“The Romantics won us wars,” he once began; the title of the night. It’s a sound you always loved when Father thumbed through the pages, softly humming until he found the right place. He’d quietly clear his throat, look down from his nose, and begin. Percy Shelley was your favourite. It was hard to understand, at times you weren’t sure if it was even English, but you loved it. The way Father read was that of melody, emphasising rhyme and meter, alliteration, pauses, soft couplets, sibilance, speech. “Poetry is music,” he would say as you slowly drifted; it was your calming allegro, your slumber song, your lullaby. A childhood of Romantics.
You kept reading poetry into your teenage years. While weekdays were still topped with literature as you read into the nights, weekends were spent cycling dirt ramps and grass knolls with Billy Ross. Both of you raced across the Towdown hills and through the Smith Woods. Billy always rode faster than you, always made more air time, was always able to wheelie for longer; the king of cycling, or the BMRex you called him. He’d give you bubblegum when you met. “Don’t tell Mom,” you said. You admired his indestructible personality. Billy would arrive from home with bruises and burns but never let it erase his smile, which was often garnished with a toothpick. While it wasn’t something you’d wear, you were jealous of his leather jacket. It turned Billy into a movie star. Sometimes, Alice Meadows and Tiffany Green joined you, when they weren’t doing homework. Billy always made the girls laugh, especially Tiffany, who would rest her head on his shoulder. You saw them holding hands once and it made you happy. Emma admired you; at the time you didn’t know, nor did you understand her flirtatious gestures or what it really meant when she complimented your freckles.
Billy never understood the poetry you tried to share, that was made clear pretty quick. “I’m not books, not me, you know. I don’t get any of that stuff but I’m glad you do. This place needs a smart person.” He rolled cigarettes with his frail fingers and smoked them whilst the spring sun set. His fiery ginger hair glistened and glittered with sweat. After the long days of cycling, you both would ride down to the quadrant. Before he closed up and the night set in, Horace gave you both a Pepsi, free of charge. You never knew why. Together, you sat on the curb and counted pedestrians whilst slowly drinking the fizzy pop.
Billy would walk you home. Mom would be standing outside, her arms folded, her foot tapping, like some classic disgruntled parent. Once inside, you’d watch Billy slowly meander his way back down the street, to one side of the road, then the other. He was never in a rush to get home.
On Saturday, April 16th, you met Billy in the park. He was sat on the bench, his head down and his feet resting on a football. He wore a poppy bruise on his left cheek. “I’m going to Breckenridge tomorrow, to be a mechanic,” he told you. “My cousin’s got a workshop there, makes ten bucks an hour. Says it’s a good life if you don’t mind working hard and business men. There’s room in the car for you.” Your passion for adventure never matched his, nor your bravery. You stayed at home, with your roots, with your family.
“Mom will kill me,” you said.
He was sixteen years old when he left. You thought that was the last time you were going to see him. He gave you his last stick of bubblegum; you saved it.
That night, you read The Masque of Anarchy, the epic poem by Shelley. The politics weren’t clear for you nor communicated but Father afterwards put it simply for your rested mind. He said at times of turmoil, there’s strength in the people, in their numbers. All they have to do is realise it when they come together. You liked that, the idea that people can overcome the odds as a whole. Father laughed at your little analogy, how you said it was like the arcade games.
As your eyes fell heavy and your body relaxed, he stroked your head. You saw his tall frame in the door, his hand on the knob; his pebble moustache sitting beneath his nose; his kind, parakeet eyes looking back at you. “You’re a lion,” he said. “Lights out, kiddo.”
Life in Season – Spring is part one of a four part series. Click here for part two.