by Gerald Heys
The bases just jumpers, but we had a real rounders bat Danny Diddums had nicked from school. Captains Snotty Beaumont and Porky MacGurgle were picking their teams.
Summer-holiday sun at the rec. Twenty kids sprawled on the footie pitch’s faded chalky lines. Snotty chose Stewie first, me second. I went over, chewing my grass stalk; took the ball, grinning. Ja-Ja Beaumont was last.
Snotty said, ‘You can have my bro, Porky.’
Ja-Ja, Biafra-thin, trailed his jumper through the grass.
Biafra: Mum would go on about the famine when me and Sis Cow couldn’t empty our plates: ‘Some kids’d give their bloody eye-teeth…’ Translucent – another new word. Ja-Ja’s legs: translucent; dishcloth pale. Mad, square, Frankenstein head; shitty teeth; hair like it got cut by the council. Snotty usually called Ja-Ja Spaz in front of us lot; the name hung round him like gnats. Like Snotty, Ja-Ja’s nose ran all the time: thick, green, a mustardy yellow in winter. His ears ran, too. All sorts of colours.
Me and Stewie had said it out loud one school break-time: how Ja-Ja stank like four-thousand-year-old pyramid cheese, pharaoh’s cowin’ dinner. We had to go see the Head; nearly got a couple of whacks. Mum heard and gave me a go with the wooden spoon when I got in. And slammed down my plate at teatime, peas rolling onto the oilcloth.
We played rounders till the shadows from the poplars stretched as far as the goals. It was past nine o’clock when Snotty’s mum come out to tell him it’d be dark soon; she wanted him home.
The score was ten-all.
Snotty said, ‘Next one’s the winner, then.’
Me with the ball. And Ja-Ja next up. His pipe-cleaner wrists and gravedigger-white hands gripping the bat. Squinting at what was left of the sun.
I wound up, and sent it down hard as I could, aiming for the mad bloody head. Nowhere near. The scuffed grey tennis-ball homed in on his scab-ridden knees. Ja-Ja swang, eyes shut. And pock: Straight as you like, long and high, hanging now, over our heads. One bounce, two, into the garden behind the far goal. I screamed at Stewie to get the cowin’ thing back, quick; while Ja-Ja ran, weird head wobbling: first base … second … third … then home, white broomstick arms in the air, face gurning with triumph.
He stood at last base, grinning, showing me all his cruddy green teeth. And he jeered at me, called me a tosser. And I saw he was looking past me towards Stewie still peering under the Pickerings’ cabbages on the other side of the fence. Then Ja-Ja, with a screech, was off once more; hollering like a nutter, running the bases, going round me like the Indians on Wagon Train. He slowed at third, coughing, chest rattling. Good. Maybe he was knackered … But no. Off again now. Ja-Ja running like stinko. Snot going all over the shop: sticking to his tee-shirt, getting in his barley-stack hair. Circling me like I just didn’t exist.
Gerald Heys is from the UK, living and working in Prague.