"Schoolyard" by Lankss.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
by Sam Grainger
At break time we would all meet on the metal fire exit steps leading down from the back of the old hall. It was tucked away behind the big gest of the schools four buildings on other side of the school to the lower playground. It was always quiet there. Whoever got to the steps first got the top one; with the green fire exit door to lean back on. I was fifteen minutes late coming out of P.E. The substitute held us back because Vinny kept keg ging nearby runners during laps of the Astroturf pitch. For every person Vinny keg ged, we stayed behind an extra minute. Someone said it was a personal record of his.
When I got to the steps, all the lads were there. Gav and Hayden were near the bottom, and Tommy, Seb and Duncan were bunched behind them. At the top of the steps sat the Moore twins, who were smoking and drinking something orange tinted from a plastic bottle. They both gave me looks and grinned at each other as I walked up. Everyone had their backs turned to them.
"Alright, Sammy boy?"
"Where’ve you been?"
"I heard Vinny was pulling shorts down again, that lad has to be bent."
"Alright, lads?" I said, jumping between Gav and Hayden to sit below the others. I ignored the Moore brothers. "We all at the top green for lunch?"
"Ye," said Tommy, "Hayden’s got his bat in his locker, so we don’t have to use that stick."
"Nabbed some tennis balls from the sports cupboard tool," said Hayden, with a wink.
"Nice," I said, pulling my bag off my shoulders.
"Can’t play cricket on the top green, you’ll get a bollocking," said Dan Moore behind us. His brother laughed smoke from his nose.
We continued to ignore them.
"Flip a coin to see who bats," said Gav.
"Everyone gets an over to bowl, we’ll just keep going till someone fluffs it," said Seb.
"We can use the yellow bin outside the Science gate for stumps," said Duncan.
"Ye. Tell the year eights to piss off too, they usually sit round there," said Tommy.
"Those year eight’s’ll floor you," said Dan Moore, he leaned his pimpled face forward from the top step and breathed smoke at us, "specially you, ginge." He looked dead at me with pinkish eyes, and rested an elbow on his knee, popping his fingers and knuckles. Ben laughed some more. I turned away and felt my cheeks warm and prickle. The Moore twins regularly targeted my hair colour. It never usually bothered me, but that fact that they had found our quiet spot on the stairs frustrated me. My jaw clenched from the comment.
"Fuck off, Ben," said Tommy.
"Oh right, getting hard are we, Thomas?" said Dan Moore.
We shunned them with silence and turned our heads. They chuckled to themselves, passing the plastic bottle back and forth. I heard it crunching when they took swigs. The bell rang out from inside the English Block beside us.
"We’re off to English," said Tommy, who jumped down from the steps and motioned to Hayden with a nod.
"We’ve got Science," said Gav. Seb and Duncan got up with him.
"History for me," I said, as I reached for my bag on the stairs behind me.
Dan Moore got a hand to it first. "Nice bag, ginge, looks like a Tesco’s finest one," he said, passing my bag to his brother.
"Ye, cheap as chips, this," said Ben, shaking the bag in front of me.
"Give it," I said, holding out my hand.
"Nah," said Ben.
"I said Nah."
The lads had vanished around the corner of the English block to their classes.
It was just me and the twins. I could hear the school growing quieter in the distance as everyone filled into their classes. "Give me my fucking bag," I said, my voice elevating.
"OOOooooh...Someone’s getting mad," said Dan. He stood up and flicked a fag end at my forehead. It bounced off my skin, dusting my face with ash. My stomach felt wrung out like a damp tea towel. I tried to hide that my outstretched hand was shaking.
"Nah, I think I’ll keep it, I need a new bag anyway," said Dan. He shoved past me on the stairs, pushing my arm away when I grabbed out at the bag.
"Stop fucking being a fucking knobhead," my voice sounded thin and weak.
"Waaah waaah waaah," Ben let out infantile whining sounds and rubbed bunched fists under his eyes as he walked past me on the stairs after his brother. His spotty, scarred face was scrunched up.
"I don’t even need a new bag, this is shit anyway," said Dan. He walked up to a bin on the corner of the English Block, turned to me and smiled with his tongue tucked under his bottom lip.
"DON’T FUCKING DRO—"
He let my bag drop. Flies erupted from the bin like a mist. I could hear Ben wheezing and coughing from laughter behind me. Dan gig gled from his nose and swatted away the flies, his smile open and his tongue still tucked under his lower lip.
My skin flashed with coldness and the hairs on my limbs lifted. An acidic taste gathered in the back of my mouth. It ran down my throat and into my stomach, and everything tensed up. They were both still laughing, bent over and slapping their palms against their thighs.
Now, it all becomes snapshots. Short bursts of colour, movement and sound.
I shoved Dan in the chest with both hands and he fell back against the wall behind him. Ben shouted something that sounded like "fucking prick" or "shitting dick" behind me, but I can’t be sure. I lurched forward from a push in the back and stumbled, nearly falling to my knees. I recovered, looked up, and saw a bunched fist thrown at me. Behind it was a red, blotchy face with anger lines drawn into it. There was a shout, or maybe a growling noise, too. My eye sight flashed bright white and poured back in time for me to see a second fist swung at me. There was another flash, and then I saw Dan Moore stood in front of me, his fist clenched, his knuckles red, and his eyes wide. My nose felt warm and loose on my face, and I could taste pennies on my tongue.
"FUCKING KNOCK HIM OUT!" Ben shouted behind me.
Dan’s fist slowly unravelled. He was staring at me, his eyes pink and still wide, with his mouth half open. He was breathing heavily and his knees were shaking under his trousers, making the grey material ripple.
Something made the muscles in my legs engage and my fists close. I only realised I had him in a head lock after the sixth punch to the back of his skull. My knuckles split open and began to bleed. I couldn’t tell if it was my blood or his that dampened the short buzz cut hair on his scalp. I kept punching, and punching, and punching. My right hand grew numb and my arm burned. I heard behind me, "STOP FUCKING HITTING HIM. STOP" as if it was being shouted into a pillow. It echoed, all muffled and slow in my head, and rolled around and down into my fired bones and muscles.
He slumped to the floor with his hands cupped around his head. I could hear him crying and spluttering into the concrete. I turned to see the other twin running off. I don’t know how long I stood looking at him crying on the floor. There was a lot of blood between his fingers, and matted in his hair. Pain crept into my hand. It looked puffy, and it quivered. I could see the bone of my index and middle knuckles under the mess of wet, torn skin. I felt myself shivering. Mum picked me up from school early. She shouted and screeched and sighed the whole drive back. I didn’t say a word. I held a sandwich bag of ice cubes to my lightly bandaged knuckles, and cried silently at the window.
Dad came into my room later that night. He crouched at the side of my bed and looked at me for a long time before he said, "Your mother tells me you put a boy in hospital today from punching him in the back of the head more times than he could count. Apparently, he put your bag in a bin. He’s okay, Dan Moore. And don’t worry, I’m not mad, and she’s calmed down too, but you know what you did was wrong?"
I nodded slowly – I had a headache from crying.
"Good. You need to apologise to Dan Moore, his parents, and Mr. Pilkington first thing tomorrow, okay?"
I nodded again.
"Alright." He stood up and tapped my arm softly. In the doorway, he stopped and looked back at me. "We’ll get you a new bag at the weekend, and well done for sticking up for yourself, son. Don’t tell your mother I said that." He turned, closing the door with him. I thought I saw him smiling to himself, but I wasn’t sure.
As a 23 year old Creative Writing graduate from Norwich (United Kingdom), Sam Grainger is enjoying free-roaming writing, without strict deadlines and word counts. Twitter: @SGraingy Tumblr: sgraingy.tumblr.com & sgraingy2.tumblr.com