Frankie’s swimming towel

is green, he’s had it
since he was ten.
All round the edges
are the badges he’s won
for races; mam sewed them on
widths, lengths, metres,
speed, lifesaving.
It’s his history

Then he sees
Paddy wiping his oily hands on it.
He looks at Frankie, then away
Frankie knows he’s done it deliberately.

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Timing

Dad asks Paddy to do a job
with him on the car.
Frankie knows this
is how they talk –
Heat Exchangers
Gear Box, Timing Belt –
this is their language.
But Frankie’s not sure
it’ll put the brakes
on Paddy and his mates.
Mam stands in the kitchen, tab in hand, watching Paddy
under a car in the yard, Dad’s
talking him through an oil change.
All in their right skins, fitting in their world.
No dislocation, no confusion. Frankie’s thinking
I am a Freak?

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Frank is round at Corinne’s

She sips her tea and takes a Hobnob
What d’yer wanna be, y’kna
when yer leave school like?
She looks at Frankie.
Famous and rich?
he says smiling
Corinne laughs:
Stacking shelves at Netto’s more like.
Nah, he says, I need ter get away
from here, the West end
be someone else
somewhere else
where nobody knows me.

Yer mean
stacking shelves in Netto’s
in London? Corinne laughs
but Frankie drinks his tea
and frowns.
Corinne’s Mam Dolly pops her head
around the door:
Hiya Frankie – how yer doin?
Ready for the big day?
What? says Frankie, puzzled
The Gala, Man!
Oh. That.
He downs his tea
in one last gulp
and goes back home.

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Dad get’s a phone call from school

Frankie! I wanta word wi ye.
His heart trembles, his eyes sink,
Dad has switched off the TV
the phone in his hand:
Mr Stringer’s just called – well?
Well what says Frankie
quietly.
He says there’s bin botha?
I told yer dad, in the car
the other day.
What? I divvent remember.
Aboot lads. And Paddy –
I tried ter tell yer Dad..
but ye said to sort it meself.

Mr Stringer says lads are sending
rumours round – that you’re..
Dad can’t say it,
as if a piece of slime is in his mouth
his lips curl.
I telt Mr Stringer straight –
it isn’t true. I asked him
what he was gannin ter de
aboot it
What did Mr Stringer say?
He said he’d talk to you.

Frankie turns to go, uncertain
if this is a good moment
or not, he turns back:
So Dad. Will yer talk to Paddy?
There’s a long pause,
Dad sits and faces the empty TV,
Aye. Mebbes.

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Is there anything wrong with Frankie?

That’s what Miss Thoroughgood asks Mam.
Mam says Why?
And Miss Thoroughgood says
His marks in English are going down.
He used to get straight As,
we had great hopes for his GCSEs.
Dad says, He’s not gonna fail is he?
No, No says Miss Thoroughgood.
Dad looks at his watch, he’s getting up to go.
Do try and encourage him.
Mam says Thank you.
Frankie wants to say
None of you have any idea
but he just says nowt.

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Parent’s Evening

Dad doesn’t really want to go,
Mam says: Micky, it’s important.
He looks at his watch:
We kna what Paddy’s doing
next year, we divvent need
ter talk ter Mr Stringer
he kna’s nowt about apprenticeships,
Aye, says Mam, but Frankie’s teacher
wants a chat.
Dad throws his jacket on
over his work clothes
Mam looks but says nowt.
Frank wishes Dad wasn’t coming
but Mam insists.

It’s getting dark, it’s a chilly night;
as they walk up to the school gates
someone kicks Frankie from behind
he turns and sees Dec
and Paddy’s mates
following in a bunch,
Mam and Dad are up ahead
Dad’s grumbling, doesn’t hear the whispered words:
Freak.

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Bev and Frankie talk

She makes a pot of tea,
while Frankie talks about his
training schedule, his times
his swimming style
and favourite champion swimmers.

Bev sits down on a sofa covered
with an indian rug, Frankie sits on
a battered armchair, there’s an abstract
painting on the wall, a swirl of red
he feels dizzy.
Bev says So what did you want to ask me?
Frankie’s mind goes blank,
Have you got any sugar?
Bev laughs and gets him a bag and a spoon
he stirs his mug, starting to blush.
It wasn’t about the swimming, was it?
he shakes his head,
they sit in silence, Bev is looking at him
then he bursts out:
I saw yer in the park
just now…
Ah, Bev breathes, and nods
She’s my girlfriend
they know about it at work
it’s cool.
Frank stares, he feels a shift
inside, he nods.
Is that what you wanted to say?
He shakes his head, then nods
he gulps his tea and stands to go,
as she opens the door for him
Bev says: It’ll be ok
you’ll see.

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Bev’s Flat

Frankie hurries out
not thinking, he follows
Bev past Sari shops, indian takeaways
Mirza corner stores.
He’s got a feeling
he needs to talk to her
a bus winds down the street,
then he sees her turn the corner
into a terrace.
She lives in a Tyneside flat,
she opens her door
he glimpses stairs
she hoists her bike onto her shoulders
shuts the door and disappears.

Frankie hovers, waiting, turns to go
then turns back and knocks on Bev’s door.

He hears her clatter down
she opens the door and looks at him
he stands shifting his feet on the pavement,
she says
Frankie? and smiles
How did you know where I live?
I followed yer
Bev says nothing
Canna, canna I talk to yer?
Bev looks down the street.
What about?
Frankie thinks quickly:
The Gala.
Oh, ok, come in.

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What Frankie sees

after training
looking out the big pool window,
like a silent film
Bev leaving work
on a man’s bike
leaning over the handlebars
looking cool, in sunglasses.
She’s going slow,
someone is walking beside her.
They stop, under a tree,
the leaves are fidgeting across their faces
he can’t see clearly.
Bev sits on the saddle
one toe keeping balance
one resting on the pedal.
Bev puts out her arm
draws the other’s head
towards her, they kiss full on the mouth.
Then Frankie sees – the other one’s a lass
he realises Bev’s just kissed a lass
as if she was a lad.

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