Short Story: The Binoculars




Kevin craved the binoculars, a 40th birthday gift for Father from Mother. For two weeks he fantasized about spying on the farmer who wore size14 boots and once carried a sheep under each arm through a bog.

He crept through the doorway, watching them pack books into boxes. Somehow, he had to get his hands on the binoculars today.

His mother’s ginger ponytail fell over her front as she turned on the stepladder, handing an encyclopaedia to Jody.

“Mum, I’m bored. Why can’t I help?”

“I told you, Kev, there’s no room, love.”

“I’m always left out.”

“That’s not true, Kevin.”

Jody glanced up from her kneeling position. The teeth braces and diminutive stature made her appear younger than sixteen.

“Why aren’t you out playing with your friends, Kev?”

“They’ve gone fishing. Fishing’s cruel. They never catch anything, anyway.”

Jason took the last screw from the corner shelf and lifted it from the wall.

“The Man City game kicks off at half two.”

“They’re rubbish. United put three on ’em last week.”

“You don’t half take some pleasing, Kev”

“Like you then, aren’t I?”

“Shut up, dunce.”

“You shut up, bighead.”

“That’s enough, the pair of you,” Mother cut in. “Let’s not have any bickering today, or we’ll be here until twelve o’clock tonight.”

Jody wrapped her arm around Kevin’s shoulders, but he’d spotted her wink at Jason.

“Come on Kev: just think, from tomorrow, you’ll have your own bedroom. No more big brother keeping you awake snoring, aye, Kev?”

“Mum.”

“What?”

“Can I look through Dad’s spying glasses for a little minute?”

“Hell, Kevin, he’s hardly used them. They’ll be too big for you. I’ll buy you a smaller pair for your birthday.”

“But Mum, I’m not 10 until – July, August, September, October, November December – that’s six months, Mum. Please, Mum.”

“I’m not going to get any peace, am I? Right, you can use them, but only in the garden. Whatever you do, don’t you dare take them into the field, Kevin. They cost me a bloody fortune. Be careful with them and you make sure you put them back before five.”

“Okay, Mum. Thanks Mum.”

The ploy hadn’t worked. To spy on Big H he needed to take them into the field behind his garden. No one liked Big H. Kevin’s Dad thought him an oddball. People called him different names, like ‘Lurch’, and ‘the freak’. His size alone scared people. Old folk said he was a gentle giant before the war. He always wore a donkey jacket and a pork-pie hat with a feather in it.

His wide chin and stubble reminded Kevin of Desperate Dan. Kevin loved to caricature people. Not his dad though, whose hairstyle and spectacles replicated John Lennon’s, long before he’d won that fancy dress competition.

Kevin often played around the trees by the farmer’s property. Sometimes, he watched him from the oak tree. He kept his distance though, ever since that time he’d climbed over his hedge to retrieve a football, when Big H threatened him with his Alsatian and called him a scrawny ginger runt.

Kevin took the spying glasses from the shed, but when he peered through them, it was all blurry. He turned a knob on the top and saw the maggies next to him. It was like magic because they were really about ten houses away.

His mother kept poking her head through the window to check on him, but he had a plan to escape her. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? The next time she looked, he ambled back into the shed, pulling the door half closed. He shot to the tiny window, flicked the latch, lowered the glasses over the fence by the strap and dropped them into the ferns, before nonchalantly returning to the garden for a kick about.

He saw her from the corner of his eye, so he strolled through the gate into the field. He reached the slope and slid down until she couldn’t see him from the house. He crept back up a different way. At the top he crawled through the ferns like a commando, grabbed the glasses and crawled back down.

Near the farm he climbed his favourite tree and imagined himself a king. King Kevin. He settled into a comfortable position in the fork of two branches, but the wind made it hard to hold the glasses still and brought the smell of dung into the tree. He tensed up: the lens fetched a close-up of the oddball inside the barn. To his left, part of an old-fashioned plough. Two wooden wheels hung from the wall above. Further along there was a huge saw, a wooden handle at each end. A horse saddle hung next to a tin bath. What did he use the strangely-shaped blue and green bottles on the ground for? He noted an old cabinet, some doors and a couple of chairs with jackets slung over. A rotting staircase stood in the corner.

He zoomed back in on the giant, watching him whistle and wave at his terrier. The dog ran down the stairs with a necklace in its mouth. Kevin gasped when the dog squeezed through the cat flap of a manky door, leaped onto a chair and swiped a brown wallet from the inside pocket of a jacket. Immersed, he lost track of time, and spied until his little arms ached.

He arrived home a few minutes before his father, managing to sneak the binoculars back through the shed window unnoticed.

Kevin didn’t get another opportunity to use his dad’s binoculars: at their new home, they were stored in a locked drawer, the key kept around Father’s neck. Still, Kevin tried in vain to pick the lock with a pair of tweezers and a screwdriver. When he asked his mother if he could borrow them to observe a buzzard, she told him she didn’t possess a spare key to the drawer, but that in a few weeks’ time he’d have his own binoculars.

On his birthday, Kevin took the gift from the box. He sniffed it, and rolled his forefinger around the lens. He looked at the window and knew the rain would ruin his day.

Some solace came a day later when his father mentioned the big man’s name.

“Well, what did he do, Dad?”

“I have no idea, Son. Uncle Bob just rung us to say there are police and a sniffer dog at the farm and he’s been taken away in handcuffs.”

Kevin grabbed his binoculars, jumped on his bike and peddled off. His mother called after him.

“Kevin, you haven’t eaten your breakfast.”

He rode through their old communal gate and braked by the oak tree. In his haste to find the best vantage point, he slipped not once, but twice in the mud. Undeterred, he hurried up to the hedge and found a gap to peep through. A policewoman stood outside the farm speaking into her radio, as a policeman and dog emerged from the barn. The cabinet, chairs and the door with the cat flap were gone. The staircase was missing too. A ladder stood in its place, stretching up to another floor, which he hadn’t noticed the last time. What had Big H done?

By the time he arrived back home, rumours had spread around the estate. The farmer had been linked to the disappearance of a gold watch, the details of which, made Kevin squirm.


He lost interest in the binoculars, and tried to forget about what he’d seen in the barn. The memories resurfaced on the day of Big H’s trial. He got up early and ate breakfast with his parents.

“I’ve wagered the Boss a fiver that he’ll be acquitted. He reckons he’s guilty. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’d love to get one over on him, prove him wrong.”

His mother swallowed her coffee and looked up from the crossword puzzle.

“It sounds like you’re still bitter over that promotion.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s the arrogance of the man.”

“He’s not that bad, is he?”

“You must be joking. He wouldn’t admit he was wrong about something if his life depended on it.”

Kevin’s conscience troubled him that night. A part of him wanted to tell his parents about what he’d witnessed, but he knew he’d be in trouble if he did so.

On the second day of his trial, Jody said something unexpected.

“You’ve been a bit quiet lately, Kev. Is everything all right?”

“Yeah. Why shouldn’t it be?”

“Okay Kev, only asking. No need to bite my head off.”

He kept the headphones on the rest of the day.

He overheard the conversation between his parents the next morning.

His father said, “They only deliberated for half hour. If you ask me, the police should be in the dock for charging him in the first place. It’s a waste of public money.”

“Isn’t it strange though that half the residents said they had things missing?”

“Yes, Jen, but isn’t it even more strange that not one of them complained to the police before he’d been charged?’

“But they came forward after he’d been charged, so why didn’t they charge him with any other offences?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? They had no evidence .Because they all made it up! Look, never mind about those clowns, all I want is my fiver. For once in my life, I can’t wait to see that smug face on Monday morning.”

Once his parents had left the house, Kevin picked up the paper and took it to his bedroom.

The headline said: BIZARRE DOG CRIME CASE – MAN FOUND NOT GUILTY.

At Newport Crown Court yesterday, 57-year-old Henry Robert Johnson was found not guilty of an extraordinary theft-related incident which had been allegedly perpetrated by the defendant’s dog, a 3-year-old terrier, named Titch.

The prosecution alleged that, in the early hours of December 11,1972, Johnson, a Second World War Veteran, procured his dog to enter a property in Pontypool, South Wales, via a cat flap, to ‘steal whatever small valuable item happened to be readily available’.

Johnson denied the charge against him, describing it as ‘trumped up and ridiculous’.

The trial, which lasted two days, was reduced to farce when a jury member was admonished by the judge and subsequently dismissed, for bursting into uncontrollable laughter when the key witness described how he’d seen the dog running away from the back door of a neighbour’s house with a gold watch in its mouth and leap into the back of the defendant’s moving Land Rover.

Charlotte Hughes-Rees, defending, objected when the witness told the court that other residents had complained of items mysteriously missing from their homes at night during the six month period leading up to Johnson’s arrest.

During cross examination, the witness offered no satisfactory explanation regarding why he’d waited until the next morning to inform the neighbour about the incident, and indeed, after the missing watch was mentioned. Hughes-Rees alluded to the witnesses’ failing eyesight, and produced a local weather report which stated that, at the time of the alleged incident, weather conditions were atrocious and visibility poor.

Richard Newbury, prosecuting, said that Johnson had ‘persistently and vehemently’ objected to the construction of the estate where the alleged crime occurred. He described Johnson as a ‘hostile character’ who was ‘as sly as a fox’, and a person who ‘harboured a grudge against the whole community’.

During her closing speech, the defending barrister said the case against Johnson, who suffered from shell shock and who had donated hundreds of pounds to Veterans’ charities, was ‘tantamount to a witch hunt’. She described the testimony of the key witness as being ‘wholly unconvincing and the stuff of fairy…’

He stopped reading at that point, having grasped the basics.

Kevin worried more that night. He fell asleep with the chorus of early birds, and awoke to Jody’s face.

“Kevin, what’s wrong? I heard you scream.”

“I…I had a nightmare.”

“You’re soaked in sweat, poor thing, come here.”

“It was about…Big H.”

“Oh, charming. Can you remember what happened in the nightmare?”

“He caught me spying on him from the oak tree. He stood at the bottom aiming a gun at me; said if I moved an inch, he’d shoot me. His dogs were there too, barking at me. He started sawing the tree down with a chainsaw... I must have woken up then.”

“Christ, I know he’s a creepy bloke, Kev, but I wonder what brought that on.”

“The thing is I did spy on him, Jody I did. And he did do it. He is guilty. I know he is because I saw him practicing…”

“It’s okay, calm down, Kev. Sit up and take some deep breaths. Here, wipe your eyes with this.”

“I keep thinking about it all the time and I don’t know what to do.”

“Okay, listen to me. I want you to start from the beginning and tell me what’s been going on.”

He took a deep breath in, held it for a moment, and puffed it out.

“It started the day before we moved house, when I borrowed Dad’s binoculars. I know I shouldn’t have taken them into the field, but I did. That’s the day I spied on Big H from the tree. I stayed there for ages. I thought he was teaching the dog how to do tricks, but now I know he was practising.”

“What do you mean, Kev, practising?”

“He kept hiding a necklace and a wallet in the barn. Then he sent his dog to find them and bring them back to him. Every time he sent the dog to find something, he made it go through a cat flap first.”

“Are you saying he had a door in the barn with a cat flap in it?”

“Yes. It was stuck between the wall and a cabinet.”

“And you’re sure it was a cat flap?”

“Jody, I know what a cat flap looks like. But he must have got rid of it, because I went down there that day the cops took him away and it wasn’t there.”

“I can’t believe this, Kevin. It’s… surreal. And that horrible farmer has got away with it. God knows what else he’s got away with.”

“What am I going to do, Jode?”

“You can’t let this go on, Kev. I think you’ll have to tell Mum and Dad.”

He winced.

“You’re worried about Dad, aren’t you?”

He nodded

“What do you think he’ll do?”

“When I got caught scrumping, he said he’d ground me for a month if I got into trouble again. I wanted to tell them the day before yesterday, but I was too scared.”

“Kev, he says things. You know what he’s like. He used to say the same to our Jason, but he never did it.”

He swallowed, and asked, “Where are they?”

“They popped to the shop. I think I just heard the car pull up outside. Let me go and talk to them. Stay up here a minute.”

He shoved a finger in his earholes and waited on the bed.

Jody appeared by the door and beckoned him downstairs.

Wearing pyjamas and a sheepish look, he trailed Jody into the lounge. Father leaned on the windowsill with a red face. Mother stood in the middle of the room, arms folded.

“I warned you not to take those binoculars into the field, Kevin Now look where it’s got you. What have you got to say for yourself?”

“Sorry.”

“You knew that sodding farmer was going to court. Why the hell didn’t you tell us before?”

“I was too scared,” he whimpered.

“He wanted to tell you the other day, but was afraid that Dad would ground him for a month,” Jody said.

“A month! Is that true, Kevin?”

He gave a tentative nod.

She turned towards Father and said, “I think we should contact the police.”

“There’s no point. The court case is over – even if Kevin did see what he said he saw, it doesn’t prove anything. The police won’t be interested in what a 9 -year -old boy saw through the binoculars. It’s done now and we have to forget about it,”

Mother closed her eyes and tilted her head back.

“Can I say something,” Jody asked.

“Speak,” Mother answered.

“Dad, I’m a bit confused. You always said a person has to do the right thing. That’s your motto isn’t it? DO THE RIGHT THING. I can’t understand how forgetting about it can be the right thing.”

Before Father could respond, Mother said, “Thank you very much. She’s right isn’t she? I think we both know what this is really about. And thinking about it, perhaps that’s the reason our Kevin didn’t tell us, because he was there when you said it.”

Jody’s eyes darted to Kevin, then Father, and back to Mother.

“Can someone give me a clue what’s going on?”

“Gladly,” Mother responded. Pick up that newspaper, turn it over and read out the clue for one down in the crossword.”

“Collective noun for a group of lions.”

“And the answer is…?”

“Pride.”

“Yes, BLOODY PRIDE! That’s what it’s about. Your dad wagered his boss a fiver that the farmer would be acquitted.”

“That’s enough! You’re trying to humiliate me in front of the kids.”

“That isn’t what I’m trying to do,” she replied, her voice softening. “But I know you, Brian. He might get up your back, but deep down you’re never going to feel good about taking that fiver now. So if you’re not going to report this to the police, I will.”

Six eyes lingered on Father. In a slow motion he raised his hands to his shoulders, palms out.

“You’re right. I’ll do it. And I’m not grounding you, Son. I’ll let your mother decide. But I think maybe you’ve learned a lesson. Maybe we both have.”





Peter Murphy has lived in south Wales all my life. His partner & Peter have a 40-year-old son. He has worked in various industries including construction & manufacturing. Peter is qualified in both counselling & hypnotherapy although he is not currently in practice. His hobbies include walking, rambling, reading & writing.