The swimming lesson finished early and we were all sent to get changed. Miss Shipp and Mr Armstrong stayed with Gilbert to make sure he was alright. He was fine but he milked it for as long as he could whilst Miss Shipp was cradling him in her arms. He wasn’t as stupid as he made out.
I headed back to the changing rooms and started drying myself off. I didn’t use the shower and took off my trunks whilst keeping the towel wrapped around me. I went into my bag to get my underpants. They weren’t there. Neither were my trousers, or any of my uniform for that matter. I could hear giggling coming from the girls changing room and everybody climbed onto the bench to see if they could find out what they were laughing about. It didn’t take me long to realise. The girls were due to do swimming for their next lesson and on the windows of the girl’s changing rooms were my underpants, trousers and the rest of my uniform.
“Elvis. Any chance you could get them for me, mate?”
“I would mate but I’ve been told I can’t.”
“Who by?” Then I saw Kev.
“Looks like you’re going to have to get them yourself, Wood. Not so funny now is it, not having any trousers?”
Everyone crowded round me and pushed me out of the door wearing just a towel. Kev came out behind me. All of the girls were standing looking out of the window, cheering. Luckily I was mostly shielded from the main school. I was going to have to make a run for it. Just as I set off, Kev grabbed my towel.
“You’ll not be needing this,” he laughed as he closed the door behind him.
Elvis and I sat at the top of the stairs outside the science blocks. We had gone for a look around the old school; it had changed. The school was now a college and, as you would expect after fifteen years, most of the classrooms had been refurbished.
It had been a funny night seeing all the old faces, making small talk and exchanging pleasantries. I knew the night was far from over but thought it was only right that I took some time out to talk to Elvis. Everything had happened so quickly since I had come home and I think it was fair to say that I had turned his world upside down. I owed him an explanation.
“You never did tell me what you had been up to for the last fifteen years,” Elvis flicked his foot at an imaginary object on the stairs, “and after the last couple of weeks I’m not sure I want to know.”
“Come on, I want to show you something.” I helped Elvis up from the stairs.
He was a little unsure on his feet as he had drunk quite a lot of Stones, despite being under strict instructions from Marie not to get too drunk. He had been doing a lot of that lately.
We headed back down towards the hall and walked into the middle of the Pogues’ Irish Rover. Everyone was swirling round and whooping, not least Claire and Gilbert. Everyone was enjoying themselves; whatever my motives, the reunion had been a success. We walked down the side of the hall to where the Chapel used to be. The pale blue, plastic sliding doors were still there and I was surprised to find the chapel intact when I slid them back. I ushered Elvis inside and closed the door behind us. The doors slightly muffled the sound of the opening bars to Madness’ Baggy Trousers, which was now blasting out of the speakers. We both grinned. The heating duct was still there and I told Elvis the whole story from beginning to end, trying not to leave anything out.
“That’s sick,” Elvis was disgusted.
“I hated Riley but for Burnsy to do that to him was a bit below the belt.”
“Funny all the same,” laughed Elvis. “I take it you saw the paper the other night?” Elvis now turned serious.
“Yeah, I did. What did you feel when you saw it?”
“Guilty I suppose. He was a sick mother fucker all right, as your story has just proved but did he deserve to die like that?”
I had no answer and just shrugged.
“Look outside,” I said, “everyone’s enjoying them selves and they are all carrying pictures of a dead man, probably the same picture that killed him. This place is fucked up; we’re fucked up.”
“Have you ever considered killing yourself?” I asked.
Elvis was shocked at the question.
“I have, briefly. The difference between Burnsy and me is that I didn’t go through with it. Call me a coward if you like, everybody says that people who kill themselves are very brave but I don’t believe that. They are the real cowards. Everybody has a choice in life, you can check out like Burnsy or you can stand up and face the music.”
“Or you could run away,” Elvis suggested.
“Fair point. What I am trying to say is, that if you make a decision you have to stand by it. If Burnsy didn’t want people to see him dressed in a black rubber mask and briefs then he shouldn’t have taken pictures of himself and posted them on the Net. I feel sorry for his wife but not for him. She’s the one who has to live with it.”
I’m not sure whether Elvis agreed with me but he didn’t say.
“Come on, finish the story. What happened after Burns did that to Riley?”
I continued and told him the rest of the story.
“Now do you understand why I had to leave? Davison was going to come back at some point and he was going to come after me.”
“He hasn’t yet. Maybe he doesn’t know.”
“He does, I’m sure of it. I don’t know why he hasn’t acted yet, maybe he is just biding his time.”
“So why did you come back? You must have known he would want revenge. You’re taking one hell of a risk.”
We were now both sat on the altar with our feet swinging below.
“I hold all the aces now. I can hurt him more than he can hurt me, he just doesn’t know it yet.”
“I’m not sure, ” said Elvis examining one of the candlesticks. “I don’t think you should go there tonight, it’s too dangerous.”
“I have to, I have to finish it.”
“This is all fascinating but you’ve still avoided the main question. What have you been doing for the past fifteen years?”
“But everybody wears trainers Mam,” I protested.
“I don’t care what everybody else does, I’m only bothered what you do. The school rules say that you wear sensible shoes to and from school and trainers when you get there. That’s exactly what you are going to do,” My mother didn’t care that this would make me even more of a target than I was already, “and you can take those white socks off as well.”
“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
I trudged upstairs knowing exactly what the day was going to bring.
Everywhere I looked, the pupils of St Patrick’s were wearing trainers. Boys, Girls, Adidas, Nike, everybody was wearing them but me. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone and scoured the ground hoping to see another pair of sensible shoes. I didn’t. Even if everybody else was wearing shoes, my pale blue slip-ons were bound to stand out. Especially with grey socks. My Mam wouldn’t let me have Kickers or Pods; they were far too expensive, a waste of money.
“Nice shoes,” Sara Nesbitt spotted them and let everybody in her crowd know. “Get dressed by Mammy this morning?”
I felt a small thud against the back of my head. I didn’t look round but waited until I was out of sight before I pulled the chewing gum from my hair. I tried the door in the hope that it would be open and I would be able to get into class early.
Normally, getting into class before nine is to be avoided as you don’t want to look like a swot but I needed to change into my trainers even if they were Dunlops. As per usual the door was locked, the teachers enjoying a lie in or an extra cup of coffee before they saw fit to let us in. I slumped down on the step and waited for the abuse.
Shit. I thought as I sat down.
I stood straight back up again and removed the chewing gum from the seat of my pants. It was the same piece that I had thrown to the floor moments earlier. I put up with the usual abuse for the next ten minutes. The doorway had now become crowded with people waiting to get in from the cold. I felt a slap on the back of my head and turned round. Martin Gelder was standing there, hands in pockets, trying to look innocent. His friends tried to suppress giggles. I turned back round again and tried to ignore them. Another slap, this time I didn’t look round. They would get bored…eventually.
I looked at my watch when Mr Burns came to open the door. It was 8.59.
“Slowly now, form a queue.”
He placed his hand in front of me and let everybody pass. I was going to protest that I had been there first but what was the point?
Another installment of Leg It by Alan Parkinson to follow same time next week.
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