portion of the artwork for Steven John's stories

Bluebells, Cockle Shells
Steven John

After the men come and lay the smooth new concrete road, new games begin on the estate. The best game of all is roller-skiing. Boys on bikes, a length of rope attached to their saddles, towing along us girls on skates, hanging on to a cricket stump like water-skiers. Faster, faster, faster till our hair whips our ears, till eyes stream wind-tears, till our skanky school skirts press tight into our nonnies. There’s no brakes. The pansies chicken out, let go of the stump and rumble into the grass verge. Us tomboys, showing off so fast we feel sick, hit a drain cover and slash our knees through ripped tights. The maddest roller-skiers make jumps. Planks of wood ramped up on bricks, flying over the young kids or landing on their chubby legs, yelling “Next time it’ll be your little willies” into their faces.

The girls who aren’t tomboys line their bare knees up on garden walls, roll up their skirts till their pants show, twiddle their hair, and cheer along the bleeding. Others spin washing-lines through the air whilst first one girl skips, then two, then three, until someone mucks up, and they sing,

“Bluebells, cockle shells
Eevie, ivy, over.
I like coffee, I like tea,
I like boys and the boys like me.”

And when the skates are all played out, there’s the recreation ground a five-minute bike ride away. Down an alleyway of dandelions and dog shit, we chew gum and smoke chocolate cigarettes on the merry-go-round. The boys carry weapons; spud guns, catapults, and sometimes a box of matches and sixpenny bangers. While us girls are on the swings, the boys climb the frames and look up our skirts. We play kiss-chase through the play-tunnels, and when we let the boys catch us, we snog them whilst the other kids whistle from both ends. Sarah Colman showed Alan Nesbitt her knickers in the rec, and showed Michael Newman a whole lot more.

Then we go to Maddy’s house whose mum’s made raspberry lemonade with ice cubes in plastic cups, and we go to Maddy’s bedroom, sit on her bed, and pick at each other’s scabs. We guess which boys fancy us, except for Lulu who everyone knows is an orphan bastard. No one fancies Lulu except for Maddy’s dad, who comes into the bedroom, puts his face up close to her and says she’s his little pluckable flower.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 58 | Fall/Winter 2021