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Paper Run

Crime And Punishment

(Extract from Paper Run)

Tea-time, Saturday, I’m six years old. Dad

sends me down the steep stone stairs. (He needs

his evening papers, sports results.) The painted walls

are moist, inviting. My finger leaps

and, in crude capitals, forms the one word –

BUGER. This is the worst word that I know:

blacker than ‘bloody’, more sinful than ‘shit’.

Laughter seeps from Mrs Glover’s wireless,

and my heart beats like a kiltie’s drum.

Coming back, the stair’s grown darker. Yellow

gaslights hang like moons but, through the railings,

all has melted, disappeared, and fallen black.

I clutch onto my daddy’s papers, but know

our kitchen’s miles away. Who’s down there

and what’s down there? The man in the cloak

who waits at the window? Angels who’ll come

to carry me away? I know the thick feel

of their feathery wings, and I know

they’ll take me when I’m cold and naked.

I climb quickly, close to the wall. Down there

are growths with curling hair, and long thin hands

with grips like ice. There’s fire. And hospitals –

and dreams: the book with the pages that won’t stop

turning, and dawn with both my parents dead.

But I get back to our dark-varnished door,

push it open into the hall. Safe for a while,

I soon forget my finger printed BUGER.

But later my big brother tells, and says

that I can’t even spell it. And as my dad

shifts in his armchair, behind his latest

Hibs and Hearts news, I have been found guilty.

Mum’s hand is closing round her wet floorcloth,

and all of her has turned to thunder.