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A Loss of Innocence
Tom Ward
Writer of the Month


CW: Childhood Sexual Assault

The ball caught the blonde boy’s forehead. It was no accident and he flicked his head slightly to the left and the ball flew like a bird and hit the goalkeeper’s face like an egg. The keeper dropped to his knees, a small amount of blood dripping from his nose on to the grass and the dirty gloves he held to his face. The blonde boy ran over to where the ball waited. A tall boy with black hair dressed in a red jersey ran up beside him but the blonde boy pulled the ball away and struck it with his laces. The ball skimmed past the goalkeeper’s ear, causing him to duck as the ball spun off across the field behind him.

Later, the blonde boy staggered under the weight of a pile of tattered orange cones, his feet slipping in the mud.

“Careful there!” the teacher said as he ran past in his grey tracksuit, kicking up clods of earth behind him. He’d only gone a few metres when he turned and called back over his shoulder. “You played really well tonight! Well done.”

The boy smiled and hurried after him. A moment later he slipped on the mud and dropped the cones.

Most of the boys had gone home by now, their mothers had other places to be and they waited impatiently by their cars outside the school. One by one the boys had trickled out, laughing and shouting, alive with the excitement of football and running through the school corridors hours after the school day had ended.

“That was fucking great, mate,” the tall boy with black hair said in the changing rooms as he threw his red jersey into his bag and pulled his school shirt over his sweat streaked body.

“Just doing what I do,” the blonde boy said.

They laughed together then the other boy picked up his bag and his mud-caked shoes and headed for the door.

“My mum’s waiting outside, she goes fucking nuts if I’m late. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, see you tomorrow.”

The blonde boy was alone now as he pulled his t-shirt over his head and threw it on the floor where it landed with a wet slap. He was muscular for his age but his arms remained thin, no matter how many press ups he tried to do. He sat down and kicked off his football boots, then pulled off his long socks like snake skins. The tiled floor was cool beneath his feet and he wasted a moment, reading the graffiti on the wall and trying to work out how much the coins under the opposite bench added up to.

He stood up and padded across the changing room, his feet sticking on the wet floor. He knelt in his shorts and reached under the bench, his nails scraping up mud and clumps of hair and old pens and cigarette butts. He ran his hand over the grime again and felt the coins and slid them out towards him.

When he raised his head to count the money he fell back in surprise. The teacher was standing over him, his grey tracksuit trousers at the boy’s eye level.

“Oh, you’re still here?” the teacher said, extending a hand to help the boy up.

The nails were dirty, the boy noticed as he was pulled to his feet.

“Thanks... I was, I saw some money under the bench.” He held out the grubby mess of coins for inspection.

The teacher bent forward to look, bringing his face close to the boy’s. “That’s not a lot of money,” he said.

He looked up quickly and smiled as he met the boy’s eyes.

“Look, you’ve done really well today, why don’t you take this?” he asked.

The boy watched his hand move about in inside his tracksuit pocket, then re-emerge with a folded five pound note.

“I can’t,” the boy said.

“Of course you can.”

The teacher tapped him on the arm. ’You’ve got some big shoulders there.’

The boy said nothing but tried to glance at his shoulders out of the corner of his eye.

“Your mum doesn’t come to pick you up does she?’ the teacher asked and the boy felt a hot flush of embarrassment. “No.”

“What was that?” the teacher asked. He leaned in close again and the boy could see how his brown stubble was flecked with grey.

“No, she doesn’t pick me up... she works,” the boy said, staring at his bare feet in case there was a better answer there. His toes seemed child-like to him and he felt awkward now, half-dressed and halfway between a child and a man.

“Well,” the teacher said, pressing the five pound note into the boy’s hands. “Take this, and get a bus home. You did well today.”

The boy felt the crumpled paper in his hand. “Thanks.”

“I think you could be captain of the under-fourteens,” the teacher said and the boy forgot the money as his eyes darted up to meet his teacher’s.



The teacher sat down on the bench and gently pulled the boy down beside him. The boy felt his teacher’s thigh against his. He edged away slightly and the teacher slid along to fill the gap absentmindedly.

“You’re a great footballer. You look great out on the pitch,” he said. His fingers brushed the boy’s knee, seemingly of their own accord.

“I have to go,” the boy said, standing up.

“What time’s your bus?” the teacher asked, looking up slowly from the bench


“I just gave you money for a bus, what time does it come?”

“Oh. I’m not sure. Soon, though.”

“Soon,” the teacher repeated as the boy began to pull his backpack on.

“Hey,” the teacher laughed. “You can’t go out there like that, you’re half naked!”

The boy realised with embarrassment that he was still wearing only his shorts and he put down his bag down and began to rummage through it for his clothes.

“Aren’t you going to have a shower?” the teacher asked, standing up.

“No, I’ll have one at home.”

“Your mum won’t be too happy if you get all your school clothes stinking of sweat, will she?”

“She’s never too happy about anything,” the boy answered before he could stop himself.

Silence fell for a few moments and then the teacher said softly, “There’s no reason to make her more angry, then, is there?”

The boy continued through the motions of rummaging through his bag.

“You should have a shower. You can’t go home all muddy.”

The boy felt something suddenly touch his shoulder. Without thinking he shuddered and ducked away.

“Sorry. It’s only me,” the teacher said, his hand half outstretched. “It’s only me. Get in the shower and have a wash, then you’ll just have enough time to get the bus,” he said with a smile.

“I’m all right,” the boy said.

The teacher started to unzip his jacket. “I’ll tell you what, I need a shower too, so we can share one to save time, eh?”

The teacher continued undressing and slid his t-shirt over his head. Out of the corner of his eye the boy saw his chest, sprouting with hairs, thick like the wires that grew from his grandmother’s moles. The boy felt sick but didn’t know what to do and then, suddenly, the teacher was standing naked beside him and he couldn’t help but see it, hanging heavily.

“Let’s get clean, then!” the teacher said. “Come on, get those shorts off!”

He reached out a hand to the boy’s waistband but the boy stepped back and slowly lowered the shorts and his underwear himself, his own thing like some stubby mushroom.

The teacher said nothing for a moment, then, “Come on then, let’s get you cleaned up.” He took the boy by the hand and led him into the showers, the stale smell of sweat following them


* * *


They had won the tournament and his team lifted him above their shoulders and carried him as their champion. He held the bronze cup aloft, like the head of a defeated enemy. The crowd of teenagers roared and his teammates cheered and threw their fists in the air then turned to jeer the losing team who slinked away to their changing room, their chins resting on their chests.

The champions marched into the foreign dressing rooms, studs clacking on the tiled floor like spears against shields. They undressed among laughter and jokes and then the tall boy with black hair said, “To ——!" and the teammates turned to the boy with the blonde hair and cheered once more.

The boy blushed, then recovered and bowed. “Thanks for the help, lads. We fucking killed them!”

The boys roared.

The sports teacher came into the room, grinning widely, shaking hands as he passed.

The blond boy looked away.

“Right, boys! Time to get clean, into the shower, you sweaty bastards!”

The boy slid in among the crowd as they surged towards 108

the cubicles. In the middle of these wet bodies he was safe. The celebrations had continued on the coach home, but the blonde boy had fallen quiet, replying it was hard work being a champion whenever anyone asked him what was wrong.

When they arrived back outside the school the boy slipped off the bus, unnoticed except for the teacher who came down the steps towards him. The teacher opened his mouth as though he were about to say something, but the boy turned and walked quickly away. All the way home he could feel something wet and heavy against his back.

When he got in, his old man was sitting with the lights off, the room lit by the television.

“Where’s mum?” the boy asked.

“Question of the century,” the old man said, his back to the boy.

The boy went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. All there was to eat was half a loaf of bread and some old cheese. He could go out and buy some food. There was still the five pound note, tucked under his bed, untouched since the night he had come home under cover of darkness and hidden it there. The boy did not want to touch it. No matter how hungry he was, he had to keep it hidden away and then maybe the things it reminded him of would never have happened.

Bread and cheese would have to do. He scraped the mould away as best he could and made himself a sandwich then walked back into the lounge. He sat down beside his dad and dropped his sports bag heavily on the carpet. The man didn’t get the hint, his eyes stuck on the television.

The boy watched along with him in silence for a few minutes. His father was watching a war film. Parts of jungles exploded and little Asian men with strange hats ran, on fire, from out of the tree line. The boy pictured his teacher on fire, writhing about on the floor in agony. He clenched his fists until his hands were numb. He felt that if he kept this feeling hidden inside of him, he would drown beneath its weight. His mind twisted and struggled against itself, undecided about whether he should say something to his father. He knew it hadn’t been his fault, but his old man might not be so understanding. He felt that the words would come tumbling out now, whether he wanted them to or not. He decided he had to take control of these words so that at least he could guide them into his father’s ears in a way that would do as little damage as possible.

“Dad...” he began, his tongue feeling dead in his mouth.

“What?” the old man answered as an American soldier emptied his M16 into a woman and her baby.

“Erm..." the boy said, his stomach twisting itself round and round.

“What?” the old man said again, his anger rising in his voice.

“We...we won the tournament today.”

“Hmm,” the old man said.

The boy said nothing more. He gathered up his bag and his sandwich and went up to his room. Once there he took the five pound note out from under his bed and opened the bedroom window. He stood for a minute staring at the face on the note, then he opened a drawer and took out his box of matches. He struck one and held the flame against the money. The paper was quickly eaten up as a black line spread across its surface, driven by flames.

The boy held the note as long as he could, hardly noticing the heat burning his fingers, then he let the scraps fly out into the air like the flaming wreck of a paper plane. He watched until the flames were pinched out by the night and the note was no more. 


* * *


The next day the boy arrived late to school. As he walked into his first classroom the other children stood up and began to cheer. He nodded his gratitude, held his hands up before them for silence, then motioned for them to sit down. When the history teacher told him to stop causing a commotion, he glared at her until she was quiet, made his way slowly to his seat, then nodded at her to begin.

Tom Ward is a London-based author and journalist. He is the winner of the GQ Norman Mailer Award 2012 and the PPA New Consumer Magazine Journalist Of The Year award 2017. His books include 'A Departure' (shortlisted for the People's Book Prize 2014) and Fires (2017). His short story collection Dead Dogs & Splintered Hearts is out now. Follow him on Twitter at @TomWardWrites