‘in your shadow the world was on fire’

The boy had veins in his arms, under the freckles,
and a scar.

He got it where a stick went in.

In summer the grass went brown on the bank.

We took wax candles and cardboard
and pieces of wood.
The wax made them go faster.
(Crayons were just as good.)

There was a sharp stick hidden in the grass beside the track.

The boy came off at full speed.
He did it for fun and to show off.

He landed on the stick.
The end went in above his wrist.

It went under the skin, opening it,
and came out half way up his arm.

I saw it in,
and a thin trail of blood, black on the dirt,
on the concrete path at the bottom of the track,
over the tennis courts, across Seaview Rd.
to the sick-room at school.

There were rumours that he had no home
when his mother and father separated.

And he was having sex with his girlfriend,
by the park, in the bushes.

I asked my dad if it was possible for that age.

The boy was expelled.

We would see him making faces at the window.

Our teacher would go out to him.
We thought he was going out to get him
and bring him back in.

Then the headmaster would come down.

He was not allowed on school grounds.
They threatened to call the police.

He told us after school.
He waited for us at the top gate.

He showed us his lighter.
It was dirty, as if he’d been holding it tightly
all day.

And I had a fight with him once.
It got broken up and an appointment was made.

My friend didn’t want me to get hurt
so he turned up instead.

I waited at the bottom of the path.
I looked at the fence around the tennis courts.

There was a steep bank up to a wooden fence and some houses.
You could have almost jumped over the tennis-court fence from the top of the bank.

I thought of someone we’d heard of at another school
who had tried a similar thing.
They had landed on one of the twenty-foot tall metal posts
that held up the wire netting.

The post went in at their thigh
and came out through their chest,
just below their shoulder.

They were stuck
and slipped down so far but no further,
because of the wire netting.

They would have seen the end of the post sticking out.

He wouldn’t fight me,’ my friend said when he came back.
I warned him that the only way for him to get to you was through me.’

Later that night we heard sirens.
It woke me up.

I walked out into the hall
and the front door was open.

Dad came back in.
Fire,’ he said.

Mum and he were still sitting up talking.
Go to bed.’