You said, “I dare you.”
Slave to three words; we slip out to the ruin while Mum is busy.
No trespassers; is that an anagram of ‘I dare you.’ Might as well be; I was never much good at spelling.
“What are you afraid of?” A whipping if we get caught.
“Nothing,” I’m afraid of nothing
But we aren’t alone; footsteps echo.
We run for all we are worth, then we stop and you laugh. You’ve lost that hat you liked to wear, that stupid looking one like a golfer’s tammy. I’m not going back for it. It’s your hat.
First Published in PAISLEY POEMS No 1
The poem above is a shortened version of a slightly longer piece that I wrote previously. The full version is given below
Thanks to Mak Wilson for permission to use his photograph
I dare you
By David Rae
“Let’s go,” you said, “unless you’re scared.” How could I say no; I was the big brother, I was never scared, not in front of you. How much trouble you got me into; three words and you could make me do anything, I dare you. Climb that tree, fight that boy, steal that candy, I was a slave to those three words, still am. You still egg me on. I still hear it; you’re not scared, are you. Maybe sometimes I should have been scared. You just wouldn’t let me, still won’t.
We slipped out when Mum was busy, and headed to the factory. I led the way; I’m the oldest even if it was your idea. You followed behind; like a dog on a lead, I was your dog. I held your hand when we crossed at the lights. I had to keep you safe. We waited till the lights changed and walked across our own personal Rubicon. No going back now. Not without losing face. Me losing face.
Away from the main road, houses thinned out. Now there was just bare ground, dust and weeds and a clear blue sky, our huckleberry fin adventure. We walk on until the path is terminated by a broken chain link fence. The limit of legitimate play, no trespassers. We stopped.
“Let’s go in.” See you, played me like a record.
Animal feed it used to make, when there were jobs, now big and empty, a ruin. No trespassers; is that an anagram of I dare you, might as well be. I was never much good at spelling. Most of the fence was hanging down. All it was good for was catching the papers blowing around, bright coloured ribbons of trash wrapped round wire, trapped and fading. You made me hold it down for you so you never got caught on the fence.
Now we were in, now we’d done it.
“Let’s go back now.”
“What you afraid of?” A whipping if we got caught. You’d be fine; it wouldn’t be your fault, never your fault.
“Nothing,” I’m afraid of nothing.
We run inside, pushing a rotten door off its hinges. Better if no one can see is us. Cool shade and damp smell; do you even remember that? Do you remember any of it? It’s an office I think. There are desks tipped over, and shelves smashed, and files all over the floor. A filling cabinet lay on its side. For some reason, there were paperclips everywhere. A black gap in the whitewashed walls led on. You went through and then came back wrinkling your nose, lavatory, I took your word for it.
We walked out into the warehouse round the back; most of the roof was off, rafters like skinny ribs across the sky, and the loading bay doors were gone. Dirt and rubble piled up in the corners and on the concrete where the roof had fallen . We shouted and listened to our echo. See, no danger, no gangs, no ghosts, no nothing. Just us, brothers, best pals in the whole world. This was all ours, at least for now.
But we weren’t alone.
The spirit drinker uncoiled like black smoke, staggering upright. I don’t mean a man that drinks souls, or someone that drinks gin with a cocktail olive instead of beer. Methylated spirits, Meths, Pinky, denatured alcohol adulterated with wood naphtha, pyridine and Methyl violet, use it to light lamps and stoves, to clean wounds and machinery but never drink it, never ever. There used to be a bottle of the amethyst liquid in every house kept on the highest shelf, or locked in the medicine cupboard, ours was under the sink.
The meths drinker, crazy nightmare; mad, blind, rotting and red-faced with poison. He stood there in his ragged old coat, hair and teeth and nails and mad staring eyes, vacant eyes. Homeless and friendless, cast out, worthless; fear leaves no space for pity, not in boy’s heart anyway, not in mine, not then.
The spirit drinker staggered towards us, those eyes. He reaches out with puffy dead man’s fingers. Those eyes.
“What do you want?” he asks. But by that time we are gone, running and there is no one to hear.
We stop and you laugh, when we are safe. You’ve lost that hat you liked to wear, that stupid looking one like a golfer’s tammy. I’m not going back for it. It’s your hat.