Posts Tagged ‘tumbleweeds’


June 5, 2012

“For how long?” I ask.
“Two weeks.”
“Come on, Harry, that’s too much. How about one week?”
“How about three weeks?”
“A week and a half?” I offer.
“Four,” he counters.

I was getting nowhere fast. I knew this game too well. I knew how it was played, where it was going, and who was going to lose out.  I decided to change tactic.

“Harry, please, let me use it. I’ll pay. How much is a text?”
“Nothing. They’re free.”
“Your texts are free and you still won’t let me use it!”
“Why should I?”

This was my brother through and through. If there was nothing in it for him, there was nothing in it. But he has a phone and I don’t. Desperately, I try appealing to his emotions. If he has any, that is.

“Come on, Harry. For me. For your little brother.”
“You can use it,” he replies.
“Thanks,” I say, relieved.
“If you do my washing-up for 4 weeks.”

He clearly doesn’t. Reluctantly, I agree to his terms.

*             *             *

My brother is not my favourite person in the world. I’m not his either.  He’s 15. Two and a half years older than me. Two and a half inches taller too. Our relationship consists mainly of bargaining. Pretty much as a rule; the longer I stand my ground, the less well-off I come. It’s just a question of at which point I wish to give in. I’ve learned a lot from this ritual of ours, so that these days I concede almost immediately. It’s easier in both the short and the long run.

We used to get on much better. We did lots of stuff together; kicking a football, or playing video games in one of his friends’ houses, or swimming in the pool near the mill outside town. He’d let me tag along if he was going off somewhere with his friends. I never said much, and wasn’t any good at sports, but he didn’t mind. I stuck close to him by choice, and he would never let me get too far off anyway.  But that was when we were younger. In the last couple of years, we’ve stopped hanging out so much. It began happening less and less when he started secondary. And when I started too, it stopped altogether.

I remember walking out the door with him on my first day in St Martin’s. Mam had given us lunches in plastic wrap, instead of in a lunchbox. I was growing up. No longer a child. My sandwiches were wrapped. Just like my dad’s were.

“Look out for your little brother at school.”
“MAM!”  I say, embarrassed.
“I will,” says Harry, as we close the front door behind us.

Secretly, it was good to hear though. I had been apprehensive about going to secondary.  So, as we walked down the hill to the stop, I was looking forward to being brothers again. It was exciting: to be entering his world, and not to be surrounded by a school full of kids. Still though, I did feel anxious, when I thought about starting the new school. Having my big brother with me meant a lot. It was reassuring.  As we were getting nearer to the church parking lot where the school bus picked us up, he began to speed up. So, so did I.

“Stay behind me!” he calls back at me.
“What? Why?”
“Just ‘cos,” he answers, speeding up even more.

I try to go faster too, but can barely keep up without breaking into a run. I look at him racing ahead of me, with his head down and hood up, and wonder why he is so angry with me. What had I said? What had I done?

Then, turning back at me, he adds, “Don’t stand near me at the bus stop either.”
“Ok. I won’t,” I agree. Both confused and saddened.
“Or at school. Or anywhere.”
“But…” I begin to whimper.
“You don’t know me, ok?”

I suppose I didn’t. Not right now anyway. I give up trying to keep up with him, and let the distance between us grow. I couldn’t understand why he was doing this. It felt like a small hole had appeared in my belly and had started growing. My lip began to quiver, and I fought back the tears. I wasn’t going to cry. I cried on my first day of primary, but I was a baby then. I couldn’t cry now. I bit down hard, and kept them in. I walked on and got to the stop and stood away from Harry. I glanced over at him for a moment. He was talking with his friends, and he wouldn’t even look at me. They were laughing together, pushing each other around. His anger had completely disappeared. As if by magic.

*             *             *

Harry lent me his phone for an hour in exchange for a month of doing his chores. I put these future consequences to the back of my mind, and felt a surge of excitement. I ran up to my room with it, and put in Mary Jo’s number, and selected ‘send message’. A blank screen appeared on the phone. I stared at it. For a very long time. Equally blank. What should I say? How should I say it? I wrote two lines. I deleted one of them. I wrote two more and deleted the first one I had written. I added another line, and then I deleted them all. This wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

I looked at my watch. I had already wasted fifteen minutes just staring at the thing.
‘Oh damn it’ I say to myself. Just write something.

‘Hi, Mary Jo. It’s Glasses. How are you?’

The ‘message sent’ icon appears. I stare at it anxiously. My heartbeat quickens. I hope she responds before my hour is… The phone bleeps: ‘1 new message’

‘hola muy bien wot u up 2?’ it reads.

I don’t quite get it. I know the words. The Spanish at least. Plus the word ‘up’. The rest takes a while for me to decipher.

‘Nothing much. Just starting my homework. You?’ I respond.
‘me 2 u wanna c 1 of my cartoons’
‘I’d love to. Did you make it on your DS?’
‘no drw wd my BFF snap & gif.’

I’m in over my head here. What does any of that mean!? Where are the vowels?

BFF:  Is that her Big BoyFriend? My heart sinks.
I hope not. Is a BFF is some new electronic device? Who knows?
snap: Is that her boyfriend’s nickname? My heart sinks further.
gif: Does that mean her girlfriend? My heart… I don’t know what it does. But it moves.

The phone bleeps again. ‘1 new message’. I press it. It reads ‘Play’. I press that too.

A cartoon appears, playing in a loop. There is a big rabbit playing basketball. With other baby bunnies. But there is no ball. The big one is using the babies as the balls. The little bunnies hop and bounce all over the place, as the big one tosses, dribbles, and slam dunks them around the screen.

‘That’s funny. You’re very talented.’
‘tnx do u draw stff 2’
‘I’d like to, but I’m absolutely rubbish. I can’t even draw the curtains.’

‘rotfwl its ez ill tch u’

Her rottweiler is ill!? She’ll touch me!? I am confused. I am excited. I am lost. My brother comes in and tells me that my hour was up ten minutes ago and I owe him another week of dishes. I plead with him to give me a minute longer. He agrees. For another month of the washing-up.

‘I have to go. This homework won’t do itself.’
‘lol c u @ school 2mrw’

I pass the phone back to Harry. He takes it from me grumpily and walks out of my room. I lie back on my bed and stare up at the hole in the ceiling. What does ‘lol’ mean? Is it ‘lots of love’? Was she sending me love? I’m not sure. Maybe it does. Maybe she loves me?

*             *             *

It means ‘laugh out loud’. Apparently everybody knows that. So, I guess she doesn’t love me. But I think she might like me. A bit anyway. We have become text-friends. Even if now I am now doing Harry’s dishes for the rest of my life. I don’t really care though. It’s still worth it. We have become real friends too: Mary Jo and I. We started to hang out at school, and spend our small break together, and chat to each other between classes in our home-room. She makes me feel relaxed and excited at the same time. For two weeks since, we’ve talked every school day. I’d never been able to talk to a girl as easily as I could with her. She made me laugh all the time. Sometimes intentionally. Sometimes unintentionally. Sometimes both. I got up in the morning and looked forward to school. Everything became brighter.

*             *             *

It was a Wednesday. Mam and dad were in the next room watching telly. I was at the kitchen table doing homework. My brother came home late. Almost ten o’clock. He had been at football practice. He walked in, went to the fridge, grabbed the juice, and poured himself a glass. I didn’t even look at him. He took a gulp and sat down beside me. I lifted my head from my schoolbooks.

“Do you like that girl you’ve been texting?” he asks.
“She’s ok.”
“I read some of the texts you guys sent.”
“Sorry.” I say, trying to concentrate on my homework. “I meant to delete them.”

We haven’t talked in a long while. My brother and I. I mean, an actual conversation. He pushes the glass around the table, and looks into it. I pretend to still be writing. I scribble in the margin.

“She rang me.”
“What!?” My doodling suddenly stopping.
“She rang me when I was coming back from training.”
“You mean she rang me!?”
“Whatever. Anyway, I answered.”
“Harry!” My heart begins its descent. That little hole reappears in my insides. I teeter near its brink.
“I didn’t know who it was! No name came up. So I answered.”

Why did I lie to her? And such a stupid lie too. I should have just told her that I didn’t own a phone. She wouldn’t have cared. She’s not that kind of girl. I know that now.

“So she knows it’s not my phone?” I ask anxiously.
“No. I lied to her.” He says. “I told her you were asleep.” This makes me feel a little more relaxed.
“What did she want?”
“She wanted help with her Spanish.”

I don’t do Spanish, but our mother is from Spain, so we were brought up speaking both languages.

“I should ring her,” I say. “Or do you think it’s too late?”
“There’s no need.”
“Why not?”
“I already helped her out.”
I look at him. There is a mischievousness in his face. The sound of the telly buzzes from the next room. We hear the cackle of the canned laughter. Our parents’ cackle quickly follows.

“You don’t like her, do you?” he asks.
“She’s alright.” I can feel the blushes running to my cheeks.
“Yeah, you do,” he says.
“No, I don’t.”

I try not to smile. Of course I like her. Harry must be really enjoying winding me up. But in a way, it was good to be talking to him. He used always tease me like this. I hated it, but at the same time I think I’d missed it too. Not the teasing exactly. But the interaction. We had become so distant.

“Really?” He asks.
“Honest.” I reply. My embarrassment showing.
“You really don’t like her?”
“NO!” I deny her for a third time.
“Good. Because I went round to hers to help with her Spanish, and we ended up kissing.”

I drop my pen, and stare at him in shock. He’s having me on. He must be. Or is he? His face is calm and serious. He does not smile. He is not joking. He was with her. My heart collapses in upon itself. My own brother! He’s kissed loads of girls. I haven’t. I haven’t kissed one. Why Mary Jo? Why did he have to kiss her? The only girl I feel anything for.

“Sorry, man. That’s life,” he adds, with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Cabrón!” I say, raising my voice. “You know I like her.”
“But you just said you didn’t.”
“But I do!”
“So why did you lie?”

I don’t know why I’d lied. Either to her, or to him. I just do. I feel stupid and angry. My brother sits across from me coolly. A cruel smirk forming on his face. That well inside me swells and swells. Rising from the pit of my stomach. Taking over. Till something inside me snaps. I stand up, kicking my chair back from under me, and throw my homework at his head. All my books. My pens. My notebooks. He deflects them to the floor with ease. I start to shout at him. Cursing and damning and swearing. As loudly as I can. I tell him I hate him and will never forgive him. I tell him I wish he was dead and that I never want to speak to him again. My parents burst in angrily and begin to shout at me too, but I storm out of the kitchen before they can give out, and I run upstairs to my room.

I slammed my bedroom door behind me and dove onto my bed. Everything I’d ever felt or hadn’t felt rose within my belly. I let it scream itself out of me; let it roar into the silence of the mattress. All the ‘aaaaaah’s, and ‘oooooow’s, and ‘uh uh huh’s. The million tears I’d fought back. I let them tear themselves out of me. And when I had finally finished, I turned and lay on my back, in despair. I wiped my cheeks with the back of my hand and stared up at the hole in the ceiling, and for the briefest of moments, I allowed myself to believe that it was in fact the leaking pipe above me that had made my face so wet. Which made me feel better. But only very, very slightly.



May 30, 2012

If only my mother had got me what I’d asked for for Christmas, what happened would never have happened. At least, it probably wouldn’t have. And maybe things with Mary Jo and me would have gone differently. Could have gone well. It wasn’t that my parents couldn’t afford it. It was just that my mother didn’t want me having one. Instead, I got a Playstation. I found it under the tree and unwrapped it. Why had she got me this? This useless console? This wasn’t what I’d asked for. I left the sitting room and went to her bedroom. She was already up, drying her hair by the dresser.

“MAM!” I call loudly. “MAM!”
She turns around and sees me at the door.
“¿Que es?” she asks, switching off the hairdryer. The sound drowning away.
“What’s this?” I ask dejectedly.
“Is what you asked for,” she says.
“It’s what I asked for two years ago!”
“Well, now you has one.”
“But, nobody uses these anymore, Mam.”
“Did you or did you not ask a Playstation from us?”
“I did, yeah. Two years ago. But I don’t want one now.”
“Now that you has one?”
“See,” she adds philosophically. “We always want what we can’t have.” As though this has somehow resolved the issue, absolving herself of any responsibility for my disappointment. She turns back around to the mirror, flicks the hairdryer back on, and returns to combing her hair. The noise fills the room. I stand in the doorway, and stare at her incredulously.

*    *    *

Mary Jo Sullivan is a girl in my class. In our home-room, she sits in the row to the left of mine, one seat back. My desk is right in the middle of the class. She has a big ball of fuzzy hair on her head. Like a tumbleweed.  Kind of greyish in colour. Tiny, dusty curls. Her desk is always cluttered with little balls of crumpled paper. They litter the ground around her feet too. A bit like tumbleweed as well. Blowing past. These little balls of scrap paper. They seem to be drawn towards her.

I’m a bit drawn to her too. I don’t know why, but I am. I like her. I think I do anyway. I mean, like, I like her. But I’m not sure if I like, like like her.  I just think she’s funny. She doesn’t even know she is, but she is.

Mary Jo is a scatterbrain, always wandering cluelessly around the corridors between classes looking for the right room. I suspect she may be incapable of reading a timetable, so often does she wander into the wrong class. She’s never on the right page. Literally and metaphorically. Sometimes she’s not even on the right book. Whenever a teacher asks her to read and she hasn’t a clue where we’re supposed to be, she goes bright red and giggles nervously. And even when everybody starts to laugh at her, she doesn’t seem to mind. Instead of being humiliated, like I know I would be, she seems to find it just as silly as everyone else does. ‘Mary, Mary, away with the fairies.’ Girls in school are always saying that to her. Though she never seems to mind this either. This big bright smile forms on her face when they say it. As though it amuses her too.

I like the way she looks.  Kind of all over the place. Her mismatched clothes. Her constantly undone shoelaces and uncontrollable hair.  She always looks like she’s just come off a rollercoaster. But still she’s pretty. She’s doesn’t have the shiny hairdos other girls do. Or the long painted nails. Or the eyeshadow or the earrings, or any of that stuff.  But she has these big wide eyes that make her seem in a constant state of surprise. Her skin is light with barely a freckle. And there are dimples in her cheeks even when she’s not smiling, though she usually is. These things; girls can’t buy.

*    *    *

“Ask her for her number.”
“How!?” I ask.
“Just go up and start a conversation, and then ask her.”
“I can’t do that!”
“Course you can. Just go up to her between classes and say hi.”

It seemed so easy the way Twenty Percent says it. It seemed the simplest thing in the world to him.  He means it too. I’ve seen him do it loads of times: just walk up to a girl and start chatting to her and then ask for her number. Not that he ever got a number from them, but that never seemed to put him off.  Twenty Percent’s 0% success rate with girls never discourages him or makes him re-think or question his approach. Luckily, this hasn’t become common knowledge, or he could end up with an even worse nickname than the one he already has. I’d say if he became known as Zero Percent, he’d start to miss what he is being called at the moment. He’d start missing the twenty percent he used to have.

“But I dunno what to say to her. How do I start a conversation?”
“Talk about her sketches or something like that.”
“But I don’t know anything about drawing.”
“So! Who does? Just pretend you do. ”

She’s always drawing.  That’s where all the scraps of paper come from. She crumples them up if she makes even a small mistake. She draws these odd pictures on her bag, and on her pencil case. She draws on all her books and copies.  She puts little characters in the corners of every page, so that when you flick the corners you can see little cartoons. Even in Art class, she can’t hold back from putting her little characters clambering all over her still lifes. No matter what Miss Simmons asks us to do, Mary Jo always goes and does something a bit different. Miss Simmons never gives out to her though. I think she encourages it. She says art is all about ‘expressing yourself’. But I don’t have anything to express.

“So, I just pretend I’m into drawing?”
“And then, what do I do?”
“Say you’ve something funny to text her, and ask for her number.”
“But I don’t.”
“It doesn’t matter. Just say you do.”

Mary Jo’s grades and mine are like the reverse of each other. Art is the one subject I do badly in, and the only one in which she does well. I suck at art. I’m easily the worst in class. I can’t even stay inside the lines in a colouring book.  I get A’s in all my other subjects though. Not because I’m smart. I’m not. I just have a really good memory. If I hear or read something once, I can remember it without any effort. But art isn’t about remembering things. It’s about something else. Something Mary Jo has: talent. If you were to judge us by our grades, you would think that I am the gifted student, and Mary Jo is the dunce, but I think the opposite is true. She is the one to watch. She is the one with the gift.

*    *    *

The next day during the eleven o’clock break I saw her in the yard. In her mismatched clothes. With a new purple denim cap on her head. Though it wasn’t really on her head. More like it was on her hair. Just balancing there on top of her curls. She was on her own, leaning against the wall outside the first year building, playing her Nintendo DS.  She was engrossed in her game; with that childish smile on her face.  I watched her from outside the canteen, trying to pluck up the courage to go and speak to her. I could see her nibbling on her lower lip with her upper teeth. I look at my watch. 11:15 it reads. Five minutes to next class. ‘It’s now or never’ I say to myself. I take a deep breath, and begin to walk across the yard. She gets closer and closer. I haven’t even thought about what I’ll say to her. I hope something comes to me when I get there. I really do. But, quicker than I’d imagined, there I am. Standing beside her.

“Hi,” I venture.
“Hey,” she says, without looking up.
“I like your cap”
“Thanks,” she says.

There’s a short silence, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She is too wrapped up in her DS. This eases my nerves somehow.

“What are you playing?” I ask.
“Picross 3D.”
“What’s your score?”
“There’s no score in Picross,” she replies matter-of-fact-ly.
“No.” She still hasn’t even looked at me.
“So, like, how do you play then?” I wonder if she even knows it’s me she’s talking to.
“You kind of make pictures out of blocks and stuff,” she explains.
“Oh, ok.”


“So, you like drawing then?”

More silence.

“I’ve seen your cartoons in your copybooks. They’re pretty good.”
“Thanks.” She just continues poking the screen with her DS pen. She seems happily disinterested. I look at my watch. 11:18. Two minutes till class.

“I’d like to see some more of your stuff some time.”

Again: silence. I wait for the tumbleweed to blow past.

I stand there awkwardly trying to think of how to subtly ask for her number, and can’t come up with either a plausible reason or the courage to ask her with.  But just as I’m about to give up, say bye, and walk off; the unexpected magically happens. She taps one last time on the screen, closes her DS, slips the stylus into its back, and says, “Sure.”  Then reaching into her bag, pulls out her phone, and asks, “What’s your number?”
“What!” I say, unable to believe what she’s asked.
“What’s your number? I have a few animations I’ve made saved onto my phone. I’ll send you some of them.”

She’s asking for my number! This; I had definitely not expected. I’m completely taken aback, and am so elated that for the briefest of moments I manage to forget what my mam didn’t buy me for Christmas. I forget that I don’t have a mobile phone. I don’t have a number to give her. Why wouldn’t my mother buy one for me? It’s the only thing I asked for. I must be the only kid in school who doesn’t have one. My folks have no clue how embarrassing this is.

“Eh, I don’t have my phone with me,” I say. “My mam won’t let me take it to school.”
“Right,” she says, unfazed. “So, what’s your number anyway?”

Should I tell her the truth or not? I probably should. She probably won’t care. Maybe I’ll just tell her that I don’t have one. Or will she think that my family is really poor? If I don’t have a phone? And I suppose, I’ve already told her one lie, so… No, I’ll just tell her the truth. It’s easier if I tell her the truth.

“I forget it,” I lie.
“You forget your own telephone number!?” That big bright smile breaking across her face.
“I know,” I say.” I’m an idiot.” And I begin to laugh too. “It’s a new phone,” I add. “I just got it. Still can’t remember the number.”
“And I thought you remembered everything,” she says teasingly.
I am stunned that she knows this about me. I am stunned that she knows anything about me. But I am still stuck in this sticky situation. Small lies begetting bigger lies.

“I don’t ring myself a lot.” I try to joke.
And even more unbelievably, she finds this funny. She starts to laugh that cute, nasal chuckle of hers.
“Nor do I,” she chips in, which tickles us both. And here we are, standing here talking, and laughing, and looking straight at each other, and I can’t believe how easy it all is. This is great. I realise I do like her. I like, like like her. Like, I like her a lot.

“How about you give me your number?” I say. “Then, I’ll text you after school.” She says ok and pulls out a pen and writes her number on my hand. She’s actually touching my hand! Holding it! She glances up at me with those huge eyes of hers as she does so. Her dimples deepen as she smiles; whether at me or to herself I do not know. She finishes and puts the pen back inside her bag. I look at the number on my hand, and instantly memorize it. We share a look, and just then the bell goes.

“What have you got now?” I ask.
“Spanish,” she says. “You?”
“Right. See you later,” she chirps as she turns to go. “Text me.”
“I will.” I say.

‘If I can think of a way,’ I say to myself. I remain there for a moment longer, watching her. Away she goes, meandering towards her next lesson. Gentle and carefree.  She is so lovely. And for the first time I realise how much she may mean to me. I stay there, where I am, my heart and eyes following her as she goes. Heading off towards her class; in what I’m pretty sure is the wrong direction.