Friday, 30 June 2017

And another bit of Fred

He looked up at me when I said “with your looks”, with a quizzical expression, as if wondering if I was genuine. But maybe he was wondering something else, because then he said, “the thing is, I don’t think I really want a girl at all”. Now I was feeling very out of my depth. “I guess if it’s a boy you’re after, the beefing up might help, we’re notoriously superficial”. Not that I was a boy, of course. But he knew what I meant. “All the boys at school are jerks. Some are nice-looking, some aren’t even stupid, but they are all jerks”. “Really? All of them?” “Every last one. I don’t like my age group. I go for older guys, but they aren’t going to look at me, because I’m too young and I don’t know anything”. “How young are you?” “Fourteen, but I’ll be fifteen in June”. “Well, that’s kinda on the young side for most men who are older, it’s a bit of a legal problem, you know, the age of consent thing”. “Yeah, I know. I hate that. How can they tell me what I can and can’t do? And anyway, who says I’m leaping into bed with anyone? I just want a guy to be with, to hold”. “Be patient, you’ll find someone”. Which sounded pathetic. “Yeah, but when?” And I had no answer to that.

We sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, on the bench, in the rain. It was early March, and he wasn’t really dressed for the weather, just his school blazer and a thin white shirt. I was going to say cotton, but probably polyester. Snob that I am. Then he started to shiver. “You’re getting cold”. “It’s OK, I don’t want to go home yet.” “I haven’t got anything to warm you up”. “Can I sit closer?” “Er …. Sure”. And he snuggled up against me. I couldn’t help putting my arm around his shoulders. He shuddered, but not in recoil, and not from the cold, either. When I say “I couldn’t help …” I know that’s a lie. I could have said “go home, keep walking, warm yourself up”. But I didn’t. I put my own arm round him, to warm him up. And it was exactly what he wanted. He rested his head against my neck. And I started to feel I had accidentally walked into a really dangerous place. And a bit of me, not all of me, really wanted to be here.

A bit more Fred

I was asleep. I often sleep after lunch these days. The sound of the motorbike on the gravel in the drive woke me. Conrad was expected at 4, this was only 1.30. I opened the door as he was taking his helmet off, and instantly I knew who it was. The resemblance to his son was astonishingly strong. I held out a hand. He dithered. For a moment I wondered if he’d come to fight. How many times was I to be beaten to a pulp by Fred’s menfolk? But tentatively, he took it, looking me in the eye with a quizzical face.

“We were expecting you a bit later, but you’re very welcome – Fred’s not back until 4ish”
“I was up and doing, and just wanted to hit the road”.
“Have you eaten? I’ve got some lunch. And how about a drink?”
“I don’t want to be a nuisance”
“It’s no trouble – our kitchen’s always open. Come through – mind the wildlife”.
“Fred told me about the animals, he always wanted pets when he was little. Told me about your gins too”.
“Nelson’s his favourite – the Norfolk terrier. [And I took the hint.] And a little gin’s coming up, I’ll have one myself”.
We went through to the conservatory. It was a bright, sunny day. Conrad’s fair hair shimmered in it. Like Fred’s. As I turned my back to him to sort the drinks out from the fridge and the freezer, I briefly thought “am I fancying the father too?”
“This is a nice place – even bigger than I was expecting”.
“Size isn’t everything ….” he made a face “… but we’re very happy here”.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017


My bubble of isolation was burst this wet Monday when a youngster – I’m no good at ages, but a teenager, taller than a child, and with fluff on his chin that ought to be stubble – sidled up and asked “Do you mind if I sit here, Sir?” I’d been looking the other way and hadn’t seen him coming, so I was taken aback by his sudden appearance, and also by his manners. They weren’t big on manners on the Caxton estate. “Sure, it’s a public park and a public bench, help yourself” I said, as warmly as I could, whilst thinking I’d have to shift in a minute or two, but not wanting to offend him by leaving straightaway. He looked rather glum, in his bedraggled school uniform, his fine fair hair soaked, and raindrops on his elegant cheekbones like tears. I notice faces, and bodies, and form. How people turn out fascinates me – I’ve known the children of friends – and my brother’s – grow up to be plain when they started beautiful, and vice versa. I have a theory that everyone has a decade when they look absolutely their best. I’m still waiting for mine. I’ve had five.

“I’ve seen you here before” the boy said. A variant on “do you come here often?”, I suppose. “I’m surprised anyone notices me! I usually stop off after work before home. It’s nice to sit outside in the weather”. “Even the rain?” “Oh yes, I like the rain best”. But I wasn’t going to tell him why, as that might come across as rude, given that he was invading my space. “And you – just home from school?” “School, and the gym. Not a nice day”. “How come?” “Had to take the bus, and the guys there were taking the piss. And school was boring. And I hate the gym”. I didn’t know where to start with that – all I could connect to was school being boring, which for me it was, until the sixth form, and my guess was that this lad wasn’t there yet. “Why do you go to the gym if you hate it?” “My step-dad makes me go. He paid for membership. He thinks I need to beef up to get a girlfriend”. “I shouldn’t think a chap with your looks needs to beef up at all to get a girl, and I’m not sure the sort of girl who’d be impressed is the sort of girl you’d really want”.