3rd Prize: Emily Wills

South View Juniors

I’m back there, after uncountable Septembers, taking Miss
on that walk to school. Don’t step on the cracks
I hiss, but too late, she’s sunk by stilettos, so I haul her out
by the scruff of her foreign name. We don’t stop at the phone box
ringing as usual for number ten, but tiptap and laceup
past the shivery nets of Mr B, who flew too low and never speaks
because of the Japs and the gas and We will remember them.

I hassle her on past the boys with nits and rashy knees
who call her Nasty, and into the alley, where the man in the mac
may or may not be hiding something. Later, she’ll have Paul caned
for messing his book and losing his mother
and I’ll watch him cry like a girl, and I’ll dig my arm
with an inky nib so I’ll always remember this. But now
we knock softly for Susie, and hoodsup and on,

just ahead of the ringlet girls with their Persil socks
their Chinese burns, none of us wondering where Miss lives
or who loves her. Look at the spiderwebs breathes Susie,
and we make Miss pause, a sort of prayer, for after the rain
even the chain-link glitters and blinks with bluegold light.
But already she’s blotting and tutting the sop
on her too-tight skirt, stalking past us into the playground

with its grazes and shrieks, its low flying planes,
its toxic gas. She makes it indoors as far as her desk,
and we’ll forget her instantly, we’ll leave her there
powdering the runnels of her face, not speaking,
now I think of it, to anyone but us.