one legged,


crutched herself
through passageway


and hall,
passed kitchen,


leg stump swaying,
green dress flowing,


out through
the French windows,


moving by me
in the doorway,


pushing by
the boss-eyed nun,


out into the garden,
shouting loudly:




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You want to go to where?
Victoria rail station
Lydia said
her mother


as she dried the plate
a cigarette hanging
from her lower lip


who with?
Benny the boy upstairs
in the flats
over there


Lydia said
her mother wiped
another plate
why there?


and why with him?
Lydia played
with her fingers


steam trains
she said
we like to see them


and I like Benny
he's funny
her mother
stared at her


don't seem funny to me
but his mother's
a good sort
so he can't be


too bad I suppose
Lydia looked
at her mother's
red wet hands


how are you
getting there?
bus I guess
Lydia said


and I suppose
you want money
for the fare?
Lydia stared


Benny said
he'd pay
did he now
her mother said


think I can't
afford the fare?
she put the plates
in a cupboard


and stared
at her daughter
weedy looking


she got her black purse
and took out
some coins
don't make a habit


of going out to
faraway places
her mother said
she put the coins


into her daughter's
thin white hands
and walked off

to tidy


the sitting room
Lydia looked
at the coins
in the palm


of her hand
she pocketed them
in her fading red dress
and opened


the front door
to see
if Benny was coming
the baker


was going by
on his horse drawn cart
the horse looked tired
and trotted slow


then she saw Benny
coming across
the Square towards her
riding his


imaginary horse
with his 6 shooter gun
and holster
of course.

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Nadav had rough skin

when he touched

it was like sandpaper

rubbing flesh


girls have a habit

of boring me

to tears

he said


I looked

at Miss Ashdown's

broad behind

as she walked down


the aisle between desks

in class

her skirt swayed

like old ship's sails


all they talk of

is dolls and prams

and doll's clothes

and about whom


they'll marry

one day

I wondered

if Miss Ashdown's hips


wore away the wood

at the side

of the desks

as she walked


between them

I prefer boy's talk

of guns and battles

and wars and such


he said

I watched

as Miss Ashdown
turned and faced


the front of the class

her big bust

like battleship guns

do you like girl's talk?


Nadav asked

I like their gentleness

and softness

and smell of flowers


I said

but talk?

he said

what of that?


the knack

I said

is to listen

only to the last


few words of speech

to get the drift

of talk

Miss Ashdown


glared at Nadav

and threw

skill fully

chunks of chalk.

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Why do you wear
your guns back to front
in the holsters?
Helen asked me


as we walked
the bomb site
by Meadow Row
I saw this cowboy


in a film
at the cinema
have his like this
and you cross


your hands over
and get your guns
isn't it slower
that way?


she asked
no it's speed that matters
not how
you wear your guns


I said
I showed her
how quick I was
and she stood bemused


clutching her doll
Battered Betty
tightly to her chest
haven't you got


caps in your guns
to make them
sound real?
she asked


no I ran out
and anyway
I can make
the sound myself


by going
she jumped away
holding Battered Betty


to her chest
you could have told me
you were going
to make that loud


banging noise
Betty got frightened
I looked at her
tightly woven plaits


of hair
and thick lens glasses
and her small hands
holding the doll


sorry Betty
I said
patting the doll's head
I put the guns away


and we walked
to the New Kent Road
and along
under the railway bridge


and by the Trocadero cinema
gazing at the billboards
and small pictures
of films


being shown
you can come
with me here
on Saturday


I said
they've got
a good cowboy film


haven't any money
for the cinema
Mum said
she can't afford it


Helen said
my old man'll
cough up some money
if I ask


I said
she looked at me
Mum'll let me go
if you ask her


Helen said
ok let's go
ask her now
I said


so we walked
to Helen's house
and I told her
about how I practised


drawing my guns
she looked at Betty
but whether


she was listening
to me
or not
I couldn't say.

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Ingrid's words
were muffled
when she spoke to me
by Dunn's hat shop


where we said
we'd meet
the day before
her thick lip


(where he father
had backhanded her)
moved slowly
does you dad


wear hats?
she asked
looking in
the shop window


I said
never seen him
ever wear a hat


not even to cover
his balding head
she looked
at the passing traffic


what happened to you?
I asked
pointing to her lip
my dad didn't like


the way I brushed
my hair
he said it was
too tartish


whatever that means
she said
tapping her
recently brushed hair


I tried to get out
of his way
but he caught me
with a backhand


I’m going
to the cinema
this afternoon
I said


there's a cowboy film on
and I want to see
how the good guy
draws out his gun


he does it
by crossing over
his hands
could I come?


she asked
Mum might give me
9d for a ticket
as long as Dad


doesn't know
she added
I said


come to my flat
after lunch
we walked down
the subway


to get
to St George's Road
to walk along
to Bedlam Park


to try out
the swings there
and buy an ice cream
outside the swimming pool


(money I'd been given
by my old man
for polishing
his brown brogues)


I studied her
as we walked along
she talking
of her old man's temper


and how he punched
her mother
for letting
his dinner get cold


I noticed her
faded grey dress
the flowers red
against watery green stems


ankle socks
black scuffed shoes
her thin hands


gesturing as she talked
and the slight smell
of dampness
as I neared her


the bruise
under her left eye
like the morning sun


where her old man
had thumped her
for something
she hadn't done.

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From her bedroom window
Lydia could see
the grass and pigeons


and some boy
with a bow and arrow
she could hear


her mother shouting
at her father
her sister


still asleep
in the big bed behind
the tattooed arm


hanging from the bed
her mouth open
Lydia saw the boy turn


it was Benedict
his quiff of hair
an arrow in his bow


pointing downwards
he was mouthing words
and making gestures


with his free hand
she opened the window
letting in


the morning air
are you coming out?
Benedict asked


Lydia's sister
stirred in the bed
where are you going?


Lydia asked
thought I’d go
to one of the big


train stations
see the steam engines
he said


she looked back
at her sister
the blonde hair


over her face
a breast hanging
out of her nightie


which one?
she asked
he fired an arrow


at a pigeon
but it flew away


he said
I’ve no money
she said


he went
to pick up the arrow
stuck in the grass


he wiped mud
off the end
when are you going?


she asked
after lunch
he said


walking up
to her ground floor
window and peering in


at Lydia's sister
can you call for me?
she asked


he said
will your mother


be ok about it?
last time
she almost


bit my head off
Lydia looked out
at the grass


and dandelions
she'll be all right


she said
uncertain but trying
to convince him


he said
I’ll call for you


he walked off
across the grass
holding his bow


and arrow
shut the blooming window
her sister said


turning over in bed
Lydia pulled down
the window


and watched
as Benedict
climbed the green


metal fence
and disappeared
from view


Lydia picked up
her sister's
dirty washing


for something
(in the meantime)
to do.


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Mr Fin


and grey suited
of the Plague of London


in 1665
and people dying
and red crosses


on doors
and rats and ships


being yelled


the narrow streets
we sat enthralled
taking in


the history lesson
Dennis drew a cross
on his palm


in red ink
(he had a job
to get that off


in recess)
and said
I bet he was there


old Fin
bet he was a kid
back then


it was almost
three hundred
years ago


I said
this is 1956
Dennis shrugged


his shoulders
and kept
to his theory


I watched the teacher
and how his hand
wrote so neatly


on the board
and drew a picture
of streets


with doors
with red crosses
and shadowy people


hanging round
Janice sat to my right
her eyes glued


to the board
as Mr Fin
wrote and drew


her chin
in the palm
of her thin hand


in her exercise book
with her right hand


I liked her fair hair
the way it flowed
over her shoulders


like water
over rocks
the way her fingers


touched her cheek
as her palm
held the chin


another girl
sat next to her
some fat girl


with black hair
and a thin
faint moustache


and earrings
I liked Janice's
pink ear


showing through
a gap
in her hair


then Fin said
next time
we'll talk


of the Great Fire
of London
in 1666


Dennis stuck gum
under his desk
Janice closed her book


and gave me
her engaging  
young girl look.


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Anne put her crutches
by the table
on the lawn
and sat next to me


how's it going Kid?
I said
what's for breakfast?


porridge or cereal
or toast
I said
no egg and bacon


and sausages?
she said
I said


fuck me
she said
who eats toast
or porridge


or  cereals?
pass me a glass
and pour me
some of that


orange muck
I poured her
a glass of orange juice
and put it


by her hand
she sipped it
I've tasted better
she said


I want you
to push me
down to the beach
later Kid


can't stick
being stuck
with these other kids
they drive me


up the wall
with their
nonsense with the nuns


especially Sister Paul
the stuck up bitch
I looked back
towards the nursing home


other kids
were sitting about
other tables
and here and there


a nun was attending
to them
got any more wine gums
from your mother?


she asked me
no they've gone
Sister Bridget took them
to share


amongst the others
bloody communist
she said
I looked at her


sitting in the chair
her one leg visible
the stump
of the other leg


hidden beneath
her blue dress
the dress had little
anchors and boats


on it
had your look Kid?
she said
you're always trying


to look at my stump
aren't you?
I can't help it
my eyes are drawn


to the missing leg
I said
she lifted her dress
and showed


the stump of leg
have a good look Kid
I looked at the stump
then looked away


towards the windows
of the nursing home
when do you want
to go to the beach?


I asked
as soon as I’ve had breakfast
she said
she pulled down


her dress to cover her stump
and sipped the juice
the red ribbon
in her dark


straight hair
had come loose.

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Derek said
she smells peculiar
and don't she's
brush her hair?


I was standing with him
in the playground
by the steps
that went down


into the bombed out
cellar of a house
which was where
the playground was


I like her
I said
watching her walk
hesitantly around


the groups
of boys and girls
in game or conversation
bet she's got


lice or fleas
or whatever
he said
she's got an old man


who beats her
and a mother
who doesn't care
I said


well she could at least
wash properly
he said
despite the hardship


and such
my mother
let her bathe
at our place


the other Sunday night
I said
didn't find
no lice or fleas


she had said
just dirt and grime
you didn't bathe
with her then?


Derek said laughing
no she bathed alone
my mother making sure
she was washing ok


Derek looked over at her
still smells peculiar
he said
it's the soap


we gave her
to take home
I guess
fancy a game


of cards?
he said
taking  football cards
out of his back pocket


I said
and so we went down
by a vacant wall


and flicked our cards
to see got nearest
the wall and see
who won


whose cards
but out
of the corner
of my eye


I saw Ingrid
walking about
the playground
her dull flower


patterned dress
having seen
better days
her scuffed shoes


shyly making tread
should be with her
I thought
but carried on


playing cards
with Derek instead.

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