Dad just wants a quiet night in front of the tele, but when next-door starts playing loud music the evening takes a nasty turn. Emily Slade’s short story, ‘A Very British Rebellion,’ unites sharp dialogue with jolting images in an off-kilter tale about un-neighbourly hostilities.
When we sat down to watch Britain’s Got Talent, babbling laughter and beat-thump rock tunes came pumping through the wall.
‘Go easy, Ben,’ Mum smiled. ‘Admit it, his taste in music’s not half bad for a guy who wears flip-flops.’
That irritated Dad. ‘Tit. He’s drowning out the singing.’ He pointed to the tele.
‘Just go round. Tell him, Turn it down.’
Dad got on his feet and began striding up and down, muttering, ‘Why’s he doing this to me?’
‘Ben, he’s having friends over. Let’s go out for a drink.’
‘I will NOT be drummed out of my castle by Numb-Nuts next door!’
‘No one’s drumming. Honestly,’ Mum laughed lightly. ‘We’ve not heard a squeak off him. Have we, Hann?’ I shook my head. ‘He works shifts. It’s a wonder he’s never complained about the noise we make in the day times.’
Dad wasn’t listening. He crossed the rug and pounded the wall with both fists. The music carried on and on. He picked up a cushion, lobbed it against the wall and thundered out.
The music took a dip. Voices out front. I looked at Mum. She nibbled her lip. Then a door slammed and the music ramped up but no sign of Dad.
‘Think he’s joined the party?’ I joked.
I dreamt about giant clocks, ticking, and woke to Mr Neighbour, hammering on the front door. I opened up and found him there, standing in his work clothes. His head was tilted back and his Adam’s apple stuck out like an elbow joint.
‘This belong to you?’
He thrust a plastic bag towards me, opened out with both hands. His whole body trembled and I gasped, pulling back. There was rot and eyes and silver. I spotted five fish heads in the split second before the vile smell gripped me by the throat.
Mum appeared in her dressing gown.
‘This belong to you?’ Mr Neighbour looked at Mum this time. His eyes bulged, huge. Mum stared into the bag and covered her mouth.
‘Your father, he’s inside there now?’ he asked, turning to me.
Fish blood dripped through the air holes onto the doorstep.
‘What do you have to say?’
I looked at the blood spots on the floor, soaked in, spidery splodges. I looked up at his ID badge, the picture of his face, smiling.
‘NHS,’ I read, aloud. ‘So, you’re Doctor Numb-Nuts, then?’
‘Let me keep this brief,’ he said coolly, moving his head like a pigeon. ‘Somebody posted these fishes through my letterbox in the night. You can tell your father I am this close – ’ He held up a tiny gap between his thumb and finger, narrow as a whisper.
‘– this close to calling the police.’
And with that, he disappeared inside his house.
‘Now that, Hann,’ Dad told me later, ‘is how we wage war without getting our hands dirty.’
And we watched the doctor through my bedroom window, rubbing stains into concrete with a dishcloth.
Emily Slade is a singer-songwriter from North Hertfordshire. She completed a Masters in Creative Writing at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge in 2018. Emily’s currently working on her first piece of young adult fiction, Don’t Tell, a novel about a teenager trying to reconcile her love and fear for her dad, who has bipolar disorder.
A PDF copy of Emily’s story can be read here: