I think we were in Year 3 when he appeared; we were about eight. One day, not the start of a new year or anything, he just turned up. Nobody took any notice of him because he was a skinny stinker. I saw him standing in the playground pretending not to care.
He was such a little weasel and he was called Walter. He was almost invisible, a little itch you’d notice now and then, scratch until it bled, then ignore. I never made him bleed. The other kids did. I never scratched him.
He wasn’t the class bully; he was the opposite of that. I don’t know the word for it. I’ll call him the class itch or the itch for short.
I wasn’t the bully or the itch. I wasn’t anyone’s friend. I wasn’t friends with the bully and he wasn’t friends with me, but he didn’t make me bleed.
The itch wanted to be my friend. I’d given him my hankie when his nose was bust and he thought I was his friend. I wasn’t; the teacher was watching.
He was a shadow, always there, stuck to me, invisible, silent, needy. He got on my wick.
I walked home and he followed. He was a freak.
He walked on to his house. He lived down the street from me. I didn’t even know that.
I was nosey. I spied on him. I saw his mam through the window. She was thin and mean and drinking wine. I didn’t know it was wine until I was about eight and three quarters and we had a party and Mam and Dad had a wine box for the guests. She was lolling in a chair, smoking cigs and drinking wine. The house was really messy but she didn’t see me spying.
The itch would flit in and out, come and go, fetch and carry. She lolled and shouted. He got a right crack for something but I couldn’t hear properly, only swear words.
He was like a trembly weed, thin and bent and lonesome and groveling. She didn’t half belt him. With her hand. Across his white, itchy face. His head snapped back then fell forward again, too heavy for his scraggy neck. And then she did a funny thing. She grabbed him and hugged him and kissed him and cried and drank wine. He just stood there until she let go, then he disappeared.
I watched every day for months. It was always exciting. And he always got a bashing.
I started to walk with the itch because I was the boss. He would speak if I asked questions. If I’d told him to carry my bag, then he would have. I didn’t want him touching my stuff though because he smelled of wee and cabbage and tomato soup. If I’d told him to tie my shoelace then he would have, if he could have, but he couldn’t do laces because his mam was busy doing blow jobs to pay for his new fucking shoes and socks.
That’s what he said to me when I said could he do laces because his were always undone. He said fucking shoes and socks, just like that. It didn’t sound rude it just sounded like his mam. He glanced out the corner of his eyes at me and I glanced back and we both laughed.
Laughing with the itch was not a good move. He thought we were blood brothers or something, just because I’d laughed. I decided to punish him and didn’t say one word either on the way to school or on the way home.
He was squirming and I knew he was dying to say something like ‘Are you my friend?’ or ‘Can we be blood brothers?’
Now I wish he’d said can we be blood brothers? Because then I would have laughed in his face. Not a real laugh, a sneery laugh.
I couldn’t get my head round his mam. How could she be a hairdresser – she was always there, in her chair, drinking wine, swearing and slapping? Her hair was messy; white and black and yellow. My mam wouldn’t have gone for a blow job to her, she was a mole.
I knew all sorts about the itch and he knew nothing about me. His house was falling to pieces. The front window was covered in sticky tape to cover a big smash but it didn’t work. I could hear everything now.
He was always scratched and pale and smelly.
He let me into his house one day in the holidays. His mam had gone to see a man about a dog. He was mad and I’d never seen him mad before. He said his mam had got this kitten and now she was seeing a man about a dog. He hated the kitten. It scratched him. Everybody scratched him. His mam loved it and let it wee on the carpet. I’d seen through the window and it was draped round her neck. It sssssisssssed at the itch when she swore and slapped his face. Then it smiled and snuggled down into her greasy, stinky neck and went to sleep.
I laughed at the itch. He was scared of the kitten. He hated the kitten. I picked it up by its tail and swung it round and round and round my head. It screamed. The itch went whiter than he already was – he went a bit pale blue. His eyes filled up with tears. I laughed. I let go of the tail and it whizzed across the room and smacked into the wall. I went home.
She never got a dog. She got another kitten. I cut its ears off. I knelt on it so it didn’t scratch. It sort of groaned and pinky white sick came out of its mouth. It was still squirming and I pushed it into his school bag. He was roaring and wiping snot on his sleeve. He wouldn’t carry the bag because it was jumping and twitching. I threw it in the lake.
He was waiting at our gate. Back to school day. Year Four. Nearly Top Dogs, but not really. Not the itch; he didn’t have any socks on.
I said, ‘Where are your socks you freak?’
He shrugged his pointy shoulders and grinned a stupid grin.
‘Where’s your tooth?’
He’d tripped and knocked it out.
‘Yeah right!’ I said, ‘You’re a lying freak.’
And he said, ‘You’re a fucking freaking fucker.’
And we laughed.
I knew she’d slapped it out of his head and he knew I knew, but we just laughed.
I told him to wait at the gate. I ran inside and got him some of my socks. He grinned when I held them up. White socks with frilly tops. Put them on you freaky fucker freak. He did and he danced down the street and clicked his heels together.
Everyday he’d be there with no socks and every day I’d bring a pair of my socks for him. Girl socks with bows or pom poms. I told him he was a one tooth girly itch and he said, I know. He liked being different.
One Saturday I saw him lurking in the street. He was looking for me but pretending not to. He was wearing a hat – a knitted hat.
I went out and pulled his hat off. He was bald. His head was shaved but you could see a dark shadow where his hair should be. A red, spongy, bald patch covered with spots of blood. It was as big as an apple, a red, spongy, bald, apple.
I said, ‘What happened to you, sponge bob bald head?’
He said he had a fight with a lawn mower.
I said, ‘Don’t lie, your mam did it.’
He grinned his toothless grin. The inside of his lip was cut and yellow. I knew.
‘Did it hurt?’
He said, ‘No.’
Lying baldy bastard.
‘When can I meet your mam?’
He grinned and said, ‘The twelfth of fucking never.’
I said I would call for him on Saturday. He bit his lip with one tooth and rubbed his spongy, bald apple with his fist and said. ‘Fucking won’t.’
I knocked on the door. Six big knocks. He yanked the door open. A pale blue freak in a hat.
He whispered, a lispy, panicky whisper, ‘Fuck off … ‘
I put my foot in the door and he glanced down at my new sandals. Black, shiny with real diamonds.
‘I want to show your mam my sandals.’
‘She’s in bed.’ He was still whispering.
‘I don’t care.’ I pushed the door and I pushed the itch and I was in.
What a stinky hole. It smelled like him, like wee and tomato soup and cabbage, but worse. There was stuff all over the place. Glasses and ashtrays and cig packets and make up and clothes and tins and bottles and bits of food and knives and forks and knitting.
‘Can you knit, sponge bob bald head?’
The itch grinned and whispered, ‘Fuck you.’
I picked the knitting up. It was neat and navy blue and it smelled.
‘What is she knitting?’
I slid all the tidy stitches off the cold grey needle and swung the knitting round and around my head. It unraveled, a woolen slinky. His eyes popped out of his blue, scratchy face. His tooth hung down in his slack mouth.
‘I’m dead now,’ he said.
‘Where is she?’ I said, and poked him with the needle.
‘She’s in bed, I told you.’
‘Where’s her bed? I want to see her. I want to tell her about the knitting and show her my shoes with real diamonds.’ I pointed to the diamonds with the needle and I poked him again. ‘I am a princess and this is my wand and I will turn you into a dead kitten with no ears.’
‘Stop it!’ he said, ‘You can’t see her; she’s asleep. We’ll both be dead.’ His voice was all shaky and whispery.
There was only one closed door. I walked towards it and the itch followed, trembling and twisting his shirt and saying ‘Oh no! Oh Jesus, no!’
Her bedroom smelled really bad. It was stinking. A stinking mess and she was there, fast asleep with her smudged lipsticked gob wide open. Mascara and eyeliner trapped bits of yellow hair as it cracked and crept across her face. She was a fucking freaky mole. She was a liar. She wasn’t a hairdresser.
The itch touched my arm. He didn’t speak but he was begging me with his blue face and his watery eyes and his trembling lip. I grinned, showing him all my perfect teeth. I shook my head, tossing my hair back and forth across his face.
She didn’t flinch. I pushed the knitting needle quickly, quickly into her ear. It stopped, stuck. She opened her eyes. I gave it one mighty slap and it popped and broke through into red, spongy, sponge stuff.
We went down the park and threw his hat in the lake.
The Maj Monologues Competition, His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth – People’s Choice Award
British Broadcasting Corporation – shortlisted for the Opening Lines Short Story Competition
Brit Writers’ Award (Short Story) – finalist
Trudy Graham Award for Short Stories – second prize
Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre – Literature that Lingers Award
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