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The Natural Couple

Chapter 4

By Richard Campbell

Had she known that her son was sleeping in the arms of a boy, Martha Jackson would have been horrified and disgusted, but not really surprised. The older he became the more he seemed to be taking after his father, although she had taken care that there had been no contact between them since Joseph had left her. They were Catholic so divorce was out of the question of course. Not that it would have made any difference to him with his morals, or lack of them, she often thought. She might barely have understood if he had left her for another woman, men were like that, weak as water and always giving way to impulses that she neither understood nor had any sympathy for. She came across it all too often in her work, the way men fell for a pretty face and the offer of cheap sexual gratification at the drop of a hat. But it was something about which, in spite of all her education and learning, she had not the slightest understanding.

During the early years of her marriage to Joseph (she disliked the vulgar shortening of his name to Joe and never used it) she had submitted with grim fortitude and total lack of enjoyment to his sexual demands, rather in the manner of the Victorian women whom she resembled in so many ways. There was no happiness or pleasure in the act which seemed not only animal in it's origins, but a serious violation of her body and privacy as well. And when the end result had been a bitterly resented pregnancy followed by a long and undignified birth (the indignity was, in retrospect, the worst aspect), she had found herself tied down to a squalling, demanding infant, continually crying and wanting attention just when she needed to study.

Martin, who had been as attractive as a small child as he was now as an adolescent, had irritated her by his demands on her time, and by the growing likeness her jaundiced eye saw to his father. Even after he had grown out of the most demanding period of babyhood and had become a pretty, elfin looking three year old, forced by circumstance to be comparatively independent, she found him annoying.

His looks and engaging smile drew attention that she considered to be bad for him. She felt it was her duty as a parent to ensure that he didn't become spoilt, and determined not to allow him trade, as she saw it, on his looks. The truth was that he was simply starved of love and affection, apart from that casually bestowed by his charming but feckless father, and did not continually seek attention as she believed. If she had understood this, which she didn't, it would simply have confirmed her view that he was as much of a weakling as his father was.

Had he possessed grandparents who would have taken him to their hearts and loved him, he would have been, if not all right, at least better able to cope, but all four had died before his birth. His Irish father's parents, worn out by bringing up a large and ungrateful family, had both died during a severe 'flu epidemic, and his maternal grandparents in a motorway accident when the coach in which they were travelling veered off the road during a thunderstorm.

Martha had been their only child, and as his happy-go-lucky father had long ago lost touch with his numerous siblings, the boy had no-one to turn to even if he had realised that he needed anyone.

As Martha became more and more involved in her legal career she set about, to impose her own rigid code of conduct on him and by the time he was five, had succeeded so well that almost the only person to see him smile was his father. Joe for his part quite liked his son, but by the time that Martin was ten had known for years that his marriage had been the biggest mistake of his life, and had given way to his dual nature several years earlier.

Joe had never in fact, understood why he had married Martha in the first place. On the rebound from a torrid affair of blazing passion, even more blazing rows and intense, dramatic and frankly wearing reconciliations, he had found her cool nature appealing by it's very contrast. He had been fascinated by her calmness and also by the fact that she was studying law, of all things. He told himself, quite inaccurately, that still waters ran deep and looked forward to arousing the strong passions that he was convinced lay within her.

Like many men of Irish extraction he was passionate, had a powerful sexual appetite and was an extremely good lover when he put his mind to it. He had no doubts about his ability to warm up this unresponsive, virginal woman, and turn her into something more like himself. That he failed so dismally was principally due to Martha's personality, which he had badly misread.

What he had thought of as slumbering passion was simply coldness, and her restrained response to his advances while they were courting, which he saw as a virginal and somewhat teasing modesty, was pure selfishness combined with the inability to give herself to anyone without restraint. She reserved all her passion for the law which she found totally satisfying in it's clinical detachment and concern for words, rather than people. In point of fact, she regretted that it needed to be applied to people at all. To her it was complete in itself and had no need to do anything other than exist. As she didn't really like people and had little sympathy for, or understanding of their foibles, she would have preferred to specialise in a branch of the profession that dealt purely with fact, and not with raw emotions.

She continued her studies after her marriage and was on the point of taking her final exams when Martin was born. Joe had wanted children, specifically a son, and she had wanted a husband. She was in her late twenties when they married and had grown up in an era when to be a spinster was to be an object of scorn, as someone too unattractive get herself a man.

Neither of them got what they wanted out of the relationship and the marriage, which was celebrated with a full Nuptial Mass in their local Catholic Church, was doomed from the outset. Had their characters been different, it might have been moderately successful but they were both equally selfish in their different ways, and both went into it more with the idea of what they could get out of it rather than what they could put in. It was no wonder that the marriage not only failed, but never really got started.

The wedding night was a disaster. The priggish and fastidious Martha felt violated without adequate recompense, and Joe, who in spite of several attempts, was unable to overcome her resistance or give her any pleasure, was irritated and felt that his masculinity had been attacked. His failure was a significant blow to his pride and by the end of the two week honeymoon, he too was suffering from a resentment no less severe for being unexpressed.

For several years he hoped that things might improve but as he had no more understanding of Martha's nature than she had of his, his approach to sex, based as it was principally on persistence, was entirely the wrong way to resolve the situation. Martha was resigned at first to what she considered to be his animal lust, but as time went on and he never seemed to get enough of it, she became actively resentful. They never really talked about it and so never came to any understanding of each other's feelings.

Martin's inopportune birth, coming as it did a year after the wedding and just before her exams was the final straw. Robbed of what should have been the reward for all her hard work, the effortless degree that she knew was her due and which her tutors had assured her she would achieve, she was beside herself with rage. The prolonged though perfectly normal labour left her tired and resentful and although she was never consciously cruel to her son, she had no more idea of a baby's emotional needs than she had of her husband's.

She felt that having produced the son expected of her by society, the church and her husband, that should have been the end of it. Outraged by the physical demands of the infant and receiving very little support from her husband, she considered herself to be extremely badly used, and as she felt no compensating love for the child, the seeds of her resentment slowly grew out of all proportion.

As Martin became older, she dismissed most of his perfectly normal ways as nothing but attention seeking, and undermined his confidence to such an extent that he literally became what she thought him, a weakling and a sissy, who couldn't or wouldn't, stand up for himself. He irritated her intensely.

Joe too found the child something of a nuisance. When he had vaguely wanted a son, he had totally ignored the period from birth to school age and seen his son as a miniature version of his own adult self. Being the youngest child in his family, he had never been exposed to the demands of younger siblings so had no idea what to expect when Martin was born. His first glimpse of the red faced, squalling and at that stage, frankly ugly little creature, appalled him almost as much as it had appalled his wife. Although within a week Martin, in the miraculous fashion of young animals had turned into a cute, beautiful and well behaved baby, that first impression remained in his memory.

By the time he was nine, Martin was well on the way to becoming a lonely, solitary personality and had begun to turn inwards into himself in a way that worried the few people, apart from his parents, that he came into contact with. It was at about that age that bored, and with nothing to do one day, he started to write down an idea that had occurred to him. He never completed that first story, but the solace the writing of it gave him, opened up a new world.

Here there were no demanding, nagging adults, no codes of behaviour to obey, nothing that he didn't want. He could make up any sort of world he liked and during the writing, he was part of that world.

He had always loved reading for it's escape value, now he began to read more critically, slowly working out in his mind why some stories appealed to him more than others, and applying what he learnt to his own essays. Like all beginners, his early work was derivative and very much based on what he had been reading recently. But he soon began to show signs of a style of his own, a fact that pleased and impressed his class teacher.

He had always done well at school, one of the few sources of pride that Martha had in him, and was well on his way to becoming if not a well rounded personality, at least one who could live with himself, when his entire world was turned upside down when he was ten years old.

Joe, younger than his wife by several years and a passionate, highly sexed man, had begun to find consolation elsewhere about five years after Martin was born. Although a true bisexual, his first forays outside the marriage were discreet and with women who were delighted, after a minimum of persuasion, to share their beds with him. He was pleasant, handsome, had all the traditional charm of the Irish, and as a bed partner was willing to give as much as he received.

But the increasing pull of his dual nature was to be his undoing as far as his marriage was concerned, and a disaster for the son who depended on him for what little affection he received.

With the passing of the years he began to get careless and then for the first time in his life, he fell in love. That the object of his affections was a man some years younger than himself didn't worry him at all. But it came as a distinct shock to his wife when an important case she was prosecuting was thrown out of court because of something she had overlooked. In a foul temper, she arrived home early to find her husband sliding a shirtless young man's jeans to the floor, while kissing him passionately. Outraged, she was in no mood for either explanations or excuses.

Her strong Catholic belief, with it's pathological horror of sex outside marriage, coupled with the irrational English fear of sex generally and male to male sex in particular, were enough to send her into a towering rage. Martin, being at school was completely forgotten by them both, and the third member of the triangle, Steven, or Stevie as he was known to Joe and his friends, wasn't aware that he even existed. In a typically casual manner, Joe had never mentioned that he had a son.

Steven was a kindly young man who liked children and would undoubtedly have dragged Joe out of the house as soon as he had dressed himself, had he known that Martin was due home at any minute. As he didn't know, and both Martha and Joe had forgotten his very existence, the boy came into the house in his usual quiet fashion, his head full of a story he just thought of, at a moment when both protagonists were recruiting their strength for renewed onslaught.

The battle had started with a comprehensive cataloguing of each other's shortcomings since before their marriage, and both combatants had paused, panting, before going on to the main subject on the agenda. The pause didn't last long. Martha, who had a natural command of language in addition to a voice trained to fill and dominate a courtroom, and her husband who was in a blazing temper as well by then, started on each other again, without noticing the entrance of their son.

Although neither parent cared for him greatly, they had never argued or shouted at each other in front of him. Their rows had been reserved for the bedroom when he was assumed to be asleep. However he had sharper ears than either of them gave him credit for, had heard things now and then and assumed, as any isolated self-contained child would, that the tense atmosphere and frequent chilling silences were a natural part of life that everyone had to put up with. As he had no particular friends and was never invited anywhere, he had nothing to compare his own life to.

It came therefore as a frightening shock when he listened in sick horror, as his hitherto quiet parents started tearing each other's characters to shreds at the top of their voices. He stood there frozen. Many of the hurled accusations went right over his head but he was an intelligent little boy, and had heard enough playground talk in his short life to understand most of the words they used. After a few appalled minutes, unable to bear any more, he covered his ears with his hands in a vain attempt to shut out the ugly words. It was this sudden movement which caught Steven's eye.

Totally astonished and wondering what on earth this uninvited schoolboy was doing in the house, understanding suddenly dawned on him as he heard Martha fling some accusation about ‘your son’ at Joe. Giving both of them a glance of dislike and without thinking about it, he walked over to Martin, picked him up and carried the rigid boy out of the room, kicking the door shut behind him with his foot as he went. From the sudden silence he assumed that they had noticed the boy at last. In the hall, he put Martin down then to his concern, saw the boy's eyes roll upward as he started to collapse. Sweeping the small body into his arms again, he marched up the stairs, glancing into the bedrooms until he found the one that obviously belonged to the boy.

He put the him down carefully on the bed and sat beside him, wondering what to do next. Had Martin been an adult, he would have gone in search of brandy or something similar to revive him, but he knew that the boy was too young for anything like that so he sensibly did nothing except wait for the him to come out of it in his own time. It didn't take more than a few minutes. Martin was young, fit and a lot more tough than his mother had ever given him credit for.

As his eyes opened, he saw a strange young man, though he seemed quite old to him, sitting on the bed looking at him. His vague eyes suddenly snapped into focus as memory returned. His mouth opened and he drew in a deep breath. Stevie, not sure whether he was going to cry or scream, instinctively pulled him up against him and patted his back gently.

"It's all right," he said soothingly in his attractive Irish lilt, "Take it easy now, and everything will be all right. It's all going to be okay. There was a bit of a barney downstairs as you heard, but it's stopped now and it's going to be all right."

He devoutly hoped that he was right as he felt the boy begin to cry, but could think of nothing better to do than simply hold him and talk to him quietly.

He had been brought up on a farm and although the present situation was completely beyond his experience, he automatically used the same gentle voice and actions that he would have used on any of the animals he used to care for. To his relief it seemed to work, as the boy's hysterical sobbing gradually diminished, and finally petered out in the odd sniff.

Smiling slightly, he moved Martin away a little so he could look into his face saying, "There now, that's better. Let me look at you."

He reached into the box on the table by the bed, took out a tissue and wiped Martin's eyes and then his nose, as if he was a baby.

"That's better now," he repeated looking at the boy's tear swollen eyes. "You're far too handsome to be spoiling that little face with tears, are you not? What's your name then?"

"M, M, Martin."

"Ah, Martin. And a nice name that is too. It suits you."

Martin looked at him steadily, recognising the lilt, though it was much stronger than his father's soft accent. "Who are you?"

"I'm a, a friend of Joe's."

"My father?"

Steven nodded. "That's right, my name's Steven, but you can call me Stevie if you like. Most people do."

Martin's face twisted and tears welled up in his eyes again, a sparkling drop clinging to his eyelashes. Steven hugged him and Martin, his face against Steven's chest, felt a little comforted.

"How old are you Martin boy?"

"I'm ten, " the boy said into his chest, "I'll be eleven in four months."

"So you're still at junior school then?" Martin nodded. "And do you like it there?" he asked, wanting to keep the boy distracted until the scene downstairs had faded from his mind a little.

He felt no guilt about what he and Joe had been doing, he had never seen Martha until today, but had felt since he met him that Joe would not have strayed from her if she had taken the trouble to keep him satisfied. But he did feel guilty about this boy and had he known of his existence, nothing would have induced him to give in to Joe's sudden demands earlier.

"And do you know yet what school you'll be going to next?" he asked.

Martin looked up at him. "My mother wants me to go the Comprehensive School," he said without enthusiasm assuming with childish self absorption, that Steven would know what school he was talking about.

"Don't you want to go there?"

"No, not very much," Martin replied, "But it doesn't make any difference, I have to do what she says."

It was plain to Steven that the neither the boy nor his father had any say in the matter and the child looked so upset, even frightened, he felt sorry that he had brought the subject up at all. Obeying some impulse of sympathy he bent his head and kissed Martin reassuringly on the forehead just as he would have kissed his own younger brother in similar circumstances. There was nothing in the least sexual about it, it was done purely to give comfort. But to Martha, who appeared in the doorway in time to witness it, it looked as if the young man not content with seducing her disgusting husband, was attempting to seduce her equally disgusting son as well. Her stomach turned at the thought.

"Leave him alone! What are you doing in this room?" she said angrily.

"Looking after your son," he replied, with no trace of guilt or embarrassment. He cast a glance of dislike at her and instinctively held Martin a little more firmly when he felt the boy wince. Whether at the tone of her voice or at her words, he had no idea.

"Take you hands off him at once," she said harshly. "Don't you dare touch him."

Stevie shrugged and reluctantly released Martin who immediately put his arms around him and clutched him imploringly. The action infuriated Martha as much as it went to Steven's heart.

"Martin!" Her voice had the bite and crack of a whip. "Don't be so filthy. Get away from that man."

The alacrity with which the Martin obeyed, hurt Steven.

"Why don't you leave him with me for a bit while you go downstairs and sort things out with Joe," he suggested. "I will not harm him I promise you, and he shouldn't be alone at this moment." But one look at her rigid countenance made him realise that he could do nothing to help, and might even make things worse for the boy if he stayed,

He got off the bed and looked at the boy sympathetically for a moment then reached down and tousled his hair. "You're a good kid, Martin my handsome boy. Always remember that, whatever happens." Then added as one adult to another, "You take care now," and left the room with a troubled backward glance.

Joe's going to need me he thought as he went downstairs, though what's going to happen to that poor little brat I don't know. Maybe I can get Joe to do something. But there was not much hope in the thought. He knew from experience that Joe would always take the line of least resistance and decided that although he would make the attempt, if he got nowhere there would be little point in pushing him. It might even undermine his own still rather shaky position with him.

It was a decision he was to regret bitterly later.

Martha heard the front door shut with a bang as she stared down at the woebegone face of her son. She was revolted by him, in addition to the blazing anger she was feeling for his father. She knew very well that none of what had happened had been his fault, but just then she loathed the male sex in toto, no matter who or what they were. She realised suddenly that she always had.

The fact that her husband had brought someone into her home for, for sexual purposes, and someone male at that, both humiliated and infuriated her. It occurred to her that other things might have happened before she appeared on the scene, in which case the sheets on the double bed, her bed, probably bore traces of them. At the thought, her fury metamorphosed into a murderous rage.

And looking at the tears still running down her son's face, she despised him along with the rest of his sex.

"Get up," she said in a voice hard enough to cut glass. "Dry your eyes and wash your face. Then go downstairs and start your homework." She stopped at the door and turned to him. "Don't you ever let me catch you touching a man like that again." She bit off each word like bolt cutters snipping steel. "It is wrong, it is filthy, it is disgusting, it is evil and it is a mortal sin. You will never to do that again. Men and boys do not touch each other or kiss each other and I'm not having you doing it. Do you understand me? I'm having no homosexuals in this house. No men or boys kissing and carrying on together. This is my house and I will not tolerate it. You will be a man or so help me, I will thrash you until you are. You're a boy. Not a silly girl and you will behave like a boy or I'll know the reason why. If I ever catch playing around with other boys, God help you. And stop that pathetic crying at once!"

As her menacing voice became higher and more uncontrolled, Martin nodded desperately, not understanding what he was being accused of, only wanting her to stop shouting at him and leave him alone. What did I do? his mind kept asking in a panic. Please, please, stop shouting at me, I'll never do it again, I promise I'll never do it again.

His mother seldom threatened even to smack him and her use of the word thrash in conjunction with her manner was so frightening, he was convinced that he must somehow have been the cause of everything. He gritted his teeth and did his best to control his sobs while she looked at him with contempt. He was so taken up with the tone of her voice that the actual meaning of what she was saying sank almost unnoticed into the depths of his mind. There to take root, and over the years, to grow, and fester.

She turned and left the room, unable to bring herself to look at him any longer and walked into the bedroom she had shared with her husband. Already it was becoming her rather than their bedroom. She took one look at the bed, then collected the gloves she used when washing the dishes. Pulling them on viciously, she ripped the sheets and pillowcases off the bed and bundled them up. Back in the kitchen she was about to put them into the washing machine when she changed her mind, stalked to the back door and dropped them and the gloves into the dustbin. Then she went to the bathroom and scrubbed her hands for fully five minutes. She would buy a new bed, mattress and blankets. She would sleep in the spare room until they were delivered. Having made up the bed there, she returned to the kitchen and started preparing supper.

During the whole time she neither looked at, nor said a single word, to the forlorn figure trying to concentrate on homework. It wasn't even deliberate, he had simply passed completely out of her mind as she brooded on what she had seen.

Martin, doing his best to remain small and still so as not to draw attention to himself, didn't complete much work and the small amount he did manage, made no sense at all. It was taking all of his self-control to keep himself from crying again. This is the worst day of my whole life he thought miserably, and with the impotence of childhood, knew that there was absolutely nothing that he could do about it, even if he had known what to do.

The knowledge that he was to blame was already fixed in his mind, and the seeds had been sown for many of his future troubles. Only the fact that over the years he had been forced by the indifference of both parents to be self dependent, saved him from breaking down completely.

Sitting at the table trying to work, he forced himself to think about what he had heard before Steven removed him from the scene. Much of the language had gone over his head although in later years when he was older, some of it would return to haunt him, but the angry, shouting voices, particularly that of his mother, would trouble his sleep for months to come. Although he was far better read than his contemporaries, he still retained a childlike innocence and the derogatory terms that his mother had hurled so angrily at his father's head, although known to him intellectually, had very little real meaning. He did understand though, that both he and his father had done something very wrong, and what she had said after she had sent Stevie away, he found too painful to think about. Over the next few days his mind was to suppress it completely below conscious level.

Often in the fights that flared up at school, the boys (and some of the girls too) would taunt their adversaries by calling them queers and poofs. This had always made him feel vaguely uncomfortable and to hear his mother, who seldom raised her voice, using words that he had thought the sole prerogative of the playground had come as a major shock.

It was a very sad little boy who cried himself to sleep that night.

During the next few weeks from being one of the best members of his class, his work deteriorated until he was the worst. He was unable to concentrate, given to sudden and completely uncharacteristic fits of sarcasm and rage and as a consequence, made himself unpopular with the staff and his contemporaries alike. If he had had someone he could have talked to, it would have made all the difference, but he had always been a loner, and there was no-one to whom he could turn. His class teacher who was worried about him, became really concerned when he handed in a story he had written entitled 'A Family' which she had set, under the shrewd impression that this might give her a clue as to what was going on in his mind.

She read it during her dinner break then took it to the headmistress. It was without doubt one of the best pieces of work that Martin had ever done for her. It was also without doubt, the most cruel and vicious. It was plain that he had put his heart and soul into it and both she and the head could only hope that the writing of it might have got it out of his system. They decided to call his parents in, his change of behaviour alone justified it, and to hold the story in reserve.

"I wouldn't like to show this to any parent," the head said, "And frankly I'm not so sure that we shouldn't burn it. If we do have to show it to the Jacksons Lord help us, and the boy as well. But for his sake we have to try to get to the bottom of this."

The interview got off on the wrong foot right from the start. Both parents had been asked to attend but Martha arrived alone. She considered that as Joe had shown himself to be such a bad parent it had nothing to do with him, and she hadn't told him that he was wanted. When the school had called her, she had been in the middle of preparing a difficult case and the refusal of the school secretary to tell her anything apart from the fact that they were worried about her son, had done nothing for her temper.

It was typical of the school to want to see her when she was so busy and she put it out of her mind as soon as she put the phone down. She was reminded of the appointment at the last possible minute by her own secretary, who disliked her intensely and enjoyed making life difficult whenever she got the chance. The dislike was mutual, and as the girl was already under notice, she had nothing to lose when she virtuously reminded Martha that she had cancelled all of her appointments for the rest of the day because the interview at the school would probably take a long time.

The girl grinned to herself as Martha stalked out to her car, and hoped fleetingly that the school would give her hell, then wandered into the next office to entertain a close friend with the story of how she had infuriated the stuck up bitch. It never occurred to her that the person most likely to bear the brunt of this annoyance was the stuck up bitch's son. She had never seen Martin, and barely knew of his existence.

Due to the deliberate tardiness of the reminder, the punctual Martha arrived at the school fifteen minutes late and was feeling even more ruffled in consequence. It was a bad start, and when the headmistress had the impertinence to ask whether things were all right between herself and her husband, her smouldering anger burst into a blaze. However, she had not spent all those hours in court for nothing and none of this showed in her face, but her voice was glacial when she asked what this had to do with her son. The head told her, without mentioning the story Martin had written, and Martha turned, in her best courtroom manner, to his class teacher.

She was a formidable adversary, trained to use a confrontational style of attack, and her opponent never stood a chance against her. She made mincemeat of both she and the head in a very few minutes, and as a last resort the head was forced to produce the story that Martin had written.

Martha read it in an ominous silence then put it into her handbag, more angry with Martin than she had ever been in her life. That he should have exposed their family relationship to the gaze of outsiders like this was unforgivable. Though eager to tell him what she thought of him, she spent some time pointing out to the head that the ravings of an immature ten year old, angry with his parents, were not evidence. As far as his behaviour was concerned, it was their job to control him in school and not hers. She had more than enough to do. She went on in this vein for several minutes without allowing them get a word in edgeways. Having demolished both of them to her satisfaction, she swept out saying she would wait for Martin in the car, and to send him out immediately. She didn't bother to say either please or goodbye.

Aware that she had blundered in her handling of Mrs Jackson, the head debated getting in touch with the boy's father, but feeling that she had probably landed Martin in enough trouble as it was, dismissed the idea. Neither she nor his class teacher had missed the glint in Mrs Jackson's eye when she demanded that they send her son out to her. It was a very worried teacher who found the boy in the gym, told him not to change but to collect his things because his mother was waiting for him. She didn't dare give him a hint, and could only hope that she and the head had misread his mother's intentions.

A few minutes later, Martin hurried out to the car completely unaware that anything was wrong. He was never picked up from school except on special occasions and assumed that the break in routine meant something good. Perhaps his father had come home? In the relief of that thought he missed the rigid pose of his mother, and as soon as he was in the car, innocently asked if his father was waiting for them at home. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. Martha's remaining control over her temper vanished and she turned on him with such fury in her face that he cowered back against the door. Then she opened her mouth and literally tore him to pieces.

He was a very poor opponent, and five blistering minutes would have been more than sufficient, but she added twice as many for good measure. When she finally finished he was a pale, quivering, mental and physical wreck not even able to cry, and developing the first of the migraine headaches that would plague him regularly from then on.

Unable to eat that night and suffering agony from the headache he didn't have the courage to tell her about, he spent the hours until dawn throwing up into the toilet as quietly as he could. He fell into an uneasy doze for about an hour and staggered into school looking and feeling, more dead than alive.

Shocked at how ill he looked his teacher asked him sympathetically if he was alright, but this provoked such a look of burning resentment that she left him alone hoping that he would get over it soon. Martin, realising that the school had sent for Martha and far worse, had shown her his description of the events that had led up to him being technically fatherless, blamed them bitterly, and never trusted any of them again.

Nor, having learned his lesson, did he ever again turn in anything but the most blandly uninteresting and badly written work he was capable of. He reserved his real writing for himself alone, and began to fill exercise book after exercise book, all carefully hidden from all eyes but his own. It was in those stories, essays and occasional poems that he began to work out the unchildlike bitterness and anger he felt, and it was that outlet which probably saved his sanity. It would not be until five years later when he met Jimmy, that anyone would see anything he had written that he considered important.

By the time he finished primary school a little over a year later, self contained, resentful, and unenthusiastic, all his teachers, including the headmistress, had become too impatient with what they saw as his sulkiness to take any interest in him.

Which, as he told himself as he walked out of the building for the last time, determined never to set foot in it again, suited him right down to the ground.

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