This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 783 words.
Keith was undoubtedly the brainiest of the group. He found school-work easy, and once we were in Secondary School it was obvious he would outclass the rest of us. He helped us with our home-work, and though he tried to show us how to work things out for ourselves, we ususally ended up copying his answers without really understanding them. His parents were a bit older than mine, and his older sister Susan still lived at home. Susan was the main reason I used to like hanging around at his house. Seventeen years old and great to look at, the fact that she thought of us as kids was a real bonus.
That meant we got to be around her when she was completely relaxed. Sprawled on the sofa watching telly, completely unaware that I was looking up her skirt, or sitting close to smell her perfume. Susan was choosy too. Despite being asked out by almost every older boy who lived nearby, she never wanted to have a boyfriend. Keith said she was waiting for the right man. Someone to take her away to the suburbs, and get her out of her boring job in the typing pool at the local jam factory.
I remember the day Keith said he was going to go to university. We laughed at first, then realised he was serious. Kids from our area never went to university. You took the basic exams, and then got out of school to get a job. It was expected of you, and you were prepared for that at a young age.
Johnny was going to work with his dad on the street markets. Georgie Simpson had three stalls selling leather goods, and Johnny had been helping out on them during the holidays and at weekends since he was old enough to count money. My future was similarly cast in stone. Mum was obsessed with me having a ‘clean job’, working in an office. She had asked around some family friends, and one had promised to give me a start where he worked, in a big insurance company. I could get a bus there easily, and as long as I passed in Maths and English, it was guaranteed.
As for Terry, his dad was a plumber. So Terry would help him once he left school, and study for his trade qualification at night school. Terry’s dad was likeable, but always said the same things. Things like, “People always need toilets, son. Learn to fix them and you will always be in work”. Because Terry had a much younger brother, his mum Alice didn’t work. She stayed at home to look after little Tony, and seemed to love being a housewife.
A natural choice for a market trader, Johnny was full of chat, had the gift of the gab, and acted much older than he was. The customers on the stalls loved his cheeky banter, and he could sell a handbag by telling some dowdy lady that it made her look beautiful just holding it. Though he had an older brother, nobody ever talked much about Graham. Johnny said that Graham didn’t get on with his dad.
He had wanted to be a painter, a real one, like portraits and landscapes. So had left to go to Art School when we were much younger, and now lived in Brighton, on the coast. According to Johnny, he shared a flat there with another bloke who had been his best friend at college.
We didn’t know what that meant back then, but I found out later.
Not talking about an older brother was something I was also used to. My older brother was only a vague memory. Someone I shared a room with when I was too young to really work out who he was. A tall young man lifting me up until my head touched the lampshade. My last memory of him was when he came home on leave wearing his army uniform. He was being posted to Germany, I found out later. Not that there was a war then of course, just a barracks at a place called Paderborn.
My mum cried for two days after the men came to tell her that Kevin had been killed in an accident. His army lorry had turned over in icy weather. I had to go to the funeral when they brought him home. Mum bought me a suit for the occasion, and everyone was crying. Later on, they put a big framed photo of him over the mantlepiece, smiling in his uniform and beret. After that, we never talked about him at all.
But I was always aware that I lived in his shadow.