Screams of pain and joy, happiness and horror, wickedness and weakness. They soar through the playground. A group of boys push and shove each other, struggling to see the violence on the ground before them. Clothes tear, bones ache, skin splits as small fists smash through small teeth. There’s blood in Max’s mouth. Whether it belongs to him or the boy on the ground, Max doesn’t care. It tastes good, like triumph, like strength and power. Billy’s got a lot of blood on his face too. It’s coming out of his nose and staining his new shirt. Billy cries and Max hits him again. He can hardly hear the wild children around him, telling him to hit Billy again, telling him to stop, telling him Mr Muskett’s here. The ground beneath Max’s knees sinks away, Billy Tamlyn sputters as he is lifted by another teacher, and all the screams fade as Muskett carries Max up, up and away. He’s sitting in the office now, Mr Muskett’s behind the desk, and it’s just the two of them. Billy’s in the first-aid room, so Max and Muskett sit in solemn silence while the clock on the wall goes tick, tick, tick. Muskett finally raises his eyes from the papers on his desk. It’s that look that you never want to get from The Principal, you know the one: The look that makes you know that you were always guilty, and you were always going to do the wrong thing. “I’ve called your father. He’s not happy” says Muskett. Max doesn’t speak – his eyes sting as he strains to hold back those tears. Tick, tick, tick goes the clock. “Well, why were you fighting, boy?” Tick, tick tick. Muskett sighs. He cannot reach this boy. Max has no fear of Muskett, this man who cannot touch him. No, the fear swells at the thought of his Father. He can see those big red hands flashing through the air, striking his cheek and making the skin hot. He can smell the sourness of sweat and beer. He can see the fury of The Father, he can see it already, and then the fear sinks in his stomach, it crawls up his spine and burns through his tear ducts. “It’s alright boy, you don’t need to cry,” Muskett says awkwardly. He shifts in his seat, unsure. Max wipes away the tears, and Muskett says “Listen–” The door opens quickly… …and there looms The Father. Dark circles beneath wild eyes, sweat stains down the sides of his blue wife-beater, pink fists clenched tight. Max looks up at him, then closes his eyes hard at the thought of the strap. Tonight, the strap comes. He follows his dad back to the car. Max remembers all that. He pulls the car in to the curb. He puts it in park. He opens his door, and catches a glimpse of himself in the sideview mirror. Dark circles, he needs more sleep. Children scream as they chase each other through the playground, their screams are so loud. Entering the building, Max catches a whiff of that old school smell. Brings back more memories. Past the office, past the first-aid room, to the Principal’s office. His neck is tight, his knuckles white, he realises he’s clenching his fists tight. He’s angry, but the bloody Boy should know better. He’s angry, the bloody Boy’s been fighting again. So angry, those pink fists twitch, they want to break something. The Boy will get what’s coming to him, oh yes. He needs to learn, he needs to learn so he doesn’t end up like… so he doesn’t throw his whole life away. Max will show him, Max will make sure he knows. Max throws open the door- and there’s The Boy, redfaced, tears in his eyes. So little. Max has to hold his fury all the way back to the car, he can’t slip up in front of the school staff. So he holds it in, and it keeps holding as they walk. A clock on the wall goes tick, tick, tick, Max holds it in. He holds it just long enough to think about it. He thinks about it… and like dominoes the thoughts tumble in, one after another.

Is this Boy so guilty?

Will giving him the belt really teach him?

Why Am I So Angry.

Do we ever really grow up?

I want my child to have a better life than I did.

Max opens the door for his son.


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