A Sporting Life

Another fictional post, a short story.

Sunday mornings were always dull, as far as Dennis was concerned. Dad read the paper, mum spent all day in the kitchen, and if the weather was bad, Dennis spent most of the time in his small room, reading books or comics. Today was bright though, and he decided to head over to the park later, and see who was about. His sister walked behind the sofa, playfully slapping the back of his head as she passed. He hated that. She always did it, every time. He had thought about ways to stop her; maybe he could glue drawing pins inside his hair, so that they pierced her hand, or how about razor blades? They could be hidden, and they would slice open her fingers as she made contact. He had to rule out these fanciful ideas though. For one thing, he didn’t know where there were any drawing pins, and the only razor blade he had ever seen was in dad’s Gillette safety razor, in the bathroom.

Peggy grabbed her bag, and headed for the door. She called out, “Mum, I’m going round Sandra’s to play records, I’ll be back for dinner.” She smiled at Dennis, adding “See ya, squirt.” Just because she was nearly sixteen, she thought she was really grown up, and since she had left school, she was worse than ever. When people asked what job she did, she would reply, “I’m a trainee beautician.” But Dennis knew the truth, that she just worked in the hairdresser’s on Bolton Road, washing old ladies’ hair. He imagined her at Sandra’s, listening to the new ‘Twist’ records, learning the silly dance, and shrieking with laughter. He picked up his new football, and tucked it under his arm. To nobody in particular, he said in a loud voice, “Going to the park, to play football.” There was no reply, but as he unlatched the front door, his dad shouted “Take your boots then, don’t ruin your good school shoes.”

Dennis hated being ten. Too old to get away with anything, not old enough to do anything worth getting away with. He loved sport though. Any sport would do; cricket, football, rugby, he didn’t mind which. On his bedroom wall were photos of his sporting heroes; also league tables, results from last season, batting and bowling averages, goals scored and conceded. He studied the form, and the backgrounds of the sportsmen he adored. His one ambition was to be famous in sport, to see the faces of crowds looking on in awe as he scored goals or runs. Signing autographs for adoring fans, and being on the newsreels between the films at the local cinema, people nudging each other in the gloom, whispering, “That’s that Dennis from Palmerston Road.”. Trouble was, he wasn’t much good at anything. He tried his best, but whenever he kicked a football, it seemed to go anywhere other than where he had intended it to. Playing cricket, he just couldn’t seem to decide when it was the best moment to close his hand to catch a ball, and as for rugby, he just got flattened all the time, a consequence of his small stature.

There was a group of about twenty local boys already playing football when Dennis arrived, with discarded jumpers and jackets marking the width of the goals, and one very small child, too tiny to play, sitting watching the others. Kevin Whatmough was holding the ball, having just scored, and on his way back to the notional centre. He was twelve, and tall for his age. He played in the school football team, and his brother had once had a try-out for the local football club. They were only in the Second Division, but had a good record, and lots of devoted fans, including Dennis. Kevin spotted him on the sidelines, and called, “Hey Stanley, if we can use you ball, you can be goalie.” His reference to Stanley Matthews, one of the best players in England, was designed to taunt the younger boy. Dennis ignored the jibe, and throwing in his new leather ball, he took his place in the imaginary goalmouth. Although he detested being in goal, he wanted to join in, hoping to improve both his skill, and his popularity with the others.

It all went wrong, very quickly. Kevin kicked the ball straight at him, with all the force he could muster. It hit Dennis in the chest, knocking him on his back. “Good save”, taunted Kevin, and soon all the others were laughing, and clamouring to get a kick of the ball, which they directed at Dennis, rather than trying to score a goal. With the rules temporarily abandoned, things degenerated into an all-out attack on the boy in goal, with both balls being kicked at him, striking him in the body and face repeatedly. His nose hurt, his head was ringing, and very soon, he began to cry. Kevin led the others into a circle, dancing around Dennis they chanted, “Crybaby, Crybaby, baby go home.” Stifling his tears, and wiping his nose on his sleeve, he finally got up and started to head in the direction of the exit. “What about my ball?”, he asked Kevin. The big lad stamped on the ball repeatedly, with the others joining in, as it rolled away. Soon, the air was out of it, the laces stretched and ripped, and it resembled a pancake, when it was finally thrown over to him.

Dennis kept away from the park for many months after that. He would sit in his room, study his football programmes and books, and keep himself company. By the time of the summer holidays, he had turned eleven, and would be going to the local grammar school in September. For his birthday, he had received a new cricket bat, the best that mum and dad could afford. He overheard them talking about it one night. “He may not be much good, but at least he tries” said dad. “Might as well get him a good one, it could be just what he needs to get better at it.” Mum was worried about the cost, she always worried about the cost of everything. At least Peggy had stopped hitting him on the head. She had been given a party to celebrate her sixteenth, and soon after that, announced that she had a boyfriend. Vince had a motorbike, and he was eighteen. He had a good job too, and lived in Disraeli Terrace with his mum. She had forgotten about Dennis after that.

The summer holidays meant cricket. Dennis practiced with his bat in the confines of his small room. He imagined being the opener for England in the next Test Match, scoring two hundred, not out. On Sunday afternoon, as mum and dad dozed after the big meal, Dennis put on a clean white school shirt, and tucked it into his shorts. He slipped into his black plimsolls, recently bought to take to his new school, for the gym classes. Picking up the bat, he walked quietly out of the back door, across the small garden, and out of the back gate.

At the park, the usual group of boys were playing cricket. They had junior stumps and bails, pushed into the grass of the large open area. Heel scuffs marked the crease, and the distance between the batsmen had been roughly paced out. As he neared the group, Kevin Whatmough spotted him approaching. He shouted, “Oh look, here comes Truman, ready to bat for Yorkshire.” The jibe was once again referring to a star sportsman, the famous cricketer Freddie Truman. Kevin spotted the expensive bat, and changed his tone. “Tell you what Dennis, let me have a go with that bat, and you can be wicket keeper.” Dennis walked toward the boy, noting that he was even taller now. “OK Kevin, but let me bat first, then you can have a go, you can be wicket keeper until I am out”, he offered. The tall boy grinned as he moved into position behind the stumps. ” I won’t have long to wait then”, he taunted.
Dennis looked over at the bowler preparing to launch the hard red ball at him. Alan Platt had been in the same class as him last term, but never spoke to him. Not only was he in the football team now, he was in the cricket team too, and known to be a skillful bowler. Taking a long run-up, he twirled his arm to deliver a fast ball, but it dropped short, bouncing high over the wicket.

Dennis didn’t even attempt to hit the ball. Instead, he turned and struck Kevin around the side of his head with the bat, as hard as he could. It made a satisfying thud on contact with the other boy’s skull, and he fell sideways to the ground, without making a sound. Dennis moved behind the stumps, and looked at the crumpled figure. Kevin twitched a little, and made a squeaking noise, so he struck him once more with the bat, then again and again, until his features were no longer recognisable, and the ground around him was covered in blood. Dennis raised the stained bat to his shoulder, resting it casually, as if he has just scored a boundary. He turned to look at the stunned group of boys. They were rooted to the spot, gazing at him with their mouths open, unsure how to take in what had just happened.

Dennis grinned. That was it. Just the look he had always imagined.

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24 thoughts on “A Sporting Life

  1. Pete, my favorite line: Dennis hated being ten. Too old to get away with anything, not old enough to do anything worth getting away with.

    The ending was unexpected. I figured the story would end triumphantly with Dennis pounding the ball. I also wondered if perhaps the ball might bounce off Kevin’s head—an embarrassing moment that might lead to Kevin receiving some ridicule. I certainly didn’t expect a violent revenge.

    You write exceptionally well, Pete. I like how you fill in details as they are needed and in a natural flow rather than spoon feeding them up front just to get them out of the way (e.g., “That’s that Dennis from Palmerston Road.”).

    I look forward to reading more of your fiction!

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    1. I am very pleased that you noticed that line, David, as it is something that I actually said. (It was by way of a witty remark to my dad, who didn’t appreciate it.) I was older than ten when I said it though, closer to fourteen, if I recall. Even back then, I thought it was a ‘good line’, and have waited a long time for the chance to use it!
      There are some other fiction pieces posted recently that I hope you will enjoy. I am having a break from it for a while, but still noting down ideas.
      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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  2. Much enjoyed Pete! One day a cricket bat, then you move to the States and get a gun!!
    It felt up north, I expect that was Bolton road and reference to Truman (he had a shop in my home town) Now to catch up on a few more of your posts 🙂

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  3. A very well written story – I was dreading the end as it approached, but I imagined that it would be Dennis to meet a worse fate. I found the end disturbing, but I think you have captured very well the atmosphere of small English provincial towns (not that I have first-hand knowledge of them, but something in the story reminded me very much of Ken Loach’s 1969 Kes.

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    1. Thanks, Nandia. It is set in Lancashire, in 1960, though neither of these facts are mentioned, just alluded to. (Bolton Road, The Twist, the surname Whatmough, leaving school at 15, etc,) The town that I had in mind was Accrington. I don’t know it at all, but it has a well-known football club, and is close to Preston.and Blackburn. I avoided a London location, but set it in a period that I remember well. The street names are fictitious, but many towns in the UK have streets named after former Prime Ministers.
      Very best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Thanks, Jude. I have decided to develop my fiction output, and this (and others) is the result.
      Thanks very much for reading it, much appreciated of course.
      Regards as always, Pete. x

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    1. Despite my lack of skill at sport, Dennis is not me, Ro. He symbolises those people who react angrily to rejection, something I have never done. His part two is unfortunately to be detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. I don’t really know about that, so it may never appear. (Or it might…) x

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