I walked slowly home. I didn’t know where else to go. I let myself in the back and crept silently up the stairs. As I crossed the landing, I could hear my mother snoring deeply in her room. I paused outside my own room; breathing fast, my brain pounding in my skull, my jaw tight, not allowing me to speak even if I had wanted to. I gave up anyway; I gave up before I even let myself entertain the thought of waking her. I went into my room and closed the door behind me. I stood where I was, peeled off my wet, sick splashed t-shirt and threw it to the floor. I kicked off my boots, removed the drugs from my back pocket and threw them on the bed. I pulled off my jeans and kicked them away. I climbed under my duvet in just my boxers, dragging out my little tin from under the mattress as I did. I knocked my notebook out, and watched as it thumped down to the floor, revealing the biro still tucked inside the last page I had written on. I snarled impatiently, reached down and punched it right under the bed. There was no point in any of that now, I realized angrily. All I needed now was sleep, and to get that I would need a little helping hand.
I rolled myself a little joint, and sat with my back to the wall, and my arm slung loosely around my middle. I sat and smoked, and replayed what had just happened in my head. It made me sick. Nothing was ever going to be good enough for that man. I gritted my teeth against the bad taste in my mouth. Go to school, I thought, go to school and be a good boy, then get your head shoved under water anyway. Being good and toeing the line would get me nowhere, because Howard would still give me a good kicking any time he felt like it. Why hadn’t I realized that before? Why had I been such a fucking idiot for so long? Scuttling around, living under his thumb and his rules, avoiding my friends just to avoid a beating. There were no rules, because the guy was insane, and insanity does not follow rules. Howard didn’t follow rules, did he? No, he fucking didn’t. He didn’t keep to his word, did he? No. He just enjoyed violence. That was it. That was what it came down to. All his talk about keeping me on the right path, that was bullshit, all of it was. When I thought back over what had happened in the kitchen at the club, it became obvious to me, and I didn’t know why I had not grasped it before. He liked violence. He got off on it. It was like me and the music. Music calmed me down, made me feel better, lifted me up and chilled me out. I trembled on the outside, and on the inside there was a roar of rage thudding to get out. The man was a total fucking lunatic and nothing was going to change that, nothing.
I sat there and smoked, thinking up ways to kill him. I felt detached from reality and the rules it expected us to follow. Thou shalt not kill. Well how about if someone is doing their best to kill you? Would it alright then? Would the law let me off? If they knew what he was like, what he was capable of? I thought about poisoning him. There had to be way. Maybe I would ask Anthony what he thought. We could come up with a plan, couldn’t we? Then I started to think about waiting until he had fallen asleep. Creeping into their room with a massive fuck off knife in my hands. Pulling back the covers and plunging it, right into his chest, right into his twisted black heart. I closed my eyes and then opened them again. The pot was loosening my limbs, and sending them to sleep, one by one. Drowsiness was creeping in, and my head wanted to loll forward, and my eyes wanted to shut down. I felt it all gradually growing numb within me, and didn’t feel anything anymore, not fear, or anger, or anything.
I stubbed it out, pumped the vanilla scented air freshener around the room and snuggled down under my duvet to sleep. I was just floating into oblivion when I heard him come in downstairs. He was still worked up by the sound of it. Slamming doors. Crashing into things. I closed my eyes, yanked the duvet up over my head and held my breath in the darkness. Would he come for me? Knowing mum was out cold, would he want to start again? Had he got what he wanted in that kitchen, or was his desire yet to be quenched? It seemed I was not on his agenda however, as he stormed right past my door and into his own room. I let my breath back out, slow and ragged, thinking thank fuck, thank fuck he didn’t come for more. I briefly considered sneaking downstairs and fetching a knife to keep under my pillow, just in case.
I could hear him talking then. He threw something against the wall, maybe his shoes, or something that was in his way. I heard my mum murmuring back in a thick, sleepy voice. I curled into a ball, encased in darkness. He was still talking, and she was talking back, protesting, her voice sounding high and thin, as the bed springs began to creak over the top of it. Howard started swearing at her. He sounded angry. I pressed my hands to my ears and tried to locate the entrance to sleep I had been so close to before he came home. It was then that the noises begun, and there was nothing I could do to block it out, nothing I could do to stop them entering my ears and my mind. She was moaning, he was groaning, and the thump of the headboard, the screams of the bed springs told their own story. It didn’t sound like anything nice, or fun. It sounded like an animal, taking what it needed to survive. I threw back my cover, reached out blindly for my Walkman, not knowing exactly where it was, but finding it instantly with my fingers on the desk. I yanked it into bed with me, pulled on the headphones and pressed play. I pulled the duvet back over my head, closed my eyes and tried to push it out. I concentrated on the music. It was the very song that had got me into trouble earlier. Down, down you bring me down, I hear you knocking at my door and I can’t sleep at night….I nodded along with it, squeezing my eyes shut, pushing out everything else, what was happening next door, what had happened earlier, all of it. It was just The Roses, just Ian Browns voice inside my head, and a magnificent spiralling wall of guitars and drums that went on forever, as long as I kept on rewinding it back to the start…Your face, it has no place, no room for you inside my house, I need to be alone…Don’t waste your words I don’t need anything from you, I don’t care where you’ve been or what you plan to doooooo…
The next morning I woke up with one thing, and one thing only on my mind. It was the most important thing. It propelled me from my bed and sent me scrabbling around the room for clothes to throw on. It was the most vital thing in the world. It had slammed me in the head the second my eyes had opened. The club they had told me about. The club that played the good music. We had to go. We all had to go. I knew it. I knew it would be alright, because everything is always alright when you have good music! Everything else, soapy water and pint glasses and drugs in alley ways and mothers crying, all of that would fade away, I knew it would, it would cease to exist in a place like that. It would cease to matter. If only for a while. We were going to find that club, the one that played the good music, and we were all going to go and get off our heads, and have the best night of our lives ever. We were going to remember it forever. I dressed and flew out of the house while my mother and Howard still lay snoring.
I rushed around to Mike’s and pounded on his door. He answered it, yawning widely and tugging his tatty dressing gown around himself. I flew inside, and he stopped yawning then, and his expression became tense and sober, and his nostrils worked, and his lips clamped shut and he shook his head at me as he closed the door. “You’ve got to be joking,” I heard him say. I had no idea what he meant. I didn’t care. I jumped up and down like a kid in a sweet shop.
“Hi Mike! Morning Mike! Listen to this, I’ve got the best night ever planned! You’re gonna’ love it!”
He stared at me as if I were crazy. “You know your head is cut right? What the hell’s happened?”
I had totally forgotten. I shrugged at him, and lifted my hand, raising my fingers and running them gently along the length of the cut. It was about an inch long, and thick with crusty clotted blood. I grimaced at the red smear on my fingers and shrugged at him. “I forgot about that. I’m not working at the club anymore Mike. That’s what that is.”
“So you’re not gonna’ try and tell me you fell off your bike then?” he crossed his arms and sighed at me. I smiled a little.
“No mate. It seems me going to school all week to please my mother got Howard a little wound up.” I turned and headed into the kitchen. Michael followed, shaking his head angrily, grabbing the kettle from the side and shoving it under the tap to refill it.
“Fucking bastard,” he growled. I sat down at the table. I felt okay. I felt good. It was partly being back in his house, like the old days, relaxing with the knowledge that there were no parents about to show up and look over your shoulder. And it was partly thinking about tonight, thinking about the club and good, happy times.
“Forget about it,” I told him. “Have you got any passport sized photos? We might need some.”
“Fake I.D’s,” I replied with a grin. Michael got two mugs down from the cupboard and sloshed milk into each one. “I’ve got some photos somewhere, we just need to get some done for you, then this friend of mine can sort them out for us.”
“Why’d we need them?”
“To go to a club!” I cried, the excitement flooding me again, making me feel giddy with it, making it impossible to sit still. I gripped the edge of the table with my hands and grinned like a lunatic at Michael. He stared back at me with wary eyes.
“What club? Are you okay mate? Really?”
“Yes! Definitely okay! I’m just really excited! There’s this club you see, over in Belfield Park, and it plays the music we like Michael! It plays good music!” I bit my lip and stared at him, still fidgeting and squirming while he took the information in. “It’s called Chaos,” I burst out, when he refused to join in. “Ever heard of it? We can go tonight Mike, if we get these I.D’s sorted! How cool right? A place for us? A place that plays our kind of music!”
Michael nodded in interest and then turned his back to make the teas. “Okay. Sounds like a plan. We can do that.” He placed the mugs on the table and sat down opposite me. “Sounds cool. Billy and Jake too?”
“Yes!” I cried, clapping my hands together. “Call them! Can I borrow the phone while I’m here? I’ll call this guy to sort out the I.D’s.”
“Who’s the guy?”
“Oh, that Lawler bloke. He’s okay.” I picked up my tea and blew across the surface of it. I wanted to laugh out loud. I wanted to jump up and down again. I didn’t want to think about anything bad ever again, just fun, just good times, and good friends, and good music. That was how it should be, I reasoned, that was how it should always be! “So excited,” I told him. “I can’t wait to see what they play. I am never going back to K’s again in my life. It’s diabolical the shit they play there, and what’s even more depressing are the fucked up sheep who try to dance to it! They haven’t got a clue!”
Michael nodded in vague agreement with me. “So tell me what happened with Howard,” he said. I made a noise that let him know it was a subject I did not want to be dragged back into. I glanced down the hallway, wondering where Anthony was.
“The usual, I told you. But I’m not going back there, not ever. That’s it. I can just stay out of his way now.”
“But you go to school all week and he still lays into you?” Michael shook his head in disgust and rubbed a hand against his face. “Danny, please, let’s just tell the police. Or a teacher. Someone. I’m begging you mate.”
“Can’t,” I shook my head and sipped my tea. His fist thumped onto the table top.
“Why not? Why the fuck not Danny? You’re just gonna’ keep letting him get away with it? He won’t stop, no matter what you think. And do you know what I’m really scared about?” I met his eyes and shook my head slowly. “That he’ll go too far and fucking kill you one day…you only have to look at the size of him, the size of you…That’s what scares me mate. Do you think I want to go to your fucking funeral knowing I could have done something to stop it?” He was looking at me in this terribly pained way that was almost more than I could stand. I wanted to tell him again about the music. I wanted to start a list of songs I was hoping to hear there. I was already wondering if their D.J took requests.
“Mike,” I put my tea down and sighed at him. “It’s not that simple and you know it. So please. Don’t go on.”
Michael shook his head at me, and leaned across the table. He looked pale, I thought then, like he hadn’t been sleeping well recently. “Tell your mum then,” he pleaded. “I’ll come with you. We’ll wait until he goes out, and we’ll go and tell her together. Tell her everything.” I scratched my head and tried to think of a way to explain to him what my mother had been like lately.
“She’s not herself,” I told him slowly. “Something is wrong with her. And Mike, I did tell her once, I told her what he’d done and she didn’t believe me then. I don’t see why she would believe me now, all this time later.”
“The police,” Michael said again, pleadingly now. I sighed in frustration.
“Mike, we can’t trust them. Look what happened to Anthony, and we still don’t know exactly who was involved in that. You have no idea what he’s capable of…I mean…” I trailed off for a moment, my mind momentarily dragging me back to the sink full of murky glasses and bubbles, the rush of water up my nostrils. “If anything else happens to you or Anthony, I would never forgive myself Michael. And I’d end up in care or something, because my mum’s in no fit state to take care of us both. Worse things happen there Mike. They really do.”
Michaels lips trembled slightly as he pressed them together. “Stay with us,” he said. I felt a little annoyed with him, as the last of my excitement plummeted to the floor.
“Not safe,” I told him adamantly. “And if he goes to prison, I’d be dead anyway. He’s got people everywhere, he said. They’d get me, or he would when he got out. No. I’ve got a better plan.” Michael’s eyes widened and he waited for me to explain. I licked my lips and considered telling him the thoughts that had consumed me last night. Thoughts of poison, and knives, and blows to the back of the head. “Wait ‘til I’m sixteen and just move out. They won’t stop me, and if they do I’ll just run away.” I grinned at him then, hoping to raise his spirits. “Me and you could get like a bed-sit together or something! And jobs.”
To my relief Michael grinned back at me, and his shoulder relaxed slightly. “That would be so cool.”
“Course it would.” I slurped down the rest of my tea and got up from the table. “Come on, we need to sort out these I.D’s and talk to Billy and Jake. Tonight is going to be the best fucking night ever Michael. I am telling you.”
By the afternoon, the plan was in action and they were all on board, and as excited as I was. We would all do the usual; tell our parents we were sleeping at Billy’s and Billy would tell his he was staying at Michael’s. We would sleep at Michael’s afterwards, in order to dissect what I hoped would be the best night of our lives so far. I got ready up in my room, taking painstaking care over my choice of clothes. I desperately wanted to wear one of my Nirvana t-shirts, but I also wanted to wear the Oasis one I had bought recently, and then there was my Clash one, my Jim Morrison one. I wanted to look like me, like I hadn’t tried too hard, but I also wanted to make a statement about who I was, and what I lived for. In the end I went for Nirvana, tipping Kurt a wink as I pulled it down over my head. I had this fluttering restless sensation in my gut, which I supposed was excitement, although it was hard to tell when it was accompanied with the usual knot of dread I carried around with me. I dragged out my tin and plucked out the wrap of speed I had got from Jaime. I stared at it for a while, trying to decide whether to take some now or later. Offer some to Michael again, or keep it to myself? Unable to make my mind up, I stuffed it into my back pocket along with the pills I planned on taking towards the end of the night.
I left my room and crept lightly down the stairs. I was in the hallway, tying up my boot laces when I heard the creak of the leather sofa, and the grunt that was unmistakably Howards. “Oi, where d’you think you’re going?” his voice called out. I glanced nervously up the stairs. I knew mum was in bed yet again with another migraine. Why the fuck wasn’t he at the club? That knot of fear was coming to life again, clenching and unclenching painfully inside my stomach and I knew why. “Hey!” his voice boomed out, making me jump. “I’m talking to you!”
I had my laces tied, I reached out for the door handle, but he was already behind me, his shadow darkening the door, his bulk filling the space behind me, and as I fumbled with the catch and opened the door a crack, his hand shot out, slamming it shut again. His large, sneering face loomed over my shoulder, his mouth rasping whiskey breath into my ear. I kept my eyes on the door, and my hand on the catch. “Don’t you fucking try and walk out when I’m talking to you.”
“I’m going to Billy’s,” I said stiffly. “Mum knows. She said I could.” I attempted to open the door again, but he kept his hand there, holding it shut.
“I don’t think so. I think you can stay here and keep me company. You’ve given me a bad headache you know. I’ve taken the night off work because of you. I’ve had to pay the bar staff extra to collect the glasses. You’ve dumped me right in it!”
I blinked and shook my head, incredulous at the audacity of the man. “What do you expect? I’m not working for you after what you did last night! I don’t wanna’ be anywhere near you.”
“You’re staying in,” he replied, his hot breath coating my cheek. “You’ll do as I tell you.”
“No.” I shook my head, my eyes still fixed on the door. “You got no right. You can’t stop me.”
“We’ll see about that,” he said, and plunged a fist into my side. I doubled up instantly, choking on the pain. It was sickening, rocketing throughout my body from the point of impact. I shook my head, desperately. Please don’t, I thought, please don’t try and stop me going there. I needed to go there, I had to go there, because what else was there? What else?
“Stop it,” I tried to tell him, forcing the words up with a cough. He grabbed my arm, turned me around and held me back against the door. “What have I ever done to you?” I looked into his eyes and asked him. I tried to see, I tried to find the answer there, I tried to search his eyes for pity, or remorse, for anything remotely human, but all I could see was the burning glint in his eyes. And I could feel it pulsing from him again, the waves of violent intent, the urge he was compelled to satisfy.
“You exist for one thing,” he informed me. “And you’re getting out of line again. This is my house, and my rules, and if I say you’re not going out, then you’re not fucking going out!”
I stared back at him, breathless with pain, tight-lipped with anger. I could feel it stirring again within me, the blood pumping faster and harder through my veins, and I liked it and I wanted it. I wanted to kick him in the balls again, and then stamp on them for good measure. I wanted to be able to do something to him that would make him stop, and pause, next time he wanted to take a shot at me. Something that would rein him in, make him think twice. There was no way he was stopping me going out. No fucking way. If we had to fight to the death in the hallway, then so be it. “You are pure fucking evil,” I told him then, my mouth moving upwards into a parody of a smile. “You know that? Evil. I don’t know how you even sleep at night. I hate you more than you will ever know, and if I ever get the chance, I would fucking kill you in a second!”
He rocked back in his heels, his small eyes just gleaming slits in his vast and leering face. He moved them slowly up and down my sagging body, and then he struck again, his fist shooting into the pit of my belly. I crumpled in half, gasping and grunting. He laughed, and I went down, onto my knees, my stomach exploding inside of me. “You won’t ever get the chance you little shit stain, it’ll be killing you and don’t you ever forget it!” My head was hanging down, my hair all over my face, my body crippled with the blows, when his foot lashed out, catching me in the face and sending me back into the door with a dull thud.
“Mum!” I screamed out then, somehow finding the energy within me to bellow it out. I glanced through my hair, saw the sudden panic in his eyes, and opened my mouth again. “Mum! Mum, help, help!” I had bought myself time, so I turned to the door, clawing at it and clinging to it. There was the unmistakable sound of the bedsprings creaking in their room. Howard looked uncertain, licking his lips rapidly and staring from me, up to the landing, and back to me. His nostrils were twitching, his big chest jerking up and down as his breath whooshed in and out of them. I hung onto the door handle and used it to pull myself back up. My back now turned to him, I didn’t waste any more time, I didn’t look back at him, I just scrambled desperately with the catch, got it open, made a gap big enough for me to squeeze through, and I was out. The cold night air slapped my face, taking my breath from me once again. I opened my mouth, sucked it in and stumbled forward.
Sharp spikes of pain made me wince and cry out, but I was laughing as I ran, as I forced my feet to move, one after the other. I ran to Michael’s house and hammered on it like a madman. I looked over my shoulder just once then, half expecting to see Howard’s raging face behind mine, but he was not there. He had not followed. Anthony wrenched the door open in a panic and I nearly fell in over the doorstep. I bundled myself in and he closed the door and examined me in shock. “Danny? What the hell?”
Michael appeared in the kitchen doorway, holding an open can of lager and frowning in surprise and concern. “Oh my god!” he cried, when he saw me. I could feel the wetness on my top lip, so I pressed a hand to it, and stared blankly at the blood on my fingers. “What now? For fucks sake!”
I couldn’t speak for a moment. My gut was twisted and writhing in pain, so I leaned against the closed door and just breathed and grinned at them. Pain was okay, I kept telling myself, it’s just data, it’s just information being sent to your brain, it won’t kill me. “I’m okay,” I told them when I had the breath to.
“You’re not fucking okay!” Anthony exploded, stepping towards me and lifting up my chin. “Did that fucker just do this? Mike get some tissues or something! Did that bastard do this, Danny? Jesus Christ!”
I moved my face from his hand. “He tried to stop me coming out,” I explained. “But it’s okay, I made it look! We can go!” They looked at each other darkly. Michael came up the hall, ducked into the downstairs toilet and came back out with a clutch of toilet paper in his hand. He passed it to me and I held it to my nose and lip.
“Last night as well,” Michael said then, his dark eyes moving from me to Anthony. “He laid into him at the club, cut his head.” Anthony’s face was creased in concern. He reached out and pushed my hair to one side, wincing when he saw the size of the cut to my forehead.
“Well that’s fucking it!” he cried then, turning around and kicking the nearest thing to him, which happened to be the door I was leaning against. He ploughed his hands back through his short dark hair. “Fucking bastard! Fuck!”
I laughed a little. I don’t know why. I just felt like it. I rubbed the tissues into my nose until the blood was all mopped up. “He’s off on one,” I remarked. “Dunno why. He’s been drinking too. Maybe things are going tits up for him, I dunno.” Anthony shook his head at me, his eyes wide and black with anger.
“I’m going over there,” he said flatly. “I’m going over there to teach him a lesson. See if he’d like to pick a fight with me!”
I put my hand to his chest. “No. Don’t. Not now. Not tonight.”
“This can’t go on Danny,” he told me seriously. “We have to do something mate. I’m serious.”
“Just not tonight,” I begged him, looking to Michael for help. “Please not tonight. We’re going out remember? To the club that plays the good music?”
“You can still go,” Anthony replied. “I’ll rip his head off while you’re gone.”
“Not tonight,” I said again, firmer this time. I nodded at Michael and put my hand over the door knob. “We’ve got to go Mike yeah? Meet the others? It’s important, right?”
Michael came to the door and pushed his unfinished lager into Anthony’s hands. “Don’t do anything stupid,” he said to him, anxiously. “Promise me you won’t go over there, while we’re gone? Promise me. I don’t want you back in jail again.”
I watched Anthony’s shoulders falling slowly in defeat. He sighed and rolled his eyes and shook his head all at once, as we pulled open to the door to leave. “Alright,” he agreed, but then he put his hand out and caught my shoulder. “But we talk about this seriously in the morning, agreed? We can’t let this go on any longer, alright?”
“Alright,” I grinned and told him. “See you later, okay?” We slipped out of the door and escaped into the night. Into our night. We ran, side by side, and we did not look back. We ran to where we would meet Billy and Jake out on Somerley road, to where we would hop onto the next bus that would take us into Belfield Park. I screwed up the bloodied tissue I still held in my hand and hurled it into the nearest bush, while examining my friends with wide-eyed anticipation. “This is gonna’ be the best night ever!” I promised their doubtful, shadowy faces.