Well the boy still looked at me sort of funny, but give it time, I thought, give it time. Patience was the key. It was still early days I assured myself whenever I experienced a flicker of doubt, which was seldom. I didn’t generally see the point in self-doubt, or guilt, the sort of things that tortured Kay so pointlessly. I wasn’t like her, you see, I didn’t question myself on a daily basis. I walked through life with my eyes ahead. The past is dead and gone, and the present is a stepping stone to the future. I had kept my eyes ahead for a long time, you see, knowing that I would recognize what I was searching for when I found it. I was close now, I could feel it. I could feel it in my bones. I was almost exactly where I wanted to be in life, with just a few loose ends left to tie up.
I was impressed with myself, to be honest. My parents assured me I had good reason to be. Stooped slightly by the arthritis that had followed him into old age, my father was still a big, proud man. “My son the businessman!” he would smile and shake his head whenever I returned to Essex. “My son the entrepreneur!” He loved it. He loved telling people that I owned a nightclub, that one day I would own a string of them. My younger brother had been weak, and feebleminded, a disappointment to us all. It was me they had poured their hopes and dreams into, and I had always felt proud and grateful to carry this burden for them. In fact, it was their attitude and determination that propelled me through life when I was younger and shaped my personality into one that never faltered, never questioned what had to be done.
My father Jerry had been a bare knuckle fighter back in his day. One of the best. I can still recall the feeling of pride that lit and grew inside of me when I went to watch him fight. He made mincemeat of all of them, back then, took them all down to their pitiful knees. People used to call him Jerry the Bear, because of the solid, lumbering way he was built. He still kept in good shape despite the arthritis, and he still carried with him the fearless reputation of a man not to be messed with. He used to run a gym, back then. He would train up these undisciplined young boys to be fighters. I had nothing, he used to tell them, I had nothing and I could have been no one, but I worked hard and you can do the same. It was an ethic to be proud of, something I wished to emulate and carry forward for him. It was a noble thing, I felt. To start with nothing and to work your way up, to climb higher and higher through bloody mindedness and sheer willpower. I used to help him out in the gym, and then as soon as I was old enough, I started collecting and washing glasses in the local pub. My parents had encouraged me, of course. It didn’t matter to them what line of work I went into, as long as it had a clear route to the top.
Like I had told Kay’s boys over the dinner table that night, I had done the lot over the years. Collecting glasses, washing up, cleaning toilets, working the doors, serving behind the bar, you name it, I did it. Picked up drunks from the floor, mopped up puddles of sick and broke up fights. Seeing those kinds of people trail in and out, the ones that reeked of piss and whiskey and dribbled their words of self-pity down their chins, they made me even more determined to reach the top. I liked a drink myself from time to time, but I never relinquished control. I let other people do that. To lose control was to be weak. Those people that weaved in and out of pubs and clubs, babbling nonsense and falling over their own feet, they had lost control, they had handed it over, and lived life in a shambles.
By the time I reached my mid-twenties I had grown into a bear of a man myself. Chip of the old block, people said when they saw me coming. Those were the days I earned a fortune with my shaved head and my shiny black bomber jacket, standing sternly on the doors of the roughest nightclubs in Essex. There was rarely any trouble when I was on a shift. And every time I returned home with a pay rise or a promotion, my father would take my hand in his and pump it up and down, while his blue eyes glittered with pride. I lived a frugal existence, saved my money, stashed it away, but it was all going to be worth it one day. I had a goal, and it was unmoveable. It would happen, and that was all there was to it. By the time I was thirty I would be managing a swanky London nightclub, and by the time I was forty, I would own one.
Nancy’s had come along at just the right time for me. It was the first place I had sunk my own money into, and in the long run it was going to be worth every penny. This was the decrepit dying piss hole I was going to turn around. This was the place people would be talking about in months to come. It would become the towns’ main attraction, the ugly duckling transformed into a swan. It would make my name and I would be someone. The other half was still owned by Tony Philips, this ailing alcoholic I had no intention of sharing the limelight with for long. For the moment, as long as he remained drunk and in the palm of my hand like everybody else, then everything was going to plan.
And now of course, I had Kay. The top prize. The icing on the fucking cake. She summed it all up didn’t she? Who I was, and what I deserved. I had known that the first time I set eyes on her. She seemed to carry this rare, warm glow within her. It was like a golden haze that surrounded her, spreading out to whoever was near, touching them with light and hope. Now that she was mine, people liked to tell me how lucky I was. Jammy bastard, the men leering over the bar informed me. Lucky sod. To be honest, such comments offended me. Luck didn’t come into it. It had nothing to do with luck. I co-owned and managed a nightclub that was already clawing its way up from the bottom, bringing crowds in and creating a buzz around town, and I lived with a beautiful woman because I deserved to. Simple as that.
She hadn’t been difficult to impress, of course. She just wanted someone to be nice to her, to pay her attention and spoil her. She just wanted someone to be honest and true, and not mess her about. She was enthralled by Nancy’s, and my stake in it. She was touched by my relationship with my parents. To her, I was someone going places. I was a catch. It did not really surprise me when I discovered how easy she was to wind around my finger, or how adoringly she hung onto my every word. She was relieved you see, to have someone on her side for once, to have someone to lean on, someone who sympathised.
Well I’d seen kids like Danny before you see. They were ever present in my fathers’ gym, snot nosed kids, wet behind the ears and spoiling for a scrap. Thinking the world owed them a living. Mollycoddled and pandered to, but we soon knocked the snot right out of them. Took them apart and built them back up the right way. Kids these days were even worse. They had it far too easy. They were not getting the things they really needed to survive in life; guts and determination. Nerves of steel.
The boy was a slight problem, that was true enough, but this did not deter me, not one little bit. In fact I was rather relishing the challenge. Like with the club, what was the point in having everything handed to you on a plate, finished and perfect? I liked to stamp my mark down on things, you see, polish them off in my own image. Challenge made life more interesting, and the end result, the success, far more satisfying. The boy was a problem, but the problem was his, not mine. I was close to achieving everything I had ever dreaed of in life, and it was laughable to conceive that a thirteen year old brat of a kid was going to get in the way of it.
Early days, I reminded myself at the end of each one. Early days. The boy had a choice, I reasoned, a simple choice. If he made the right choice, then everything would be okay, and everything would fall into place, and he would stop looking at me as if I were some kind of monster. He would start to look at me in a different way, I was sure of it. I considered that by now he knew he had met his match. That the game was over. I had my feet well and truly under the table, and he knew it. And all that business had been a godsend anyway. It allowed me to play the victim before Kay. To plant seeds in her sweet, stressed out little head and watch them grow. And she had begged me in the end. Move in, she had said, move in with us, I can’t do it on my own anymore, I can’t cope. I could help her. I knew how kids like that ended up if no one watched out for them. There were plenty of the little bastards roaming the streets all glassy eyed and looking for trouble at night. Plenty of underaged losers spewing up their alcopops and shagging their friends girlfriends in dirty alley ways. In years to come, they would replace the fat slugs that slithered onto my bar stools, burping into their beers.
The boy was simple to me. A spoilt brat who had gotten used to having his own way. He didn’t want to share his mother with anyone else and he believed that bad behaviour got him what he wanted. He had guts though, at times. It amused me. Stupidity as much as anything, but there was a fire in those eyes I longed to put out. It made things interesting and it made me wonder how long it would take to get him in line the way I wanted. I wondered this in the same way I wondered how long it would take to get the club up to scratch. Well, it was all just a matter of time, patience and hard work, to be honest. The boy made it easy for me in every way. He was always in trouble, always fighting and scrapping, so who would notice a few more bruises? Who would believe an attention seeking liar? He liked to think he was tough, but I knew the truth of it. I knew I would have to take him apart before he understood what being tough really meant. I would wipe out the cold defiance in those blue eyes, I would obliterate it and replace it with something else. Sometimes, you needed to experience how shit and disappointing life could be before you finally sharpened up and recognized the rules.
If the boy broke the rules, or forgot the rules, then things would be tough for him. I had no problem with this. In fact I was rather starting to see it as my responsibility to set him on the right path. He didn’t have anyone else, did he? No father, no brother, and as for Kay, well, I adored the woman inside and out, but she was totally inadequate sometimes as a parent. I saw it, time and time again. Half the time she didn’t even know where he was, and didn’t even think to question. He shuffled through the house smelling of cigarette smoke, and she didn’t bat an eyelid. She offered him no direction, no purpose. She rarely corrected him. She seemed happy to just allow him to float along, causing trouble when it suited him. Well it was simple in my eyes. Kids messed up, you punished them, and showed them the way. The only thing that had surprised me slightly was the rush I’d felt that night in the kitchen when I’d introduced his face to the table. It had come out of nowhere, this swelling, this roar of adrenalin and power. I’d wanted to breathe it in, suck it up, inhale it. It was still there when I woke in the morning, still tingling through my muscles. I’d felt my chest expand with the memory of it. A smile had crept across my face when I received the phone call to pick him up from the station. Guilt, I felt no guilt. I would teach the boy how to be a man, and one day, I knew he would thank me for it.
Two days before my fourteenth birthday, I received an urgent phone call from Michael. I answered it half asleep, which was the state I seemed to exist in permanently; not quite with it, with the constant urge to blink at the world around me. He told me his mum had gone away for a bit, and his brother was home from prison. Get over here now, he said, his voice tight and hushed with emotion. I got dressed in a daze and hurried over to him. He answered the back door to me, and he looked dizzy with excitement; his dark eyes shining brightly, his smile so wide it touched his ears. His chest was bare, and browner than ever, as he seized me by the arm and dragged me through the door. “Get in, get in here,” he hissed, showing all of his teeth. I allowed him to drag me inside, and there was this young man, who was unmistakably Michael’s older brother, sat on one side of the kitchen table.
It seemed like I was staring at a Michael from the future. It was odd really. I could see exactly what he was going to look like in years to come. Anthony sported the same thick black hair, though he kept his shorter than Michael did. He had exactly the same almond shaped eyes, like melted chocolate, warm one moment, dark and menacing the next. He gave you the feeling that he could shake your hand or hug you, just as easily as he could knock you out or smack you. He was taller, and broader, his bare chest rippling with lean, hard muscle. He was sat at the table in a pair of loose tracksuit trousers and nothing else. As I walked in, he looked up and offered me a knowing smile. “Well you must be the famous Danny,” he said to me, and I was smiling then, in spite of myself, in spite of the foggy daze that seemed to cling to me lately. I couldn’t help but smile at him. I liked him. Right away I liked him.
“You must be Anthony,” I said, enthusiastically, as Michael gave me another friendly shove towards the table. “Nice to meet you!” I sat down next to Michael. Anthony nodded at me courteously.
“Nice to meet you too. Mike’s been telling me all about you.”
“Yeah?” I glanced sideways at Michael, who nudged me in return, as he folded his arms over the table, still smiling that crazy, satisfied smile.
“Just filled him in on your legendary status around here,” he told me. “You know, breaking Higg’s nose, for starters!”
“Sounds like the creep deserved it,” Anthony remarked, before I could open my mouth to defend myself. I closed my mouth, grinned and nodded at him. His eyes were down, as he concentrated on tapping tobacco along the fold of a cigarette paper. Michael nudged me again, his expression serious now.
“What happened after, you know? The beach thing,” he asked me. “When you went home and that.” He had those frown lines on his forehead again, I could see them tensing just beneath his hair. I forced a nervous smile which I doubted would appease him.
“Nothing. He didn’t tell mum.” I turned my gaze back to Anthony’s deft fingers, as they rolled the cigarette quickly and neatly.
“Why didn’t he?” Michael asked.
“Got a deal,” I shrugged. Anthony looked up then, lifting the roll up and pushing a roach into one end. He didn’t say anything while he finished it off, but he gave off the air that he was about to, so the both of us waited silently, our eyes on him, our breath held.
“Oh yeah,” he said finally, his shoulders stiffening. “Mike’s been telling me all about him too. Sounds like a right piece of shit.”
“Prize prick,” Michael said instantly. “Isn’t he Dan?”
“Just one big giant twat,” I agreed happily, a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth as I imagined the list of expletives I could add to that if they wanted me to. “You know what his latest thing is?” I asked them. “Picking on my hair! He thinks it’s unsuitable for us to want to look like Kurt Cobain. He doesn’t find him suitable as a role model, apparently.” I rolled my eyes in dramatic, amused fashion and grinned at Anthony.
“What? And I suppose he thinks he is?” Michael cried, shaking his head in disbelief. “What a cunt!”
“I think your hair is cool,” said Anthony, offering me another polite nod, as he stuck the roll up between his lips. I grinned.
“Grow it longer, just to piss him off!” Michael suggested.
“Yeah, I’m gonna’.”
“Get a load of tattoos, when you’re older,” said Anthony, with a casual shrug. He lit the roll up, located an ashtray and dragged it towards him. I nodded slowly, gazing intently at the patterns and swirls that adorned his upper arms, and chest. I wished I knew what they all stood for, what they all meant to him.
“I will,” I said. “Yours are so cool.”
“Trouble is they’re addictive,” he laughed. “You get one and that’s it, you want more and more.”
“So what is it like to be out of jail?” I asked him then. He puffed smoke downwards and tapped the roll up briskly against the ashtray.
“Amazing,” he nodded at me. “Even more amazing that mum and dad aren’t here to do my head in, isn’t it Mike?”
“Oh yeah,” Michael said, patting the table with both hands. “Hope they stay away for ages! Party time while they’re away!”
“Suppose I’ve got to find some kind of job,” Anthony said with a yawn, leaning back into the wall behind, his position so sprawling and relaxed that I sort of felt my body mirroring his; loosening, melting, ridding itself of tension. “But I guess we better talk about this party of yours eh? Shall we have a drink? Here look.” He grabbed a bottle from the crowd that stood lined up at the other end of the table. Most were empty and corkless. He snatched one and pulled it forward. “Looks like mum forgot to polish this one off before she went.” He stuck the roll up between his teeth, pushed a pile of magazines to one side, found three empty mugs and plonked one down in front of each of us. He opened the bottle and sloshed us each a drink. “Cheers lads!” he announced, raising his. Michael and I grabbed ours and copied.
“Cheers!” I nodded as I sipped, having never tasted wine before. It was warm and sweet and I just hoped it would not show on my breath too much when I went home. I sighed a little and looked back at Anthony, who had returned to his languid position against the wall. He reminded me of a cheetah or a jaguar, as he lolled there smoking his roll up, all long loose limbs dangling, while his eyes remained sharp and alert.
“So there’ll be people I need to invite,” he was saying. “People to catch up with.”
“Obviously,” said Michael, nodding along. I looked at him and tried not to smile too much. I noted how different he seemed around his brother. He seemed younger, of course, but not just that, he seemed quieter if you like, gentler, and you could see the way that he hung onto his brothers every word. And now that I had the infamous Anthony Anderson right before me, I could also see how many of Michael’s mannerisms and characteristics came from him. Mike’s warmth and humour, his fierce, don’t give a shit attitude, had all been finely honed in honour of his older brother. Michael was a smaller version of Anthony, I realized, and I found this rather touching.
“We’ll kick things off around eight.” Anthony was telling us, as he leaned forward and topped up our drinks. “Invite who you like but tell them to bring their own drinks. And make sure people have cleared it with their parents or whatever. The last thing we need is mums and dads banging on the door in the middle of it.” He raised his eyebrows at us and we nodded back at him faithfully, so he grinned and stubbed out his cigarette. His smile was like Michael’s too, I noticed then, full of promise, and mischief. He rubbed his palms together in glee. “Gonna’ be a great night boys!”
On the morning of my fourteenth birthday, I was dragged out of groggy, unsatisfying sleep, to the sound of my mother tapping persistently on my bedroom door. “Wakey wakey birthday boy!” she was cooing girlishly. “Come on, I want to see you open your presents before I go to work!” I blew my breath out over my drooping lower lip, threw back my covers and stumbled from my bed. I opened the door and there she was, beaming like a vacant lunatic in her Co-Op uniform. She did a little dance, with her arms full of presents wrapped in black and white striped paper. The whole thing unnerved me; not least the presence of Howard, lurking sullenly behind her, with his fleshy arms crossed over his puffed out chest. “Happy birthday Danny!” she sung, while I pushed out a tense smile as my shoulders sagged. This was how it would always be, I mused. Life; marred by the looming form of a vaguely censored monster. He was never too far away from her. It was as if he dared not leave us alone together for too long for fear we might put our heads together and figure out the truth about him. I accepted the gifts she pressed into my arms and sat down on the edge of my bed with them.
“Thanks mum,” I said, wincing at the thought of opening them with an audience. My stomach was already doing its new thing. The stuttering realization of fear. The climbing, scrabbling build up of bunching up nerves.
“Fourteen years old!” my mother clapped her hands together and declared, spinning halfway around to announce this news to Howard. “I can’t believe it! You’re getting so grown up!”
I have to admit, I was impressed with the first gift from her. It was a brand new Nirvana t-shirt, white, with a black image of Kurt Cobain playing his guitar. I was so surprised and excited, I started pulling off the one I already had on. “Mum this is amazing! Thanks! I love it!”
“Ooh love, what have you done to your tummy?” I heard her asking me, as I tugged the new top down over my head. In my excitement I had completely forgotten about the spread of colours on my abdomen. My stomach sank even lower. I pulled the t-shirt down and ran a hand back through my hair, and for a moment all I could do was stare at the floor, as a million things rushed through my head in a panic. I opened my mouth. What if I said it? What if I pointed at him and told her? I swallowed, picked up the next present and started to open it.
“Just playfighting,” I heard myself mutter. “Just mucking about.”
“You should be more careful,” she told me, clicking her tongue. “One of you will get hurt!” I nodded and then gasped again. She had bought me Nirvana’s first album Bleach. I had a taped version from Billy, but not the real thing.
“Wow mum! Thank you!” I smiled in genuine surprise. My mother laughed and looked pleased with herself.
“You’re welcome! I’ll admit I did ask the man in Our Price to help me a bit!”
“Love it,” I said, turning the cassette over in my hands. There was a snort from behind then. Howard cleared his throat. Tapped his toe twice. My mother turned to look at him, and he smiled at her sweetly.
“You’ll be late for work,” he warned amiably. “If you don’t get him down to see the other one.”
“Oh Christ, you’re right!” she cried, checking her watch and making a face. “Danny, open the rest of those later! The main one is downstairs! Come on!” I put the parcels behind me, and she tugged me from my room and out onto the landing. We followed Howard down the stairs, and into the kitchen, but just at the door, she pulled me back and then placed her hands over my eyes.
“It’s okay, it’s alright, just walk forward. Into the kitchen.” I stepped warily forward, my hands slightly raised, until I felt the cold of the lino beneath my bare feet. “Okay, look now!” she said and dropped her hands. I looked. Leaning seductively against the kitchen table, shining in the golden light that streamed through the window, was a beautiful midnight blue mountain bike. My mouth dropped wide open. I was so happy, so surprised I could barely speak. I reached out for it, touched the handlebars and then dropped one hand onto soft, leather seat.
“Do you like it?” my mother asked from behind me. It was the stupidest question I had ever heard in my life. It looked brand new, but it couldn’t be. I’d never had a new bike in my life, and neither had John. They were just too expensive. I was grinning so much it was beginning to hurt my cheeks.
“It’s amazing!” I told her, as she grabbed her workbag from the side and planted a clumsy kiss on my forehead.
“Glad you like it honey, I’ve got to run.”
“It’s amazing mum, thank you so, so much…” I crouched down, running my hand down the slope of the frame. “How did you ever afford it?”
My mother opened the door, her car keys swinging from one finger. “Ah well,” she chuckled, “You’ll have to thank Lee for that love. It’s from him as well. He even picked it out for you. I’ll see you both later!”
She left. I froze. My finger was stuck to the frame, my eyes fixed ahead. Had I heard her right? The pleasure and the excitement slipped right through me then. I practically heard it crashing into the floor. I finally moved my hands from the bike and dragged them slowly down my face, closing my eyes into them briefly, wishing it was not true. I dropped them into my lap and glared at the bike.
“Well you heard her,” Howard spoke then from behind, and there was no mistaking the satisfaction that dripped from his voice. “You gonna’ thank me properly, or what?”
I didn’t answer him. I couldn’t. My mouth was dry, and my throat raw and closed. I wanted to reach out and touch the bike again, I wanted to drag it through the door, out into the sunlight and climb onto it, but I knew I could never do any of those things now. I heard him stepping closer. “Hello?” he snapped. “Did you hear me? I think you’re supposed to be thanking me properly.” There was a pause, as he lit his cigarette and inhaled. The smoke drifted up and over my shoulder, tickling my nostrils. “Oi,” he said then, and poked me in the back. I remembered the circle on my arm and started to shake. “You’re meant to be thanking me remember.”
I breathed out slowly. Every part of me wanted to crawl away in shattered pieces, but I tried to control myself, tried to hold it together, as my gaze lingered miserably on the beautiful bike that I would never be able to ride. “You picked it out?” I asked him.
“Course I did. Your mother wouldn’t have a clue about picking out a decent bike, would she?” He stood next to me then and placed his hands on the bike, one on the handlebars and the other on the seat. “She wanted to get you a second hand one, but I said it was better to get new. This is expensive you know. You need to take good care of it and make sure you lock it up all the time.”
I shook my head. “You shouldn’t have.”
“You didn’t have to. You should’ve saved your money, I mean.”
“Ungrateful little bastard,” Howard said softly, the cigarette drooping from his slack lips. He let go of the bike and stood tall. I kept my eyes to the floor. I was scared that if I looked up into those tiny, deranged eyes I would either piss myself in fear, or explode with rage and neither would be a good thing on my birthday.
“I am grateful,” I told him tightly. “I just mean you didn’t have to.”
“You seemed pretty happy with it a minute ago,” he said. “Until you found out I paid for it!”
“Look,” I said, dragging my eyes from the floor to meet his. I took another deep breath to steady myself, to force myself on. “You don’t like me. Why’d you want to buy me this?” I gestured weakly at the bike and watched his eyes seem to glaze over with rage. We stared at each other. My shoulders rose and fell while my breath hissed through my nostrils. I knew I should shut up. Leave it at that. Get to my room, to safety, but the argument was there, building up behind my tongue amidst a thousand others, the unfairness of it all. “You’ve only done this to impress her,” I heard myself saying. “You hate me. You’ve only done this to impress her and make me look bad, like you always do.”
His head cocked slowly to one side. His cigarette dangled until he plucked it out with his fingers and breathed smoke up towards the ceiling. “Is that right? I thought I was buying you a bike for your birthday to be nice. But you know better, eh?”
I took a step backwards then, back towards the hall. I licked my lips as Howard stared into me. “I’ve been toeing the line,” I said. “But it doesn’t make any difference with you. You’re still a bastard to me the whole time.”
“Oh is that right?” he nodded now, dipped his whole head up and down as if he were bobbing about under the water. His hands were on his hips, the fag had smouldered out, and his broad shoulders were twitching and rolling. “So buying this bike is being a bastard to you is it? I’m sorry Danny I didn’t realize! And I suppose getting you to clean your room and help around the house is being a bastard to you too, is it?”
I rubbed at my stomach with one hand, and stepped back again. “You know what I mean.” I said. “So I don’t want that bike thanks. Take it back. Get your money back.”
“You what?” He thrust his head forward from his rippling shoulders then. His far reaching forehead had turned a purplish red, and his eyes were bulging. “Do you want to say that again, in case I misheard you? Do you want to say those words again?”
I took another step backwards. “I don’t want it,” I told him. “I don’t want anything from you.”
His expression was mortified, not just enraged but baffled, and disappointed, as if the words I spoke were the last words he had ever expected to hear. He came at me then, and it was like he had to, because he didn’t know what else to do with all that confusion and conflict. “Well you’re fucking having it if I say you’re having it!” he roared at me, grabbing the front of my new top and dragging me forward by it. He pushed his face into mine, and I turned my cheek, and I could feel the blackness coming from him, the impossible shaking rage, and I could smell old Spice and peppermint mouthwash and Benson and Hedges fags. “You’re fucking having the fucking bike, alright?” There was no way out so I nodded at him.
“Look at it.” He let go of my top and spun me around to face the bike. He dropped his hands onto my shoulders. I could hear his rapid, laboured breathing. It occurred to me that he was trying to calm himself down, rein himself in, and it crossed my mind then to incite him to lose control, to provoke him further and see how far he went. “Look at that bike. I never had a nice fucking bike like that when I was your age! Brand fucking new it is! Most expensive one in the shop! You will be grateful for it, you hear?” I glared at the wretched bike, seething under the weight of his hands, and I pictured myself lashing out and kicking the bike, slamming it hard into the pavement. He squeezed my shoulders then. It felt like he was screwing them up, scrunching them in his claw like hands, and the pain was sharp and nasty hitting all of the nerves, whipping the breath to scream from me. “Do you understand?” he roared into my head.
“Yes!” I screamed back at him. “Yes!”
He let go. “Now turn around and say thank you properly like you should have done in the first place.”
I was shaking as I turned around to face him, but it wasn’t so much from fear anymore, but from anger. I ran my eyes over his big red face, as his piggy eyes glittered with spite. I wished I had a flick knife on me. I thought about how it would feel to shove a blade right into one of those round marble eyes. “I hate you,” I told him. He slapped me hard across the mouth. The force whipped my head to one side and I tasted blood and I was glad. I sucked it up between my teeth and let it sit on my tongue. And I looked back at him and gave him a small smile. “I hate you,” I told him again. “And one day I am going to fucking kill you.”
I ran then. I moved so fast he had no time to react. He was stunned and rigid, still taking in the threat and I ran for the hall, skidding past the phone just as it started to ring. I don’t know why I snatched it up and answered it. I saw myself doing it and wondered why I wasn’t just running past it, running for my room. “Hello?” I barked into it, my back to the wall. Howard appeared in the hallway as if he had not even moved. His head was low and slightly forward. His lips had disappeared and his brow overshadowed his eyes.
“Daniel is that you?” My grandmas voice was on the other end, high pitched, brittle, and pissed off. I pressed a finger to my mouth, and looked at the blood on it.
“Yeah it’s me,” I told her with a little laugh. “How are you?” I felt my lip throbbing as I spoke but I was pleased, pleased that it was just pain, pleased when I saw Howard’s shoulders relax into defeat.
“Happy birthday!” she was telling me. “You better tell me all the trouble you’ve been up to lately. You better tell me all about this new man in your mothers’ life. She hasn’t brought him to meet me yet you know!”
“You mean Lee?” I asked, keeping my eyes on him. Holding him back. “Oh yeah I can tell you all about him Gran. What do you want to know?”
He backed off then. Turned and slunk into the kitchen, and it was weird the joy that washed over me then. I felt wired and alive. I felt the blood pumping from me and I pictured him stood like stone in the kitchen. Moments later I heard him slamming the back door behind him, and I dropped my head back onto the wall as the relief nearly floored me.
Later that night I was sat on my bed, listening to Bleach and still basking in this rare feeling of triumph. My tongue flicked back and forth across my cut lip and I realized that it was okay. That it was only pain, and pain was better than fear. I had my notebook balanced on my knees and I left it there while I curled my fingernails up into the palms of my hands. I pressed them into my skin until it hurt and I told myself there, see? Just pain. That’s all it was. I replayed the beautiful words in my head. I hate you and one day I am going to fucking kill you. I wriggled with pleasure and scribbled into my notebook. I pictured the bike still stood in the kitchen, beautiful and pointless. I swore to myself I would never ride it. The music swept its rage up inside of me, setting my teeth on edge as I gritted them together and nodded along violently. Doing what he wanted had got me nowhere. So fuck it, I thought. Fuck being a good boy and toeing the line, fuck it! Fuck it, it’s no life just being bored and scared the whole time, fuck it! Pain is okay, I wrote in my book. Pain is okay because it reminds you that you are still alive.