Okay. It’s true. I towed Patrick into a ditch and he broke his arm.
Forty years ago, actually. But some things take a long time to heal.
I suppose, the thing is, if you tow someone into a ditch, and you stand at the top looking down at them, all tangled in their bike, and they’re complaining about how they’ve broken their arm, and you say mate – are you crazy? you can’t have broken your arm, if you’d broken your arm you’d know about it, and they say well I do know about it, thank you, and you say c’mon, stop making such a fuss, and you climb down to grab their hand, and they yelp, and you grab their other hand, and you drag them out, and you walk the rest of the way making awkward conversation, and they spend the rest of the afternoon moaning about how they’ve broken their arm, and shouldn’t they go to hospital and everything, and everyone says honestly, it’s not broken mate, and then they turn up to school the next day wearing a cast – well – you might feel bad about it, too.
The thing was, we were skipping school. Triple PE. Patrick had gone on ahead, because I had a moped and he was on his bike, and anyway, he was used to skipping school and didn’t worry too much about the When and the Where of it. We were aiming to meet at Gavin’s place to drink beer, smoke fags and listen to Bowie. Gavin lived in a bungalow out on the Fens. His dad ran a ditching company (had probably excavated the ditch I towed Patrick into, come to think of it). I was terrified of Gavin’s dad. He was like a bear. Made of granite. Without the humanity. But the good news was that Gavin’s dad was out for a few days on a contract, and it was only Gavin’s mum and sister in the house, and I got on with them fine. His parents were an odd couple. As if the bear had suddenly woken up married to a social worker, who always spoke in the kind of voice that made it sound like she was perpetually in another room. I was always glad to see his mum, because she had obviously formed the impression years ago that I was oddly hilarious, and she’d laugh at the slightest thing. For example, if she asked if I was hungry and wanted anything to eat, and I said no I’m fine I had some toast before I came out, she’d squeeze her eyes shut and shake her head and say toast! helplessly, because it was the most bizarre thing she’d ever heard. But it was gratifying, nonetheless, because I never felt like I had to think what to say, and maybe that was the idea. Gavin’s sister was great, too, funny and smart, and her boyfriend was the most glamorous rocker in town. He had long black hair and a pointy beard like a musketeer or Charles II or someone, except in a leather jacket riding a Norton Commando. It was disconcerting when he smiled, though, because his teeth were completely fucked, blackened stumps, all-angles. But as long as he just nodded and sneered, he was immaculate.
We had the house to ourselves that particular afternoon, though, the afternoon that Patrick broke his arm.
I’d been racing over the Fens to get there, tucked into the handlebars, making myself as aerodynamic as possible, throttle wrapped back, making about thirty miles an hour and two hundred decibels. And then I saw Patrick up ahead, doing that emphatic bobbing motion with his head, backwards and forwards as he pedalled, his sports bag balanced on the crossbar between the saddle and the handlebar.
I drew level.
‘Want a tow?’
He shook his head.
‘You go on ahead,’ he said.
‘Seriously! We’ll get there a lot quicker.’
‘No I’m fine. You go. Go on. Go.’
‘Grab hold of my arm!’
‘C’mon, Patrick! Let’s do it…’
So reluctantly he grabbed hold of my arm, and I built up speed again. But then a slow, oscillating wobble of his front wheel grew wilder and more alarming, his bag dropped off the crossbar, snagged the pedals, the bike flipped, Patrick screamed and went cartwheeling into the ditch.
Luckily it wasn’t filled with water. Although, if it had have been, maybe he wouldn’t have broken his arm.
Not that I thought he had.