When I was eight, I lived in fear of never making a friend. Then I made one, and lived in fear of her finding any other friends. Rosie was in the year below, puckish, quite surreal and completely carefree, which made her magnetic. You couldn’t do so much as a tour of the playground without someone thinking she would be a great addition to a skipping cartel, British bulldogs or a plot. She also had great hand-eye coordination, so, even without her character, her qualities would have been in high demand. This meant I had a medium-level phobia of playgrounds, which I managed as best I could by hiding it and praying for rain.
So this day, not the memorable day, was shaping up as badly as it possibly could. She was asked to join in with a game of rounders. I was spectating, shooting murderous looks at anyone who cheered her or in any other way sought her attention. A teacher joined in, Mr Gubbins. I probably shouldn’t name him in case I’ve misremembered, but it was 40 years ago and he has a funny name. Let’s say it was him or it wasn’t.
He went in to bat; she was standing behind him. I wasn’t really watching the ball, preoccupied by my possessiveness, so I was at least as surprised as anyone when he drew the bat back to smash the ball and instead hit Rosie square in the nose. It should go without saying that she had the most perfect nose. It was an act of radical vandalism, but also weirdly poetic; the blood seemed to be spreading across her face so slowly, sideways, like a field of poppies, defying gravity. Anyway, she went off to hospital and they didn’t take me because what was I, really, other than a kind of ineffectual warden?
Anyway, this is the memorable bit: the next day, she returned with quite a complicated plaster cast across her face, and everyone in authority seemed to feel collectively guilty. Or maybe this was just what good sense suggested. It had been decided, either way, that she couldn’t go out at playtime for the rest of term – realistically, it can’t have been more than six weeks, but it felt like all the time I would ever have on my horizon.
Since this was reckoned to be so tough on a child, and since it wasn’t her fault, she was allowed to choose where in the school she would spend her lunch break, and choose one friend – this bit is key, one friend only – to hang out with her.
She chose the library, not because she was especially bookish, but just because it had a carpet, and we weren’t even supervised – just left with a load of yoghurt and craft items. It was as if they’d looked into my heart and enacted my deepest desire. It went on for so long that primary school ended without my ever remembering anything else.