William the First by Colin Taylor

Dark-maned, sturdy, the first-born protested lustily at the mess and blood and indignity of his birth and screamed still as his twin brother emerged. That puny boy barely murmured when the nurse spanked him into life nor did he gurgle any pleasure at meeting his mother face to face. 

“Speak up for yourself, boy,” she scolded, then moulded the dark-haired one to her belly and breast. She presented her nipple and he drew deep on contentment. She crooned. “My Jacob, my precious Jacob. That’s your name, but I’ll always call you my lovely Jake.” As her first-born suckled, she winced, “Jake, I can tell what you want. You’ll grow big and strong.” 

Her other son was paling into insignificance. Jake was her beloved, her first-born; Jake would always be first. 

********** 

William lurched towards her, legs wobbling and buckling, but tumbled into an untidy, yowling heap by the coffee table. His mother laughed and watched Jake as he staggered unsteadily towards her. 

“Come on, Jake. You can do it, you can, you can,” she encouraged. 

“You made it,” she whooped, celebrating her adventurer’s first steps. 

Still crying, William lay crumpled on the floor. She gently propped Jake among the sofa cushions and bent towards William, sighing with impatience as she turned him over. A dull blue ridge grew on William’s temple and a smear of blood coloured the skin. She dabbed it with a tissue and was satisfied, “No great harm done, Timmy. Stop your fuss.” 

Jake lay safe in the soft depths of the sofa, aware that he was her beloved and always would be first. 

********** 

Ginge crowed. “It’s my birthday and my ball, so I’m captain and I’m having first pick.” 

The line of footballers waited for his choice, waited for their moment of approval and the start of their playtime kickabout. Ginge picked decisively, “Jake. You’re my striker.” 

Jake; always first. He was good at football and would score goals galore. William, however, was a liability to any team. He was puny and couldn’t kick or dribble or pass, which is why Ginge felt unlucky to finish up with William on his team. Ginge growled, “You play full back.” Fullbacks weren’t important in the schoolboy playtime melee. 

This morning, William got everything wrong. Once he miss-kicked the ball so badly the other side scored, and when he did it a second time, they scored again. Because of William, Ginge’s team fell 7 – 6 behind. Before Jake could equalise, the bell ended the playtime match. Ginge and Jake had lost and William trooped off to class, knowing not to turn up again at dinner time. 

Jake would turn up and Ginge ’d pick him first; Jake was always first. 

********** 

The old bike leant against the garden wall. Its black paint bubbled with rust and its saddle cracked and creaked when William got on. 

Dad stood behind, fingers clamped on the saddle, “It’ll do to learn on. Get the hang of it before you start big school. We might even get you a new bike.” 

William wanted that bike very much, so he tried his best, but even with Dad steering from behind, he still wobbled badly. William thought he was doing ok, but he daren’t take his eyes off the path in front of him. He discovered Dad had stopped steering when the bike curved uncontrollably towards a ditch. William sprawled under the front wheel and rued having wanted to learn to ride. 

“Your turn, Jake. Thanks for letting William have first go.” Dad ruffled the dark mane and punched Jake’s shoulder in manly appreciation before giving him the bike. Jake set off, pedalling hard, throwing caution to the wind, and laughed at the speed of it. Dad yelled, “Jake, you’re a natural. No one as good as you!” 

Jake sped away then spun round to cycle back. As William hauled himself out of the ditch, Jake shouted a warning, “Look out, William. I shall knock you down if you’re in my way.” 

William was grateful Jake didn’t, but knew, as the black bike rocketed past, that nice new bike wouldn’t be his. Jake would get a bike first. 

********** 

“It's Saturday. Are you stopping in,” snapped Dad. 

Mum urged, “Why don’t you go out tonight? Go to the Congs with Jake,”. William didn’t fancy the Congregational Youth Club; it would be Jake’s choice though. Dad said, “Go on, son. Time you mixed with kids your own age. Jake’ll look after you.” The last thing William wanted was Jake looking after him. 

The Congs held a dance every Saturday. William gazed round the hall, but the only people he saw he didn’t care for. The Scruton lot, for example, were girls who always made trouble at school and you avoided them if you could. Though Christine wasn’t in sight, you couldn’t miss big sister Symone. She was making a beeline towards him. Daunting enough in school uniform, in a clingy tee-shirt and skin-tight leggings, she was fearsome. He escaped into the car park. Taunts followed him. 

“Hi, Willy-Willy. Where are you running to?” 

“Are you hiding from us?” 

“Where’s your big brother? Shouldn’t Jake be looking after you?” 

The others trilled amusement. William didn’t know why. 

“If the cat’s got your tongue, Willy, it hasn’t got mine.” Symone bore down on William, as the others convulsed in laughter, “I’ll show you what I mean.” 

Symone seized William and hauled him close. She planted her scarlet lips upon his and suctioned a kiss. Her firm tongue, forcing its way into William’s mouth, tasted of chewing gum, but worse followed. William yelped as she bit hard on his lower lip. She pushed him aside with a sneer, “There, little William, tell big brother about that.” 

The other girls shrieked with laughter as they went back into the hall. 

William wiped his bleeding lip. His painful, humiliating ordeal was over, but then he heard a scuffling in the bushes behind him. William turned, peered, saw shoes, two toes pointing up and two toes pointing down, and, even worse, a pale spotty bottom upping and downing. He had no idea whose it was, but he knew what was going on. William coughed embarrassment and lurched away as the dreaded Christine emerged, fastening her blouse and straightening her skirt. She gave William a Gorgon glance and returned to the dance. A second figure emerged from the undergrowth; it was Jake, adjusting his clothing. He smirked at William as he ventured into the light. 

“Hi William,” said Jake, unabashed, as he followed Christine. 

William wiped trickling blood with the back of his hand. He’d had a memorable first kiss, but Jake had of course trumped that; when it came to going all the way, Jake was the first. 

********** 

If William was no good at cycling or football or even sex, he took to High School like a duck to water. He excelled in every lesson; he spoke French like a Parisian, trotted out names and dates of battles and wars and repeated scientific formulae like some kids named the United first team. Books! He loved books and the library became his universe. If every book was a shooting star of new discoveries, the PCs gave him a galaxy more. William surfed and soaked up every word and fact. He was a positive black hole for knowledge. 

Of course, all that had little street cred among his classmates and they called him Jake’s nerdy little brother, but William was so excited by knowing things that he didn’t care. 

Jake kept on scoring goals for the school team, kept on making it with Christine Scruton, but William matched Jake’s goals with his own end-of-year prizes and certificates; with GCSE’s, it was Jake nil, William nine. 

Mum and Dad laughed off Jake’s academic zero when he left school and got him a job in the factory where Dad would soon be a chargehand with a bit of luck. Jake donned his overalls and plunged into the mucky world of work. 

“You what, William? Stay on at school?” queried Mum, astounded. “Why? All that book learning won’t earn you a crust. Get to work like your brother.” 

William didn’t want to be like his brother. Christine Scruton was eating for two and craved chocolate oranges. William didn’t fancy emulating that so he shook his head and stuck out the tirade of abuse and scorn, got an evening job in the pizza takeaway down the road and read on. The odd book and essay was tomato-paste stained, but the effort proved well worth-while. 

“What outstanding A levels you have got, William,” commented the lecturer at the interview. “Has anyone else in your family been to University?” 

“No,” replied William proudly. “I’m the first.” 

Published in Issue #20

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