Johnny had walked to school with his mind persectution, torture and martyrdom entwined. He hardly noticed the miners and their jeers and wild swipes. Nor the boys punches. He couldn’t concentrate on his lessons. But he had never really understood them anyway. He looked at everyone’s faces with unusual intensity. He wondered if they knew and were hiding the news from him. Perhaps he was walking into a trap. Perhaps everyone knew what he had done and they were just waiting for him to make a fatal mistake. He smiled at that. He would never make any fatal mistake. If they thought that, then they underestimated him. He kept his mouth shut and his eyes wide. But maybe that wasn’t it. Perhaps the situation was a more subtle and difficult one. Perhaps there were secrets that he couldn’t fathom. Secrets that would change the whole situation.
At break-time he walked at the edges of the various groups. He felt like a spy, listening out for hints and clues. But nothing was said to alert his curiosity. He skipped a lesson and sat by the back of the bike sheds with a fag. A fat boy joined him. They didn’t speak but neither did they fight. They both smoked slowly as if old and poor. Their's was an austere congregation. Johnny had woven a web and attached his separate world of invention to this one. But there had been no outcry. No outrage. No response. This was something that astonished him. He felt sure there should have been something. He glanced at the other boy sitting a few yards away. But there was nothing in the face to indicate anything. Burning the barn was turning hallucinatory.
At lunchtime he heard the boys talking about it. He settled into listening and then wondered what they meant about the missing boy. They were saying they thought he’d done it. One of them said he’d told him face to face he had whilst on the way to school and then gone off. Everyone bunked from time to time. But they were now talking about a confession. Johnny’s heart was dry. Existence was posthumous again. He bunked the rest of the hour and walked to where they had said the missing boy lived. His head hurt. His eyes shone bright with something that wasn’t light. His thoughts were dark and restless. They flew out. There was a puddle coloured like a fading rose. It must have rained since. When he reached the top of the road he stopped and was still as a heron. There was no one about. It was a grey day. Pensive, slate-grey rooftops disagreeably evaporated into the grey cloud smears. A half-hearted tree dripped black rain drops when the air breathed. It felt like tar. Johnny walked to the gate of the house where the boy lived. He faced the short walk to the door like it was a trap he’d set himself. It was a distance as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars. He wondered if he had the right motivation to be here. Whether he had the ability and attitude to finish this off.
He wanted to know why the boy had confessed. He always thought that saying hello was a way of dying a little, but he couldn’t have known. He wondered if he felt angry at the false confession. Did he feel someone was stealing from him? He wasn’t sure that that was everything. But there was some truth in it. There was also a kind of ironical admiration for what this other boy had done. It struck him as the raucous joke of a strong man. Johnny didn’t think anything dishonest was meant by it in fact. As he began to walk up the path to the door he realized that perhaps here was another type of loneliness.
'Treat him with his pride intact or you’ll be sorry,' was what he thought.
Johnny too had a sense that for these kinds of escapades you need to have a fitting character. His range of awareness startled him. His contempt for pettiness was tuned to the unlovely houses, their pride and seriousness. He knocked on the door and heard the rattle trying to get a sense of itself. It rolled from the edge of consciousness throughout the freezing interior.
And after a while everything stood still and waited. It was like all nature and everything else was watching for this next thing. There was an inspiration that crossed all horizons, all brain scans, all the planets and stars. And Johnny crouched and pushed open the letter box so he could just peer into the intestinal dark. There are different kinds of looking and different kinds of sights. This one didn’t light the way nor warm the heart. You’d need commas all over, as in a heavy novel, one that had historical attention, and vast bridges, themes, insides, worlds, tricks, desires, needs, disintegrating characters …
This was a sight that wasn’t going to be bothered in the end by any of that. It was a sight that wouldn’t care less. Black brogues, black wool socks and something heavy above them, like an extra darkening on the darkness. Johnny fell back onto his backside and just sat for a moment. His eyes were astonished and then so was he. And he felt as if the house was disappearing from right in front of him and that he’d never remember what he saw more than once.