During the summer of ‘83 we were hot and we were bored. My family had its holiday in September; the rest of the kids in my street went away in August so there was often a hole in my life where kids I played with were in Tenerife or Spain. Friendship, at this time, was based on availability, which meant I ended up playing with kids I’d normally avoid.
Kevin was the boy I would avoid. Kevin scored high on the Thug Spectrum. His favourite sport was ride by punching. He’d race past and land a fist in your back. He’d play football with us and punch during a tackle to make sure he won the ball. He’d kick, he’d throw stones, and he never lost at a game as he changed the rules to his advantage. He’d boot footballs into the middle distance come the end of the day, laughing about it as he went home and the owner went on the walk to fetch their ball.
With no one else around we fell into each others company. That summer we played war games, hiding cap-guns about our person and shooting each other in Nazi accents. We made explosions, lighting caps by ant nests with stolen matches. We used magnifying glasses to burn ants as they crossed the concrete, then to burn worms and watch as they split open. We did all the things boys did in
before the internet, video cassettes and video games were invented. England
There are only so many ants you can immolate though and we soon ran out of things to do. We walked out of our street to the grass hill behind and saw the huge Alsatian that lived on the street behind ours starting to turn in circles as it sniffed the grass. This dog roamed around off the leash, chasing cyclists, stealing footballs, barking at kids and being the menace that childhood requires. It stopped circling and squatted for a long time. We stopped in admiration of the size of the stool it was producing.
Kevin said it first. It was on the list of words not to say. I said it, but at a lower register. Kevin had, in the past, threatened to tell my parents when I had sworn. We approached this mountain of manure where flies were already circling. It was roughly the size of a dinner plate, a rich ox tail colour with peaks and slopes. It appeared to be breathing.
Kevin looked over at me and then at the mess.
Bet I can get closer to it than you.
He dropped to his hands and knees and held his face about 20 centimetres above and inhaled. He rolled back clutching his throat gasping and the burst into laughter. Laughter is the only lubricant a kids needs to do something stupid so I crouched closer than Kevin and inhaled. I rolled away laughing. Kevin upped the stakes by getting closer, so I got closer still. Within half an hour we were both almost touching it, our noses a whisper from the wet mess. Kevin took his turn, flies landed on his cheek. The heat haze from it gathered round his head. His face was above it., nostrils widening when suddenly I remembered school dinners.
School dinners were a rank affair. Piled masses of loose meat and disappointed vegetables in a nondescript sauce. I had struggled through a main and was now faced with a desert of raisin and sponge pudding with custard. Sat beside me was Kevin who turned to me and shouted -
He reached for the salt and tipped it into my custard and shot his hand into the air. The deputy headmaster turned and stalked towards us.
Sir, he poured salt into his custard.
The deputy scowled at me and pursed nicotine stained lips.
Kevin repeated it as I tried to protest and found my voice had ducked out for a break.
THEN I SUGGEST THE SILLY CHILD EAT HIS DESERT.
Kevin beamed as the deputy pulled a chair up and sat beside me.
I tried to speak and was silenced with a bellow that caught the attention of every child in the dinner hall. I picked up my spoon and pushed salted custard and raisins into my mouth until the bowl was finished. By the time I had the last spoonful a crowd of kids were watching and laughing. Kevin laughed the hardest.
I remembered this and my mouth flooded with the taste of the custard. I reached out a hand, stared at the back of Kevin’s head, and with custard on my mind I pushed.
I have occasional misgiving about what it must have been like to have a nose mashed into that mess. I remember Kevin bolting upright wiping furiously at his face fingers coming away smeared. I remember him grabbing grass by the fistful and using it to clean himself. I remember the retching sounds he made. I remember one piece stuck to his lower lip, hanging there. Then I remember his eyes as he looked at me in fury. I remember, in the realisation of what I had done, thinking that this might be a good time to cry.
Instead, I ran and the rest of the day was Huckleberry Finn time. I hid in the blackberry bushes. I crouched behind walls. I kept on the move, ducking around corners and skulking in shadows. I came home via the back door. I wasn’t in trouble, there were no parents hammering at the door with their be-shitted offspring screaming.
Days later Kevin found me and I got bruises and scabs. He didn’t tell anyone why he was hitting me and I didn’t tell anyone what I had done. To have done so would have increased his fury through embarrassment.
Time passed and I guess the smell faded. He’d shove me at school. He’d punch me if I was in range of his bike. I know what salted custard tastes like; he knows what dog shit tastes like. Hopefully there aren’t many other people who know either flavour.
We didn’t play together the following summer, he sat on his side of the street and I sat on mine and we likely both crucified more ants.
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