Dear World, I wake up desperate to see Joe, to talk to Joe, to see how he is, and tell him about the farce I am surrounded by. He will make it seem funny, and we will laugh about it. But I do not feel very well. My head is killing, and my stomach hurts. I know this is because I need to eat something. I am not stupid World, in case you were beginning to wonder. Well, obviously I am, but you know. So I make myself some breakfast once I am dressed. I decide to go for a huge coffee, an apple and yoghurt. The yoghurt is always a good plan, because it comes in a pot, which tells you the calorie content on the side. I like this information, it makes me feel secure. I eat my breakfast in the kitchen alone. I am assuming mum and Les are still asleep. I roll my eyes. Gremlin trots in for some fuss, so I decide to take him with me to thank him for his loyalty. I think about Marianne, and decide to call her, or visit her after I’ve seen Joe.
My day mapped out in my head, I leave the house quietly, glad of the peace and glad that I do not have to see or speak to anyone. The morning outside is warm, but fresh. I can tell it is going to be a scorcher once it gets going though. I eat my apple on the way around to Joe’s house. I am hoping Travis and Leon will not be there, and I am immediately reassured by the absence of the red fiesta. They are usually together, so there is no reason to suppose that only Leon is out.
As I approach the front door, I see Will and Tommy playing with cars on the doorstep, and I can hear the screaming from within the house. I stop, and look around, and imagine the neighbours all hushed and waiting inside their own little boxes, rolling their eyes and whispering about the family next door. Will and Tommy look quietly shocked, but they keep playing, they keep pushing their little cars up and down on the doorstep. Will is in his school uniform, and has his book bag and lunch box sat neatly next to him. They have two pieces of wood propped against the step, and they are using them as ramps, so the cars go up one ramp onto the step, across to the other end and then down the second ramp. They do not look up at me or speak to me as I walk up to the door, where I stop again, and listen, and think twice about going in.
“You fucking useless bastard, get your bleeding hands off me!” That is Lorraine screeching. She sounds madder than hell, like she can’t even breathe.
“What’s your fucking problem? You’re just never happy are you? Miserable bitch! You’re just never happy!”
“Get your fucking hands off me before I call the police!”
I decide to go in. I am scared for Joe. I hate and loathe Mick, and Lorraine scares the shit out of me, but I make myself be brave, just like I did yesterday, and I step over the kids, pulling the dog in with me, and walk into the lounge. They stop screaming when they see me. The lounge is all messed up, furniture is overturned and it looks like someone has hurled a cup of tea at the wall. Mick has Lorraine by the throat, pinned to the wall, but she looks anything but scared, and part of me doesn’t blame Mick for not letting her go. I can imagine those talon like fingernails slicing into his face the second he does.
“What do you fucking want?” Mick yells at me. I look past him, to where I can see Joe in the kitchen. He is standing next to the sink, where it looks like he has been assigned washing up duties again. He looks blank and cold. Mick releases Lorraine and she immediately socks him in the chin. He staggers back, and she makes a run for it, past me and out of the house, slamming the door shut behind her. I spin around to the window, and see her marching towards her car, head held high, dragging Tommy and Will along with her. I hear a thud and spin back to Mick. He has started to kick the hell out of the kitchen door. I watch him in shock, my mouth hanging open as he lands strike after strike on the thin wood, and bits of it splinter off and land on the carpet. My eyes meet Joe’s, and I can see the problem here. He is on one side of Mick, and I am on the other. I swallow, and take one step forward, thinking I am probably swift enough to nip around him, grab Joe and get the hell out of the back door.
But I don’t have time to do this, because Mick gives up on the door, hurls a shelf loads of DVD’s onto the floor and reels back into the kitchen, towards Joe. “Get out!” he bellows, obviously wanting to be alone. “Go on get out! Get the fuck out, all of you!” Joe does not move. He seems rooted to the spot. Mick launches himself at him, grabs him by his t-shirt and hauls him out of the kitchen. “Get out I said! Get out!” Joe stumbles towards me, I snatch up his hand and pull him towards the front door.
“I’m grounded,” he mumbles at me.
“I don’t think you are now,” I tell him, and shove him out of the house.
I pull the door shut behind me. Joe is just standing there in confusion. I push him again to get him moving. “Come on let’s go to the park or something,” I say, and propel him forward. He finally starts moving. He drops his shoulders with a sigh, puts his hands into his pockets, and walks. “Jesus Christ, someone should call the police,” I say to him, glancing back at his house. “What was all that about?”
“They went out last night, to the pub,” he tells me, looking sideways at me with a frown on his face. “They got hammered. They started fighting when they got in, because he caught her flirting with another bloke or whatever.”
“They’ve been fighting all night?”
“No they passed out, then started again this morning.”
“Bloody hell Joe.”
“Nothing new,” he shrugs in reply. “Weekly occurrence, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know how you put up with it.”
“Neither do I.” I look at him and he grins at me.
“Well just wait till I tell you what’s going on at my house,” I say, as we head to the park with Gremlin.
“Oh yeah, I think it might trump yours.”
“No fucking way.”
“Yes fucking way.”
We arrive at the park on the fields, and slink over to the bottom chamber of the slide. I let the dog off the lead, and we duck our heads and go inside the little hut. Joe sits down on the floor with his back against the wall. I sit on the tiny little bench and start to giggle. “What?” he asks me.
“Just got the image of your mum socking Mick in the chin in my head, that’s all.”
“Was pretty funny.”
“Where are Leon and Travis?”
“Stayed out last night. You know, working.” He looks at me and raises his eyebrows. I nod.
“Oh, I see. Much more to get rid of?”
He shrugs. “Fair bit.”
“Jesus, your family are unbelievable.”
“Tell me about yours then. Make me feel better.”
“Okay, okay.” I settle back on the bench, resting on the wall, and cross one leg over the other. I watch Joe pull a small tin out of his back pocket, and realise that he is going to roll a joint. I hesitate for a moment, and then I think fuck it, he deserves it, so I say nothing. “Okay, so you know Les has moved in, and Sara has moved out?”
“Yeah, mum said. How’s it going?”
“Hilarious to be honest. I can’t stand to be around either of them. It’s all got to stay a secret because of dad. I go out for a run yesterday, then when I get back, dad’s fucking there!”
Joe looks at me with widened eyes. “Ooh!”
“Yeah, you know how he just turns up like that? I go in and Les is nowhere to be seen. Fucking hiding somewhere, the gutless prick.”
“Oh my god, what are they playing at?”
“Sad, isn’t it? So dad leaves, none the wiser. I say to mum why don’t you just tell him? He’s not your husband anymore. It shouldn’t matter. Not that I think much of Les, but you know.”
“Your dad’s a cunt,” Joe says and I smile at him.
“Thanks. He is, isn’t he?”
“He’s got Maria but your mum can’t have anyone?”
“Well, exactly. I think she should tell him. I’m going to give them a week then tell him myself.”
Joe is spreading tobacco along a cigarette paper. He roars with laughter at me.
“Are you really gonna’ do that?”
“Why not? I would love to see the look on his face.”
“But he won’t like, try to kick you all out, or something?”
I shrug at him. “Probably. Who cares? I don’t want to live in his house anyway. My mum should just find somewhere else to rent.”
I watch Joe run his tongue slowly and carefully along the sticky edge of the cigarette paper, before adeptly rolling the joint up. “But do you think Les is all right?” he asks me, his eyes on his work. “Or do you think he’s going to be an arsehole?”
“I don’t know,” I sigh. “He seems okay every time I’ve seen him. Sort of weedy and wimpy really. Seems harmless. Not like Mick. Not yet anyway.”
Joe snorts at me. “Yeah well I remember him being a prick from day fucking one, so you’ll probably be okay.” Joe pulls a lighter out of his pocket, holds it to the end of his creation, and inhales deeply as the joint lights up. I lean back against the wall and watch him lazily. I wonder what time it is. Joe pulls his knees up, and rests one arm across them. He seems thoughtful for a moment, lost.
“Why do you think your mum stays with him?” I ask then, watching him carefully. “When he does stuff like that to her?”
“Oh don’t worry, she gives as good as she gets. She starts it half the time.”
“I know that, but you know, it’s not right is it? It’s not how marriages are meant to be. It’s not normal married behaviour to grab your wife by the throat and all that.” Joe lifts his gaze to mine and holds the joint out to me. I don’t know what to do for a moment, so I just make a face at him, so he knows that I am thinking. He waits, saying nothing, while I make up my mind. Finally, I lean slowly forward and take it from him. He wraps his other arm around his knees.
“Mick is like her match,” he says to me. “They’re exactly the fucking same, if you think about it. Act now, think later. Get mad, lash out. Shout and scream the place down. They fucking love it don’t they?”
“I don’t understand why.” I take a long drag on the smoke.
“It’s just the way some people are,” he shrugs. “It’s why it didn’t work out with my dad. Because they were too different.”
“But I thought they say opposites attract?”
“I don’t know. But he wasn’t up to it. She obviously wanted someone who would stand up to her and fight her back.” I hold the joint back out to Joe and he takes it from me.
“Weird,” I say, resting my head back on the wooden wall behind.
“Fucked up,” Joe agrees. “I thought that was what women like. The bastards and all that.”
“Well not you obviously. You’re some kind of freak.”
I sit up indignantly, but Joe is grinning at me. The wall is too hard, my back is aching, and my head is getting fuzzy and tired. I slip down to the floor and lay on my back, with my legs hanging outside the hut. When Joe passes me the joint again I take it without thinking. “Do you remember that time the neighbours called the police on them?” I ask him, blowing out smoke and watching it drift slowly up to the wooden ceiling.
“Oh yeah,” says Joe, nodding. “We were what? About twelve?”
“Think so. And it was Leon that got fucking arrested!”
“Shit yeah!” Joe exclaims, smiling a wide amazed smile, as he begins to remember. “It was New Years Eve, wasn’t it? All your family were around, and mum and Mick got into a fight in the kitchen about something. Me and you were out there with the phone I got remember?”
“How can I forget?” I ask him, laughing. “You were so chuffed you got a bloody phone for Christmas at last. You made me sit and listen while you showed me all the amazing things it could do!”
“Shut up! I felt so embarrassed, when they started fighting right in front of you.”
“My parents were just the same mate, remember?”
“Oh yeah. Fights or silence, right?”
Joe takes the joint and lies down next to me. We are both flat on our backs, giggling and staring at the ceiling, which is covered in abusive graffiti, some of which is our own work. “We just sat at the table, trying not to look at them,” he says softly beside me. I can see it in my head like it was yesterday.
“She slaps him one. He slaps her back, then they start really grabbing each other, until Leon runs in.”
“Yeah, he grabbed the fucking frying pan and clocked Mick over the head with it. Jesus Christ there was blood everywhere. He had to have eight stitches in a and e.”
“And the police turned up.”
“And arrested Leon. Mum and Mick fucking told them to.”
I turn my head and look at the side of Joe’s face. “Joe, I’ve never really thought about it much until now, but you do know that is fucking disgusting don’t you?” I watch as Joe nods back at me. “He was about fourteen then? He was just trying to protect his mum. I’ve never ever felt sorry for Leon before, but thinking about it now, that was pretty harsh on him.”
“He’s hard to feel sorry for.”
“Do you think your mum and Mick ever feel sorry about that? Letting him get taken away, when it was them fighting in the first place? I couldn’t live with myself.”
Joe snorts again. “They always think they’re right,” he replies. “Doesn’t matter what you say or do. Doesn’t matter if you prove them fucking wrong or whatever. Neither of them are ever fucking wrong, ever. So no, I don’t think they would ever feel guilty about that.”
“Madness,” I say.
“I’m really feeling fucked up,” Joe says quietly, and lifts his hands up to his face. He presses them down onto his eyes and groans slowly and softly under them. “Are you?”
“Yeah, a bit.”
“I think I made it too strong.”
“I think you did.”
“I feel a bit sick.”
“Just lie still,” Joe advises. I have closed my eyes too. I close them and the darkness of my own mind surrounds me tightly. It is a relief. I do feel sick. I feel really really wrong. I try to fight it. I do what Joe said and just remain still. I feel totally and utterly detached from everything, like I am physically floating alone, separated from him, and the hut, and the hot July morning. In the end I have no choice but to open my eyes, roll onto my belly and vomit spectacularly. Most of it lands on the grass outside the hut. I am dimly aware of Joe patting me on the shoulder, and then on the back. “Sorry,” he is saying. “Sorry mate.”
“Ah, that feels better now.”
“Sorry mate, I’m such an idiot.”
I drop my head onto my arm and close my eyes and just breathe in and out nice and slowly. My stomach is empty and growls accordingly. But my head is already feeling clearer. I am coming back. “Bloody hell,” I mutter. “You’re trying to kill me.”
“I made it too strong,” Joe repeats pathetically, rubbing at my back with his hand. I can sense his sadness strongly. I laugh at him.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m such a twat. They’re all right about me, aren’t they?”
I want him to lighten up. I want him to laugh. So I take the piss out of him, which usually works. “What, that you’re gay?”
His hand drops away from me quickly. “I am not fucking gay!”
“All right, I’m only joking.” I lift my head and look at his face. “Calm down you freak.”
“Well I’m not! Fucks sake.”
“Well I know that, don’t I?”
“What?” I am so so confused.
“Nothing,” he snaps at me, and sits up. He rakes his fingers back through his hair, and leaves them there. He looks totally wrecked.
“Sorry,” I say from the floor. Then; “I think I better go home.”
“Oh no, don’t.” Joe looks back at me, biting at his lip. “Stay.”
“Okay, okay,” I say, and I reach out and pull him back down by his arm. He lets me and I snuggle into his side, like the other day on his bed. I close my eyes and feel the sleepiness rushing in. As I drift away, I am thinking about everything, you know, how everything can just pass through you all at once? Images, and memories, thoughts and feelings, and I feel pretty numb, so that is all okay, and I tighten my hold on Joe’s arm, and I am warm and fuzzy all over as he presses his lips down on the top of my head, and I want to tell him that he is the one constant thing, the one thing that means anything to me, the one person that has never let me down or saddened or sickened me, the only one person who gets me, and that I love him. But I cannot speak. I open my lips very slightly, but nothing comes out.