Bad Blood, by Will Sigsworth
I was the only one of me brothers to go to Woodlouse Grove. All the others had gone to Lawnswood – and hated it, anall – but after Billy stabbed that Mister Peter’s, none of us Ashley Boys were allowed near the place. Me parents had said fuck that, if he ain’t going Lawnswood, he ain’t going, but Social had found out, and sent round some suits to sniff ‘bout the house and make sure we weren’t dodging, give us a scare. Dad didn’t want them to know he was still around, so to get them off our backs I had to go. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it, but Miss Kent sorted us out a bursary, and I’d got good enough marks on me tests to try out for a scholarship.
The Scholarship was piss, I’d always been pretty good at maths and science and that, but the fees were still gonna be two grand a year. Me Grandpa had passed winter last, so we could at least pay the first year with the money he left, but after that we weren’t sure. Miss Kent said she’d try and sort it out. She was alright that Miss Kent, for a Social. Most of ‘em looked at you like dirt, but Miss Kent always smiled when she saw us. Our Rick said that’s ‘cause she’s too green to know the shit she’ll have to deal with – tossers like the MacKenzies. He’s soft on her, Rick, but he’s only sixteen and she’s ‘bout thirty. He couldn’t even fuck his own hand anyway, that’s what Billy used to say.
There were four of us Ashley boys: Trev, Rick, Billy and me. Trev got caught dealing round the back of Kash’s shop in Headingley last year and got two options – army or prison. Trev could handle himself, so it was a piss easy decision. Mam hated it, she reckoned he was gonna die in Afghanistan – get blown up by some rag heads – but we knew he’d be alright: he always landed on his feet did our Trev. Billy was serving a long stint in the YOI after the stabbing, and wouldn’t see daylight ‘til he was twenty. Rick was in his last year when Billy went nuts, so they let him finish his GCSEs. He got three Us, two Ds and a C in woodwork; he was always thick as shit. One of me Dad’s mates set him up with a job in his carpentry firm, and he was doing alright. He still got high all Saturday and slept all Sunday though, but we didn’t hear nowt bad abou’ ‘im from his firm.
It was just me fucking luck that Rick started late on me first day at Woodlouse. Mam was happy ‘bou’ it though.
“Ain’t it nice that your brother’s ‘ere to see you off, Tommy?” She said, doin’ me tie.
“I don’t know what I’d do if I had to see you off on my own, I’d be a mess, but now your brother’s ‘ere to support me.”
She started getting all teary.
“Ow! Gerroff!” she hadn’t been concentrating and had pulled me tie up to me throat.
I slapped her hand away, and undid the top button off me shirt.
“Now, you ‘ave to look smart for your first day.” She said, redoing the button.
Rick walked into the room, still wet from’t shower, and sat on ‘is bed.
“Ha! Well if it ain’t fuckin’ Tony Blair”
“Fuck off, Rick.”
“Language! Come on Tommy, we need to get your breakie.” me Mam said, walking out the room.
I followed, giving Rick a dig in the ribs as I passed.
“Ah! Mam!” he squealed.
“Rick, it’s your brother’s first day at school, leave him be.”
I went downstairs and sat at the table. Mam was humming as she sorted out me cereal. You might’ve realised by now, but our Mam’s kinda away with the fairies. She was better before Trev went off to Afghanistan. I mean, she weren’t right before, but what with Trev going off, and then Billy getting nicked, summat cracked. Anyway, this was the best I’d seen her in a while, so I just kept quiet ‘bout me fucking itchy shirt, and me fucking ugly coat, and sat chewing me tongue.
Rick came downstairs, drying his hair with his shirt.
“Where’s our dad?”
Mam didn’t stop humming, so I told him.
“He’s gone off in’t van, said some geezer wanted a telly down in Fagley.”
Rick put his shirt on and sat down at the table.
“Prob’ly gonna watch gay porn, you know wha’ ‘em Faggys’re like.”
“Nah, but I know you do.”
Rick scowled and leant over to slap me face, but I grabbed his hand and slapped his.
“Boys, boys, it’s supposed to be a happy day.”
Our Mam turned from the kitchen surface and handed us both bowls of crispies.
“There, you need to be fed if you’re going to do well.”
Rick dived straight in, but I weren’t hungry. I didn’t want Rick – or Mam – to know, but I was scared. It was the first time I’d been out the estate for ages, not since a school trip two years back. Even Grandpa’s funeral was in the church down road. It’s not like I didn’t live in a shithole, but it was our shithole, you know what I mean. Me parents, and their parents, had lived here their whole lives, and I wouldn’t be at Woodlouse all the time, but I was boarding, so I’d only be home weekends.
I stirred me cereal round the bowl.
“You gonna eat tha’?”
I handed the bowl over to Rick and he dug in.
Mam checked the clock on the wall.
“Ooh, look at the time! C’mon Tommy, get your bag down, it’s almost time to go. Go do your teeth.”
There was the sound of a key in the door, and our Nan trotted in in her tracky.
“Mornin’ luvlies,” she said, coming over and kissing me and Rick on the forehead, “I made sure I got ‘ere back in time to see you off, Tommy.”
“Cheers Nan.” I said, giving her a hug.
Rick took his chance, and rushed past me upstairs. I heard the bog door slam.
“Shit! Mam, Rick’s gone in’t bog!”
“That’s alright luv, take t’toothbrush from your bag and use t’sink.”
I did me teeth then went out for a piss. I was pissing in the gutter when there was knock at the front door. I heard the door open, and some chat, then there was a loud wail followed by sobbing – it was Mam. I shook meself off, zipped up and went inside. Mam had collapsed onto the floor, sobbing onto our Nan’s legs, and there was some bloke in army gear by the door. Nan looked up at me, I was stood stock still: I knew summat had happened to Trev.
“Trev’s disappeared,” said Nan, tears in her eyes, “he’s gone missin’.”
Mam continued sobbing into the knees of Nan’s tracky. I sat on the stairs. I felt like I’d been punched, one-two, in the head and gut.
The bloke cleared his throat, shifting awkward-like. “I think you misunderstand me, Private Ashley has gone AWOL – absent without leave – he hasn’t died.”
Nan looked up, “what?”
“He was expected back from leave yesterday at 2100, but he never turned up.”
“You’ve lost ‘im?” I stood up.
“So where is ‘e?”
“All we know is he didn’t turn up to Carlton Barracks yesterday and we failed to contact him. We presumed he’d be here”
“He was ‘ome?”
“There was an incident in Afghanistan, and he was given leave from duty. He returned to the country one week ago but is yet to sit a formal evaluation.”
“What incident?” Our Nan said.
“I’m afraid I don’t know ma’am, all I know is that he hasn’t returned to the barracks.”
“Well ‘e certainly isn’t ‘ere,” Nan drew herself up to her full height, which weren’t that impressive, “I suggest you stop wastin’ your time puttin’ fear into the hearts of his loved ones and find ‘im.”
The army bloke shifted ‘bout again, uncomfortable-like.
“Well I was given orders to scout the premises,” he caught Nan’s eye, “but I can see that he isn’t here. If he contacts you can you let us know immediately please?”
And with that he was out the door and away.
Mam had stopped crying, but she was still sitting on the floor.
“C’mon love, up we get,” said Nan, pulling on her arm.
Mam stood up and sat down on a chair by table. She was dead still, staring into space. When she gets like this you dunno what’s coming; she could shout, sob, or even sit for hours just doing nowt.
Rick started downstairs.
“Wha’s all this?” He stopped halfway, his face a right muddle of puzzling.
Nan turned to me.
“Alright lad, let’s get you ready for school. Rick look after your mam for a minute.”
“He’s been back, one whole week, and we haven’t even heard a peep!” Mam’s jaw was working and her eyes full of fury.
“Not one bloody peep! Couldn’t even be bothered to tell his own mam he was back!”
“I know, love, I know,” Nan went over and rubbed Mam’s shoulder, but Mam didn’t even look round.
“I’m gonna kill that ungrateful -”
“I think you better hurry for the bus love,” Nan interrupted her, “you’re gonna be late as it is. Rick, make your mam a tea.”
Rick headed for the kettle. I nodded, grabbed me bag and rucksack, and headed out.
One of the Mackenzie’s shouted summat as I made me way to the bus stop, but I ignored him – I was thinking ‘bout Trev. Fucking buses! I rounded the corner just to see one leave the stop. The next wouldn’t be for twenty minutes, so I was gonna be late for me first day of skoil. It was just like fucking Trev to come home and not tell no one. We’d found out ‘bout him getting nicked through the local. He weren’t always home of an evening, so we didn’t expect nowt till our Dad popped round and said Old Paul Townsend had seen our Trev getting hustled into a paddy wagon. It didn’t bother me much, it was his own business, but now ‘cause of him I was gonna get accused of playing wag me first day. I’d met the principal, Mr Deacon, after I got the scholarship, and I knew he thought I was a wrong’un from the start. He’d just sat there, with me record in front of him, looking at us like I weren’t fit to scrape off his shoe. Me record ain’t that bad – a coupla wag days, a couple fights, and I got caught smoking once or twice – but there was one thing he was interested in.
“So, your brother doesn’t respect a teacher’s authority?” he sneered at me, his bald head shining in the sunlight coming through the window behind him.
“I dunno, I ain’t me bruvver.”
“In my experience, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
He was a Southerner, anall, so I knew he was slow, but I managed to keep me rag all the same.
“I ain’t gonna knife no one, if that’s wha’ you think.”
“Well it says here,” he made a show of running his finger down the page, “ah yes, it says here that the knife was found on your person.”
“Yeah, Billy put it in me rucksack. He thought they’d get us mixed up, daft bugger.”
The smarmy cunt raised an eyebrow, “yes, so I have been informed. Well, your record is less than exemplary.” he leaned back in his chair, his belly trying its hardest to escape his shirt, “but I’m sure we can start you, perhaps, on a probationary footing.”
I didn’t know what that meant, but knowing teachers, and knowing southerners, it weren’t good. In my experience, teachers think they can read minds, and a Southern one just takes the piss. All Southerners hate it up here, and the only enjoyment they get is getting one up on us locals. Saying that Miss Kent is from Devon and she’s alright.
I checked me watch; the bus was five minutes late. At this rate I was gonna miss me first class at least. I kicked a can that had missed the bin onto the road, just as a car pulled into the bus stop. I looked up, it was Miss Kent.
“Your Granny rang me up,” she said as I hopped in the car, “she told me what happened and I offered to give you a lift.”
“Ta,” I said, “bus was way late.”
“Glad I got here then, you may even be on time.”
Miss Kent had been assigned to us after Mam got ill, so she was really supposed to be her social, but when our Mam was given the all clear she’d stuck around. I dunno how she could abide it, what with Rick mooning after her all the time I’d reckoned she’d piss off sharpish. It was almost a year since we first met her, and here she was, giving me a lift to skoil.
“I thought you’d be wiv our mam.”
“Your Grandmother said that she could take care of it,” she said, and smiled at me in the rear-view mirror.
“‘Ave you ‘eard ‘bout Trev? What a bugger.” I always made sure I watched me language with Miss Kent, she never complained, but I thought it better to be polite.
I saw Miss Kent half-smile in the mirror.
“I know ‘e don’ tell us nowt usual-like, but you would’a though’ he’d tell us ‘bout this.”
Miss Kent nodded, pursing her lips.
“He’s prob’ly down Hyde Park or summat, hangin’ with ‘is dealer mates.”
Miss Kent gave that weird half-smile again; she was normally chattier than this.
“Wha’s the issue? Cat got ya tongue?”
“No, no,” she coughed and cleared her throat, “I just think that, I just think maybe it’s better if you concentrate on your first day of school, don’t let Trevor’s absence bother you.”
“Yeah, yeah alreight.”
It was quiet for a bit, till we pulled up at some traffic lights.
“So,” she turned round and beamed at me, “are you excited?”
We chatted ‘bout skoil till we got to Woodlouse. I was forty minutes late, and Miss Kent offered to come in and explain to the teacher, but I said it was alright; I was only missing the welcome talk. I got me bag out of Miss Kent’s car and dragged it into Woodlouse. I had to get out me schedule, but it was buried under loads of shit in me rucksack. I finally wrenched it out; the talk was in the main hall. I wracked me brains, the main hall was down this corridor to the left, It said. I started making me way down the hall, luggin’ me bag along behind me. All the doors looked the same, with numbers on them going up from one to twenty. Some had words on them as well: ‘Laboratory 1’, ‘Teacher’s Common Room’, ‘Bursary’. Everywhere was dead silent, all I could hear was me footsteps and me bag dragging along behind us.
I turned the corner and could hear someone talking. It was Mr Deacon, the head teacher, and he was in the room beyond the doors at the end of the corridor. I went up to one of the circular windows and, standing on me toes, peered in. It was the main hall, with hundreds of lads and lasses wearing the same shit as me in rows of chairs. I was looking in from the side along the back wall, to another set of the same sort of doors on the other side. I couldn’t see Deacon, but I could see a couple teachers sitting on a stage facing the pupils.
“... I look forward to a productive year at Woodhouse Grove, and remain certain that this could be our best student body yet, thank you.”
As Deacon finished, applause broke out, led by the teachers on the stage. I heard a woman over the din.
“If the back two rows could file out, followed by each row in front. Lessons will be starting in ten minutes, so make sure you move in a fast, but orderly, fashion.”
I decided it was best to make meself scarce. I’d passed a bog on the way down and so scarpered to it and, locking meself in a cubicle, waited till people had started coming in. A couple of lads, ‘bout Rick’s age, were talking ‘bout a teacher.
“I got fuckin’ Priestley now, I can’t wait till Knoxville’s back, at least he don’t notice nowt”.
“Yeah, I got Letterman, she’s alright. She’ll probably get knocked up again though, I reckon by Christmas.”
Someone went in the cubicle next to mine and blew their nose. I heard taps running.
“I’ll take that bet, a tenner on Letterman not getting preggers.”
“Alright, care to wager when Knoxville gets back?”
The answer was drowned out by a hand dryer starting.
“... I’ll see if JP wants to get involved.”
The door closed and I was alone. I climbed into the next cubicle leaving me main bag in the cubicle I’d been in, safest place for it I reckoned, plus teachers would get suspicious if I had it with me. I took me schedule out the rucksack, and had a look; I had PSHE next, a right doss. ‘Main Corridor 5’, it said. I knew where that was; I’d passed it on the way in. Slinging the rucksack over me shoulder, I sauntered out the toilet and down the corridor.
I was a couple minutes late for the lesson, but the teacher hadn’t started yet. Main Corridor 5 was big enough to fit in ‘bout twenty of us pupils, and one teacher. It was your basic classroom: tables, whiteboard, windows, wall charts. The wall charts were a bit weird though, one had a picture of some lad getting skelped with ‘BULLYING IS WRONG’ in big letters across the top. Another had loads of pictures of needles and baggies, looked like what you’d find under Rick’s bed. Across the top it had, again in big letters, ‘DRUGS ARE BAD’. It seemed like all the good stuff was bad in this skoil.
The teacher finished writing from the board and turned to us. She was ‘bout five foot tall, no taller than me, and was ‘bout five foot wide, anall. ‘Drugs and Alcohol: Knowing your Enemy’, She’d written.
“Okay class settle down, settle down,” there was a bit of shuffling, but no one was saying nowt, so this seemed kinda pointless, “I’m Mrs. Spruce and I’m going to start with the register. Abbott?”
Some lad in the front put his hand up. Mrs. Spruce smiled and ticked him off.
Mrs. Spruce smiled at Aaronson, a girl with a ponytail to me right, and ticked her off.
“Ashley,” I put me hand up, “now Mr. Ashley, we’re going to have to put our hands up a little higher than that.”
I put me hand up a little higher and she ticked me off, without smiling. She called out the rest of the names and we started the lesson.
“Ok, children, does anyone here have parents who smoke, or grandparents?”
A couple lads and one lass put their hands up. Me whole family smoked, but I weren’t bothered to let anyone know.
“Do anyone’s parents drink alcohol, or does anyone have a brother or sister who drinks?”
More hands went up, not mine. One girls hand wavered and fell, Mrs. Spruce noticed.
“You’re unsure Miss Gower?”
“Erm, my mam drinks Gin?”
“Yes, Miss Gower, that’s alcohol. Now we all know why we can’t drink, and why we can’t smoke. I can drink because I am older than eighteen, and I can smoke, but I choose not to.” she turned round to the board and started writing. “I choose not too because I care about my health.”
She had written ‘Health’ in big letters across the board. She turned back to face us.
“Let’s start with smoking, what health problems can smoking cause?”
Aaronson’s hand went straight up.
“Yes, Miss Aaronson?”
“Lung cancer,” said Mrs. Spruce as she wrote it on the board, “well done Miss Aaronson. Any more?
‘Lung Cancer’ was joined by ‘Asthma’, ‘Coughing’ and ‘Throat Disease’.
“If you smoke, rest assured, you will suffer from one if not all of these.” Said Mrs. Spruce, “now, can anyone think of any health issues caused by alcohol?”
I started to drift away. It was all the same old shit Nan had told me when she caught me drunk after Rick’s sixteenth.
“Mr. Ashley,” I turned round. Mrs Spruce was giving me a shitty look, “you are yet to contribute today, perhaps you could tell me the effects of alcoholism.”
“Come on Mr. Ashley, you can do better than that.”
I decided it was best if said summat.
“Me mam says tha’ every time me dad gets back from t’pub he can’t piss straight.”
There were a few titters. Mrs Spruce looked like she’d been slapped.
“I’ve been warned about you, Mr. Ashley,” Oh, ‘ere we go, I thought, “but I will still not accept such language in my classroom.”
I was confused, I hadn’t said shit or fuck or cunt or nowt.
“Perhaps you can redeem yourself by telling me an effect of smoking.”
“Me nan smokes a twen’y-four pack a day, and it ain’t done nowt to ‘er.”
It was true, she even jogged round the block every morning.
Mrs. Spruce gave me a proper bad look, “Mr. Ashley, I see that you intend to get into trouble. I think we should see the Head Master.”
“But I ain’t done nowt wrong.”
I caught some of the looks of the others as I was kicked out, that Aaronson girl had a proper big smirk on her face, bitch.
Mrs. Spruce marched me to the Head’s office, she weren’t that strong, but once she started there weren’t no stopping her, if you know what I mean. We walked past the toilets and stopped Mr Deacon’s office. Mrs. Spruce knocked. We were asked in, and Mrs. Spruce opened the door to a small room with a woman at a desk. I recognised her from the last time I’d been here as Mr. Deacon’s secretary.
“I’ve brought Thomas Ashley in to see the Head Master.”
“I’m afraid he’s got a meeting at the moment Janet,” the secretary smiled at us, “if you leave him here I’ll send him in when Gareth’s ready.”
Mrs. Spruce nodded, “thank you Fiona,” and left.
The secretary pointed at a chair by the door, “If you sit there Mr. Deacon will be with you shortly.”
She turned back to her computer screen and started typing. I was fuming, that fucking cow Mrs. Spruce had had it in for me from the start. That wanker Deacon would be right chuffed if I’d got sent here me first day. I weren’t gonna wait for him.
“Erm miss?” I waved me hand and the secretary looked up, “can I go toilet miss?”
“You know where it is?” I nodded, “Ok, but don’t be long.”
As soon as I stepped out that office I was away. I jogged to the bog – which was empty – and snuck back into the cubicle where me bag was. I’d put a couple of Nan’s cigarette’s rolled up in a pair of socks down near the bottom. Nan would find out, but I’d lifted enough of me Mam’s shitty menthols to be sick of them, plus I reckoned I deserved a treat for me first day. I stuffed a couple fags in me pocket, and a lighter, and climbed back out the cubicle. I peered out the bog to check if the corridor was empty. It was, so I sauntered out and headed towards the fire exit at the end of the hall. Out the door was a small flat area of concrete, with some groundskeeper’s shed at the corner. Beyond the shed was a rugby pitch, which was kept from the woods beyond by a high fence. Behind the shed I was invisible from the skoil, so I leant against the wooden wall and lit up. After a few drags I had calmed down, I realised that I’d been nervous and angry, anall. It was bad timing for me to get in trouble first day, with Trev fucking off. Although, it meant our Nan and Mam would’ve had summat else to worry ‘bout.
I leant me head against the shed and took another drag, letting it sit in me lungs awhile. Nan’s cigarettes were way better than Mam’s, but Rick’s were the best: he laced them with a bit of green and a bit of ket, so they calmed you down but woke you up as well. Shit, I wanted one of them now.
“Alreight lad, you know you ain’t supposed to smoke on school property.”
Me arse went rat-tight, I’d been caught, so I might as well have another drag. I took one and turned to see a couple lads in hoodies. One took his hood of and it was Rick, grinning his fucking face off.
I went to cuff him but stopped. The other feller had taken his hood of. It was Trev.
I stood shocked still for a second, and then choked on the smoke I’d forgotten to breathe out. Trev gave me a tight grin.
“You ain’t old enough fu one o’ these anyhow.” Said Trev, taken me cigarette and having a long drag, before grinding it beneath his boot.
“Wha’ the fuck!”
“Ha, Tommy, you loo’ like yuh’ve seen a fuckin’ ghost.” Rick started giggling.
“Shu’ it yuh stupid fuck,” hissed Trev, “we’re nex’ t’ fucking skoil.”
Rick stopped giggling and started rifling through his pockets. His hands were shaking worse than usual.
I looked at Trev. I hadn’t noticed before, but he looked like shit. His face was pale and thin, and he had bags under his eyes. His duds weren’t half bad though: a brand new hoody and cargo pants.
“Wha’ the fuck Trev?” I repeated.
Trev scowled, and then looked around.
“C’mon, are you gettin’ out this shit ‘ole or what?”
I thought ‘bout it. I thought of me bag in the shitter, and how the teachers were probably looking for me by now. They were out to get me anyway, you could tell, and I was already in the shit for nowt so I might as well do summat worse.
Rick fumbled out two rollies and a lighter, and handed one to Trev. Trev waited till they were lit, took a drag, then turned to me.
“A man o’ many words, I like tha’. C’mon, there’s an ‘ole in’t fence.”
He was right, but I reckoned the fence didn’t have a hole before Trev and Rick got there. We squeezed ourselves through into the woods. Trev strode on after he’d gone through, and I had to jog to catch up.
“Wha’ the fuck Trev?”
“Ain’t none o’ your business.” He growled, striding on so I still had to jog.
“But where you been?”
Trev ignored me.
“Why di’n’t you ring us?”
He still ignored me.
“Wha’ ‘appened in Afghanistan?”
“Where you get them duds?”
Trev rounded on me.
“Alreight, I’m gonna answer one question, go’ it? I been stayin’ roun’ sum lasses ‘ouse.”
That was no help, Trev was a ladies man, and had banged more birds rotten than I could even remember. He used to bring them back Friday nights and keep us other three up. Me and Billy got sick of it, but the next day Rick was always fucking going on ‘bout his brother: the ‘stud’. Trev was Rick’s idol see: all Rick ever wanted was pussy, and that’s all that Trev ever got. I turned to Rick.
“Wha’the fuck you doing ‘ere, anall?”
Rick glanced at Trev, nervous-like, then tapped his nose and grinned.
“Alreight, be a fuckin’ wanker.”
We strode out of the edge of the woods onto the road, and headed towards a parked car a little further up.
“Whose car is tha’ Trev?”
“A mate’s. I though’ yuh were fuckin’ quiet, shit! I wouldn’t ha’ brought yuh if I thought yuh’d be so fuckin’ nosy!”
If he wanted to be a prick he could be a prick, I weren’t gonna argue. It was weird, the Trev I knew from before would’ve been joking and blethering the whole time – not like Rick mind, the old Trev was good company. He had scowled more than he’d smiled since him and Rick jumped me back at Woodlouse, and the one smile he gave me was weird. We got into the car and Trev started it up, pulling out into the traffic.
“’Ere, take tha’ fuckin’ uniform off ‘n’ don this ‘oody.” said Trev, throwing a hoody from the front.
I took me coit and tie off and pulled the hoody on over me shirt.
“alreigh’ our Tommy, I think yuh deserve t’know where we’re headed.”
There was a pause as Trev took a final drag of his rolly and chucked it out the window.
“We’ve go’ three of us Ashley boys ‘ere, it’s tam to pick up t’other.”