Issue 12: Bloody Kids

10 Feb

Welcome to our first issue of 2013.  Jim, Celia and Emily bring you tales to celebrate the wondrous time of innocence and hope for the future via companionship, competition, custody, cheating and craft projects gone wrong.  The best years of your life?  We’re not so sure, but it seems the bloody grown-up kids are the ones to look out for…

The next issue will be on the lovely topic of Bloody Weather.  We’d like more writers.  Please send us your stuff by the end of March for April’s issue.

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BLOODY KIDS CONTENTS:

CHILD-CENTRED, FUTURE-FOCUSSED – By Jim

THE INVISIBLE EGG  – By Celia

MIDDLE-AGED CRISIS – By Emily

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CHILD-CENTRED, FUTURE-FOCUSSED  – By Jim

011

I never actually spoke much to Norman in the jail, but I used to have to listen to him quite a lot.  He thinks he can play guitar for one thing, and, though he was in for an assault on three bouncers, he could just as easy have been done for murdering Horse with No Name, Free Fallin and Wonderwall. During the hour before lights out, the mangled sounds of his fucked up fingerpicking would drift over from B Hall and I must have been just one of sixty convicts who dreamt of smashing that thing over his head, but no one was going to do that to Norman:  six foot three, 15 stone of muscle and sporting a dent on his forehead that could have been inflicted by a meat cleaver.  “You should see the other bloke,” they would kid when he wasn’t around, but no one actually asked Norman about his scar or about much else.  He wasn’t the sort of person that ever looked lonely either, but appearances can be deceptive.

I found out all about Norman’s inner demons after they sent me on the course to be a listener.  That means sitting with guys while they sob into their cocoa about their sentences, their cellmates, the  screws, and quite a lot about their girlfriends finding new partners and new stepdads for the weans.  That’s why it was pretty weird getting paired up with Norman, because it didn’t take long to figure out he was greeting about Nicki.  I’d known from the off she wouldn’t be waiting around for me, and fair play to Norman, although we’d seen each other round the town, he didn’t really know my name and he obviously knew nothing about Nicki and me, which meant the photos of us must have come down off her Facebook page before I was hardly through prison reception.  She’d decided on a clean sheet and a new man and as alpha males go she’d have been struggling to find one scarier than Norman, so you could see it made sense from her point of view.   The real issue was, this baby Norman was going on about – was it really his?  I found myself trying to look sympathetic while asking questions like, “So how old is the wee man exactly?” and “Does he look like you?”   According to Norman, this bairn was the best thing that had ever happened to him, but he was worried about some scumbag he’d heard had been sniffing around.  I was worried too when he said it was Lloyd.

Me and Lloyd had a lot of history with women.  I don’t know what it was but we both seemed to appeal to the same type – drug addicts in their early twenties.  For women who fitted that profile in our area, it usually boiled down to a choice between me and Lloyd and, as Lloyd was a violent maniac, they tended to go for me.  He was never all that bothered until it came to Nicki.  It was after I got serious with her that the drug squad came round and mysteriously found a whole load of smack in the ingenious hiding place of my wardrobe.   “This might be in breach of your parole conditions,” said Det Sgt  Hogg, holding two of the kilo bags up in his gloved hands.  It turned out the gear had been cut that much it could have been sold as talc, but that was beside the point.

Happier after getting all the Nicki and baby stuff off his chest, Norman went straight back to his cell and massacred Stairway to Heaven, while I lay picturing the horrific domestic circumstances the son I’d never even known about was now growing up in.  I wasn’t sure whether to request not to be Norman’s listener, but in the end decided to hang in there, since he was the only one who could tell me anything about my own flesh and blood.  For the next two years he showed me pictures of the baby becoming a toddler and then a right wee boy.  He looked like his mum, for sure, but there was something about the eyes…

I got the DNA done as soon as I was out.  Why I’d been so sure from the start Connor was mine I don’t know, but I was right.  Nicki agreed to access, glad of a babysitter every weekend, and Lloyd never objected because he probably couldn’t care less, but also because he’d just have been waiting for me to come after him and get myself put back inside.

By the time he’d completed his sentence, Norman knew Connor wasn’t his son after all, but, as I expected, he still showed a desire to keep in touch with the kid.  With no legal rights, he asked for mediation and I agreed.  I think he thought he was going to be dealing with Nicki or Lloyd  and got a surprise when I turned up.

“Are you doing this now?” he asked, looking from the mediator lady to me.

“I am Connor’s dad,” I announced. “I didn’t know that when we were inside but I suspected it.  I didn’t mention about me and Nicki because I wanted you to keep talking.”

Norman’s scar burned red while he processed this, his breathing went funny and his hands were bunching into great fists as he rose to his feet.  “You….,” he gasped, “you…”

“Time out!” cried the mediator.

“No, hold on,” I said.  “I know how much you care about Connor – sit down Norman. There is definitely room for two dads in his life.”

“You mean three,” said the mediator, reminding us of Lloyd.

“Whatever.” I looked up at Norman. “Just don’t try teaching him guitar, okay?”

We gradually got him calmed down, then started to put together a rota that we could propose to Nicki, but it was when me and Norman got outside that the real negotiations started.

Norman was soon back at the fishing, on his brother’s boat.  They’d be at sea for two or three days at a stretch and he was on one of these trips when Lloyd went missing.  It so happened I was down the coast with Connor, introducing him to his gran and grandpa.   Nothing was heard of Lloyd, but when a leg bone washed up on the beach months later they started doing some tests.  People often take their own lives off the cliffs round here.  It was in the paper that they used an old comb of Lloyd’s to make the match.  There had been no sign anything was wrong, apparently – he hadn’t said much – but I know from my Samaritans training that suicide can be like that, especially amongst young men from our sort of background.

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THE INVISIBLE EGG – By Celia

012

My Mum woke me up at 8am, and was surprised to find me already dressed and ready for school. I had decided to go to bed in my clothes so that I could have an extra lie in the next morning. I loved cheating the system.

That day was my school’s Annual Easter Egg Competition. You had to hard boil or blow an egg and then decorate it. There were prizes for the most beautiful design and the most ingenious idea. I could see cars pulling up outside the school and flustered parents getting huge cardboard boxes out of their boots then carrying them carefully towards the gates.

I entered the school hall to see Alastair Bailey’s Mum putting the finishing touches to her Egg Cathedral. She had fashioned a church with stained glass windows out of a giant cardboard box and some sweetie wrappers. She had then decorated dozens of eggs to make an egg congregation. They were like the Terracotta Warriors, each one with a unique facial expression, even miniature hats, ties and glasses. Next to her, Penny Prestwich’s Mum gently placed a Fabergé-style egg made from blue paint and lace onto a bed of potpourri.

I cleared a space on the big table for my entry. I began with a straw basket which I had found in my Mum’s drawer and had once contained Christmas soaps. I had then lined this with my Dad’s cotton wool roll. I used my fingers to make a slight depression in the centre of the cotton wool.  Finally, I positioned a sign in front of the ensemble which read ‘THE INVISIBLE EGG.’

No sooner had I stepped back from the table when the Headteacher Mrs Barnes came up and peered at my basket. She turned towards me and I could see that her face was red.

She had already marked me as a troublemaker after I had cheated in that year’s Potato Race at  Sports Day. It had been her idea as the new Head to introduce the Potato Race. The objective was to collect potatoes one by one which had been laid out in a line on the track and deposit them in a bucket; then run to cross  the finishing line. I decided to pick up all the potatoes at once, carry them in my arms to the bucket and then jog to the finishing line. That was the only hope I had of ever winning a race at Sports Day. As I crossed the line first, Mrs Barnes didn’t look at me, but her face went very red.

She clasped my egg basket in her hands; “Take this away immediately, it is disgusting!” She threw back her head and I could see a metal bridge running across the roof of her mouth. Trembling, I ran out of the hall into the playground. The massive Mars Easter Egg would never be mine now.

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MIDDLE-AGED CRISIS – By Emily

013

Jessie taught me the word bollocks on one of those holidays in France.  We yelled it as loud as we could as we jumped off the diving board into the swimming lake. I thought it was the best word I’d ever heard, and so perfect for shouting.  I vaguely knew it was rude, which made shouting it seem rebellious, even if none of the French kids could understand.  Jessie was cool.  A year or two older than me, she also knew what the word fuck actually meant.  If I had known the word chic then, I would have said she was effortlessly chic; she wore a piece of string tied round her wrist to measure her summer tan.  In my pastel gathered skirts or corduroy dungarees I always felt fat and frumpy next to her.  Tall and athletic, she wore Bermuda shorts and vests, or sweatshirts and jeans and her lace-up plimsolls were far more sophisticated than my brown Clark’s sandals.  She was witty and funny and could run fast.  I looked up to her and I think she enjoyed it; even though I was younger and less worldly-wise, she let me be part of her secret society.  We were the only two members as the other kids were too young.  We made stapled-together folders and designed a logo and made a great show of the mysterious contents to make the younger ones jealous.  They didn’t know that we couldn’t think of anything to put inside them.

My little sister played mostly with the other children of our parents’ friends; spoilt Gemma who had tantrums and called her dad by his first name as she ordered him around.  Little Robbie who was so young he would go along with what any of the others suggested.  Our four families holidayed together most summers in a rented converted barn deep in the French countryside.  Of mismatched ages, none of us would have chosen each other as friends, but we met up each year and picked up where we had left off the summer before, a little taller, but only briefly awkward.  We would run wild in the fields and down the country lanes and farm tracks, and mess around while our parents cooked and ate endless outdoor meals late into the night.  I liked it best when it was just me and Jessie.  Being the eldest two, we stayed up late with the grown-ups and watched shooting stars.  I liked not having to be the most responsible one, as I usually had to with my sister. Jessie and I  walked along the track to get milk from the farm, daring each other to touch the electric fence.  I did this once, to impress her, and saw the look of panic on her face as I screamed.  It reminded me of the time I’d tried to keep up with her walking along a wall and had fallen into a bed of nettles on a previous holiday. But she put her arm round me and I felt protected and safe, she made me feel brave, and with her by my side even managed to laugh.  She taught me the rudest song she knew on our way back.  I had no idea what frigging in the rigging meant, but loved belting out The Good Ship Venus at full volume across the idyllic rural landscape.

Jessie had been adopted, and this made her even more special and exotic to me.  We had never spoken about it but it was obvious because she looked different from her parents.  One day we were playing with some English boys we’d met at the swings near the lake.  Jessie’s mum came and gave her some money to buy ice creams, and when she went to the stall, the boys asked me why she looked different from her mum.  “Oh, she’s adopted,” I said.  I told them what my dad had told me when I must have asked the same question, years before. “She was left in a supermarket by her real mum.” The boys seemed impressed, and when Jessie came back with ice creams, one of the boys, a confident kid with freckles and a Superman tee shirt said to her, “I hear you were left in a supermarket.” I was horrified, they weren’t supposed to say anything.  I hated them, but hated myself more. Jessie said nothing and started walking back towards the lake.  I followed quickly, wishing I knew how to make up for my terrible betrayal, but said nothing, silently pleading with her to forgive me.

When Jessie’s parents divorced, she would sometimes come on the annual holiday with one of them and sometimes with the other.  One summer there was a complicated hand-over half way through.  She told me that they couldn’t be in the same room together because they might argue or fight.  There had been an incident with a fish-slice and a saucepan that sounded terrifying to me, but being cool, Jessie made this grim anecdote into a funny story, rolling her eyes and laughing.

It was a couple of summers later when Jessie and I were sharing a bedroom; was my idea of heaven. It was the first time I had seen a Sony Walkman and she generously let me listen to some unfamiliar music as long as I didn’t wear out the batteries.  We were up late talking and reading books with sex in them that she had got hold of from god knows where, that she said to me suddenly, “I’m sorry to hear about your parents.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but deep down knew it could only mean one, terrible thing.  “It’s the middle-aged crisis,” she said, laughing.  I didn’t want her to know I didn’t know any news about my own parents, so I said nothing.  I thought about the arguments I’d witnessed, the tension I had been uncomfortably aware of but thought little of.  Until now.  I hadn’t seen my mum hit my dad with a fish slice, though, so perhaps she didn’t mean that they were splitting up? If not, what could she mean? And how did she know, when I didn’t?  I lay awake wondering what this could mean for my family, wishing I could ask her for more information, or better still, some advice.  Perhaps it would be fine.  If only I could be like Jessie.  She was obviously alright, even though her parents had had this middle-aged crisis thing.  Giving the condition this sophisticated phrase made it seem less frightening.  Perhaps I would be alright too.

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