The way he wept in his stricken heart for the bullied girl; how his mother’s silent crying kept him awake at night, head buried under the blankets. Brothers and sister adrift in the momentary chatter-tides of school and street, their own lives folding and unfolding. The landscape of bedroom, stairs and bathroom—all those bewildering particulars leading down to the dark that huddled in the dark they called under-the-stairs. Gape of fireplaces and the enduring Mary-blue sheen of mantelpiece tiles. Meals: their mothering mouthfuls, all hectic gabble and laughs; their scarifying silences; dumbstruck hints of void.

At thirteen, time to board, he said goodbye, sliding into the monkish underwater of another world, shouldering a satchel of hurt, of nameless guilt, the acidic residue of responsibility, some stubborn seeds of ambition to be himself, but how? Firstborn and feeling it, fighting for a place at the center, learning how bodies bruised, could be breathless with effort and exhilaration; how soul could be felt, its delicate filament shivering in the incense-grip of mysteries or at the sight seen from a classroom window: sparrows fluttering in a puddle of muddy water. How words worked, muscling with puzzled life. While all the while part of him lay dreaming at the edge of what was happening: speechless, lying back in the long grass, reading the clouds.