Title: One of THEM!

Author: Peter Wells

In: Sport 7: Winter 1991

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, July 1991, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 7: Winter 1991

Where he goes, I'll follow

Where he goes, I'll follow

'I usually wait till Mum's gone out then I go through her cupboard and use whatever eyeliner I like. I think it's really important to have eyebrows. Don't you?'

Lemmy looks at me. He has this way of looking which is to look all over your face like suddenly your face has turned into a great big planet and he's a long way away on the moon gazing at every square inch of it through a telescope.

'You're a runner,' he says, more like an accusation. 'You're the fastest boy page 98 in the whole fourth form.'

I can't help it Lemmy, I want to say but we are just getting to know each other, standing by the wiremesh fence high above the swimming pool, Lemmy giving it a good hard vicious kick every so often, so it rattles.

In the background we can seethe tall stooped figure of Mr Brakevich, our gym teacher, who Lemmy baptised Mr Shitalot. Mr Shitalot likes to cane a lot, a kind of cloud of unhappiness envelopes him so much that he looks out at everyone, not quite seeing them, but spraying them with hate.

It was his job every year to make sure that any boy who didn't participate in sport took part in the school marathon, which was by way of punishment. You had to keep running till you dropped, over the school farm, up the extinct volcano, through the creek, avoiding the hidden boulders, with everyone waiting at the finish tape to see in how much pain you were. Sport is important at our school. It builds character.

Like Mr Shitalot, who this very moment is pushing into the chill water the boys who are too slow getting in. He's really enjoying himself; you can tell, because the creases in his face go sort of white, and he bites his lip into a sort of grimace, as if he's laughing to himself inside all the time.

The biggest mistake Mr Shitalot ever made was sending his son to our school: he was a punching bag within a week and he stayed that way till he ran away and was brought back. Then he got sent away to somewhere mysterious. But in that time Mr Shitalot's son changed. For life. Our school builds character, you see. It makes us into men, which is what sport is all about.

And this is how Lemmy and I first ended up being together.

We both had letters from our mothers saying we weren't allowed to swim. I had earaches and Lemmy had a complaint nobody was allowed to know about. Lemmy told me he was his mother.

'It makes things so much easier,' Lemmy says airily. 'You just have to make sure your writing shows confidence,' he adds.

I look at Lemmy and I can tell there's something strange about Lemmy when he talks about his mother. Or rather when he doesn't talk about his mother. It was like he didn't have one. But I knew he did.

'I hate running,' I say suddenly. 'I don't even know why I do it. Or rather I do, I s'pose. It's because,' I say bitterly, though this vein of bitterness is new to my voice, it is like I was just finding it by saying it, 'It's because, like, my mother and father were so good at sport.'

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I say the last words like they are one word, which they are in a way. Anyone who went to our grammar school knew that beinggoodatsport was a single attribute, like truth, or beauty, or knowledge.

Lemmy gives the fence an extra hard boot. Unlike me, he is wearing orthopedic-heavy shoes and socks, even though it is supposed to be summer. I reckon to myself quietly that he wears them for extra protection. Getting home without being bashed up can sometimes be difficult.

Fence rattles in complaint.

'My father was almost an All Black,' I say, 'and my mother played basketball for Southland and. . .' It was like a catechism stretching back into my childhood.

'Misses Stephenson and Caughey!' drifts across the grass. It is Mr Shitalot, suddenly catching us in his spray of acid. The other boys' laughter follows in a curtain. We both straighten up, whipped. 'If you can spare us the time from your hen party, perhaps you can get on picking up rubbish. Quicksmart!'

'Yessir,' I call back then feel Lemmy look at me again like I was the planet earth and he was deep inside a crater on the moon, so distant.

I follow Lemmy away from the swimming pool, losing Mr Shitalot and the boys. Lemmy doesn't say anything. We just walk on. Then we are alone, on a playing field down by the school creek, pitted and pitched with volcanic rocks. Lemmy lies back like a beauty queen, stretching himself out comfortably.

'We'll empty one of the bins for our rubbish,' he tells me and yawns elaborately. 'Shitalot's such a mental retard he'll never notice.' He yawns again.

I lie back too, slowly, and watch a radiating sphere grow round the sun. The sky is very white, stretched tight like a drum. A single bird, very high in the sky, changes its direction and flies away from the flock. In the far distance we can hear the occasional roar of Mr Shitalot on his way, as Lemmy says, to his first heart attack. ('And hopefully his last.')

'I'm going to leave New Zealand just as soon as I can,' I say in a tight voice. I am looking up at the sun and thinking how it looked like a giant diamond. I glance at Lemmy who seems ruby-purple, streaked with orange flares of light. I can't see him but I speak. 'I'm going to be a famous dress designer in Paris.' I tell him what I've told no other. 'I'm already doing designs after school for my first collection.'

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Lemmy doesn't say a word.

'Who wants to be a millionaire,' I sing falsetto. 'I do!'

Lemmy lets out a croak.

In the distance Mr Shitalot's voice reaches a pitch of intensity approximating insanity.

'Do you know Archie Bumstead?'Lemmy says suddenly.

Before my eyes I see us all in the changing sheds, struggling out of our clothes, trying not to reveal ourselves. It is cold and wet. And there, on the far side of the shed, is Archie, standing completely naked, no towel, nothing; displaying for us all to see his thick long penis softly embedded in a luxurious nest of black pubic hair. Archie Bumstead, who spent all his science lessons drawing pictures of bums, making them into a kind of targetboard, with circles moving concentrically inwards. I gulped. My throat is dry. The sky suddenly races with stars.

'Why?' I ask, trying to blank the screen out. It frightens me, I know it is wrong, very wrong. 'He's horrible.'

'He lives down the road from me.'


'What,' I say very faintly, 'Lemmy, what are you going to do when you...?

'Grow up?' he offers darkly.

I flush scarlet. Lemmy is now sitting up. He has a stone in his hand and he throws it, sharply, at a cow which freezes, turns a startled eye on Lemmy then shambles away. The other animals awkwardly follow.

'Yes but,' I hurry on, 'what are you going to do when you leave school.' Lemmy looks at me, surprised. He leaves a long pause in which we both look at the flat horizon of small houses all crouched down under the sky, as if the sky is crushing them with its invisible weight. Over by the pool comes a frantic tugging whistle, frayed by the wind, flittering the sound apart till it faded, an echo inside its own emptiness.

'Nothing,' he says, as if it is a matter concluded long ago. 'Nothing,' he repeats in a lighter voice as he gets up and I struggle to follow him.

'Hey Jamie,' he says to me suddenly. It is the first time he's called me by my christian name. I hum with pride, with happiness. All five foot ten of me follows along happily behind his four foot nothing, tailing his every step.

'Hey, do you want to go into town this Friday night?'

'I can't,' I say automatically.

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'Why not?'

'I'm not allowed.'


I look at Lemmy and Lemmy looks at me.

'OK,' I say. 'I'll ask.'

Lemmy doesn't smile. But he suddenly yells out, like I told you he did, 'Let's GO!' and he smacks his hands together so hard a startled flock of sparrows lift up, zigzag in panic and speckle through the heavens. I laugh and laugh like something in me is broke and I say, 'That's right, eh Lemmy? That's right.'