By Lucy Oliver
Ricky placed the daisies, gloved hands brushing the kerb. He looked up at the steep hill remembering the screams and flashing blue lights. Thick ice gleamed from the road, the same as it had so many years ago.
“I don’t want you hanging around with that gang,” Ricky’s mum said. “They’re a bad influence.”
“You’ve been talking to Mrs Green. She hates all kids,” Ricky said.
“I’ve seen Liam smoking. And kicking a football against the cars. Why don’t you play with Josh instead?”
“I hate Josh, I hate living here, and I hate you!” Ricky said, slamming the front door.
He walked down the snow covered path, hands thrust into his pockets, fingers aching from the cold. The gang stood opposite, Liam in the centre with Laura, his Second-in-Command. Ricky could see them writing bad words on the lamppost.
Liam knew many bad words. He lived at the top of the street with his mother, a foul-mouthed woman avoided by the neighbours.
As Ricky watched, Laura pointed to a bent figure wrapped in an anorak, walking with a stick. It was Mrs. Green from number five. She shuffled past the group, staring straight ahead.
“Come on,” Laura said.
Ricky saw them creep after Mrs Green, pressing close behind. She stumbled as Liam stepped on the back of her shoe. Ricky bit his nail as Laura took hold of the woman’s handbag and pulled at the straps. Ricky thought he was happier when the gang raced their bikes or played street ball. He looked away.
“Get off!” Mrs. Green shouted, brandishing her walking stick. “Get off, or I’ll call the police!”
Laura drew back and Ricky watched Mrs. Green reach her front door. He breathed out, shoulders relaxing.
A curtain moved at the window next door and Ricky saw Josh’s face look out. The boy waved to him.
“Your friend?” Liam said.
“No,” he said.
Ricky looked back at his own house, his mother watching from the window. She often did when he played with the gang. It made Ricky feel bolder. He would laugh louder, run faster. He hoped that if he upset her enough, she would regret leaving Dad.
Liam flipped his skateboard into the air and Ricky clapped. His mother refused to buy him a skateboard. He was going to ask his father for one. Then he could race across the street with Liam, best friends.
“Can I ride your board down the hill?” Ricky said.
“What do I get in return?”
“What do you want?”
“Get him to do something awful,” Laura said.
The door to Ricky’s house opened. His mother walked down the path.
“Shout the F word at her,” Liam said.
Ricky pictured himself whizzing down the street on the skateboard, faster and faster, all the girls staring. His mum watching, hand to her mouth.
“Ricky, I thought you might be cold,” his mum said. She held out his black gloves with the snowflake picture on the back.
Ricky looked at them.
They were his favourite gloves. He and his mum had chosen them together one glorious day when his world seemed bleak. He thought of the hot chocolate they had shared, thick with cream. They had bought the gloves, watched the Christmas parade and hadn’t talked about the divorce.
“Go on,” Laura said.
Ricky raised his eyes to his mother, seeing her wan smile and reddened eyes. He remembered she had given him the flake from the drink. He looked at the skateboard and then back at the gloves.
“Thanks Mum,” he said, taking the gloves.
Liam spat on the floor near Ricky’s foot.
“Look at what you’re missing,” he said.
Liam jumped on the skateboard, speeding down the road, faster and faster.
Ricky never saw the car, but he heard Laura scream.
“I thought you might be here today,” a voice said.
Ricky turned round. It was Josh.
Ricky thought of his sons, waiting at home. He thought of his wife and the job he loved.
“I owe him,” he said.