September 18th, 2020
Arm HairTom was there because he was invited by a girl in the Other Class he had thought was too cool to notice him, so he could never have turned her down. Megan was tall and blonde and funny and had a self-awareness that the rest of the year were waiting to acquire. Tom was tall as well, but awkward, he held his head down and wanted his hair to be long enough to cover his eyes, despite his mum's insistence, and she always won. Megan's friend was there too, the three of them the only Year 5s present at the park that night, where the village kids gathered to rock on the swings and climb the metal spider that was dismantled years later for health and safety reasons. This was before the hard tarmac was replaced with a softer make, and the adult fitness stations hadn't yet been installed. The slides were still odd faded colours and the chains on the swings were rusty from wear. Football was played in a goal made from three metal pipes, and when it rained they gathered under the trees, not the Teen Shelter. The rest of the party were Year 6 boys, comfortable enough in their social standings not to have to fight for position. Youngsters being present helped, then even the lowest rungs on the cool-food-chain were above the uninitiated. Girls were interesting for curiosity's sake and because they knew who they were in a way the boys hadn't quite worked out. They could walk without feeling watched, they could talk and laugh without feeling judged, they could sing along to the songs they'd blue-toothed to each other on their first phones with the knowledge that nobody knew any better to challenge them. At school the Year 5s complained about their elders at every opportunity, telling each other, and believing at the time, that when they were top of the school they would never treat the youngsters that way. Here the three found themselves among a crowd they new they were lucky to have been invited in to. Nerves gripped Tom and made his hands fidget awkwardly, but he quickly found the older boys weren't interested in bullying or beating like they were in the stories. On the contrary, he quickly felt very welcome and was soon cracking jokes and laughing along with the others as though he had always been one of them. You can be friends across years, he thought, for the first time. His class had always kept themselves to themselves, only that year acknowledging there was the Other Class at all, joining in for football at break times and lunch, hanging out after school with whoever lived in the village. Sleepovers that boarded the boundaries. The idea of mixing with another year was simply beyond contemplation, until it happened that night and was really nothing worth worrying about. They stood around in the gathering gloom, all of them in walking distance from homes around the village. The main road had been slipway'ed to the east and the secluded countryside hamlet was quiet and safe, threats were mysterious monsters of horror, rather than anything that took human from. One boy, Jack, a leader of sorts, had his sleeve rolled up and showed the rest. 'Look, nothing.' The others confirmed. 'Yeah, nothing.' 'Is that one?' 'No that's mud.' 'That's just mud.' 'Nothing.' 'You got any?' Another sleeve rolled up. 'No. None.' 'Have you got any?' 'He's got some.' 'Woah, you've got loads!' More sleeves and they're all standing holding their arms at odd angles, trying to see if anything catches the light. 'Look at this.' Finn was a slobbery boy, the type whose nose would run unchecked, then he'd cough without covering and have to wipe the spit off his books. He did have hair on his arms though, more than any of the others. 'Oh!' 'What!' As if they hadn't seen it every day in school. 'That's mad!' 'Crazy!' Because support among boys meant everything. 'Oh my God!' One of them had to say it. 'Fuck.' The others looked round. He looked shocked. They all looked shocked. 'Sorry.' He said. They moved onto legs. Nobody was sporting more than a few fine tendrils in that department. They pulled up their shirts and looked at belly buttons. The shirts came off completely and they chased each other round the park flicking armpits with the arcane belief it would make something grow. They got very close and examined upper lips and lower. It was only a matter of time before things moved southward. 'Have you got any...' Megan's friend squealed. 'Any what?' said Jack. He looked from the boy who'd asked, to Megan's friend, frowning. Another boy caught on. 'Have you?' He asked. He didn't want to say. None of them wanted to say. They knew it meant something if they did or they didn't, they just hadn't quite worked out what. Something about it made them uneasy, especially in front of the girls. 'I do.' They all looked around. 'Do you?' He nodded, instantly regret blushing his cheeks. What an idiot you are, Tom. What a complete stupid idiot. 'Do you really?' Megan was watching with her head tilted, curiosity mixed with amusement. Finn didn't wait for the answer. 'Show us then.' He barked, barging some of the others aside. 'Go on, show us.' 'Well, I...' He didn't know what it meant, the anxiety that was making his feet sweat, and his head start to throb. Jack was watching him, and saw the fear begin to creep over him. Somewhere in the past a memory of over-shouting stirred and he recognised the panic. 'I'll show you,' he said. And did. Tom breathed. And laughed with the others who laughed at Jack, who didn't mind because he was happy enough. Megan watched Tom while her friend squealed and ran, laughing with the boys who picked up the ball and started to play. Hair or not, football settled the score.
©2007-2021 Benedict Esdale