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Hands Across the Water

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Graham was eighteen and rubbish at talking to females. He looked like a grown man, only he wasn’t yet; he was just all shoulders and neck, wide forehead and no talk. Everyone in the flute band was aware of this, so when they were out in the Ulster wilds it was him they dispatched to get the lunch, because it was a girl he’d have to speak to on the burger van: a fine one.

He’d been up since dawn, drumming and drinking all morning. It was his first time away from home; Graham’s first Orange Walk outside of Glasgow, but nothing like the other Walks he’d been on. Same skirling flutes, dark suits, bright sashes, but no tarmac and traffic; no high flats and crowds of torn-faced shoppers. Tyrone was all wet fields and hedgerows, as far as his eye could see; and the echo of the Lambegs thudding back at them from the low hills. There were masses of folk out, too: more every village they passed through, and the field they stopped in at the halfway mark was heaving. Grannies in deckchairs with tea in flasks, wee mobs of kids in Rangers
T-shirts; candyfloss and sausage suppers, smell of damp grass and frying onions. The lodges were on the far side: all the dour faces, making their speeches, reading out their Bible verses. The band stuck with the crowd, though, and the colour: more chance of a drink there. Graham hadn’t paid for a pint since he got here. There were always more folk buying, especially if he told them his grandad was from Ireland; his mum’s dad. And that he was in the Orange. Graham’s tongue all loose with lager, he’d been telling folk ever since the ferry, but his tongue was pulled tight again by the sight of Lindsey.

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