There was this boy I went to primary school with – Carl. For a while I imagined him being my best friend for life. He didn’t live that close to me, but sometimes I’d walk the long way home just to spend time with him. He taught me a penis was a dick, and a vagina a fanny, and I didn’t care that my mum would bollock me every time I got back late, saying she’d been at her wit’s end, with me off God knows where.

At school, we used to play football in the playground together with a sponge ball. Every time he scored I’d rush up to high-five and hug him. I thought if I touched him then some of his genius would rub off on me, and everyone would think I was great too, though no one else did think he was great, and the only reason I think I thought he was great was because we both had freckles, and thought we frecklers should stick together. Or something like that.

Then one day I arrived at school to find Mrs Graves shouting at him in the playground. I asked another friend, Danny, what had happened and he said Carl had thrown a stink bomb into the girls’ toilets. When my mum found out and needled it out of me that I sometimes walked home with Carl, she told me to stay away from him, he was a bad influence, naughty, not someone I should be spending my time with. I tried to say it was just a joke, it was only a stink bomb, but her mind was made up.

The following week I did as I was told. I walked home alone, and tried to make sure I was never on his team when we played football. When he tried to tell me a new word – prozzie – I told him I knew it already, though I didn’t and couldn’t find it in my my dad’s dictionary either.

Eventually, though, we started hanging out again. One day the sponge football we’d been using fell apart and the next day Carl came in with a new one. It was the rule that whoever brought the new ball in got to be one of the team captains and he picked me first.

I remembered what my mum had said, and thought if I just play and be a good team mate then that’ll be enough, but after we’d been playing for about ten minutes I laid a perfect pass through to him and he latched on to it, scored, and rushed right over to high five me, that pass was amazing.

That night we walked home together. We relived my pass and his goal, and he told me a new word, bitch, which he said was something his dad sometimes called his mum when he was angry with her, though my dad’s dictionary said it was a girl dog.

When I got home my mum shouted at me, she’d been at her wit’s end again, but I didn’t care. I was friends with Carl again. I was going to be a midfield superstar and use my dick with a prozzie and call her a bitch, though I had no idea what any of it really meant.

Then one afternoon we went back to our classroom after winning another lunchtime football match, and Carl dared me to put a drawing pin on Rachel Hadley’s chair so she’d sit on it. He said it’d be funny and she’d laugh too and I agreed. But when she sat down she screamed and immediately started crying.

Mrs Graves went mental. She demanded to know who had done it, who was it, tell me right now or you’ll all be staying after school, so I owned up. She took me out of class and sat me on a chair in the hallway saying how disappointed she was in me, and that I was not to come back until I’d really thought about what I’d done.

When my mum found out she went ballistic. My brother saw me in the hallway when he came back from PE and told her as soon as we got home. I hoped that by closing my eyes and looking away I could somehow make myself invisible to him, but apparently that doesn’t work.

My mum asked why I did it, was it that Carl, have you been walking home with him again? If he asked you to jump off a cliff, would you? She sent me to my room and grounded me for a week. When I walked home, my brother walked with me. In class, I sat with Danny and only spoke to Carl when I had to.

The following year I moved to a different class and when we went to secondary school I went to the grammar and Carl to the comprehensive. I never saw him again. There were rumours about drugs and teenage pregnancy, but by then I didn’t care or bother to listen to the details. I had new friends I wanted to be seen with.

Eventually I went to university, got a job, got married and emigrated to Canada (my wife’s from Ottawa). I forgot about him completely, until my mum sent me a letter with a newspaper clipping detailing how he’d raped his ex-girlfriend in a drug-fueled frenzy while holding a gun to her head. My mum had stuck a post-it to it, saying: bet you’re glad you listened to me when you were at primary school.

I showed it to my wife. She asked me who Carl was, so I told her. When I had finished, she said maybe your mum has a point, you know. I said, yeah, she always does.


30 thoughts on “Freckles

  1. A great story which feels true, partly because it’s written with a real sense of childlike naivete. A simple yet profound tale. Thanks for posting.

  2. I think that you have used a really good voice in your story here. There are elements which resonate strongly (both with myself and, I’m sure, many others), and your almost conversational tone is a pleasure to read. Congrats!

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