We knew there’d be a fight, even if Melvyn didn’t. He wouldn’t believe any one disliked him, we could tell that. But Dodge, well, we knew him inside out. Dodge hated his guts already and wanted to punch him one on the nose. And Dodge knew me and Daz and Skinny too, knew that we were right behind him even if we wouldn’t be doing any of the shirt pulling ourselves, which is all fights were in our experience, tugs-o-war, mis-kicks and bungled head-locks. Dodge’s speciality, in fact.
A Boeing 707 flew overhead, so in the silence where fights are made or declined, we all looked up till the sun blinded us. Melvyn took our silence for ignorence and saw his first big chance with words. He’d done the march past with the toys we didn’t have, so here came the words we wouldn’t know :
« That’s a VC10 » he said.
Suprisingly, I threw the first stone.
« Balls, » I said, and waited for his comeback. He wasn’t to know my Godfather ran the Robertsbridge Aircraft Recognition Society. We dug up Heinkels and lost Hurricanes on saturdays and went to airshows and recognition competitons. I was it’s youngest spotter. Came 26th in the All-England, 120 grown men spotting dots in the sky, flashed on a slide screen for one tenth of a second in Holborn Public Library. But this was the only error Melvyn would make and he didn’t contradict me or give me a chance to shine. He was clever that way. He just looked down his nose and slit his eyes. Skinny got nervous and jumped off the wall, diffusing the moment.
‘Ow, me poor feet. ‘Ere, show yer where The Cow’s Gate is mate ? We’re it’s Gang, ain’t we Daz ?
We set off in single file, like the school bell had pealed at the end of break, reluctant boys, a creeping dustcloud which had no wind to shift it. From the corner Skinny pointed up the road too eagerly, as if our « Mou-vyn » might evaporate.
« See where that gate is ? Thass it, our Gang gate. Thass the field in vair. Used to be an ‘ouse din there Daz. Weren’ allowed in there then were we. »
Dodge tried provoking things a second time.
« Gelz still ain’ allowed in there. »
« Oo you callin’ a gel, Packham ? »
« Not you Skinny, ‘im ! Vat big twerp, « he said, jerking a grubby half-nailed thumb at Melvyn who wasn’t the least put out, his thumbs tucked in jean pockets like he knew he was the faster draw.
The fight took place beside our marbles hole under old bag Aida’s hedge. Dodge didn’t stand a chance. He even looked defeated before the first swipe, his bum sticking out of jumble sale hipsters, the soles of his Empire Made plimpsoles flapping like jaws, his dish-cloth t-shirt which once said « Dukhams »blobbed with Instant Whip. Melvyn didn’t flinch at the challenge, or wait for more provocation, he just stepped forward and squared his fists with military precision learned from his dad with the very punch bag and leather boxing gloves we’d seen him carry past us himself. Yes, Melvyn boxed like Cassius Clay and Dodge wrestled like Mick Macmanus. He stoached like a cow in mud trying to yank a handful of Melvyn’s hair or kick him up the arse till Melvyn one-two’d him, nose and guts, and tipped him backwards. Dodge slobbered like a bulldog and Melvyn, with distaste at getting dirty, without gloves or groundsheet, knelt on Dodge’s tit and banged his head up and down on the marbles hole :
« Submit ? Submit, you great oaf ? »
We’d never seen anything like it. Me, Daz and Skinny were transfixed with dread and grudging admiration. Dodge, up till then our trusty bulldog, was reduced to whimpering :
« Year, oi submit, submit, y’ve ‘urt me face… »
His handkerchief was a ripped square of old bedsheet. He twisted two ends and screwed them into bloody nostrils. Melvyn just stood brushing Dodge-matter from his person with still clean hands swiped red at the knuckles. Dodge was a bad looser and only made his humiliation worse.
« Mummy’s boy, » he said in a funny voice. « Getcha nex’ toime ».
« I’m not scared of you, Packham. You’re licked. »
« I’m not scared of you neever, » Dodge shouted all the way back from his front gate as Melvyn did a dummy run after him.
« Jump in the lake you fat dunce » he shouted back.
What could we do? Me, Daz and Skinny might have managed to duff him a bit on Dodge’s behalf, but this was Dodge’s blunder, not ours. For the moment Melvyn fooled us. Skinny was in awe, said he’d never seen anyone smack a nose like that. Daz said no one had ever beaten Dodge in a fight ever. I was inclined to friendliness just to have a go on some of his toys. By the end of the afternoon we’d know how things really stood.