Tom’s lunchbreaks

Tom did go to school that day, but hid behind every corner and stayed as far away from the bullies as he possibly could. At lunch, he ran out of the playground and sat at the top of the hill overlooking the school. From high up on his vantage point he could see everyone in the playground. He was too far away to tell who was who, but there were groups of friends playing games and chasing each other. He unrolled his sandwich from the tinfoil and took a bite. Yuk, he thought, Not cucumber and pickle again. It’s was the worst flavour but it was his sister’s favourite, so he and his dad were given the same. He looked out at the rolling hills of the Devon countryside that sprawled all the way to the horizon.

No one at school had even noticed that he’d gone. Or that he’d been eating here alone every lunchbreak since term started back three weeks ago. It was the only way to stay out of Luke’s way and not be terrorised keep his dignity intact. He’d had so many wedgies that he’d considered not wearing underpants to school, but he was sure that Richard would probably just pull his trousers down instead, or something equally as embarrassing. If he couldn’t stand up to him like everyone said he should, then he could at least get out of the way altogether.

He heard a whistle and saw the school football team practicing in the field adjacent to the canteen. The football field seemed so far away. It was visible but felt completely out of reach. There was someone else in goal now. Someone with longer legs, who could reach the top bar of the goal without having to jump as high as they could. Someone bigger and stronger who could dive for the ball when it came hurtling towards them and do crowd roaring saves. ‘Come back and try for the team when you’re bigger,’ they’d said. His mum said they shouldn’t have let him on the team in the first place, but that hadn’t made him feel better at all. If anything it just showed that everyone thought that he was too small to be good at anything as well. Even his own mum.

Further past the football field Tom saw the woods that he walked through to get to school. It was his detour to avoid the school crowds and of course Richard and his gang. The trees were still bare and looked spindly against the clear blue skyline. He preferred the woods in spring when the leaves gave him more hiding places. His teeth chattered with a gust of the brisk February wind and he huddled himself tighter in a ball. He blew on his hands to keep them warm, took another bite of his sandwich and forced it down. It was too cold to eat outside and the cold was seeping through his coat and giving him a numb bum.

The sun burst through a break in the clouds and briefly warmed his cheeks. Tom thought of his Gran. She tended to notice every change in the weather, moment by moment, and took great pleasure in spending at least ten minutes at the start of every conversation updating whoever she was talking to with a weather report of the previous day, just in case they missed it. Tom thought she should have been a weather lady. He could just about see her house from up here, just beyond the woods on the far side. If he ran there it would take about fifteen minutes, but it felt like it was in another world.

 

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Mystery

When I think of Pete I always think of his eyes. Their colour especially. The first time we met it was his eyes I noticed first. I was struck by their colour and somehow they had a depth that made me want to stare for hours. Their deep glowing hazel burned with all the colours of the earth.

I’d recognise those eyes anywhere.
And what’s behind them. I think of that too, his mind. His faultless memory with more capacity than anything man could build. Layer upon layer of white matter, bursting but never full. Like an engineer wanting to take something apart to see how it works, I wanted to open his skull from the back and deconstruct each part of his mind and look at it under a microscope, seeking to untangle and make sense of the parts of him that he never shared. 
What’s going on in there, Pete? It’s the question I’ve asked the most, both to himself nod myself. In relationships we want to know everything about each other, inside and out, but we all need some mystery to prevent the inevitable state of perpetual boredom that engulfs us in the end. 
What’s going on in there? What are you feeling? Do you feel? 
Show me that you feel something.
Image: http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2014/07/the-man-with-the-light-brown-eyes.html

Tom gets bullied

 

Tom furiously swung his arms infront of him, fists balled. Even reaching as far as he could, they swung empty, not reaching Ricky’s the fat pulsing stomach as he laughed even harder. The ringing in Tom’s ears preserved some of his dignity by blurring the laughter all around him, but his eyes stung wildly. The giant hand on his forehead that was holding him in place and stopping him from hitting the bully back felt like it was squeezing his brain shut.

‘Get off me…’ shouted Tom, letting his arms flop by his sides but still leaning his head into the hand at Ricky’s arm’s length. He tried to focus on Ricky’s tattered black school shoes to block everyone out and try to figure out what to do next.

Get off me’ mocked Ricky, in a whiny voice, ‘Christmas is coming Pipsqueak, better get your elf suit ready!’. Ricky, Jonno and Dylan laughed like hyenas. Suddenly, Ricky pulled his hand away and Tom, who was still leaning into it, fell forward. He landed on the grass face first and lay there defeated, while they laughed above him.

‘You’re so small your mum dresses you in doll’s clothes’ he heard, from above the grass. Reluctant at having to face reality, Tom pushed himself up to standing, his ribs acheing from the pummelling he got from being squashed in rugby earlier. He hated playing rugby, it was like torture. It was an opportunity for the bullies to crash into him in plain sight in front of the teachers and not get told off. They would do it as hard as they could as if seeing how much they could squash him until he broke. Dylan had Tom’s schoolbag and had emptied the contents onto the ground. A sinister smile took over his spotty face as he took out Tom’s phone from the front pocket.

‘Ha!’ he stuttered with excitement at the look of dread on Tom’s face.

‘No!’ begged Tom, hurtling towards Dylan and trying to grab the phone ‘Give it back!’. Dylan held the phone high above his head at arm’s length and started scrolling through the messages. Tom’s leaping outstretched arms couldn’t even reach Dylan’s shoulders. He jumped up at it regardless, desperately trying to get it back. Ricky and Jonno laughed and copied him mockingly.

‘OMG! OMG!’ Dylan shouted at the other two, ‘Listen to this: Have a fabulous day at school Tommy Wommy, love and kisses from your Mummy xXx’. Ricky and Jonno laughed so hard tears streamed down their faces.

‘Oooooo Tommy Wommy’ they mocked, ‘Tommy Wommy loves his mummy’.

‘Stop it! Stop being horrible. I don’t care what you say. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’ said Tom through blurry eyes, aware of the burning in his cheeks that defied his words. Tom stopped jumping for his phone and started putting his things back in his bag, trying very hard not to cry.

‘Text her back!’ said Jonno to Dylan.

Tom spun around. The breath fell out of his chest.

‘Yeah, yeah, text her back!’ agreed Ricky, ‘Say Dear Mummy Wummy, Tommy Wommy love you so much he wants to kiss your boobs’

            They fell about laughing.

‘Yeah, tell her to take him to the early learning centre to get some toys!’ added Jonno.

‘No!’ shouted Tom, ‘Give it back’.

Dylan started typing.

‘Boys! What’s going on here?’ boomed a deep voice ‘Dylan, is that your phone? You know phones aren’t allowed until after school. Hand that over to me, you can collect it at the end of the day’

‘Yes sir, I’ll come and collect it later’ said Dylan with a smirk.

‘No, it’s mine Sir.’ Said Tom to Mr Helps

‘Well, you shouldn’t have it out in the playground.’ He looked at each of the boys in turn, ‘Maybe then it wouldn’t get lost. You can collect it after detention’

Tom’s cheeks throbbed. Jonno snorted.

‘That includes you three!’ snapped Mr Helps ‘4pm. Main hall. 100 lines!’. The three bullies groaned, grunted and kicked the grass.

‘Inside, the lot of you! Didn’t you hear the bell? Chop Chop!’ Mr Helps spun on his heels and marched towards the double doors ‘If you want to be productive, you have to be a master of your minutes!’ he blared at their indignant faces as they passed. Mr Helps was anything but helpful. He seemed to think that spurting motivational phrases was helpful, but he always said them so aggressively that they sounded like threats. His complete mistiming of unsolicited advice made everyone groan inwardly as soon as he started speaking in that special tone of voice reserved for quotes. Tom had even seen other teachers roll their eyes when he said them during assembly.

The boys frogmarched through the double doors. Tom shuffled through last, grateful for Mr Helps’ interruption, but not for the detention that he didn’t deserve.

 

 

Max loses his best friend

It started when Max was trying on his school uniform for the upcoming new year. Last year’s trousers had turned into ankle swingers and he could poke his elbow through the hole in his blazer. Max had grown tired of the staples scraping his back. They were stuck there from the time Richard Pilchard had stapled a ‘kick me’ sign on Max’s back. How max got bullied while a boy called ‘Richard Pilchard’ didn’t, was beyond him, but clearly there were some benefits to being the tallest and widest in the class.

It wasn’t the prospect of going back that unsettled him. Nor of a scratchy new uniform. To be honest he quite liked new bits of uniform to make his mark on, although this made it difficult at the start of term to find the right clothes after P.E. Much better once everyone could tell whose was whose, by the signature of scuffs and holes.

While standing in the musky uniform shop, surrounded by rails upon rails of navy blue, what struck him the most was the thought of what it would be like to go back to school without his best friend Marcus. The ‘M&M’ duo would now just be ‘M’.

He’d been at Marcus’ house when Marcus was told the news. They were playing Mario Kart and Marcus’ dad barged into the room without knocking. Max was losing because he’d crashed into Wario’s castle wall half way around and he was trying so hard to catch up that his face was screwed up and his tongue was sticking out to the side. There wasn’t even time to pause the game before Marcus’ dad started speaking.

‘Marcus,’ bellowed Marcus’ dad. ‘It’s been decided. We’re moving to Australia in July.’

At first Max had carried on, secretly delighted by Marcus’s distraction so he could overtake and sneak a win, but after he overtook Marcus’ static car and neared the finish line he pulled over to the side and took his finger off the red accelerator button as a mark of respect, just yards from the chequered flag. When the bedroom door slammed shut again they sat quietly, both cars motionless and spluttering as Mario occasionally whooped ‘Yahoo’ to the solemn blue bedroom.

After a while Marcus picked up his controller again and got on with the race, rear ending Max’s car and nearly pushing him over the finish line. Then he reversed and sped across himself.  A minute later, Marcus got up and took the game out, as though it was tainted and could never be played again. Max watched silently as Marcus put Donkey Kong on instead.

‘There are alligators in Australia’ said Max as his best friend sat down in a heap on the floor next to him.

‘And loads of poisonous spiders.’ He continued, feigning excitement. ‘If I did a hole deep enough, I could put half the can string in it and we’d be able to talk in secret.’

Marcus turned slowly, one eyebrow raised. They lived in houses opposite each other and spoke every night via two empty bean cans connected by a twenty foot length of string that went across the width of the street and was held up in the middle from when they tossed it over an electric cable.

‘That wouldn’t work’ said Marcus

‘Why not?’ asked Max, even though he knew why.

‘The strings too short’ said Marcus, deadpan, looking straight at Max, ‘Plus if you cut the string it doesn’t work.’

Max’s eyes went wide. They both stared at each other, Marcus screwed up one side of his face, shook his head and snorted with laughter.

 

Image: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2014/10/07/to-play-or-not-to-play-the-great-debate-about-video-games

Radical honesty

 

Kate and I had been seeing each other for a couple of months. I quite liked her, but recently I’d been starting to have some doubts. We’d stopped sleeping together so often, and although we’d been spending a lot of our spare time together either on city breaks or staying with family, it felt to me like the energy had changed and we were becoming more like friends than lovers. Relationships are built on trust and it’s vital to be honest, so I decided to tell my doubts. We’d spent the day visiting her mum Sheila in the new care home. Sheila had been there a week and was just about starting to cope. Kate had just put her son Kieron to bed and was washing up in the kitchen. I put the kettle on.

‘So it was nice today,’ I started.

She held the next plate above the sink and looked at me with those doll eyes.

‘Yeah’, she said, ‘it went ok, all things considering.’

I smiled back.

‘The thing is though’, I carried on, ‘I haven’t really been feeling it recently.’

She paused again. The doll eyes had gone, replaced with a puzzled look.

‘Feeling what?’ she replied.

‘Well, I mean… Things are lovely and everything’ I smiled back but for some reason couldn’t quite meet her eyes, ‘But it just feels, you know. I don’t know…’ It had seemed so clear earlier but now the words seemed to be getting stuck. I wanted her to say something to acknowledge it too, but she was silent and still. Waiting. I breathed into my shoulders. ‘I just want to be honest with you’

‘I thought you were happy’ I was grateful for her interruption so I could have a second to think, but the sharpness of her words made my head go blank.

‘I am happy,’ she didn’t seem grateful that I’d brought this up, ‘But I’m just not sure about ‘us’ at the moment’

‘Why not?’ her words sounded more like a death sentence than a question.

I hesitated.

‘Well… We haven’t been as physical recently…’

‘My mum has just gone into a care home,’ she slammed the plate into the sink and a muffled ‘chink’ noise signalled that something had broken beneath the bubbles. Despite this her eyes still bore into me.

‘Yeah, I know, but we –’

‘And I’ve had to work overtime to make ends meet. ’

‘Okay, but….’ This is not going how I thought it was going to.

‘You live here rent free, I’ve got a son to support and now a care home to pay for.’

‘I thought you would be grateful I’m being honest and open.’ I tried to smile and opened my arms to let her in, but she gasped. I was in too deep to stop. Had to carry on.

‘I’m not saying I want to split up’, maybe she just needed some reassurance, ‘I just… I’m just letting you know that right now I’m not really feeling it. I probably will again, though.’ I smiled my dazzler to her, sure to get her back on board. It was getting late and this was probably best reworded on another day.

‘Well thank you very fucking much.’ She was shouting. ‘What the fuck am I supposed to do with that?’ Fair question. I hadn’t really thought of that, but then again she didn’t respond how I’d expected.

‘Right,’ I darted my eyes around the room searching for clues, anything to get me out of this hole. Nothing. I glanced up at her, ‘I’ll make up the spare bed again.’ Before she had the chance to lash out I retreated upstairs as quick as my legs could take me. It was safer in the spare room. It always was.

The last breath

The last breath

 

‘I think you should come to the hospital and say goodbye. It might be your last chance.’

Charlotte looked at the red numbers on the clock by her bed. 2 AM. It was the third time this week that she’d had the call. Each time she’d gone to the hospital and kissed him goodbye. Each time she’d said her last words in the hope he might still be able to hear them. Each time she held his lifeless hand and waited by his side.

Every long moment was separated by single laboured breaths. She asked the nurses if there was anything they could do, wanting to beg but only asking of them what they could give. She pleaded for him to be transferred to the hospice, but the regretful response was always the same. There were no beds available. Too many people were dying. The nurses were kind but the living deserved more of their time. When his vitals changed they were obligated to step in, to lengthen the little time he had left, regardless of how frail his body was. The futility of keeping him alive was almost cruel.

She returned to his side, leaning on the crunchy green mattress to be closer to him. The hospice would have a private room without frightened prying eyes from the patients around n the other beds. The frail bearded man in the bed opposite had witnessed the change from the jovial man who entered the ward to the empty shell he had since become. He could no longer talk or move. He had been in pain, and if he still was he couldn’t say so.

She observed carefully from the blue plastic chair by his bedside, noting any flickers in his eyes or changes in his breathing that could signal fleeting consciousness, discomfort, or signs of finally passing over.

He’d lost consciousness five days ago, but his body kept going. The papery blue curtain did nothing to mute the sound of his hard, laboured breaths. The other three patients on the ward had hardly spoken since the change. Maybe they wanted him to hurry up, to stop reminding them of what lay ahead. The end will be a relief. Witnessing every stage of a slow death leaves you both hollow and humble. Everything else ceases to be important when compared to life itself.

She stayed for hours, some nights sleeping on the floor by the bed. The nurses overlooked the visiting times. She kept his mouth moist with a white sponge lollipop dipped in water and guiltily hoped his pain would stop soon.

The breaths became louder, further apart. They filled the whole room, holding it still. Each breath held the suffering of 1000 fallen soldiers.

‘Isn’t there anything you can do?’ She asked the nurses

’We’re doing everything we can. We just have to be patient.’

Never before had she been so tempted to take a life. This life was already gone. Nothing would be taken except suffering. But still, they waited.

Nurses came and went. Doctors came and went. The rasps continued. His mouth had become limp, his pupils white and his once chubby face now sallow and ragged.

The inhumanity of inaction bore down onto her, pressing on to her chest. She swallowed the injustice that shook her to the core bit her lips together in case they opened into a scream that wouldn’t stop. She cradled his puddled white fingers, channelling serenity.

‘How much longer?’ she asked them.

’It could be days or weeks,’ they said

’Weeks?’ The possibility was barbaric.

‘There’s a space at the hospice now, but he’s too to poorly to be moved.’

‘Do it anyway. Let him have peace,’ she pleaded.

‘We can’t. He’d die on the way there.’

‘Good! Anything is better than this!’ As soon as the words left her lips, she covered them with shameful fingers and looked away. You wouldn’t let animals suffer like this, she thought.

‘I know it’s hard, but he has to go in his own time. It wouldn’t be right to die in the back of an ambulance.’ She felt like all his choices had been taken away.

‘But he can’t speak. He could be in pain.’

‘He’s on maximum dose of morphine and if it looks like he needs more we can top him up as much as he needs.’

A hand gently touched her arm.

‘He shouldn’t have to die like this,’ she whispered to herself as the nurse’s gentle footsteps eased away.

That night she stayed again, hunched over in the chair by his bed. A change in the tempo of his rasps woke her. A rattle popped from inside his throat. The room felt different, something heavy lingered in the air. She counted the growing seconds between each breath until another breath simply didn’t follow the last. Life had been replaced by emptiness. She kissed him on the forehead and vowed to never let this happen again.

 

 

 

Missing

 

He kissed her fluffy fringe and said “I love you Princess”.

She giggled and replied “Grandpa, you haven’t finished the story!”

Her squeaky voice made his heart burst. He blinked to hold back the tears and read the rest aloud.

“Right then princess” he said as he softly closed the book, “Time for your dinner.”

“But I want to go to Pixieland” she peeped.

“Tomorrow sweetheart, it’s raining today.” He gave her a squeeze to dissipate her heavy frown “Go and wash your hands ready for dinner.”

She sighed resignedly. “Ok. ”

“Good girl,” he said as he hauled himself out of the armchair and made his way across to the kitchen area.

She stomped across the room and out of the door, but instead of going to the downstairs toilet to wash her hands, the little girl stopped in the hall and squeezed into her little red wellies with the big frog eyes on the top.  She pulled her pink bobble hat onto her head and quietly put on her grey duffle coat with the pink mittens attached by a string through the arms.

“Isabelle,” came Grandpa’s voice from the kitchen.

“I’m coming,” she replied.

She waited for a moment, grinning at the door, expecting him to burst out and tickle her tummy, making her giggle again. But the hall stayed empty and the sound of pots, pans and plates rang out from the kitchen. She reached up high to the big brass handle, pulled the door open and squeezed out, closing it lightly behind her.

She skipped down the path towards the gate, her rubber wellies clip clopping along the front path. If it wasn’t for the pitter patter of rain, perhaps he would have heard her clip clopping down the path. Perhaps he would have caught her before it was too late. But she opened the gate and turned left, skipping along the pavement and swinging her arms. The cold rain made her cheeks turn pink.

She reached the zebra crossing at end of the road, pausing for a moment as if unsure of what to do next. Then she said “Look right-left-right-left!” aloud and crossed without looking in either direction, taking big strides so she only stepped on the white lines. Safely across, she put her hands on the cold metal railing and looked at the clump of trees at the far end of the park where the pixies lived. She bounced on the spot and giggled.

 

She was so excited about her adventure that she didn’t hear the heavy wheels that stopped behind her. She didn’t hear the footsteps of the man getting out, or the sound of the van’s sliding door open behind her. All she felt was the sensation of being grabbed tightly and flying backwards straight off her feet, leaving one of her little red wellies behind. Before she could speak, a dirty smell filled her button nose. All she saw was the silhouette of a man before a metallic ‘whoosh’ filled her ears and took all the daylight away.

 

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenotquitefool/6615285017