The boy was no angel. 

            He had not knotted his tie properly—because, of course, this crumpled foot-length of cloth with horizontal stripes was the last thing on his mind.  It joined many other last-things on the boy’s mind, namely: the dirt-scuffed knees—the “designer” rips in the elbows of the school jacket, a jacket which, although it had obviously seen better days and a body more fitting for its size, his mother made him wear because “it cost a tidy few bob and you can’t go throwing things away with use still in them, can you?”—the short grey trousers that the school authorities said must be worn just to the middle of the knees, which trousers were newish, since the previous pair had been irreparably soiled one awful awful day of tummy upset towards the end of the endless summer holidays—the socks circumcised down to the ankles and wrinkled uncomfortably under his feet inside the heavy-duty shoes, as if he were walking on painful bruises—and the last last-thing of all, thoughts of going back to school to learn other-things.

            His name was Idle White, not that was how it was meant to be spelt.  His mother had wanted to call him something nicer than the names of her older children.  His father had no opinion on the matter.  He had never been known to express a view one way or another on any subject—except perhaps on the state of the beer at the Dog and Drake

            When she heard one of her hoity-toity neighbours tell her that the new baby must be the idol of her eyes, Mrs White had nodded thoughtfully—confusing the word she had often heard used about her husband in a mix-and-match sort of way—and decided to call her baby … Idle.  It seemed to go naturally with White. 

            The vicar had, however, creased his brows as he spilt holy water over the squawling brat’s forehead, asking Mrs White to repeat the name.  She could not read real words, so no harm was done.  “God and His angels would have to see to any misunderstandings,” she mused to herself, cradling her son’s puking head against the softer parts of her body.

            None of these things, of course, crossed Idle’s mind, today.  He was on a mission, dashing between two goals.  [He had just won conkers against Spiky Hawn, the two nuggets of shiny dark brown having impacted like obstreperous heads of boys being bashed together by Mr Utting in the blackboard-dark classroom of last lesson Friday—the skulls crunching and the stars flying in all directions like sparks in the foundry.]  And, now, Idle White was legging it towards a bus shelter on the other side of town where he hoped an “assignation” would be fulfilled.  He could hardly pronounce the word, nor spell it, but it held all the promise of a gloriously memorable Saturday afternoon, nevertheless.

            The girl in the frock was waiting by the bus shelter, as arranged. 

            “But, blinking hell, who’s that standing with her?” Idle asked himself. 

            It looked like what the girl’s mother would look like, if his worst imaginings had ever come true.  He made as if to turn back, the little slippery customer of his impetus having suddenly lost water in its gurgling swim from his head to his feet.

            “Come here, little boy,” said the tall lady, beckoning to him with the fingers of her gloves.

            Head bent almost below his shoulders, he shuffled with the smallest paces he could manage towards the two female creatures whom he now feared were as queer and frightening and alien and mysterious and secret and downright at cross purposes with normal folk as he had always suspected females to be (his many sisters being the worst of a bad bunch and his mother the best).

            The girl piped up: “Idol, I was bursting, I just had to tell someone I was going to meet you here.”

            “But why HER?” 

            He pointed as rudely as possible.

            “Because I wondered whether we were allowed to hold hands,” said the thing in the tiny frock.

            “But it were you who said that we could,” whined Idle.  “You said that we MUST hold hands, ‘cos that’s God’s way.” 

            If boys could cry, he was making a fist of proving that they couldn’t.

            The lady stood and stared.  She seemed to grow even taller to Idle, with the top of her head touching the roof of the bus shelter.  She was like a volcano, with a sleeveless coat reaching to the ankles.  Her spectacles glinted in the Autumn sunlight, as she began to speak in a voice thick with spittle:

             “She has told me all about you, Idle White, and I have come with God’s message about how you should try harder at school.”

            Unaccountably, Idle thought about one of his older sisters, who was currently doing a mysterious thing at school called MOCKS.  It entailed sitting and writing for great lengths of time, while Mr Utting stared at you from a high desk, below a large ticking clock, his bald dome shining in the shafts of unseasonable sunlight sloping in from the grimy window.  Idle dreaded the word Mocks—it held all the frissons of nightmare and a lot more.

            Before the towering messenger from God had a chance to finish her piece, he scuttled off down the road, chanting “Mox! Mox! Mox!…” like a spell behind his back.  It had been a lucky escape, slipping the clutches of that evil angel who took such delight in speaking-in-tongues as well as looking (and, probably, being) downright horrible.

There was another word which was bad, so awfully, awfully bad, it did not even bear thinking about.  Or was it two words?  Exam.  Ex-Am.  The thought of Ex-Am unmanned him, prevented him being a proper “I” person, making him something with no longer a mind nor a hand able to hold steady a fly-rod above the humming waters of the reservoir during those endless summer holidays (holidays that always did end far too abruptly).

            With his tie still at a loose end and his minnow mind tentatively poking its head from the tummy’s stagnant pond to which it had fled, Idle White, the scrumping-apple of his mother’s eye, ambled homeward, eventually whistling a catchy tune the nearer he got. 

            At least his mother knew how to put the right people in the right bodies.  Unlike God.  She was the only angelic template Idle could possibly countenace, given his knowledge of such words in the first place.  Whatever the case, it seemed that God was hell-bent on hiring angels on the cheap, or at least to Idle’s discriminating eye. 

            Yet such concerns—Good & Evil—Male & Female—Mind & Matter—Love & Hate—Truth & Untruth—even Fact & Fiction—were soon to become just further last-things on his mind.


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