Dear World, you don’t want to know how odd I felt then. If you try to imagine cold terror mixed up with a hot rumbling excitement then you might come close. I had this sense of everything happening all at once and it wanted to floor me. Sparks of intrigue, of being close to things I always wanted to know about, all stirred up in my belly with a dragging dread of fear and the urge to get the hell away.
I tie Gremlin up again and he sort of collapses on himself and stares up at me through his saucer like eyes, his pink tongue lolling out from his squashed up face. We go inside. Mick and Tommy are still in the lounge. Tommy is racing around in just his shorts, flying a plastic green aeroplane through the air. We go upstairs without a single word.
Once we are inside the older boys room, Travis closes the door and leans back against it with his arms folded. I just stand there, feeling stupid and redundant. Leon seems almost breathless with anger. He is breathing heavily through his nostrils as he whips open the wardrobe door and points inside to the empty space where his Adidas bag should be. “There was a bag in there,” he says in a low, tight voice. “Now it’s gone. Do you know anything about it?”
Joe is silent. Our eyes meet in guilt and fear, and Leon automatically deduces that we do. He lets out a roar and grabs Joe by his t-shirt, spins him around and slams him into the wardrobe, and then down to the floor. It is a scene I have watched play out many times before. But I have never seen Leon so angry, so dark. There is no play in this. But I’ll tell you World, I’m a big coward really, because he has always scared me, and I have never liked him. Not just because of the way he treats Joe though. It’s more than that, but it’s hard to explain. I start shouting, and try to pull him away from Joe, and the next thing I know Travis has hold of my arms, and is holding me back. There is thumping and thudding on the floor as the brothers wrestle, and before the fight can escalate any further, the bedroom door is kicked open by Mick. Travis drops my arms, and Leon swings his leg over Joe and gets up. His eyes flick dangerously between Mick and Joe, and I cannot determine who he would like to damage more in that moment.
“What the hell is going on?” Mick demands, hands on hips. He is shorter than Leon, but stocky and square, with a boxers face. He always wears his t-shirts tucked into his jeans. “Are you fighting?”
“No,” says Leon, his voice without emotion.
“Bloodywell keep it down then!” Mick tells him, turning to the stairs. He cannot leave without a stinging criticism however, because that is how he operates. “You boys are always up to no good!”
Travis says nothing as he pushes the door gently shut again, and we all hear Mick’s feet thudding down the stairs. Leon immediately turns to Joe and smacks him on the forehead with the open palm of his hand. “All right faggot face, where the fuck is that bag?”
“In a safe place,” Joe tells him, and I am amazed at how calm and controlled his voice is. “We’ll go and get it.”
“What the fuck were you doing in our room?” Travis asks him, but he is looking at me as he says it. I feel my cheeks getting warm again.
“Looking for a lighter,” I speak up, my voice slightly shaking. “It’s my fault,” I go on, as the silence stretches out. I hang my head in shame. “I was being nosy. I was a bit pissed. I looked in your wardrobe.” Travis lets out a laugh for some reason, but Leon is not finding any of this remotely funny.
“If anything happens to that bag….” He shakes his head at Joe. He does not even see me.
“You shouldn’t have just left it there like that,” Joe tells him. “We only moved it because Tommy was in my room again, touching all my stuff, and we worried him or Will might find it. They could have found it easily.” Joe looks at Leon and shrugs his shoulders, as if this should be enough. But Leon ignores all of this, and pushes his face close to Joe’s. I watch Joe physically recoil from the closeness of his brother.
“Go and get it back right now,” he says slowly and carefully, his hands resting on his knees, as he speaks to Joe with his nose touching his. “Because if anything happens to that bag, I am going to put you in the fucking hospital. Then when you get out, I am going to tell the people who that stuff belongs to, and they will find you and then they will put you back in the fucking hospital, right?”
Leon turns Joe by his shoulder and shoves him viciously towards the door, as Travis opens it. We go.
We clatter down the stairs, the weight of an unreal day pressing down on our shoulders and making our legs feel weaker with each step. Joe is reaching for the door handle when Mick shows his punched in face again. This time he is holding Tommy by the hand. “You off out again?” he frowns at Joe.
Mick pushes Tommy forward. “Take Tommy will you? I’ve got to get on with Craig’s car, and I can’t get a thing done with him around.”
The disbelief hits Joe between the eyes and he drops his shoulders and tilts his chin and his eyes up to the ceiling. “No way!” he complains. “Not now!”
Mick grits his teeth and pushes Tommy’s small hand into Joe’s. “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you,” he says, and that is that. Joe shakes his head at me, screws his mouth up to stop himself from protesting, and opens the door.
I pull the door shut behind me, and draw in breath as the intensified heat of the day slams into my eyes. I still have no idea what time it is. I untie Gremlin, and he looks like he is suffering now. He is panting like crazy, and staggers ungracefully to his feet, looking at me desperately for pity. Joe is running his fingers back through his sweaty hair. “I have to take Gremlin home first,” I tell him, helplessly. “I can catch you up though,” I add, when I see the horror in his eyes.
“No, come on, let’s just do it,” he groans, and starts stalking off back towards the parade of shops, dragging Tommy along with one hand. “This is just un-fucking-believable,” he is moaning as he walks. I trot to catch up with him. He is walking so fast, that I have to trot the whole way back to my house, and so does the poor dog. Tommy is still wheeling his plastic aeroplane through the air and making annoying meeeowwwm type noises, that we try to block out for fear of killing him.
Back home, I open the front door, unclip Gremlin from his lead and shove him through the door into the hallway. I am just about to close the door and join Joe and Tommy, when I hear my mum’s footsteps pounding down the stairs in urgency. “Is that you Lou? Lou? Or Sara?”
“Me.” I shout back, one hand on the doorknob. “I’m going out again. I just brought the dog back. He needs a drink.”
Mum appears at the bottom of the stairs. She is wearing her plastic backed apron and clasping a feather duster in one hand. “Been cleaning your room,” she announces, breathlessly, trying to peer around me and the door to see whom I am with. I let the door move enough for her to see it is only Joe and his brother. She uses her hands to smooth down her apron and smiles lovingly at Joe. She is extremely fond of him, and I think at times she would like to adopt him. “Hi Joe! Hi Tommy!”
“We’re in a hurry mum,” I say, pulling the door again, “We’ve got to go.”
“No, hang on, hang on, I need to speak to you!”
“Not now!” I say, glancing apologetically back at Joe.
“Les is going to move in.”
“Oh fuck, not now! Does dad know?”
I can hardly believe this. I cannot deal with this now. She has no bloody idea how true the statement, ‘this is a life or death situation’, is for us right now. My mum tips her head to one side slightly, her lips pressed together. She has the same fair hair as me. It is not dark enough to be brown, but not really light enough to be blonde either. She wears her short and sharp around her face, whereas I keep mine long and messy. She always has far too much eye make up on. Her eyes look massive. Her and Lorraine are hilarious really. Her with the massive black eyes, and Lorraine with the huge red lips. Neither of them knows a thing about subtlety.
“Lou please do not swear at me.”
“Sorry, but mum, dad said…”
“I know what he said, that’s why you can’t tell him!”
I drop my head. I want to weep. I can’t argue with her now. In fact I can’t really ever argue with anyone. I just use the occasional slice of sarcasm to make me feel better, and write the rest of what I really think on my wall. It is all there for them to see, any time they fucking want. But they never look.
“I have to go,” I mutter and slam the door behind me.
I turn back to face the day, and the clouds are blackening fast, and skidding along the horizon. Any time soon it is going to break and piss down on us, and I look wearily at the half naked three year old that has been entrusted into our care. Joe looks at me with sympathy, and we head off again. I finally bother to pull off my hoodie and tie it around my waist. My armpits are slick with sweat.
We walk for a while in silence, me and Tommy struggling to keep up with Joe’s frantic strides. Back across the fields again, back towards Marianne’s road. I am thinking about mum and Les, and trying not to at the same time. It is making me feel close to vomiting, so I force my mind to the situation at hand. Joe and his mad family. For some reason, my mind keeps jerking me back to mum and Les, and I can’t quite believe it is true, and I certainly don’t want to believe that it is true, so I start to jog.
Joe laughs at me at first. Maybe he thinks I am trying to amuse him, to make him feel better. Tommy certainly finds it funny, and starts pointing his finger and howling at me. I am not jogging fast, not at all. Just enough to get my knees up, and my heart pumping. It works though. They may be laughing at me, but fuck them, it is working. “What are you doing, are you mental?” Joe calls to me. I keep jogging.
“You’ll collapse, you spaz, it’s too hot for that.”
“I need to do my exercise at some point. Doesn’t look like I’m gonna’ get the chance at this rate.”
“What else does it look like?”
It doesn’t matter. It works for me. By the time we get across the sun baked fields to Marianne’s house, I am so bone tired and drenched in warm sweat that I have completely forgotten about mum and stupid Les. My body is all that concerns and overwhelms me, and I like it. I listen to my heart thudding like hell through my chest, as we approach Marianne’s long driveway. I feel far away from Joe and Tommy, as I watch them head up to the big door. I feel like there is a dense and spongy fog surrounding me, and I can hear my heart, I can hear it drumming in my ears. This might sound crazy, but I feel like it is trying to tell me something. I imagine it pulsing double-time, propelling the blood at twice the speed around my veins and arteries. I picture the globules of fat under my skin, being attacked by the energy particles, being eaten up and abolished. I am a smiling panting pile of wide-eyed shit by the time we knock on her door, and that is fine.
Joe knocks and waits. Knocks and waits. Looks at me in my mist of dumb happiness, and then knocks harder. Joe loses his cool and punches and kicks the door, but no one is fucking home, and that much is horribly obvious. Marianne is not home.
Jesus Fucking Christ.
“Call her,” Joe says in a small, clenched voice. “Fucking call her.”
I scramble for my phone. My palms are sweaty so I drop it. I grab it and find her number. “It’s ringing,” I tell him. He is just staring at the door, with one hand still gripping Tommys. To my horror, there is no answer, and the phone goes to messages. I shrug and hang up. “No answer. You can’t go home,” I hear myself saying in a hoarse, worn out voice. Joe turns to face me, and I see he is close to panic. “They’ll kill you.”
“Where the hell is she? Stupid bitch!”
I shake my head, and wince at the pain in my side. “God knows. She didn’t say anything about going anywhere did she?”
“Idiot!” Joe says, letting go of Tommy’s hand and covering his face with his hands. Tommy immediately wanders off towards what he can see of Marianne’s back garden.
“We’ll have to wait for her to come back,” I shrug at Joe, still catching my breath. “Let Tommy play in her garden. Come on.”
I am only calm because I am completely and utterly knackered. I started the day off with a mild hangover. I am now teetering close to hysteria or panic or tears, and I am not sure which one I would prefer. I take Joe gently by the elbow and lead him around to the back garden. Tommy has already discovered the swing set and is having a whale of a time by himself. Her back garden is massive compared to ours. There is a solid six-foot fence around the perimeter. There are fucking oak trees, and a summerhouse nestled between them at the bottom of the garden. I would have loved a garden like this growing up. I would have been out there all day. Pretending there were fairies at the bottom, climbing trees, making dens. It’s perfect. It’s beautiful. Instead I had a patio, a barbeque and a lawn that my dad used to throw fits over. I mean, he used to tell us to walk up it one way, and down it another way and I am not fucking kidding. He liked it short and green and fresh and untouched. He was the same with carpets. Walk one way; come back another, then you won’t wear it out. I ask you. I fucking ask you. There were times I would have taken the insanity and violence of Joe’s house, over that fucking mind numbing soul destroying pointless shit any day.
Joe and I sink down onto one of the two garden benches Marianne has. Joe rests his elbow on the arm, and covers his mouth with his hand. I lean back and fold my hands across my belly and try to take it all in, and this makes me smile. “What are you smiling about?” he asks me eventually. “Why do you find everything so funny all the time?”
“What else are you supposed to do Joe? I ask you. What else, in this kind of piss-taking situation, are you supposed to do?” I sit forward and my smile is reaching my ears now, and I feel so giddy with it all I wonder if my alcohol intake from last night, my fucking sixteenth birthday celebrations no less, has come back to haunt me, come back to ravage me. My shoulders shake with the laughter. “Joe? Really? What else can you do? It is funny! It really is funny. It’s one of those things, like they always say, you’ll look back and laugh one day.”
“Really? You think so?”
“I know so. We’ll be like, old and grey and wrinkled, sitting in our fucking rocking chairs in some manky old peoples home, going, oh wait, do you remember that day when we found the cocaine in your brothers wardrobe, and hid it at Marianne’s so the kids didn’t eat it, and then when we went back to get it, she had fucking gone out?” I laugh and laugh at my own excellent imitation of an old person’s voice, and lean back again on the bench. “We so will, we so will. You’ll be like, yeah, remember how you jogged across the field for no fucking reason? It will be one of those stories Joe. Trust me. You may be shitting yourself now, but in years to come, when life is so boring and tedious and predictable, you will look back on this day and feel glad.”
Joe regards me patiently and scratches his eyebrow with his index finger. “At least you make yourself laugh,” he muses, “You are insane, you do know that?”
“I’m sixteen, you know?”
“I heard what your mum said.”
“About Les moving in.” Joe looks back at Tommy, who is swinging upside down, and he pulls his feet up onto the bench and wraps one arm around his knees.
I feel my cheery mood take a nosedive then. It is almost like a comedown, and the only drugs I have ever taken are alcohol and pot, so I guess comedowns are really just a natural part of this disappointing life. I stare out across the beautiful summer garden. The birds are singing in the trees, and there are two squirrels chasing each other up and down the trunk of the largest Oak, and the shade of the fence behind us is a blessed relief on my sweat soaked skin. I think about Les and his mousy brown hair that just flops about on his head, from one side to the other, and his ridiculous little moustache that can hardly endear him to anyone in life when it makes him look so much like Hitler. I feel a great chasm of loneliness open up inside of me, and my previous good humour takes a shaky dive and falls in.
“You don’t like him, do you?” Joe asks me.
“I don’t even know him,” I shrug truthfully. “He can’t be any worse that Mick.”
“Fucking Mick,” Joe sighs, shaking his head at Tommy.
“It’s only because dad will go bloody mental, that’s all,” I say. “It’s his house. He still pays the mortgage. Okay, he is allowed to move on and have someone else, but she is not. I would say go for it to her, go for it and fucking show him, but honestly, Les! I ask you. What a prize piece of stinking steaming stupid crap.”
I watch a helpless smile envelope Joe’s face, and the tightened wrinkled look of despair eases off, as he cracks up at me. “Did you write that on your wall yet?” he asks, snorting laughter at me. I grin.
“Not yet. But he’s getting more than that, believe me.”
“You’re so funny.”
“Not as funny as you.”
“Fuck you twice.”
“Double dare you.”
Honestly, Joe and I have barely progressed past age ten. Tommy is probably more mature than we are. Joe seems to suddenly remember the shit we are in, as he lets out an agonised groan and drops his head onto his knees. “Why did we take it?” he wails. “We should have just left it there! We should have ignored it. Pretended we never saw it.”
“Joe, Tommy was in your room, going through all your stuff,” I stifle a yawn and lift up my arms for a stretch. “He could have been in their room next. He’s only three. I know he’s a pain, but you know. He’s three.”
“Why did they leave it there like that then?”
“They don’t think,” I shrug. “They don’t care enough to think. Look, we’ll get it back. She’ll be home soon. If not, I’ll go and take Tommy home for you and I’ll just say I don’t know where you are.”
“They’ll make you show them. Don’t trust them. Besides, I can’t stay out forever.”
“Wait till your mum is home then. They won’t do anything in front of her. They wouldn’t dare.”
“They’ll find a way.”
Before long, the day is growing dull and the rain is already spitting down upon us, and little Tommy is whining and wailing that he is hungry. There is no sign of Marianne or her parents. I try calling her four more times, but each time it goes straight to messages. I tap in a few abusive text messages just to amuse myself, but I don’t send them. I wonder helplessly if she is doing this on purpose. If she is somewhere else, laughing and gloating at us. We drag ourselves from the bench, and the beautiful garden, and start to trudge home. There is no jogging this time, you can believe me. The rain gets harder and harder as we cross the field, plastering our hair to our skulls. I can even feel my knickers are getting wet, that’s how much it is raining.
We go to my house first, and I leave Joe rain soaked and miserable on my front door step, while I take Tommy by the hand and lead him home. He tightens his small hand on mine and I look at him. He is a little bare chested warrior in sopping brown shorts and trainers and I look at him and wonder what the fuck life is all about, really. It always feels like we are just traipsing from place to the other. Is that what life is meant to be like? World, is that how it will feel when we are adults too? When I get to his house, I knock on the door and thankfully it is Mick that answers it. He looks slightly drunk, and relieved, and grateful all at once. “Good kids, you are, good kids,” he feels the need to tell me, as he ushers the dripping three year old inside. I just turn and go. I cannot see Leon’s car anywhere, so I quicken my pace and make it back home, and open the door, and Joe and me go in.
We make it upstairs without any interruptions or surprises, and we close the door on my room, and collapse, both of us, onto our backs on my bed. We both close our eyes, and no doubt the un-fucking-believable day spins around like a horror show inside Joe’s head, just as it does in mine, and finally I scavenge for my pen under my pillow, suck off the lid and scrawl lazily upon the wall, ‘the sky turned black, the bitch was out, a bag of shit laughing at us, puddles, puddles and puddles of shit.’
Joe reads it and then laughs and laughs.