Frankie’s doing lengths
brother bother dad
brother bother dad
running through his mind
can’t switch it off
questions crowd around:
Why does Dad not see it?
Why does he come down
so hard on me
and let Paddy be?
But like a dark corner
of the cupboard in Dad’s garage
full of spiders and oily muck
Frank doesn’t want to touch –
What is it
when he looks
Dad’s driving Frank to a practice
for the swimming gala:
How long’s this going ter take?
Moron! – he waves a fist out of the window
I’ve got a letter from school.
Give it to yer Ma. He puts on Metro Radio,
Frank turns it down –
I want you ter read it.
How canna ? I’m drivin.
Frank reaches into his back pocket
pulls out the folded paper.
It says they’re considering
putting me in a different set for some subjects.
Not as clever as you thought then ?
No – I’m getting bother.
What sorta bother?
From Paddy’s mates. And.. Paddy
They call me names, kick me,
I can’t concentrate.
Kickem back. Dad pulls up sharp and yanks
the hand brake on.
Dad’s mobile rings, he fiddles with it,
..Hello? Aye?…Right…That’s yer Ma. I’m off.
But.. Frank begins, but Dad’s looking in the mirror.
Frank says through the window:
Will yer talk to Paddy?
Yer got ter sort yer own battles.
He puts on Metro Radio loud
and drives away.
Mam’s sitting at the kitchen table
smoking a tab, biting her thumb
as she flicks through the free paper.
It’s nowt but adverts, Frankie says.
Mam just nods and takes a drag.
She doesn’t look up.
Do yer want a cup of coffee?
Aye, go on then.
Outside, the sky’s a rubbed-out picture
smudged and grey.
He shivers, folds his arms.
She turns a page, looks up.
Is the heating on?
He pours out boiling water
making clinking tunes with spoons,
plonks down her cup,
Why wasn’t Dad cross wi Paddy?
There are worse things, son.
He gets up a height wi me for nowt at all!
Mam takes a drag, looks out the window.
Why’s he always down on me?
He is! You don’t see.
Ask him, says Mam
stubbing her tab out.
Mam’s insisted they’re all together – both are rare.
It’s getting dark, the lamps are on, Dad’s got a beer
he’s had a shower, his head’s wet:
Reet, what’s this aboot?
He pulls the ring, there’s a rip, a gush,
he lips the froth;
Frankie’s sitting on an armchair arm
Paddy’s shifting his feet
Mam nods at him.
Dad, it’s .. I got Becca into trouble, like.
Dad looks up:
Yer stupid little git, and chuckles: when’s it due?
Nah, Dad, she’s not up the duff!
Why? What’s wrong wi yer?
Her mam found, yer kna, a blob. He blushes.
Better be more careful next time, son.
Dad guffaws, Mam says: Mickey!
Haway, it’s not the end of the world.
He doesn’t want a bairn before he’s got a job.
Yer Ma’s right, he says still grinning.
Dad bangs his left arm and raises his fist:
Get in there, son.
Paddy’s face relaxes, Mam sighs relieved.
Frankie feels his not part of this
just outside the kitchen
the tap running
the clunk as she turns it off
the click as she turns on the kettle
feet shuffle, cupboards open and close
the metallic clack of the teabag tin
he’s behind the door
rehearsing opening lines
the kettle is getting louder and louder
boiling and boiling
he plucks up courage
takes a deep breath
she has her back to him
she’s pouring boiling water into cups
Dyer want a cuppa tea Frankie?
I’ve got to tell yer something.
she stops pouring
the kitchen goes quiet
as a snow scene
she doesn’t turn round
her back stiffens
holding the moment with her breath
the silence stretches like chewing gum
Mam, his voice squeezes out
he clears his throat
I know, Frankie..
What? You know about Paddy?
Paddy ? What?
There’s another heartbeat while his world shifts
Paddy’s got Becca into bother
her mam’s gone off it
says they’re gannin to the polis,
he’s worried that Dad.. he stops
Mam turns, sighs Where’s Paddy noo?
Waiting fer me ter text him
Tell the little bugger there’s a cuppa tea waitin
Are yer not angry Mam?
Angry ? Aye, but not surprised neither.
I know you boys.
She looks straight
into Frankie’s eyes.
Paddy shakes Frankie awake
Haway, Frankie man!
He sits on the bed opposite
his knuckles tight:
I need to talk to yer.
The light from the street
shades his face a sickly white
Frankie turns and looks at him,
he looks down at this feet –
I’m in trouble.
Nah. It’s Becca,
She’s not..yer not ..? Frankie murmurs.
Her mam found a used condom
in the bed.
What’ll Mam say ? He whimpers.
Will you tell her ? Paddy begs.
Frankie’s never seen him so nervous
Paddy man, it’ll be alreet.
Will yer ? Promise ?
He nods, Paddy sits back.
What did her Mam say ?
They kicked me oot, say
they’re gannin to the polis.
Oh Paddy, Man.
They’re both silent
apart from Paddy sniffing
in the half lit room
they both know what Dad will do;
Paddy bites his hand
and tries to hold back tears.
Since the disaster at Becca’s
Frankie cannot stand the smell of orange squash.
But he got the taste for vodka –
mixes it with coke, lemonade, anything.
Corinne says This’ll cheer yer up.
Like a Helter Skelter at the Hoppings
he’s nervous of the first one, not sure if he wants it
but he closes his eyes and slugs it:
Wey! I’m on the mat,
as the liquid glides down
his mood rises.
as he take another slug –
Fuck the lads
that call me Freak.
Soon he doesn’t care
he never wants this ride to end,
he feels no pain, he doesn’t give a toss.
In his own Frankie world he’s King, the Boss
he laughs, in a dream
and even as he throws up in the gutter,
stutters home, he’s so out of it
nothing can touch him.
But Dad is waiting, in the kitchen
What time d’yer call this?
Look at the state of yer!
Yer Ma was worried.
Get upstairs, yer little..
Frankie, man, what’s up?
I’m sick of Dolphins.
Worrabout the Gala? the money’s on ye, Frankie.
He laughs but doesn’t smile:
Yer kna what I mean.
He’s kicking the fence as they walk:
What’s the point? A crap medal?
Corinne gives him half a stick of liquorice:
Ye’ll feel different when ye’ve won.
They walk in silence, chewing, to their front doors.
Haway she says, I’m out with Donna and the lasses
the neet. I’ll buy yer a drink, reet?
Mebbes, he says, and steps inside.
Next practice session
he’s at the baths swimming hard
but his mind is racing laps
round and round:
I’m good with words
I’m a fast swimmer
Becca fancied me –
Top Dog, Top Dog!
But Dad laughs at words,
says where does swimming get yer?
Paddy took Becca off me.
Top dog? Top Dog?
Who am I kidding?
I’m going nowhere
except round and round
this fucking pool.
Who gives a toss?
All the race
and speed goes out of him,
Bev the Coach shouts:
But he just drag himself up out of the pool
goes to the showers.