Feel The Fear

Entry by: Tauren

2nd August 2017
Sully`s Quay Christian Brothers…..circa 1975

I step out of the shadow of the building that towers four stories above me, into the bright morning sunshine. Seven steps below is the square expanse of the school playground, a sea of boys in blue and grey, their high pitched shrieks bouncing off the concrete walls that surround it, the younger ones tearing about in an apparently random helter-skelter of lunacy.

At the far end of the yard is the gym with the science rooms above it, a large clock embedded high up in the centre of the wall. To the right is the open air toilet block where the lethal waxy plastic toilet paper lays in wait for the unwary, or the unlucky.

Up here during the breaks, the terrace is the preserve of the sixth classes, where we twelve year olds spend our last few months of supremacy before being shunted upwards to secondary school and re-entry into the bottom tier once more. To my right an excited crowd is playing or watching a few games of pitch penny, below them at this end of the toilet block, tell-tale wisps of smoke can be seen drifting through the gap in the roof, a leathering awaiting any who get caught.

I wander over to the left side of the terrace, descend three steps, pull a book from my bag and sit down to read in solitude.
I am not, I want you to know, particularly unsociable, I played chasing and cowboys and Indians when I was younger; when I was younger, that’s almost funny, I`m only twelve. And I have been known to play pitch penny and marbles, and in the autumn, conkers, but mostly I like to read.

I have long ago resigned myself to the fact that I`m weird, I’ve been told this enough times by too many people to ignore it, and my classmates have me down as a swot. But I don’t think I`m a swot, swots read schoolbooks, and anyway I hate school, I dream of the day when I`m old enough and can leave it all behind.

So I sit here on my own, the April sun warming my head and a book in my hands…bliss. It’s 20,000 leagues under the sea, a birthday present from auntie Maura who, unlike my mother, loves to see me reading, I sometimes think that to my mum there is nothing more maddening than the sight of me doing nothing, my head buried in a book.
How many times has she ripped one from my hands, face twisted in rage as she rants on about my uselessness, and how lazy I am, always reading these worthless things; and I think this time for sure she`s going to tear it up or throw it in the fire.
but of course she never does, cos they either belong to the library, or auntie Maura bought it for me; and her sister is the only person in the whole wide world my mums afraid of. So now if I want to read at home, I read by flashlight under the blanket. Greg who is two years older than me and has the top bunk moans about it sometimes, but never so loud as she can hear.

“YOU!” the hard bark of authority cuts through the noise, suddenly all is still and silence. Two hundred heads and pairs of eyes swivel towards the sound, at the end of the steps stands a tall angular man, his face a mask of fury, left hand extended, the index finger pointing at……..who? we wonder.

Then two hundred pairs of eyes find the target of his ire and one hundred and ninety nine of them are relieved to discover it isn’t them but a small redheaded boy of eight or so. The brother turns his hand over and crooks the finger, “Come here....NOW,”

The kid works his way through the groups of twos and threes, no path opens up for him, no parting of the crowd to usher him to his doom, until he is within the brothers reach, I groan, Brother Francis, why did it have to be Brother Francis.

The man drops his hand only far enough to grip the hair on the boys head just in front of his ear, lifting until he was teetering on tip-toes. The brother leans down and says something, I am too far away to hear, then he lets the kid go, pulling out the leather from its nest in the right pocket of his cassock.
I`m relieved, just a few licks then, he wouldn’t have to go to Brother Francis`s room.
You don’t want to be alone with Brother Francis, I don’t know why, nobody seems to know, or won`t say, you just don’t….that’s all!

I look down to my book not wanting to see anymore, around me the sound starts to wind back up like one of those sirens in the war movies, and in seconds it’s as if nothing had happened, except there’s a hole in the melee of boys about twenty feet wide, the brother and his victim at its centre.

Tom plops down next to me, “What ya readin,” He snatches the book from my hand, “I read it,” he says grinning, “The whale done it.”
I laugh, “There`s no whale, that’s Moby Dick.” and reach for the book, but he holds it away from me with his left hand.
Tom`s my best friend in school, in fact he`s my only friend in school, but it still counts. He`s small for his age, a good four inches shorter than me and thin as a whip, his uncontrollable black hair as usual sticking out at odd angles, an infectious grin plastered on his face.

I am, I have to admit, more than a little jealous of him, cos of his mum. After aunt Maura she`s the nicest woman I’ve ever met, the kind of mother Enid Blyton always has in her books. Mrs Brown is always smiling and has biscuits or cakes, and they have a soda stream too. She`ll make me a lemonade without me even having to ask for it. I’d like to visit Toms house more often, but he lives in Pouladuff and I`m up by the Airport, and that’s a long way by bike.

But lately I think he`s a little jealous of me too, because I know so many girls. Before, when he wasn’t interested in girls he`d tease me and say I liked to play house and with dolls, but he was never mean about it and he never said anything in school about it neither.
But that was before he decided he liked girls after all, and now he was asking things like “how do I get to know girls?” and “What do you talk about?”
So I`d shrug and say, “Oh you know.”
And he`d say, “No I don’t know, that’s why I`m asking.”
And I`d say “Well stuff, nothing really. Mostly they just talk and I listen.”
And he`ll give me an exasperated look and say, “You`re a fat lot of use.”

Last week he claimed he`d French kissed a girl named Amy, “You don’t know her,” he said, `”she lives around the corner from me.”
I didn’t know what French kissing was and said so; and he rolled his eyes giving me his, don’t you know anything look, which he likes to do whenever he finds out he knows something I don’t. And so he told me and I just said, ”huh,” and left it at that, Though I could see he was annoyed I wasn’t more impressed.

I didn’t really believe him, about the French kissing I mean, not about Amy, he says I`m too gullible and he`s always making things up to see if I’ll believe him, so I asked my oldest brother Philip, who’s fifteen and would know about these things.

Philip said the same thing that Tom`d said.
And I said “that’s disgusting, that’s more disgusting than eating snails and frogs legs, the French must be crazy.”
“There`s no way I`m ever going to let a girl put her tongue in my mouth.”
Philip laughed and said “oh yeah,” and I said “Yeah,” and he said “We`ll see,” and was still laughing when he told me to get out of his room.

I haven’t told Tom I`ve already kissed two girls myself, mostly because he`d only claim I was saying that because he said he`d kissed Amy, and also because I couldn’t see what the big deal was.
But Mr Meaney thought it was quite a big deal. Maeve; Caroline`s younger sister saw us kissing down by the old pump and squealed to her dad. And Mr Meaney came up to our house that night and had a furious row with my dad at the front door that ended with him shouting that dad had “Better keep your sons away from my daughters or else….”

I was in the dining room listening and was a little concerned about the, “Or else.” But then I thought, Mr Meaney works in an office and wears a suit, while my dad works with steel all day, so I`m pretty sure he`d be able to take him. But on the other hand I`ve never seen my dad raise his hand to anybody in my life. After I heard dad close the front-door I sat on the couch unsure what he`d say, but he walked past me on the way to the kitchen without a word, so I guess that’s that then.
And I only kissed Caroline because I’d already kissed Anne and wanted to see if it was different or any better.
It wasn’t; different or better, so I don’t think I`ll bother kissing any more girls again, it seems way more trouble than it`s worth.

Tom was sitting back now, elbows resting on the next step up, studying the book in his hand as if he was really interested in it, though I knew he wasn’t, and then he remembered why he`d sat down next to me in the first place.

“Oh yeah,” he said, “my dad said he`s taking the Harlequin around the old head on Sunday, and says it’s okay if you want to come.”
The Harlequin is Mr Browns 33ft yacht which he sails out of Royal Cork. Mostly dinghy people and yacht people don’t mix; we don’t think yachting is real sailing and they don’t think dinghies are real boats, so we have a mutual contempt for each other. But Mr Brown doesn’t race so I guess he`s okay.
I told my dad about him, and said how I thought it was strange he had a boat and didn’t race it, and my dad said, “Some people are odd like that, Some folk like to just mess around on the water.”
I still think it`s queer, but I haven’t told Tom that.
So I say, “Yeah that`d be great.”
And he says, "We`ll collect you at ten on the way to Crosshaven, okay, and you don`t need to bring anything, we have life jackets on the boat."
I nod, though I think I’ll bring my own anyway, just in case.

I look up at the clock on the far wall, the big hand is swinging towards ten past and hold out my hand. Tom looks from my hand to his, and appears surprised to find the book still in it. He feints like he`s going to pass it to me, but jumps up instead, draws his hand back, and for a heart-stopping moment I think he`s going to fling it away and lunging to my feet, hand outstretched, yell, “NO.”
He looks at me, shaking his head as he lowers his hand, and I realise what I knew all along, that he`d never have thrown the book.
Tom drops the book into my waiting hand, and grinning says, “Barry, You are too easy,” then punches me hard in the shoulder.
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