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Bells A Ringing.

The wind was rattling the windows and because it was lashing and because I was a big boy of four and three-quarters, Ma said she’d leave me at home when she went to the shops.

“I won’t be gone ten minutes; I’m only going to the butchers to get a few chops. Promise me, you’ll be a good boy, and I’ll bring ya home a Trigger bar.”

“Yes, Ma.”

I was fierce important, all alone in the house for the very first time. But ten minutes is a long time, and it was kinda cold with the windows rattling. I crawled under my bed.

That was where I kept my treasure. It was in a shoebox that Da gave me. I’d a massive spider and two wasps wrapped up in the tissue paper, and two lumps of bubble-gum in a box that used to have plasters in it, and all my old Beano’s were there as well. And when I rummaged in the kitchen, I found some matches. Ma and Da always said, “never touch those matches”, but I was a big boy now.

It was getting nice and cosy when I heard someone kicking our door and shouting in the letterbox.

“Are ye coming out, the rains stopped, and we can go up the field and play cowboys and Indi-”

It was my bestest friend, Kevin Coghlan. I reached up on my tippy toes, opened the door, grabbed my coat, dipped my fingers in the holy water, and rode off. Ma always told me to bless myself every time I went out, “If you do, she said, “Jesus will look after you for the whole day.”

Kevin was a year and a quarter older than me, but his Ma hadn’t sent him to school yet. Maybe it was because he always had a snotty nose. They were greeners, and he wiped them on his sleeves. That’s why they were always shiny, and Kevin was nearly six.

I was The Lone Ranger, riding Silver, and Kevin at my side was Tonto on a pony. Sometimes Kevin wanted to be The Lone Ranger, but I told him I’d only be his best friend if I was. We gave our backsides a wallop and took off up the road to the woods. Bullet and Mango ran along beside us.

Bullet was barking. Bullet was Kevin’s dog, a massive one, bigger than Kevin and me put together. When he wasn’t barking, he was slobbering, panting and farting. We called him Bullet ’cos that was the name of Roy Rogers’ dog. He was supposed to be an Alsatian and a guard dog, but he’d really long thin legs like a greyhound and I heard Kevin’s da cursing him once. He told my Da “That dog’s a pure eejit. All he does is bark and wag his feckin tail. That tail is flying around non-stop, it’s a wonder he doesn’t take off. I’m telling ya, the fecker I bought him off is a right chancer. Thoroughbred, my arse. I think Bullet’s mother was playing the field, if ye get my drift.” Da laughed and lit a fag, but I didn’t know what they were talking about.

But Bullet was faster than anything. Anytime Kevin put a lead on him, he’d shoot off, dragging Kevin, who skeeted along behind. He used his runners as brakes and his toes peeped out the top. His ma used to shout at him, “Are ye thick or something?”

And Mango was our cat who thought he was a dog. He’d claws as long as needles and ears that looked like something had chewed them and spat them out. His nose was kinda mashed in and Bullet kept out of his way. Da said; “He’s a right hard chaw. When he purrs, it sounds like a dirty diesel engine.” He was kinda yellowish and brown and Da said, “Let’s call him Mango for a laugh.”

“You can’t call him that,” said Ma.

“It’s better than Manky,” Da said, and Ma could see the justice in that, so Mango he stayed.

Mango followed me and the Brother everywhere. And anytime Ma was looking for us for our dinner, she’d only to see where Mango was and even if we were in a hide, she’d find us.

The woods were up at the top of our road and Ma didn’t like us playing there ‘cos she thought it was dangerous, but Da said, “It’s sad, but in a few weeks, the bulldozers will be in, destroying in a few hours what’s been growing for years. Let them enjoy the woods and the bit of grass while they can, because in another year, it’ll be houses and only concrete they’ll be playing on.”

Kevin was like a monkey, climbing miles up the trees. Mango was up there too, even higher. I stayed on the ground with Bullet, keeping a watch out for Geronimo or other Indians.

“What’s that noise,” I said, looking up at Kevin.

“Me look,” said Tonto, “It fire engines, two of them, coming down our road.”

Seconds later, we were galloping towards the clanging bells. In the distance, we saw puffs of smoke like the Indians made, and I could see loads of the neighbours outside our house. A few of the women were holding on to my Ma. I couldn’t make out what she was screaming, but it sounded like; “My baby, my baby, my baby’s in there.”

“What’s wrong, Ma?” I asked, panting after racing back.

I think Jesus must have been on a day off, and I didn’t duck in time and my ears got really sore, and it was days before the swelling went down, and ages before I could hear again.

And then Ma announced; “It’s time for school for you, my boy.”

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