Galileo's Boy

The knife? It was right there on the table. But it wasn’t my fault. It took me years to make the cut.


It was my mum you see. She wanted us to be that wee bit better than everybody else. We had the end block in the terrace, nice garden, and our dad was always in work. A decent, hard-working family in a nice wee council scheme in the country: idyllic you’d think.


You just need to be that wee bit different: a wee bit too posh, a wee bit too clever, a wee bit too Catholic a wee bit too…take your pick, mate, any excuse will do in these parts. Not much to do in the country, you see. So recreational violence becomes the primary occupation of ‘the weans’. Fine if you’re in the right gang with plenty of mates. I spoke correctly, stuck in at school.


When I was seven I got hammered in the face by an older kid after telling him that the earth moved round the sun. I know, right?! Galileo becomes famous for that argument, and all I get is a burst lip and mental trauma. Never mind the Spanish Inquisition, even the weans were tough on theological deviance in this place.


I liked the kid that punched me but I was scared of him too. He took three of us on a patrol through the marshes near the old mill. I didn’t like the scratchy needles from the reeds on my bare arms. My hands would fly up to reassure themselves by touching the back of this boy – half to balance myself and half for comfort. He shot round and snarled at me to keep my hands to myself.


He spoke of his plans about killing the boy with the red hair – one of the kids who was a little bit different. He would get the wee weirdo and hold him under one these deep puddles until he had blown his last bubble.


No, don’t worry, we all came back; the red haired kid wasn’t there. As far as I know the big lad never lived out his murderous fantasy. I was amazed at his power though. I repeated his words to my parents later: “Blow his last bubble!”. I was beguiled by their blunt force. My parents’ faces were white and hanging, frozen by the words from their son of seven still in shorts and his hair still blonde. They told me I was wrong. Where had I heard this? Where did that boy learn to speak like that? Don’t play with people who say things like that.


So, I’m not exactly encouraged to fit in but I make a friend: a posh kid from the new houses that they built on the farmer’s fields. Very posh wee guy, indeed. His dad was an art teacher and his mum was a social worker. A perfect victim for the local young team. I remember coming off the school bus on a misty December night. Everything black and grey and jaggy shadows. I saw the line of boys waiting at the top of the hill. I saw them, split from my mate and ran away. But they got him. I could hear the punches and cries through the grey mist. Thank God they were doing it to him and not me.


“That’s your mate they’re hittin’.” The voice of an older boy said.


The young team didn’t let up. They never got a hold of me but they broke limbs of kids from ‘bought hooses’, took the streets for themselves. Checkpoints and choke points on every walk to the shops. I mean boys fight, but this? To pick on one wee guy because he had a bit of a mouth on him and set about him in the park, that was a bit much.


Their interests matured into drink, glue, drugs. And then it happened: my younger brother started to run with the young team.


We shared a room and loathed breathing the same air as each other.


So it’s the night of my graduation. My mum does this big production at the table. You know, linen table cloth, crystal wine glasses, candelabra, the china dinner service. She’s put this together over years. The knife? Yeah, that was a wedding present. It must be twenty five years old, couple of years older than me. Only out the mahogany box at big events.


Anyway, my brother turns up, in a slurred and smiley mood. He sees the graduation picture on top of the telly, the black gown deflated on the couch. He makes a joke about Batman, but the mood soon sours. He talks – rants is more like it. He’s fluent with the crazy eloquence of the chemically enhanced. When will he get his picture on the telly? When will we bow to him like a Buddha? He passed his driving test and nobody even shook his hand. I mutter that he is tripping. He kicks the table and the clatter of china and crystal roars in my mind. All I can hear is things breaking. The knife is in my hand and its swinging…


Then I’m running.


Fast.


Easy.


Free and flowing through the night.


Away from the scatter of blood drops that sprayed the textured wallpaper. Away from the white faces and the dark circles of open mouths. I don’t remember stopping…


The brother? He’s okay, he recovered. It was just a scratch really. Defensive wound on the arm I heard.


But the knife killed me. Killed my hope, ended my dreams, left me here.


I’ve never minded the smell of disinfectant, it’s sort of comforting; like the way my mum used to put a drop of it with water into a basin next to the bed if you were going to throw up. Being sick can be safe and warm sometimes.


personal rebellion, brothers, childhood