First line: 'Not like that...' - Winner

Damien McKeating

Let Me Do It
First line: 'Not like that...'


Damien has come to terms with the fact that there will never be a complete Lego set in the house again, and ‘Let Me Do It’ is his testament to that. He has short stories published across numerous anthologies and magazines, and is currently working on self-publishing his first novel. He is fond of corvids and is currently the oldest he has ever been.

Let Me Do It By Damien McKeating

“Not like that.” Dad hunkered down next to me. “Here, let me do it.” He took the pieces out of my hands, overlapped the holes in the metal pieces, slid the screw in and put the nut on the back.
“I can do it,” I said. Of course I could do it. It was my birthday present. Why would it be a present for me if I couldn’t do it?
“I think it’s too old for you,” Dad said.
He held more pieces in place, his massive hands moving with a swift precision. He didn’t even use the little tools that came with the set; he tightened everything up with his fingers. Those long fingers, crowned with callouses, roughened from a lifetime of taking apart engines, building wardrobes, and turning his hand to any job in the house.
“Let me do it,” I said.
“Hang on.”
He moved so quickly. I’d barely begun to get the body of the helicopter together, but he was already slotting the battery powered engine into place. I’d been looking forward to that part. The thought of seeing those helicopter blades spin around had my stomach flipping with excitement.
“It’s too tricky for you,” Dad said. “You should have started with something easier, like the motorbike.”
But the motorbike didn’t use the engine. It wouldn’t go all by itself.
“It’s mine,” I said.
“Let him do it,” Mum’s voice cut in from across the room as she lifted her gaze from the TV guide.
Dad grumbled something, but he went back to his armchair.
My present was all mine again. I went to work on the pieces but couldn’t get them to fit. I’d lost my place in the instructions and couldn’t make sense of what Dad had done. Had he skipped parts? The thing in my hands didn’t look like the picture in step seven.
I could feel tears forming behind my eyes. Frustration made my throat tight. I blinked and swallowed. I didn’t want him to see. I didn’t want him to be right.
I tried to get two pieces to fit and they slipped, coming apart with a metallic crash, slapping across my hand. It hurt. Not badly, but enough. The tears started to come and a choking sob betrayed me.
“See, I told you,” Dad said, shifting his bulk to lean over my disaster.
That was too much. I ran out of the room.
I don’t remember ever building that helicopter. I think they gave the set away to a charity shop.

I checked myself in the mirror again. I didn’t think it was cool to do that, but I wanted to make sure I looked as good as I could be. My hair was up in jagged spikes, my t-shirt laced with safety pins, and my jeans ripped. The hair had taken a long time. I hadn’t realised how much effort could go into looking careless and casual.
It was my first gig. Well, sort of. The first time I’d been to see a band I wanted to see. I’d seen groups at the Working Men’s Club, but that wasn’t the same. We were only there because Dad liked to watch the football and sometimes we stayed late. But this time, tonight, it was my choice.
Charlotte, Charlie, was going to be there. The thought of the gig made me excited and the thought of her being there made me… more excited? With a dose of terror? She was always effortlessly cool. And beautiful. And funny. And so clever I knew she could see through me every time I tried too hard.
“Get changed,” Dad said from my doorway.
“Get out,” I said.
My voice was too loud, too harsh. I could hear it, but I couldn’t stop it. I already knew it got Dad riled up. He didn’t like backchat.
“I’m not taking you like that,” he said.
“Mum’s dropping me off,” I turned to the mirror, pretending to adjust one of my spikes. In truth there was so much gel on it, I wasn’t sure my hair would ever move again.
“Have you seen this?” Dad gestured at me as Mum appeared in the doorway.
Mum nodded, nonplussed. “Remember when you turned up on your motorbike with long hair and an earring.” She gave me a smile. “I thought Grandad Tom was going to put him through the wall. Be ready in five,” she added, disappearing downstairs, her contribution over.
I turned to face Dad. He was still standing in the door. He was big. He loomed without meaning to, a huge man shaped by years of physical labour.
“I’m going,” I said.
“Is this all for that girl?” He asked. “Give it up, lad. You’ll find someone better a little down the line, that’s how it always goes. Young love never lasts.”
“Thanks,” I said.
I went to walk past him. He put a hand on my chest to stop me. It wasn’t aggressive, it wasn’t an attack, but it was there all the same.
“Look at what you’re doing to yourself,” he said. His voice was pitched low but it was filled with tension, disgust on his face. “It’s just a phase,” he said.
“Let me do it my way,” I said.
I didn’t move his hand. I just kept walking. His hand slid across my chest and dropped away. I went down the stairs without looking back.
That night, Charlie kissed me for the first time.
But I can’t think about it without remembering that argument.

“Bring me the paint and I’ll start on the nursery,” Charlie called from upstairs.
“A woman in your condition should be taking it easy,” I joked. Half-joked. I was crazy with worry about her.
“A woman in my condition will kick your backside if you say that again,” she shot back.
I gave in, which was a foregone conclusion where Charlie was concerned. I found my way through the maze of packing boxes and took the paint up to the nursery. Charlie had her rainbow-dyed hair tied up, her face bright, eyes twinkling with mischief.
I negotiated the bump and kissed her.
“It’s ours,” she said, her gaze flitting around the room to suggest the whole house.
“We did it.”
A thump from downstairs made me wince. I felt a cold lump settle in my stomach. “Better go check on that,” I said.
I knew what it would be. Dad was here. He was at work on a light switch, unscrewing the cover, the heavy toolbox at his feet the source of the bump.
“Power’s off,” he said as he noticed me arrive “Got to rip these wires out. Whole house probably needs doing.”
“Dad, we’ve got someone coming to quote us for the work.”
“Rip you off for thousands,” he said. “I can do this, and replaster the wall for you.”
“We want to do it,” I said. “We can do it.”
His hands shook a little as he worked. He bent down to his toolbox and gave a groan, leaning to favour his bad hip. He was still massive, still shaped by a lifetime of manual labour, like erosion on a mountain.
“It’s our house, Dad,” I tried to argue.
“It’ll still be your house when your electrics aren’t a death trap,” he shot back.
I gave in. I always did when it came to Dad. I stayed a moment, feeling my throat get tight, feeling the words get stuck there. My chest was hot, and I was caught somewhere between wanting to scream and wanting to hit him. Maybe both.
I shuffled away to the kitchen, feeling my mood dip. The house was ours, our beautiful family home, pending a little work. But it looked like there was no keeping people away.
“Soon be sorted,” Mum said. She dominated the kitchen. Most of the boxes were unpacked and away in drawers. The kitchen needed a full refurb, but that could wait a little while. “Nothing like being able to make a good meal and a nice cup of tea to help you settle in.”
“We can do the work,” I said.
“I don’t mind.”
“I know. But. It’s just. Dad’s doing everything. He’s turned off the electrics.” I gestured towards the circuit box, the gesture feeling grandiose and pathetic all at once. I realised I sounded mad about someone helping me. He always managed to twist me around.
“It’s how he shows he cares,” Mum said. She reached out and touched my arm. “We’ve got no money to help you buy, but we can do things around the place. Your Dad doesn’t say I love you. He just fixes your leaking taps.”
I couldn’t help but smile.
“I’ll make a cuppa,” said Mum. She flicked on the kettle. “Oh, the blooming electrics off,” she grumbled.
I felt kinder towards Dad after that.

Thomas sat on the floor, legs splayed out, bits and pieces of his construction kit gathered around him in a disorganised mess.
“I can’t find it,” he said.
“It’s here. See?” I crouched next to him and held up the piece.
I watched him work, his chubby toddler fingers struggling with the pieces.
“That doesn’t go there,” I said.
I reached out, took the pieces from him, and clipped them together. Thomas tried to take them back. “Hang on,” I said, hoping to do a few more pieces and set him right.
“Dad,” he complained. “Let me do it.”
I froze. In that moment, Thomas took the pieces back and carried on building. I dropped down onto my backside next to him and watched him build with all the carefree abandon of someone discovering the world for the first time.
Whatever he built, however it turned out, it would be his.
“Look,” he said, holding up his creation proudly.
I had no idea what it was.
“Good work,” I said, blinking back tears. “You do it your way.”
Thomas smiled and went back to work.

Judges Comments

Change is vital part of any story, and Damien McKeating shows great awareness of points of change and how they shapes narrative in 'Let Me Do It', the winner of WM's First Line Short Story Competition. The theme is the relationship with an overbearing father, illustated by episodes from a particular point in the first-person narrator's life.

Each of the four key moments are told as snapshot scenes from the viewpoint of its narrator, who we see as a child, a young man, a man making a home for his family and lastly as the father of a young son. The first sets the tone: the know-all father who takes over the child's building process, in the process destroying his son's confidence. Next we see the father trying to impose his own will on the son and the act of resistance that results; later, we see the son, now grown, beginning to come to terms with his father's ways. Finally, we're shown the narrator with his own son, consciously not repeating the process his own father used in dealing with the child's efforts at assembling a kit.

The four scenes are very effective: everything happens in the showing, leaving the reader to imply the overarching theme. Pictures are very revealing, and each of the four snapshots here are really well-set out so that the reader can see everything they need to create an image of what's going on - on the surface and below the surface. This is a story full of well-deployed craft, used so skillfully that it's seamless and barely noticeable, all in the service of a tale that hits home.



Runner up and shortlisted:
The runner-up in WM’s First Line Short Story Competition is Ellen Evers, Congleton. Read her entry here:
Also shortlisted were: Dominic Bell, Hull; Michael Callaghan, Clarkston, Glasgow; Fiona Cooper, Ashford, Surrey; Maria Dean, Thackley, Bradford; Pippa Dore, Ballymote, Co Sligo; Christine Griffin, Hucclecote; Alyson Hilbourne, Carlisle, Cumbria; Deborah Hugill, Northallerton, Yorkshire; Alison Luke, Garforth, Leeds; Denarii Peters, King’s Lynn, Norfolk; Peter Richardson, Leeds; Melanie Rowsell-Docherty, North Walsham, Norfolk; Charlotte Trump, Chard, Somerset.