Sunday in Second Year

Elizabeth Reapy, EM Reapy, Irish writer, short story, Wordlegs, 30 Under 30, novelist, young irish writer, Sunday in Second Year, literature, short fiction, first love, friendship, fish fingers, getting the shift, supermacs - HeadStuff.orgJohn-Joe Warde had a head on him like a block. His shoulders were square and broad and his hands were strong. His face was flat except for the nose that angled at the top from being broke a couple of times. When he walked on the street and I saw him coming, I crossed over the road.

I crossed cause he called me Fishfinger at school. He called me Fishfinger and scratched my hair when he grabbed me in a headlock. Or he’d ask me for a drink of Coke, just when it slammed against the bottom tray of the vending machine. He’d watch me take it out, see the ice cold tears run down the sides of it, hear the hiss when it panged open and take it off me before I’d put it to my lips. He’d take a loud drink and slurp, leave a shit load of backwash swishing around the top of its metal and hand it back. I’d look at the backwash and look at his mouth and tell him keep the can, I wasn’t that thirsty.

Once, he stole my English homework but gave it back to me because he said I used words too big for him. He wasn’t even in my class or year in school.

When we were out of school though, I avoided him. Nobody wanted to be seen with him, unless they were like him. He was always wearing new tracksuits and he didn’t have a weekend job. He offered some of them to me ‘at a good price.’ The parents had fourteen other kids to mind along with him so I don’t know if he’d get a lot of pocket money.


So I had seen him, crossing towards the arcade, the road busy enough on a Sunday after the town had played a football match. Cars always stopped for John-Joe. He tapped the bonnet and saluted at the elderly woman who had slowed for him. I was the other side of the road, keeping my head down and walking quick with my hands in my pocket.

‘Fishfinger? Fishfinger?’

He had seen me. My skin went prickly. If I didn’t answer him, he might box me at school. I looked across the road and put my hand up. He waved me over. ‘Come here, Fishfinger. Want to tell you a thing.’

I sighed. I thought I’d be in Supermacs for half three. There was a bunch of girls meeting up with us. My classmate Michael said he’d ask Tanya to go with me, he thought she’d say yeah because she went with him before and he thinks she’d go with anyone. Michael was probably worse than me with his chunks of yellow pimples and his lazy eye. I didn’t want to turn fifteen and have never got the shift. I’d go with anyone too.

I sighed and tried to cross the road, but the cars zoomed past and I didn’t get a gap. Eventually, one let me go and I said hi to John-Joe as I drew closer.

‘Fishfinger, you little piece of shite, what you doing up the town?’ he asked me. He lit up a cigarette and held it by wrapping his index finger in an O around it and keeping his thumb underneath. The other three fingers were in the air.

‘I was just going – for some food.’ I said and kicked the pebbles near my foot.

‘D’you wanna smoke, d’you?’

‘No, John-Joe, that’s okay. Thank you. I should better head away now. Starving.’

John-Joe said nothing. He smoked and stared at me. When he finished the cigarette, he flicked it on top of a parked car. ‘Off you go, Fishfinger, probably reading a book, probably eating in a restaurant, with your Mummy and Daddy, are you?’

He said probably like prolly. I didn’t reply.

‘Go, you shite, I don’t want to be seen talking to you. Someone with no friends like you. Hope the voice breaks soon,’ John-Joe said.

I turned away with a sting in my eyes and hated myself for being sensitive. Maybe I should just go back home and help my mother with the gardening or do my revision for the history test Thursday.

John-Joe shouted, ‘Fishfinger, Fishfinger,’ and I twisted my head over my shoulder. ‘I’m just messing with you, Fishfinger. Just a mess with you.’ He grinned at me, a big open mouthed grin and I smirked back.


The closer I got to Supermacs, the more distant the feeling of being towered by John-Joe went. It got replaced by something else as I saw Michael through the window, chatting to three girls.

Tanya wasn’t all that bad. She was a good weight but a fair bit of it was in her chest and she wore a black and yellow striped top that had the line between her boobs showing off. I couldn’t stop looking at it. She ate her burger in greedy mouthfuls and it seemed like she didn’t even chew it, just swallowed.

‘So, are we going together?’ she asked me, after she shook her red paper cup and slurped what was left of it with her straw.

My face grew hot, I said, yeah, I suppose, but in the coolest way I could. I shrugged my shoulders and sniffed up some air. Michael was chatting to her two friends, Ally and Claire. Ally was pretty. She was a prefect in the Convent and wasn’t allowed out to discos. Claire was rough. Her hair was streaked and wiry with bleach and she had an excited seal laugh. Michael was her boyfriend.

Tanya scrunched up her burger wrapper but picked the pink mayonaissed onions that had fallen onto the table and shoved them in her mouth.

‘So, do you want to head up to the back of the Post Office, for the shift?’ she said, crunching on the onions.

‘Ah, yeah. Cool. In a few minutes, I suppose.’ I felt like using the bathroom, all the flips and hops my stomach was doing.

I excused myself and climbed up the stairs towards the jacks. Upstairs, people were allowed to smoke. The fog was thick underneath the bright lights. There was a group of fellas sitting at a table by the toilet doors. They laughed as they saw me coming.

‘Hey, Smallchips, balls dropped yet?’ one of them wearing a green jersey shouted at me, and the group erupted with laughter again.

Why the processed food nicknames?

I ignored them but when I reached the door, he shoved his leg out and I tripped, going headfirst into the handle. The metal clanged when I hit it.

‘Ow.’ I rubbed the top of my skull.

There was a new group, sitting by the window that walked over to the table. Big lads, ones from Transition Year, older even. They circled around the table and one of them said, ‘We saw that.’

Green Jersey said ‘Big fucking deal. Go back to yer own corner.’

‘Go back to yer own town.’

Next thing, Green Jersey stood up and threw a punch. I was standing with my hand massaging my head and watched the boys jump out of the table and slap the Transition Years.

‘Scrap. Scrap. Scrap,’ chanted the other teenagers upstairs. The shouting and shoving, the sound of fist against skull and foot against tables and chairs made my head sorer.

I pushed the door open and snuck into the toilets. I sat on the bowl taking deep breaths and slunk the backway downstairs to dodge the fight.


Tanya wanted to go. I had to walk up to the Post Office with her and shift her for fifteen minutes so she could catch her lift.

I was afraid to talk to her on the walk. I looked at her hands and at her chest and at her legs, wondered if they were spongy to touch but I stirred in my jocks and blushed.

‘What’s wrong?’ Tanya asked. We walked past a phone box that smelt of piss and had empty naggins on the ground.

‘Nothing,’ I said, trying to tuck my horn into my waistband in one swift manoeuvre.

We stood behind a bush and I looked into her eyes. They were hazel and I hadn’t noticed how attractive they were till that moment. She sniffed up something and swallowed it back down.

She waited.

I waited. My heart was thumping like a rabbit.

Someone had to do something.

I lunged in with my mouth and our teeth clashed. I laughed. She didn’t. Instead she started sucking on my tongue like she was trying to get it out of me. Time stalled.

This was shifting?

This was what the big deal was about?

It was torture. Though, after a few minutes, when she relaxed enough to let me hold onto her, or maybe I relaxed enough to try, I began to like it. I even switched sides with my mouth. I even patted her boob, on the outside of her bumble-bee shirt.

Tanya jerked to a stop suddenly and checked her watch.

‘I’ve got to go,’ she said and wiped her chin.

‘No, wait,’ I said.

She backed away. ‘I can meet you next Sunday.’

It was too far away.

‘Write me a letter. A good one. With all your fancy English,’ she said.

I nodded and words already started pouring down into my brain like raindrops. Voluptuous. Worship. Exquisite. Longing.

I watched my girlfriend run away from me.


As I returned to Supermacs, light-headed with love, coursing with fantasies, someone whistled.

‘Well, look it here, the trouble maker himself,’ a voice said from behind me.

I sucked a breath and turned. Green Jersey. He had a big cut over his eyebrow and his cheek was swollen. Two lads stood behind him.

I put my hands up. ‘Look, I didn’t do anything to ye.’

‘But your friends did,’ Green Jersey said and spat on the ground.

I inched away from him but the others came both sides of me, trapping me.

‘Please,’ I said.

‘Please,’ Green Jersey said in a girl’s voice.

I gulped.

He shoved me and I fell down to the ground, welting my arse. The others stood over me. I tried to scramble away, crawling backwards, but one of them kicked my arm and I was knocked again and looked up at the rubber sole of Green Jersey’s runner. Gum, little pebbles and dirt had lodged itself in between the curved ridges of it.

I cried and put my hands up to block my face. He sneered down at me and let his foot dangle, savouring my fear.

A roar came from over the road.

‘Fuck,’ one of the lads said, looking to where the noise came.

The roar got louder, moving closer.

‘Will we run?’ the other lad asked Green Jersey who had put his foot back on the ground.

John-Joe Warde slammed his fist into Green Jersey’s back and then pushed one of the lads with so much force he toppled off the footpath and onto the road. He kicked the other lad up the hole.

‘Don’t ye ever touch a friend of mine,’ he shouted at them.

They scampered away from him and he extended his arm to me.

‘C’mon, get up off the floor,’ he said.

I grabbed onto him and he pulled me up. His skin was warm and soft. His sweat tanged in the air.

He pucked my shoulder gently. ‘Go on.’

‘Thank you,’ I stuttered, uneasy on my feet.

He tapped a cigarette out of the box and offered it to me. I shook my head no. He sparked it up.

‘That was three on one, Fishfinger, wasn’t fair.’

I nodded.

‘I know a lot about fairness. About unfairness,’ he said and took a deep inhale. He stared off into the distance. ‘Anyways, go on, I know you wouldn’t want to be seen here with me.’

I protested, ‘No, that’s not it, I –’

‘No yourself. Go on,’ he said and grinned, ‘I don’t want to be seen with you either.’

The town shone orange in the Sunday afternoon sun. John-Joe quenched the cigarette off the wall and put the butt in his pocket.

‘D’you want to come the chipper? I’ll buy you a burger meal or a cone or something?’ I asked.

‘You owe me nothing, Fishfinger. Friends look after each other.’ He said staring me in the eye. He crossed back over the road and ambled towards the sunlight.

‘Friends,’ I said and repeated it, smiling. ‘Friends.’