Roo was tall, blonde and for a few months of the year tanned. His real name was Roderick, in primary we called him Roddy. The very first time I saw Roo he was completely naked running down the back cobbled alley behind our house, he was six and in big trouble.
He was always in big trouble, just when we thought he could breathe easy for a while, trouble would come and find him. He would come up with crazy plans that always went awry, but we didn’t care because he was fun to be with. He taught us how to shop-lift, pickpocket and house burgle. He was a natural charmer and his frizzy platinum hair made him look even more angelic. He conned neighbours, teachers, peers, he would have made a fabulously charismatic politician.
As he grew older girls would hang around at the edges of our gang, giggling and preening, trying to get Roo’s attention. Mazpa, Trace and me never thought of Roo as attractive, or maybe we didn’t want things to change we wanted to be thirteen forever. Roo and Pea went to the local secondary modern school and then at sixteen came to our school, the grammar school. That’s when we started living in each other’s pockets, Pea’s house was the usual meet up place unless my parents were on one of their trips and then everyone moved in to our house with AJ pontificating on cleanliness and Scaly Meg wafting through in diaphanous layers and her new-age entourage.
Looking back I think we were so bad to compensate for being a bit brainy, Milton joined us when we were twelve. She and I had been in the hockey team that got kicked out of the league for drinking at a county knockout and it gave her the reputation that allowed her to hang around with us. Trace never trusted her, because she came from a different part of town and she always believed Milt was there for Roo.
Roo only had eyes for Scaly Meg. Tall, skinny and appearing aloof, Scaly Meg like Roo and Pea was four years older than us. She is still alive, although she must’ve gone through ten or twenty cat lives. When I think of her, I think of a smug cat. She could ignore you for years but if she wanted you to do something she’d be all over you like a rash and make it seem she was your best friend. The stupid thing was she was so good at it, you knew you were being manipulated but you didn’t care, just were grateful for her attention.
Roo would do anything Scaly asked her, eventually as a man in his late twenties he went to prison for her and her common law husband. Trace and I were at Crown Court for that, Scaly Meg didn’t even bother to turn up. Roo was no longer lean and muscular, he was ravaged by years of injecting heroin. Pasty, flabby and his gorgeous curly blonde locks, shorn and grey. Scaly did that to him, oh I know he could have said no, he could have moved away, but he was obsessed with her so even as young as thirteen was making forays into a more adult drug life.
The first girl that did manage to stick to Roo was Milton (we were so academic and nerdy we renamed her because she was Elizabeth Minshull and Mazpa was going through an androgynous period.) In retrospect knowing she hadn’t a notion of keeping him, she did do well (she didn’t snivel or change anything in the order of what we did, later in the evenings when everyone did couple stuff they went off) and we did end our school years really good mates. She was always trying to prove herself to Roo, Pea and Trace particularly, so she would jump highest, throw furthest and party hardest. This led to the gang’s first split, although temporary, and allowed Trace that ‘I told you so’ moment.
Philosopher Todd started sniffing round me at the same time Roo and Milt got together. It was my first couple thing. I’d had one nighters and bits of fumblings but this was proper being a couple stuff. We were together one whole month, it was intense and took us both months to get over. Roo and Milton though, they went a few steps further and managed to make a baby. None of us knew until after the abortion and the group split into those who still talked to Milton and those who dismissed her. At the same time two new faces joined us, Olivia and Saar, both discovered that being bad was much more fun than studying and playing nice. They added some balance but through the rest of that school year there were tensions, arguments, fights and posturing. Our class was more of a nightmare for teachers than usual as we weren’t just against them but we created factions and counter factions, setting each other up but when the chips were down we all stayed quiet.
Milton spent the rest of her teens drunk and that’s how we ended up friends. We kept a bottle of vodka in the top bogs at school and we would meet there for French and German. Trace and Mazpa would drink in the evenings with the boys but me and Milton we drank anytime day or night. For me it was to take the edge off life, for her, I think it was the sadness. Sometimes she talked about it as if the baby lived. She was our first and only teen pregnancy, surprisingly the “good” girls got caught one after the other in 5th year. We kept in touch for a few years but distance changes relationships. After I got sent away to college it got more difficult to go home until the visits were down to births, deaths and marriages oh and of course the odd cry for help.
Roo died last May, he was an old man of forty nine. I saw him a months before he died, he remembered he knew me but couldn’t remember how. He had no recollection of his youth and most alarming he didn’t remember Scaly Meg. He had burned and bruised his brain, too many hits and too many hurts. I visited him in the hospital, Trace asked me to go, she needed to see him because their son wanted a new photo of daddy.
It is only in the hindsight and the distance of years that I can look back and see the nuances. All those times Trace had fought Roo as children and young adults, she had a secret crush on him that developed after he got out of the nick. Galen, their son, is seven, skinny and curly blonde with Trace’s sallow skin. He is going to be a stunner. Trace is philosophical about the whole love thing, they live in a kind of commune with Todd and Olivia and various walkthroughs.