To everyone’s surprise, not least of all my own, I made it to the end of that week without missing a single day of school. It was hard, but made easier by the force of Michael and Lucy, propelling me forward. By Friday though, my will was rapidly fading. The daily walk to and fro to school made me think about hamsters, running on the wheels in their cage. They think they’re going to get somewhere, they think they are going to get out, but they’re not, and they don’t realize they are trapped forever. Treadmill, I would think, as I wandered the corridors of school, treadmill. So I went through the motions like the rest of them did, and I wondered if any of them knew that all they were really doing was toeing the line, obeying the rules. I considered the future they said lay ahead of us with a cold kind of detachment, viewing the day that school became employment, as just the jump from one treadmill to the next. They all thought they would be free, but they wouldn’t be. I found myself staring around at people, wherever I saw them. Were they happy, I wondered? I watched the schoolchildren dutifully following the rules that would lead them into a decent adult life, and I watched the adults that passed us by, driving off to work in their small cars with their suits on. Were they happy about it? Or were they just being good? That was what they were doing, I thought when I watched them; they were being good, staying in line, doing everything the way they were meant to.
It made me question whether Howard was actually doing me a warped kind of favour, by encouraging me to stick to the rules and be a good boy. It would serve me well in later life, I reasoned, as I trudged back and forth to school that week, with my head hanging low and my eyes burning into the ground. I would know what to do when the time came. I started thinking about the people who didn’t toe the line, the people who skirted around the edges of it all, ducking and diving, running and hiding. People like Jaime Lawler with his shifty eyes the colour of the sea on a grey and dismal day. He scurried around town with his cap pulled low, friends with everyone, yet trusted by no one. “See you Friday mate,” he said to me one day, as we passed him on the street on the way to school. I felt the weight of Michael’s stare on my back then. Jaime Lawler was the scourge of the town, I realized, a hunched up figure selling his wares in back alleys and teenage bedrooms.
Friday night loomed its head; something I both feared and desired. Michael did not want me to go back to the club. “Sneak around to us,” he kept pleading. “We’ll stay in and let Anthony cook for us, he’s really good!” I tried to explain to him that Howard expected me at the club, that it was part of the chores he expected me to do, and I couldn’t just not go, not without a massive amount of fuss.
“I can’t piss him off,” I said, seeing the regret and the disappointment in Mike’s eyes and hating myself for it. “I better not rock the boat.” I didn’t tell him the real truth though; that as much as I trembled at the thought of going back to the club with Howard, I was excited by it as well. Maybe it had something to do with the mind-numbing and soul destroying week I had just endured at school. The thought of another week like that made me shudder. The pointing and the whispering, and the giggles that followed me wherever I walked. The wary look in the teachers’ eyes. The strange and uncomfortable feeling of a pen between my fingers.
So I went. I ran down the stairs when he yelled for me. I caught a glimpse of my mother asleep on the sofa. “Is she alright?” I asked him as he steered me through the front door and out into the night. “She’s always asleep.”
“Migraines,” he grunted in reply. “Doctor gave her some stronger stuff for them.”
We drove to the club in total silence. I sensed a dark atmosphere that made my skin crawl with goosebumps. He stared down the road with hooded eyes and rigid shoulders. There had been arguments on and off in the week. I knew some of it was work related, because I had heard him shouting down the phone at people. But some of it was between my mother and him. Slamming doors, and my mother in tears, and my name, floating about between them.
Inside the club, I moved quickly away from him and approached the DJ as he was setting up, with a few suggestions for later in the night. “Just try it,” I told him. “Try I Am The Resurrection later in the night and they’ll go mental for it, I promise you.”
The young man offered me a familiar roll of the eyes. “You should get a job collecting glasses at Chaos, in Belfield Park,” he told me.
“Kind of club that plays the music you like,” he said wearily.
I retreated to my duties as the club began to fill up. The words rolled around and around inside my head, making me smile and nod. Kind of club plays the music I like. Oh my god. I had never even entertained the idea that such places existed! I slipped quickly and easily back into the routine of the club. The horrors of last weekend seemed a long way away from me then. I moved around the club, collecting glasses, enjoying the way I felt just a little bit older, just a little bit taller than I had done all week at school. Here, no one knew me, so no one was pointing or whispering. Here, I was just a kid who had a cool job collecting glasses in a nightclub.
Towards the end of the night, I was perched up on a stool at the bar, stack of pint glasses resting on it behind me, and my feet swinging just inches away from the floor. I was taking a short break, watching the crowd of drunken people as they swayed and weaved on the dance floor, and I was in a world of my own until I heard the DJ make an announcement on his mike. “This is for the annoying kid who collects your glasses,” he said dryly. “He reckons you’ll all love it.” I sat up straight, filled with a sudden awe and excitement as he started playing The Stone Roses song I had requested. I thought, they’ve never played the Roses here before! This is an education for some of these people! The crowd were drunk enough to react wildly to anything, and they seized the opportunity to jump and push, spilling drinks and banging heads. I was just smiling from ear to ear. I knew all of the words and sang along. People looked my way and whooped and hooted and held up their drinks to me. It was amazing. I felt amazing. And it was a fucking good song. I was singing along, drumming my heels against the bar, and tapping my hands against my knees when I felt the shadow fall over me.
Howard bumped against me and stayed there, arms crossed rigidly over his puffed out chest, his expression full of scorn. “Look at them going mental,” he sneered, his top lip curling up. “Did you pick this then?”
I nodded. “Been asking him for ages.”
“This is not a fucking rock club you know,” he said, his voice growing tight with the anger I could see filling up his face. “I’ll have a bloody riot on my hands in a minute!”
“They like it,” I tried pointing out, with a weak shrug. “The Stone Roses are still really popular.”
“Only to people like you.”
“They seem to like it too,” I said, and nodded back at the crowd.
Howard was silent then. I felt myself getting trapped in it, as it drew out, longer and longer, dripping with promises. I looked away from him, and could still feel his eyes burning into me, just staring and staring and staring, saying nothing and yet telling me everything. I fidgeted nervously on the stool, and then finally I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I slipped down from it, picked up the glasses and slunk off to the kitchen with them.
It was a bad move. He followed me. “Don’t you just walk off when I’m talking to you,” his indignant voice warned me from behind. “You should know better than that.” I was in the kitchen, and my stomach dropped and my hands began to tremble when he joined me there, slamming the door behind him. Fuck, I thought. It was the only word that filled my head. Fuck, fuck, fuck! I tried to remain calm as the blind panic swamped me. I put the plug in and turned on the taps, and squirted washing up liquid into the sink.
“I thought you’d finished,” I said.
“You’re not sorry. I think you need reminding whose club this is, smart arse little prick thinking you can tell my DJ what to play!” He stepped closer to me at the sink, crossing his arms again. My nostrils twitched as the air grew thicker around me. I could smell both whiskey and rage spilling from his pores. “I think you need reminding who the boss is.”
I swirled a limp hand in the water to froth up the bubbles. “No I don’t.” Steam rose up in front of my face. My stomach was on fire with the pain of fear. I was aware of every single hardening muscle in my body as he stepped closer again and placed his hands down onto his hips.
“You know you really piss me off,” he said in a low, soft, snarl. “All week you’ve been doing my fucking head in.” I kept quiet, waiting for him to tell me why exactly. “Got your mother in my ear, prattling on about how wonderful you are, just for going to fucking school like you’re meant to! She thinks the sun shines out your bloody arse for it! Fucking Saint Danny is it now eh? Mister goody two shoes eh? Now I’ve got to watch you try to take over my club! Getting the DJ to play shit to aggravate the punters!” He was winding himself up, I could feel it. I licked my lips slowly. I wanted to believe there was a way out of this, but I could feel it coming from him, pulsing like a heartbeat; the desire for violence.
“Okay,” I said. “I won’t do it again then. I won’t ask for any songs. You didn’t mind before, that’s all.”
“I mind now.”
“Okay then.” I shrugged a little and braved a look at the ghastly face that was leering closer and closer to mine, and I could see the rage making his small eyes bulbous in their sockets, and the ropey veins bulging in his neck. “Maybe I better stop coming,” I said then. “If I get on your nerves so much.”
“Yeah,” I said, and my throat was like sandpaper. “I mean, I could get a job somewhere else, couldn’t I?”
“Right little smart arse tonight aren’t you eh?” he said then, and I saw that I could never win. That whatever I said, or didn’t say, would be taken as defiance when he was in this kind of mood. “Got a lot to say for yourself eh? That right? When I thought I told you not to speak unless I asked you to.” I didn’t answer him. I stared back at the water and waited. “Right little mummy’s boy you been all week,” he drawled on. “Know exactly what you’re doing, you know?”
“Being all sweetness and light, mummy’s little golden boy, when we all know what a crock of shit that is! She doesn’t know the half of it eh? She doesn’t even know what a fuck up her precious son is, does she?”
I kept my eyes on the water. I could feel something rising within my chest, something I had not felt for a long, long time. “I’m confused,” I shrugged at him. “I thought you wanted me to go to school, to get the truants people off her back. Thought that’s what you wanted. I did what you said, remember? I didn’t tell them about your drug dealing friend and I went to school all week.” I flicked my glance up to meet his again, and I could almost see the blood pooling in anger behind his eyes, but the thing in my chest, I knew what it was now, and I knew that I had every fucking right to feel it, anger and pure cold hate. “I thought that’s what you wanted me to do,” I said again, staring at him.
“I don’t give a shit what you do!” he retorted, spit spraying from his lips.
“Well you obviously do!” I cried back at him. I immediately bit my lip and bit it hard. I stared into his bloodshot eyes. I shook my head at him and resisted the urge to smile in bitter amusement. “I can’t win. You were angry with me for skipping school and getting mum in a mess, now you’re angry at me for going to school, because she’s pleased with me? So I can’t ever win can I?” I tore my eyes from his and looked back into the sink. It was full to the brim, so I turned off the taps and began to lower the glasses into the water. I pressed my teeth down upon my lower lip. I’d said too much, and I knew it. Howard was frighteningly silent beside me, and I could hear his angry breath wheezing in and out between his teeth as he stared at me.
I froze when the hand fell onto my neck. There was the automatic urge to shake it off, to recoil away from something which stained and possessed me. But my body reacted by turning to stone, my hands frozen claws beneath the water, my feet planted to the sticky floor tiles. The hand rested on my neck like a dead thing. And then when it moved, it moved sluggishly, exploring my muscles as they trembled, intensifying the pressure slowly. The thumb dug into the front of my throat, nestling in viciously beneath my adams apple, like a worm trying to burrow into a hole, while the thick fingers crept around to the back, making their mark, constricting the air flow. My eyes watered and my vision blurred on the rims of the pint glasses as they bobbed in the water. “That hurts,” I whispered and to this Howard chuckled very gently.
“Good. Anything to shut you up.”
“Why don’t you leave me alone?” I winced under the pressure.
“Because I don’t want to. Because you piss me off. You get on my nerves. You make me angry.”
“How the fuck do you think I feel about you?”
His grip tightened like a bracelet of cold steel. I felt the air flow stop, and my hands flew out from the water, gripping and grasping at the vice that held me. The pain was immense, shooting agony through my nerves. I tried to whip from side to side, I tried to duck down, pull away, anything to escape as he crushed down on my windpipe. The grip relaxed as suddenly as it had tightened, and he was shaking with uncontrollable laughter next to me. My eyes ran with water, and the hand remained on my neck, holding me in place. This time the hand moved against my hot skin, pressing into it, his fingers pushing up my neck and underneath my hair, before sliding back down again, spreading out across my shoulder blades. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t live with it, I wanted to die, and I wanted to kill him, and I never wanted to breathe the same air as him again, so I made a sound of pure disgust and tried to pull away from him. The hand gripped my hair again, closed like a claw around my entire skull, and then suddenly the basin of water was flying up towards my face.
As I went down into the water, I felt the glasses trying to make room for me, rolling and bumping against each other, and my forehead cracked straight into one, and another smashed into my nose and cheek. Hot water flooded my nostrils, as I struggled wildly, my hands scraping and tearing at the hand that kept me there. He held me under the water long enough for me to start to think he was serious, for me to start to fear this was it, this was how he did it, this was how he finished me off. Not by beating me, not by cutting me up, but by drowning me in a sink full of pint glasses. Pure and utter terror filled my brain and my soul and every fibre of my physical body, and then he yanked me backwards by my hair, and hurled me away, down onto the kitchen floor.
My back hit the wall, and I threw up violently between my legs, coughing and gasping for air, my belly heaving and tossing up soapy water. I was amazed and horrified, and yet again reminded of how small and helpless I always was, and how there was never any way out. He stood over me, his legs spread and his eyes dancing with laughter. I pushed back my soaked hair and glared up at him. “You’re fucking insane!” I told him.
“Hey, maybe,” he replied with a shrug. He appeared calmer already, his stance relaxed, his smile smug. The red had seeped away from his face. “You just remember to keep a polite tongue in your head, you just remember who the boss is around here. Or every now and then I will have to remind you.”
“Just you remember to look over your shoulder!” I hissed back at him, wiping my face with my hands. Howard raised his eyebrows at me and squatted down.
“Oh yeah? What is that supposed to mean little man?”
“One day,” I panted, as hatred hurtled through me, cold and sharp. “One day I’ll be big enough. That’s all you sick son-of-a-bitch…one day I’ll surprise you with a fucking knife in the eye, how would you like that?” I stared into his eyes, and I meant it, I meant every word. I even looked around the kitchen for a knife. I wanted one and I wanted one badly.
His face remained calm, and mildly amused. He clicked his tongue and shook his head at me sadly. “I do sometimes wonder, what exactly it will take to get that smart tongue out your head? And that fucking arrogant look off your face? Eh? I do wonder that sometimes, you know. When I think I’ve finally got you all in line, and you’re being a good boy like you’re supposed to be, you go and show me that look in your eye again! Like right now! Makes me want to stamp on your face.”
“Go on then,” I challenged him, refusing to flinch. “Do it! Do whatever you like to me. Then maybe I’ll go straight to the police and tell them who did it!”
Howard simply laughed at me. He dropped his head back a little way, closed his eyes briefly and let steady laughter roll from him. Then his eyes snapped open and were back on mine, and he lashed out, striking me across the face and knocking me back into the wall. I didn’t even try to get away. I just covered my head with my arms as he continued to land blows on me, one after the another, thump, thump, thump slowly and methodically. “Drive you mental yet?” he asked me in a weary tone. “Just tell me when it’s driving you mental.”
“Fuck you!” I screamed back at him, kicking out with my foot and grazing his knee. He laughed again and stood up suddenly. I was shaking with rage. I felt like a volcano starting to tremble awake. Howard cracked his knuckles and shook out his arms. “I’ll tell mum,” I said then, pushing my way up from the wall. He grinned. “I will. That’s it. I’m gonna’ tell her everything, tonight. I won’t leave her alone until she believes me.”
He yawned at me. “You’ll have a good job waking her up,” he smirked. “She’s out all night on those pills. I like her that way you know. Good and quiet. See, she’s a good girl for me, not like you. I don’t have to remind her who’s in charge. But you.” He smile was a snarl as he pointed one finger down into my face. “You. You must like it. That’s what I think. You fucking ask for it, little man.”
“I’ll tell her in the morning,” I said, my back pressed flat against the wall. His smile merely stretched upwards.
“Try it,” he said, as he turned calmly towards the closed door. “And I’ll kill her.” His smile slipped down, receding into a straight, hard line, his lips almost transparent. “Right in front of you,” he went on. “Just try it.” With that he opened the door, slipped through it and closed it softly behind him.
I shook my head at the closed door. I wondered if he expected me to carry on with the glasses, and I just knew he fucking did. I stayed where I was, just breathing, feeling the slime of soapy water and dregs of beer sliding down my back and chest beneath my t-shirt. The corner of my forehead was stinging, so I put my hand there and brought them down to examine. There it was, blood and mess strung out between my fingers. My t-shirt was soaked through, my hair dripping all over the floor. What I wanted to do then was take my own head by the hair and ram it again and again and again into the hard, tiled floor. I wanted to smash it until it fell apart in my own hands. I felt this climbing roaring agony inside my chest, a hysteria that aimed to reach the top and break through and explode. I rubbed at my cold arms and decided I was never coming back there again. I also decided that if I ever got the chance, if I ever found a way, if there was no way I would get caught, then I would do it, I would fucking kill that bastard before he killed me first.
I forced myself towards the door and tugged it open. My head was already spinning and pulsing with pain. I peered out. The hallway was narrowed by the lines of cardboard boxes containing crisps and nuts. I slid out through the door and hurried down to the end of the corridor, and emerged, blinking, back out into the hot, dark club. I pushed urgently through the crowds, the doors in sight, desperate to get out. As I neared the entrance, manned by two men who resembled bulldogs in leather jackets, I felt a hand snatching at the back of my t-shirt and I rounded in fear, my fist pulled back. Behind me was the surprised face of Jaime Lawler, holding up his hands to me. “Whoa sorry mate, didn’t mean to scare you!”
“Fuck off,” I said, and walked away. I shoved my way outside, and felt the cold shock of the night air upon my wet clothes. Jaime Lawler was at my side.
“What the fuck happened to you? You’re all wet!”
I reached out and shoved him. “I said fuck off!”
He held up his hands again, but kept walking. “Sorry! Hey, relax, it’s just me, I’m on your side mate!” I shook my head, shoved my hands deep inside my pockets and marched on. He laughed a little. “Come on, what happened? Someone shove your head down the toilet or what?”
“Just get lost!”
“Alright, alright, keep your hair on, I’m just joking mate.” He walked briskly beside me, a faint smile upon his long, pale face. “I just wanted to check if you needed anything, that’s all mate. You know, for the weekend? Got a good deal for you this time.”
“Whatever you want. What do you fancy?”
“I can do you a wrap of whizz for a fiver this time.”
I kept walking. I kept my eyes on the black pavement as it rolled beneath my stamping feet. Jamie Lawler kept up with me easily. “I can do you some downers too,” he was saying. “Take the edge off the next morning. Try it for free.”
“I haven’t got any money on me.”
“Ah that’s okay, I’ll get it off you next time I see you.” He shrugged his thin shoulders at me and stopped walking. I did too. “I trust you man,” he grinned, and nodded to an alley running between two shops. We lowered our heads and slunk over to it, wandering half way down until the walls grew so dark we could barely see eachothers faces. The streets beyond were full of the noise of the drunk, yelling and screeching their way back home. I hovered in an alley way with Jaime Lawler, my hair wet and my head leaking blood, my body shivering violently from head to toe, and I absorbed misery to take the place of the fading anger.
“Do you know a place called Chaos?” I asked him, as we made our deal. He nodded instantly.
“Yeah, in Belfield Park.”
“What’s it like?”
“It’s like a rock, or indie place, it’s alright. Cheap beer. Place is a dive. Why, you thinking of going?”
“Well let me know, I can get hold of some blinding fake I.D’s for a tenner.”
I nodded okay and walked back out of the alley alone, my unpaid for purchases stuffed deep inside my back pocket.