This is from when he was still a young boy; hip-slung, just so; nothing very much to say.
Three lances of sunlight, emanating from beyond the top right-hand corner, fall forever across the photograph, piercing a number of the sitters – pupils and teachers. The headmaster (Mr. D) – front row, centre – has been bleached out almost completely. His long shoes, his socked ankles and a trouser hem, remain, having dodged the shafted sunlight. Mr. Evans, Mr. Wilson, Miss Ayres, all sat to the right of Mr. D, have been dimmed. As have most of the fourth year. Even the brickwork.
But he is sat on the left, on the second row: Jamie Waters, Ben Foote, me, Ben Noble, John Ritchie. John is chalk-white and stick-thin. The elaborate knot at his unbuttoned collar seems quite ridiculous now. His gormless grin reveals tiny teeth and, already, there is a notion of that meaningless moue about his thin lips which he will be known for in the future.
The photograph shows him to be something of a sickly nipper and this was true. The jaundice, an inheritance, seeping, I recall, even into his manners, his humours, revealing him to be, under certain lighting, or in certain situations, pale yellow and somehow fading.
His hair has a cow’s lick. It is cut simply with nail scissors, obscuring his ears, his collar, his forehead. His fringe is like a banister. This was the style worn by nearly everyone for awhile. Though not so much the old.
When he was away from school, which was often, he dressed in crayon coloured clothing – cheesecloth, denim, corduroy. He wore, for nearly the whole summer, a tee shirt, butchered at the sleeve, upon which was printed the face of David Bowie.
John had yet to be expelled. Had yet to love, to grow, to fade, to hate. He had yet to take wage for clowning on a stage and looking none-too-well. John had yet to acquire a pair of German tank boots from a yank on a bus, at knifepoint, in Texas.
It would be sometime yet before he had to sign – here, please. Here, please. And just here, please – lanky at a trestle table in South West One or hunched at a desk on West 23rd. He had yet to fade on yellowing paper. He had yet to meet Nancy. He had yet to disappear.
The old men knit their brows. They grease their hair to resemble beetles’ backs. They part it down the middle, suggesting folded wings gathered just above the ear and settling, neatly, at the nape. The old women buzz. They pin and spritz their tresses into high, conical shapes. Pearls stud their fleshy lobes. The old wear demob suits, arm bands, braces. Shirts and ties, simply knotted. They wear calf length flower print nylon dresses, nipped at the waist. Rosewater. Their ankles are shapeless. Their shoes are old and made of leather.