Escape to victory
Whose fault was it? Well, it was Michael Caine’s: John Colby’s if you think about it. He had to have Hatch back on the football team, see. And the only way he could do it was to break the goalkeeper’s arm. He knew the Germans would check it, so it had to be really properly snapped.
We were bunking off: Liddy and me. And Stace came round with her. One of those ‘ill’ days all our mums were working so we could easily get away with it – you know? We just watched videos, that kind of thing. We always kicked off with one of the Disney cartoon films. I picked it that time: Beauty and the Beast. Don’t say anything, I know it’s just for kids really. It was Liddy’s favourite though – I think it was because she was learning it on the flute.
The video shop never had sod all, not fifteens anyway, so we’d end up watching something like The Carpenters’ Story that Mum taped years ago and will pretty much kill anyone who tries to record over it.
Liddy would do the Richard part and I’d be Karen. And neither of us really knew if the other one was dead into it, or just taking the piss. But we did know most of the words – the talking as well, not just the songs. Am I going into it too much, or is this what you want?
Okay. Well, we didn’t watch The Carpenters that day. We put the Michael Caine one on instead. I’d seen it at least ten million times, and so had Liddy, but Stace had never watched it before. Not even when she was a kid! So when it got to the arm-break bit, we kept on rewinding it and making her watch it over and over like we did with the cross scene in The Exorcist when the girl asks Jesus to – you know. It’s not that bad really as you don’t get to see anything, but Stace is squeamish about pretty much everything. Her hands go up to her face and she like, pulls her eyes down and shoves her little fingers right up her nose. Doesn’t even know she’s doing it. It’s so funny to watch. That’s how she got her name: ‘Pig Face Stace,’ it’s not because she’s ugly, or because of her weight or anything. Even though she’s not exactly anorexic of the century. Don’t look at me like that.
I think it was Liddy who said it. It must have been. I mean, why would Stace or me?
‘I wish someone would break my arm,’ she goes. It was so she wouldn’t have to sit for her GCSEs. Her dad wanted her to go to uni: be a music teacher like him. But she just wanted to work with the babies at that nursery up the road. Couldn’t wait to have her own kids, Liddy. She was going to call one after me, and the others – Faith and Charity. Sad. Don’t you think?
‘Your arm’s a bit O.T.T. isn’t it Lydia.’ That’s all I said. Not, like, serious or anything. I always called her Lydia when she said something dumb. Then she’d be like, ‘Soz, Mum.’ Or if she was mega pissed off: ‘Soz, God.’
And I’m like, ‘Couldn’t you get away with a couple of fingers – even just your thumb?’ You know I was joking though, right? I mean, it was obvious I was joking. She did know.
Then she goes, ‘God you weirdo, I didn’t mean it.’ She definitely said that. Then chucked a cushion at me. What are you writing now? What have you put? Show me.
We went into the kitchen then. Remember, I told you?
Liddy opened the patio doors and sparked up an Embassy. I remember that, because she flicked her match on the grass.
‘Pick it up!’ I went. We used to call it the dinner-lady-on-litter-duty voice.
‘You’re mum’s hardly going to spot one little match,’ she goes; something like that. But she put Dad’s slippers on and went outside anyway, as she knew full well Mum would notice.
‘Twos on that,’ I went. You know, to share her fag. And she stuck her tongue out and licked all round the bottom of it. She could be a right bitch.
‘You can have twos on mine if you like,’ Stace went. Arse lick.
I put some toast on. I wouldn’t have had any, but Stace is a greedy cow and Liddy could eat whatever she liked. And I mean anything. Her mum’s exactly the same you know, cream doughnuts, Big Macs.
Then I must have gone outside as Stace was there with her mouth all like a duck’s arsehole trying to blow a smoke ring, massively failing.
And I was like, ‘If you’re not going to inhale, then hold it in a bit and breathe it out slower. Otherwise you just look like a twelve-year-old.’
And Liddy goes, ‘Who are you? Miss Nicotine nineteen ninety-two?’ I remember because Liddy never took Stacey’s side. Not because she liked to side with me or anything. It was more about making Stace look like a dick.
‘Do you think it would really hurt?’ she went then: Liddy.
And Stace goes, ‘You’re not being serious are you?’ In that stupid voice – exactly like I just did it.
‘Maybe you could get day-release at the nursery,’ I said, ‘if you didn’t have to stay on for ‘A’ levels.’
‘It’s alright for you, you aren’t even sitting your exams,’ Stace goes, sticking her nose in as usual.
‘I have been pretty ill,’ I said. As if she didn’t already know.
And she was like, ‘If living on fags and breath mints counts as being ill, then maybe you should break her hand, then you two can be the retards together.’ That’s what she actually said. Then: ‘I know, why don’t I pop a zit then I can get out of my GCSEs too.’
Yeah, I’m okay . . . yes. No, thank you. No, honestly, I’m fine. I’m not thirsty. I’ll tell you this though: Liddy knew full well how out of order it was. ‘Stacey,’ was all she said. All serious. We’d never heard her like that before.
It took me a minute to say anything at all. I mean, it wasn’t like I’d been out of hospital that long. In the end I just said it was because she was jealous, even though only a mum would realistically say that. I asked her what size her jeans were. Knew that would get her to shut her face.
‘I think you’ll find size ten is normal,’ she goes.
And I went, ‘Well, if you say so, Stace. Mine and Liddy’s are age ten. But if you like the chubby look, then who are we to pass comment.’
I think it changed then. Stace piped down a bit. I think it was because she couldn’t talk and suck her guts in at the same time.
Yeah, I did say it. But only as a wind up. I think I went, ‘If you really want it broken, I’ll do it.’ But you know I was only joking. It was obvious wasn’t it? I mean, all of us knew.
And Stace goes, ‘You are joking?’
And I go, ‘Actually, no.’
I mean, obviously I was. I’m not a fucking nut job or anything. But then Liddy wanted to know when we would do it. So I just said, ‘Now.’
I remember Stace laughing. You know, that laugh people do when they see something bad on the news, and it’s so bad they crease up because they don’t know what else they can do.
But Liddy ignored her and was all, ‘What would we use?’
And I went to look in the utility room. And I was going to say I couldn’t find anything. To forget it, like. But then I saw it: ‘What do you two reckon?’ I had this big metal hammer, didn’t I? Steel, I think. ‘More than a match for skin and bone!’ I said. You should have seen Stacey’s face.
‘That’s the fellow,’ Liddy went, in that same dumb voice as me.
Then Stace was all, ‘I’m going to puke.’ She put her hand over her mouth and her eyes went all watery. She’s done it loads in drama class.
‘Okay,’ I went, ‘just put your thumb on the edge of the table so I know where to line it up.’ I wasn’t really going to do it. Honest I wasn’t. Even when she put her thumb exactly where I said.
Then Stacey went and put her hand over the top of it. ‘Liddy, you know they’ll make you repeat the year,’ she said. ‘They won’t just let you give up on a proper career.’
‘Just fuck off if you don’t want to be here,’ I said. ‘Piss off home and we’ll see you at school tomorrow.’
She didn’t move so I just laughed at her; sort of laughed.
I lifted my arm. Held it there for a bit. Just held it.
Then I said, ‘Fuck, that was close.’ And Stace went all gigglish like before. I think she even said, ‘I knew you wouldn’t do it,’ or something equally brilliant.
‘There’s no placemat,’ I said. ‘Thank fuck I didn’t trash the table. Mum would have killed me. In fact, I think we’d better use two.’ It was quite funny when you actually think about it.
‘Please, Liddy, don’t let her do it to you,’ Stacey goes, like I’m some kind of mad serial killer or something. Then she’s begging me in that stupid dumb baby voice: ‘Please don’t hurt her. Please.’
And that was when I did it, see. It was just . . . Stacey. That big fat fucking mouth.
Do you really want me to say it out loud?
Well, Liddy puts her hand on top of the mats and nods at me. And Stace closes her eyes, and Liddy closes hers too. And I do it. I hit her. But it’s not hard enough. Not enough to break it anyway. She really fucking squeals though. Grabs it with her other hand.
And I’m like, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t do it right.’
‘What?’ she goes. And she’s like, taking her thumb out and looking at it.
It was bright red. The skin was all peeling. You could see a bruise coming, but that was it.
‘Shit,’ Liddy goes. ‘Shit – shit – shit.’ She must have said it at least ten times.
And I go, ‘Come on. Stick it back on the table.’ Otherwise I’ve just walloped the shit out of her for no reason, haven’t I?’
‘No,’ Stacey goes.
And I go, ‘Yes!’ And Liddy kisses her thumb. I reckon she smiled as well before she put it back down.
I’m like, ‘You know you don’t have to?’ It sort of felt past the moment, you know? I really needed a fag. I need one now actually. Is it okay if we stop?
You might not believe me but I can still hear her scream. It was like . . . sinister. Beautiful or something. She falls down then, holding her hand between her legs. And Stace is just turned away from us. Crying I think.
‘Liddy.’ I say it, you know, gently. And I’m trying to stroke her shoulders, like a bit of a massage. ‘I just want to look at it. Please, Liddy.’ And I’m stroking her hair too, even though she’s acting kind of mental. Then she gets up and sort of hobbles to the bathroom: starts to heave. Keeps on heaving but nothing comes except more screams. And it’s like the room is actually spinning, and not just one of those things people say.
And I phone Dad’s office. It’s exactly what I planned, but it feels like it’s real. I tell him there’s been an accident and he says he’ll come straight away. So I just grab Liddy and sit her down with me at the bottom of the stairs. Put my arm around her, with her still bawling her eyes out. And, I know this is mean, but all I’m thinking is please God don’t let her show me that manky thumb.
Stace gets up to go then. She looks at me like I’ve just drowned her kitten or something, but she wouln’t grass on us or anything. She wouldn’t dare. Liddy calms down eventually, and lets me dry her eyes with my sleeve. And both of us, we just sit. Her and me. Just like next year when Stacey goes off to college.
It took forever to get her looked at and x-rayed; bandaged up. She was brilliant. Told them the iron had fallen on it, but before it was plugged in – that’s why her thumb wasn’t burnt. And they believed her, see. It was what I told her to say, and she said it exactly the same to everyone. Then after like, ages, the first doctor came back to see her before they’d let her go.
‘Are you right-handed?’ he went. And when she says yes, he says she won’t be
doing any writing for at least three weeks. Then he leaves and I ask if she’s happy now. And she holds up her arm, like she’s doing a thumbs up, only she doesn’t actually need to put her thumb up or anything, as it’s already stuck like it in her cast; all shiny and white. And clean. And that’s when I thought about it – what I might write: something not too brilliant, not too dumb. I thought maybe I’d write something like, ‘Get well soon.’