PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
He was on his way home from school, walking with his head down, his sports holdall slung over his shoulder and he was terrified. A letter was going to be arriving the very next morning that would throw his parents into a puritanical fury. A teacher at his Catholic Free School had caught him watching a filthy movie on a friend’s mobile phone.
Some parents might laugh off such lurid transgressions, perhaps even celebrate the sexual awakening of their sons. Many of the parents of his pals, he was sure, would do just that. But not his. Not in a month of Sundays. His parents being religiously strict in the most steadfast sense. His pals all had mobile phones and game consoles and their own computers in their rooms, and would regularly swap just about anything personal across innumerable social networking platforms. Many of them also seemed to have vast collections of dirty movies on their phones, some of which involved themselves, well that’s what they claim. He wasn’t allowed none of these. His mum was particularly disparaging of mobile phones and the internet claiming that they are like the many heads of the beast as chronicled by St John The Apostle in the Apocalypse, and would often argue that he was simply not old enough to withstand such temptations. His dad would rant on too, about the dissolute ravages of contemporary society and modern life.
But worse than this was that now he felt raw with shame, wishing that he was stronger, better able to fight temptation, better able to understand his own body, knowing only too well, and indeed, fearing what his parents might say about his sexual awakenings, a topic he had never once dared to discuss with them, and an issue of his development they had never once raised with him. Were it not for the movies that he watched during his lunchtimes he would be entirely in the dark and out on a limb as to how to deal with girls and, more specifically, the passions that were raging within him. With his friends, in the playground, he achieved not just camaraderie but a sense that what he was experiencing was normal.
He walked and looked at the houses to either side of him and wondered what happened behind the windows, whether all family life was the same as his family life, whether their lives were populated by shouts and screams, visions, scourges, blood, demons, eternal damnation.
He wanted to pray for an end to his torment and some heavenly reprieve before the morning, but he didn’t know how to, his problem being that he just couldn’t believe, an unfortunate failure of his nurturing and not one that he could in any way explain. If only he did believe, life for him would be so much simpler. There certainly wouldn’t be any letters home from school. On one level he sort of felt the presence of an alternative spiritual reality populated by the Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Ghost – saints, angels, cherubs and all the rest of them – it was, considering his home life, difficult for him not to. At the same time, however, his internal voice whispered that none of it was true. And as he walked that internal voice was working overtime, reeling off an angry monologue about how unfortunate he was, and how cruel life had been to him for giving him the parents that he had, when it suddenly fell silent. Just up ahead of him, slap bang in the middle of the pavement, blocking his way, stood a girl, his age or thereabouts, in a short skirt with bare legs, her figure tall and slender, her hair short, spiked and fiery red, her eyes like emeralds. A small silver handbag was slung over her shoulder and she was wearing a T-shirt with the words, Heaven Sent, embossed in gold across her young breasts.
She pretended not to see him, keeping her gaze on something way off down the street, but when he didn’t move she scowled and said, “Fuck off”.
He coughed, said, “Sorry,” turned and, feeling that he was trapped in clothes two sizes too small for him, began to walk away.
“Wait,” she called.
He stopped and turned.
“D’you’s gone red,” she said.
Afraid of the silence he quickly said the first thing that popped into his mind, fluffing the natural beat of the conversation by swallowing the very first word of his sentence. “Wh-at school do you go to?”
The question made her blink. “School?” she said, which in her thick Bristolian accent, sounded more like scawl.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I don’t go a scawl.”
“Taint no scawl that wants I.” The light in her eyes flinched. “Etz a fucker,” she added, off-the-cuff-like. She took a pack of ten Marlboro Silvers out of her small handbag, put a cigarette to her lips and just before she lit it said, “Whir d’you goes?”
“Bart’s,” he answered.