Apart from the damage from the initial blow, Kev had survived quite well. The beating had been so frantic, nobody had connected properly and he had just curled into a ball. He suffered a broken nose, bruising to his face, arms and legs but very little else and returned to school a week later a hero. Everyone knew he would have won the fight if nobody had jumped in and he said nothing to the police. Ingham wouldn’t be back and the war was over until next year.
I wasn’t so lucky. It turned out that the only casualty from the comp apart from Ingham was the lad I managed to hit in the face with the metal bar. I had assumed this would have given me some credibility with the gang.
I was wrong.
“You ran Wood and you could have helped me.” Kev was unforgiving.
“Everyone ran. There’s nothing I could have done. Half of your mates didn’t even turn up.”
“At least they had the decency to say they weren’t going to fight. You said you would then bottled it.”
“I didn’t bottle, I was there, I was hit with a baseball bat.”
“I’m going to make you pay for this, Wood.”
I fought back the tears as somebody smacked me on the back of the head.
A light breeze put a slight chill in the air and it had started to become overcast again, the night was beginning to draw in. We watched the seagulls swirl in the air above the white patches in the waves. A cargo ship had left the harbour and was now turning left for the trip towards Norway. Claire seemed reluctant to leave.
“I had a dream last night,” I said as I put on my coat, “I’m not sure what to make of it.”
Claire had sat back down in the armchair. She was wearing a camel coloured, woollen coat to protect her from the wind.
“When we are sat here, we can watch the birds flying, soaring into the sky without a care in the world. Occasionally when they are swirling around the top of the lighthouse, they don’t see the glass. They try and fly straight through it. There’s a thud and they fall to the ground. It’s quite unnerving the first time you see it.”
“That’s terrible. Do they survive?”
“Most of the time they’re just stunned and fly off, until this morning that is. I was in that dozing state just before you wake up. They say that’s when most dreams occur. Anyway while I was sleeping this seagull flew straight into the glass. The noise must have woken me but that’s when the dream happened. In the split second before I woke, it wasn’t a bird banging on the glass; it was the hand of the Grim Reaper I saw, the hand of Death. It was a bony, slender claw protruding out of a black sleeve. It shook me up a little bit.”
“What do you think it meant?” she asked.
“I don’t know. It could mean nothing, it could mean everything.”
“You’ve had a rough time since you came home. Maybe it’s the stress of everything getting on top of you. You should relax more, you’re really uptight.” Claire walked behind me and started massaging my shoulders through my jumper. “You’re in knots.”
“You could be right.” I placed my left hand on hers and smiled. “When I got out of bed I came out onto the balcony. There was a seagull lying here, its neck was broken. Maybe that’s what it was all about. Maybe Death had come to take away the bird. Who knows?”
I looked up at Claire and thought about kissing her but it somehow didn’t seem like the right moment. She gave my shoulder one last squeeze and sat back down.
We sat there for another hour, not really saying anything. Eventually Claire decided that she had to leave. “Don’t worry about the dream. You’re not going to die. I’m not going to let you get away that easily.” She kissed me gently on top of the head and ran her hand through my hair. “See you later, Pete. Don’t go anywhere.”
I stood up and took her hand in mine. I looked straight into her emerald eyes and gave her hand a squeeze.
As we walked back along the pier I noticed a lone fisherman. The pier was now private property and fishing was prohibited. I thought about asking him to move on but he had possibly been fishing there for years. Who was I to take that away from him?
From the day Kev returned to school my life was made a living hell. I was spat on, punched, kicked and generally abused at every turn. Tomma and the rest of the gang eventually returned and when they were at full strength they were formidable.
“You can keep away from me as well.” I was disappointed at Elvis’ response.
“Come on, Elvis. You’re my best mate.”
“Was your best mate. You soon abandoned me when you thought you were part of Davison’s gang. Look where it got you. If I start mixing with you again I’m going to end up getting it as well. It’s hassle I could do without.”
I sloped off to the canteen, wondering if I could make a plate of chips last the whole lunchtime. At least there was some sort of protection in the canteen.
When I eventually left the restaurant Elvis was waiting for me.
“Look, I still stand by what I said earlier but there’s something I think you should know.” He had been in one of the cubicles in the toilets and had heard Kev and his mates talking. “They’re going to be waiting for you after school. You’re going to have to go home a different way.”
“I’m going to have to walk miles if I’m going to avoid them.”
The only other route home was by walking around the top of Marley Pots estate. Something I wasn’t particularly keen on.
“It’s the only way if you want to avoid a kicking,” replied Elvis. “And if they find out it was me who told you, I’ll be the one getting the kicking.”
He was right, unless I set off early.
“How are you going to get out of school early? It’s Geography last lesson, there’s no way Dunny will let you out.”
“Can’t do anything about it if I’m not there,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“See you later mate. I’m away home.”
“You can’t what about registration?”
He had a point. I went to registration and as soon as it was over I headed for the front gate and walked out. Nobody saw me. Nobody was expecting it. Suddenly I felt an overwhelming sense of relief sweep over me.
Another installment to follow same time next week.
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