Authors: Sheena Wilkinson
About the author
Sheena Wilkinson has won many awards for short fiction and has a Masters with Distinction in Creative Writing from Queen's University, Belfast. She teaches English in Belfast and lives in County Down where she spends far too much time writing and reading. A lot of the ideas for this book came to her when riding her pony in Castlewellan Forest.
is her first novel.
First published 2010
by Little Island
an imprint of New Island
Copyright Â© Sheena Wilkinson 2010
The author has asserted her moral rights.
All rights reserved. The material in this publication is protected by copyright law. Except as may be permitted by law, no part of the material may be reproduced (including by storage in a retrieval system) or transmitted in any form or by any means; adapted; rented or lent without the written permission of the copyright owner.
British Library Cataloguing Data. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Cover design by Inka Hagen
Inside design by Claire Rourke
Printed by Cox and Wyman
Little Island received financial assistance from The Arts Council (An Chomhairle EalaÃon), Dublin, Ireland.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Mummy, John and Rhona with love;
and in memory of Scarlet, the best pony ever
It seems a long time since I first started scribbling the notes that became
. I am grateful to Malorie Blackman who, at an Arvon course, saw the potential of an early version, and especially to Lee Weatherly, mentor extraordinaire, who is unfailingly generous with advice, criticism and encouragement.
I am indebted to the English Department at Queen's University, Belfast, partly for the full scholarship which enabled me to do the Masters in Creative Writing in 2008/9, and also for the guidance and support of the Seamus Heaney Centre staff, especially Glenn Patterson and Ian Sansom.
The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig never fails to work its magic and I am thankful for the part it plays in my writing life.
Thanks to all the readers â friends, family, critiquing partners â who have ploughed their way through numerous drafts. My sister, Rhona Wilkinson, checked all the showjumping details.
The aptly named Faith O'Grady, and Lauren Hadden, have given me all the support a writer could wish for from her agents. Finally, a huge thanks to everyone at Little Island, especially SiobhÃ¡n Parkinson and Elaina O'Neill, for believing in
, and helping me to make it the best story it can be.
First the crack of bone, then the gush of blood. I never knew blood came out that fast. I flex my fingers. âThat's the last time you call my ma a slag, McCann.'
Emmet McCann doesn't say anything, just stands there in the playground with his hands up to his nose and blood spurting through his fingers. The knot of boys and a few girls who two minutes earlier had been egging us on with, âFight! Fight! Fight!' now mutter, âPayne's coming!' and melt away. Seaneen Brogan is last to leave. âGood on you, Declan,' she says.
Payne looms up and Seaneen scrams.
âFighting again, boys?'
Emmet mumbles and splutters and points at me but he can't talk.
âSir, he started it. He called â well, he was saying stuff.'
.' Payne sighs and gives me his usual you're-a-piece-of-dog-turd look. âYour articulacy never fails to astound me, Kelly.'
I rub my fist on my school trousers.
âMcCann â school nurse; Kelly â my office. Now.'
He can't drag us â they're not allowed to touch you â but he marches between us back to the main building. âAnother phone call home,' he says in a bored voice as if he has better things to do.
Emmet turns to me before he goes into the nurse's room. âMy da'll get you for this, Kelly.'
âOh, I'm so scared.'
âEnough!' roars Payne. âIn here, Kelly.'
Mr C. Payne, Deputy Head (discipline) makes me stand while he lets on to be doing something dead important at the computer on his desk. He's probably playing solitaire or looking up porn. It's just one of his techniques, making you wait. Making you sweat. I am sweating, but only because I've just been fighting and maybe a bit because I'm thinking about Barry the Bastard McCann and what he might do when his precious wee Emmet tells him Declan Kelly broke his nose. Cause I'm pretty sure it is broken. I can't help smiling at the memory of that sickening, satisfying c-r-a-c-k!
âTake the smirk off your face, Kelly.' Payne stops looking up porn and reaches for the phone on his desk. âDidn't have the pleasure of seeing your mother at last week's Year Twelve parents' evening, did I?
She never comes up to the school. Or anywhere else these days. At first I thought it was better than having her hang round Barry's flat all the time, sometimes for days, but now I'm pissed off with it. Every day, sitting in front of the TV, sometimes still in her jammies at tea time. I imagine the phone ringing in the living-room. She won't
answer. I glance at the clock on the wall. Five to two. She might not even be up yet.
When Barry first dumped her, she used to leap on the phone every time it rang, but it was never him.
Payne puts down the receiver and gives me a dirty look. âDoes your mother work, Kelly?'
âNo â¦' I leave it as long as I dare. ââ¦ sir.'
âThis is not the first time you have assaulted a fellow pupil, Kelly.'
. Payne is so far up his own arse. âSir, he called my ma a slag.'
Payne winces, like I just dirtied his precious office. âKelly, it is not helpful to bring these' â he sniffs â âdomestic issues into school. Now, I have been familiarising myself with your record. Not terribly impressive, is it?'
I shrug. âDunno, sir.'
He raises grey eyebrows behind gimpy specs. âOh, let me assure you, Kelly. Very unimpressive indeed. Poor work; anger issues. Then, of course,' he sneers, âlet us not forget last year's little â¦ eh, holiday.'
They always bring it back to that. It wasn't a holiday and it was nothing to do with school. But there's no point saying anything.
Payne's starting to sound bored. âYou know the punishment for fighting as well as I do, Kelly.'
Should do by now
, he means.
following parental interview,' he snaps.
Payne taps a few keys and the printer whirrs and hums. He must have a letter on file and just changes
the names â there's fights all the time at our school. He makes a big deal out of sealing the envelope and thumping down on it just to make sure. âTake this home to your mother
. You are suspended pending parental interview.'
I stuff the envelope in my blazer pocket. At least I'll get out of the Friday afternoon boredom â Personal Development with Mr Dermott (bearable) and English with Psycho Sykes (not).
The corridors are quiet, just a few after-lunch crisp packets and chip papers drifting in corners.
âOi, Declan!' It's Seaneen Brogan again, heading out of the photocopying room with a pile of papers that look like very like Mr Dermott's PD worksheets. âWhere are you going?'
âGod, Declan, you're an eejit.'
She clutches the pages tighter to her chest. She has massive tits. âYou know Emmet McCann's da'll be after you for this?'
he's a psycho. Seriously, Declan â watch your back.'
âGo on back and suck up to Dermie. He must be missing you by now.' I lift the top worksheet. âWhat am I missing? “Assertive, not aggressive.” Christ. God love him, he tries, doesn't he?'
âHe'd need to. See ya, Declan.' She wiggles down the corridor, arse and curly pony-tail bouncing.
I sling my bag over my shoulder and head through the main doors. The shiny silver Jeep â BAZ 67 â crouched outside makes my stomach nosedive and I press myself
back into the doorway until it's gone. Barry must be taking Emmet to casualty. I make sure the Jeep's well away before I carry on, head down against the rain.
When I get to the top of our street I do my automatic check to see if the curtains are open. No. Shit.
She's staring at the TV â some daytime crap; she'd watch anything. When I flick on the light she jumps. âWhat are you doing here at this time?'
I fire the letter at her. âIt wasn't my fault,' I say while she rips it open. âI just got the blame as usual.'
She explodes of course. I zone out. Heard it all before. Can't cope; you're out of control; can't hold my head up in the street after the last time â¦
Sure she's never in the bloody street.
âAnd I'm going up to no school,' she finishes. She ties her dressing gown belt tighter, like she's getting ready for battle. There's a tea stain down the front of it. âI'm not having them tell me I'm a bad mother.'
âYou're not a bad mother.' I sit down beside her and try to slip a fag from the packet in her dressing gown pocket, sort of joking, but she slaps my hand away, hard. I catch the greasy stink of her hair.
âDon't you try and get round me. I've had as much as I can take.'
âMum, you're overreacting.'
âAnd don't you dare patronise me! You sound like our Colette.'
The phone rings. She hesitates, then picks it up. From the look on her face I think I'd be as well to hide out in the kitchen. Maybe even make her a cup of tea.
But when she slams into the kitchen five minutes later she goes straight for the vodka cupboard.
âMum, it's only three o'clock â¦'
She swings round. The glass trembles in her hand. âYou never told me who it was!'
âDoes it matter?'
âCourse it matters!' She slams the glass down on the fridge then reaches for it again. âHow d'you think I felt? That snobby get saying they wanted to keep domestic issues out of school. He knew all my bloody business.' Her voice shakes.
No he didn't. And neither do you. You don't know what Emmet said about you.
â and me denying it! You're a crap mother. I hate you. I wish you were dead.
I think these things. I don't say them.
âSo how long am I suspended for?'
âYou have to write an apology letter to Emmet and take it with you on Tuesday.'
I laugh. âWell, they can piss off. I'm not writing it.'
She shakes her cigarette at me. A lovely whiff of ash. âYou'll bloody write it.'
She hits me. Across the face. Not hard but her rings catch my cheekbone.
So I do say the things.
All of them.
Out in the street it's still raining and I've run out without my coat so I don't think I'll be hanging round too long. Just enough to let her calm down. I reckon I've got a couple of hours while Barry and Emmet are safe in casualty. Christ, it's boring though, walking round in the rain. No one's about. I head up onto the main road, past the chippie, the chapel where Gran used to go, the bookies, the waste ground where we burned that car out â
yeah, it was stupid, far too close to home. I'd know better now. Maybe not the best place to hang round now. I'd better head on back. She could be sorry by this time â she might even let me go for chips.
The silver Jeep is parked outside our house.
I can't go in. But I have to.
As always his belly is the first thing I notice. His T-shirt stretches across it like a blown-up balloon. My mum had sex with this man.
âOch, Barry,' she goes, âit's just boys being boys. Sure, you used to fight the bit out when you were that age.'
âNever mind “boys will be boys”.' He jabs a fat finger at me. âThat wee toerag broke our Emmet's nose. And they can't even set it till Monday, it's so swollen. Four hours sitting in casualty!'
You can't have been, it's not even five o'clock, I think, and if it was anyone else I'd say it.
âHe started it,' I say instead. I hate the way my guts have curdled. I hate the way my voice just came out, higher than I planned.
âIf I have to take him private' â he swaggers a bit at âprivate' â âyou can pay for it.'
âOch, Barry, come on now. Let them sort it out between them; they're only kids.'
âOh aye, don't you worry. Our Emmet'll sort him out as soon as he's fit. And
got plenty of mates.'
I want to think,
you are pathetic
. A forty-year-old man threatening a fifteen-year-old boy cause he gave your son a bit of a thump. But I can't. His voice, the way he slaps his keys against his thigh, the smell of his aftershave, all make me shrivel.
âBarry, would you not stay for a wee drink? For old times?' Mum is sucking round him so hard I could scream.
âI think you've had enough already, love.' The way he says âlove' turns it into an insult. He looks round the room and I can see his piggy eyes snapping up the closed curtains, the overflowing ashtray, a couple of days' worth of dirty plates. âLet things go a bit, haven't you?'
Mum's hand flies up to smooth her hair, and she moistens her lips â God, it's sad to watch her â but there's nothing she can do about the grubby dressing gown.
go, too. No, I'll not be staying.'
As soon as he's gone she starts to cry: ugly, snottery sobs making her face hideous. She blunders into the kitchen to pour another glass and I follow her.
âYeah, Mum, that'll really help. If Gran â'
âThe less you say about your gran the better!'
I head up to my room. Stupid cow. Let her drink herself into a stupor if that's what she wants. I put on some music and lie on my bed and wonder how I'm going to keep away from Barry and Emmet. My fist still throbs when I remember it smashing into Emmet's face. Was it worth it? I thought so at the time but now â¦ Nobody messes with the McCanns.
The CD finishes and I can't be bothered to get up and change it. The room goes darker and darker round me till I can only make out shapes. All the stuff on top of the wardrobe morphs into humps and shadows. How will I stand a weekend of this and then a long, empty Monday?
I wake up to hear Mum crashing around. Doors creaking. Shouting. Tomorrow she'll be as sick as a dog, spend half the day in the bog and yell at me for breathing. And then that'll be her off the drink for ever â till next time. I just hope she makes it up to bed. Once, I had to step over her, passed out on the stairs, and there was puke all
down the wall. If Gran was alive â¦ But that's a bad thought for the middle of the night, so I stop it right there.
Later I wake up again and hear snoring. It annoys me so much that I get up and close her bedroom door and mine.
When I wake up the third time the sun's shining through the curtains and the house is quiet. I go to switch the light on but nothing happens â that means the electric's run out. If she's still out of it I'll have to get the card and some money out of her purse and top it up at the shop. And I'm starving. So while I'm at it I'll go to the chippie.
No sign of life in the living-room. I open the curtains to let a bit of light in. There's ash spilled on the floor and an envelope of photos on the sofa. I pull some of them out. Mum and Colette and my dad laughing outside the chippie. Around my age. I remember Gran showing me these one time. âWas my dad nice?' I asked her, and she said he was, he was lovely. I wonder why Mum was looking at them. I put them back on the sofa and rifle through her purse for the money and the electric card.
There's a new bit of graffiti on the wall of the community centre. SUICIDE KILLS. Ha ha. Fat Frankie's is empty and I shovel the fry into me like I haven't eaten for twenty-four hours. Then I realise I haven't. I never got any tea last night and I spent lunchtime breaking Emmet's nose. I'm so full after that I walk up the main road for ages. It feels safer there, but I can't keep away for ever.
A couple of guys from my class are hanging round outside the Spar â Kevin Walsh and Chris Reilly. I just go âalright' to them and push past. Most of my class are
well in with Emmet McCann. I get a two litre bottle of Coke. She goes mad for Coke when she's been on the drink.