The Breakdowns .7 (Part II)
By Mark Burrow
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At lunchtime, Edgar, Anne and me go to the chippie and then walk to a small playground surrounded by blocks of three-storey flats.
Edgar sits on a swing. Anne squeezes herself onto a tiny metal roundabout and slowly kicks herself round.
I’ve already eaten half my chips on the walk over, feeling the food go into my belly.
Edgar says, You know Mr Boxson?
He gave me detention last term.
I bet he did.
He’s a paedo.
Edgar shakes his head. I can’t reveal my sources.
Next time you’re in his class, check out how close he gets, especially to the girls. He’s well creepy.
Anne stops kicking the roundabout. Can we talk about something else, please?
Edgar looks at me and then at her, saying, Course. And then he goes to Anne, How come you’re not eating?
I’m not hungry, she says.
You never eat.
She doesn’t answer.
He shoves a handful of chips into his mouth, swallowin some and saying, It’s okay, my eldest sister, Indira, was anorexic.
Edgar, I say, givin him this shut-up look.
Anne doesn’t flip out, which is what I think she’s gunna do. Instead, she sees the funny side of how Edgar says any fucken thing that flies into his head.
I’m not anorexic, she says.
Edgar swallows his chips. That’s what Indira used to tell us.
The doctor calls it bulimia.
Edgar and I take in what she says.
He goes, Is that where you eat loads in one go and then make yourself puke?
Does it hurt? I say.
Does what hurt?
When you make yourself puke.
You get used to it, she says.
Edgar flicks a chip to a couple of pigeons, who flap their wings to be the first to the scraps. I’m not sharin my chips with no one.
What happened to her? says Anne.
Who? says Edgar, tossing another chip.
No one ever mentions her not eating anymore. She married a complete nob and moved out. He’s fucking loaded… Does some banking job in the City… He said he’ll get me a job when I leave school.
Anne says, Is she better?
He waits a couple of seconds and says, I think she is…. She’s still insect skinny, but she’ll sit with us for a family dinner and that, which she never used to do. Dad would have arguments with her about it because mealtimes are like a ceremony for him.
I finish the last chip. I ball up the paper and throw it at the pigeons.
Don’t do that, shouts Anne, givin me evils as the birds hop an fly away.
You going to leave that there? says Edgar, pointing to the paper on the ground.
You’re feral, he says, picking it up and puttin it in a bin.
I light a cigarette.
Can I have one? says Anne.
I don’t want to give her my second to last fag but I know how it sucks to be hungry. I go over and hand a fag to her and my lighter.
You shouldn’t litter, she says.
Edgar comes back and sits on the swing, popping a chewin gum in his mouth.
On one of the balconies, a small dog is yapping. The sound echoes loudly through the flats.
You know what I’ve always wanted to do? says Edgar.
We look at him.
I know it’s weird, right, but I saw it once… I want to have a bath filled with baked beans.
Yeah, I say, that is weird.
How many cans do you think you’d need?
I’ve no idea.
Not cold, though, he says, because that’d be gross. Just warmed ever so slightly, like an indoor swimming pool temperature, and I’d climb in and sink into all these beans up to my neck. Don’t you think that’d be relaxing?
Anne covers her mouth and says through her fingers, That’s the grossest thing I ever heard. Think of the smell.
Edgar looks at her and me. What? he says, acting as if we’re the weirdos.
The three of us spend the rest of the lunchbreak arguin about baked beans and stinking bean juice.
A supply teacher takes us for social studies. She can’t remember our names. Half the worksheets she gives us are for a different lesson. She doesn’t have a clue what she’s doin so we’re on her, baiting her. She’s supposed to teach us about stereotypes and each time she gives us an example, we’re actin all shocked like we’re gunna report her for what she’s saying.
You’re racist, Mizz. You’re sexist, Mizz.
She defends herself. My husband is Afro-Caribbean… What I’m trying to do is provide examples. Please look at the worksheet on your desk.
What, this worksheet?
Please share the correct worksheet between you.
Nah nah, that’s not how this is gunna go.
You’re fattest, Mizz, says Johnny Moran.
Everyone joins in. We’re a single creature. All together. Fightin the enemy.
She loses the plot. We know she’s gunna blub.
She calls Johnny an animal.
(which he blatantly is)
We tell her we won’t have no racist teacher.
I can’t lie, it feels exciting, watchin her struggle to find her words.
She flings herself from the classroom, wailing, You’re all animals… I can’t do this.
We bang our fists on the tables, chantin, Racists out, racists out, racists out.
Another teacher comes in an fucken microwaves us.
It’s kinda worth it, witnessin a supply teacher come apart like that… like watching a racing car crash into a barrier and break into a million flaming pieces.
We don’t see her again.
Edgar invites Anne to come with us to do charity work after school.
We stand on the balcony. He flicks the flap of a letter box and waits, wonderin if the person inside heard him knockin.
He has another go on the flap. There’s some material like felt runnin along the bottom that stops it from making a sound. Why have a letter box no one can hear? says Edgar.
We’re wearing coloured bibs he stole from the PE block. Edgar thinks it makes us seem legit.
Try again, says Anne.
They can’t hear, he tells her.
She moves past him and knocks on the door itself with her fist.
Through the wire mesh glass, we see a figure an I seriously feel my bum hole twitchin.
A small man in a white vest with a round beer belly an a black beard opens the door. He stares at us an says, Yeah?
Edgar holds the charity tin up an tries to speak but his connection dies an he goes, Err, errr, eerr.
Anne has a folder an a pen, which Edgar hadn’t thought about bringin. She told us that charity door knockers write down the names of people who take donations. Anyways, she sees Edgar is fluffin an goes, Good evening, we’re collecting money into the fight against cancer.
Beardy picks at his teeth.
Sir, did you know 1 in 2 people will be affected by cancer during their lifetime?
I have heard that, yeah.
Edgar gets his internet connectin and says, We’re collecting on behalf of this charity and any donations are very much welcome.
Beardy frowns at Edgar.
Anne comes in and says, Of course, we understand you may not be able to donate, but anything you can would be hugely appreciated.
Edgar says, Every penny makes a difference.
The three of us smile.
A woman yells from inside the flat, Who is it? Beardy yells back, No one. He looks at us, thinkin it over. Hold on, he says, an he goes into the flat an returns with his wallet. There you go, he says, slippin a crisp note into the tin Edgar is holdin. My mother died of lung cancer, he says, it’s a bloody terrible thing. Broke my heart seeing what she went through.
I bet, says Edgar.
Beardy gives him a look cos he doesn’t sound honest.
Anne saves us again by goin, That’s so sad. We’re sorry to hear that. I lost my father and that’s why I volunteered to help.
She’s so official sounding. It’s exactly what Beardy wants to hear. Good luck to you, he says. I’m not sure how many of the miserable sods round here will donate but it’s a great cause.
We say our goodbyes an walk along the balcony, waitin before doin high fives an grinnin.
Five pounds, says Edgar.
Anne, I say, you were amazin.
Edgar has to agree. You were – I messed up at the start.
No you didn’t, she says, not wantin to take any credit.
We walk along the balcony, trying to agree on which door to knock on. Anne says that the door we choose must have the right energy and we go with what she chooses. We knock on a door and she has them eating out of the palm of her hand. Edgar gives Anne the tin an we stand behind her, all sweetness, grins and nods, as she does her thing, talkin about her mum who recovered, an her grandmother who got ill at 90, an her sister who they thought had recovered an then fell sick again. One woman, who says she’s a single mum – which mum likes to say she is as well but she’s never fucken single – starts blubbin when Anne tells her the story about losin her father, which sounds more convincin each time she tells it so that I start to believe her too and can feel myself twistin.
We have to stop as it’s getting dark an Edgar says his mum is messagin for him to get home for dinner or he’ll be in trouble. Anne says her dad is messaging too. She writes down the flats we scammed so we can remember for next time. We walk down the stairs of the block of flats an find a wall to sit on. She hands Edgar the tin and he counts out the money.
Look at this, he says and then to her, he goes, You were so good.
We did it together, she says, handing him her team bib.
Your dad is still alive, right? I say to her.
Yes, she says, laughing. I’ve told you about him.
Edgar goes, How’d you get so good at making stuff up?
Sometimes you have to lie, she says.
Shouldn’t Anne get more of the share? I say.
It’s fine, she replies, it was you guys who came up with the idea.
Edgar counts the money out evens. I feel snidey as they both know I didn’t do anything, cept wear a vest an try to come over all carin when they were talkin, pulling a cancer face.
Shall we get McDonald's? I say, feelin the money in my hands, happy that it belongs to me.
Edgar brightens up an then realises it’s a no-go. I can’t, he says, mum’s cooked dinner – I need to get home.
Anne has this look an I realise McDonald's is the last place she wants to go.
Sorry, I say.
We walk to the bus stop. It’s well after school so we’ve missed the drama of chargin the buses to be first, kickin an punchin each other out the way.
Edgar has to answer his phone an gestures for us to shoosh. He starts talkin and then Anne has to answer her phone too and starts chattin to her dad, who sounds like he’s moody with her for not comin home. Both change their voices when talkin to their parents. I listen to them promising to be back soon an apologisin for not saying they were staying on after school.
I stand there, hearin them talk.
Edgar says love you to his mum. He says it softly, but I still hear him an I pucker my lips an make kiss-kiss sounds. He gives me the finger. Anne doesn’t say nothin like that to her dad. I can tell she’s on a downer from speaking to him.
I take out my last fag from the pack, my lucky one, and give it to her.
Thanks, she says.
We wait for the bus to come. It takes for fucken ever. We show our passes to the bus driver an we sit downstairs cos we know that upstairs is where you get started on. Anne does some scribbles on the paper in her folder. Her cheekbones are pokin through her skin. I’ve not seen her eat all day, apart from the chewin gum she pops in her mouth. I don’t think she wants to go home.
Edgar talks about when we should do charity work again, gettin excited about the money we can make.
The bus slows for my stop.
Anne says to Edgar, 460.
Cans of beans.
He doesn’t follow.
I get what she’s saying and tell him, The cans you need for your gross bean bath.
The penny drops. Oh, he goes, grinning, is that how many?
She shows him her calculation, makin him laugh.
I say, See ya, to them as they have farther to go.
I walk to the shop and buy kitten food for Flapjack. I then go to the fish ‘n chip shop, standing across the road first to make sure it’s safe and there ain’t no fools in there who’ll start on me, an I order a saveloy, cod 'n chips with a crusty buttered roll, askin for extra salt ‘n vinegar, two sachets of ketchup an a Dr Pepper.
I walk into the estate eatin my plasticky saveloy, always on the lookout for idiots ready to jump me. I climb up onto a garage roof an stuff myself with the hot food, makin a chip butty, tastin the butter an ketchup mixin with the chips.
I’m gagging for a smoke and will have to steal more of Liam’s secret stash, which is the tax he doesn’t know he has to be pay for livin in the flat with me an mum. I can’t believe he tries to get me to call him uncle. I crack open a Dr Pepper, thinking about Katherine Bails school an the looks I get if I tell people I go there. It’s the same when I say I’m from the Grove Estate. They use words like rough school or talk about the gangs an drone on about the drugs, stabbins an muggins, thinking we’re dodgy cos we’re council.
That supply teacher for social studies, Mizz, she thought we were animals the second she walked into the classroom.
Nah nah, she was posh an didn’t wanna be round no dirty council kids.
Somewhere, I hear the boing-boing sound of a ball.
I don’t know how fools can be playin footie in the dark.
I eat the last of the fish. I love the crunchy aftertaste of batter in my mouth.
I lie down and stare up at the Tower Block, seein the lights in the windows, feeling the sadness.
All this place does is make us wanna have breakdowns an cry.
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Possibly the worst job in the
Possibly the worst job in the world - a supply teacher. Painful. The more I read, the more attached I get to the characters and the story. Readers love tales set in schools. Keep 'em coming, Mark.
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Another good chapter.
I am also getting attached to the characters. I want to know Anne's back story and the reason for her bulimia.
Now lunch, fish and chips sounds good but I think I'll forget the saveloy.
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This is such an evocative
This is such an evocative story of survival and the sadness of poverty and lack of respect. It feels so real, bringing back my own school memories with great clarity.
An irresistible read.
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wonderful - and very
wonderful - and very believable. I particularly liked the description of the 'charity collecting' - also taking out the supply teacher
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I like the scam. Used to know
I like the scam. Used to know a guy just like that, but football cards.
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