“I really don’t want to touch it,” I said. “Touch it,” Michael Winsholme told me, again. “I really don’t want to,” I said, again. I could feel my neck getting hot, blotches hanging under my chin and clambering up my cheeks. My tongue felt twice, maybe three times its normal size and I remember being surprised at hearing my own voice. I’d not fully expected to be able to speak but I heard myself – clearer than usual even – and then I’d heard the blood pumping inside my head.
“Pussy,” Michael said, looking around at the others. “Yeah touch it, pussy, what are you, a scared little pussy, pussy?” said one of the others, and laughed. I felt sick, but I wasn’t going to throw up in front of this lot. I knew it was Andrew that spoke last: Andrew Bloody Riches. I thought about Michael and felt like I couldn’t say much more, but with Andrew, I was going to punch him so hard walking home later on. Andrew was the biggest loser you could ever meet. My dad called him ‘The Runt’. “Where’s The Runt tonight? Did you lose him down a gutter?”. “Alright Runty, been in and out many mouse holes recently?”. “’ere, Runt, does your old man mind that you’re a ginge?” I wished my dad was there then, although he’d have probably made me touch it as well.
I stood there, my face burning and still not able to bring myself to do it. I picked up a stick and looked again at Michael, purposely ignoring Andrew Runty Riches bouncing up and down behind him. I’d give him the worst dead arm later on. Michael carried on staring at me, a small grin flicking on his mouth. I thought that he didn’t really seem to blink, and that made me feel really cold, all over my back. I swallowed, and my mouth felt so dry I thought again that I was going to puke, but I remembered I’d decided I wouldn’t; not in front of them all, watching me, waiting for me not to do it. I swallowed again, and then I poked the dead fox with the stick. Nothing happened.
Michael slapped me on the back. “I knew you had it in you, mate” he said. Then he turned to the others, picked up a stick of his own and pointed through the trees and back to the playground. They all started walking back to where we’d been about ten minutes before, but I didn’t move. I had this horrible taste in my mouth, so I spat on the floor, and realised they were all still walking away.
“I don’t want to be friends anymore”, I said, quietly at first, then again, louder. They all stopped and turned to look at me. Michael just laughed, turned back around and carried on walking. “Fine by me, pussy. You can take your loser mate with you as well. Get lost Riches”, he called over his shoulder without even looking at The Runt, or me. Andrew stopped dead, mouth hanging open, looking between me and Michael like he was watching a tennis match. The others followed Michael through the trees and back to the playground, trying hard not to look back at us.
“Why’d you do that?” Andrew said, frowning and flapping his arms up and down. I turned around and started walking in the opposite direction. Andrew ran after me and grabbed my arm. “Here,” he said again, “I’m talking to you, I said…”. And that was when I punched him. I punched him really hard on the arm, and he fell over.
“Who were you calling a pussy, Runty?” I shouted at him, then blushed and felt bad. He looked up at me and had tears in his eyes, and I felt even worse. I put out a hand and helped him up. As we walked home, I told him I was going to tell everyone that he’d cried. He tried to punch me, but he was only small so I grabbed his wrists and he stopped after he realised he couldn’t get me.
I didn’t end up telling anyone he’d cried, and he didn’t tell anyone I’d punched him. Michael and the others called us both pussies for a couple of weeks afterwards, but we didn’t really mind because we decided we didn’t really want to be friends with boys like them anyway.