Second of all - it was a dead cert that as soon as I'd sent off the manuscript I submitted to the Grievous Prize, a poem would show up that would have been perfect in that collection. At first I thought I'd only let her out on Twitter and Facebook, but it seemed unfair to let her languish unseen while all the other poems at least had some potential chance of being published, so here she is. So she's a straggler - not everyone's punctual.
Sat on the bench, sheared off from the others,
legs crossed, Tupperware lunchbox discarded
beside me, reading something they say
is too old for me; she is too old for me,
two years above, short hair, a nose that juts
out like a challenge, leaning her long body
all arms and reach, back
with a come-on-then cockiness,
asking me questions - what's that you're lookin' at?
Who wrote it? Funny name...What's it about?
and shy me is flattered to answer this girl
with her bad-boy looks, her eyes locked on mine,
drawing closer, hand sliding behind me
- and if the dinner lady hadn't came
I would have found out, painfully,
that hand was cocking a lighter.
* * *
It's a poem I've been trying to find a way into for a while, this one. At least since over a year ago, when I tried to write up an account of this incident (yes, it really happened, the me in the poem is me) in a dreadful attempt at memoir which, if it had ever existed on paper, would have been one of the pieces I'd asked my literary executor to burn but which, thankfully, now only exists as junk code in one or another of my memory sticks, if it hasn't been airlocked in a bulk delete already.
But it's an incident I was thinking of again, recently, after a conversation about bullying which I had on Facebook with Ira Lightman. It occurred to me in the course of the conversation that most of the bullying I had to deal with at school came from (cis) girls who, in my experience, can be a hell of a lot nastier than boys. Boys will punch you in the face, sure, but we tend to raise boys not to be particularly emotionally literate, so that's about all they can do (and the domestic violence statistics are an indicator that we ought to stop raising boys who can only express themselves with their fists, but that's another rant for another time, petit furets). Girls, however, are raised to be incredibly emotionally literate, which means they have a whole set of tools with which to hurt you far more deeply than the meatiest of knuckle sandwiches.
I don't think a boy would have formulated a strategy as subtle and twisted as the girl who did this. Find a mark who's obviously shy and socially-inept, talk to them, express an interest, make them feel flattered by all the attention, then, just when they're thinking hey, wow, she really likes me, set fire to their blazer. I'm pretty sure no major conflagration would have occurred, but I'd have jumped up shocked and made a fool of myself in front of everyone, which was probably what she was aiming for. And of course, what really hurt wasn't the fire and embarassment that didn't happen, but the sense of being used, of being toyed with and being so easily manipulated purely for someone else's sadistic amusement. Which meant the plan worked even when interrupted. Sick, undoubtedly. But you have to admire the technique.
Anyone wishing to admire my reading technique, scattershot as it often is, should be aware that I will be performing at a gig at Black Flame Books in Heaton on February 6th. Come along, if you're interested. But don't bring lighters.