The Other Boy
The second volume of the 'Lost Boys' quartet.
Rosie and her son Matthew have fallen on hard times. Rosie’s husband has left them for another woman and lost his job as a consequence of his adultery. A combination of debts and negative equity has meant a move from an affluent development backing onto a golf course, to a run-down estate of social housing. Although she has sold the car and increased her hours at Bridge House, there isn’t the money to pay Matt’s school fees and he has had to move to the local comprehensive.
Coming to terms with all the changes hasn’t been easy for Matt. He doesn’t fit in at the new school and the wild, ungoverned estate lads seem like creatures from another planet. At first the victim of their cruel and thoughtless bullying, and later in rebellious fascination, he becomes embroiled with their anarchic gang. But their world, on the ragged edges of civilization, is full of dangers and pitfalls which soon threaten to suck Matt under as he wrestles with his anguish over his father’s defection, and, worse still, his bitter envy of the new boy in his father’s life.
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It is late afternoon. A lively breeze puckers the surface of the river above the weir. The weeds on its steps are emerald green against the grey of the concrete construction; they yearn towards the pool, reaching longing, feathery fingers. The pool is shadowy, shaded by trees in full leathery leaf above and overhung by verdant bramble sprinked with white flowers. Beneath the overhang the restless current scours the bank away, loosening soil, staining the waters silty brown. There is a line of white foam, a perpetually frothing lip where the water cascades off the weir and joins the maelstrom in the deep pool; whatever lies beneath its surface causes crazy eddies and whirling currents to jostle and boil in volatile surges.
Mike has brought food – he is usually amply supplied by his mother; crisps and chocolate and bottles of lurid orange fizzy pop. He sits beneath the tree sharing with Clark. Skinner is up the tree, perched on the branch they have chosen to anchor the rope. Spencer swings lazily on the rope itself, his habitual position, gliding proprietarily over his domain. Matt squats nearby, pulling long, wide blades of grass from the ground exposing their sweet, white roots, stretching them between his thumbs to make a reedy whistle. He takes only a desultory interest in the other boys. Also today there is a girl. She has come with Spencer although he has resolutely ignored her. She is the palest wisp of a thing, with ash-blond hair and milk-white skin and eyes so light blue that they meld into the whites with scarcely an edge and looking at her is like looking into the eyes of someone who is blind. Their dark pupils seem like empty, fathomless hollows. She is skinny, hardly developed. Her dress, in contrast, tells another story; short skirt, tight cropped top revealing flat white tummy and a pierced belly button, a jangling collection of bracelets at her wrist, much blue eye-shadow and stiff, doll-like lashes. She sits on the grass a little apart from the others and moves her thumbs dexterously over the pad of her mobile ‘phone. Her fringe, straight as a die, hangs down over her eyes, its silken ribbons lifted and shifted by the breeze. From underneath it she casts the occasional glance at Spencer.
Above her, Skinner, on his branch, is watching her, and rubbing his groin, furtively.