16 August 2017

'Mr Portney': A short story by David Hayden

Posted by David Hayden

EVENT: David Hayden will be at the shop on Thursday 7 September to discuss his debut collection Darker With the Lights On, with Joanna Walsh and Chris Power. Book tickets now.

The top lip bursts along the line of Mr Portney’s incisors. His head shakes forward in an unexpected way so that the next blow strikes his curly crown, his neck rocks under the blow, the upper vertebrae compressing and not quite returning. He is hurting like a child. The papers scatter from his bag into the dirt and straight away begin to lose their meaning.

Two men arrange themselves thickly around him. Mr Portney throws his hands over his head, a gesture that, for a moment, leaves him standing lightly on one foot. On falling forward, first one stranger then the other punch him hard in the face.

Heaped on the cool earth, his jacket racked up his back, Mr Portney looks like he is smiling but his broken mouth is spilling a bloody porridge of tongue and cheek.

The beating is over.


Mr Portney was nine when he was followed onto the playing field and knocked to the ground by three boys less weak than he. Only one of them knew how to beat someone properly. Under his direction the others soon abandoned their tentative, shuffling kicks and learned how to wind back before launching with conviction into the crescent form of the boy who will become Mr Portney.

There will be another beating.

David Hayden and Joanna Walsh will be in conversation with Chris Power on Thursday 7 September. Book tickets here.