A bit more of the tale of urban delinquency, based on the kids we see every day. Like it? Tell me. Want more? Tell me. Don't like it? Tell me why.
Many stories like this one are set in a fictitious, imaginary world where the risks of AIDS, HIV, and STDs do not exist. In the real world, they do. Play safe, take care. Protect yourselves and your partners.
"Anthony!" Dad was standing in the hall, close to the living room door. "You know I won't have you use words like that here, where your mother might hear you!" he said angrily. I felt Rye's grip tighten on me as he jumped at the shout.
"Sorry Dad." I said, and led Rye to the kitchen table.
Dinner was embarrassingly silent, I think everyone was a bit on edge. We ate, Lamb chops, potatoes and carrots, nice as Mum's cooking always was. Afterwards, I helped Rye back to his chair. His chair? Well, the one of ours he used. I went up to my room.
There was a suitcase on the new bed, Rye's stuff I presumed. I lay back on my bed and stared at the ceiling. Two years. Two fucking years of no privacy! I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew, the door banged open against the new bed. Rye stood there, holding himself up with two aluminium walking sticks.
"How'd you get up the stairs?" I asked, surprised to see him.
"On me bum." he said as he shuffled into the room. "I just wanna read." he added as he sat on the bed and pushed the suitcase down to the foot end. He swung his legs up on the bed, and let the sticks fell to the floor with a clatter. He produced a comic book from the gown pocket, and lay on one side reading it. I went back to staring at the ceiling.
Five? Ten? Fifteen minutes later? I don't know how long, but I heard him move about. I turned my head, and he was opening the suitcase. It wasn't full, I noticed, I was right about how little stuff he had, and he was ruffling the clothes about. A walkman, old and scruffy, appeared in his hand and he shuffled back to his previous position, put the earpieces in and picked up the comic again. The `Tssh-tssh-tssh' of some unknown music invaded the silence, and I lay there watching him.
"What yer lisnin' to?" I asked. No response.
"WHAT YER LISNIN' TO?" I shouted, he still didn't hear. I slipped off a shoe and threw it, not hard, intending only to attract his attention, but my aim being what it was, it ripped the comic from his hand.
"WHAT?" he shouted at me, sitting up and wincing at the remaining pain the sudden movement brought.
"Sorry, I only meant to – what are you listening to, I was only wondering?"
"Old stuff." he said simply, "I've only got a couple of discs."
"You could borrow some of mine -"
"It's OK, I like this." he interrupted, pushing the earpieces and picking up the torn comic to read again. I rolled on my side and watched him.
"I could go down again, if you don't want me up here yet." he said after glancing at me a couple of times. Funny, isn't it, how people can sense you watching them.
"Nah, don't bother." I said, swinging my legs round and to the floor. I kicked off the other shoe and walked out. It wasn't my room anymore, not without the privacy. I wandered downstairs to sit and watch the telly with Mum and Dad, but it wasn't on, they were sitting talking.
"Er-how are you and Ryan getting on?" Dad asked, as the previous conversation matter obviously wasn't for my ears.
"Oh, OK I suppose. He's listening to his old walkman, and reading a comic." I said as I sat on the settee next to Dad. "I'm just bored. Anything on telly?"
"We were talking." Mum said, the inference being I that shouldn't have disturbed them, and that the telly wasn't going on.
"About me, was it?" I asked, might as well get it out in the open, whatever it was they weren't happy about.
"Actually, yes." Dad said, looking round at me as if I were to be pitied rather than told off. "We were trying to work out this thing – this Ryan and you thing."
I sighed. "There is no `thing'," I said. "I wish you'd stop thinking there is, about Rye or anybody." I watched them both staring at me.
"Look, I like boys." I said as they were apparently expecting more. "And some of my mates, well, they aren't bothered about if it's a girl or me that gets `em off. So it gets me off too, and no harm done, OK?"
I shocked myself saying that to my parents, but parents never seem to understand their kids, do they? Perhaps they will, now I've told them.
"Are you fucking stupid?" my Dad exploded. I don't think I've heard him swear like that before, he was livid and I suddenly was in fear of my life.
"There's a boy upstairs who ran out in front of a truck because all you wanted was to `get yourself off', can't you see that?" Dad had jumped from the chair and was towering over me, his arm raised pointing at the ceiling. "You can't just take somebody's emotions, chew them up and spit them out as if they tasted bad without there being consequences!" he shouted. "That boy thought you loved him, thought you cared and all the time all you were thinking about is yourself, and getting yourself off! You're responsible for him doing that to himself, Anthony, can't you bloody well see it?"
No, even though I was trembling with fear and nearly wetting myself, I wasn't having this.
"I didn't tell him to fall for me, I can't be expected to be responsible for what the stupid little prick thinks!" I shouted back.
The slap came as a total surprise, knocking me sideways down on the settee. "If you can't respect your friends or yourself any better than that, then I can't respect you." Dad said, stepping back. I think he knew he'd gone too far by hitting me. Mum stood up and held him by his arm, I think she was a little scared too.
"I'd rather have him upstairs as my son than you." he said finally.
That knife plunged deep, and twisted. I jumped up and ran from the room, into the hall. I looked at the front door, I wanted to open it and run, run as far and as fast as I could away from this, from here, from him, from all of them – and never come back. Never. Not ever. But I couldn't. I just couldn't face being alone.
I turned and ran up the stairs, into my room and jumped face down on the bed, not just crying, but screaming with the fear I had. I heard Rye saying something, calling my name, but I blocked it out.
My – Dad – didn't – want – me – as – his – son.
I remembered again the times we'd had when I was young, me and my Dad. Playing, in the house, the garden, or the park. Kicking a football, playing cricket with a tennis ball and a piece of fence lath. Watching the birds flying, the squirrels running up the trees. Him telling me things, teaching me about the world I was growing up in. Sitting on his knee, him telling me stories, or jokes, or just tickling me to make me laugh. My Dad – he'd been my whole world once, the one person in the world I looked up to and trusted. Now he didn't want me.
Rye had somehow got out of bed and hobbled across to me, he was shaking my shoulder.
"Whatever's the matter, Ant?" I heard him say. It was all his stupid fault, all down to him. Not me, not my fault at all, just him, just because he –
I turned over, tears still waterfalling down my face. He wanted to know? Then I'd tell him, once and for ever, what he'd done. Ruined my life, turned my Dad against me, all because he – he –
The look in his eyes stopped me dead. My mouth opened and closed, but I couldn't say a word. He cared, he felt the pain of my hurt.
The one word said it all, asked all the questions.
I couldn't give the answers, I hadn't got any. I just couldn't feel what he did, what the expression on his still-grazed face showed, a mysterious emotion that was there because I was there with him.
He stood there, leaning against the bed, supporting himself, waiting as long as it took for me to speak. He wouldn't go until I told him, I knew.
"Dad doesn't want me as his son anymore. He'd rather have you." I said. I needed to tell him the truth, I wanted to hurt him as well. It was his fault, after all, wasn't it?
"He's just angry." Rye said. "He'll calm down."
"Will he? Did your father ever calm down, or was that only when he was sober? Did he ever love you, Rye? Did he? Did he?" I spat at him.
Rye stood up, the shock registering on his face. He hadn't thought of his father in a long time, I was to find out later. I'd brought that particular torment back alive for him.
"He was different." Rye said.
"Why? Because he abused you, fucked you and warped your mind?" I asked, wanting to hurt him really badly.
"No, you did that." he said quietly, and hobbled back to his bed and sat on it. A ten ton weight fell from the sky and crushed my head, or at least, I wished it had. "You know," he said, turning on the bed to face me, "I think he was your real father and yours was mine. As if the hospital had given our mothers the wrong babies."
If it wasn't for the year that separated us, he may have had a point.
"Rye, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that." I said.
"I meant every word." he said, his back to me now.
"Look, Ant, I know. You don't love me, you never did, you never will. You don't have to keep telling me that you've explained, I know. I remember. The first time you came to visit me in the hospital, you told me you'd never meant anything by it. The things you said, the things it made me think. I'll get over it, Ant, like I've got over my Dad. It just takes me a little time, that's all."
"So you hate me now?" I asked.
Rye kept his back to me. "Yes, I hate you. I still love you a bit, too, I suppose. I mean, I'm grateful to you and your parents for taking me in -"
"That was their idea, not mine." I interrupted.
Rye rolled over to face me, I was sitting up on my bed. "Do you think I'm stupid enough not to know that? Your Mum used to come and see me you know, while you were in school. She said she wanted me to come, not you. She told me how you felt, what you'd said about me."
"Shut the fuck up, Ant. You can't say anything useful, even if you wanted to, and I know you don't. Your Dad came as well, one day when he was visiting you, and you were in the day room. Did I still want to come, he asked. I told him I did, if he would have me. I'd have been stupid not to, wouldn't I? I said what you felt about me wasn't important any more, I could live with that. I thought I was over you, Ant, I really did. You didn't care about me, and I could put up with that."
He ran out of words. He just looked at me.
"I'm sorry, Rye, I just can't feel it like you can. There are times when I do care, do want you to be happy -"
"Just so long as it doesn't get in the way of what you want for yourself, eh?"
"I'm not ready to fall in love yet. I don't know if I ever will be." I said.
"Then you're fuckin' lucky, Anthony Calligan. Really fuckin' lucky. You'll never know what it feels like to be told that someone `didn't mean the things he said', never feel the bottom drop out of your heart when someone you love gets into a car and is driven off by – by – oh, fuck it, I'm the one who's been stupid, I'm the one whose fault it all is, and all because I want to be loved by someone, anyone, someone who cares I'm alive, that's all."
"Rye, I just don't understand all that stuff, I can't see the point." I said.
"So it doesn't matter to you that your Dad doesn't want you any more, then? If you don't understand, perhaps you've never loved him, either?" Rye said, twisting that knife again. I jumped off the bed and leapt at him. "Go on then, hit me!" he said, not flinching as I moved. "Stupid little shit Ryan likes to get hurt, doesn't he?"
I hesitated for a split second, then lashed out and hit him as hard as I could in the face. He bounced back from the force, banging his head on the wall and falling sideways. He slowly sat back up, blood running from his mouth, parted his lips and spat out a broken tooth. I stood watching, furiously angry and yet wishing I hadn't done that. My heart pounded with the adrenaline rush of the anger, and ached at what I'd done.
"It isn't me you want to hurt, is it Ant? But you can't hit yourself, so I suppose I'll have to do." he slurred through swelling lips. "Go on, hit me again, can you see the pain yet? Is it enough for you? Go on, one more good one like that!"
He watched, he waited. I wanted to, but more than that, I wanted to hurt myself. He was right. I looked down at him, blood dripping on his lap, and knew that I couldn't hit him again – ever. I turned and ran at the wall, head down, and head-butted it hard. It hurt like hell, but I was still alive. With blurred double vision, I looked at his bloodied face again, and ran.
It was a chilly evening, and I was only wearing my school trousers and shirt. No shoes, I felt the gravel dig into my feet and my socks get wet from the ground I ran over. If I hadn't been running, I'd have shivered with the cold. I must have crossed a road, I heard car horns blare, but I wasn't looking. I just had to get away, from them, from me, from everything. I ran and ran and ran, bumping into things and people, just running aimlessly wherever I could go. Eventually the strain tearing at my lungs forced me to stop, and I held onto something to keep me from falling to the ground. It was cold, metal, hard and dirty, and as my gasping slowed and my vision cleared, I could make out what it was. The steel girder of one side of Parker Street railway bridge.
I stood up as my muscles regained their ability to support me, and looked down onto the lines. A southbound train roared from under the bridge, its windows blazing light into the gloomy night, then it was gone, speeding away to some happier place, its tail light flashing red on off, on off until it disappeared from sight. Away to some happier place. That's where I wished I could go. I stared out into the gloom, lit only by the red of the signal a short distance down the tracks, trying desperately to see all that distance away, where nobody would judge me, and I could be lost in the world of my freedom.
The moon came out from behind a cloud, and the tracks reflected its silver glow, four thin ribbons stretching away to infinity. That's how far my future was away, infinity. Somewhere I'd never reach, I could never go. I hauled myself up onto the girder, filthy though it was, and sat on the broad top, the rivets pressing into my legs and bottom. A flickering light approached, dim like a candle at first, but growing ever so slowly in intensity as it drew nearer. I watched fascinated as the engine and its train approached, sparks occasionally flashing from its collector rubbing on the overhead wire, until it rushed beneath my feet, ten or so grey carriage roofs following it under the bridge. I'd never been on a train, I suddenly thought. If I'd been on that one where would I be going? Where might I have come from? Places I'd never seen, and would more than likely never know. There were a lot of things I didn't know, couldn't understand. Why had everything gone wrong for me, ever since that day Dan...and Rye...
Rye. Why did I feel like this about him? What was it, about me, that made him say he loved me? What the hell is love, anyway? Another rumble, then roar, and another train flew from under the bridge and away into the darkness. No lights on that one, freight vans probably.
I remembered a poem, a story in rhyme, that a teacher had read to us in junior school, about a train. How did it go?
This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
We had been told that mail trains were like moving post offices, with men sorting letters as the train sped – to wherever it was going. I could remember being fascinated by the tale.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but
she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.
I've never seen a steam train, I thought. On films, and the telly, of course, but never for real. Never saw the point, all that coal to shovel, all that smoke dirtying everything.
Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.
I pictured a desolate scene, way out in the wilds. No houses, trees, roads or people, just a train speeding along. What a lovely place to be, miles away from everyone and everything, I thought.
I jumped as another train flashed beneath my feet and under the bridge. I hadn't seen it coming! My heart raced again with the shock, the surprise.
Miles away from everyone and everything. All that distance away, where nobody would judge me, and I could be lost in the world of my freedom.
I glanced down at the rails. Four thin ribbons stretching away to infinity. That's how far my future was away, infinity. Somewhere I'd never reach, I could never go. But I could! I could go there now, and nobody would be able to drag me back!
"Hey! Hey you! You up there on the bridge!"
I looked round and there was a man running up the road towards me.
"Come down now! You could fall, and be killed!"
"Go away!" I shouted. "I'm alright, leave me alone!"
"Please come down, it's so dangerous to climb up there!" the man called.
He was almost up to me now, and as I looked around, cars were slowing as drivers and passengers looked over towards me as well.
"Fuck off and leave me alone!" I shouted. "I just want to sit here alone and think!"
Would he fuck off? The hell he would. He just kept walking closer to me, the bridge wasn't all that high, he could jump up and grab me, I thought.
I jumped to my feet, and felt the cool breeze chill me through my shirt.
"Fuck off or I'll jump!" I screamed. Why can't people see that I just want to be alone? On my own? Just me...me...
Me. That's what it's all about, me. Nobody else, just me. I should think about others, but I don't, it's always just me. I'd fucked everything up, me. I hadn't thought about Rye, when I'd done that to him at school, it was just for me. And when I'd told him he didn't need to get beaten up, it wasn't to protect him, it was because he was making it too difficult for me. Dad, as well, `If you can't respect your friends or yourself' he'd said – well obviously I couldn't. And now he didn't want me either.
The man had stopped, about ten feet away from me. None of them wanted me, and to be honest, I didn't want me either. I'd never given thought to hating myself before, but that's what I did now, hate myself. Hate what I was, what I'd become. I glanced down the railway lines, another train was coming. Then all the hate would be over, I could go to infinity, to where nobody would judge me, or if they did I wouldn't be there to suffer it.
A car came slowly up the road, then accelerated and swung across, in front of another, and bumped up the kerb. I watched as the driver of the second car stopped, jumped out and ran to the one on the footpath, banging on its roof and shouting. The car's doors opened and out stepped – my Dad! No! They were after me too! Couldn't anyone leave me alone?
I turned towards the tracks as the train hurtled under the bridge, its horn suddenly blaring and making me stumble. I only just regained my balance, then thought – why did I bother?
"Anthony!" Dad screamed out. "Anthony!"
I know my fucking name, I thought, just fuck off all of you and leave me alone! Is that too much to ask?
I looked back at the car, and Rye was there, trying to run with his sticks. Twice in two steps he nearly went down, and I giggled. He looked so silly, so stupid, so...so...
I didn't want them to see, they'd know, afterwards, of course, but not be here...as witnesses. How long to the next train? About fifteen minutes, I thought. Fifteen – an age I'll never reach.
"Ant!" silence. "Don't! please don't!" I heard the tears in his voice. I looked back at the tracks.
"Go away, Rye. Go away, all of you." I said, calmly. I looked out into the gloom, waiting for the glimmer of light.
I heard the sound of branches breaking, below and to my right.
"Ow! Fuck! Damn! Shit!" came Rye's voice, as the sound fell away down the embankment alongside the bridge. In the moonlight, I saw him at the trackside, looking up at me. He fell across one of the rails, turned so he was facing me again and screamed "If you're gonna jump, I'm gonna lie here!"
I looked out into the gloom again, and saw the flickering light approaching.
"Get up, Rye, you stupid cunt!" I screamed. "There's a train coming!"
"I can't!" he screamed back. "I've broken my fucking leg again, falling down here!"
"MOVE!" I screamed as loud as I could.
"NO!" he yelled back at me.
I watched the flicker grow brighter, the train coming nearer.
I looked down into the abyss below, screamed "RYE!" and jumped.
Thousands are still
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
And shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
Excepts from "The Night Mail" by W.H. Auden (1936).
One more chapter to go!