One A Day: Day 8: Only odd balls eat Black Jacks


Only Odd Balls Eat Black Jacks


“A’way kiddo, les go get some sweets.” Gemma never wears shoes in summer. She runs barefoot everywhere. Once, when she fell asleep on the sofa, with her legs resting on my legs, I touched the soles of her feet really softly. They felt as rough as rocks which jut out of cliffs at the beach. I don’t have it in me to go barefoot. I would stand in dog muck straight away. But her hands are soft, like the towels in the airing cupboard when Mam has used nice detergent. I like to climb inside the airing cupboard and wrap myself up in towels. It’s the warmest place in the house. We need to run most of the way to the shop, because the pavement is hot. We walk slower when we’re in the shade. My shoes are two times too big, but they used to be Gemma’s and they’re much nicer than any of the ones Mam has bought me from Wynsors World of Shoes, so I wear them anyway, with a couple of pairs of socks.

“Hello girlies.” Packy John’s smile is as white and as wide as the moon. He turns around and takes down the jar of black jacks before Gemma even asks.

“Ten pence bag, ta,” Gem says, putting a new, shiny ten pence on the counter. Gem turns to me. “What do you want kiddo?”

“Fruit Salads, please,” I say, it really nicely. Using two hands, Packy John twists the two top corners of Gem’s small, white, paper bag. He then pours fruit salads into a bag for me. I’ve been holding my ten pence tight all the way from home, so it’s hot and sweaty when I hand it over to Packy John. I’m allowed one sweet on the way back, so I don’t ruin my tea. We take the long way through the park and I suck my fruit salad rather than chewing it. I can make it last much longer that way. Gem never gets anything other than Black Jacks. I remember once though, ages ago, she got a mix up (before she started on the Black Jacks) with Fried Eggs and Shrimps and Coconut Mushrooms and Bon Bons. But she’s never had them since. The Black Jacks make her teeth and tongue black. Dad always says the same thing when we get in with our sweets.

“Only odd balls eat Black Jacks.”  I never liked Black Jacks. The taste wasn’t dreamy like a Rhubarb and Custard Bon Bon or exciting and tangy like a Fruit Salad. I can’t understand why people would want to eat something so tarry and nasty.


“Where’s Mam? Dad?”

“Out.” We know better than to ask more. Dad gets in a right mood if we ask loads of questions. It was only last week when me and Gem went to Packy Johns and she had bare feet. Now it’s started to rain loads, and leaves cover the pavement, making a thick, sloppy mess. Gem has started wearing shoes now so she doesn’t catch anything.

“Go and get your stuff ready for gymnastics, lass,” dad says, pointing towards the stairs. I haven’t finished my dinner yet.

“But Dad I’m still hungry.”

“Go. I need to help your sister with her homework.” Gem is fiddling with the Black Jack in front of her plate. She always has one on her. Dad is in some massive hurry to get me to gymnastics. Mam has the car so he has to walk me there. I want to remind him it’s not the school holiday so Gem won’t have any homework.


When I get home, Dad has smashed up the living room. Mam is back. She’s at the table with the phone in one hand, a cuppa in the other, mascara running down her cheeks. Gem has gone. The Black Jack she had at dinner is still on the table. There is a bottle of Ketchup next to it, broken and oozing red sauce onto the creased table cloth. Mam will never be able to get that out.


The next few months and my head and belly feel like they’re playing host to fairground rides. It wasn’t Gem’s fault. She was never about causing pain to anyone. She left home because she needed to. She would have had a good reason, and she did take the fimo whale I made for her yonks ago, with the wonky fin. Nobody can find Gem and after a while, people lose interest. Something new comes on the telly. Dad walks around red faced and angry for years, until his heart stops. Me and Mam are the only ones at the funeral. The rain that fell that day broke the umbrella and ruined our ‘funeral’ hair. Packy John dies the same week. Something wrong with his brain. Hundreds of people turn up for his funeral. The people there praise everything. They celebrate the sixty nine years Packy John spent on earth and the flapping of a butterfly’s wings.  Gem comes to the funeral. Me and Mam don’t know what to do, so we all just hug in a circle.

“I don’t have any Black Jacks,” is the only things I can say.

“I always preferred Fruit Salads anyway, kiddo.”