by Dylan Thomas
I was standing at the end of the lower playground and annoying Mr Samuels, who lived in the house just below the high railings. Mr Samuels complained once a week that boys from the school threw apples and stones and balls through his bedroom window. He sat in a deck chair in a small square of trim garden and tried to read the newspaper. I was only a few yards from him. I was staring him out. He pretended not to notice me, but I knew he knew I was standing there rudely and quietly. Every now and then he peeped at me from behind his newspaper, saw me still and serious and alone, with my eyes on his. As soon as he lost his temper I was going to go home. Already I was late for dinner. I had almost beaten him, the newspaper was trembling, he was breathing heavily, when a strange boy, whom I had not heard approach, pushed me down the bank.
I threw a stone at his face. He took off his spectacles, put them in his coat pocket, took off his coat, hung it neatly on the railings, and attacked. Turning round as we wrestled on the top of the bank, I saw that Mr Samuels had folded his newspaper on the deck chair and was standing up to watch us. It was a mistake to turn round. The strange boy rabbit-punched me twice. Mr Samuels hopped with excitement as I fell against the railings. I was down in the dust, hot and scratched and biting, then up and dancing, and I butted the boy in the belly and we tumbled in a heap. I saw through a closing eye that his nose was bleeding. I hit his nose. He tore at my collar and spun me round by the hair.
'Come on! come on!' I heard Mr Samuels cry.
We both turned towards him. He was shaking his fists and dodging about in the garden. He stopped then, and coughed, and set his panama straight, and avoided our eyes, and turned his back and walked slowly to the deck chair.
We both threw gravel at him.
'I'll give him "Come on!"' the boy said, as we ran along the playground away from the shouts of Mr Samuels and down the steps on to the hill.
We walked home together. I admired his bloody nose. He said that my eye was like a poached egg, only black.
'I've never seen such a lot of blood,' I said.
He said I had the best black eye in Wales, perhaps it was the best black eye in Europe; he bet Tunney never had a black eye like that.
'And there's blood all over your shirt.'
'Sometimes I bleed in dollops,' he said.
On Walter's Road we passed a group of high school girls, and I cocked my cap and hoped my eye was as big as a bluebag, and he walked with his coat flung open to show the bloodstains.
I was a hooligan all during dinner, and a bully, and as bad as a boy from the Sandbanks, and I should have more respect, and I sat silently, like Tunney, over the sago pudding. That afternoon I went to school with an eyeshade on. If I had had a black silk sling I would have been as gay and desperate as the wounded captain in the book that my sister used to read, and that I read under the bed-clothes at night, secretly with a flash-lamp.
On the road, a boy from an inferior school, where the parents did not have to pay anything, called me 'One eye!' in a harsh, adult voice. I took no notice, but walked along whistling, my good eye on the summer clouds sailing, beyond insult, above Terrace Road.
The mathematics master said: 'I see that Mr Thomas at the back of the class has been straining his eyesight. But it isn't over his homework, is it, gentlemen?'
Gilbert Rees, next to me, laughed loudest.
'I'll break your leg after school!' I said.
He'd hobble, howling, up to the head master's study. A deep hush in the school. A message on a plate brought by the porter. 'The head master's compliments, sir, and will you come at once?' 'How did you happen to break this boy's leg?' 'Oh! damn and bottom, the agony!' cried Gilbert Rees. 'Just a little twist,' I would say. 'I don't know my own strength. I apologize. But there's nothing to worry about. Let me set the leg, sir.' A rapid manipulation, the click of a bone. 'Doctor Thomas, sir, at your service.' Mrs Rees was on her knees. 'How can I thank you?' 'It's nothing at all, dear lady. Wash his ears every morning. Throw away his rulers. Pour his red and green inks down the sink.'
In Mr Trotter's drawing class we drew naked girls inaccurately on sheets of paper under our drawings of a vase and passed them along under the desks. Some of the drawings were detailed strangely, others were tailed off like mermaids. Gilbert Rees drew the vase only.
'Sleep with your wife, sir?'
'What did you say?'
'Lend me a knife, sir?'
'What would you do if you had a million pounds?'
'I'd buy a Bugatti and a Rolls and a Bentley and I'd go two hundred miles an hour on Pendine sands.'
'I'd buy a harem and keep the girls in the gym.'
'I'd buy a house like Mrs Cotmore-Richard's, twice as big as hers, and a cricket field and a football field and a proper garage with mechanics and a lift.'
'And a lavatory as big as, as big as the Melba pavilion, with plush seats and golden chains and . . .'
'And I'd smoke cigarettes with real gold tips, better than Morris's Blue Book.'
'I'd buy all the railway trains, and only 4A could travel in them.'
'And not Gilbert Rees either.'
'What's the longest you've been?'
'I went to Edinburgh.'
'My father went to Salonika in the War.'
'Where's that, Cyril?'
'Cyril, tell us about Mrs Pussie Edwards in Hanover Street.'
'Well, my brother says he can do anything.'
I drew a wild guess below the waist, and wrote Pussie Edwards in small letters at the foot of the page.
'Hide your drawings.'
'I bet you a greyhound can go faster than a horse.'
Everybody liked the drawing class, except Mr Trotter.
In the evening, before calling on my new friend, I sat in my bedroom by the boiler and read through my exercise-books full of poems. There were Danger Don'ts on the backs. On my bedroom walls were pictures of Shakespeare, Walter de la Mare torn from my father's Christmas Bookman, Robert Browning, Stacy Aumonier, Rupert Brooke, a bearded man who I had discovered was Whittier, Watts's 'Hope,' and a Sunday school certificate I was ashamed to want to pull down. A poem I had had printed in the 'Wales Day by Day' column of the Western Mail was pasted on the mirror to make me blush, but the shame of the poem had died. Across the poem I had written, with a stolen quill and in flourishes: 'Homer Nods.' I was always waiting for the opportunity to bring someone into my bedroom - 'Come into my den; excuse the untidiness; take a chair. No! not that one, it's broken!' - and force him to see the poem accidentally. 'I put it there to make me blush.' But nobody ever came in except my mother.
Walking to his house in the early dusk through solid, deserted professional avenues lined with trees, I recited pieces of my poems and heard my voice, like a stranger's voice in Park Drive accompanied by the tap-tapping of nailed boots, rise very thinly up through the respectable autumn evening.
My mind is fashioned
In the ways of intertissue;
Veiled and passioned
Are the thoughts that issue
From its well of furtive lust
Raptured by the devil's dust
If I looked through a window on to the road, I would see a scarlet-capped boy with big boots striding down the middle, and would wonder who it could be. If I were a young girl watching, my face like Mona Lisa's, my coal-black hair coiled in earphones, I'd see beneath the 'Boys' Department' suit a manly body with hair and sun tan, and call him and ask, 'Will you have tea or cocktails?' and hear his voice reciting the Grass Blade's Psalm in the half-dark of the heavily curtained and coloured drawing-room hung about with famous reproductions and glowing with books and wine bottles:
The frost has lain,
Frost that is dark with flowered slain,
With patches of illuminated moon,
About my lonely head in flagged unlovely red.
The frost has spake,
Frost secretive and thrilled in silent flake,
With unseen lips of blue
Glass in the glaze stars threw,
Only to my ears, has spake in visionary tears
The frost has known,
From scattered conclave by the few winds blown,
That the lone genius in my roots,
Bare down there in a jungle of fruits,
Has planted a green year, for praise, in the heart of my upgrowing days
The frost has filled
My heart with longing that the night's sleeve spilled,
Frost of celestial vapour fraught,
Frost that the columns of unfallen snow have sought,
With desire for the fields of space hovering about my single place
'Look! there's a strange boy, walking alone like a prince.'
'No, no, like a wolf! Look at his long stride!' Sketty church was shaking its bells for me.
When I am strewn low
And all my ashes are
Dust in a dumb provoking show
Of minatory star . . .
I recited. A young man and woman, arm in arm, suddenly appeared from a back lane between houses. I changed my recitation into a tune and hummed past them. They would be tittering together now, with their horrid bodies close. Cissy, moony, long hair. I whistled hard and loud, kicked a tradesmen's entrance, and glanced back over my shoulder. The couple were gone. Here's a kick at 'The Elms.' 'Where are the bleedy elms, mister?' Here's a handful of gravel, Mrs 'The Croft,' right at your window. One night I would paint 'Bum' all over the front gate of 'Kia-Ora.'
A woman stood on 'Lyndhurst' steps with a hissing pom, and, stuffing my cap in my pocket, I was off down the road; and there was Dan's house, 'Warmley,' with music coming loudly out of it.
He was a composer and a poet too; he had written seven historical novels before he was twelve, and he played the piano and the violin; his mother made wool pictures, his brother was a clerk at the docks and syncopated, his aunt kept a preparatory school on the first floor, and his father wrote music for the organ. All this he had told me as we walked home bleeding, strutting by the gym-frocks, waving to boys in the trams.
My new friend's mother answered the door with a ball of wool in her hand. Dan, in the upstairs drawing-room, heard my arrival and played the piano faster.
'I didn't hear you come in,' he said when I found him. He finished on a grand chord, stretching all his fingers.
The room was splendidly untidy, full of wool and paper and open cupboards stacked with things you could never find; all the expensive furniture had been kicked; a waistcoat hung on the chandelier. I thought I could live for ever in that room, writing and fighting and spilling ink, having my friends for picnics there after midnight with Waller's rum-and-butter and charlottes russes from Eynon's, and Cydrax and Vino.
He showed me his books and his seven novels. All the novels were about battles, sieges, and kings. 'Just early stuff,' he said.
He let me take out his violin and make a cat noise.
We sat on a sofa in the window and talked as though we had always known each other. Would the 'Swans' beat the 'Spurs'? When could girls have babies? Was Arnott's average last year better than Clay's?
'That's my father outside there on the road,' he said, 'the tall one waving his arms.'
Two men were talking on the tram-lines. Mr Jenkyn looked as if he were trying to swim down Eversley Road, he breast-stroked the air and beat on the ground with his feet, and then he limped and raised one shoulder higher than the other.
'Perhaps he's describing a fight,' I said.
'Or telling Mr Morris a story about cripples,' said Dan. 'Can you play the piano?'
'I can do chords, but not tunes,' I said.
We played a duet with crossed hands.
'Now who's that sonata by?'
We made a Dr Percy, who was the greatest composer for four hands in the world, and I was Paul America, the pianist, and Dan was Winter Vaux.
I read him an exercise-book full of poems. He listened wisely, like a boy aged a hundred, his head on one side and his spectacles shaking on his swollen nose. 'This is called Warp,' I said:
Like suns red from running tears,
Five suns in the glass,
Together, separate yet, yet separately round,
Red perhaps, but the glass is as pale as grass,
Glide, without sound.
In unity, five tears lid-awake, suns yet, but salt,
Five inscrutable spears in the head,
Each sun but an agony,
Twist perhaps, pain bled of hate,
Five into one, the one made of five into one, early
Suns distorted to late.
All of them now, madly and desolate,
Spun with the cloth of the five, run
Widely and foaming, wildly and desolate,
Shoot through and dive. One of the five is the sun.
The noise of the trains past the house clattered away as far as the sea or farther, into the dredgered bay. Nobody had ever listened like that before. The school had vanished, leaving on Mount Pleasant hill a deep hole that smelt of cloakrooms and locker mice, and 'Warmley' shone in the dark of a town I did not know. In the still room, that had never been strange to me, sitting in heaps of coloured wool, swollen-nosed and one-eyed, we acknowledged our gifts. The future spread out beyond the window, over Singleton Park crowded with lovers messing about, and into smoky London paved with poems.
Mrs Jenkyn peered round the door and switched the light on. 'There, that's more homely,' she said. 'You aren't cats.'
The future went out with the light, and we played a thumping piece by Dr Percy - 'Have you ever heard anything so beautiful? Louder, louder, America!' said Dan. 'Leave a bit of bass for me,' I said - until the next-door wall was rapped.
'That's the Careys. Mr Carey's a Cape Horner,' Dan said.
We played him one harsh, whaling piece before Mrs Jenkyn, with wool and needles, ran upstairs.
When she had gone, Dan said: 'Why is a man always ashamed of his mother?'
'Perhaps he isn't when he's older,' I said, but I doubted it. The week before I was walking down High Street with three boys after school, and I saw my mother with a Mrs Partridge outside the Kardomah. I knew she would stop me in front of the others and say, 'Now you be home early for tea,' and I wanted High Street to open and suck me down. I loved her and disowned her. 'Let's cross over,' I said, 'there's some sailors' boots in Griffith's window.' But there was only a dummy with a golf suit on, and a roll of tweed.
'Supper isn't for half an hour yet. What shall we do?'
'Let's see who can hold that chair up the longest,' I said.
'No, let's edit a paper; you do the literature, I'll do the music.'
'What shall we call it, then?'
He wrote, 'The - - , edited by D. Jenkyn and D. Thomas,' on the back of a hat-box from under the sofa. The rhythm was better with D. Thomas and D. Jenkyn, but it was his house.
'What about The Maestersingers?'
'No, that's too musical,' I said.
'The Warmley Magazine?'
'No,' I said, 'I live in "Glanrhyd."'
After the hat-box was covered, we wrote,
The Thunderer edited by D.Jenkyn D.Thomas
in chalk on a piece of cardboard and pinned it on the wall.
'Would you like to see our maid's bedroom?' asked Dan. We whispered up to the attic.
'What's her name?'
'Is she young?'
'No, she's twenty or thirty.'
Her bed was untidy. 'My mother says you can always smell a maid.' We smelled the sheets. 'I can't smell anything.'
In her brass-bound box was a framed photograph of a young man wearing plus-fours.
'That's her boy.'
'Let's give him a moustache.'
Somebody moved downstairs, a voice called, 'Supper now!' and we hurried out, leaving the box open. 'One night we'll hide under her bed,' Dan said as we opened the dining-room door.
Mr Jenkyn, Mrs Jenkyn, Dan's aunt, and a Reverend Bevan and Mrs Bevan were seated at the table.
Mr Bevan said grace. When he stood up, it was just as though he were still sitting down, he was so short. 'Bless our repast this evening,' he said, as though he didn't like the food at all. But once 'Amen' was over, he went at the cold meat like a dog.
Mrs Bevan didn't look all there. She stared at the table-cloth and made hesitant movements with her knife and fork. She appeared to be wondering which to cut up first, the meat or the cloth.
Dan I stared at her with delight; he kicked me under the table and I spilt the salt. In the commotion I managed to put some vinegar on his bread.
Mrs Jenkyn said, while every one except Mr Bevan was watching Mrs Bevan moving her knife slowly along the edge of her plate: 'I do hope you like cold lamb.'
Mrs Bevan smiled at her, assured, and began to eat. She was grey-haired and grey-faced. Perhaps she was grey all over. I tried to undress her, but my mind grew frightened when it came to her short flannel petticoat and navy bloomers to the knees. I couldn't even dare unbutton her tall boots to see how grey her legs were. She looked up from her plate and gave me a wicked smile.
Blushing, I turned to answer Mr Jenkyn, who was asking me how old I was. I told him, but added one year. Why did I lie then? I wondered. If I lost my cap and found it in my bedroom, and my mother asked me where I had found it, I would say, 'In the attic,' or, 'Under the hall stand.' It was exciting to have to keep wary all the time in case I contradicted myself, to make up the story of a film I pretended to have seen and put Jack Holt in Richard Dix's place.
'Fifteen and three-quarters,' said Mr Jenkyns, 'that's a very exact age. I see we have a mathematician with us. Now see if he can do this little sum.'
He finished his supper and laid out matches on the plate.
'That's an old one, dad,' Dan said.
'Oh, I'd like to see it very much,' I said in my best voice. I wanted to come to the house again. This was better than home, and there was a woman off her head, too.
When I failed to place the matches rightly, Mr Jenkyn showed me how it was done, and, still not understanding, I thanked him and asked him for another one. It was almost as good being a hypocrite as being a liar; it made you warm and shameful.
'What were you talking to Mr Morris about in the street, dad?' asked Dan. 'We saw you from upstairs.'
'I was telling him how the Swansea and District Male Voice did the Messiah, that's all. Why do you ask?'
Mr Bevan couldn't eat any more, he was full. For the first time since supper began, he looked round the table. He didn't seem to like what he saw. 'How are studies progressing, Daniel?'
'Listen to Mr Bevan, Dan, he's asking you a question.'
'Oh, so so.'
'I mean they're going very well, thank you, Mr Bevan.'
'Young people should attempt to say what they mean.'
Mrs Bevan giggled, and asked for more meat. 'More meat,' she said.
'And you, young man, have you a mathematical bent?'
'No, sir,' I said, 'I like English.'
'He's a poet,' said Dan, and looked uncomfortable.
'A brother poet,' Mr Bevan corrected, showing his teeth.
'Mr Bevan has published books,' said Mr Jenkyn. 'Proserpine, Psyche - - '
'Orpheus,' said Mr Bevan sharply.
'And Orpheus. You must show Mr Bevan some of your verses.'
'I haven't got anything with me, Mr Jenkyn.'
'A poet,' said Mr Bevan, 'should carry his verses in his head.'
'I remember them all right,' I said.
'Recite me your latest one; I'm always very interested.'
'What a gathering,' Mrs Jenkyn said, 'poets, musicians, preachers. We only want a painter now, don't we?'
'I don't think you'll like the very latest one,' I said.
'Perhaps,' said Mr Bevan, smiling, 'I am the best judge of that.'
'Frivolous is my hate,' I said, wanting to die, watching Mr Bevan's teeth.
Singed with bestial remorse
Of unfulfilment of desired force,
And lust of tearing late;
Now could I raise
Her dead, dark body to my own
And hear the joyous rustle of her bone
And in her eyes see deathly blaze;
Now could I wake
To passion after death, and taste
The rapture of her hating, tear the waste
Of body. Break, her dead, dark body, break.
Dan kicked my shins in the silence before Mr Bevan said: 'The influence is obvious, of course. "Break, break, break, on thy cold, grey stones, O sea."'
'Hubert knows Tennyson backwards,' said Mrs Bevan, 'backwards.'
'Can we go upstairs now?' Dan asked.
'No annoying Mr Carey then.'
And we shut the door softly behind us and ran upstairs with our hands over our mouths.
'Damn! damn! damn!' said Dan. 'Did you see the reverend's face?'
We imitated him up and down the room, and had a short fight on the carpet. Dan's nose began to bleed again. 'That's nothing, it'll stop in a minute. I can bleed when I like.'
'Tell me about Mrs Bevan. Is she mad?'
'She's terribly mad, she doesn't know who she is. She tried to throw herself out of the window but he didn't take any notice, so she came up to our house and told mother all about it.'
Mrs Bevan knocked and walked in. 'I hope I'm not interrupting you.'
'No, of course not, Mrs Bevan.'
'I wanted a little change of air,' she said. She sat down in the wool on the sofa by the window.
'Isn't it a close night?' said Dan. 'Would you like the window open?'
She looked at the window.
'I can easily open it for you,' Dan said, and winked at me.
'Let me open it for you, Mrs Bevan,' I said.
'It's good to have the window open.'
'And this is a nice high window too.'
'Plenty of air from the sea.'
'Let it be, dear,' she said, 'I'll just sit here and wait for my husband.'
She played with the balls of wool, picked up a needle and tapped it gently on the palm of her hand.
'Is Mr Bevan going to be long?'
'I'll just sit and wait for my husband,' she said.
We talked to her some more about windows, but she only smiled and undid the wool, and once she put the blunt end of the long needle in her ear. Soon we grew tired of watching her, and Dan played the piano - 'My twentieth sonata,' he said, 'this one is Homage to Beethoven' - and at half-past nine I had to go home.
I said good night to Mrs Bevan, who waved the needle and bowed sitting down, and Mr Bevan downstairs gave me his cold hand to shake, and Mr and Mrs Jenkyn told me to come again, and the quiet aunt gave me a Mars bar.
'I'll send you a bit of the way,' said Dan.
Outside, on the pavement, in the warm night, we looked up at the lighted drawing-room window. It was the only light in the road.
'Look! there she is!'
Mrs Bevan's face was pressed against the glass, her hook nose flattened, her lips pressed tight, and we ran all the way down Eversley Road in case she jumped.
At the corner, Dan said: 'I must leave you now, I've got to finish a string trio to-night.'
'I'm working on a long poem,' I said, 'about the princes of Wales and the wizards and everybody.'
We both went home to bed.
End of The Fight by Dylan Thomas