Thirteen. A Novel By David Hosier. (Preview).

Read preview of THIRTEEN below.

 

THIRTEEN

A NOVEL
By David Hosier

 

CHAPTER ONE

He Who Is Afflicted Abundantly By Scabbiness

, PART ONE.

Christ! The little bastard’s on the doorstep!’ I hear my mother shout through the open kitchen window as I return home from school. She’s standing by the sink doing the washing up. I’ve forgotten my key and so have had to press the doorbell. After a few moments I hear an audible sigh as the door opens a fraction of an inch. I push it it fully open to witness the familiar image of mother’s retreating back. She turns back into the kitchen.

‘Forgot your key again, you little sod?’ she snaps just before slamming the kitchen door. Questions that don’t really want an answer are called rhetorical. I learnt that in English. I go straight upstairs to my bedroom, put on my radio (making sure it’s quiet enough not to disturb my mother), lie on my bed and close my eyes, just thinking. I do that quite a lot.

Sometimes,  when I’m thinking,  my imagination runs riot and I start worrying that the whole physical universe will disappear and I’ll be the only person left, floating helplessly in the vast, black emptiness of space for all eternity.

And, when I’m very depressed and anxious (which is a lot), I start worrying I’ll go to Hell when I die and be tortured for ever and ever and ever, Amen. Once, for some reason, when I was thinking about this, a terrible question entered my mind. I suppose you could call it a metaphysical conundrum. I imagined what I’d do if the Devil appeared and gave me a choice : either I go to Hell to be tortured throughout infinite time or the person I love most in the world (I’m not telling you who that is, by the way, so don’t bother asking)  does. It’s one or the other and I only have ten seconds to decide. You’ve got to admit that’s rather a tricky question.

Anyway, five minutes after I’d lied down I’m disturbed by the sound of my brother coming home. (He’s sixteen. That’s four years older than me, so I don’t need to tell you how old I am because you can work it out for yourself. Unless you’re a retard, of course – but even then you can work it out on a calculator or ask someone who’s not a complete moron to do the maths for you). I then hear him go into his bedroom and shut his door. He’s been picked for the lead role in the school play which has its opening night soon so is probably going to brush up on his lines. I do a bit more thinking but my head starts to hurt, so, to distract myself, I decide to investigate.

His door isn’t quite closed so I just kick it open with my foot. He’s lying on his bed reading something, probably his lines for his stupid play like I predicted. He puts the book down, makes a melodramatic huffing sound, and glares at me.

‘Fuck off, scabby.’

He calls me scabby because I don’t let my cuts heal and keep picking at them. I don’t know why, but I do it most when I’m nervous, which is a lot.

I get some of my cuts from playing sports at school but also from our cat, Montgomery, who I sometimes tease (or torment, according to my mother)  a little bit when I’m bored. Sometimes, when I tease him, it makes him arch his back and hiss, then pounce and attack me, scratching me with his sharp claws or trying to dig his big, razor-sharp fangs into my flesh. This makes me angry and the whole thing can kind of escalate. Once, to punish him, I ran a bath of cold water and held Montgomery over it, gradually lowering him down until his back paws were about an inch from the water. The way he reacted you’d think I was threatening to drop him into boiling, molten lead. Basically. Montgomery turned into psycho-puss. Until I managed to decisively subdue him.

I got quite a few deep as a result of this incident, which, because of my skin picking habit, did not heal for ages and are now scars. But, because they’re mainly on my arms, they’re covered up most of the time, as long as I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt. Even when they’re not covered up I don’t think they’re very noticeable. Unless you were looking for them, I suppose.

Anyway, failing to comply with my brother’s command to fuck off, I demand, ‘What are you doing? Learning your lines? To be or not to be, that is the question!‘ I say the last bit in a silly, loud and dramatic voice that I consider to be theatrical. It’s the only line from a play I know.

‘You’ll fucking not to be in a minute.’

I point out that this does not make grammatical sense but he just calls me a pedantic poofter.

That reminds me : as well as scabby, he also calls me poof a lot, too. I think it’s because everyone says I’m too sensitive (by which they mean I over-react to everything). Like a girl, my brother says (which I think is very sexist of him). My mother always wanted a girl, apparently, but just got me and my brother. She frequently complains about this, but my brother consoles her by saying not to worry as she came close enough with me. Whenever he says this to her they both laugh in a nasty, knowing way.

Anyway, refusing to retreat, I continue to stand on threshold of his doorway so he gets off his bed, runs at me and shoves me hard in the chest. This causes me to stumble back a couple of steps. I only just prevent myself from falling down the stairs by reaching out to clutch the banister just before I plunge to my inevitable death. Satisfied with this result, and to emphasize his victory, he slams his door. But I could not allow him to think I was totally beaten so, having steadied myself, I quickly pull the door’s handle down, push it wide open again and scurry away back to my bedroom like a terrified rabbit, my heart rate dangerously elevated. Normally, when this happens, my brother runs after me and punches me. Or kicks me a few times. Or, more usually, both. It doesn’t happen this time, though. I just hear him close his door again. He doesn’t even slam it.

I’m disappointed by the anti-climax.

You’d think I’d hate my brother, wouldn’t you? I don’t, though. I look up to him. I’d never tell him this, of course, but I think he knows. I copy his taste in music, clothes, films and all that stuff. I don’t mind him being horrible to me as the only other choice would be to be totally ignored by him, like I am by most of the boys at school. My mother says I’m lucky to have a good role model like my brother, especially as my father hasn’t lived with us for four years.

‘Dinner!’ My mother’s voice is shrill and urgent. I’m listening to one of my favorite songs on the radio (I Will Survive by Gloria Gayner). It’s about half way through, coming up to a very dramatic bit I like, and I want to hear it to the end.

‘I’ll be down in a minute!’ I shout back.

‘Not in a minute! Now! And by that I mean this very second, or it’s going in the bin! Do you hear me? In the bin!’ my mother shrieks back at me. I feel pinpricks of anxiety and frustration scattering all over my skin, like small electrical charges. Reluctantly, I turn off the radio.

When I get to the table, my brother and mother are already eating. Something disgusting as usual, no doubt. I sit down and carefully examine the contents of my plate. There’s something yellow and slithery on it. ‘What’s this?’ I ask my mother disdainfully. I’m genuinely perplexed and marginally alarmed.

‘Oh, for God’s sake! Just eat it and stop fussing, will you? Fuss, fuss, fuss! It’s smoked haddock if you must know. It’s good for you. And it was on special offer.’

‘Im not surprised it was on special offer, the shop must have had trouble getting rid of it. Are you sure they weren’t giving it away free? Or paying people to take it off their hands?’ I ask contemptuously.

‘Just shut up and eat it,’ replies my mother.

Tentatively – like one of those people I learned about in history who had to taste the king’s food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned – I force myself to take a tiny bite. Revolting! Like eating a slug mixed up with snail slime.

‘Uhrrrr. Uhrrrrrrrrrrrr!’

‘You can make silly, stupid noises as much as you like, from here to kingdom-come, but you won’t be leaving this table til you’ve eaten every last morsel! Every last damn morsel! Do I make myself abundantly clear? Have you any idea how expensive a nice bit of fish like this is??? An arm and a leg that set me back! A bloody arm and a leg!’

‘I thought you said it was on special offer?’

‘Did I? I don’t think so. But even if it was, it still cost a small fortune. Anyway, just shut up and eat it!’

‘Yeah. Eat it, scabby!’ chimes in my brother, ganging up with my mother against me like always.

I take another small mouthful of this horrible, yellow, slithery, slime, but, this time, trying to disguise the taste by covering it with pepper and adding half a boiled potato to my fork. Even this isn’t enough to stop it tasting like vomit so from then on I hold my nose, too, and swallow it down as quickly as possible before it has a chance to destroy all my taste buds.
I’ve just about forced it all down when my mother asks my brother if he’s going to see his girlfriend later.

‘Not tonight, no. I’ve got to stay in and finish learning my lines.’

‘Oh, yes. Of course. The play. I can’t wait to come and see it. I expect you’re getting nervous, aren’t you?’ asks my mother in her fawning tone.

‘No, not at all’, replies my brother, trying to be all nonchalant (that’s French for cool), ‘ I mean, it’s not like I’ve not had the lead role before, is it?’

My mother laughs delightedly, ‘Well, no. I suppose not. Oooooh, my talented son!’

‘Yeah, well,’ says my brother, still trying to play it cool.’ Some of us have ve got it, some of us haven’t.’ When he says the word ‘haven’t’ (which he stresses), he immediately stares at me with an intensely meaningful look on his stupid face.

My mother lets out another laugh, and, mock-compassionately, says, ‘Oh, come on now, your poor, dear little brother can’t help it if he lacks your star quality!’

‘Star quality? He lacks any quality. Except that of being scabby and the ability to exude copious quantities of pus from said scabs.’

This time my mother’s laugh is both piercing and near hysterical. ‘Oh, come on now – don’t be so horrid. He’s a sensitive little chap.’ She says this, too, in the same sarcastic way. Then, suddenly, jolly-sounding : ‘Now, who wants dessert? I’m afraid there’s only yogurt as usual.’

She gets up and goes into the kitchen. I hear her open the fridge door and shout, ‘And I hope you’re not going to make a bloody fuss about the sodding yogurt!’ She never bothers to use my name, but I know she’s talking to me. I don’t answer, though.

Returning to the table, she daintily places one yogurt before my brother and then unceremoniously plonks another one down in front of me.

‘Now see if you can manage that without whining,’ she says. Then, turning to my brother – ‘Will Lizzie be coming to watch you in your play?’

Lizzie’s my brother’s girlfriend. She seems nice so its strange she’s going out with my brother, all things considered. They say love is blind, but in this case it must be deaf, too (and lost its sense of smell). I get all nervous and flustered whenever she speaks to me. I trip over my words and make a fool of myself. I’m like that with all girls. It could be because I’ve only ever been to all-boys schools. But, then again, so’s my brother.

‘Of course she’s coming to watch me in my play!’ my brother gloats, ‘She’ll be in the front row. For she doth worship the very ground upon which I walk.’ (He tries to say this last bit in what he calls his thespian’s voice.)

‘What?’ I said, ‘does she follow you around, tear up any grass you tread on, put it in a little plastic bag, take it home and sing hymns to it?’

‘What on earth is he on about?’ says my mother, pulling her ‘confused face.’

‘No idea. Talking gibberish as usual. Shut it, scab! No chance of you having a girlfriend! Ever!’

‘No,’ says my mother, thoughtfully. And then, in an insinuating voice, declares, ‘ He never seems to be interested in girls…strrrraaannnnnngggge… I wonder why that could be…’

‘Because he’s queer,’ says my brother.

My mother let’s out another gleeful and spiteful laugh. ‘Oh, come on now. Don’t say that. Perhaps he’s just sensitive?’

‘No. Definitely just queer.’

‘Oh, really! You are terrible!’ my mother mock-chastizes my brother, though still grinning, delightedly, from ear-to-ear. Then, throwing me a disdainful glance and affecting a condescending tone : ‘Don’t worry, mummy knows you don’t bat for the other side.’

Then her tone suddenly becomes ominously cold and harsh :’ I wouldn’t have one of them living under my roof, I’ll tell you that here and now.’

I finish my yogurt in silence.

Part Two.

The next morning I get up about 7.30. After washing, brushing my teeth and getting dressed (I had to put on the babyish underpants I hate as they were the only pair left in the drawer; they’re printed with a pattern to make them look like leopard skin ; I think they make me look like Mogli from the Jungle Book. Luckily, though, we don’t have any sports today, so nobody will know I’m wearing them).

Once dressed, I go downstairs to make my mother a cup of coffee. I’m very careful not to make any mess, of course. I take the coffee upstairs and go into her room. I see she is still asleep. I also notice her foot sticking out from the bottom of the purple duvet. On impulse, I decide it would be a very funny joke if I woke her up by, just for a second or two, holding the hot cup of coffee against her innocently unsuspecting toes and move to the end of the bed to execute my hilarious plan.

My mother wakes with a start, a bit like people do in films after a terrible nightmare – all flustered and disoriented. In the process, her (now slightly heated up) foot knocks the coffee cup, causing some of its contents to spill on the sheets.

‘Aaaaah!’ She jolts up and glares at me standing at the end of the bed, startled and shame-faced ; the incriminating evidence has already begun to shake in my hand. Even in her early morning stupor, she quickly puts two and two together.’You little sod! What the bloody hell do you think you’re playing at!’

I feel my face go red. ‘Sorry – it was just…it was meant to be a joke.’

‘A joke! A sodding joke! Oh, for Christ’s sake. Is that your idea of a joke, then, you sadistic little git! Give me that cup!’

I hand it to her. She takes a sip and places it carefully on the coaster on her bedside table. I hope she’d said all she had to say but she hasn’t. ‘Dear Jesus! Give me strength to cope with this bloody kid! I hope to God none of that coffee’s spilled on my nice clean sheets – I only washed, dried and ironed them yesterday!

I look down at my feet, and, barely audibly, mutter : ‘Only a tiny bit.’

‘What! Oh, I just can’t believe I’m hearing this. Get down those stairs now, wet the dishcloth with hot water – and I stress, hot water- wring it out over the sink, and bring it up to me with the bottle of Fairy liquid from the window sill. And double-quick, or you’ll get the hiding of your life!’

I do as she instructs, almost tripping down the stairs in my haste. I bring the damp cloth and washing up liquid back into the bedroom. She is out of bed now and closely inspecting the stained bed sheet with the intensity of a forensic scientist on one of those crime programs on TV. It is a crime scene and I am the villain, soon to be sentenced.

‘I’ll never get this bloody mark out. Even with bleach! As God is my Holy Witness I won’t!

‘It didn’t look that bad to me,’ I manage to sqeek.

‘Oh, really. And what would you know about laundry? I tell you, you’ve absolutely ruined this sheet. And I’ll tell you something else. I’m at my wit’s end! If this keeps up much longer I swear you’ll have to go and live with your father.’ Then, for good measure, adds : ‘That’s if he’s fool enough to take you. Now get out of my sight and piss off to school.’

Ten minutes later I am putting my shoes on by the front door where they’re always kept as my mother goes demented if I take so much as half a step down the hallway when I get in without taking them off.

As I open the front door to leave, my mother and brother are coming down the stairs. Just before I shut the door behind me, I hear her say to him : ‘ You’ll never guess what the little sod did this morning!’

Seeing I’m still just within earshot, my brother responds in his stupid, booming, ‘thespian’ voice : ‘Oh no, what’s he who is abundantly afflicted by scabbiness done now?’

 

 Chapter Two

TIME FOR A LOVELY SPLISH-SPLOSH

PART ONE

I slam the door to shut off the sound of their laughter and slowly begin my walk to school, my head down. After a few steps, I see a large stone on the pavement. I kick it as hard as I can. It flies unexpectedly high into the air, bounces and rattles down the street, hits the door of a very new and expensive looking car (I don’t know what type, I’m not really that interested in cars – unlike a lot of the morons at school who are obsessed by things like how much time it takes them to go from zero to sixty or how many miles they do to the gallon) before it finally comes to rest in the gutter.

I walk on and inspect the car for damage. The stone has left a sizeable dent. That will cost a few quid to put right, I think to myself with a strange feeling of satisfaction.

Then I realize that what I’ve just done could conceivably be construed as criminal damage. Panicking, I scan the street for police cars (all clear!) and saunter on, perhaps a little sheepishly, but trying very hard to look casual and inconspicuous. Absurdly (in my last english essay I spelled that word with papsurdly – instead of a b. The teacher underlined it about, and I’m not exaggerating, fifty-seven billion times and put at least a sixty-eight million times more big, red explanation marks in the margin. But he’s an idiot who can’t even control the class, let alone actually teach), I even start to whistle a little tune like a cartoon villain trying to act innocent.

The halfway mark of my route to school is the bridge that crosses the canal. As I come to the top of its iron stairs and start to walk across it (I had stopped whistling by now because I’m not very good at it – sometimes when I blow the air out of my lips there’s no actual whistling sound, more of just a faint whooshing) I see two boys crossing from the opposite side coming towards me.

I experience a wave of fear run through my body even before I’m aware that I recognize them. They are the same two boys who had attacked me a week ago. They’d taken my brief-case from me and then had proceeded to tip its contents of my (maths text and exercise book, pencil case including pencils, fountain pen, Biro, rubber, tippex, felt tips, 6 inch ruler, protractor, compass, set square and paper clips in assorted colours and, worst of all, my Casio pocket scientific calculator with a ten digit screen and random number generating function) into the filthy, stagnant water below (that smells of shit).

‘Well! Look who it isn’t!’ snarls the smaller of the two with a look of unadulterated hatred and menace.

‘If it isn’t briefcase boy, himself!’ chips in his mate, sneering.

As usual, my mind goes completely blank so I don’t reply but just stand there frozen.

The boys move further towards me.

‘Nice weather, ain’t it?’ says the smaller one. At first I don’t understand why he says this as it’s cold and has just started to drizzle. But then, after an ominous pause, he adds, ‘Just the kind of weather for a lovely, refreshing splish-splosh in the canal. Fancy that, do you?’

Part Two

‘I can’t say it’s a usual part of my morning fitness regime,’ I manage to croak, instantly regretting the remark.

They both laugh (but not in a friendly way) and mimic my voice, making me sound like the Queen of England.

‘Think you’re so clever don’t you? Think you’re better than us? Well, you’re not! You’re just a posh cunt! A posh little wanker! Tell you what, we’ll chuck you in the canal so you can have a little splash about, and, whilst you’re at it, you can have a quick search for the crap we tipped out of your bag into it last week. How does that sound? Got your snorkel, goggles and flippers with you, I hope.’

‘No, actually. I think I neglected to pack those particular items this morning.’ Again, I immediately wonder why I say these stupid things. I can’t seem to stop myself.

Actually! Actually! Items! Think you’re the Prime Minister now, do you?’ taunts the smaller one.

‘Yeah. Prime Minister and Leader of the Gay Boys’  Party‘, adds his mate.

I try to ignore this. I’m used to people taking the piss out of how I speak. It’s because I went to an expensive preparatory school when I was little, but, after he and my mother got divorced, my father could no longer afford the fees which is why I had to leave early (and, in the process, lose contact with all my friends) start at the crappy comprehensive school I am now forced to attend with all the plebs.

Tensing my muscles, I now start to walk forward a few steps, desperately  trying to look and sound as brave and fearless as possible.

‘Well, very nice to see you both again, but I’d better get a move on or I’ll be late for school…’

At this point, the smaller one also moves forward, but much more purposefully and decisively than I do. Then, before I realize his intentions, he grabs my arm, pulls it behind  my back and puts me in a half-nelson; this he executes in a one slick, fluent, seemingly well-practiced motion . Next, taking his cue via some form of subliminal communication, his friend joins the attack by gripping me round the neck with his right arm. Both boys immediately start to apply their respective grips with quite a bit of pressure, causing me to cry out with a kind of yelping sound.

‘Please. You’re hurting me. Let me go!’

Please! Please!’ mimics the one attempting to asphyxiate me,’ let me go…let me go…I’ll be late for school! Well, before you go off to school like a good little mummy’s boy, how about that nice little splish-splosh in the canal we mentioned. Fancy that, do you? I’m sure you’ve got time for a lovely little splish-splosh, ain’t you?’

‘Yeah, lovely little splish-splosh,’ parrots the other one.

I’m too frightened to speak. Together, they shuffle me to the barrier at the edge of the bridge which is constructed with green, metal railings. Worryingly, however, this so-called ‘barrier’ between me and the drop to the water beneath is about waist height. One of the boys still has me by the arm whilst the other, who, up until then, had been strangling me, now grabs the back of my head by the hair and forces my face down so that I am bent over the rails, staring down into the filthy, stinking water about ten feet below.

Splish-splosh time, splish-splosh time, splish -splosh time!’ they chant excitedly in unison, with a tone of demonic menace.

‘And you won’t be needing this,’ says the smaller one, wrenching my briefcase which, moronically, I am still clutching, from my free hand.

He chucks it over the side of the bridge but does so with such misjudged force that it clears the water and thuds to a halt on the footpath beside it. I feel pathetically grateful for this minor mercy, even in my still highly imperiled position.

‘Oops…I dropped your bag. How careless of me. Not to worry, though. You can go and get it after your lovely, cooling, refreshing dip.’

With that, the boy who had had me in a half-nelson now grabs the bottom of my legs whilst the other boy continues to keep the upper part of my body forcibly bent over the barrier.

‘No! Don’t! Please! I’m begging you!’ I am now beyond the point of caring how humiliating it is for me to make these terrified protests, I just desperately want to get away. But my now palpable terror serves only to encourage them. I feel my legs being lifted up higher and the two boys now have me in a position that makes me vulnerable to being tipped over the edge of the barrier at any second. But they’re chanting has now taken on the sickening, relentless rhythm of panting dogs.

Splish splosh time! Splish splosh time! Splish splosh time!

Part Three

‘Are you alright, son?’

I hear the words with relief and, simultaneously, feel a comforting hand on my shoulder. I look up into the concerned, grey eyes of a fat, middle-aged man. He’s wearing a dark donkey jacket and a navy bobble hat to match. I thought bobble hats were just for kids.

‘Er. Yes.’ I feel my face flush with humiliation, ‘Just some mates. We were messing about. Playing a game.’

‘Game, eh? Funny sort of game if you ask me. Why’d they run off, then? And why’ve you got blood on your chin? Funny sort of game if you ask me. I never played them sort of games when I were a young’un. Just footy in the park like normal lads.’

‘Yes, well. The thing is that…well…the thing is… it all got a bit…a bit…out of hand. They were getting a bit…a bit…shall we say…over-enthusiastic, that’s all,’ I  stammer, wiping my chin with my hand so as to, I hope, remove all traces of blood.’

‘You’ve missed a bit, there’s still some trickling down your neck. Hit you, did they? Split ya lip? You wanna get yourself down A and E. You might need stitches. Or a tetanus injection. They looked dirty little buggers, they did. ‘Specially the biggest one. Like a rat straight outta the sewer. he were.’

I’m pleased when this man goes on his way to his job (as a dustman, road-sweeper, ice- cream van driver or whatever pitiful job he does) as, despite the fact that he was only trying to help, he was beginning to make me feel uneasy even.

My briefcase is still lying on the footpath where it had landed. I descend from the bridge, retrieve it and check the contents for damage. There is one snapped pencil in my pencil case and my peanut butter sandwiches (wrapped in cling-film) are all squished.

Apart from very nearly getting run over, and instantly killed, by a large lorry whilst crossing a busy main road, the rest of my journey is uneventful.

I’m not very popular at school. It’s not that I’m the one everyone picks on, but I’m the one quite a few pick on. They say everyone gets picked on at school, but that’s not true; some never get picked on – they’re usually very good at sport or have a reputation for being hard. I’m only quite good at sport and don’t know how hard I am as I’ve only been in one fight so far and a teacher broke it up before I had the opportunity to deliver the decisive blow.

I’ve also noticed that the best looking boys never get picked on either. This is probably because all the other boys fancy them. Bunch of faggots.

The main reason I’m singled out by some of the other boys (I don’t think I mentioned I go to an all boys school, did I?) is because of how I speak. They all say I’m posh. This is stupid because I know for a definite fact that the ones who say this mostly live in houses at least a thousand times bigger than mine. At least three have swimming pools (which they’re always boasting about, of course).

This is what is called ‘irony.’ I learnt that word in English.

Part Four

I got my so-called ‘posh’ voice from going to a private school. I stayed there until I turned eleven last year. I was supposed to stay there until I was thirteen and then go on to public school (assuming I passed the Common Entrance Exam which, obviously, being a genius, I would have done), but, because of my parents’ divorce, there was not enough money so I had to leave all my friends behind and try to fit in with the bunch of morons at this shitty school.

Another reason I get picked on is because I’m good at school work, although this might be as I covered a lot of the stuff they teach me here at my private school – most of my classmates didn’t go to private school (peasants) so they’re not as educated as me (simpletons). In fact, half of them probably have to get mumsy to tie their shoelaces for them before they leave for school in the morning.

***

First lesson today is maths. Algebra. I first started getting taught algebra when I was eight (which is the same age I started learning Latin) so I’m way ahead of the game. It’s new to nearly all the others though, and, because so many are completely thick, the teacher has to teach it in a really babyish way. So, 2a becomes two apples, 2b becomes two bananas etc…etc…Get the idea? Frankly, I find such a retarded pedagogical approach embarrassing and degrading. Anyway, using silly fruit names for letters just seems to confuse the dimwits even more. But Sir, how can you take away two bananas from two apples – it just doesn’t make any sense…

The rest of the day’s lessons are an equal waste of time, and, as the bell rings to signal the end of the last lesson, I start to worry about whether I will encounter the two boys who tried to murder me this morning. Then I have an idea. Two of my friends (well, sort of friends – they do take the piss out of me a lot and are sometimes quite nasty), Aaron and Freddy, who both walk home the same way as me, are sitting at the desks next to mine and putting their books away into their sports bags (all the boys in my class have sports bags, mainly expensive ones like Nike and Adidas. I’m the only one with a brief case- they were compulsory at my last school – and my mother wouldn’t buy me a new bag for this school as she insisted that my brief case had years, if not decades, worth of life left in it.’). It occurs to me that they might be able to help. So, tentatively, I stand up and take a step towards them.

‘Er, Aaron?’ I say.

‘What?’

‘Are you walking home now?’

‘What’s it to you?’

‘Well, I was just wondering because, you see, the thing is…’

‘Come on, spit it out, I’m a busy man. People to see, things to do. Time is money!’

‘Yeah, right. It’s just…I was going to ask, will you be walking home with Freddy today?’

‘Maybe I will, but, then again, maybe I won’t. We’re not bum-chums joined at the hip, you know.’

‘No, no. Of course not. The thought never occurred to me. I wasn’t insinuating anything.’

Having heard his name mentioned, Freddy pipes up, trying to do a posh voice : ‘Insinuating! Oh, I say! Insinuating, what-what-old -boy!’

‘Oh, sorry, Freddy. I forgot you only know words containing no more than one syllable.’

Trying to sound retarded (actually, he doesn’t really need to try, it comes naturally), Freddy replies : ‘Duh? What’s a syllable?’

‘Very funny. But..the thing is…I’ve got a problem.’

You’re not kidding,’ says Freddy with a big grin, believing himself to be funnier than he actually is being.

‘No. Listen. There’s these boys from another school I’m always meeting coming in the opposite direction when I walk home.’

‘Another school? And what school would that be, pray-tell?

‘Durrants.’

‘Durrants? Everyone who goes there is a cunt!’

I cough.

‘Yeah. Exactly. Cunts. And, anyway, this morning they threw my briefcase in the canal. Or tried to. The one who threw it missed. He was a complete spastic, actually.’

‘So? What you want us to do about it? We’re not your fucking minders, are we?’

‘Well, no. You’re not. That’s very true. But, you know. I just thought…you know…I could walk back with you and Aaron today if …if, that is …you know…you’re going that way anyway. And then I thought…you know…you could be about twenty paces behind me, and, if those kids show up and  start picking on me again, thinking I’m by myself, as usual, then you and Aaron could take them by surprise, rush forward…you know… a bit like Batman and Robin…and…and…’

‘And what? Chase them in our Batmobile and kick the shit out of them for you?’

‘Well. Yes. Something along those lines. Although obviously not the bit about the Batmobile. I mean, you don’t have to break their legs or anything. Just, I don’t know, lightly sprain their ankles or something.’

Lightly sprain their ankles? Are you having a fucking laugh?’

Just as I’m planning what to say next, Freddie taps Aaron on the shoulder and says, ‘Hold on Aaron, don’t be too hasty mate, come over here a minute, I’ve got an idea regarding how we might come to the assistance of this poor damsel in distress.’

‘Why can’t you just say it here?’ asks Aaron.

‘No. I need to speak to you alone for a minute.’ Then, addressing me, ‘Wait here, soppy, I need to consult with my colleague.’

***

After their private consultation, which they conduct in the corridor, Aaron and Freddy, both grinning, re-enter the classroom (which is now empty except for us).

‘What were you talking about out there?’ I ask, suspiciously.’

‘Just formulating a strategy. Finalizing plans. Dotting the ts and crossing the Is,’ Aaron replies casually.

‘I think you’ll find you’ve got that the wrong way round,’ I helpfully point out.

Aaron ignores my sarcasm, ‘But why did you need to discuss it in private in the corridor?’

‘Well, it’s like in the SAS, you see – all plans are classified and top secret.’

My expression becomes confused, ‘But I’m involved in the plan. I’m the central pivot of the plan!’ I protest.

‘Yes, but the less you know the better. Careless talk costs lives and all that…’

I feel perplexed but decide to let go of my reservations, ‘Well. OK. At least tell me the basics.’

‘It’s OK,’ says Freddy to Aaron, ‘we can tell him the basics.’ Then, turning to me : ‘OK, here’s the skeleton plan. Feel free to take notes.’

‘It’s alright,’ I reply, ‘there is such a thing as memory, you know, and I’m fortunate enough to be in possession of one.’

‘OK. Stop trying to show off with your big words,’ sighs Frankie.

‘What big words?…I only…’

‘Just shut up and listen, will you?’

‘Right. Yes. OK.’ I pretend to zip my lips like Zippy in Rainbow (which I never watch because it’s for kids).

‘What we do is this,’ continues Freddy, ‘you walk home, as usual, and we follow you, like you said. We’ll be quite a bit behind and the kids who beat you up won’t know we know you. With me so far?’

‘Affirmative,’ I say.

‘Now. Here’s the clever bit. When you see them coming from the other direction, you bend down pretending to tie your shoelace, but act as if you haven’t seen them. And that’s the signal. When we see you bend over…’

‘We fuck him up the arse!’ shouts out Aaron.

‘Shut up, Aaron, you sad fucking pervert.’ says Frankie. ‘Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, ‘when you bend over for the sole reason of pretending to do up your shoelace, we take this as our cue to hide.’

‘But why do you need to hide?’

‘Well, it’s obvious innit? If they see us and see our school uniforms they might get scared.’

‘Yes, but I still don’t…’

‘Trust me. I’m a doctor.’

‘No, you’re not. You’ll be lucky if you qualify to become a tiddly-winks’ salesman.’

‘God. Why are you so stupid?…it’s a meta…meta…’

‘Morphosis!’ shouts Aaron, with a look of triumph.

‘Shut up, you twat. That’s when you turn into a butterfly!’

‘I think the word you’re pitifully groping for is ‘metaphor,’ I say.

‘Yeah,’ says Freddy, ‘meta…metaff…what ‘e said.’

***

The plan agreed, we start our walk home, myself in front, Billy and Aaron following me from a short distance behind. After about five minutes, as anticipated, I see, coming from the opposite direction, the two boys from Durrants school approaching.

Before they have seen me, I bend down and pretend to tie my shoelaces – the signal we had decided upon. As I do so, I turn to see that, as planned, my friends are taking up their hiding places behind a tree in an adjacent, small, wooded area by the canal. Reassured and emboldened, I stride confidently on, feeling, perhaps, just a little smug.

My tormentors have, by now, spotted me. Once I’m within hearing range, the smaller one shouts out mockingly :

‘Well, well, well! Look who it isn’t!’

Undeterred, I continue to approach them.

‘Ah. Gentlemen. How wonderful to bump into you again. Permit me, if you’d be so good, to offer you my most humble salutations,’ I say in my most patronizing tone of voice, ‘and how may I be of service on this glorious afternoon?’ (I’m being ironic again because, in fact, it’s just started to rain).

‘Shut up, you fucking idiot.’ says the larger boy, ‘had a lucky escape this morning, didn’t you?’

‘What? You mean this morning when you two, like the complete and utter cowards that you are, got frightened off by that man?’

‘You calling us cowards?’

‘Yeah. That’s right. Pathetic little cowards,’ I say.

‘Oh, yeah? Would that be right?’

‘Yeah. It would be right, yeah.’

‘And what does that make you, then?’

‘I don’t know. You tell me.’

‘You’re a wanker!’ As he enunciates the first syllable, ‘wan‘, he draws back a fist. And as he enunciates the second, ‘ker‘, that same fist connects, hard, with my jaw.

I feel a sense of shock and numbness, rather than pain, and fall to the ground.

When I look up, I see Aaron and Billy running away in the opposite direction from me.
And they’re laughing, loudly.

Now I know what Aaron had meant when he’d said they’d fuck me up the arse. It was a metaphor. Or, as he might say, a metamorphosis.

 

Chapter Three

‘I wish to Christ you’d never been bloody born!’

Part One

My attackers had sworn at me a lot before leaving me, stunned, on the pavement, but had offered me no further violence. Feeling very sorry for myself, but still in no significant physical pain, I’d dejectedly completed my journey home.

My intention was to go straight upstairs to the bathroom to wash out a small amount of blood (from a slightly cut lip I had sustained during my ordeal) that had dripped onto my white shirt before my highly neurotic mother had a chance to see it.

Unfortunately, though, as I’m hurriedly making my way upstairs, having let myself in (I’d managed to remember my front door key this morning) the front door, my mother, coming down, intercepts me.

‘Oh my dear Christ! What’s that red mark on your shirt? I only washed and ironed it yesterday!’

‘Er. It’s blood,’ I say, my face burning with shame.

‘Blood! Oh God! You stupid little sod! How’d you manage to get blood all over it? I’m going to have to immediately soak that shirt in bleach – it needs a damn good bleaching! Take it off and give it to me now before I clout you!’

I try to get past her so I can go to my room, take the shirt off and change into something else.

‘Where the bloody Hell do you think you’re damn well going?’

‘To my room. To take my shirt off,’ I reply, meekly.

‘Oh no, you’re not – you’ll take it off now, right this very sodding instant!’

‘But…’

‘Don’t you dare defy me! I’m your mother! You will respect my wishes at all times! Take that bloody shirt off, now! I repeat, NOW!’

Deeply embarrassed, I take off my jacket and start to unbutton my shirt ; this is more difficult than usual as my fingers have started, very slightly, to tremble.

Naked from the waist up, I hand my mother the shirt. She snatches it out of my hand a gives me one of her hate-filled glares. As she makes her way to the kitchen with it, she shouts out :

‘How’d you manage to get blood on it this time? I expect you’ve been picking away at those horrible scabs of yours again, you revolting, disgusting little kid! I wish to Christ you’d never been bloody born!’

I do not tell my mother how I really got the blood on my shirt and she does not press me for details, nor does she notice the small cut on my lip.

***

I retreat to my bedroom and put on my Gloria Gaynor song. I’m so moved by it I begin to cry and can’t stop for ages. After a while, though, I bravely recover my composure and select from the small bookcase my book on card tricks because I’m practicing to become a magician. It’s called Become A Master Of Sleight Of Hand ; it’s very informative and teaches you to do proper card tricks – not the simple ones that anyone can do by setting up the deck of cards a certain way in advance, or having a pack of cards containing fifty-two queens of clubs, getting some moron to pick one and then, to his utter amazement, ‘reading his mind’ to ‘miraculously reveal’ what card he’s selected – no, the tricks I’m learning are far more sophisticated and professional – like the ones you’d see done on prime-time television by stars who are paid at least a million pounds an hour. Of course, if you’re not a magician like me, you might not know what ‘sleight of hand’ means. Basically, it’s just when you physically manipulate the cards, during the actual trick, in such a clever and subtle way that the person you’re doing the trick on isn’t aware you’re doing it.
So far, I’ve taught myself how to execute the double lift (this is when you seem to only being picking up one card from the top of the deck, but really you’re lifting two); the palm (this is when you secretly conceal a card in the palm of your hand and then place it on the top of the deck without the person you’re tricking seeing you do it); and the ‘false-shuffle‘ (where you appear to be shuffling the whole deck of cards but aren’t – you’re actually keeping some cards at the top of the deck in the same place).

The book also teaches you how to use magician’s ‘patter‘ (this is what you say while you’re doing the trick to distract the person you’re doing the trick on from your ‘sleight of hands’).

It’s not just card tricks I can do. I’ve taught myself to do other tricks as well. I’m not quite up to making elephants disappear or sawing women in half and then putting them back together again, not yet anyway, but I can do less ‘dramatic’ stuff like piercing through a real ten pence piece with nails – I can’t tell you how this is done though because if I do and they find out I did when I’m older and in Magic Circle (a society for Master Magicians) they might throw me out and make me ‘disappear‘ (magician’s joke which I sometimes use in my ‘patter’, much to the hilarity of my enraptured audience).

***

After I’ve finished my ‘magician studies’ I spend some time on my other favorite hobby which is meteorology. Meteorology is the study of weather and climate. Weather is what happens from day to day whereas climate is what happens over a long period of time (e.g. a hundred years).

A few examples of things I know about meteorology :

1) TEMPERATURES

I can convert all temperatures from minus ten degrees Celcius to plus forty-five degrees Celcius into  Fahrenheit (see examples below) :

-10 degrees Celcius = 14 degrees Farhenheit
– 3 degrees Celcius = 27 degrees Fahrenheit
0 degrees Celcius = 32 degrees Fahrenheit (this is the freezing point of water)
5 degrees Celcius = 41 degrees Fahrenheit
13 degreees Celcius = 55 degrees Fahrenheit
19 degrees Celcius = 67 degrees Fahrenheit
24 degrees Celcius = degrees Fahrenheit
29 degrees Celcius degrees Fahrenheit
34 degrees Celcius degrees Fahrenheit
37 degrees Celcius = 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (this is average body temperature)
39 degrees Celcius degrees Fahrenheit
45 degrees Celcius degrees Fahrenheit

I also know some VERY IMPORTANT TEMPERATURES (see below)

– 273.15 degrees Celcius = – 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit (this temperature is called absolute zero – it is impossible to get colder than this)

100 degrees Celcius = 212 degrees Fahrenheit (this is the boiling point of water)

15,000,000 degrees Celcius = 27,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit approx. (this is the temperature at the centre of the sun)

NB : I wrote all these out without having to look them up (OR USE A CALCULATOR!). If you don’t believe me, that’s your problem. ALSO, I COULD HAVE EASILY WRITTEN THEM ALL OUT IF I’D WANTED TO, BUT I DIDN’T BECAUSE I’M NOT A SHOW OFF.

How to convert degrees Celcius to degrees Fahrenheit :

The temperature T in degrees Fahrenheit (°F) is equal to the temperature T in degrees Celsius (°C) times 9/5 plus 32:
T(°F) = T(°C) × 9/5 + 32
or
T(°F) = T(°C) × 1.8 + 32

2) WIND SPEEDS :

I know all the different categories of wind speeds :

Wind speed is measured on the BEAUFORT SCALE and can range from 0 to twelve as shown below :

0 = CALM (smoke rises vertically) less than 1 mph
1= LIGHT AIR (smoke drifts and leaves rustle) 1-4mph
2= LIGHT BREEZE (wind felt on face) 5-7 mph
3= GENTLE BREEZE (flags extended and leaves move) 6-11 mph
4= MODERATE BREEEZE (dust and small branches move) 12-18 mph
5= FRESH BREEZE (small trees begin to sway) 19-24 mph
6= STRONG BREEZE (large branches move and umbrellas are difficult to control) 25-31 mph
7= NEAR GALE (whole trees move, inconvenience in walking) 32-38 mph
8= GALE (difficult to walk against wing, twigs and small branches blown off trees) 39-46 mph
9= STRONG GALE (minor structural damage might occur like roof tiles being blown off) 47-54 mph
10= STORM (trees uprooted, structural damage likely) 55-63 mph
11= VIOLENT STORM (widespread damage to structures) 64-73 mph
12= HURRICANE (severe structural damage, widespread devastation) over 74 mph

 

N.B. All of above are just examples of what I know about the weather. I know a lot more but I’m not listing it all because, as I said before, I’m not a show off.

***

At the bottom of the garden I have a rain-gauge – this is a big, glass tube, attached to a wooden pole that I hammered into the ground, and has grey, metallic funnel at the top of it to catch the rain. I check it every twenty-four hours to record how much rain there’s been during that time period. So, taking my notebook (which I’ve labelled Record of Daily Rainfall and Temperatures) and Parker fountain pen (this is the fountain pen I used at my last school – we had to use fountain pens there, unlike at my new school, where they let boys write in Biro) I go outside passing my mother on the way who gives me a disdainful look and  says, ‘If you’re going outside, make sure you don’t traipse bloody mud into the house if you must come back in’) to check the latest reading. I see from my notebook that yesterday the month’s rainfall to date was 1.5 centimeters. Today the level of water in the rain gauge has gone up to 1.9 millimeters. As I am taking today’s reading at the same time of day as yesterday’s reading, I am able to confidently deduce (my English teacher would underline those last three words as they represent what he says is called a split infinitive) that there has been a total rainfall of 4 millimeters in the last twenty-four hours in my back-garden.

I make a record of this in my notebook using my Parker fountain pen.

Next I go part of the garden where I keep my thermometer. I keep it in a white, wooden box with slated sides to let the air flow through. The box is designed like this to keep the thermometer out of sunlight and measure the actual air temperature (this is what is called the temperature ‘in the shade’ and is the one used in weather forecasts. If the thermometer was exposed to the sun’s rays, the reading it would give would be misleadingly high, unless, of course, you wanted to know the temperature in the sun; it can all be a bit confusing if you’re not a meteorologist like me). I open the box and take out the thermometer. Sixty-four degrees fahrenheit. This figure, too, I record in my notebook with my trusty Parker.

With my meteorological tasks successfully completed, I go back inside to do my homework (at my last school we called it prep, which is short for preparation). I like doing homework as it stops me thinking about my problems. I’ve only got maths tonight. I’m supposed to have French as well, but the stupid teacher forgot to set it. I was a bit disappointed by this although, of course, I pretended to be really pleased like the other boys, otherwise they would probably have beaten me up or called me one of the names they like to call me (swat, nerd, geek etc). Of course, they only call me these names because they’re so incredibly and unbelievably jealous that they’re not as clever as me. At the end of the Year 7 I came top of the year in four out of five of the end of year exams ; in the other one I came fifth – but that was Religious Studies so, naturally, it doesn’t count. (Secretly, I think I only did so well because I used to go to a better school than the others did. It’s true that there are other boys in my year who also used to go to the same school. But they’re all irredeemably thick.)

My maths homework is almost insultingly facile. It’s algebra again (all that ridiculous apples and oranges stuff) which takes me about two milliseconds (at the most). In our maths text book there is a section at the back which gives the answers to every question in the rest of the book. Apparently, it’s to help the teachers with their marking (which is just as well because they need all the help they can get and probably wouldn’t be able to work out most of the answers for themselves). Our maths teacher (Mr Lambert, who everyone calls hop-along on account of his club-foot) tells us we should never look at the answers section, but, of course, everyone does. Everyone, that is, except me. I know I’ve got them all right without having to check.

I see from the clock/radio on my desk (if I’m awake at midnight I especially like to watch the flourescent, red figures on the display change from 23.59 to 00.00, as if the universe has run out of time) that it’s precisely 18.00 (N.B. I have set my clock/radio to show the time in ‘twenty-four hour clock’ format : 23.59 =11.59 pm; 00.00 = 12 am, also called midnight; 18.00 = 6 pm).

When I was a bit younger, I used to look forward to 6 pm (18.00 in twenty-four hour format) as it was the time when my father used to phone me everyday after he returned home from work.

End of preview. Full novel to be published on Amazon soon.

Copyright David Hosier 2018

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