• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 09
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One for the Off

Light crashes into my head unannounced. I keep my eyes locked shut, causing orange lozenges to wheel about my brain. The surface beneath me shifts unevenly. The backs of my thighs prickle. I catch his pungent scent which has nothing whatsoever to do with after-shave. I feel him beside me, above me, like a wall radiating heat after the sun has set. His rasping hand patrols my thigh. ‘Come on, doll,’ he says. My mind does a somersault. The light goes out.

Me and our Barry are always bunking off. Our Barry loathes school. Mam bought him a Woolworth’s pencil case to encourage him, but it didn’t work. He carries humiliation with him like a parcel he can’t put down. I stay away because I’m scared someone will see what our Mam does when she whispers warily, ‘Don’t upset your dad.’. Our Barry senses something’s adrift, but I haven’t told him what.

We climb to the field behind our estate. In winter, the frost makes stubble as stiff as fountain pens that jam themselves into the soles of your shoes, but in the summer you can dive like dolphins in an uncharted sea of waving grain. And this is where make our plan. One day, as dusk foreshortens the crumpled town below, our eyes are drawn by the golden thread of glinting river, and we trace it right out to the flat-lining horizon.

‘What’s over there?’ I say.

‘Blackpool,’ says our Barry.

‘Bridlington, more like.’

‘Well, you’re the know-all.’


One for the Off

We fall silent, our hearts yearning for something better than our present lives.

‘We’ve got to get there,’ I say. ‘Soon.’

Our Barry agrees.

And here we are. Our Barry’s wearing his wind-cheater and carries our dinner money in his trouser pocket. I have my cardigan. Beyond that, things are pretty vague. Then, suddenly, Tank appears. Tank is too big for his age and has only recently latched on to our Barry.

‘Are we ready for the off, then?’ he says, sounding about forty.

‘Yer what?’ I say.

She’s not coming, is she?’ Tank nods at me.

Our Barry shrugs.

‘Don’t be daft. We cannet take a lass.’

‘It’s her and me,’ our Barry says.

I can’t believe he’s told this shite bucket about our plan.

‘Tell you what,’ says Tank, ‘She can go if gives us a shag.’

‘No!’ says our Barry.

‘Bugger off!’ I shout.

But Tank twists my arm and shoves me down.

‘Why not?’ he jeers. ‘She’s done it with your da.’

Shame falls on me like a wardrobe. My ribs crack like pencils. ‘Come on, doll,’ Tank says. I drag my nails across his face.

Tank stands beside the matted mess he has made among the grain. He still holds the rock he has used to break me open.

‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ our Barry says.

‘And neither should you, Barry,’ is the thought I leave behind, as a blinding light splits the lowering sky from side to side and I make my unplanned getaway.