I was saying goodbye to Jack on the front step, when one of the kids Danny hung about with came reeling around the corner. The tall skinny one with the stupid floppy hair. He looked like he was shitting himself already, and when he clocked us he looked it even more, his big eyes growing bigger like saucers, as he skidded to a stop. He had been running, and looked for a minute like he was going to fall over his own gangly legs. I rolled my eyes at Jack, who chuckled softly and walked on down the path back to his car. The skinny kid approached the door nervously, pulling the cuff of his scruffy shirt down over his hand and fiddling with it, as his eyes shot about all over the place. I regarded him coldly, narrowing my eyes at him, flicking my ash out onto the path. I held onto the edge of the door so that I could slam it in his face when needed. “Do you want something?” I asked him.
He stuttered the beginning of a reply, then stopped and looked away, as if expecting help to be close behind. Then he looked back at me and tried to peer around me into the hallway. “Is Danny about?”
“Nope. Haven’t seen him.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“No idea.” I decided that was enough conversation and slammed the door on his gawky gormless face.
I turned around, and there was the boy in question, flinging himself at the back door. I laughed out loud and went after him. So he’d been in the house the whole time had he? Fucking hilarious. I produced the back door key from my pocket and dangled it from my fingers when he turned slowly to stare at me in dawning horror. “Looking for this little man?” The boy had his hands wrapped around the door handle, and despite seeing the key in my grasp, he continued to wrench it up and down. I slipped the key back into my pocket and approached him casually. My nostrils twitched as I got closer to him. He reeked. It was smoke, and beer, and dirt and weed, and mashed in with all of that was fear, pure and raw, and pulsing darkly behind his vivid blue eyes. I was pleased to see it at last, so I took a moment to look him over, to consider him. Then I shook my head in disgust and disapproval. His clothes had been slept in, and were creased and dirtied. I could see black dirt beneath every fingernail as his hands clung to the door handle. I planted my hands on my hips and cocked my head to one side. I licked my lower lip. “All right then?” I asked.
He gave up on the door and flattened himself against it, hands splayed out like starfish behind him. “Where’s my mum?”
I laughed and leaned over him, placing one hand on the glass behind his head. “Well something happened, something terrible, and she had to go.”
“What? What did you do? What have you done to her?”
I laughed again. “I didn’t do anything little man. It’s your Gran, she had a bad fall and broke some bones. In really bad shape. Your mum’s gone to look after her for a while.” I watched him taking this in, his mouth opening and closing in confusion, his brow furrowed with despair. “She said she’ll phone in a few days to let you know how things are.”
“You’re a liar,” he said to me then, his face trembling, his shoulders growing rigid. “She wouldn’t just leave me here with you!”
I smiled, enjoying the way his face changed the more it sunk in. I wondered if he would shit his own pants before today was through. “Oh dear,” I said, offering him a sympathetic smile. “It looks like she has! Couldn’t wait to get away from you, if truth be told. Had a gutful of you lately mate. I did try to warn you. Didn’t I eh? I did try to make you listen.”
“You’ve probably done something to her!” he barked at me then, a flash of defiance returning to those eyes. “You were going mental when I left yesterday!”
I moved my face down to his, so that our noses were level. “Well I expect she will call you in a few days and let you know she’s just fine. Although I did tell her not to worry about a thing. Said it would give us some much needed time together eh? Just you and me. Gives us a chance to iron things out eh?” I smiled a delicate, thin smile and stared right into his eyes. I searched them, meaning to locate the slightest sliver of anger and stamp it out. “Don’t worry about a thing,” I told him soothingly. “Everything will be alright. You might not have your dad, or your brother, or your mum around, but you have me eh? You’re not alone see. I’m still here for you, because I care, you know, I care how you turn out little man.”
He started shaking his head, no. He went to move off, to get past, but I put a hand to his shoulder and kept him still. I examined him again. Dirty, stinking clothes. That long scruffy hair. He reminded me of every piss soaked loser who had ever rolled into one of my bars, desperate for salvation and hunting for it at the end of a bottle. “You’re lying,” he started chattering. “You’ve done something to her, I know, I saw, I saw the cops! I heard them!” He was panicking now, I could see. I held him back against the door and stared at him hard.
“Shut up and calm down. I’ll do the talking thanks. By the time she comes back, we’ll be like one happy family, okay?” I think I drifted off for a moment then, just lost maybe, in the importance of it all. I remembered seeing Kay off, helping her to pack her bags and take them to the car. Don’t worry about a thing, I had assured her. I’ll be just fine with Danny, I promise. I can cope with whatever he throws at me.
“Let me go!” the little shit was growling at me now, his hands on mine, his grubby little fingers trying to prise mine from his shoulder. I clamped them down and stared into his face. He looked and sounded like a vicious little animal, and I realized then that was what he was, at the end of the day. An untamed animal. Utterly wild. I felt my patience run into a brick wall, and it was all that he deserved. “Let me pass! Get the fuck off me!” I felt my body tense, bristling under the surface, and the blue eyes were flashing back at me like angry sirens, and my mind retraced steps to threats in the kitchen and to aching balls and how it should never have happened. That whining little voice. That screwed up little face. Angry. That angry little face, when it should have been scared, and sorry.
“Right!” I roared into his face then. “Time to learn some lessons! The first one being getting that look out of your eyes!” I jabbed him right in the eye with my finger then, and he cried out in horrible pain, his hands flying to his face, his body crumpling down the door. He cried out like I’d thrown acid in his face or something. I closed my hand around his neck and pulled him back up. “It out now?” I bellowed at him. “Has that fucking look gone? That fucking look!” He struggled and gasped beneath my grip, so I clamped down harder. I could feel everything that way. I could feel the energy in those thin muscles, like coiled springs, as the fear and the rage surged through his body like electricity. I could feel it all hot and sizzling beneath his clothes. I checked his pockets and right away found another knife. “Where the fuck d’you keep getting these from? It’s those filthy friends of yours, isn’t it eh? Those scumbags around the corner!”
I wrenched him from the room. I discovered that his neck was so small and puny that my fingers met around the front, creating a perfect circle. I took him upstairs like that, barely aware of the fingernails that raked and tore at my hand. I kicked open his bedroom door and then kicked it shut again behind us “Time for lessons,” I told him. “You’re a constant fucking thorn in my side, you know that?” I peered into his bright red face, as it seemed to swell and distort right before my eyes. “Has that angry defiant look gone yet, has it?” I peered into his eyes but all I could see was bulging eyeballs and bloodshot whites. I threw a fist into his stomach and right away his legs went, and the air whooshed right out of him like a balloon being deflated, but I didn’t let him fall, I held him up by the neck. “I better teach you the rules so you don’t forget this time. I’ll teach you how to behave. I’ll teach you how to be a good boy, eh? That’s what you’ll be when I’m done, you got that you little shit stain?” I pulled my fist back again, and let him have it a second time. I let him drop, and he hit the floor and curled right up, moaning, gasping, sucking in huge gusts of air.
I found a cigarette while the boy found his breath, and lit it up and just smoked it calmly for a few moments while I watched him. He coughed, over and over, and wrapped an arm around his body, while his other hand rubbed at his neck. How are you going to get out of this now, I wanted to ask him, what’s your plan? His chest was heaving in and out. I felt all of the power and control seeping through me and I inhaled his fear, finally, sucked it right up. I smoked, and examined the target for a moment, the cigarette pinched between my teeth, and then I aimed a kick between his shoulder blades and sent the little fucker right across the room. “I’ll break you if I’m not careful,” I mused and walked over to him. He was by the window, moaning and shaking. “Not so tough now are you eh?” I asked him and kicked him in the arse. “Not such a big man now!”
What I discovered was pain has many different levels, as does hate.
I also discovered that fear is worse than pain, far, far worse. I remembered this from before and tried to tell myself again. Pain is just pain, I said inside my own head while my body was being taken apart on the outside. Don’t let him take you apart on the inside. What? I don’t know, just don’t let him, don’t let him.
I tried to stay out of it. This was a scene I wanted no part of. I wasn’t there if I didn’t want to be, and this was not really happening to me, but was a dream, or a thought, or an imagining. I tried to curl up safe and untouched in the darkness of my own mind, while the different levels of pain played out their symphony all over my body. Pain was a warning bell I told myself. It was what it was. Like stubbing your toe, or falling over, or nicking yourself with a knife. It was just your body telling you that something was wrong. My body was screaming at me, trying to get my attention. That was good. The pain blocked out the fear, and that was good, because the fear was worse, the fear became you and consumed you and then you didn’t even want to live anymore.
I was on the floor, and he was still kicking the shit out of me. At times he seemed demented with it. Like an animal. I caught glimpses of his snarling sweaty face, his rolling balls of eyes, his gritted teeth, and I thought he’s gonna kill me, and that’s it, that’s how it all ends, before it ever really begun, and I haven’t even got any fucking music on. I would have liked to die to some music, at least. I would have liked that. Then he would slow right down, and that was worse. He took his time about it. Thought about where to kick me, and I guess there was a logic behind that, fuck knows. He walked around me in circles, smoking and flicking his ash at me. When he had sucked the life out of his smoke, he crouched down next to me, lifted up my t-shirt and stubbed it out on my ribs. I howled into the carpet then, tears flooding my eyes and soaking my cheeks. I screamed and I shrieked a promise to him inside my own head, one day I will fucking kill you, I will get you back I will kill you!
He’d lost the plot, gone insane, gone mental. Was he ever going to stop? My face pressed into the carpet, I wondered if I would die there. I thought, I am fourteen years old and I’m going to die like this, on my bedroom floor… I helplessly considered my organs rupturing and exploding within me. I could almost imagine my liver, my heart, my kidneys all under attack with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.
Howard was muttering away. Something about me being a good boy now, about never messing with him again. I closed my eyes against the floor, took another kick to the ribs and thought no mate, I won’t mess with you, I will just fucking kill you…Still, his voice droned on, eerily pleasant and easy going now. He picked me up then, scooped me up from the floor with his meaty arms and dropped me onto my bed. For some reason, I felt even more helpless there, exposed and vulnerable, and there was something so sedate and planned about all of it, something that made me want to cry out, to rebel and reject it. But I was choked up, I was wound up so tight with layers of pain, one piled on top of the next and nowhere for it to go. “Do what you’re told and everything will be fine,” he was telling me from above. “Fuck me off, do it wrong, and I will punish you. Easy. Simple.”
I was on my front. I coughed and turned my head to see him unbuckling his belt and pulling it free from the loops of his jeans. I closed my eyes when the first strike came. He put his foot on my shoulders to keep me down. There was nowhere to go. There was nothing to say. There just came slices of sharp, needling pain, the kind that takes your breath away from you and makes you feel as cold as ice. He panted with the exertion of each flick of the belt. “This will sort you out!” he was raging from above. “Fucking little shit stain! You won’t fuck with me after this!”
He was right and he was wrong.
I’ll tell you something though. There is pain, and there is bad pain, and there is pain that makes you cry and scream, and there is pain that you actually wish would just kill you so it will be over, and then there is pain that breaks you. I felt it collapse inside of me if you want to know the truth. My fight, my rebellion, my fuck you, all of it, the whole lot. It was like a stack of cards being swept to the floor. It was like a brick wall tumbling slowly down. I’d thought it was impossible to feel any more pain, but I was wrong. This built a whole new layer on top of the rest, and I couldn’t take it. I would have done anything for it to stop, for it to go away. I cried and sobbed and screamed into my duvet. My back was on fire. I was crying and mumbling and drooling and begging him to stop. He did stop then. The belt dropped onto me, and lay there, like a dead hot snake, and I sensed him leaning over me again, examining what he saw. I tried to tell him. I tried to let him know what he had done. I opened my mouth and wanted to tell him okay, he had won, I was down, I was beaten, but my throat was clogged up with fear and blood and all that came out was thick coughing. My mouth felt full of it, and my nostrils too, struggling to work.
I was trying to nod at him, trying to tell him to stop, trying to tell him whatever the fuck he wanted to hear. He leaedt down close to me and took my face in his hands and pulled me around to see him. His eyes were slits in his face. His mouth turned down. He did not seem happy, or anything. Just still and calm, and then he brought his other hand up, balled it into a fist and pressed it against my cheek. I stared into his eyes, desperate to understand what I saw there, what he was. I wondered if I was staring into the eyes of a devil, of something inhuman and evil, and in the horror of it all I felt my bladder let go, and I felt the warmth of urine spreading out from my crotch.
He rolled his fist across my face, from my cheek up to my eye socket, and from my eye down to my nose, and chin. His expression was pensive, wondering. Then his eyes widened in sudden inexplicable excitement, and his tongue shot out the corner of his mouth, as he seized upon one of the tears that fell from my eye. He pressed his thumb hard into the wet trail it left, as if checking it was what he thought it was. And then his hand fell away quickly and he stood back, and I watched him through swollen eyes and saw his face change yet again. I thought I saw just a tiny flicker of guilt, or alarm as he stepped back from me and pointed his finger. “Hope you’ve learnt your lesson,” he said to me, his chest rising and falling as he spoke. “You’ll do everything you can to stay on my good side now won’t you eh? You’re gonna’ do it now, aren’t you? You’re gonna’ be good?” He waited for an answer so I blinked and nodded. “Good,” he said, and he did look pleased, you know, like this was a job well done. He even rubbed his hands together and cracked his knuckles. “Good. You can help me get the house nice and clean for your mum, and you can start coming over the club to help out, earn yourself some money, what about that eh? Sound good? And no more hanging about with those scummy kids. You might find they’re not so keen to be mates with you after today anyway. Sorted them out too I have. But I warned you didn’t I? I warned all of you not to mess with me.”
I felt a rising scrambling panic in my chest then, and the tears were coming thick and fast, and I wanted to ask him what, what had he done? What the fuck had he done to them? I remembered the police car, and the wail of sirens when I had been hiding in the lounge, and the strange man, and Jake at the door, and all of it weighed me down, pressed me right down into the bed. I truly felt like I would never get up again, never feel the surface of the earth beneath my feet again. I felt like I was done. I was over. Howard nodded at me, pursed his lips and left my room, closing the door softly behind him.
I listened, my breath held like a prisoner within my throat as his footsteps continued down the stairs. I heard the TV go on in the lounge, and within seconds he was laughing and cheering down there to some wrestling match he had recorded. I could hear kids outside on their bikes, screeching and laughing, skidding around the close, calling out to each other in the sunshine. Doing circuits, I thought, around and around, so that their mums could still see them from the window. Everything out there remained bright and friendly and normal. I moved onto my side, relieving the pressure on my back, and I lifted a shaking hand to wipe at my face, but it seemed pointless. I was covered in blood and sweat and snot and tears. I was cocooned in a tight blanket of pain and shock. The fear was spreading through me now, as the shock kicked in. It careered through me like some kind of disease, like something rotting me from the inside. I didn’t know what to do, but I guessed that was fine, because there was nothing I could do. I could barely move.
I knew what he had done, and why. He had filled my body with pain. So much pain that it blotted everything else out. It became the winner, the victor. My head, my heart, my soul was all full of it. Pain and fear spinning in circles, endlessly. When I look back now, I can see exactly why he did it, and I can see how it worked. There is only so much you can take, you see. Only so much you can take before you’ll do anything and become anyone just to make it stop. I felt myself falling to pieces on that bed, and I cried for me and I cried for my friends, and I felt like a dirty little shit who had no right to feel anything, and the feeling only made me cry harder.
I fell asleep, or I fell unconscious, I am not sure which. I woke up at one point, and it was dark, and I wondered if Howard had gone to the club, and I wondered if I could escape, or call someone, but when I tried to move my body screamed at me to stop. I moaned into my hands, as all the deep and shaking layers of pain awakened within me. All I could do was gently wrestle my duvet over my head and bury myself in the darkness. I thought to myself, I am lying here covered in blood and piss, and I can’t do anything about it. Michaels jeans clung to my thighs, drenched in stale urine. I felt cold with disgust.
The next time I woke up, it was morning, and I could hear Howard downstairs on the phone. I pushed the duvet away from my head and strained my ears to listen. “He won’t make it in all week,” he was saying to someone. “Probably not next week either, going by the state of him….Yeah, he’s seen the doctor. It’s all superficial to be honest, nothing broken, but you know, a lot of discomfort….Lucky he didn’t kill himself really, kids eh?” There was a long silence, and all I could hear then was my own rasping, congested breathing. “Oh yeah, no problem, I’ll call in later and pick up any work…Ah yes, yes, we have spoken to him about walking out on Friday. I know. I know, skating on thin ice eh?…Okay. Okay, no problem, thank you Mr James…bye now.”
I blinked my shock and outrage. I felt a tiny shiver of helpless fury and frustration. The stinking repulsive liar.