsurprisingly, that were the object(s) he desired the most.

Earlier in the day, and unbeknownst to Vincent Jr, Mrs. Duvell had decided to start knitting the ten pairs of mittens he’d requested but reached into her crochet tin only to find her hoard of maroon wool vastly diminished.

Being a beacon of optimism she didn’t for a second think this was a matter of great deal and merrily wandered into town to replenish her supplies.

On arriving at the wool shop and requesting “twelve balls of maroon please” she was advised by the shopkeeper that maroon wool was no longer a la mode. Green represented the new craze and due to the shop’s reputation amongst the swanks of the fashion world, green was now the only colour wool the wool shop stocked. ‘Oh well,’ thought Mrs. Duvell, before changing her request to “twelve balls of green then please.” Mittens were mittens at the end of the day and she assumed Vincent Jr wouldn’t mind what colour they were as long as his hands were warm. How very wrong she turned out to be.

On the morning of Vincent Jr’s eighth birthday Vincent Sr was proud as punch. He and his wife were up early and looking forward to the day ahead. As he stood by the fireplace writing the last few congratulatory words of Vincent Jr’s birthday card in his finest handwriting and inked with his most prestigious pen his wife hurried him along as they heard Vincent Jr’s dainty footsteps descending the stairs.

The card, fronted with a Monet landscape, read:

Dear Vincent Jr,

You are the light of our light bulb lit lives and make us so proud.
Happy birthday son!

Lots of love
Your loving parents

XXX

P.S. You have permission to get a pineapple tree shaved into the back of your cropped head. ;)

On stepping into the living room Vincent Jr was met with a hearty chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’, a gesture he responded to with little more than a cock-eyed blink and gaping yawn. The day before he’d looked forward to thrashing open his gifts but now he appeared vacant and uninterested, a state he’d started to occupy quite often.

He did little to hide this incuriousness and it crept across his face like a miserable stroke. Before long his parent’s ebullient greeting soon started to whimper and Vincent Sr sensed his son’s disenchantment. Wanting to provide a fatherly pick-me-up he tried to ruffle Vincent Jr's hair but instead triggered an exaggerated squeal and flailing reaction deserved for a man with hot pokers for hands, not a concerned dad.

“Can I just have my gifts now… please” Vincent Jr petulantly spat out as he shuddered into the corner of the room without making eye contact with either of his astonished parents.

Mrs. Duvell looked over to her husband. The look across Vincent Sr’s face was one she’d not witnessed in the thirty-five years they’d been together. It was a look of confused rage. She could tell it was boiling in the depths of his stomach, rising up his gullet and about to explode out of his mouth in a flurried assault. But it couldn’t. His heart wouldn’t let it. It sat in the way like a stubborn gatekeeper blocking the anger before injecting it with a loving concern and caressing it into the equivalent of a damp sock.

In order to quell the awkward silence that had befallen the living room, Mrs. Duvell quickly handed Vincent Jr the wicker basket she used to present his gifts.

After snatching the basket from his mother's quivering hands the increasingly manic Vincent Jr immediately started to squeeze and shake each of the exquisitely wrapped presents.

“Where are they?” He snapped, whilst nonchalantly dropping unwrapped present after unwrapped present on to the floor.

“W-w-where are what dear?!” replied Mrs. Duvell rather nervously, before glancing over at her husband who remained paralysed with shock at the unfolding events.

“The mittens I asked for. What do you think?!” screamed Vincent Jr, now sweating profusely, looking a slightly off shade of yellow and completely unable to hide his agitation.

“Well I didn’t decide to wrap them dear, I didn’t realize they meant so much to you, particularly on your bir...”

“Where. Are. THEY?!” screamed Vincent Jr, obnoxiously interrupting a now completely flabbergasted Mrs. Duvell.

Without further ado Mrs. Duvell hurried into the kitchen and picked up her crochet tin containing the ten pairs of green mittens before returning to the living room. Vincent Jr was squirming more than ever.

Wanting nothing more than this awful exchange to be over Mrs. Duvell plunged her hand into the tin as quickly as she could in order to retrieve the mittens and appease her son’s disgraceful attitude. It all seemed surreal and the fact Vincent Sr was still frozen to the same spot caused her as much concern as the state of her only son.

As she pulled the mittens from the tin, time seemed to slow down. On bringing them up, over the top and into Vincent Jr's view, his gleeful yet desperate expression started to crack and fall away revealing a look so pained, Benzo, the family dog who’d sat and witnessed this whole affair from the comfort of Vincent Sr’s antique rocking chair, vomited on the carpet and sniveled off into the corner.

What happened next would blemish the character of the Duvell family for eternity.

After being told the mittens were green due to there being no more maroon wool available, Vincent Jr collapsed, convulsed and shattered into a thousand pieces, before flaring up and detonating himself klabooey all over the nice paisley wall paper that adorned the Duvells front room.

His eyes bulged, his cheeks billowed and his lips pursed and wrinkled with rage, knotting his face into a vacuum of despair and curling the toes of his parents and pet dog as they witnessed this unexplained capitulation. The simultaneous tears they each bled represented fear, sadness and an unparalleled frustration.

After contorting his body into shapes unfamiliar to any normal human being, his human-physiology-defying tantrum soon turned to panic and in a curious act of mayhem he began running around the house pulling out every drawer and emptying every cupboard.

Screaming and shouting at the top of his voice Vincent Jr ran amok throughout the entire house, top to bottom. Fortunately however, and to both the relief and astonishment of Mrs. Duvell, it was one of these nonsensical screams that awoke Vincent Sr from his paralysis. After taking a minute to collect his thoughts and reacquaint himself to the mayhem he was a part of he duly started to chase Vincent Jr down.

As both Vincent Jr and Vincent Sr whizzed past Mrs. Duvell one after the other back and forth through the living room, Mrs. Duvell noticed Vincent Jr was clutching a handful of items he’d been collecting on his way around the house, but couldn’t quite make out what they were.

And then in a flash it was over. With a bang and a click.

Vincent Jr had managed to evade the clutches of his father, who to be fair was feeling a little shaky after the bout of numbness he’d just suffered, and scrambled into his bedroom, before slamming the door and locking it behind him. Vincent Sr was left sprawling and breathless as he disappointedly clasped a chunk of thin air rather than his eight-year-old's ankle. He slid back down the staircase in defeat.

On entering the living room Vincent Sr was met with the forlorn figure of his wife. The innocence of her greying curls, rosy cheeks and floral pinafore forever tainted by the episode that had just occurred.

Had it occurred? they had to ask themselves; for it was so alien, so obscure. They were the Duvells, one of the most prestigious families in the community, part of the backbone and history that made this place tick. This is what happens to the Hufflegumps’ or the Hoddings’s they thought, not the Duvells. Never.

As they surveyed the front room not a word was spoken and before they made plans to pursue their troubled son any further Mrs. Duvell decided to put the kettle on.

However, after placing two teabags into the teapot, it was then she noticed: where was the tea cosy? As quickly as this thought entered her head, the kettle boiled with the resulting whistle making her jump. She reached out to grab a tea towel to pick up the piping hot pot but they too had vanished. Bemused by the situation, she made do without the missing items and waddled back into the front room.

Whilst she’d been making the tea, Vincent Sr had found himself puzzled by a similar sequence of events. During the chase he’d lost one of his slippers, exposing only a socked left foot. Not being a man to dwell upon minor obstacles, he’d carried on and at one point had Vincent Jr within reach. In one swift movement however the young tyke hurdled over Benzo the dog, bounced off his father’s rocking chair and out the door. As Vincent Sr ambled up behind him he tripped over Benzo and stepped into the vomit the pet dog had left minutes earlier. This not only slowed down his attempts at capturing Vincent Jr but also simultaneously ensured he would take minor obstacles a little more seriously in future.

After Vincent Jr’s sprightly escape Vincent Sr had, like any decent man, decided a vomit soaked sock wasn’t going to help matters and went to his bedroom for a fresh pair. Like the rest of the house the room had been upturned, with the contents of his bedside drawers straggled across the floor. After searching for a good three minutes Vincent Sr came to realize all his socks were missing. How strange? On returning downstairs sockless and bemused, he and Mrs. Duvell proceeded to explain to each other their latest predicaments.


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