ALSO BY RODDY DOYLE

Fiction

The Commitments

The Snapper

The Van

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors

A Star Called Henry

Oh, Play That Thing

Paula Spencer

The Dead Republic

Bullfighting

Two Pints

The Guts

Two More Pints

Non-Fiction

Rory & Ita

Plays

Brownbread

War

Guess Who’s Coming for the Dinner

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors

The Government Inspector (translation)

The Commitments (musical)

Don Giovanni (opera; translation)

For Children

The Giggler Treatment

Rover Saves Christmas

The Meanwhile Adventures

Wilderness

Her Mother’s Face

A Greyhound of a Girl

Brilliant

Rover and the Big Fat Baby

Roddy Doyle

Smile

title page for Smile

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Epub ISBN: 9781473548350

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Jonathan Cape

20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,

London SW1V 2SA

Jonathan Cape is part of the Penguin Random House group of companies whose addresses can be found at global.penguinrandomhouse.com

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Copyright © Roddy Doyle 2017

Roddy Doyle has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

First published in the United Kingdom by Jonathan Cape in 2017

penguin.co.uk/vintage

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

For Dan Franklin

1

I stayed up at the bar a few times but I didn’t want the barman thinking that I needed someone to talk to. I sat in a corner near a window but the barman kept coming over, casually walking past, looking for empty glasses, and asking me if I was alright for a drink or what I thought of Brazil getting hammered by the Germans or of Garth Brooks not coming to Croke Park. I tried to picture myself from where he’d been looking at me. I can’t have looked that bad – that lonely, or sad. Or neglected. It never occurred to me that he might be gay. I was fifty-four. I was too old to be gay back.

There was another place, the Blue Lagoon, a bit further away at the other end of the street. I hadn’t gone in but I didn’t like the look of it from the outside. It was always too busy. Full of families and couples and groups of men who looked like they talked serious rugby.

I can hear her.

My wife.

—Grow up, Victor.

So I stayed put and decided that Donnelly’s was my local. I’d never really had one before. There were three or four pubs within walking distance of the old house – the house I’d just left – but I’d never homed in on one. I’d been in each of them only a few times over the years and I don’t think I’d ever been on my own. Rachel had always been with me.

I went to this new place every night – or, every evening. I had to force myself to do it at first, like going to the gym or to mass. I’d go home – home! – cook something, eat it, then walk down the straight line to the pub. For one slow pint. I’d bring a book or my iPad with me.

Donnelly’s.

It was a good old-fashioned name for a pub. I was living near the sea again and I’d gone past the pubs I’d known when I was a kid. The Schooner, the Pebble Beach, the Trawler. They were all a drive away from the apartment, or a long walk that I didn’t want. Or too close to where I’d grown up. That would have been sad, a man of my age going back to some wrinkled version of his childhood. Looking for the girls he’d fancied forty years before. Finding them.

Donnelly’s would be my local. I trained myself to feel that it was mine. I listened out to hear the names of the staff. My barman, the lad who was on most evenings when I wandered in, was called Carl. Or Carlo, by those men and women who seemed to know him quite well. I kept it at Carl.

—How’s himself?

—Not too bad, Carl.

—Same book.

—It’s a big one. I’m nearly done.

—Any good?

—It’s okay.

—What’s it about?

—Stalin.

—There was a fucker.

—God, yeah.

—Worse than Hitler. They say.

—A monster.

—Who’ll win tonight?

—Costa Rica.

—D’yeh think?

—I’ve my fiver on them.

—What’re the odds?

—6 to 1.

—Not bad for a two-horse race.

—That’s what I thought.

—We’ll be cheering for them, so.

Going into the bookie’s was new too. Or just pretending to go in. I hadn’t put anything on Costa Rica. I knew nothing about horses or greyhounds but I’d stick the occasional fiver on the football. The winner, sometimes the score. There was a Paddy Power right beside the pub. It became – even just walking past and having a look at the World Cup odds in the window – part of the rhythm of my day. Another corner of my new home.

I’d moved in in the summer, so it was all done in daylight. Waking up, getting out, coming home, climbing the stairs, opening a window, cooking the dinner, strolling down to Donnelly’s. A pub in daylight is a different place – it’s less of a pub. It’s a good time to start, a good time to move in. I could sit back for a while and watch the room become a pub. I’d nod at men I’d seen before.

—The heat.

—Unbelievable.

The apartment – the block, from the outside – reminded me of my old primary school. The car park at the front even looked like a deserted schoolyard. The wood of the main door was a bit rotten where the paint had gone. The door glass had chicken wire running through it. The stairs up to the first floor were wide enough for gangs of charging boys. And there was something about the light that came through the high window at the stairwell in the morning – it seemed exactly like the school stairs more than forty years ago. It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation.

My old primary school was only a couple of miles away. The secondary school was even nearer.

The apartment was okay. I’d decided that almost immediately, even when it was empty and bare, and the letting agent – a nice young one, in her early twenties – had let me in to see it. It was going to do.

—Fresh paint, I said.

—Yes, she said.

—Was there blood on the walls?

She looked at me, to make sure I was joking. I wasn’t sure I was. But she smiled.

—It just needed, like. Sprucing up.

—Fine.

I wondered if the last tenant had died in here. In the kitchen section of the one big room, or in the bedroom I’d glanced into. Or the bathroom. But I didn’t ask her. I knew it would sound creepy. And I didn’t really care.

—I’ll take it, I said.

—Oh. Cool.

—Am I your first client?

—Fourth.

—Does your dad run the business?

—No.

—Sorry, I said.—I’m being stupid.

—It’s okay.

There were two windows. I looked out one of them and saw the car park, the low railing, trees, and the red-brick houses across the street.

I pointed down.

—Cats, I said.

There were two of them – three of them – sitting under a Renault that looked like it hadn’t been moved in a long time.

—They’re all over the place, she said.

She stood behind me.

—But they don’t do anything, like.

—Grand.

I moved in two days later. I brought a bed from the old house, and the Roberts radio that had been in our bedroom. The clothes I wanted filled one case. My sister brought me a kitchen table and two chairs. I drove out to Swords and got a TV, an armchair and a fridge in Harvey Norman’s. I drove down to SuperValu and bought three of their big bags full of stuff – coffee, teabags, soup, apples, bananas, washing-up liquid, a scourer, washing powder, brown bread, a baguette, tomatoes, salt. I half filled my new fridge and put things up on the corner shelves. I put the salt on the table and started my first shopping list.

Pepper etc.

I sat in the armchair and watched Germany versus Ghana, and felt happy enough. I decided my neighbours were prostitutes. Before I saw any of them. There was something about the apartment block; when it wasn’t a school – when I wasn’t on the stairs – it was East European, Soviet era. I was taking my trousers off the first night when I heard laughter above me, a woman laughing. She was being paid to laugh. It made some kind of sense. I was folding my trousers but I was living dangerously. Behind enemy lines. Somewhere in the building was the whore with the heart of gold, waiting for me. She’d see what my wife couldn’t see, and fuck me. For nothing. And cook for me. Or let me cook for her. Pepper etc. We’d watch football in bed. I’d hide her from her pimp. I’d get my son to beat him up.

I was there three days, on my way down the stairs to my new local, before I saw a neighbour. He was coming up the stairs, dragging a man-bag, like a big, balding schoolboy. He looked at me and nodded. He was twenty years younger than me, and sweating.

—Great weather, I said.

He didn’t answer. I heard his door open – he didn’t knock; he wasn’t visiting a prostitute – before I pulled open the front door.

The next morning I saw my first woman. I was looking out the window at the seagulls. Someone had left the lid off one of the black wheelies, and a gull had hauled a chicken carcass out of the bin and dropped it. There were three gulls fighting for it, and another gang attacking the bin. The cats were under the Renault, waiting. A taxi pulled up, out on the street. There was the usual delay, a back door opened, a bare foot, then the rest of the woman got out. She leaned against the low railing and put on her shoes as the taxi crawled away, up the street. She straightened up and walked into the car park. She was young – very young. Her knees, in particular, looked very young. She walked like she had no weight. I stood back – I didn’t want her to see me looking down. But I could see that she looked happy. I heard the front door – nothing else. She was a prostitute’s daughter, I decided. Being given the chances her mother had never had.

It was like the chicken had exploded in the car park. The fight between the gulls had become a major battle for wings and bones. The noise of them – I’ve always loved it. I looked at the cats. They hadn’t moved but they were tenser, braced. A window above me opened.

—Fuck off –!

A man. He’d learnt to say fuck off quite recently. I wondered why he hadn’t shouted something in his own language. And I was glad he hadn’t. What I’d just seen and heard had been great – the gulls, the cats, the girl, her knees, the shout. It had been wonderful. I had no one to tell it to but I didn’t mind that.

I looked at my phone; it was twenty to six.

Milk – small carton.

Bin bags.

—Victor?

I looked up when I heard my name but I couldn’t see a thing. I was sitting near the open door and the light coming through was a solid sheet between me and whoever had spoken. My eyes were watering a bit – they did that. I often felt that they were melting slowly in my head.

—Am I right?

It was a man. My own age, judging by the shape, the black block he was making in front of me now, and the slight rattle of middle age in his voice.

I put the cover over the screen of my iPad. I’d been looking at my wife’s Facebook page.

I could see him now. There were two men on the path outside, smoking, and they’d stood together in the way of the sun.

I didn’t know him.

—Yes, I said.

—I thought so, he said.—Jesus. For fuck sake.

I didn’t know what to do.

—It must be – fuckin’ – forty years, he said.—Thirty-seven or -eight, anyway. You haven’t changed enough, Victor. It’s not fair, so it isn’t. Mind if I join you? I don’t want to interrupt anything.

He sat on a stool in front of me.

—Just say and I’ll fuck off.

Our knees almost touched. He was wearing shorts, the ones with the pockets on the sides for shotgun shells and dead rabbits.

—Victor Foreman, he said.

—Forde.

—That’s right, he said.—Forde.

I had no idea who he was. Thirty-eight years, he’d said; we’d have known each other in secondary school. But I couldn’t see a younger version of this man. I didn’t like him. I knew that, immediately.

—What was the name of the Brother that used to fancy you? he said.

He patted the table.

—What was his fuckin’ name?

His shirt was pink and I could tell that it had cost a few quid. But there was something about it, or the way it sat on him; it hadn’t always been his.

—Murphy, he said.—Am I right?

—There were two Murphys, I said.

—Were there?

—History and French.

—Were they not the same cunt?

I shook my head.

—No.

—Jesus, he said.—I hate that. The memory. It’s like dropping bits of yourself as you go along, isn’t it?

I didn’t answer. I have a good memory – or I thought I did. I still didn’t know who he was.

He moved, and put one foot on top of a knee. I could see right up one leg of his shorts.

—Anyway, he said.—It was the one who taught French that wanted your arse. Am I right?

I wanted to hit him. I wanted to kill him. I could feel the glass ashtray that wasn’t there any more, that hadn’t been on the table since the introduction of the smoking ban a decade before – I could feel its weight in my hand and arm as I lifted it, and myself, and brought it flat down on his head.

I looked to see if anyone had been listening to him. I could hear the remains of the word ‘arse’ roll across the room. I hated this man, whoever he was.

But I nodded.

—Fuckin’ gas, he said.—And look at us now. Would he fancy us now, Victor?

—Probably not.

—Not me, anyway, he said.

He slapped his stomach.

—You’re not looking too bad, he said.

His accent was right; he came from nearby. He took a slurp from his pint – it was Heineken or Carlsberg – and put the glass back on the table.

—You’ve done alright, Victor, he said.—Haven’t you?

I couldn’t answer.

—For yourself, like, he said.—I see your name all over the place.

—Not recently.

—Fuck recently.

I wanted to go.

—You did great, he said.—We’re fuckin’ proud of you.

I wanted to move house, get back across the river. Home.

—Victor Forde, he said.—One of us.

A minute before he’d thought my name was Foreman.

—You married that bird, he said.

I shouldn’t have, but I nodded again.

—Fuckin’ hell, he said.—Good man. There’s no end to your fuckin’ achievements.

—Who are you? I asked.

He stared and smiled at the same time.

—Are you serious?

—I know your face, I said.

—My face?

He laughed. Straight at me.

—My fuckin’ face? he said.—Jesus. I was – what? – seventeen. The last time you saw me. Am I right?

I didn’t know – I didn’t know him. But I nodded.

—Will I give you a hint?

I didn’t nod this time.

—Síle Fitzpatrick, he said.

The name meant nothing.

—Who?

—Go on – fuck off.

—I don’t know her.

—Síle. Fitz. Patrick.

—No.

—You fuckin’ do, he said.—Wake up, Victor. Síle. You fancied her. Big time. All of you did. She was a bike. Síle Fitzpatrick. She was the bike. Yis all said it.

I hadn’t heard that phrase, ‘a bike’, in years. It was like a piece of history being taken out and shown to me. A slightly uncomfortable piece of history.

—No, I said.

—Blonde bird, tall, Holy Faith, Bowie fan, woman’s tits.

She was starting to come together; I thought I was remembering someone.

—You all fancied her, he said again.

—And you didn’t?

—Well, I did. But I couldn’t.

—How come?

—She was my sister, he said.

The laugh exploded out of him, as if he’d been holding on to it for years. There was nothing funny in it. The girl was in my head now, Síle Fitzpatrick, but I wished she wasn’t. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t know her. But I could see her sitting on the low ledge outside the chipper, her back to the glass. I was inside, looking at her hair, her shoulders, her white uniform shirt tucked into her skirt. I wanted her to turn and look in. I wanted her to look at me.

—You remember me now, I bet.

I didn’t. But I remembered his sister.

—Yeah, I said.—I do now. Sorry.

What was his name? He’d been in my class for five years; he must have been. Fitzpatrick, Fitzpatrick.

I had it.

—Edward.

—Good man, he said.

I knew him, and I’d known him years ago. I knew his face and I’d known his face.

—Eddie, I said.

—I kind of prefer Ed these days, he said.—More adult.

He shrugged.

—Finally had to grow up, he said.

What he’d told me just before he’d laughed – one of the words came back and nudged me.

—You said ‘was’. You said she was your sister.

—Yeah, he said.

—Was, I said.

—Yeah.

—Sorry – I said.—I don’t – She’s not –?

—Dead?

—Is she?

—No, he said.—No. We’re not close, just.

—Oh.

—Yeah.

—Grand.

—Say no more, says you.

The gap was beginning to close. ‘Say no more, squire’ – the Monty Python line was straight from the schooldays.

—You meeting someone? he asked me now.

—No, I said.—No. Just having a pint.

—Same as myself. D’you live near here, so?

I hesitated. I didn’t want to explain.

—Or just visiting? he said.—Slumming it for a bit.

—No.

—No?

—I live down the road there – five minutes.

—Oh grand, he said.—So this is your local.

—Not really.

—Fuck this, he said.

He stood up and picked up his stool; he’d scooped it from under himself before he was upright. I didn’t have time to cower. But he turned to the table beside us and lowered the stool one-handed while he grabbed a chair with the other and dragged it across to him. He sat down, and back.

—That’s better.

There was even more of his leg on show now. He didn’t seem to be wearing underwear.

—So, he said.—Yeah.

I waited.

—I was away myself for a bit, he said.

—Were you?

—Yeah, he said.—Here and there. Nothing special. But Síle. She’d love to hear from you.

He’d guessed it: Síle was the only thing I liked about him.

—I hardly knew her, I said.

—Go on to fuck.

—It’s true.

—Yeah, yeah, he said.—She fancied you. Big time. Had me plagued. Is he going to college? What’s his favourite Bowie song? Is he going with anyone? A right pain in the arse.

—‘Heroes’, I said.

—What?

—My favourite Bowie song.

He laughed. He sat back, almost lay back, and barked at the ceiling. There was grey pubic hair poking out of his shorts. He sat up, adjusted his crotch. Had he caught me looking at him?

—D’you know what? he said.—I’d say she’d still be interested in knowing that.

—What?

—Síle, he said.—She’d love to know that ‘Heroes’ was your favourite Bowie song. I don’t believe that, by the way. Now maybe, but we’re talking about – when? 1975 or ’6. ‘Heroes’ was released in 1977. So you’re spoofing. As usual. You can fuck off, so you can. Vict’ry.

I should have stood up.

—Remember we used to call you that? he said.

I should have just left. He might have followed me but I should have walked out and kept walking. I’d have been giving nothing away. Because I found out later, he already knew where I lived.

2

I was so bored, so heavy with the physical weight of it, I could have cried; I could have stopped breathing. At the same time, I was often terrified and I laughed so much I went blind. I went to the school, St Martin’s CBS, for five years and I had an erection for four of them, even during Irish. I sat through Peig and Ó Pheann an Phiarsaigh and thought of legs and nipples and the birds on Benny Hill and my friends’ mothers and sisters. And the women in the Sunday World. And the pictures of footballers’ wives that were sometimes in Football Weekly. And Lynsey de Paul. And the women in Abba. And Pan’s People. I rode the desk, or I tried to.

Moonshine was sitting in the desk behind me. He jabbed at my back with his Doc Marten.

—Right, Vict’ry, he whispered.—Go on. Your time has come.

—Fuck off, I whispered back.

—Go on.

—Fuck off.

—Quiet at the back, said Brother Murphy.

He was up at the front, writing the homework on the blackboard. He wasn’t as savage as most of the other Brothers and lay teachers. Just now and again, he lost the head. Something would snap and there’d be no warning. He’d headbutted Cyril Toner when there’d been almost total silence in the room. I’d been doing French comprehension, thinking of French girls’ mouths sucking the words, when I heard a kind of thump, and a groan. I looked up. Murphy was staggering back, holding his forehead, and Toner just stood there. His hands were hiding his nose. He was squealing and there was blood coming through his fingers. Dripping. It was frightening and cool; it was history. Christian Brother Loafs Student. And – this was the vital part – he hadn’t loafed me. Relief, shame, joy. Toner was a wanker.

And nothing happened; there were no consequences. Toner went home with a broken nose after Murphy sent him to the Head Brother’s office. And Toner would have felt lucky when he got out of the Head Brother’s office without being assaulted again. That was the thing: it wasn’t assault. Not back then. It wasn’t what most of us saw at home and it wasn’t what we’d experienced in the national school, the primary school. But I never thought I was witnessing anything illegal. Even being felt up by a Brother was just bad luck or bad timing. Toner wouldn’t have told his parents. He’d have given them a story. A football in the face, or a hurley, a slammed door, an elbow; the school was full of good, believable ways to break your nose. They’d have all laughed about it in the Toner kitchen. The Head Brother hadn’t brought him home or to the Mater A&E. He’d just been sent on his way. The Brothers knew they were safe.

But fuck Toner. It wasn’t my nose. Fuck him. Murphy wasn’t the worst. Although he liked me.

That was why I’d been kicked in the back by Moonshine.

—Make him smile.

—Fuck off.

Brother Murphy was about forty-five, but it was hard to put an age on adults. I never saw them as younger or older than my father. All men seemed to be that age. But it wasn’t the age; it was distance. They seemed far away, in another room or country. Men – not just the Brothers – had nothing in common with us. I didn’t understand them. And I wasn’t alone. My mates were with me: all men were fuckin’ eejits.

Brother Murphy was small, the same height as most of us. But he was wide. He came through the door sideways. His hair was cartoon black. It might have been dyed, but that wouldn’t have occurred to us. He had a head and a jaw like Desperate Dan’s. But he enjoyed his subject and he loved talking to himself in French at the top of the room. We, the pupils, never spoke French. We read and wrote but learning to speak wasn’t on the curriculum. There was one day, he was at the front of the room reading from the Inter Cert book. I can’t remember its name but there was a skinny boy called Marcel – the book had illustrations – and he lived in a place called Saint-Cloud. I remember watching Murphy and thinking, ‘He wishes he was there.’ He wanted to be a Frenchman. He wanted a beret and a Renault, and a son called Marcel. He was happy in the book. I’m older than he was back then and I think I recognise it now: he was miserable. He was lonely.

And this violent man with the Desperate Dan head liked me. I knew this – everybody knew this – because of something he’d said more than two years before, when I was thirteen.

—Victor Forde, I can never resist your smile.

It was like a line from a film, in a very wrong place. I knew I was doomed.

It had been one of Murphy’s happy days and we were at him to let us off homework for the weekend. It was Friday afternoon and the sun was heating the room, spreading the smell. The school was right beside the sea and we could hear the tide behind the yard wall.

—Go on, Brother.

S’il vous plaît, Brother.

—We’ll pray for you on Sunday, Brother.

He listened to us and grinned. It was a grin, not a smile. The word ‘inappropriate’ didn’t appear until years later. But the grin was inappropriate. It was all inappropriate. He was being taunted and teased by a room of boys and he was loving it.

Then he said it.

—Victor Forde, I can never resist your smile.

There was silence.

It was late September. I’d only been in the secondary school for three or four weeks. I hadn’t even got the hang of it. All the different teachers, the size of the older boys, the violence and the constant threat of it. And the place itself was a maze; the school was actually a row of large red-brick houses. The trip from Geography to Science involved leaving one room, going through another room after knocking at the door and enduring the sneers and kicks of the fifth-years; out to the yard, into another house, through what must originally have been the kitchen door, down a hall, and left, into a science lab that had a bay window with a view of the railway embankment and a huge fireplace. And thirty Bunsen burners. And a mad chain-smoking prick in a white coat leaning against his desk. Every day was exhausting. Exciting and upsetting.

The silent response to Murphy’s declaration would eventually have to end. But I hoped it wouldn’t. There was still the possibility that he hadn’t said it. While the silence lasted. But it ended.

Someone exhaled.

Everyone exhaled. Murphy had turned his back on us. He picked up his personal duster and rubbed out the homework.

—You win today, boys, he said.—No homework.

—He fuckin’ fancies him, Derek Muldowney, sitting beside me, whispered.

Him, not you. Muldowney shifted away from me. I wanted to pull him back. It’s nothing to do with me!

—He’s a queer.

—You’re a queer.

—Murphy knows you’re a queer.

—I wasn’t smiling, I told them.—I wasn’t.

He’d been looking at me – Murphy had; he must have been – all that time. I can never resist your smile, he’d said. Never. He’d seen me when I’d walked in the front gate on the first day. The Brothers’ house was beside the school. All the Brothers lived in there. Murphy must have been looking out the window of his bedroom, at all the new first-years as they arrived. And he’d decided that I was the one. There were boys in the class who still looked a bit like girls. Or there was Willo Gaffney, who said he had to shave twice a week. There was Kenny Peters who had a scar on his forehead and was absent from school every time the Circuit Court came to the GAA club. I couldn’t see why he’d picked on me. I wasn’t like a girl or a man. I’d no big brothers; no one had warned me about him. Never smile back at him. Never get ten out of ten. Never get below five – don’t give him any excuse to keep you back after the bell.

I’d gone into a school that was a row of big, detached houses, with black gates, a neat hedge and trees that looked as if they’d been planted hundreds of years ago. I’d walked out of our estate – there’d been five or six of us, together – where most of the trees hadn’t survived, where some of the footpaths hadn’t been finished. I hadn’t been in there half an hour before I’d been hit, lifted by an ear and dropped, been called an eejit by the prick in the science lab because I thought he was pointing at someone else; I’d got lost and ended up in the senior yard and got kicked by a gang of lads who wouldn’t have touched me, or even noticed me, outside school. But I wasn’t alone. We were all thrown, all the first-years, all around the place. We suffered together and it was great. Then, last class, first day, before going home to my mother’s questions, the French teacher, Brother Murphy, smiled at me, the first adult to smile all day, and I smiled back.

—And you are?

—Victor Forde.

—Victor Forde, Brother.

—Sorry, Brother.

—Have I had the pleasure of teaching any older Fordes? Any Defeats or Armistices?

—No, Brother.

I was pleased; I’d remembered to call him Brother.

He smiled again.

—Fine, he said.

He put a finger on my shoulder – it was just a strange little friendly, comical nudge – and pointed to a desk halfway down, under the window.

—You’ll sit there.

—Thank you, Brother.

He smiled. But he’d smiled at all of us.

—Have I had the pleasure of teaching any older Kellys? he asked Moonshine.

—Yes, Brother.

—Oh, God help us.

He didn’t mind when we laughed.

—So, said my mother when I got home.

She was excited, young; she’d never gone to secondary school, herself.

—How was school?

—Great, I said.

I meant it.

Her eyes were wet.

—I’m so proud of you, Victor.

She picked up my sister to make her kiss me, then made egg and chips to celebrate the occasion. I couldn’t wait to go back in the next morning.

But then Murphy singled me out. He’d been smiling at all of us but then he’d announced that I was the one whose smile he couldn’t resist. I knew the others were going to kill me. I knew it as I began to understand what Murphy was saying and what it meant. I knew the lads would destroy me after the bell went and we were outside. And they did. They didn’t even have to wait until we were outside the school grounds. The Brothers never minded violence. There was no point in trying to avoid it. I was surrounded, pushed.

—Yeh fuckin’ queer.

—I didn’t smile.

A schoolbag – a Leeds United kitbag – was swung high and into my back. It hurt but I laughed. The slaps became thumps. They were all over me now. But it wouldn’t last; I knew that too. I was kicked, punched, spat on. For a minute. Only a few of the kicks really hurt, and the thumps were just to my arms and chest. No one thumped or kicked me in my face. The spitting – we did that all the time.