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


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


of smoke
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
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


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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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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To Ingrid it was a picnic, but to Benedict it was merely a bag of goodies and bottles of pop. He said to meet him outside the green grocer shop in Meadow Row, just a little inward in case Ingrid's father came that way on his way to work and became suspicious. Benedict stands by the green grocer's shop, looking over the bomb site, the areas of green where weeds grow up through the bombed ruins. He holds the brown paper carrier bag in one hand, his other hand in the pocket of his black jeans, fingering his two favourite marbles. He knows she wants to come, she was quite excited by his idea of a lunch in Bedlam Park. His mother has made the sandwiches: cheese, spam, fish paste. Two packets of potato crisps, and two bottles of pop drinks. He'd bought two Mars bars at the newsagents earlier that morning out of his own pocket money. He walks up to the edge of Meadow Row and peers down towards the slope leading to the flats. No sight of her. Maybe her old man has kept her in saying she's been too naughty to go out. Or maybe she's too frightened to ask or say and is waiting for her father to go, before venturing out. He sniffs the air. Fresh and warm. He walks a few steps down by the public house and back again. The smell of beer is still clinging in the air. One door is open, a lone drinker sits on a bar stool, sipping a beer. Benedict looks up the street towards the New Kent Road. As he looks back down the street again, he sees her coming, nervously looking over her shoulder, her pace quick, her legs walking, but almost running. At least she's come, he muses, holding the bag in his other hand. She arrives at his side out of breath and anxious. Sorry I'm late, she says, he has only just gone out. They've been rowing all morning. I kept to my room in case he found fault with me and kept me in or lashed out at me, she says, looking over her shoulder again. Well at least you're here, Benedict says. I've got the grub, he shows her the bag, and drinks of pop. She looks at the bag and looks in. Here you take it, he says, and hands her the bag. They walk across the bomb site at a slow pace, she talking about her parents rowing, about hiding in her bedroom, listening at the door. Benedict listens, he knows her father and mother, her father dislikes him, thinks him a spoilt brat in need of a good hiding. Benedict thinks like wise of her father, only he thinks her father's a bullying pig in need of good punching(although ten years old he's too young yet to oblige). She talks of her mother crying during the night, the sound of slaps, raised voices. Benedict takes in her short sleeve, green dress, food stained, her grey once white ankle socks, battered shoes, and the green speckled cardigan with only two buttons. They walk on and down the subway and out the other end along St George's Road. She talks on about missing her tea the evening before, her father claiming she had not done sufficient chores to deserve it, even though her mother had said she had, he ignored her and sent Ingrid to her room. She was hungry all night. Her stomach rumbled, she hardly slept. Did you eat breakfast? Benedict asks. Yes, I got some this morning before he was up, she says. They walk on by the shops and houses, he telling her about the six shooter his old man had picked up for him from a junk shop. Silver looking, the bullets come out and go in, he says, but I didn't bring it, I'll show you another day. They go by their school on the right, by the church, and on and into the park. The war museum is on their right, the football grounds on their left. They walk on until they find an area of grass that is clear and clean of paper or dog mess or tins and settle down. He takes off his jacket, with his small toy gun in the inside pocket, just in case of bad guys ambushing them, and lays it on the grass. She removes her cardigan and puts it by her legs. Fading bruises show on her upper arm, but he says nothing, takes note and looks away. She unpacks the carrier bag of sandwiches and bottles of pop and packets of crisps. Her eyes widen. Did you make the sandwiches? She asks. No, my mum did them this morning, he answers. She's good your mum, she says. Yes, she is, he says. He says nothing about her mother. He knows her mother has little say in how her life is run or how her daughter is treated. Ingrid hesitates. Shall I take one? She says. Of course, he says, that's the point of bringing them. Do we say grace? She asks. Can if you like, he says. She says a grace over the sandwiches and crisps and bottles of pop, her eyes closed, her hands together at the palms. He stares at her hands, the thin fingers, the chewed nails. He also noted that she winced as she sat down on the grass,  just a short while ago, her father's handiwork, no doubt, he thinks, seeing how she sits to one side. Amen, she says and he adds an Amen afterwards. He opens up the bags of sandwiches and offers her a choice. She stares at the bags, hesitates, then picks out a white cheese sandwich and bites at it ravishingly. He takes out a brown spam sandwich and nibbles. They sit in silence for a while eating. He offers her a bottle of pop, which she takes and unscrews the cap and sips. He unscrews his bottle and takes big gulp. She watches him, looks at his combed back hair, the wave, the hazel eyes. Does your mum know you're with me? He asks. Yes, she says, asked her last night while he wasn't around. What did she say? He asks. She said I could, but to wait until he'd gone off to work and not to mention it to him. Guess he'd not like that, Benedict says, you out with me? No, she says, looking away, staring at pigeons nearby, he doesn't like you, he thinks you're a bad influence on me. She is silent. He studies her profile, her eyes, her shape of nose, her hair badly brushed. The bruises still visible on the arm. I think your father's a pig arse, Benedict says out of the corner of his mouth while eating. She looks at him, her eyes bright and wide, her mouth open, words waiting to come, but don't. She bites at her sandwich. He takes a slug of his pop drink and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. He burps. Last time he saw me with you, she begins, but then says nothing. What? Benedict asks. What did he say? She wipes her hands on her dress. She looks across at the football grounds. He said I wasn't to see you anymore, she says. But you have, Benedict says. She nods. Yes, but he mustn't know, she says. I won't tell him, Benedict says, if you don't. Last time he saw me with you, she says quietly, he punished me.  Why did you come? Benedict asks. I wanted to, she says. Even if it costs you? He asks. She sighs and nods. Even if, she mutters, gazing at him, looking at him with her sad eyes, her fingers holding each other. He takes another sandwich and bites into it. She looks at her fingers, feels the sensation of pain in her thighs, tries to sit in another position, shifts on the grass. She takes a sandwich from a bag and nibbles anxiously, her fingers holding, her body shifting to ease the pain, her eyes looking, staring, feeding on him, feeling safe, feeling lost and found. Benedict takes another slug at his bottle of pop, gulps down, wipes his mouth. Don't be anxious, he says, tapping his small toy gun in his jacket pocket, you're safe with me. She smiles, moves nearer, sips her drink, touches his leg, feels safer. Despite the pain, she thinks, she'd see him again and again.

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Lydia's mother
sliced the bread thinly
and buttered sparingly
and handed Lydia


two limp slices
and said
get that inside you


can't have you going
with your stomach rumbling
people'd think


you've not been fed
Lydia took the two slices
and a mug of stewed tea


but she hadn't been fed
that was why
she went and got
the rolls and bread


but she said nothing
just nodded her head
and followed her mother


into the living room
and sat at the table
her big sister
had gone to bed


her father was sleeping
off the beer
Lydia nibbled like a mouse


a thin long haired girl
of a mouse
can I go up West?
she asked


up West?
her mother repeated
as if her daughter


had sworn at her
up West?
she said again
turning the words around


in her head
to see how they fitted in best  
can I?


her daughter
asked again anxiously
you can in the sense
that it's possible


but if you mean may
as a permissibility
then no


her mother said
Lydia said
uncertain where


she was
in her request
your gran always said


that the difference
between can and may
is one of possibility
over permissibility


said Lydia's mother
may I go?
Lydia asked softly


no you may not
her mother said
why not?
her daughter asked


because I said so
her mother replied
why do want to go there?


her mother asked
Benedict said
he was going there
and that he'd take me


Lydia replied
oh him
her mother said


she sat and took a bite
from her sandwich
picturing the boy
from upstairs


in the flats
with his hazel eyes
and big smile


and self assurance
about him
why does he want to go
up West?


she asked
he likes adventures
Lydia said


her mother said
repeating the word
as if


it were unknown to her
who does he think he is
Biggles or someone


like that?
Lydia sat nibbling
holding the bread


in her thin hands
he's never mentioned Biggles
Lydia said


don't talk
with your mouth full
her mother scolded
Lydia swallowed


the bread
he's not said nothing
about no Biggles


Lydia said
well you can't go
her mother said firmly
looking at her daughter's


thin frame
and lank long hair
do you mean I mayn't?


Lydia uttered gently
I said what I mean
her mother said
and don't get mouthy


like your big sister
or you'll feel
my hand


across your backside
Lydia nibbled
and looked away
a train steamed crossed


the railway bridge
leaving grey white smoke
behind it


lingering there
unsettling the air
her mother muttered words
but Lydia didn't listen


she watched clouds
cross the sky darkly
carrying a storm


or rain
she liked her backside
as it was
she didn't want


no pain
she'd not ask

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Benedict stands and looks over the balcony of the flat. The baker is delivering bread from his horse drawn cart, his hat tilted to the back of his head, his money bag over his shoulder. Benedict's father owes the baker £50, or so he heard the other day, when his old man moaned about the baker wanting some back of what he was owed. Over the way kids are at play, skipping or with hula hoops or wooden box homemade go-carts. He looks down into the Square, the man with the boxer dog is taking it for a stroll; across on the opposite balcony, a man smokes, dressed just in his vest, bald head, smoke rising. Benedict looks down at Lydia's flat. Her father swayed home drunk last night, singing some Scottish songs at the top of his voice, his arms outspread above his head. Benedict had seen him, heard him, Lydia's mother at the door of the flat, arms folded, unimpressed, hairnet, cigarette between lips. The door is shut now, the loud voices and shouts silenced. Lydia's big sister crept home at some God knows what hour in the morning, tarted up, beehive hairdo, skirt just covering her backside, black stockings, hair dyed blonde. Lydia's brother, Hemmy, crosses the Square, sneaky and oily in a stroll. Benedict had punched him once for tossing fireworks at him and his sister, ran after him until he caught him, and thump thump and down he went. Lydia will be out later, he supposes. Thin girl, light brown long hair, lanky, her thin features and arms and legs. They'd been to the local railway station to watch the steam trains, went to Waterloo railway station, too. Sitting there on a seat, smelling the steam and acrid smoke, and that steam train smell. The powerful sounds, the feel of power, the smell of power. They sat occupied by the big black train waiting to depart, steam oozing, the loud whistle, the passengers looking from windows. And Lydia had said, I'd like to go to Scotland; like it is shown on the big coloured posters or to the seaside with yellow sands and blue sea; and he had said, yes we will, we'll go together, you and I, a bag of sandwiches, bottles of pop. She liked that. Moved closer to him, her arm against his. The train pulled out, steam hissing, the smell getting stronger, his lungs enlarging with it, she stood up, hands in prayer mode, her eyes focused. They waved to the train and unknown passengers. Benedict's mother has gone shopping with his sister and younger brother. His old man is at work, making things of metal in some factory by the Thames; he'd been there once, one Saturday morning, his old man showing him around, doing things, overtime. The door of Lydia's flat opens and Lydia appears. She looks around the Square. She is clothed in a red and black checked dress, greyish ankle socks, black plimsolls. Her hair is unbrushed, hangs in strands. She looks up and he waves and she waves back. She smiles. He smiles back. She stands there in the open air. She points to her mouth with a finger. He wonders what she means. He opens up his hands in a gesture of: What do you mean? Hemmy punched my mouth, she says. She rubs her lip. Come up, Benedict says. She looks back at her door, then pulls it shut and walks across the Square and up the stairs. He waits and listens. The baker unloads more bread, the horse stands idle with a nosebag, feeding. She runs onto the balcony and stands beside him, out of breath. He sees a seep of red on her lower lip, her teeth have blood on them. He takes out his handkerchief and wipes her lip gently, she shivers, eyes watery, her tongue pushed into the opposite side of her cheek. Why did he punch you? Benedict asks. She moves her lips to answer. Because I'm ugly he said, she answered, blood seeping still, his handkerchief getting redder. I'll smack his mouth, Benedict says, he'll have to put his toothbrush up his arse to clean his teeth, he adds, making her giggle, then cringe, then shiver. She looks into his eyes. He sees his reflection there. They seem green, the eyes, the black center. She takes hold of his arm of the hand wiping her lip, grips it. Heard your dad singing last night, he says. She looks downwards. He sings well, Benedict adds, just wrong time and place. They rowed for hours afterwards, she says.Then my sister came home in the early hours and that meant another row, Dad saying he'd tan her backside, calling her a whore, Mum butting in defending her and shouting at her. Sounds exciting, Benedict says. Frightening, she says, pulling away from his handkerchief, hand and fingers. I share a bedroom with her. She stank of booze. She was in a foul mood, throwing her clothes about the room, swearing, standing there in the nude, her boobies like small babies. He laughs at that. She frowns. Not funny, she says, she scared me. Sorry, he says, just the way you came out with it. Her lip still seeps blood. She licks it with her tongue. He wipes it with his handkerchief again. She screws up her eyes. Then she snored all night, Lydia says. Did your dad tan her backside? he asks, standing back, seeing if the blood has stopped. No, he just says that, makes him feel he's still in control of things, but he isn't anymore, Mum is, Mum is the power now, Lydia says. Has he ever hit you? Benedict asks. No, he hasn't, Mum has and does. He's a big noisy, cuddly bear. All mouth, Mum says. Well, with us he is. He knocked two Paddies out the other month at the Duke of Wellington, she says, unimpressed, but smiling, despite her lip. I can't go up West with you, Lydia says. Why not? Benedict asks. He notices the bleeding has ceased. Mum gave me some lecture about may and can and possibility and permissibility or something or other, but I can't go, she say, folding her arms, standing stiff. He pulls a face. I'll have a word with her, Benedict says, explain the purpose of our adventure. No, no, Lydia says. She says she'll tan my backside if I keep on about it. No pain, no gain, he says. Think of it: the West End of London. She breathes in heavily, looks at him, at his combed back quiff, the hazel eyes, the smiling lips. She can only say no, he says. No, best not, not after last night's episodes. Another time, when she's in a better mood, Lydia adds. Benedict sighs. He likes her thin hands, the way they have gripped his own in sign of desperation, the thin fingers, the pinkie nails. OK, he says, another time. What about Bedlam Park? We can go swimming? She hesitates, looks over the balcony, her hair needing a good brush, her eyes full of wonder and fear and anxiety. I could ask, she says. Just a question. She needn't pay for the locker, Benedict says, I've money for that. Lydia looks at him, her brain in gear, her lips open, words there. I'll see what she says, Lydia says, and off she goes down the stairs, two at a time; he can hear her feet on concrete steps. He watches her go to the door of her flat and disappear inside. Negotiations, words exchanged, maybe. He looks at the door. The man with the boxer dog returns to the Square with a newspaper under an arm, the dog pulling, the man's arm out stretched. The door to Lydia's flat opens and she comes out and gives him the thumps up sign. She smiles and goes back inside. No pain, some gain, no slapped backside. He smiles. Up West will have to wait. He and she,another time, another date.

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Helen and you
walked home from school
the long way
you wanted to show her

the man
in the pie and mash shop
cutting up eels
for jellied eels

or for the pies
how he would stand there
with his knife
and take up an eel

and holding it
firmly on a board
would cut off its head
and then proceed

to slice it up
into small pieces
and into a bucket
on the floor

and when you showed her
standing outside the shop
peering through
the window

she said
O my God
and put a hand
to her mouth

and spoke
through her hand
and added
poor eels

to end up
in someone's stomach
and the way
he cuts them up

and the pieces
still moving afterwards  
and she moved away
and walked up the road

still holding a hand
over her mouth
you don't fancy
pie and mash then?

you said
not with eels in it no
she replied
through her fingers

you smiled
not funny
she said
poor little eel creatures

yes I guess it is
a bit brutal
you said
but fascinating

to watch
I don't think so
she said
taking her hand

from her mouth
you both went under
the subway of the junction
she slightly

in front of you
her two plaits of hair
as she walked

her green raincoat
tied tight about her
you whistled
so that it echoed

along the subway
bouncing off the walls
all along
the artificial lights

giving off
a surreal sensation
how can people eat eels?
she asked

just the sight
puts me off
don't know
guess they don't think

of it being eels as such
just as something to eat  
you said
you both came out

of the subway
on the other side
and walked along
the New Kent Road

by the cinema
she looking
at the billboards
through her thick lens glasses

are you sure your mum
doesn't mind
having me for tea?
she said

well we're not actually
having you for tea
we usually have
beans on toast

or jam sandwiches
she slapped your hand
you know what I mean
she said smiling

no Mum don't mind
you said
she invited you after all
I pleaded against it

but she wouldn't listen
you said smiling
Helen's face frowned
and she stood still

she said
no I'm joking
you said

and she nodded her head
looking at you
through her glasses

I'm just kidding
you said
you touched her hand
she smiled

and you both walked on
and across the bomb site
the uneven ground
the puddles of rainwater

you your mother's son
and Helen
a lucky woman's

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