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WHY DON’T DINOSAURS LIVE IN SCOTLAND? by Philip Charter

21st June: Stirling Community Hospital:

Kid 1: Why don’t dinosaurs live in Scotland?

Kid 2: Errm. Maybe they got too old? They probably moved to somewhere hotter, like Spain.

Amazing isn’t it? Have you ever overheard an amazing conversation? One like this where both people keep checking around for eavesdroppers? One where the speakers are trying to unlock the secrets of the world like computer game cheat codes?

They’re around us every day. I hear ’em all. Nae word of a lie. It’s because I pay attention to people that most other adults think are stupid and silly. I’m talking about children’s discussions—not like the show on the telly Kids Say the Funniest Things. I mean the moments when boring grownups aren’t around.

I’m nae supposed to keep secrets from Mum, or from Mr. Robertson, my counsellor, but I write down the interesting things I hear, and read them back every night. It’s personal. Sometimes I add in the things that I would say if I was allowed to make friends with them. It probably seems odd, a grown man paying so much attention to the wee ones, but I miss having a social life. I’m all alone. I’m thrity-two next month, and since the accident, it’s only me and Ma.

Most of the stuff people talk about on TV dunnae interest me—the national debt, which foods have too much oil, the crisis in Yemen (wherever that is). It’s just a big worry. I dunnae care if the rest of them on the estate call me Jilted Johnny and say I deserve what happened to me. Children dunnae judge you. So, I’ll stick to what I like. I prefer to watch school programs, learning about things like the planets and the dinosaurs.

* * *

30th May: Arnold Cross Newsagent.

“Do yous want one?” says the freckly one.

It could be the first time they share without anyone telling them to. His older sister tells him penny sweets are for babies and that she’s saving up for a magazine. That wasn’t very nice. I’d share money with him if I had any, but Mum keeps the money.

Kids always talk about subjects I can recognise straight away. It’s like being an expert for once, an older brother. Their lives aren’t complicated like the rest of the world. These days Ma has to help me with even the simplest things, like remembering to flush the bog after I go. I never was the cleverest, but the accident has made me worse. I forget things, and Mum doesn’t like me going out alone. She’s always worrying about my next CT scan, or that the government wants to take my disability cheque away. It must be hard for her to look after me; I weigh three times what she does. There’s a lot of concrete steps up to our flat because the lift is usually broken. And she had to pay for a sit-down bath ’cause the doctors said I might fall down and bang me head. That’s the last thing I need after the accident put me in a coma.

The park is busy today. It’s cold and I forgot to bring gloves with me. I’ve taken my notebook and gone out for a bit of freedom while Mum’s at Morrisons. I cannae drive any more. Not after the policemen took away my licence. I don’t remember doing anything wrong. Anyway, Ma’s taken the car. There’s no need for her to panic though. I’m nae talking to anyone. That’s what gets me in trouble, like last time when the park warden said I was using inappropriate language. I said he was an unappropriate idiot and pushed the tosser. Mum had to talk the policeman out of charging me. “He’s been through a lot,” she said. “Brain trauma is a terrible affliction.” I’ll stay out of trouble this time—just sitting and listening, and looking through my notebook.

Most of the entries dunnae make sense to other people. My writing isn’t exactly legible, but I know what the little ones are thinking, how they are trying to understand the things around them. It’s not that different from me when Mum puts BBC World News on our telly. I dunnae understand a thing, so I just watch the two ticker bars at the bottom of the screen, going different speeds.

* * *

3rd June: High Street.

The lady went to buy cigarettes and told the kids not to move. Now they’ve seen a curly haired dog.

“Shall we see the dog?” asks the smaller one. “What do ye say?”

“Let’s wait for your ma?” His friend folds his arms.

“But the wee doggy is going.”

It’s risk versus reward. They look at each other, then to the shop, trying to guess how long the mum will be. In the end the bigger one stays and lets his friend stroke the dog.

I wish we had a dog, a funny curly one. Nobody ever suspects someone with a dog of doing anything wrong. You’d be more successful robbing a bank with a dog than with a gun.

It’s Saturday, so the High Street is quite busy with families rushing to and fro. The old lady sitting next to me asks what I’m writing. Maybe she thinks I’m a reporter from the local paper. When I tell her I’m just writing what the little ones are saying, she frowns and goes back to her magazine. It’s not just her, a lot of people think the same—an overweight guy with a windbreaker and a speech impediment. I must be up to no good.

Well, dunnae worry. The accident might have mucked me up, but I’m nae like that. Mothers gather in groups, holding umbrellas, ready to hit me in case I try something. They dunnae know what it’s like to have no family. The locals dunnae like me neither; they tell me to move on. “On your way Jilted Johnny.” On my way where? Where am I supposed to go without any transport or any money? No wonder I get lost so much. I dunnae know where I’m supposed to be going.

Taking out a notebook to the children’s playground is worse than taking out a lock knife. The only conversations I get to hear these days is the gossip about me. He used to have his own family… poor mother… never been the same. Apparently children’s privacy is worth more than mine.

Last month, a concerned parent called the police. The officers asked me all kinds of questions about who I was and what I was doing. Now, the benches outside the school where I used to go every day are carefully patrolled. I’d sit there with my ice tea (the shop won’t sell me booze), then the lollipop lady would glare and the old P.E. coach would shoo me away.

I had an idea how to make some pals. When I was a boy, I used to talk to my pals on ham radio. Mum got mine from the attic yesterday. It’s big and heavy, and had “Cody” and “Michael” written in Tipp-Ex on the top. Funny, I don’t remember who they are, or what their call signs were. When we got it working, nobody tuned in.

Why do some people think they know it all? Yesterday, I was having my weekly scan. The doctors gave all these leaflets to Mum. They wouldn’t let me look. Even more stuff I’m not supposed to know about. One thing I do know is I’m nae getting much better.

We’re back here, at the hospital now. I’m reading the National Geographic magazines in the waiting room, next to where they keep the building blocks and toys. It’s so bright inside, not like the grey outside. There are so many posters on the walls I dunnae have time to read them all. Mum is talking to the know-it-alls. Now, two little boys came over to play and one picks up a T-Rex figure. It reminds me of something, the two lads and their dinosaur… other boys with toys, and a car journey.

* * *

21st June: Stirling General Hospital

Kid 1: Why don’t dinosaurs live in Scotland?

Kid 2: Errm. Maybe they got too old? They probably moved to somewhere hotter, like Spain.

I know I shouldn’t talk to the wee ones, but I cannae resist. “Eh, yous two. Take a look at this,” I say, finding the page about the meteor strike that killed them all out.

They are interested, and scramble up onto my chair to get a better look at the pictures. “First these big buggers,” I say, pointing to a Diplodocus, “then the meteor—Boom! Then us.” They laugh at my impressions, and I feel like a teacher rather than a dunce for once. We talk about films, but they haven’t seen Jurassic Park. They are too young. We make friends and I tell them about my radio call signal. They say tablets are better.

When Mum comes out, she’s got red eyes and looks like she did when she stopped taking sugar in her tea. There is a man in a suit with a clipboard too. Maybe he’s applying for a job. I tell my new pals that’s my mum and they skittle off back to the toys.

“This magazine has got pages about the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs,” I say.

Mum looks angry. “Bloody dinosaurs again.” She gets something out of her coat pocket. A family photograph. “Look at them, Johnny. Remember? Your boys loved dinosaurs.”

I try to feel sad, but I’m not a dad.

“They’re dead, love. Three years and you still can’t remember.” She turns to the smart man. “I can’t do this.” Mum holds my hand and tells me she cannae look after me anymore. I’m not going to get better. “We don’t know what you’re capable of, Johnnie. Don’t you see? You cannae control yourself.”

“But I’d never hurt people,” I say, a tear forming. Why am I crying? I hold the photograph, but I dunnae recognize the woman smiling back at me, and the two boys look nothing like my new friends. There’s a man who looks like my thinner brother. But I dunnae have a brother.

“Are you still angry because I grabbed the cashier in the supermarket when she laughed?”

She sits down next to me and sighs. “No, luvvie. Of course not.”

I have an idea. “Can I invite my new friends to tea?” I say.

The man with the clipboard writes something down and raises his eyebrows at Mum.

Over the next few minutes, Mum explains it’s best for everyone if I live at Grange Manor. That’s bullshite—it’s not best for me. I dunnae even remember discussing it before, but she says we have. I reckon there won’t be many interesting conversations there, just more rules.

While we are signing the paperwork, they smile at me, all encouraging, like I’m taking a hard test. I know they’re tricking me, like when the boys on the estate took my shoes and socks off me.

“I’ll get your things from the car, love,” says Mum.

“But how long will I be away for? I dunnae want to miss the Proms in the park.”

She says she’ll see me soon.

I try to remember the last time that I went on holiday without her, but before the accident is just a missing file. Mum goes, and I go with the man to check into my new home. It’s a bit like a hospital, but no one’s family are waiting for them, and there are no National Geographic magazines. Everything is plain and grey, and the big windows have bars. It’s very warm and sleepy but not in a cosy way. The rooms are full, but the corridors are empty. A woman goes around with a trolley and gives me dinner on a tray.

I comfort myself by thinking that Mum is coming to visit soon. Everyone is nervous around me, because I’m a stranger. What happened to thinking the best of people and being kind? I dunnae feel dangerous, but the smart man (who is my new counsellor) said I need to be careful and measured. Am I an accident waiting to happen, like a meteor hurtling towards Earth?

The worst thing about Grange Manor is my drab bedroom. There’s no posters or figures. During my first night, I wake up with a colossal crash. Nope, I cannae move. I hear silence, then slowly, my ears adjust and I hear the passing sounds of traffic and the hiss of steam. Then far off sirens and a pain in my neck. I haul myself upright, clambering out of the bed, breathing heavy. My brain feels foggy. Some ambulance people are talking to me. “This way please… Are you on any medication?… How much have you had to drink?” I search for a pen; I need to write this down. “Just lie back,” they say, “we’ll get you straight to Stirling General.”

“But what about them,” I say. “I have to…”

Looking back I see the car is squashed in half. The paramedic stands with his hands on his hips.

If I can find a pen, I’ll write this. It’s still dark. My hand scrabbles around on top of the dresser, searching, then I remember my notebook is locked in my top cupboard drawer at home, with Ma. Without it, I won’t remember this dream, or any of the conversations in it. I dunnae know when I’ll see it again.

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AUTHOR BIO:

Philip Charter is a writer who lives and works in Pamplona, Spain. He is tall, enjoys travel, and runs the imaginatively named website “Tall Travels.” His work has been featured in Storgy, Carillon, and Flash Fiction Magazine, among other publications.

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WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Why Don’t Dinosaurs Live In Scotland?”

When a writer elects to take us into the head and thoughts of a challenging character to portray, we appreciate the effort. Author Philip Charter has done a superb job not only of bringing his character to life but also of evoking strong emotions in the reader that are absent in the character.