The fear of being caught with this illicit item brought beads of sweat to his forehead, despite the cold. He had a paperback, and he was going to make it through the service.
The church was like a larder and the brown-suited congregation of men, with their yellow shirts and orange ties, took on the appearance of fat kippers in his mind. Floral women just seemed a joke, when the grave-lined path to the door was sided left and right by dead grass and slicks of mud.
The chill only intensified as Pete was ushered to his pew by matronly Jess, his sister. As usual, she was deceptively stunning in her sour Sunday best. She didn’t want to be beautiful, not this day of the week, but it couldn’t be helped. Should Ed Jones catch site of this prudish girl, he’d feel enamoured as ever and maybe ask Pete to mention him over roast lunch.
Pete stood beside Jess, legs weary, itching to sit down and crank open said paperback right there on his lap. It was a copy of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ which he’d borrowed from the library and forgotten to bring back. He had to sandwich the pages inside a fat hymn book, positioned just so, to ensure that his reading was invisible. He wound his scarf high over his lips, to make it less obvious that he wasn’t going to sing.
As hush settled over the pews, his eyes glazed. Candles skittered in the corners of his vision, as the vicar shuffled down the centre aisle like a drifting mothball. Reedy hymns bounced from wall to wall. Pete hated church more than school; all he felt was envy of his best friend, Ed Jones.
If he were Mrs Jones’ son, he could spend his Sundays lying in and traipsing up and down the city centre, earning money from a paper round. Rather here he was shivering in All Saints, ensconced between the scratchy fabric of his mother and sister’s most conservative frocks.
The sermon began as usual, a drone he drowned out with the internal voice of Alex and the howls of Ultra Violence.
It was the first of December, which meant a longer, less endurable service. As always, the nativity was up and flickering, and the Christmas story was re-told the same way it had been all thirteen years of Pete’s life. He stood and sat at all the right times, making sure neither Jess on his left or his Mother on his right clocked what he was really reading, absorbing the gory details of futuristic London. All the while, they trilled away, full of praise.
Jess had a swelling of pride across her features throughout, which she maintained for the entire two hours, and didn’t so much as glance at her snotty younger brother. When the time came to drink the wine and eat the ‘flesh of Christ’ – something he’d been terrified by as a small boy - he pulled the scarf back down again, ensuring the book remained covered as he placed his hymn book cautiously on the little shelf. He padded slowly to the front of the church, and knelt on the altar as always, reluctantly accepting the dusty-tasting wafer. He never got offered the wine, on account of being thirteen, and was thankful he didn’t have to use the cup. He felt he ought to have some sort of reverence for the experience, but his only feelings were concern for the easy spread of infection on the un-cleaned goblet.
Once the service was done with, he had to fight the urge to go dashing out into the watery street. Rather he measured his steps carefully, as not to look too eager to leave. It was futile: he wasn’t free yet.
Jess put an irksome hand on his shoulder to steer him to the exit, as though he was not to be trusted to do it himself. His father brought up the rear with the usual vacant shuffle, down the graveyard path. Pete stood shivering while the big man twisted the keys in their Ford. In a measured and orderly fashion, each member of the family took their place within it.
They drove back without much in the way of conversation; Jess was constantly re-knotting her hair into plaits, and trying to get an eyeful of them in the wing mirror, while Peter’s parents listened, as though deep in thought, to the radio’s news, turning over every morsel of information in their minds. The nativity was going up on the mantelpiece this evening, and, to Pete’s horror, the tale of Baby Jesus’ birth would me thrown at him all over again. He indulged freely in his reading now, pretending he’d left it in the car.
Back home, he scampered up to his room with his hands in his pockets, Jess was helping his mother with Sunday Lunch, something he detested almost as much as church, except sometimes dessert made it alright. It meant long periods of sitting and smiling, with a napkin tucked into his collar, like a baby’s bib. The only time he was really engaged in conversation at this time, was to be told how to eat.
Up there in his room he had drawings on the wall and a pinned up Manchester City scarf, because he reckoned that was what boys should have out on display. He never watched football, but nobody needed to know that. He’d get the specks knocked right off his face. There was a Ziggy Stardust poster on the back of the door, skilfully placed so you didn’t notice it, walking in, and neither parent had yet looked behind and seen it. His mother had complained about Bowie’s coloured suits and hair, his father had called him a queer. Pete had every one of his albums, and didn’t hide them by any means, he just never made any comment either way, didn’t try to rub anyone’s nose in their existence. Under his bed was a box containing his diary, and dirty magazines Ed had given him out of pity, or maybe as bribes, asking him to put in a good word in when Jess was around.
Pete fell onto his quilt and groped for the cassette player on his night stand, hoping for apple pie, and to see his best friend on Monday.
Ed lay sprawled in a tangle of sheets in his matchbox bedroom, where a sheet of light hung suspended in the air. It sliced him in two where he lay, with his monkey-arm swinging, knuckles brushing the carpet. He drifted on, oblivious to the high-pitched racket in the next room.
It was past eleven when the beast awakened, finally casting the thick duvet as far off as space would allow, and coming out in gooseflesh. He pulled a sweater over his head and the foot ball shorts his cousin Anthony had handed down. Ed had received a lot of Anthony’s old clothes, when his cousin had bought his first house, and decided he was above everything he’d ever had before it. Ed slipped out of the matchbox and into the kitchen with his stomach growling.
“Get the milk, Ed, they haven’t had their breakfast yet.” His mother nodded to the twins, and then to Amy, who could be seen through the open door, colouring under the flash and glare of the TV set. She beckoned, fixing both babies into highchairs: “Come here,”
He obeyed her, sloping across the room in two strides while she patted down her pockets for some money. His mother’s purse was a holy grail, giver of all life, the object of his affections. Ed never stole from it, he knew better than that; and not even little Amy would sink so low. Besides, he’d only be stealing from himself. When she took the treasure from within, no matter how meagre, and entrusted it into his hands, he felt a sense of duty like no other, and power too. The money gave him strength and charisma. He always felt a hell of a lot better on the way to the shops than on the way back.
“Just the milk?” He asked, as she doled out coins rather sparingly into his hands.
“I don’t know...” She opened the cupboards and had a scan of the contents, mostly tins and those huge packets of pasta or rice that lasted months. “We need bread, get bread, but the jam and butter are still on the go.” She browsed further “No cornflakes either, get cornflakes, none of that chocolate stuff; I’ve got sugar for Amy to sprinkle.”
As commanded, Ed braced himself for the cold. He had also been given Anthony’s camel coat, which was too wide for a wiry boy of fifteen, who hadn’t quite had his full growth spurt. It served its purpose none the less, the beginnings of winter were bitter and the horizon blended so well with the concrete you could hardly pick out the foot bridges strung straight across it. The lifts for their tower block were broken, one reason he’d been sent down to the shops. It was a nightmare to slog the double push chair all the way back up the stairs or to stop the twins leaping out like a pair of salmon on the way down.
His mother’s friend Julia had a son a couple of years older, who brushed past him on the walkway outside their apartment, puffing away on a pack of cheap fags. Ed had no doubt the other boy delved into his mother’s purse to find the money. He’d never liked this boy, Stewart. He remembered he’d been precious with his comics and toys, back when he’d been younger, Julia had child minded, back when Amy had taken up all Mum’s time.
He jogged lightly down the steps, hairs rising on his bare legs under the flaps of the floor-trailing coat, and down to the ground. A flurry of mothers, with their tots squealing, ploughed their prams up and down the green while a few of the teenagers huddled under the awning of the crescents having their morning smoke where their parents couldn’t see them. Ed felt obliged to join in with it, but knew it was a waste of money and he didn’t much like the smell either. When he pictured himself in ten years time, with a beautiful wife and a nice house in Spain, he always had cigars and it was never a problem. But until then, he knew it was something he could do alright without.
The corner shop held mainly papers which had a thick, durable quality, all new and folded, that comforted Ed. He’d have liked to sit in there alone and read them all, but the stern woman behind the counter would never have allowed it. His mother never brought the papers, saying there was enough on the TV for free. The little fridge at the back housed milk pints lined neatly, with mousetrap cheese and other bits and pieces for sale underneath. He took three pints, knowing how fast they got through it, and the cheapest bread they had, which was like slithers of snowy foam. There was a limited choice on cereal, but they had cornflakes just the same, through he fancied the coco-pops. He paid quickly at the counter, not liking to be under the woman’s glare for too long, he could sense she didn’t like him much, and hurried back round the corner to the stairwell of the tower block. The steps stank of piss, though who would ever want to pee there Ed could only wonder, so he made the shortest work of them he could. Julia’s son was still there, loitering outside with his nose and cheeks red from the cold, but Ed ignored him and barged back into the warmth of his own home. He could hear the twins were bawling.
“Cereal!” Amy piped up, thundering into the kitchen while he dished the shopping onto the table. Ed poured her a bowl, added the milk and sprinkled on the sugar for her how he knew she liked it, and then passed it down from the counter.
“Thank you, Ed,” His Mum said, “Now you watch that bowl, Amy, don’t drop it if you’re taking it in there,”
“Just put the change in my purse would you?” She added, filling the Twins’ bottles. He did, taken aback by his stomach’s sudden gurgling, and took toast into his room to eat, the crying babies were driving him mad.
Pete was called for Sunday lunch at one, so reluctantly folded down the page of his book and trotted down to the dining room, where the fake electric fire was kicking out a wave of warmth. He hadn’t realised he’d been cold until it washed over him, along with the thick smell of the lamb joint being sliced in the middle of the table. He hadn’t realised he was hungry either, but it all came back to him now. In slightly better spirits he took his place.
“There you go, Peter,”
“Thanks,” He took the plate of meat his mother offered, and loaded a hunk of mash on beside it.
“Pass it down, would you?” He slid the potato tray along to his father at the head of the table and jiggled in his seat, impatient for the gravy to make its rounds and reach him.
“I’ve got carol practice tomorrow,” Jess informed them “I think I might audition for the concert at school.”
“That’s lovely,” His mother chimed, then paused. Pete winced. “Peter, why don’t you join your sister and audition?”
“I’m alright, not much of a singer.” He muttered, his father looked critically his way
“I hear you in the bath, alright! You can sing just as well as the next person!”
“Well, I’m alright, got things to do, like homework.” He protested once more
Mr Kite spoke like a wire-bristled brush “Your sister does homework, and can manage just fine,”
Silence fell for a moment before Pete’s mother changed the subject to work, the television, where to buy a Christmas tree.
By Wednesday evening, the next week the cornflakes had run out in Ed’s house. The fact that PE had been out on the ice-chocked fields had only served to make matters worse. That evening he sat in the dark living room, with his back against the two person sofa, taken over by his mother and Amy. He thawed his hands on the edge of his plate of fish fingers, the paper round had chilled him to the bone, but he had some allowance at least, to add to the savings tin. The Bill Grundy Show was on, which he wasn’t much a fan of, but it felt nice to have the sound of a new voice in the house. It was peaceful at last; the twins had been dozing in Amy’s room ever since he’d got home at seven thirty.
“Don’t he look a mess?” His mother commented with an unusual air of disapproval, Ed glanced up at the screen, saw a scrawny young man with spiked up scarlet hair and a couple of safety pins jabbing out his ear.
“Who’s that?” He leaned forwards slightly
“Some new band.” She frowned “They do look bloody scruffy, what happened to Wings? I don’t mind them so much.”
“Oh! The Pistols! I couldn’t remember what he looked like!” Ed remembered some mentions of this band, this band that had played a blinder last summer at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, no one from his school had even been, but word had gotten round.
“Well, they turn us on, they turn some people on...” Johnny was muttering, Ed couldn’t quite make it out. He’d heard of them, of course, but never heard them. They had no album out, and the radio never played them. As far as he knew they weren’t playing up North since the gig he’d regrettably missed that summer. Typically, news had only reached him once the band had rolled on. There was just this one girl at Pete’s school, who’d supposedly been there too, and called herself a punk. He wasn’t sure what a punk was supposed to look like, but he supposed this lot was the real deal.
“What was that you just said?” Bill Grundy demanded out of the blue. Ed’s attention snapped back to the screen, at which his mother now pursed her lips.
“Nuffin’...” Johnny protested, pasty as old porridge. He had a demented sort of mocking in his eyes and on impulse Ed grinned “A rude word, that’s all...”
Bill Grundy drew himself up, “Oh! Well, let’s hear it then”
“I didn’t hear it, what did he say?” His mother insisted anxiously “he didn’t swear did he?”
“Shit.” Johnny announced.
“Did he just say that? On the BBC!?” She exclaimed, realising Amy was nestled against her with intrigue. “I’ll be complaining! Fancy that, not even eight o’ clock and I’ve got a young child here watching this!” She tried to shove Ed out of the way, to turn off the telly, but he wouldn’t budge, not yet.
“Wait! Let me just hear what they’re saying!” Ed protested, shuffling closer to the screen.
“Let me watch it too!” Amy cried, joining him on the carpet and mimicking the riveted pose.
“Turn that off!” His mother demanded, but Ed’s finger seemed to be taking a long time to find the button.
“I’m trying!” He lied, rather weakly.
"We can meet afterwards can’t we?” Grundy asked one of the girls, bristle-headed and made up vampishly, prompting one of the lads, the one swinging restlessly in his chair, to cry out:
“You dirty sod! You dirty old man!” Ed watched with growing amusement
“Keep going, keep going!” Their interviewer snapped “Go on, you’ve got another five seconds, say something outrageous.”
The camera cut to the young man, who, Ed now realised, had a pair of tits screen printed across his chest. He seemed only too happy to oblige
“You dirty bastard,” A puff on his cigarette and then “You dirty fucker.” He glanced smugly at his band mates, twittering like a pack of school girls. “What a dirty fucking rotter.”
“Amy!” His mum snapped, and she came crawling back to the sofa jittery with delight, knowing she’d just watched what she shouldn’t have.
“That’s all for tonight!” Hastily, the scene was swept off the screen and the credits began rolling.
“Ed, turn that off!” His mum instructed “Fancy that on the BBC before eight! I’ll be writing to them, you see if I don’t!” Reluctantly he turned it off and returned to his tea with only one thought in his mind: he wanted to be a punk.