The Scrap Man
by Joanne Key
Highly Commended in the Bare Fiction Prize for Poetry 2016
Townsfolk said he kept scrap children in his shed,
the ones who wouldn’t do as they were told.
Any day of the week you could find tobacco tins
filled with their internal workings, spare parts:
marbles for eyes, star-shaped cogs and washers.
One man said he’d seen inside: walls lined
with clockwork hearts, jars of strange plasma,
each one with its own tiny rose blooming
through a cloud at the centre and shelves
stacked high with everything you could ever
need for making repairs: new skins and innards
for the ones that wouldn’t eat their greens,
puncture repair kits for any child who couldn’t
raise a smile, unctions for lazy bones and eyes.
The air in the shed was thick with the heady
chemistry of glue and resin. Alone and friendless,
they said God had seen fit to take the Scrapman’s
last chance at love, blessed him instead with a steady
drinking arm and a knack for salvage, the art
of fixing broken things, a way with strange creations.
A woman my mother knew swore she once saw him
make a Wendy House from off-cuts of nothing.
He took naughty children and harvested their spark,
folded limp skins on the cold slab at the back of the pantry,
locked their lifeless bodies in the shed where they lay
for days on end like forgotten toys, dusty puppets,
until he was sober enough to find a fix. Old wives said,
on Sundays he thought nothing of taking the heads off
chickens in that shed, that he once kept a dead cat
in there, and as a lad he killed the cockerel
that wouldn’t keep its trap shut. One night, I woke
in my sickbed to the shock of a cold sweat,
and weak with fever, creaked downstairs
out into the yard where I saw him for myself
through a crack in the fence, hard at work
welding a little metal skeleton together, a cat bell
tinkling in the space where its heart used to be.
Rusty voice calling out: Ma-Ma. Ma-Ma.
The Scrap Man was Highly Commended in the Bare Fiction Prize for Poetry 2016, as chosen by Helen Mort.