Frankie can’t even talk to Corinne

She calls round,
Yer’ll never guess who Becca’s dating now –
Mr Jeffreys! No-one’s supposed to know.
Corinne gives him notes for English.
The more she talks
the more he cannot speak,
he’s travelling miles away
inside himself.
Then she adds
Oh, and Bev says don’t bother
coming back to Dolphins.
Sorry Frankie.

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He runs off
scared of meeting Ned,
peeping down back lanes
dodging behind the wheelie bins
until he’s found
the centre of town.
He sees some Bizzies in a car
flags them down
says: I’ve lost me money
want to go home.

Frankie sinks into the polis car
watches the two men’s heads
like puppets in the front,
one talking into a crackling top pocket
the other, driving, leans back,
says over his shoulder:
Where yer been son?
Yer parents were worried.
We’ve been on the lookout for yer
Aye? Frank wants to sleep
not answer questions,
the other hands him a mobile –
It’s your mother, she’d like to hear from you
Hi Ma
Oh Frankie, she says
I’m ok
she’s weeping and he has nothing else to say
there’s a pause
See yer soon, Ma
and hands back the phone.
Frankie’s chin slumps onto his chest.

The minute he walks in the door
he’s regretting it. Dad’s scowling
Mam says How are yer Son?
and hugs him once. Paddy leans
against the table with folded arms
and looks Frankie up and down:
Where yer bin?
He tells Dad his phone was nicked
Dad just clicks his tongue, shakes his head.
Mam’s more difficult,
she holds his arms, looks straight
at Frankie:
Are yer all right, really?
he looks away, Aye
Where did yer stay?
I.. I slept rough
Fer two weeks?
Nah. I met a student.
Kipped on his floor.
She looks hard at him
expecting more, but he
just shake her off
Will yer buy us a new phone?

The house is like a jacket
that’s too tight to fit,
but he can’t shake off.
A black cloud sits on his head,
he goes up to his room and lies there.
Mam brings a cup of tea
apart from her, no-one
seems bothered anymore.

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The next week

it’s a different story:
it’s dark when Frankie feels Ned
climb in beside him.
Frank’s not surprised
he’s somehow been expecting it
wonders if he half wanted it,
as if a question has been answered.
Then next day when Ned is out,
The Toothless one comes in
Ned’s room, grabs Frankie
gabbles, fiddling with his buttons,
he’s stronger than he looks
he scares him, gripping,
ripping Frankie’s shirt. Frank kicks out
and scrabbles free of his hands
wrenches open the bedroom window
climbs down a pipe and
doesn’t look back.

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Ned’s Generous

buys Frankie food and beer
spare socks and kecks
things he needs. Ned
says he could get thrown out
if anyone discovers him.
Frank has to keep his mouth shut,
sneak about
check the coast is clear.
Ned shows him places to spend the day
where it’s warm, and no-one moves you on:
Nobles Amusements, the library
local studies section, the art gallery
and museum.
The friend with work never
arrives, he’s always just about to.

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Night and Day

The warmth, some food, care and attention
lull him, Frankie’s drifting off, feeling safe.
Tomorrow he’ll move on, he’s no intention
of staying longer. He can’t face

another night sleeping under the motorway.
There’s nowt romantic about stars
when you’re dirty and cold and home’s far away
and all you can hear is cars the man says.

I’m Edward, you can call me Ned,
and asks Have yer run away before?
Frankie gets the bed –
Ned sleeps on the floor.

The next day
breakfast is a mug of tea, a bacon stotty
in the steamy kitchen.
Frankie thanks Ned, tells him I’ll be off’
but Ned says he’s got a friend
who’s needing casual labour
Frankie could pick up work, maybe
tomorrow or by the weekend.
Says why not stay and see,
what’s the hurry?

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He leads Frankie

up and down endless terraces
until he stops outside a big old house.
There’s newspaper and cans in the front
some of the windows are cracked,
the door’s been patched,
there’s dirty light seeping out
but it looks warm.
They step inside.
It’s full of men sitting round a table
in a steamy kitchen, cooking
smoking, drinking tea.
There’s nothing on the walls
except notices of rules and regs:
dustbin day and Housing Ben.
A toothless man smacks his lips
and gabbles; Frankie drinks
sweet tea and closes his mind.

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It’s six o’clock

the wind’s picked up
cutting through the town,
the smell of snow
and winter riding on its back.
He still has nowhere to go,
he’s tired of walking in circles
watching the town pack up:
lights go off behind padlocked doors.
He’s rooting through the cardboard
at the back of a Paki store
squashed tomatoes, oranges going mouldy
when a voice says Hello
Frankie nearly jumps out of his skin,
it’s the man from the job shop queue.
He smiles and looks, Frankie stands and stares
the man asks You working here?
Nah, nah, I’m just..
Lemme buy yer a cuppa tea?
Frank shakes his head, he jerks his own
C’mon son, I’ll see yer right.
Frankie follows him into the night.

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Frankie gets a fiver for it
in the Pawn Shop
then buys the biggest stotty
in the window: ham and pease pudding.
He sits in a mall on a low wall,
a tinkling water feature at his back
and goes into a trance:
he’s somewhere hot, the sea is near
the waves are calling him to swim
or surf. He remembers Dad
telling him :
Once, when I was seven,
we went ter Cornwall
all of us
in me dad’s Bedford van.
It was miles
an it took two days ter get there.
We stayed in a caravan
and three tents ter fit
all the eight kids
and aunties and uncles.
The weather was that hot
the sand burnt yer feet
and the big rollin waves was warm.
I thought we’d gone to another world
never mind another part of the country.

And Frankie wonders
why Dad so rarely mentions Grandad –
what happened to that van

and family holidays?

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Ahm clammin fer a bite ter eat,
says the gadgy on the bench,
Aye Frankie replies. It’s half past three
he checks his moby; four missed calls
from Mam, a text from Paddy:
Mas gone spare.Ware r u? Cll home divvy.
He turns it off
Yer might get sommat for that
the gadgy points with yellow shaky fingers
Not much – but it’ll buy yer lunch
or a bottle a White Lightning. He coughs
or laughs, Frank cannot tell, but he thinks:
I might as well sell me phone.
I’m cutting ties; I’m not going back home.

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