Freddy. A short story from Mary's Time.
The primary school doors busrt open under the weight of a hoard of pushing, babbling,excited children desperate not to lose a moment of playtime. Out they poured, running for the joy of it, like whippets released from the lead.
The children scattered throughout the playground, shriecking and jostling each other, shouting and skipping and glad to release themselves from classroom restrictions.
But if you weren't distracted by all the activity, you would notice the last person to exit the school doors, shuffle along by the old brick building to stand beside the black, cast iron drainpipe.
Freddy Turner stood in the same place each day at break time, alone. He would spend playtime by gazing down at his hob-nailed boots. Only Freddy, out of all the primary school children wore hob-nailed boots. Occasionally, Freddy's gaze lifted as far as the shoes of the other children. He rarely looked at one full faced. He'd learned not to, as the same response repeated itself each and every time. "Snot nose," the children called, laughing. They called him snot nose, because from nose to lip ran a continuous line of clear, watery mucus, occasionally dripping from the edge of the lip, If Freddy wasn't quick enough to lick it off. The short, brown pants he wore dropped from waist to knee, revealing white, skinny legs. The brown, coarse jacket, torn at the lapel, flapped when the breeze caught it. The jacket was a size too small, with three of the four buttons missing, which meant he could only close it by the top one.
Freddy looked comical in his hob-nailed boots, short trousers and torn jacket. He was the school joke. The taunts and jibes from some of the nastier little tongues, were all met by the same blank silence. School, for him, equalled humilliation.
Freddy endured the young years of school yard taunts. The hob-nailed boots, short trousers and jacket, when well worn, were discarded and replaced by larger sizes from the shelves of second hand shops. For awhile he was almost tidy, befor the inevitable little hand ripped the jacket, because he or she didn't think Freddy looked right unless the torn lapel flapped in the breeze.
It wasn't until I was eight years old and becoming pally with a small group of older boys, that I felt compelled to play their games so as to be accepted by them. Freddy avoided this group as much as possible, as they had previously succeeded in luring him with kind words, onto the wasteland down Pots Lane, or into the old, derilect building down Fieldside, so to have fun without prying eyes from interfering adults. Freddy was wise to invitations to play with them, and so they had devised a plan. They would induce a loose friend to lure him into their trap.
Laura Bates was recruited to coax Freddy into the boys toilet, which had one entrance that also served as the exit, and consisted of an open urinal that ran the length of one wall, and three cubicles on the opposite side. We were six in all, two to each of the three cubicles. We arranged ourselves in our places and waited. We waited until we heard Laura say. "Come on Freddy. Don't be so slow. Lets go in here and I'll show you something." We all heard the hob-nailed boots approaching, and tried to suppress our excited giggles. Closer came the clonk, clonk scrape of the boots until we knew he was standing by the urinals. We flung back the toilet doors and sprang out of the cubicles, immediately blocking the exit.
Freddy looked sick by the surprise. He stood still, said nothing, and stared at the floor. We all waited for Jack Lyons (our leader) to make the first move.
"Hello snot nose" He said. But no responce came. "Lost your tongue, snot nose?" Boomed Jack. "Micky, Jimmy". He continued. "Grab his arms. Gerry." He said, looking at me. "You and Laura pull his pants down. I momentarily stared at Jack, but was afraid of expressing an opinion contrary to his. Besides, this was a chance to show that I was part of the gang. I joined Laura and set about the task given. She had already loosened his belt, and was busy unbuttoning his flies. With a sharp tug I pulled the pants down to his ankles.
"Take them off." Ordered Jack, "and throw them over the wall into the playground." Freddy offered no resistanceas I lifted each ankle in turn and yanked them off. The pants went sailing through the air, up and over the wall. Laura giggled. Freddt stood stock-still, head bowed. Jack began chanting. "Snot nose Freddy. Snot nose Freddy." We all followed Jacks lead, chanting faster and faster. "Snot nose Freddy. Snot nose Freddy."
The shrill sound of the teachers whistle cut the air, signifying, playtime over. Laughing and throwing our hands in the air, we ran out of the toilets, scampered across the playground and disappeared through the school doors. Each to our own classroom, all of us, that was, except Freddy, who I never saw again. He appeared to have been plucked from our midst.
Freddy soon faded from our thoughts when he didn't reapear, and it wouldn't do to be overheard asking about him. He merely lived in the memory of those who recalled him.
Primary school pupils grew into juniors, who grew into seniors, who made the leap into college. They were the fortunate ones. The bulk was hurried into jobs that brought money into the household. They were the drones, the workers, and the backbone of Englands economy. I sighed, shook myself out of the old and receding memory and rearanged the blanket over my knees. The cold seemed to creep through the room, through flesh and into bone. No matter how high the central heating was set, the warmth was nevr warm enough.
The other occupants of the room sightlessly gazed. Thoughts turned within. Seeing memories unfold to reveal a different perspective to the ones experianced as they had happened. What else is there to do when age limits action. When desire to do has already done. We sit, we think and we occasionally ponder on the empty chair where Bill, Margret, or Harry sat, before another vague face occupies it.
In the day room of the Hollies Home for the elderly, we prefer to sink into silence. To recede into what was, into the safety of what is known. "Hold your head up." Cracked the contemptuous vice. She strode towards me, a force that refused to be ignored. This was the day care worker I most disliked.
"You're dripping again." She pulled a tissue out of the box beside me, unceremoniously pushed my head back and roughly cleaned my lip and nose. "Why don't you do this yourself is beyond me. It's not pleasant to look at, not pleasant at all. Blow hard." She ordered, holding the tissue up to my nose. I blew; she squeezed the tissue, nipping my nose. She turned on her heel and walked toward the open door, muttering. "Dirty sod."
I felt no pain from the insult. The countless times she had refered to me as "Dirty sod, dribbler, or snot nose." Had lost the impact to hurt. Repetition had numbed meaning.
It wasn't long before I slipped back into memories, into safety, and soon felt the familier, warm, reasuring trickle from nose to lip, and I remembered Freddy Turner. Freddy in his hob-nailed boots, standing alone against the schoolyard wall; and I wonder at how emotions change through living experience, and how the years alter and shape thoughts from what we feel.
Nowadays, when I think of Freddy, It's not with fun and laughter, but with shame and remorse.