Never make eye contact. I knew the rules, once you make eye contact, you exist. Once you exist you are in the game. A player. I had walked past them on the way up from school, kept my head down, no eye contact. Walk fast head down, arms in, hands in pockets, or maybe check the yellow frog swatch, wonder what time it is..?, think about something important, make yourself small. It got me past them. The first time.
Three of them, no sign of a bottle the first time, plenty of signs of trouble though.
Bat sense tingled like mad, checked my shoelaces to make sure they were tied, might need to take off. They were as wide and low as tanks, probably made out of metal, if you punched them it would hurt, I could kind of hear electricity coming from them like a low thrum, like a warning buzzer. I stayed wide, my insides buzzed, like bees all inside my skin, tingling, prickling panic down my arms and into my fingers, hairs standing up on my head and neck and arms and back, then a cold shiver, could they see it?
They stared at the back of my neck all the way up the hill, could feel it on my neck like a ray of static tingling my skin, waiting for me to turn round, but I didn't look, walked calm, not too fast or might look scared. The tingling was dying down, the whining in my ears like an alarm on a spaceship was fading and the stars in my eyes were clearing.
Get home. Ravioli time, Nic had half, just heat, plonk and eat. 12.40pm on the frog watch, plenty of time, upstairs to read. Wolfen by Whitley Streiber. Lying on my back with my arms up holding the book in front of my face, tones my muscles. Nearly 6ft now like the cop in the book, he wears hawian shirts and jeans and drives a big American car, he's thin, but he's tough, he never has to hide, he would go back down the road without even checking if they were gone, if they were there he might talk to them, no trouble here boys, you don't want to start somethin you cant finish.
The wolves hit hard and fast, but he's never scared, its tiring being scared all the time, so he's never scared. Nic shouted up, remember to lock the door. She never existed, was never noticed and didn't like it. Nic left at exactly the same time every day, every time, for every where. She was like the street sweeper, same time every day, no surprises, nothing to see here.
Dignity was the deacon blue song, maybe that's what the street sweeper was thinking of, but nobody noticed. Nic just walked, the same way, same time and nobody noticed. Don't think she knew the rules, but she was good at the game. I looked at Sylvester. Crime is a Disease, Meet the Cure, ray bans, muscles, chewing a match.
Sylvester was short, he wasn't 6ft, but he would just go down the road and stand in front of them, they would shout at him, would sound funny, Scottish accents shouting at Sylvester. Sylvester would stare and stare and stare and then turn around and walk away, not looking back, even of they shouted, he wouldn't shrink his head into his shoulders just in case they threw things. If they threw things he would just turn slowly and spit out his match and it would all be over. 12.55pm, book down.
Three encyclopaedias, arms straight out in front raise them above my head, slowly back down, control, that's the bit that builds muscle. 50 reps in front of Sylvester. So far away from me that's what Dire Straits are singing, here I am again in this mean old town. Black and white striped wallpaper, truck racing posters, black and white cover on my bed, single bed, lady poster on the ceiling. Mum just laughed. Room smells stale, stale and safe. 20 minutes to go.
The dogs needed to go out, leads on both, choke chain on Mac. Choke chain for him, he could pull a car, a house with his choke chain, white terrier outside, dinosaur inside his head. Some dogs bite and lock their jaws on you, you can hit them with a crowbar and they wont let go. Macs jaw didn't lock but he could bite hard. I wrapped the choke chain round my fist lots of times, fist of steel, Sylvester would use that. Walked the dogs the other way, but watched in case they had come up the hill, no sign.
If I got hurt I would not have to go back, could fall and get a compound fracture and laceration and palpitations, get this boy on an IV stat, they would hold my head and look at me and then there would be a warm nurse who talks soft and smiles and is 25 but could be your girlfriend but you know she's just being nice. There would be no need to walk back down the hill. Hospitals are safe.
I lay down on the path, recovery position, cheek on the cold concrete, Mac sniffed my head, I stayed there for five minutes and a man walked past, but he didn't say anything, got grit on my cheek and it got kind of stuck, face like orange peel, but it wasn't sore. Got up and went back to the house. Two dogs walked, 5 minutes to go. Stared into the mirror, just stared, dark stare, hold it, hold it, hold it until they look away, then smirk a bit and nod and walk away.
School shoes are no good for kicking and my docs weren't polished, polished docs are the best for kicking. School shoes and school trousers and a school shirt and a jumper, not a school jumper but it was really because you wear it to school and then you can't wear it anywhere else because it feels wrong.
I thought to myself, if they are there, i'll put my head down and be invisible and march past, or get with a group and go past with them and then I'll be nearly invisible because I'll be in a group. I walked slowly round the corner, to the top of the hill, the horse was at the fence so I spoke to him, patted his nose, no sugar lumps today, but he liked the nose pat. From the horse field I could see just to the bend at the middle of the hill, when I came up, they were just below that. If I walked a little further down I would see them, if they were there. They would see me, if they were looking.
They saw me.
They were looking up the hill as I looked down round the bend, no reaction, they just looked then got on with their business of describing big things to each other with their arms. Two were standing and they were kind of bumping off each other like drunk sumo wrestlers. I felt cold inside and really light, like I was floating a bit. That's always the start of being scared of a fight.
I forgot about Sylvester and the cop in the book, just got my head down and went invisible. Arms in and close, head down, shoulders hunched forward, looked at a thing on the side of my bag really closely and walked fast. At about the size of a house away from them they all stopped and stared at me, I looked out of the top of my eyes and then down really quick, walked a bit faster. Got past.
The back of my head opened up, just like a little cut that spread out like an explosion, round and round and wet and hot and running down my neck, my knees buckled, I felt a slam in my back, like a car had crashed into me, so hard, face hit the concrete again, orange peel face. Except this time the orange peeled.
Twenty five feet kicked me all at once feet floating off the ground so they didn't need one to stand on, both for kicking, orange peel scraping on the concrete to open a little more, glass smash noise on my head again but no wet this time, only bits and bits and bits of glass, put my arms up to my head, forearms over my face, hands on top, pushing the glass in further, the feet helped my hands push the glass in. Punches, collar held up off the ground, head in hands, 45 fists hitting my head, octopus punches, spinning, hitting all at once.
My body was storing the feelings till later, could not translate them all just now so picked one and ignored the rest, they could come when the hitting bit stopped. Collar dropped, back on concrete, boots so hard, they must have polished them, moved my skinny 6ft body across the concrete and onto the grass, sweeping me off the path like the street sweeper. Don't think I made a noise. Maybe I whimpered. Sylvester wouldn't whimper.
They walked away. I got up almost right away, started walking towards them, I shouted something, not come here punk, but something anyway and they turned back towards me. I turned and ran and ran and ran and the teacher caught me at the gates. He had blood on his face too. Not mine.
Hospital, soft nurse, probably not 25 but lovely and not laughing.