Frankie talks to Derek

he finds it easy
to open up about the bullying
at school, the drink and drugs
the overdose at christmas.

Derek nods:
I’ve always known about meself,
though I did try to fight it
you know: In Denial.
Tried to top meself a few times,
still got the scars – that was when
I was coming to terms with it,
I’m ok with it now. Me Ma knows
and I had a good group of friends.
Without them, to be honest
I would have topped meself.
Then he looks at Frankie:
Yer know I always wanted to join
Corinne’s gang, at Benwell.
I thought you were so cool!
Frankie blushes in surprise:
Me? Cool?
he thinks about his younger self,
I just tried ter keep out of bother,
out me brother’s way.
Ah – Paddy, how is the bog brush?
Frankie shrugs Bog Brush?
Don’t mind me. I’m always giving people names,
it’s because of his bristly hair, but only to myself.
What about yer Mam and Dad?
Do they know yer here?
Frankie shakes his head, says:
Me Nan just died, so it’s not a good time
at home right now.

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Derek links his arm

through Frankie’s
leads him into the crowd
making introductions
as if Frankie
is an honoured guest.
He points everyone out:
That’s Danny – he used ter be very homophobic
just swung round to the gay scene
he’s starting to love it,
then there’s Simon,
doesn’t care what he shags.
Michael’s very gobby,
don’t mind anything he says.
Jordan is the class clown.
The smiles and hi’s
are friendly and appraising
Frank says nothing
but smiles back.
Derek sits him on the sofa,
says: Tell me Everything!

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Frankie lies

He tells Mam he’s going to a film
with mates from school.
He buses into town, keeps looking round
in case he’s seen. He unfolds a leaflet
Julia Johnson gave him, checks the map,
the street name, finds the door, the button.
A voices crackles:
Hello?
He clears his throat: I’ve come for
the youth group.
OK, first floor.
The door buzzes and lets him in.
The lobby’s empty but he sees some stairs
his knees are knocking as he climbs.
At the top there’s a hubbub, lots of lads,
shouts, a shriek of laughter from a blonde.
Frankie’s taken aback, then the lad turns round
sees him, comes towards him. Frankie feels like
running away, but the lad gasps:
Eee Frankie Donnelly, is it you?
Frank’s confused, says nothing.
It’s me! Derek, from Benwell Primary.

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Walking Home from School

Corinne and Frankie share some TicTacs
Frankie flicks one, catches it
in his mouth:
Aye, but didn’t yer guess?
Well. Corinne’s reluctant.
Yer must have thought it?
I s’pose I did. Didn’t ye?
Frankie sighs, Aye. I s’pose.
I’m knackered now, feel like
I swum the channel this week.
As they head up their street
Frankie stops:
Corinne? Yer won’t say owt
ter anybody, will yer?
It still feels – yer kna..
Aye – divvent fret, pet
yer secret’s safe wi me!
He pushes her and laughs.

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At Dinner time

there’s a lightness in his head
his feet have lost their boots of lead
he shoulders his pack
and makes his way to the hall.
Becca’s standing with a pink bag
on her arm, in a group of girls,
she sees him and comes over
Hiya Frankie.
Good ter see yer back.
Sorry bout yer Nan.
And all what happened,
over Christmas, like.
Aye – thanks.
She touches him on the arm
Yer look much better.
Aye? Yeah, I am.
She smiles and goes off.
Corinne comes up, nudges him
She still fancies yer.
Frank blushes and undercover
of the clatter and clash
of three hundred people
eating lunch, he whispers
I’m gay
for the second time that day.
He beams, Corinne looks at him
his smile, infectious, spreads to her.

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Frankie talks

Frankie leans his elbows on his knees
looks at nothing, then
before he can think, he starts to talk
Last term, well, for years really
I was, like, yer kna, bullied
by lads, me brother,
like in that.. he jerks his head
towards the poster.
Homophobia?
Aye.. That. Does it mean yer gay?
It means the nature of the bullying
are taunts about homosexuality.
It doesn’t necessarily mean
the person being bullied
is gay.
I s’pose it’s easy ter see wi racism,
if the victim’s black.
It’s more complex than that,
it happens to the Irish and the Jews.
There’s a silence,
Frankie’s mouth’s a crooked line,
he feels it stretch, his eyes look sideways
at the counsellor, she looks back
with a serious and open face,
then he says:
I’m gay.

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The School Counsellor

Frankie’s got an appointment,
he’s missing PE which makes him happy,
as he knocks on a door that says
Pastoral Care.
Come in! a woman’s voice calls.
She’s big, with short bleached hair
and a ring
through her nose. He stares
surprised.
Hello, I’m Julia Johnson.
Frankie, isn’t it?
they shake hands.
This is your first week back
since Christmas?
Aye
How does it feel?
Er – ok – so far.
Well, I want to emphasise
that my door’s open
anytime you feel you need
a break, a quiet place – come
along and talk, or just sit.
Frankie nods.
I got a letter from your GP.
Aye – I’m on that Prozac stuff
but it makes me feel –
I can’t think straight.
If you want to stop taking it
you’ll need to go back to the doctor.
He nods again
But we can offer
support if you do.
Frankie looks at the walls
there’s a poster about bullying:
racism, homophobia.
Julia looks at him:
Is there anything else
you’d like to talk about?

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By Half Term

Frankie’s restless; Dad’s on at him
to get back to school. Mam
is tired, he feels in the way.

He plans to go back, after half term,
get stuck in, catch up,
do his GCSEs
like Corinne and Paddy.

They walk him to school,
Paddy’s mates will cool it –
no more jostling, calling names.

Somewhere deep inside him
something’s changed.
He doesn’t feel so weak or so ashamed,
he still feels different, but
in a different way.

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When Corinne’s gone

In his mind he sees a blue pool
only it isn’t blue or just blue,
it’s wavering glass
with lines of gold that thread
and dance.
Water laps and slops in a lazy way
laps and slaps, slops and lops.
He cannot remember when it was
he just knows that sunshine on water
is his world – floating, flying
suspended on air,
gold slabs of sun, thick blocks of light
shafting down from the windows
all the rest in dark shadow.
A pool is a cathedral
echoey and concentrated
in its purpose, swimming
is a prayer, he reaches another place
inside himself,
a peace like nothing else.
But what he writes in the Journal is:
Swimming pools.
He kneels on his bed
chin cupped in his hands
staring at the whiteness
outside his window
lit by a ghostly full moon.
His Nan has gone,
but the world goes on;
Jubilee estate has a strange beauty
a mysterious quietness
that reaches into his troubled heart.
Inside he’s glad
he’s here to see it.

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