Short Story Competition: Shame Leaves a Mark
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Callum looked at the key in his open hand. The metal loop used for accessorising was still attached, but the bunch it had been pulled from in his sister’s bag was no less heavy without it. ‘I won’t be back until late tonight, microwave something and don’t buy crap on the way home.’ Their parents had been gone less than a day and she had started to nag him in the same tone that her own mother used when badgering her about her upcoming exams, or when her school skirt came home full of hay. ‘But mam said for us to come home together and phone for pizza.’ But she was already half way across the street heading towards Andy’s Clio. ‘There’s a frozen one in the freezer, don’t burn yourself!’ Callum tried not to watch as Andy poked his head out of a tinted window to plant one on his sister. He disliked everything about Andy, from the ever-thumping bass of his tricked out Clio, to the cigarettes he smoked with a picture of a stallion on the pack, which made his sister smell musky and stale when she came home late. He dragged his feet on the way to school. From what he could tell about the secret meetings held in his sister’s room, his parents didn’t like Andy either. The meetings were always discreet, but on the occasions when tempers did flare, he could always make out the same commentary; ‘What’s wrong with the boys your own age?’ - That’s his mother’s favourite. ‘You’ve got your whole life ahead of you!’ – Being another classic. Today he wished Andy’s smelly cigarettes and returning to an empty house after school were his only concerns. Gripping his new key through his school trousers he picked up the pace, but only a little. He was in no hurry to fight. An extensive group of boys, along with some of the more curious girls, were waiting for him outside the corner shop opposite the school entrance. Andy’s Clio had beaten him there. His sister hopped out of the car, adjusting her skirt with both hands. He thought about calling out to her as a way of avoiding the gang, but she merged with some girls from her class and disappeared. The Clio disappeared too, although he didn’t imagine Andy would spare much of a thought for him taking a beating. His sister was only four years older than him, but he envied the way the kids her age had found their place. The school year was only a few months old, and the throng of eleven-year-old boys in his class were still fighting for supremacy. Callum had floated between all of the cliques, and had so far avoided forming enemies. That is until yesterday lunchtime, when he had sent a right-footed volley wide of the rucksack goalposts, and into the face of Ricky, one of the more popular boys with something to prove. He exhaled and shuffled forward towards Ricky and his supporters outside the corner shop. He gripped the key through his pocket once more and thought about threading one of his fingers through the loop to create a weapon. Maybe he’d get lucky with a sucker punch from a makeshift knuckle-duster, and put Ricky down before the fight could gain momentum. His hand unclenched with the key still in his pocket. Best not to risk his parents getting a phone call on holiday to tell them their son has blinded a schoolmate. It would be easier to take a beating in the long run. ‘Didn’t think you had the balls to show.’ Ricky announced from the crowd. A circle formed naturally around the two boys - an innate crowding trait common to children and ants. ‘You know it was an accident, Ricky.’ The words were futile; Ricky had drawn blood on the school ground thanks to a ball that had last touched his foot. There was no coming back from that. ‘Well now you can watch me accidentally beat your face in.’ Ricky stepped forward, fists raised. Chants of ‘hit him!’ and ‘yeah, fuck ‘im up!’ arose in response to Ricky’s posturing. Callum lifted his fists too, he was no fighter, but he refused to cower and piss himself like a boy had done the last time a circle was formed. He’s seen enough fights to know that bruises fade, but shame; that leaves a mark. Ricky found the bottle for a tentative first jab. He made contact with the forearm covering Callum’s left cheek. It stung all the same. ‘Come on, fight back you gay!’ - Came from the back of the circle.That stung too, but not enough to provoke Callum into opening himself up with a rushed attack. The next swing hit Callum’s left temple and his knees wobbled. The pain made the fight real. His shaky knees sent him stumbling into the circumference of surrounding school kids. They buffered him back into the arena with force, and Callum found himself crashing into his opponent. Ricky dropped his hands in shock at the unexpected charge, and Callum’s bowed head collided with his jaw. When Callum’s eyes opened he was standing over a stunned Ricky. Capitalising on his unexpected advantage he brought his fist down hard into Ricky’s stomach, knocking even more wind out of the little shit. Cheering rang out, but soon the school buzzer for morning class sent the circle scattering. A few boys helped Ricky to his knees and Callum scampered away. Victory was never really an option, all he had done was swap his morning punch up for a lunchtime beat down, and this time Ricky would have backup. That morning was a long one for Callum, but lunchtime came all too soon. Once out in the school grounds Callum searched for a spot to hide, but Ricky’s spies spotted him before he could think of running. He stood waiting for the bruises to come after all, as Ricky and three other boys advanced on him. ‘Good fight.’ An outstretched hand came with the compliment. ‘Really?’ He stuttered in response to Ricky’s hand. ‘Yeah, you fronted up and stood your ground. Didn’t flop like a poof.’ Callum accepted the handshake, half waiting for an ambush.
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