Dear World, for a moment or two it feels like time stands still, and not in a good way. I often wish I could freeze time, pause it so that I can catch up, catch my breath, but this isn’t the kind of moment anyone would want paused, or dragged out. This is one of those moments you want to end as quickly as possible and never have to relive again. Joe does not answer Mick’s question. Instead he takes a small step backwards, towards the door that we have closed behind us. I look at his face and I can see he is shitting himself. Mick is holding a whole handful of the roaches Joe has been throwing out of his bedroom window. Mick looks wild. He comes forward. He thrusts his hand towards Joe’s startled face. “I said are these yours!”
I look from Mick to Joe, starting to panic now. Joe nods his head ever so slightly. Lorraine is right behind Mick. I glance past her towards Leon and Travis, who are keeping quiet, just watching. Mick pulls his hand back and sniffs the ends. He narrows his eyes slightly. “Not just fag ends are they?” he barks at Joe. Joe has his back flat against the door now. His hazel eyes are getting wider by the second.
“Are they joints Joe?” Lorraine snaps then, coming up beside her husband, shaking her head at her son, as if daring him to say they are. Joe says nothing. He looks down, away from her accusing face, and he scratches at the back of his neck.
Lorraine’s eyes shift to me. “Lou? Are you going to help fill us in?” I don’t know what to say. I start to shrug my shoulders, but think better of it, and just look down at the floor instead. “They are aren’t they?” she goes on. She jerks her head back towards Leon and Travis, lurking in the background. “Now we’ve grilled these two already. They say this is nothing to do with them. We found these in the back garden, Joe. Tommy was collecting them up and putting them in his dumper truck.”
At the mention of his precious baby son, Mick’s eyes widen in anger, and he folds his fist over the roaches, and licks his lips slowly. He looks like he can’t decide what to do first. Like there are a couple of possible solutions that would make him feel better right now, but he can’t choose one quick enough. He lifts one hand momentarily and touches his own forehead, glancing down, almost as if he is attempting to compose himself. “Have you been smoking fucking weed in your bedroom and throwing the butts out the window?” he asks, not looking at Joe. Joe swallows. Scratches his neck again. Looks at his mum. Looks down. He knows he cannot win here. He knows this is bad. I watch his nervous eyes flick towards his brothers, as if pleading them to step in and say something, but we both know that they won’t.
“Joe,” Lorraine says the word clearly and carefully. Her hands are planted on her hips. Her eyes are fixed on Joe in a stern and motherly way that traps him in her eye line, forcing him to look her in the eye. She knows he cannot lie to her face and she is using this to full advantage. “Tell the truth. Have you been smoking weed up there and throwing the butts out the window?”
Joe finally drags his gaze down to the floor again as he mumbles his almost incoherent answer. “Yeah.”
“Where my fucking kids can play with them?” Mick roars, rushing forward then, coming at us with his fists up. I move back, nearly stumbling over my own feet, and Joe cowers against the door, ducking at the same time, and Mick’s fist catches him on the back of the head. He crouches down, against the door, arms over his head, fearing more. I stare at Mick, and Lorraine in disgust and horror, but they look resolute and strong, and not embarrassed. Lorraine merely puts a hand on Mick’s back, and he stops at that, but leans over Joe, shaking his head from side to side and pointing a finger at him. “You’re smoking cannabis up there? You fucking little shit!”
I am close to tears. I look desperately to Leon and Travis, begging them with their eyes to stop this, and help their brother, but they remain silent witnesses in the background. Leon has his arms crossed. He looks stern faced, but calm. Travis looks like he would rather be anywhere else in the world right now. Guilt is splashed all over his reddening face.
“Kitchen!” Mick barks into Joe’s ear. Then he straightens up, as Joe stands away from the door, and he looks back at Leon and Travis, and points at them quickly, one at a time. “You two out. Now.”
I move closer to Joe again, as he steps from the hallway and into the lounge, I reach out and grab his arm again, and I can feel his whole body shaking. I see him looking at his brothers again, looking at them for help. His eyes are begging them, but they do and say nothing. They just walk past us and leave.
Joe heads for the kitchen, with me in tow. But Lorraine holds her hand up to me. “You need to go too love.” I feel outraged by the sight of her. I want to lash out and slap her pinched up, make-up plastered face. I step around her and follow Joe into the kitchen, where Mick has pulled a chair from the table. Joe stands there looking lost and helpless. Mick shoves him into the chair. He is a raging bull of a squat little boxer man, all thick pulsing arms and broad shoulders, and short stumpy legs. I hate him. I can feel Lorraine behind me, sighing angrily at me.
“What’s the matter with you anyway?” Mick asks, slamming his hands down onto the table in front of Joe. “Running around with girls all the time like a little gay boy! Smoking drugs out the window! I ought to throw you out!”
Joe folds his arms across his t-shirt and stares at the table. “I’m not gay,” he says, teeth clenched.
“Why you always with girls then?” Mick questions, his confused glare taking me in. “Unless you’re girlfriend and boyfriend all of a sudden?” He straightens up and looks even angrier for a moment, as if being deceived by us about this would be even worse than having a gay weed smoking stepson. “Are you two girlfriend and boyfriend?” he asks, looking at me.
“No!” I say haughtily, my voice shaky and emotional. “And he’s not gay either!”
Lorraine steps around me. “Are you smoking this stuff too?” she asks, peering into my face. “I’m going to have to talk to your mum.”
“No she’s not,” Joe speaks up from the table, with his back to me. “She never has. It’s just me.”
“Go home then Lou,” Lorraine says it again, this time her tone is gentler. “This is family business now, okay?”
I don’t want to leave Joe there with them, but Lorraine takes my arm when I don’t move and propels me back towards the front door. I can’t stand it, but I don’t know what I can do. One way or another they are just going to destroy him. As Lorraine pulls open the front door I hear Mick saying; “I can’t cope with you kids much longer. There’s always one of you causing trouble. If my Will or Tommy had fucking eaten those or something?”
I am pushed outside. I am still clutching my fucking New Look bag. The sun blinks and glints off of all the cars parked in the street. I don’t know what to do World. Then I see Leon and Travis leaning against the fiesta and smoking cigarettes. I march right up to them. I am shaking with anger and disappointment by the time I reach them. “You’re not going to stand up for him?” I practically scream at them. “They’re tearing him apart in there!”
“Nothing to do with us,” Leon gives me his usual unbothered shrug. I want to smack him in the face as hard as I can and watch his nose explode.
“Yes it is! Who does he get it from? You!”
Leon throws down his cigarette then and snatches up my arm, hissing into my face; “keep your fucking voice down!”
I try to pull away but he holds on. “I ought to go back in there and tell them the truth,” I say to him, our faces barely an inch apart. “Why should he take all the blame? You got him into all of this!”
“He can handle it,” Leon says to me, still holding my arm. “You know them. We’re nearly rid. Then it’s all over. They’ll chuck all three of us out if you tell.”
“He’s right,” Travis tells me, almost apologetically. I finally yank my arm free of Leon’s grip.
“Unbelievable,” I spit at them.
“Please,” says Travis.
“It’s not like we’re not sharing the money with him,” Leon points out, stepping back from me and shoving his hands into his pockets. “He’s saving up for a drum kit, you know.”
“Look, we’re not going anywhere,” Travis says, his voice falling softer, his teeth biting at his lower lip. He glances quickly up at the house and then back at me. “We’ll stay out here. Make sure they go easy on him.”
“You’re a pair of scumbags. You’re the worst brothers in the world. You just stand there and let Mick smack him in the head.” I feel tears prick my eyes now, so I turn away. I start to walk away from them. “You make me sick,” I say quietly, and I leave them there. I have no idea if either of them feel guilt, or concern, or indeed are capable of it. They say nothing as I walk away.
I have no choice but to go home. I feel so heavy as I walk; each footstep is a trial, a huge effort. I feel like someone up above has their hands upon my shoulders, and I’m being slowly pushed down into the ground. It really feels that way World, like you and all your troubles are pressing down on me, trying to grind me into the pavement. I want to shake it all off, but it clings to me as I walk, the heaviness of despair. I struggle on, anger fading away now, only to be replaced by sheer sadness. Poor Joe. None of them understand him. Poor Joe.
I let myself into the house and once again I am instantly met with solemn, straight adult faces. My mum and my fucking dad, no less. I throw my New Look bag onto the stairs and kick off my shoes. My shoulders are slumped; my feet drag as I walk down the hallway to join them in the kitchen. It is plainly obvious that Lorraine has already been on the phone to them. They know everything; I can see that from their faces. My dad is smoking a cigarette, with one arm slung across his waist as he leans against the worktop. Mum is sat at the table, wringing a tea towel in her hands. Does she ever fucking put them down? “Let me guess,” I say to them, slipping weakly into the chair opposite my mother. “Lorraine has already filled you in.”
My mum looks at my dad. He smokes his cigarette. Why the hell has she got him here anywhere? I wonder where poor old Les is again. “She phoned me when they found the cigarette ends, or whatever they are,” mum answers me, holding onto the twisted tea towel with both hands as she rests it on the tabletop. She shakes back her short hair, glances nervously at my dad, and then back at me. “She wanted to know what I thought.”
“Oh right,” I say, looking away from her. “What do you think then?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she says, sounding flustered, and looking to my dad for help again, but he just remains silent and smokes his cigarette. “It’s not you though is it love? Its just Joe smoking that stuff isn’t it?”
I look back at her and sigh, and I really want to say, no it’s not just Joe, it’s me too whenever the hell I feel like it, but it is just Joe running around the estates at night delivering cocaine to people for his brothers. It all goes through my mind. It enrages me again. “I’ve tried it a few times,” I tell her, watching her carefully, wondering what the hell she is going to say to this. My dad lowers his hand, the one holding the cigarette, and he cocks his head at me as if he has not heard me correctly. My mum has covered her mouth with one hand, finally letting go of the bloody tea towel
“You better be joking!” my dad yells at me. I look at him, scowling in disgust.
“What?” I say to him. “Why would I joke? I suppose I could lie and say it’s all just him, but that wouldn’t be very fair on him, would it?”
“Oh Lou,” my mum is shaking her head into her hand. “I am so disappointed in you. I thought you knew better than that. What has gotten into you two lately? First getting drunk and fighting and now this?”
“Getting drunk and fighting?” my dad practically explodes at her. “You never told me that! When was that then? What the hell is going on around here lately?”
I get up then. I do not want to hear any of this. “Stay there please Lou,” says mum, holding up her hand. “We need to talk about this.”
“There are lots of things we need to talk about mum,” I say viciously, raising my eyebrows at her, so that she understands what I mean. Who I mean. She closes her mouth quickly, biting back her words. I know I have won.
“This is a joke!” my dad yells at mum. He is not even looking at me. He does not give a shit if I smoke weed or get drunk, he just relishes another reason to throw shit at her, to hurt her and humiliate her and ground her down even more than he already has done. “What kind of mother are you? Letting one daughter move in with her boyfriend, and the other one is just running wild!”
I leave them to it, which is really rather cruel of me, as none of this is my mum’s fault really. But I’ve had enough. I could stand there and really get into it with them, really give them what for on their own fucked up little lives. I could turn it all around on them, and ask them to think about why Joe and me have let them down so badly. I mean, who raised us eh? But I can’t handle this anymore. I need to be alone. I can’t even look at my dad most of the time, let alone argue with him. What is the point?
Up in my room I hear them screaming at each other downstairs. It is so bad I have to cover my ears with my hands. I close my eyes and tell myself over and over again, that I will never be like them; I will never be like them. No one will ever talk to me like that. No one will ever treat me like that.
“You can never lay the law down can you?” I can hear my dad bellowing. “You’ve never been able to control them!”
“Easy for you to say!” my mother is screaming back at him. She can scream with the best of them when she’s angry enough. “You were the one who walked out on them! I’m the one who stayed! You have no right to say a thing!”
I listen to them going at it, and I am reminded of every argument that filled my childhood. The screaming, the banging, the slamming of doors, the accusations, and the crying. I remember thinking, why are you even together? What are you doing married to each other if you hate each other this much? I could never work it out. I could never see where the love was. I could never see what the point was. Maybe I never will. My mum says I will understand everything when I am an adult, when I have grown up and been in love myself, when I am a parent. Maybe she is right. Fair enough if she is. But right now I want to tell them to shut the fuck up. It’s only a bit of weed. There are far worse things we could be doing. If only they knew.