Beer is yummy
Cannabis is groovy
LSD is fucking wick

Or so says the graffiti on the generator at the bottom of my row. It’s only one man’s opinion though, if it is a man. I’ve had this debate with my mate Capable and he says it’s definitely a man. Capable should know, or if he doesn’t, he’s the best person to guess. Capable’s smart and most of the time this is great. But not today, today I don’t even want to see him and that’s because today we get our GCSE results. I’ll call round for him of course, but I want to be standing next to someone thick when I open that envelope.

Anyway, that bollocks sprayed on the generator in crappy pink paint is the first thing I see every morning when I open my curtains. It reminds me what a hole Dunvale is to live in.

In the bathroom I shave my face, then my head. I think about slitting my throat – only joking, I’m not that worried. If I was, I’d have worked harder.

Me ma’s another person I don’t want to see, although she’s downstairs making me breakfast, real treat style, like it’s my birthday, and she’s fucking singing, some oul shite my granny used to sing. She thinks I’m going to do well (me ma, not me granny – she’s dead).

I get downstairs and find she’s made a big Ulster Fry, all the ingredients are there: soda, potato bread, sausage, bacon, eggs, tomato, even a pancake. I tuck in, even though I don’t deserve it.

‘Ma,’ I say, before my mouth’s properly full. ‘I’m not going to do well. I mightened even pass any.’

‘Even if you don’t,’ she says. ‘I know you done your best.’

Aye bollocks ma, if I do shite, you’ll be slabbering about how I mustn’t have tried and how the teacher said so in my school report, and how you don’t get to be a teacher in a shitty secondary school if you don’t have brains. They may come across pure smart, but when Thug Snowball left school, the headmaster said something like, ‘Glad we won’t be seeing you again.’ Snowball stood on his foot. When the wanker looked down Snowball smacked him in the mouth. Pure funny. Maybe I’ll do something like that, fucking love to.

‘Bleed you dick.’ That’s what I’d shout as I croaked him. Then me and Capable and anyone else that seen it’d laugh and go away and smoke blow, and the story’d get funnier every time I told it. Blow is fucking reely (dunno about groovy, sounds like a load of oul hippy shite).

I’ve got to come back to my ma because I’m being hard on her. It’s not her fault like. She can be alright. It’s just that you don’t slag off your family, especially your ma. I wouldn’t even slag her off to Capable and he’s my best mate like, y’know.

She tries to talk to me when I’m eating my breakfast. I’m trying to hurry it in me and get out. She’s all excited and I’m getting the impression she’s bought me something to celebrate. My ma’s the sort would buy me a beer, like it’s a treat letting me have a drink, even though I’m down at the tunnel every weekend getting blocked. I mean, it’s nice of her to think like that, but she’s been told – I’m not going to do well.

I go round Capable’s, and his next-door neighbour Hermit’s smoking blow out on his doorstep. Hermit’s a wanker like. No one bothers with him since a rumour started about him fingering a cat. No one would’ve believed it; except Hermit said he was trying to pull out a banger his wee brother had stuck up its arse. Dickhead.

‘Capable’s ma no in?’ I say.

Hermit shrugs.

‘You getting results today?’ I ask.

‘Aye sham,’ Hermit says. ‘Just English like, failed it last year.’

I hate people saying sham; I’d tell Hermit he’s probably failed English, except I’ve probably failed it too.

‘Where’s this wanker at?’ Hermit says, flicking the roach away. (Thanks for keeping us a smoke dickhead).

‘C’mon Capable you ballroot,’ he shouts, banging on the door.

‘Fuck up Hermit,’ Capable shouts from inside. ‘Barnoo there yet?’

‘Aye,’ I shout back.

‘Right lads, let’s get this over with,’ says Capable opening the door.

‘You need a haircut you hippy bastard,’ Hermit says.

Ignorant ballbag, he’s right though, Capable’s hair’s getting nearly long enough to part.

‘Least I’m no balding,’ Capable says, rubbing the top of Hermit’s head. ‘It feels like teddy bear fur.’

‘Come on tae fuck,’ I say. I’m no in the mood to listen to them slag each other off.

The three of us march to the school. I can see the playing field out the front, where there’s a crowd of ones standing, all there to get their results. Most of them’ll do shit like me, but I don’t want to stand there with them, listening to how this or that teacher is an oul bastard (which they probably are) and how it’s their fault they failed.

Hermit starts to drag behind, while Capable’s out in front. Hermit doesn’t want to go over with everyone there either; I just want him to say it first.

We’re getting near the school gate. I can make out a few faces, real smug bastards like. And they’re fucking smiling. I don’t want to find out how they done because if they’ve done well and I’ve not I’ll smash their fucking windows.

‘Stall the ball,’ says Hermit. ‘Let’s have a spliff before we go.’

‘Good idea,’ I say, before Capable has time to say otherwise.

We head off down the black path. Capable really wants to get his results, because if he’s done well, it’s off to the snobbiest hole in Ballymena to do his A-levels. He’s had his interviews and all he needs are 2 As and 4 Bs. He’ll have no bother getting that, so I’m not hurrying my misery for his happiness.

We head down the tunnel and skin up. Hermit’s not so fucking greedy this time and I get a good smoke. The spliff gets me all nice and mellow and nothing’s getting in my face, even the thought of getting shit marks.

Barney Boo and Steroids are heading our way. Barney Boo’s dead on; he’ll go into the off-licence for you if they’re asking for ID, but no fucker likes Steroids. He’s a big vain bastard and it’d be justified if he didn’t look like some cove flattened his nose; that’s why he used to get called Shovel, until he found out why and flattened a few coves.

‘Let’s fuck off,’ says Hermit. ‘Those dicks are after me.’
‘Oi Hermit, you fucking dick, Where were you the other night?’ Steroids shouts, running up as we start to move off. He cuffs Hermit round the head. ‘Didn’t I tell you to bring that tenner down to my house? I owe it to me ma. She needed it for her fucking lottery.’

It’s too funny; the thought of his ma waiting all mournful beside the door with her unused lottery slips, while Steroids’ breeze block face stares out the window all worried. But I can’t laugh, or he’ll kick my fuck in.

‘I had to stay in,’ Hermit says. ‘My da was going mental, asking what I spend me wages on.’

‘Paying me the money you fucking owe. Stand still. Have you any money on you now, you ballroot.’

‘Naw I don’t,’ says Hermit.

‘Right so if I find any money on you, I can keep it?’

You don’t really say no to a wanker like Steroids, you let him search you or you run. And if you run, he’ll knock the shite out of you next time he sees you.

He finds Hermit’s ten deal, which he pockets. Hermit has no money on him. If he’d any money Steroids would have taken it, even if it was more than he owed him. Teach you for being a smart wanker, Steroids would say.

‘What the fuck are you staring at?’ Steroids says, pushing me.

‘Nothing,’ I say. I have been staring, without meaning to.

‘You saying I’m nothing?’ He says walking towards me.

‘I wasn’t consciously looking at you.’

Consciously? There’s a big word. I’ll fucking leave you unconscious,’ he says. Barney Boo lets a big laugh out of him. ‘Think you’re smart? How’d you do in your exams?’ Steroids says pushing me again.

‘Dunno,’ I shrug. ‘We haven’t got them yet.’

‘Aye, you’ll do well, smart wanker like you. I’ll see you down the chicken factory Monday dickhead. You’ll get some run of kicking going over that shite.’

‘I won’t be at the fucking chicken factory,’ I say. I’d sooner sign on, if I was old enough. Barney Boo and Steroids are old enough; maybe their folks won’t let them.

‘Why? You too fucking good for it? What else you going to do?’

He’s pushing me now; like he’s about to take a swing. If he does, I’m running.

‘Steroids I’m just stoned. Would you leave me alone?’

My arse hits the ground. My nose stings like fuck. There’s blood pissing out of me. I take a minute to register he’s hit me. As they walk off, the laughs of him and Barney Boo fade out and are replaced by a loud ringing in my head. There’s blood all over my top. I can barely open my eyes it’s that sore. Capable and Hermit help me sit up, then stand. I’m crying. I hate that I’m crying in front of Hermit. He’s the sort of dick would spread it about the estate. Here you lay and got dug or you fought back; you didn’t fucking cry. Every fucking doll I could have scored with will know about this by the end of the day; I don’t even have that to look forward to. Hermit stands around looking awkward. Capable keeps trying to get a look at my face but I’m not letting him.

‘Limme the fuck alone,’ I shout through my hands.

‘Here Hermit, lay us alone like,’ Capable says. ‘Go on ahead. We’ll catch you up.’

‘What about the results?’ Hermit says. I nearly tell him to fuck off.

‘Wait for us up the black path. We’ll be ten minutes,’ Capable says. When Hermit fucks off Capable hoaks around in his pockets.

‘Listen Barnoo, we’ll go for a spliff, then we’ll get the results, yeah?’

My face is hanging off me, and I’m dizzy as fuck; I need something to help me open that envelope.

‘Have you got blow?’ I ask.

‘I nipped a bit of Hermit’s.’

Capable and me go to the entrance of Sentry Hill and skin up. Sentry Hill is a good place to smoke; Hippies hang out here, but they never come this close to Dunvale. The only people you need to look out for are dog walkers, or occasionally the peelers. I watch up the hill and Capable watches towards Dunvale.

‘Where’d you get your trainers?’ he asks after a long silence.

‘That skater shop on the Ballymoney Road.’

‘Thought they were a bit hippy looking.’

‘You’re the one with the long hair,’ I say. ‘You’ll be up in that forest soon with the heavy heads worshipping the devil.’

‘They don’t really worship the devil,’ he says.

‘Aye they do. Sure it was on the front of the paper. They found a dead chicken and a burnt out fire in the forest.’

‘Load of balls,’ he says passing the spliff back. ‘Probably an empty KFC bucket.’

‘What about the fire?’

‘They light a fire when they’re cold.’

‘You been up with them on the fly or something?’

‘Have I fuck’, he says. Then he laughs to himself. ‘Don’t be afraid of the forest. We’ll go up there sometime soon, yeah?’

‘Why the fuck would I want to do that?’

‘You can’t run about the estate forever. The forest’s as good a place to go as any.’

‘Aye if you want bum raped by hippies.’

Capable rolls his eyes. ‘Gay us another toke of that spliff before it goes out.’

When the spliff’s finished I don’t feel so bad. My nose is numb.

‘Are you shitting it?’ I ask.

‘A wee bit,’ he says. ‘You?’

‘Naw, I know I’ll fail the fuckers.’

‘You’ll do okay in English. I wasn’t consciously looking at you.’

I hope I’ve passed English. I need it and Maths for whatever I do next. I’m not a smart fucker like Capable. With no Maths and English the only option I’ll have is gutting chickens with Steroids. If that happens, I’ll gut him.

‘Wait, let’s get some munchies,’ I say.

‘Come on, Hermit’ll be away if we don’t hurry up.’

‘So? He can fuck off,’ I shrug.

‘Come on, it wasn’t his fault; Steroids would croak his own ma.’

Then I remember thinking of him at home with his ma waiting on Hermit. It changes slightly at the end. Now Steroids is shouting at her.

‘Fuck up, you wanker! It’s no my fault!’ Then he puts his fist through the window.

That’s not the way it is though. Round here the nastier a cove is the nicer he is to his ma. Steroids’ ma probably thinks he wipes arses down the old folks home in Carniny.

‘Aye fair enough,’ I shrug, not wanting to argue. ‘I still want to get some scran.’

We go to the Mace in the community centre. I always need chocolate for the munchies, I get a big bag of Cadbury’s Buttons and a chocolate milk. Capable gets Monster Munch and a couple of Crunchies. We scran them on our way to the school. I’m going over every exam in my head. I can remember all the questions I looked up when I got home. Most of my answers were wrong. The worst of it was talking to oul Grotbags in the hall after English.

‘I done essays two and four,’ I said all confident.

‘I did,’ she said with this big, alarmed look on her face, all wide eyed, like I just told her I’d killed someone but not to tell anyone. ‘It’s always I did, or I have done, never I done.’

It didn’t matter after that; I could have rhymed off a load of Shitespeare and the dickhead marking it would be all, ‘I done? What’s that mean? U for you mucker.’

When we get to the school there’s not too many there. I’m glad I can’t see Hermit anywhere. He must have failed, or he’d have stuck around to tell us. He works down the chicken factory too. He was only resitting his English to get something better.

‘Hey Barnoo, what’s happened your face,’ says Sarah McClusky coming over. I didn’t clock her in time, or I’d have backed off. Sarah’s pure smart, maybe even smarter than Capable. She was head girl like, and in a weird way she doesn’t seem to belong here, even though she’s from Dunvale.

‘Steroids croaked him,’ Capable says.

‘Fuck sake,’ Sarah says. ‘He’s a shaved ape.’

‘Have you got your results yet?’ she asks Capable. She’s not bothered about mine. Her and Capable are going to the same school if they get the grades.

‘Not yet,’ Capable says, ‘just getting them now.’ Then I realise she’ll want to stick around and see if they’ve both got in okay. It was bad enough getting shit marks in front of Capable, now I’ll have the smartest fucker in the whole school there too.

‘Mind if I wait?’ she asks.

I can feel myself go red, even through the bruise. I hope she doesn’t notice.

‘I’ll text you,’ Capable says quickly to her. ‘I’m nervous as it is.’

‘Sure,’ she says turning to leave. She looks disappointed. Neither me nor Capable were mates with her, but I suppose if her and Capable are going to the same school she’ll want to be friends.

‘Come on to fuck,’ Capable says when she’s out of earshot.

The head’s standing out the front of the school. He says hi to Capable and ignores me. There’s a couple of ones standing round. They’re all happy like, well most of them, but everyone wants to know what happened my face and what grades we got, even though they watched us walk over. We ignore them and walk through to the front desk.

The receptionist is sitting bored, drumming her fingers on the desk. I suppose she’s been there since eight this morning. She’s a right enough sort. She always signs me in when I’m late, so she knows my name. She leafs through the results and hands me out a slip.

‘How’d I do?’ I say.

‘I didn’t look,’ she shrugs, ‘You’ll be fine.’

I go outside. Capable gets his results and follows. I don’t want to look at my results in front of any of the ones standing around. I look sideways at Capable and know no matter how bad he’s done it’ll still be better than me.

I look down quickly at the sheet:

English  B
Maths  D
Science  F
French  U
Technology  C
History  D
Geography  D
Home Economics B

I dunno what to think. On the one hand I’ve only passed three, and I’ve failed Maths, which I needed but on the other hand I’ve got two B’s and I didn’t even think I’d get one.

I take a shifty at Capable. I don’t want to meet his eye, but he catches mine, he’s been waiting for me to look at him.

‘Did you get what you needed?’ I ask.

‘Yeah, three As, the rest Bs. You?’

‘Two Bs and a C,’ I shrug. Now I hear myself saying them I know I’m disappointed. Come Monday morning I’m going to have to go down the chicken factory and work with Steroids and Barney Boo. I want to cry or hit some of those smug pricks who’ve done better than me.

‘Those are good grades,’ Capable says.

‘Yeah, but I’ve failed Maths.’

‘You can resit that. What did you get?’ he says looking at my sheet. ‘Aye a D, you can resit that. I’ll give you a hand if you want.’

He gives me this smile, like we’ve both something to be pleased with. My phone vibrates in my pocket. It’s my mum. She’ll think they’re shit grades too. I let it go to voicemail.

‘Come on,’ Capable says, ‘let’s have another spliff.’

As we turn around, we bump straight into the headmaster.

‘Well done, Steven,’ he says grabbing Capable’s hand and giving it an enthusiastic shake. ‘Really well done.’

‘Thanks sir,’ Capable says, and he’s blushing.

The head starts going over this shite about how Capable and Sarah have done the school proud, that every year there’s a few who go on to grammar school and they always do well. Capable has this ease with talking to the head, an ease I’ve never noticed in him, an ease I don’t have. Mostly because when the head talks to me, I’m in trouble. When he came over the three of us were standing in a triangle, but as him and Capable have talked, they’ve turned towards each other. They look like they’re getting ready to walk over to the school, like they’re turning their backs to me. I know my marks don’t deserve a mention, and Capable worked hard for his, but the headmaster makes me feel like I’m invisible. Only I know he can see me, he just won’t acknowledge me – me, with my shaved head and a face like a rotten beetroot. I realise how well presented Capable is. Not that he’s neat, but with his easy manners and his hair that he’s grown for his new school he doesn’t look threatening. His clothes are typical for the estate, but in a month or so they’ll change. He might end up hanging out with those hippies up Sentry Hill, or somewhere else in Ballymena, but not Dunvale. I’m not smart enough to plan myself out like that. I look at the headmaster and see how he is seeing Capable, and not seeing me. I look at the head’s suit and wonder if I’ll ever wear one to work. His shoes look polished, like he did them this morning. I remember what Thug Snowball did to him. I feel my left hand ball into a fist as I step towards him, ready to swing when he looks down. He’ll notice me now. But I’m too late, he’s shook Capable’s hand and, as I arrive beside him, he’s walked off back towards the school. I go to walk after him, but Capable grabs my arm.

‘Come on, let’s go for that spliff,’ he says.

‘I’d have done it,’ I say. ‘If I’d more time.’

‘Of course you would’ he says, giving me an odd look, like he’s not sure what I’m talking about. ‘Quit worrying about the exams. You’ll pass the next ones.’

I wonder if now could be a chance to cry, get how shit I’m feeling out of my system, but you don’t cry about stuff like that, even to your mates.

‘Come on Barnoo. No time for that.’ he says nodding back at the school, but I think he’s really nodding at the head. I turn with Capable, and we walk off back towards Sentry Hill. I can bury my sadness under a few spliffs. They might even make me laugh. As we cross the school gates, I spit on the large sign you can read from the road.

‘Glad I won’t be coming back to this shit hole,’ I say.

Capable says nothing. At first, I think he’s ignoring me, but as we cross the road, I wonder if he’s already lost interest in the place.

Waiting to cross the road, I can see up behind the houses of Murob Park the woods at the top of Sentry Hill. I think about all the stories of devil worship and dealers burying their dope up there. I’m not sure I want to go. As I turn back to look at the school the sun has just broke behind it. The glare hits me in the eye. So strong for a moment I can’t see the building at all, just the surrounding sports pitches. They look like empty fields. I turn back to Capable to see he’s already crossed the road without me.


First published in The Moth issue 23. Dunvale was highly commended in The Moth Short Story Prize 2015.