I knew I was in trouble. Glen Hopper had just kissed me. I fell over backwards and put my hands out to cushion the fall. Did I hear the soft flesh of my palm tearing as it hit the nail? I certainly felt it, the sharp stab, like an insect bite.
Examining the wound, a small trail of blood oozed out of a jagged hole in the middle of my palm. A ring of rust surrounded the hole like a dusty red halo.
“It’s just like Jesus!” exclaimed Glen, awestruck, “You look just like Jesus with that hole in your hand!”
“Aye, and when my dad sees it, I will be crucified…just like Jesus!”
I lived next to a playing field with swings, slides and a miniature assault course made of logs of woods and strong chains. A deep ditch ran along the fence of the playing field separating it from another field of full of cows. A row of oak trees grew, some of which I had climbed, some of which I had yet to tackle. The ditch, filled with water and overgrown with tall reeds, was home to minnows and frogspawn.
Of course, we weren’t in the field. Beyond the field of cows, and beyond the next field, and the next was a hollow dip filled with scrap cars and busses. Glen and I set up home in the empty carcass of a pale yellow van. It leaned at an angle, nestled against an old taxi and a dented red Mini Cooper. The mirrors at the front were still intact, festooned with dusty spider’s webs. There were four sets of seats, foam spewed out from holes in the mock leather coverings. Rust had gorged at the floor, spreading out in brown stains and flakes. There were curtains on the windows, held at the top and bottom by a stretched chord. Pulled across, they shielded us from the bright sun with its dusty beams.
It had taken Glen a long time to persuade me that he was the father, leaving for work and I was the mother staying home to cook the dinner. That might have been the way things happened in his house – but not mine.
My dad went to work. He was an engineer, making trains to run on railway lines. My mother stayed at home, but she didn’t cook. While Glen’s mum served up meat and two veg every night, we ate spiced noodles or fried rice and roast bananas. My dad did all the cooking. He would line us up from eldest to youngest, and challenge us with a teaspoon and a bottle of hot chilli sauce.
My dad had a rule that nothing was to be left on the plate. There had been one minor battle a few years before with a plate of fish that reappeared in front of me for three days. It was the one time he conceded defeat and fish was off the menu.
It came as a surprise that night when my plate of noodles remained untouched. I had twirled a few strands on a fork, but the effort of lifting it up to my mouth seemed too much. The hand with the hole in it was concealed in a pocket. I could almost picture the rusty halo falling into the hole and fragments floating along with my blood cells. I imagined one fragment slipping into my heart and eating a hole into the side of it, letting the blood escape into places it shouldn’t go.
I looked up to see my dad watching me. He was ignoring the usual chatter around the table, concentrating his gaze on me.
“So, pigeon, what did you do today?”
There were times when you knew that when my dad asked a question, he already knew the answer. This wasn’t one of those times, but I didn’t know that. I burst into tears, partly to gain his sympathy before he smacked me for playing in the tip, but mostly because my hand hurt.
I showed him the hole. He muttered something about Jesus, so Glen might have been right about me looking like Jesus with a hole in my hand.
With such tenderness he tended the wound. A small kidney shaped tin bowl with diluted TCP was balanced on one arm of the chair. The injury was washed and bandaged. He bent close to my ear and kissed me on my cheek.
Then I was soundly smacked and sent to bed.
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