I had spent the morning making scent in jam jars with Lynn Butroid/Stephanie Stamp who had three rose bushes in her backyard. We had been disappointed that no matter what colour the roses were, the water turned brown. Then we had quarrelled because the perfume had no smell and no-one would buy it, except John Brocklehurst/ Keith Brocklebank who used to hum when he ate. He drank it down in one. Stephanie Stamp/Lynn Butroid and I ran off in case he was poisoned.
Now, in the early afternoon, I was looking at the mossy mounds on the cobbles in the alleyway and listening to the big girls. Betty, who was blowing smoke rings, had crunchy ginger hair and triangular thighs; Maureen, who had rushed up bursting with importance, was a toothy, kiss-curled whippet.
– Seen it?
– Yer know!
– What? What?
– In the gutter – up near ‘ollins’eads!
Betty stubbed out her Park Drive in the moss, lumbered to her feet and turned left into the sun-bright street. I followed the big girls, who followed the gutter, past the small boys fingering maggots in a round tin; past a parked car with a roof like a pram; past the garage with its big-headed petrol pump; as far as Hollinshead’s allotment – bright with sweet peas – to our left. In the gutter to our right was a white thing. Waxy white with a slightly raised curved back and stringy loops: one at each end. I was standing on a chalked hopscotch grid, distractedly rubbing number 8 with my grubby plimsoll. The big girls were feverish and giggly and tense, looking over the white thing and pushing one another towards it. It wasn’t a handkerchief. I moved closer: the gingery Betty was touching it with the tip of her slip-on shoe. Then, with a deft movement that left me with no chances, she flipped the white thing over and the scarlet blood took up all my space and widened my eyes forever.
Later that day, my mother gave me a smooth orb: parchment-yellow and rosy-orange, with a strange chimney at the top. I placed it on the table. Carefully. “It’s a pomegranate,” she said, slicing it in two. The red jewels glistened pink in the summer light. “You have to get them out with a pin,” she said, opening her sewing box.
The pin pierced the seed-centred lozenges of light and each one lifted left its own shape behind: a tiny, downy bed. They tasted sweet-earthy and the pin pricked my tongue more than once and the blood tasted like metal.
Five decades later, my grandson aged ten, told me about a girl who jostled him. “She told me about her blood,” he said.
That was all he said.