FEAR OF HEIGHTS

When I lived at Malthouse Farm Buster lived up at the top of the lane. I met him at the beginning of my last summer at the house, by the end of the holiday I was gone. I had never had a best friend before and didn’t really know how to identify one, but Buster felt special, like someone I was supposed to meet. He needed my friendship as much as I needed his and for seven short weeks we were inseparable. The time we spent together was very compressed and the following poem is not meant to be entirely accurate as I was eleven when it happened and although my recollections seem clear I know they are just memories of memories. After we moved away I never saw Buster again but I carried the idea of him with me. I would sometimes sneak him into my English lit essays as the partner of Brent Cleaver, boy detective, who was a more heroic version of me. We would solve mysteries together and because I knew his real life was difficult I would always be sure to give the story a happy ending.

 

Fear of heights

I had a friend called King Buster.
He would phone me to say
when I could come up and play.
‘Dadsout!’
He would shout,
with all the glee he could muster.
We met trespassing at Rex farm
I was a spy, just pretend
behind enemy lines.
He pelted me with dry pig bread
small stones
and cones
from pines.
Said he meant no harm
‘Bang! Bang! You’re dead.’
Even offered to be my friend
said he was doing me a favour
I didn’t like him one bit
he was older, taller, braver
dared me to walk on frozen pig shit,
‘Like Jesus did on the telly’
a bad time to discover a hole
in the gentle green sole
of my wellie.

‘Dadsout!’

King Buster had a tree house, crow’s nest.
I stood on the yearning deck
in tatty shorts and natty vest
watching his ascending heels.
‘A p-p-pirate’s life for me’
homemade catapult around my neck
jabbed the wishbone with a jiggy knee
adorned my throat with dainty weals.
‘Did you escape the hangman?’
asked his beautiful mother
so living dead pan.
‘A kiss for the brave’
she said with lovely ring
sloe eyes grey and grave
the fallen hanky iodine red.
‘I wish I was King B-Buster’s b-brother.’
I stuttered into the sting,
her bruised lips on my forehead.

‘Dadsout!’

King Buster liked to travel
so we built a touring car
out of an Atco motor mower,
147 cc’s of four stroke power.
We drove down to Zanzibar
blades spraying gravel
at over one mile per hour
or maybe even slower.
We saw a mysterious sideshow
a grand master of dark art
eyes lined with kohl
throw a rope up in the barn
straight as a fireman’s pole.
The magician’s dark heart
his scarcely whispered stare
bound my mind with fear
spun from gripping yarn.
As his apprentice climbed
I watched from far below
only to disappear
all reason rhymed
into his thin air.

‘Dadsout!’

King Buster had a wishing well.
‘Deepest in England.’ He was fond of saying.
‘On a bright day the sun shines straight down
and you can see the Indian ocean.’
I never did, no way, not playing.
Got dizzy at the very notion
up on a hungry chimney stack
gaping mouth, brick teeth
nothing but throat, the stomach beneath.
King Buster would drag me into the garden
sit on the edge, gazing deep into the black,
drop stone wishes into eternity, quietly counting.
‘If I fell all would be well.’
He whispered with a worn frown.
‘What?’ I replied, panic mounting
‘Don’t say what say pardon.’

‘Dadsout!’

King Buster had a blue-sickle-moon under one eye,
something to do with the mower,
he showed me a magic place
a special tree he had found
one of its lower
branches had grown into the ground
grown another smaller tree.
‘That’s me and that’s you.’
I understood and climbed so high
I very nearly flew
as iodine bit my neck and his mother kissed me.
‘Why do you call David, King Buster?’
‘After his F-Father.’ I replied.
Her hands were moths about her bright face.
‘Oh!’ She cried,
in a terrible fluster.

‘Dadsout!’

King Buster dug an afraid,
I mean an air raid
shelter in the middle of his lawn.
It was really just a pit
possibly open grave
we settled on trench.
We were over run.
I stifled a yawn
surrendered to the Hun
pretended to be French.
Our hearts weren’t really in it
the walls were damp
so we sat out the war
in a German prison camp
with a sticky mud floor
playing trumps and whist.
‘My real name is Dave,
I get King Buster cos of Dad.’
Mused the rather sad
chief archaeologist
as he examined a piece of blue china
possibly Ming bowl
or Ming teacup.
‘Perfectly clear,’
I said. ‘I’ve got a wet arse.’
We grew bored of the dig
downgraded it to hole.
‘Better fill it back up.’
Said the tin miner.
We relayed the turf as best we were able
it sat on the manicured grass
an unruly green wig
on a snooker table
‘Oh dear.’

‘Dadsout?’

King Buster didn’t call today
so with lights and siren going
I peddled up uninvited.
His mother answered the door
sudden irritation showing,
like she’d never seen me before.
I flashed my home made I.D.
‘Detective Brent Cleaver’
she didn’t seem at all delighted,
to meet me.
‘David’s not well and can’t play.’
I didn’t quite believe her,
she looked a right state,
I’m trained in these matters.
I’ve nothing better to do
so I sneak in after to investigate.
Upstairs something falls, shatters
I hear an angry muffled shout.
‘…king bastard, how could you!’
I glance nervously up the hall
as the furthest door opens wide,
my best friend stumbles out.
He leans on the wall
looking my way
wide eyes glint,
on his left cheek
a vivid hand print.
His mother appears,
there is nowhere to hide,
she sees me through tears.
Between fingers I peek,
as she comes for me apace.
I back away to the stair
beginning to sway

from the pull of the vertigo.
I cover my head
and fearing a blow

step into thin air
but she grabs me instead.
She bends, touches my face,
my heart running wild.
‘I have no choice,
it’s not what you think.’
Behind her a voice.
‘Sorry Mummy.’ And as she rose,
I saw her bloody nose
and when she smiled
her teeth were pink.

I had a friend called Buster.
‘Dadsout.’
He said with a guilty pout
and none of his usual bluster.
He told me I had caught
him bang to flipping rights
so he let me win the chalk wars
even though he won the arms race.
High from my white cliff fort
not the slightest trace
of my fear of heights.
For many an hour
we trimmed the clocks
my bold new senses
totting up multiple scores
on his dustbin lid defences
the soft blanched rocks
exploding bags of flour.
‘NO MORE!
I GIVE IN!’
Dave yelled with a grin
waving a hanky furiously
it was lightly bloodstained
falling to the wooden floor
as my blameless stuttering
so very curiously
lifted the lid.
‘Oh!’ She cried.
hands fluttering
about a pained
yet rather
lovely blush.
‘David lied,
(deathly hush)
he doesn’t have a father,
never did.’

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