Chapter Twenty Four
When I got into school this morning Sal came running up to me, she was crying her eyes out. I thought it must be something really bad, like when Amy Winehouse died. All the girls in class were crying that day. I thought maybe Frankie Cocozza had died from a drugs overdose, or something.
I’ve never liked him, he’s just a male slut and he swears too much, but Sal thinks that he’s fit and says that if she went out with him, she’d stop him taking drugs and wouldn’t let him swear. She still thinks that if you’re pretty enough you can change people. I don’t think you can, well, not people like Frankie Cocozza, anyway.
She flung herself into my arms, ‘Kate, Kate why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Tell you what?’
‘About your Mum. The whole school is talking about it. People keep coming up and asking me stuff because I’m supposed to be your best friend. And I feel embarrassed because it’s the first I knew of it. You didn’t say anything. Is it true? Why didn’t you tell me? I tell you everything.’ She said the last bit as though she was hurt and like she was having a go at me, but this isn’t about her, so she’s got no right to get on my case about it.
I was shocked and didn’t know what to say? So I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even want to cry. It wasn’t that kind of sad.
‘So is it? Is it true? How bad is she? Does she have to wear adult sized nappies? That must be awful. You don’t have to change them, do you? Oh poor Kate. You poor thing. How are you coping?’
‘How do you know?’
‘Some kid in the first year’s dad worked with your dad. I heard he’s had to give up work because she walks round with knives, trying to kill everybody. And there’s a rumour that she stole a can of cat food off your neighbour’s window sill and was sitting on the curb and eating it in the street. Is that why you haven’t been letting me come round to yours, lately? I thought you were going to fall out with me. And I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. I’m your bezzie, you should have told me.’
I just stood there, I didn’t know what to say and she sounded so stupid and I wondered if people think I’m that stupid when I talk. I’ve never noticed it before, but she talks like a little kid. I put my bag in my locker and I didn’t want to talk.
‘What’s she going to do when the baby comes? Will she have it adopted? Because she can’t look after it, can she? How sad, having a new-born little brother and then not even getting to see him. They’ll take him off her as soon as he’s born, won’t they? That’s what Rachael Crowther said. And his new parents will get to pick his name, and they’ll send you a photograph of him every year on his Birthday, but you won’t be allowed to know where he is.’
I walked into the classroom and Sal was still whittering on and on, and some other people had come over and they were all listening and asking questions, as well. And I was just quiet. It was my Mum, not somebody that I didn’t know. I didn’t want to shock them with wild stories and make them all want to talk to me because it was so shocking, and I’d feel important in the class. I didn’t want any of that, because it’s not that kind of sadness, either. Not like when you want all your friends to ask you what’s wrong, and you tell them and then they’re on your side and make a big fuss of you. It’s my mum, and it’s private.
I felt all this angriness building up inside me. I could feel it in my stomach and my body was so mad that it started to tremble. I was just about to start picking things up and throwing them and screaming and shouting and ranting because it hurts so much. That’s what kind of sad it was. My hands were on the back of my chair and my knuckles were all white and I was looking at them with the four bones sticking out.
Then Sal put her arm around me, ‘Move away, you lot. Go and sit down. Can’t you see she’s in shock? She doesn’t want to talk about it.’ And she pulled my chair out. And she sat me down. And then she said something that changed everything, she said. ‘Kate if there’s anything I can do, please tell me. I want to help.’ And suddenly she seemed older again. And I wasn’t so angry; I felt it going down inside me. I just smiled and then, when I was thinking about what to say, Miss walked in and I didn’t have to say anything. A few people were going to their seats and they touched me on the shoulder as they walked past, and when I looked at people they smiled at me and looked sorry for me, like I’d just been told that I’ve got cancer and I’m going to die.
Miss Court had heard too, maybe she’d known for awhile because I told Miss Chew and Dad had been in touch with the school and has had meetings about me, and stuff. I bet they’d discussed it in the staff room, but today it was different because the whole school knew.
‘Kate, are you all right?’ she asked, looking at me.’
‘Do you want to leave the room for a few minutes? You can go and sit in the library for a little while if you need to?’ Did she think reading a couple of chapters of Little Women, or something, would help? Maybe if I read five pages of Moby Dick, my Mum wouldn’t be crazy when I got home.
I shook my head. And she started the lesson on French verbs.
At dinner time, Craig Morgan told everybody to move down one and he told me to get in at the head of the queue. There’s nothing wrong with my legs and I felt embarrassed. People still kept asking me questions all day and I just said that my Mum was okay. I told them that she doesn’t wear nappies, or carry knives or eat cat food and that sometimes she’s just normal, like anybody else’s Mum.
They wanted to know what she was like when she wasn’t normal. And it was like the Amy Winehouse day all over again, with everybody wanted to get every detail that they could, so that they could feel excited and sad all at the same time. I told them that I didn’t want to talk about it and Sal was like my bodyguard. She kept telling everybody to leave me alone.
Everybody was really kind and nice though. But that was until home time. At home time it all changed and then it was like the worst day of my life.
I got my bag and I was talking to Sal and Mel about how cool it would be to be an air stewardess. We all want to be trolley dollies when we leave school and work on the same flight so that we get lots of really great holidays together. Dan Cotter’s gang were hanging around on the top field just outside the main doors. They’ve never bothered me, so I didn’t even notice them; they’re always hanging around somewhere. And then they came over and pushed Sal and Mel out of the way.
The next thing I knew, I was by myself and they had made a circle around me like in that game that you play in juniors. It’s called, The Farmer’s In His Den. And you start off with one person in the middle and everybody sings, and then he gets a wife, and then kids, and you end up with him picking a dog. And you’re supposed to pat the dog, but the farmer always picks the school scratter, or the fat kid, or the gay kid and everybody smacks the dog really hard. Nobody ever wants to be the dog, because you know if you are it you’re unpopular. I never played it. I thought it was cruel.
They were all in a circle and they started singing, ‘Your mother is nuts. Your Mother is nuts. Ee,ie,di a di o you Mother is nuts.’ And I looked up and they were all skipping round and round really fast and laughing at me. And I saw that Sammi and Sharon had joined in and then some of the other not-so-bad kids joined in, too. They just kept going round and round and singing and laughing and Dan cotter put his tongue in his front lip and made duh noises at me. And Ryan said, ‘Katie, Katie, who the F*** is Katie,’ like my mum had forgotten me. And then everybody started saying it. And they’re still holding hands and going round and round and round. It was as though their faces had grown three times their normal size, but they hadn’t, it just felt that way.
I could hear Sal shouting at them to stop and she kept pulling at their hands to try and break the circle, but they just went faster and shouted louder and she fell over. I heard her saying that she was going to get a teacher. I tried to run out of the circle but they just kept pushing me back in.
And then the circle did break and Danny Peterson ran into the middle. He went straight for Cotter because it’s his gang and if he wasn’t doing it all the others would stop, too. And he bowled right into him knocking him over. They started rolling around on the grass and fighting and then everybody started shouting, ‘Fight. Fight. Fight.’ kids came from all over the field and poured out of the school. And Cotter was on top of Danny. And he had his arms pinned down with his knees. And he kept hitting him over and over again.
Mr Crawford and Mr Hunter came running over and shouted at the top of their voices to break it up. And it was like the sea parting in the bible because all of the kids moved out of their way to let them in to the middle of the circle. Mr Hunter grabbed Cotter, who was still hitting Danny, and dragged him up. Cotter had blood running from his nose.
‘What’s going on here,’ Mr Crawford yelled really loud. ‘What is the meaning of this?’
‘Nothing, sir,’ Danny said. He’d stood up and his face was all covered in blood. He dusted his pants down, they had grass stains all over them and his shirt was torn. Sir was telling them both off and Danny Peterson just walked away. Cotter tried to get him again but Mr Hunter held him back.
‘I’m gonna get you Peterson. You’ve just made a big enemy, son. Watch your back Peterson cos you’re a (F-bomb) dead man. We’re going to get you every single day, so get used to it gay boy.’
Mr Hunter and Mr Crawford were screaming at Cotter and asking the crowd what had happened. And Danny just carried on walking over to me. I was crying. It was horrible. He asked me if I was all Right but didn’t wait for an answer. And then he put his arm around me and walked me over to the railings at the side of the field.
Some of the kids told Mr Crawford that Danny Peterson had actually started the fight. ‘Right, both of you. My office now,’ screamed Mr Crawford. He was really angry.
Danny ignored him and put his arms around me really tight and cuddled me into him. ‘Don’t cry, Kate. It’s all right. I’m here now. Wait here for me, okay. I’m going to walk you home.’ I just nodded. And then the weirdest thing happened. I felt him kiss the top of my head.