Before my alarm went off, I heard dad cough and hawk up the smoker’s muck, as he walked
down the back garden path, on his way to work. The wobbly paving stone tolled as he
stepped on it; a concrete bell. It was 6 o’clock in the morning; the first day of the long summer break. I had no reason to get up and every reason in the world. An hour later, the red LED numbers on my alarm triggered the music. I waited for a good song to come on and finish, then climbed out of bed. Mum had a list of morning chores for me, so I snuck out and ate breakfast on the lam; I’d pretend I’d forgot about the list, and pay the consequences later.
There was no plan; plans were for adults, and I was a 12 year old kid. We’d agreed we’d meet up; somewhere, sometime, somehow. When I got to the top of the ginnel, I saw the twins setting up a make shift tent in their back garden. I’d known the twins since primary
school. They were chalk and cheese and as close as a brother and sister could be. They
were also a year younger than me; but that had never stopped us being friends. “Where
you going?” Steve asked. Angela didn’t even acknowledge I was there; we’d kissed a week
earlier, and neither of us was sure what to do about that. Steve didn’t know about the kiss.
“We’re making a tent. Want to help?” “Maybe later” I said. “I’m hiding from mum” I half lied.
“Ok” Steve smiled. “See you later”. I stole a glance at Angela; she was blushing. “Yeah. See
I passed the big kids, who were loitering without intent, on the street corner. As always, I looked on in envy at their lazy confidence. Someday, I’d be a big kid too, and I wondered
if anyone would be jealous of me. I ignored an impromptu football game being played on
the field, despite being called over, to make up the numbers. Now I had a choice; should I
walk through the estate, and head for the shopping centre, or should I cross the road?
I was bound to meet someone at the shopping centre, but I was also bound by a promise I’d
made. I heard someone sigh, then I realised that someone was me. As eager as I was
reluctant, I crossed the road and headed for the beck.
I followed the fence, which bordered the school. The fence stopped the smaller kids from getting lost or hurt; but I didn’t think getting lost was such a bad thing. Getting lost was a way of getting to places you’d never been to before. And every kid got hurt; elbow bangs and knee scrapes were a part of growing up. Eventually I reached the bridge that crossed the beck, and stepped onto it. I stopped, halfway across, and coughed up a greeny; spitting it into the water below. I went to the other side of the bridge, and waited for my spit to come out. “Who’s that trip trip trapping over my bridge?” said a voice; then a snigger. I leant over the side, and saw Danny and Mick. They were sat on a battered two-seater settee, by the side of the dirty water. “Oh it’s you! You coming down? Look what we found!” Mick held up a handful of torn glossy pages; each page showed pictures of naked women. “I can’t” I said.
“Where you going?” asked Danny. I was too confused to lie, so I shrugged my shoulders
instead. “Not sure” I replied. “Have you seen the new graffiti on the subway wall? It says
Angela Cartwright loves you”. They both laughed, and right there and then, I wondered if butterflies could blush. I shrugged again. “I’ll see you later. Happy wanking” I said, and
crossed the bridge.
As I walked up the dirt track to the quarry, I listened to the morning. Crickets rasped, leaves whispered, birds cawed, cackled and whistled. Back in the estate, a dog barked. And always there, the traffic; a grumble and growl in the distance…quiet……loud……quiet……lo ud…….quiet……..loud. I paused and crouched. Picking up a stick, I scratched the word “quiet” into the dirt and stared at it, until it stopped making sense; until it was a meaningless
jumble of lines. Then I stood up and rubbed the word away with the sole of my shoe, and
carried on walking; wondering if the person I’d made the promise to would be there today.
The chimneys at the quarry were due to be demolished. The abandoned quarry keeper’s
house had already been ransacked by countless kids; including me. I’d come away with a rusty and heavy tin box. I’d not looked inside the box yet; I was waiting for the chimneys to go first. When I eventually got to the quarry, it was mid morning. I saw Jerry on the far bank, fishing. Jerry was one of the “bad kids”; the kind of kid mum said I should stay away from. I called out. He looked up and waved, and I waved back. Then he carried on fishing.
I veered away from the quarry, and climbed down the steep bank, which hemmed in the old railway line. In a few months time, I’d probably be back here, picking blackberries; so dad could make us some of his crumbles, pies and jams. I heard a rustle, so I stopped walking; looking around, to try and see what had made the noise. There in the long grass, I
saw a small lizard. It too had stopped moving, and was staring up at me. I crept forward; the
lizard didn’t move. I stepped nearer and nearer, until I was close enough to pounce. I jumped forward and down, felt a long stalk shoot up one nostril, then the warm trickle of blood running down to my lips. “Put your head forward”. I turned and saw the man watching me; he’d come.
“I wish I could make it easier for you” he said, taking a tissue from his rucksack and handing it to me. I used the tissue to stem the flow of blood. “That’s alright. I don’t mind really. I know you’d help if you could”. And I did know; it was there in his smile, and the tears that were starting to form in his eyes. “Will I make any mistakes?” I asked. “Loads I’m afraid. But you’ll get over most of them, eventually”. “Can you at least tell me one choice I get wrong? Just one! It doesn’t have to be a big decision”. He shook his head sadly. “That’s the problem. I don’t know which ones are the small decisions”. We stood for a while, saying nothing in
particular. “Do I still hate small talk?” I asked. He laughed. “Yes, but it’s safer this way”. “What’s in your rucksack?” He paused for less than a moment, then reached into the bag and pulled out a book. The words “Place and Memory” were handwritten on the cover. “I
can’t show you everything in this book. But you might like to see this”. He opened the book. I peeked. “No!” he snapped. “There are far too many changes and decisions in here. But I don’t suppose seeing this page will do much damage”. He leafed through the pages, stopping at a large colour photograph of the library near the shopping centre. “That’s me!” I exclaimed, pointing at a small picture, which had been glued onto the photograph. “I know. I still have some photos of us, from when we were younger. Remember when this was taken?” I nodded. “Bridlington” I said. There were other pictures glued on to the photograph; pictures of people I didn’t recognise. “Who are they?” I asked. “I can’t tell you all of them. But some of them you already know. Remember when I read…I mean you read…well, we read “There Is a Happy Land” at school? That’s the guy who wrote it; he’s from Leeds too. And that woman there is Enid Blyton. That guy there, he wrote “Of Mice and Men”. The others are writers you’ve not yet discovered. “Do I still cry sometimes, when I read books?” I asked. “God yes!” he said. “Good! Can I ask you something else? Do I still write?”. “I have to go know” he said, and started walking away. “Do I still write?” I yelled. He stopped and turned to face me. “If
you stop writing, we’ll never meet”. And with that, the man I would become walked away,
and left me to grow up.