girl

MEETING LYDIA.

He met Lydia
in Harper Road
near the newspaper shop
the one that had

 

the Rob Roy book
in the window
which he was planning to buy
with his pocket money

 

she looked unhappy
carrying a shopping bag
in her thin hand
where you off to?

 

Benedict asked
got to go home
with this
she said

 

lifting the bag
where you going?
she asked
seeing him carrying

 

his toy rifle
and wearing
his cowboy hat
going to fight

 

at the O.K. Corral
only it won't be
ok when I get there
he said smiling

 

O.K. Corral?
she said
where's that?
he pointed to a bomb site

 

across the road
near the doctor's surgery
oh
she said

 

who else is there?
a couple of other kids
he said
why don't you come along?

 

can't
got to take
this shopping home
and besides Mum's

 

in a state
what with my big sister
not coming home
until the early hours

 

and my dad having a row
and punch up
in the Square last night
with that man

 

on the 2nd balcony
can't remember his name
and Mum and him
having a row

 

and me trying to sleep
and Hemmy
my brother
putting an earwig

 

in my bed
making me scream
and Mum bellowing at me
for screaming

 

she stopped
and wiped her eyes
on the hem of her dress
Benedict put his arm

 

around her thin shoulders
I'll get your brother
for that the git
he said

 

she said nothing
but sniffed
he took
the shopping bag

 

from her hand
and said
I'll walk you home
and after

 

we can come back
and have a penny drink
and lolly
in the Penny shop

 

what about the O.K.Corral fight?
she said
o that can wait
he said

 

they'll fight
amongst themselves
anyway
she nodded

 

and they walked back
and crossed
Rockingham Street
and into the Square

 

and he said
what does your sister do
until the early hours?
God knows

 

Lydia said
Mum says she's a prostitute
or something
I don't know

 

if it's a special
sort of job
or something
but it makes Mum annoyed

 

and Dad said
to leave her alone
as she's doing her bit
to keep dirty men occupied 

 

Benedict shrugged his shoulders
and hugged Lydia closer
so how about
that penny drink and lolly?

 

she nodded and sniffed 
and I forgot to tell you
Benedict said
I saw this

 

Daniel Boone film
the other day
up in Camberwell Green
in some flea pit

 

of a cinema
but it was good
and he had a rifle
but older looking

 

than mine
she sniffed
but looked at him
sideways

 

a weak smile
on her face
you should have come
he said

 

maybe next time I will
she said sadly
sure you will
he said

 

and they reached
her flat door
and she said
thank you

 

and he gave her
back the shopping bag
and she kissed his cheek
and went in

 

and he looked around 
to make sure
none of the boys about
had seen the kiss

 

as he had
a reputation to maintain
and kissing
or being kissed

 

by a girl
was maybe deemed
as a bit cissy
but none had

 

and he walked over
to the pram sheds
and sat on the roof
until maybe

 

she reappeared
happier not less so
as he thought
and feared.

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INGRID'S PRETEND HOLIDAY.

Benedict took Ingrid
on the underground train
to Charing Cross station
(he having paid the fare

 

from his 2/6d
pocket money)
she anxious about the journey
the darkness underground

 

the bright stations
and the speed
of the train

and once outside

 

she put her hands
over her eyes
and off again

makes my eyes go funny

 

she said
does that to them
bit like coming out

of the cinema

 

after a long film
he said
she had on

a fading blue dress

 

black plimsolls
and whitish socks
they came to the edge

of the kerb

 

and he looked both ways
ought to cross up there
by the zebra crossing

but heck

 

one's got
live dangerously
sometimes

and he took her hand

 

and they ran across
the wide road
and she gripped

his hand tight

 

and her eyes were wide
and she looked
at the speeding traffic

taxis and buses

 

and cars and motorcycles
come on
he said

I'll show you where

 

my old man takes me
some Sundays
and so he walked her
along and into

 

Charing Cross Road
she still
gripping his hand tight
he talking about

 

the West End
and how sometimes
his old man lets him
go in the penny arcade

 

and on the machines
with their pinball machines
and other machines
where you can win back coins

 

and she listened
thinking about home
and her mother
nursing a bruised eye

 

after her father had hit her
in a fight last night
and how she herself
had hid under her blankets

 

in case he came
after her but he didn't
and this morning
he had gone off to work

 

and her big sister said
she was soon leaving home
with the greasy looking
bloke she was with

 

and her big brother
just sat there
stuffing himself
with Cornflakes

 

and sipping stewed tea
saying Ingrid looked
like some Belsen kid
and laughed

 

see that cinema
Benedict said
my old man takes me there
if a new film comes out

 

and he wants to see it
and he buys us 
ice creams or those
orange lollies you know

 

and she nodded
but she didn't
she seldom went
to the cinema

 

unless Benedict took her
and they walked by shops
and she looked in
the windows

 

and still griping his hand
she wondered how much
some of the dresses were
and the hats

 

just like her aunt wore
and then Benedict
took her
into Leicester Square

 

and into a milk bar
and ordered two glasses of milk
and biscuits from a jar
and they sat down

 

at a table by the window
and she viewed it all
wide eyed
sipping her milk

 

and nibbling her biscuit
and pretended
for that moment
that they were

 

on a special holiday
and could stay
at one of the big hotels
that Benedict

 

had shown her
and have breakfast in bed
and not have to worry
about her father's loud bellowing

 

or him coming
into her room
ill tempered wishing
to belt her one

 

or slap her backside
as she ran from the room
see that cinema?
Benedict said

 

pointing through the window 
my old man took me
there once and we saw
this famous actress

 

some one my old man liked
and Ingrid listened
taking it all in
watching him

 

his quiff of hair
and hazel eyes
and that smiling grin
and she looked out

 

to where he pointed
pushing away thoughts
of home
and her father's hand

 

and stare
pretending she
was on holiday
and didn't care.

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SYMBOLIC ARROW.

She wonders if he'll really
be on the sports field waiting
for her, or whether it was just
something he said at the moment

 

to impress or set her up for a
laugh for the sake of others
who see her as a frump, some
one to laugh at or ridicule. She

 

eats her school dinner at her
usual pace, trying not to think
too much if he'll be there, waiting,
smiling that smile, that quiff ,

 

that brushed back hair. Elaine,
having finished her dinner,
having been to the loo, having
washed her hands, brushed her

 

teeth with her finger, walks on
the field, eyes down, her usual
stance, pretending she's invisible,
stops by the fence and looks around.

 

Girls in groups sit on the grass,
boys play football, some walk in
pairs. She stands alone, peers out,
looks down, hands in her cardigan

 

pockets. Thought you'd be here,
John says, his voice soft, like snow,
his hand by the fence where she
stands, disturbs her thoughts.

 

She looks at him, eyes bright,
looks behind him in case others
see or look, but none does, he's
alone, gazing, his brows dark,

 

fine lined. Didn’t think you
meant it, she says, to meet me,
I mean. Sure, I did, he  says,
not one to say what I don't mean.

 

She looks at him shyly, words
stuck in her throat, her heart
thumping, her knees shaking,
her stomach churning, feeling

 

undone. Want to go for a walk?
he says, don't need to stay by
the fence all the time. She moves;
her legs reluctant, her feet uncertain

 

of their tread. He moves beside her,
his hand brushing hers, confidently,
gazing at her sidewards. She thinks
others are watching, whispering,

 

gossiping, laughing behind their hands,
pointing at her, the frump, some boy
playing her along. Thought you'd
chickened out, he says, some girls do,

 

all talk, but then when their friends
aren't about they fall away or don't show.
She pauses, looks around, eyes the girls
across the way, none looks or cares,

 

no funny looks or stupid stares. I’m
a slow eater, she says, nearly last to
finish, at lunch, she says, gazing at him,
trying to see if he's having a laugh or

 

this is for real. No rush, he says, glad
you came. He walks on, she moves
beside him, sorting out words to say,
thoughts confused, brain spinning, her

 

heart thumping against her bra and tit.
You like butterflies? he asks. She mouths
words, her tongue stuck to the roof of
her mouth. She unsticks it, yes, I suppose

 

so, she says, like the red and white ones,
I see in the garden. Red Admiral I guess
or maybe the Peacock, he says, hard to
say unless I see it. They reach the fence

 

at the end of the field, stand looking back
at the field and school. You did mean to
meet me didn't you? she says hesitantly.
Of course I, he says, wouldn’t have asked

 

you otherwise. Others might have set it up,
she says looking at her shoes. Set what up?
he asks. You meeting me for a laugh, to
make me look a fool? she says, noticing

 

the scuff marks on the toes. No set up,
just me and you, the field, the sun, the sky,
this moment, he says, lifting her chin
with his finger. She stares at him, her

 

eyes focusing through her glasses, taking
him in, the hair, the hazel eyes, his finger
touching her chin. She wants to look inside
his head, to feel his thoughts, to sense his

 

wishes, I'm not very confident, she says,
I feel such a frump. He smiles, removes his
finger from her chin, draws her nearer to him,
taking her elbow, kisses her lips, so soft it

 

hardly touches, brushes skin, warms, thrills,
shocks and warms again, she feels as if she
might wet or leak, as if her stomach may burst,
her heart rush through breasts in a wild rush.

 

He hold his lips there, skin on skin, barely
pressing, moments still, moving. He pulls
away, not an expert on this kissing stuff,
he says, moving away, taking stock, studying

 

her eyes for fear or love or shock. Never
been kissed or kissed before, she says softly,
hardly audible, voice choked, sensing her
heart racing, her groin on fire. A bell rings

 

from the school, the crowds on the field
disperse and walk school wards, drift away,
in groups or singly or pairs. No one looks
or wonders why or stares. Best go, I guess ,

 

he says, and he's gone, well ahead, half a run,
half a fast walk. She feels her world unpinning,
coming undone, the seams of being coming apart,
revealing a symbolic arrow in a bleeding heart.

 

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YOU COULDN'T SAY

During the half term break
from school
Janice said
come see my new canary

 

Gran bought it for me
and so you went with her
through the Square
and across Bath Terrace

 

and into the block of flats
where she lived
with her gran and bird
and she was excited

 

and talked and talked
of the new canary
what do you call him?
you asked

 

Yellow
she said
because its yellow
and the name fits

 

and when you got
to her flat
her gran opened the door
and Janice said

 

I've brought Benedict
to see the new bird
her gran said
ok

 

and let you in
and Janice took you
into the sitting room
and there in a bird cage

 

was the new bird
sitting there
on a perch
making whistling noises

 

some say they talk
if you teach them
Janice said
and I'm going to teach it

 

to say things
and won't that be good?
providing you don't
teach it silly things

 

her gran said
my cousin had one
and he taught it
all kinds of bad words

 

which made
his mother mad
what kind of words?
Janice asked

 

never you mind
what words
her gran said
if I catch you teaching

 

this bird bad words
I'll tan your backside
I won't Gran
Janice said

 

just teach it
sensible words
well mind you do
her gran said

 

now how about
some lemonade and cake?
yes please
you both said

 

and her gran went off
to get the lemonade
and cake
and Janice put

 

her finger
through the bars
of the cage
and talked to the bird

 

but the bird
shuffled away from her
on the perch
and was quiet

 

still she talked to it
and but her finger in
as far as she could
but it just walked as

 

far from her
as it could go
staring at her
with it stark eyes

 

not very friendly is it?
you said
maybe it doesn't like
your red beret

 

maybe red frightens it?
so she took off
her red beret
and the bird came closer

 

and began chirping away
and it kind of pecked
at her finger
not roughly

 

but inquisitively
as if to find out
what it was
then it shuffled off again

 

and then went
and pecked at some
food from a feeder
at the side

 

of the cage
maybe I could get it out
sometime
and let it sit

 

on my finger
like I've seen done
on TV
Janice said

 

what if it flies away?
you asked
I'll keep the door
and windows closed

 

she said
and she opened
the cage door
and put her hand in

 

to get the bird
but the bird
moved away from her
and flapped its wings

 

what are you doing?
her gran said
entering the room
Janice took her hand out

 

of the cage
and shut the door
just wanted to let it
sit on my finger

 

Janice said
her gran put the tray
with lemonade
and pieces of cake

 

on the table
and came over
to the bird cage
you might have frightened it

 

then it might die
she peered in
at the canary
which was perched there

 

staring back at her
now don't you
do that again
do you hear?

 

yes Gran
Janice said sheepishly
her eyes lowered
nice bird

 

you said
maybe it's shy
at the moment
I guess after

 

a little while
it'll get friendly
do you think so?
Janice said

 

sure it will
you replied
her gran smiled
and walked off

 

back to the kitchen again
and you and Janice
ate the cake
and drank the lemonade

 

and you both watched
the canary as it chirped
and walked
along the perch

 

and there
on the side chair
was Janice's red beret
and she asked

 

what words
do I teach?
but you said
I couldn't say.

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LIZBETH'S SECOND VISIT

She crosses fields to find him,
passing cows, over low fences,
along dust tracks. He's probably
at the farm, his mother said, he

 

works there after school some
days and at week ends if he has
time to spare, so she goes there,
her bike parked by the cottage

 

wall, on foot, treading her way,
warm morning, Saturday. He
sees her coming through the farm,
dressed in jeans, blouse and boots,

 

her red hair tied in a bunch, hands
in her pockets, mouth chewing gum.
Farm hands view her a she passes,
their eyes feeding on her swaying

 

behind, her tiny tits, not knowing
13 years had scarcely gone, then
turn away, back to their work of
milking cows or weighing milk

 

or cleaning cow sheds of shit and
straw. Your mother said I'd find
you here, Lizbeth says, eyeing
him, his face and eyes and the

 

way he stands. He views her,
sensing her non-countryside ways,
a towny, others'd say. Just doing
a bit, he says, got hay bales to

 

stack, tidy and lay. Can I help?
she says, I’ve nothing much to do?
If you like, he says, and walks
along to the barn and she follows,

 

swaying her hips, holding her
head to one side. He shows her
the hay bales, where they need
to be and how to stack. It smells

 

in here, she says, heat of hay,
he says, gets stuffy. She runs a hand
over the nearest bales. Soft enough,
she says, looking at him, her eyes

 

focusing, sniffing the air. Soft enough
for what? He says. To lay on, cuddle
on, she say softly. Best not, he says,
others may come. Not up there, she

 

says, pointing to a higher place above
their heads, there we'd not been seen.
Best not, he says, they want me for
work not to laze or shirk. She pouts

 

her lips, walks about the barn, touching
with her fingers, running palms over
the bales. Just a little while, she says,
unbuttoning her blouse, needn't be long,

 

fingers slowly working the buttons.
There's mice and rats about, he says,
could be anywhere in here. She pauses,
her fingers still, her eyes enlarging.

 

Here? she asks. He nods, seen them
about, a few hours ago. She buttons
up her blouse, gazing around. Shame,
she says, wanted to, you know, here

 

in the quiet, us alone. He stands and
gazes, takes in her slim frame, her eyes,
her hands holding each other and
squeezing. Another time maybe, she

 

says, some other place, somewhere
that's quiet, where we'd not be disturbed.
He nods, viewing her small breasts
tidied away, at least for the day, like

 

small babes put to bed, and tucked
up safe and sound. She kisses his cheek,
touches his arm, see you, she says softly,
see you around, and she walks way,

 

her swaying behind, tight in her jeans,
walking through dust and hay, see you,
she says, blowing a kiss, another day.

 
 
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COLD AS SNOW.

It's snowing out,
Christine says,
peering through
the glass

 

of the window
in the locked ward.
You stand beside her,
staring at the falling flakes,

 

surreal, chilly, white.
I want to be out in it
like a child, she says,
not stuck in here

 

like some prisoner.
You can smell her scent,
near by, entering into you,
distracting you. She

 

presses her palms
against the glass,
breathes on it,
steams it to a small

 

area of invisibility.
There's a tractor out
in that field, she says,
see it? Yes, you say,

 

sensing her closeness,
her arm touching yours,
elbow touching elbow.
And those birds look

 

at them, gulls, rooks,
feeding on the churned
over ground and the snow.
You wonder why

 

the dick who left her
at the altar could do
such a thing, why he got
that far and then left her

 

there in her white dress
and flowers and a church
full of people waiting
and then not show and she,

 

now, stuck in here full of stress
and with a fragile mind.
I want to go out in the snow,
she says, but the nurse

 

ignores her, walks by,
goes on about some other
business. Why can't we
go out in the snow? she

 

says to you. Maybe they
think we're going to run off,
you say, watching the tractor's
slow drive, the birds flocking

 

behind on the ground.
She sighs, puts her hands
down from the glass, holds
them in each other, could do

 

with a fucking cigarette.
Hey, nurse, got a cigarette?  
Need a smoke, she says.
I got a smoke, you say,

 

I'll go get them. So you go
to the side room, where
the men are, and bring
your packet of cigarettes

 

and plastic lighter, and give
her one and light it for her
and light one for yourself,
and she inhales so deep

 

that she seems to stop
breathing and then exhales
up in the air, holding the
cigarette between her slim

 

fingers, her hand just so.
And you stand there by
the window watching the
tractor again and the falling

 

snow, and she's there again,
peering, smoking, sighing.
I'd not have left you at the altar,
you say, I'd not have done

 

it to you. She says nothing,
the smoke hitting the glass
and flowing inward again,
she gazes out, the tree tops

 

blanketed in whiteness,
birds in flight, you sense her,
smell her, imagine her.
I wonder who he's fucking

 

now? she whispers, easing
out smoke, the snow falling,
the tractor pausing, then turning
back up the field, birds following.

 

She inhales again, looks away,
walks back into the main ward,
her fine ass having that sway,
her white night gown like some

 

dowdy wedding dress, holding
tightly to her, her figure shown,
the outline of her panties showing,
blue against white. You turn and

 

watch the snow fall, the tractor
drive, birds in tow, your mind
blank now, white, cold as snow.

 

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SENSED FEELING HOT.

O'Brien said
the whole girl thing
was a falsity
why waste your time

 

on them?
he'd told Baruch
yes why?
Sutcliffe said

 

in an echo
as they walked home
from school
along

 

the New Kent Road
holding a cigarette
to one side
a thin line

 

of smoke
coming
from his mouth
as she spoke

 

Baruch said nothing
about Fay
he just listened
thinking of her

 

as they walked along
his hands
in his pockets
his scuffed shoes

 

treading the pavement
his eyes looking
at Sutcliffe
at his blonde hair

 

and bright blue eyes
and O'Brien
with his shock
of brown hair

 

 and his crafty eyes
I've yet to meet a girl
worth losing sleep over
he said

 

not a wink of sleep
Sutcliffe added
Baruch had seen Fay
the day before

 

on the way home
 by the church
on the corner
of Meadow Row

 

she in her catholic
school uniform
clutching her satchel
her bright eyes on him

 

her fair hair
brightened
by the afternoon sun
how they had walked together

 

up the Row
she talking of the nuns
at the school
about the whole Latin thing

 

about the long list
of saints she had
to remember
he took in

 

her anxiety
her paleness of skin
he told her
of the pottery teacher

 

who ridiculed his pots
and how he did it
in front of the class
holding up the pot

 

and running it down
not that I care a toss
Benedict said
least not

 

about the pot
and they crossed
Rockingham Street
and up the slope

 

and there they waited
gazing at each other
the silence
like thin silk

 

he wanted to kiss her
but not doing so
she wondered
if she could get

 

nearer to him
maybe much closer
but feared her father
might hear of it

 

and he didn't like Baruch
didn't like the Jew boy
keep yourself free
of them

 

O'Brien said
girls cling to you
like leeches
and suck

 

the being
out of you
with their petty wants
yes wants and wants

 

Sutcliffe echoed
Baruch paused
by the hairdresser shop
by the crossing

 

opposite Meadow Row
best get home
Baruch said
yes me too

 

said Sutcliffe
hope my cousin's gone home
she's been with us
for weeks now

 

and always
in the bathroom
and wandering the house
in her almost

 

see through night dress
sure sure
O'Brien said
bet you hate that

 

and he laughed
and Sutcliffe walked off
home the cigarette
behind his back

 

held
in his inky fingers
see you around
O'Brien said

 

and wandered on
up the road
and Baruch
saw him off

 

and crossed the road
and walked down
Meadow Row
thinking of Fay

 

and that moment
he almost kiss her
how they stood
gazing at each other

 

he gazing
at her fine beauty
her figure 
and she fearing

 

her father
would know
and the nuns
at the school

 

always writing to him
about her
and what she does
and does not

 

and she seeing
Baruch there
feeling her heart beat
and sensed feeling hot.

 

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NOT A TIME TO DIE.

Elaine thinks
she's dying;
the splash of
red in the

 

lavatory pan
has spun her
sideways, taken
her out of her

 

usual comfort
zone, the outer
world crowding
in. Other girls in

 

the school come
and go, a bell rings,
then silence. She
stares at the lavatory

 

door, someone has
written a poem
in red ink, another
scribbled underneath

 

a rude black ink
remark. The white
is discoloured, the
walls like wise to

 

match. She pulls
off a handful of 
paper, wraps it
around fingers,

 

stares at her hands,
bites her lower lip.
She crosses herself,
from forehead to

 

stomach, from
shoulder to shoulder.
How does one die?
she muses darkly,

 

peeking down at
the pan, redness
spreading, she's
leaking a slow death,

 

being undone before
her eyes. Is this how
one dies? She should
be in maths, at her

 

desk, doing algebra
she's not understood,
looking vacant, biting
her pen. She leans

 

forward, peeks again,
feeling flushed, the
red splash spread.
She feels unwell,

 

pains kick in, the
walls turn white,
crowding in. An
outer door opens,

 

someone sings, the
door clicks shut,
the voice sings
in soft melodious

 

tones. Elaine moans,
pushes her fist into
her mouth, painful
groans. The singer

 

pauses, nears the door,
puts ear to wood.
What's up? she asks,
staring at the whiteness

 

of the door. I’m dying,
Elaine says, I’m leaking
blood. The girl who
was singing mutters,

 

it's just a flood, has
no one said, its a
female thing, so shut
your crying, I’ll go

 

get the nurse, to sort
you out, you're not
freaking dying. And
off she goes, the door

 

clicks shut again, nothing
but silence, disappointed
death and bewildered,
pale-faced, aching Elaine.

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TO THE POOL WITH BENEDICT.

Lydia opens the front door of the flat with a towel under her arm and rushes into the Square to look for Benedict. He isn't there. Maybe he's in his flat upstairs, she wonders, and crosses over to his block and climbs the concrete stairs. She knocks at his door and his mother answers and says that he is out someplace, she wasn't sure where. Lydia says thank you and ok and  walks slowly down the stairs trying to think where he might be. Once out in the Square again , the morning sunshine on her head, the fresh air there, she walks on and  down the slope and over Rockingham Street and up Meadow Row all the time looking for him. Her lip has stopped bleeding. It feels kind of lumpy. Benedict said he'd get her brother Hemmy for making her lip bleed. She comes to the green grocer shop and stops to look across the bomb site for him. She doesn't like bomb sites on her own. A tramp once tried to grab her and she ran off screaming wondering if he was going to strangle her as her mother said had happened to a little girl who ventured on to a bomb site alone. Now she is nervous. She peers all over the bomb site, over the semi standing houses, the lone walls, the dips where cellars were. She stands with one of her thin hands over her brow to block out the sunlight. He is there, over by a wall, catapulting tin cans off of rocks a distance away. She calls out to him. He turns and waves her over. She stands by him, watching him put a stone in his catapult, draw back the holder and then release it, the stone whizzing through the air and knocking a tin can flying. She holds her hands together in front of her red and black dress. She can feel the rough stones and bricks beneath her feet. He looks at her. Your lip stopped bleeding then? Yes, she says. She feels shy. He looks at her, takes in her red and black dress, her ankle socks. What did your mum say about Bedlam park? He asks. She smiles. She says yes I can and I have brought my swimming costume and towel, she says showing him the towel in her hand. Good, he says. Didn't think she'd say yes, he adds, putting another stone in the catapult and firing at another tin can. She looks at him, at his hair, the way he has it with the quiff, the jeans and shirt. OK, he says, tucking the catapult in his back pocket, we'll go to my place and I'll get my towel and stuff. So they walk back to his flat and she sits in the living room while he went to get a towel from his mother and dig out his swimming trunks. She sits there in the room alone. There is an old TV in the corner on an old radiogram, a table and four chairs by the window, a fire place with a small fire burning despite the warm weather. There is a sense of peace about the room. Unlike her parent's flat where there is a sense of hostility, noise and raised voices or singing about the place. She looks at her plimsolls, dusty, worn. Her ankle socks becoming too small so that her toes push against the cloth. He returns and smiles. Right then, let's be off,and he has a towel and trunks wrapped up inside, and his mother hands him some coins from her purse, and smiles at her, and says be good and enjoy yourselves. Her mother had never said that. Seldom smiles, never speaks softly,mostly bellows. They go down the stairs and out through the Square and down the slope and up Meadow Row and on their way. She tells him her big sister is still snoring, smelling of booze, her clothes scattered all over the place, a pair of underwear hanging from the end of the bed. He listens, takes in her words, how she says it, her tone, senses an anxiety in her speech,watches her hands clutch the towel as they walk along. He knows her sister, sees her go out late at night, dressed up, make up thick, hair in a beehive style, skirt up her backside, as his mother says, high heel shoes. She speaks on about her dad getting up with a lousy head, moaning, wanting his breakfast, smoking, saying her mother was the best thing since Marilyn Monroe, her mother saying nothing giving him the dark glare, anger in the air. They cross under the subway and walk in the surreal arena below ground, Benedict making a weird monkey sound, she laughing, feeling less anxious, unwinding. She echoes words, he laughs, she hears their laughter race along the walls. Out the side they walk along St George's Road. She says her brother Hemmy put a spider in her bed the night before and laughed when she screamed and ran around the room nigh wetting herself with fear. Benedict says he'll get the little git when they get back, shove my fist in his gut, he says, miming it as they walk. She likes him. Feels safe with. He has that self confidence she never has. She moves closer to him, lets her thin hand brush next to his, near but not quite touching. She asks Benedict about his dad, about his job and how he is. Benedict looks at her, gives her a quick once over stare, looks ahead. He's an electric welder, Benedict says, well not him, but the job he does. He made me a blue metal sword a little while ago, he says, so I could be another Ivanhoe or Robin Hood. She listens, holds onto his every word, lets her hand brush closer to his. And a money box of metal, too, he adds, not that I have money long enough to put in it, anyway even if I do, he gets it out and buys cigarettes if he's short of money. Not even his father is perfect, she thinks, stealing his son's money. They pass their junior school, by the church where they have services on certain days of the week. Benedict told her at school one day that he says rude lyrics to hymns when he has to sing. No one notices, he had said. They walk on. He says his parents row. Money mostly, he says, he likes the best: clothes, shoes, cinema tickets, we have to come second. She listens to him, there is a certain warmth in his voice, no bitterness, no rancour. Mum does early morning cleaning in the City, up West, he says, to make the money go around. He talks on, his words like smooth chocolate, she could eat them if they were in her mouth. They enter Bedlam park and walk along the path between the vast areas of grass. Although she's only nine she feels older now, today, being with him, being beside him, he, ten, feels almost ancient in his ways. They walk towards the swimming pool, past the football grounds and tennis courts, by courting couples kissing and lying on the grass, dogs running, kids playing ball. They enter the swimming pool and Benedict pays for two lockers and gets two keys and gives one to Lydia. See you in the pool, he says, she nods, shy, undressing in front of others, others seeing the bruise on her thigh where her brother had kicked her. Benedict goes into the male arena, undresses, puts on his trunks, shoves his clothes into the locker and locks up and puts the key around his wrist. Don't swallow the swimming pool water, some kid says, some girl's pissed.

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