Michael and I slept through Billy and Jake awaking to hangovers that sent them scuttling home the next day. We slept right through the morning, wrapped tight in delicious dreams. The music rang on inside my head. I slept with a smile upon my face. Anthony tried all morning to coax us from our slumbers, but we were too far gone, too deep down, not coming back for anyone. He just had to wait.
When I started to wake up properly, I remembered that my body was battered and that pain was a constant companion. I pushed this knowledge aside however. I listened to the music inside my head, and my feet danced at the ends of my legs. I was not in a hurry to move, or speak, or live. I just wanted to stay there, wrapped in blankets on the floor of the darkened lounge, while Sunday morning life kicked into action outside the window. Anthony stomped in and out, waving a wooden spoon about and talking about breakfast, and then lunch. Eventually he sat down and turned the TV on, keeping a watchful eye on us as we stirred slowly and reluctantly into life. The more we stirred, the more he sighed and clicked his tongue. After a while, he picked up a cushion and threw it at us. We laughed under our blankets, but this was not the effect he wanted. He got up, stood next to us and poked at Michael with his shoe. “Wakey wakey,” he was saying to us gruffly. I opened my eyes and saw his grim expression bearing down on us. He started poking at my shoulder with his shoe. I had the sudden and undeniable urge to punch his foot away. My smile faded. He looked pissed off and about to explode. “Rise and shine,” he said. “You fucking little bastards.”
Michael merely giggled, not understanding the look upon his brothers face. I understood it, and it made me feel wary. I sat up slowly, my muscles screaming into my life, as I rubbed with both hands at my sleepy face. I tested my lip with my tongue. It felt crusty and swollen. Anthony had not finished with us. He squatted down, his eyebrows raised, his face expectant and waiting. I offered him a pointless shrug. “Was a good night,” Michael was murmuring beside me. “Was an amazing, fucking night.”
I wanted to agree with him, and drag back the memories and the good feeling I had woken up with, but I was caught in the glare of Anthony’s dark eyes, and I felt the accusation lying behind them. “I ought to kick both your arses,” he told us then, his eyes flicking angrily between us. Michael sat up, frowned and yawned.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Don’t treat me like an idiot,” he snapped, shaking his head. “I know what the fuck you two did. I saw your eyes when you got in. I sat and listened to you babbling away for hours, not making any sense.” He nodded when Michael’s cheeks burnt red, and then his eyes turned on me. “And as for you sunshine, aren’t you supposed to be meeting someone down the beach? I have been trying to wake you up all morning, so don’t blame me if she’s pissed off home by now.”
I stared back at him blankly. It took a few minutes for the information and the reality to sink in, and as I stared Anthony stared back, his mouth a tight straight line, his dark eyes full of disappointment and anger. When the realisation hit me fully, it sent me lunging up from the floor, slapping a hand against my own cheek as I mumbled; “oh fuckinghell Lucy.”
There was nothing for it. I was bone tired and heavy headed, but I had to go. I pulled on my jacket and stumbled out of the front door, straight into the dazzling cruelty of the afternoon sun. I couldn’t run. My body was like wet lead and I ached all over. I felt like I’d gone twenty rounds in a boxing ring. I felt like elephants had trampled over my body during my sleep. I felt a rising rage and disgust within me. I loped and trotted and plodded mechanically towards the beach, and every now and again I would pass a wall and feel the urge to drag the back of my hand along it. Don’t ask me why. I wanted to be in bed, and that was pissing me off, but I had to find her, I had to explain.
Down on the beach, the sun was warmer on the top of my head, but the wind was fiercer, and I had to brace myself against the sprays of water and sand that whipped across the beach to batter me. She was not there. I trudged along the beach front to check the shop and the café, but they were deserted. She had gone. I lowered my shoulders in recognition of defeat, in surrender to misery, turned around and started to trudge slowly back the way I had came. The music was still pumping through my brain in a strange and distorted way. Jumbled up lyrics and melodies that tried to out run each other. I clung to it though. I played the night back over in my head, and it was either remember that, or remember the foot to my face and the blood spray, and the things that were to come.
I walked slowly and clumsily towards her house. I staggered along the road she lived on, recalling with bitter memory how Michael and I had gone up there to cut people’s lawns. How naïve we had been, I thought then, as I slipped past like a ghost. Thinking we could impress these kinds of people, with their huge houses, and their gardens the size of football pitches. I planted one foot in front of the other, slowly and deliberately. People like that, I was thinking, people like that act like they want to help you and like you, but in truth, they don’t want you anywhere fucking near them. Under the pretence of niceness, they were always searching for the cracks. The proof they needed to know they were right to distrust you in the first place. I knew it was going to be like that when I knocked upon the Chapman’s front door.
Her house had an unobstructed view of the sea and an epic, sweeping drive. I felt small and rat like as I slunk along it, towards her front door. The door was heavy and thick, and would have looked at home on a castle, or on a country manor. I lifted the brass knocker with pathetically weak hands, and let it fall again. I had to lean with one arm against the wall, my legs giving up the effort, my body feeling fluid like the sea I could hear washing in and out behind me. As I waited for a response, I glanced around. I looked at the crawling creeping flowers and plants that grew up the sides of the house and around the windows. There were window planters and borders, and shrubs, and millions of things I didn’t know the names of. I gazed around at the lawn, and at the gardener who stood watching me from the other end, gloves on, cap low, and eye blinking in the sunshine. I sighed and sensed inevitability and failure all around me, all inside me. I gave myself up to it.
Her father answered the door, dressed in casual weekend trousers and a polite short sleeved shirt. He wore these soft white shoes upon his feet, and I imagined that he had a game of golf planned for later in the day, or something. I opened my mouth and asked for Lucy, and I watched his forehead crease and crinkle into about a million little lines of despair and worry. His lips twitched and his body visibly stiffened. “I really need to see her,” I added, not even convincing myself. His mouth tightened, and he straightened his back and shoulders and looked as if he were trying to distinguish a way to speak the truth politely.
“Well she’s very upset Daniel,” he said, with this little shake of his head, when probably what he felt like doing was giving my dishevelled body a good shake.
“I was supposed to meet her,” I tried to explain sorrowfully. “I was late, because I slept in, because I was feeling ill…but that’s why, I mean, can I explain that to her please?”
He looked me up and down very quickly, and I knew what he was thinking and seeing behind his neat little spectacles. “I’ll tell her you’re here,” he said, his face nothing less than a blustering, awkward and angry mess.
I nodded and smiled and waited patiently, eyeing up the roses, as they were the only plant I knew the name of. When she came to the door, moments later, she stepped neatly outside and pulled it shut behind her. I could see right away that she had been crying, as the rims of her eyes were all red. I felt like shit because of it, but I could also see that she was angry, and I realised I had never seen her angry before. She crossed her arms tightly over her chest. She looked a bit like she had made an effort, I thought then, for some reason. She was wearing a dress, for one thing. And make-up. I wanted to groan, which would have been cruel, but I wanted to tell her that she should know I didn’t give a shit about those stupid things. She didn’t have to bother, I wanted to explain. “I waited for you,” she said then, her voice wavering slightly on the last word, letting her down a little. She took a breath and glanced away to compose herself before going on. “I waited for three hours on that beach for you. Where were you?”
“At Mike’s,” I told her, hoping the desperate look in my blue eyes would do the trick. “I was just asleep! Didn’t mean to sleep that long, but we all went out to this crazy, amazing club last night Lucy! I just slept in, and as soon as I woke up, I ran down to the beach, and then came straight here Luce.”
“It’s gone one o’clock,” she told me icily. I nodded.
“Yep, I know. Well, I know now. We had a really late night.” I offered an apologetic smile and a slight shrug of the shoulders but she was having none of it. She was silent as she ran her brown eyes up and down my shabby appearance, just as her father had done.
“You look awful,” she said to me.
“What happened to your face?”
I smiled slightly. She was pissing me off, to be honest. Being all like her stuck up dad, looking me up and down like I was a piece of dog shit on the precious green lawn. I touched a finger to my cut lip and rolled my eyes. I felt like whipping up my t-shirt and flashing her a glimpse of my black bruises, laughing in her screwed up little face and asking if she had a better reason than that to be pissed off? “Nothing,” I told her. “I fell over.”
“Where did you go?”
“This club called Chaos,” I said, starting to get a little bit excited again. “This amazing place in Belfield Park! Plays all the music we like! None of this mainstream pop shit, just decent, proper music! You have to come next time Luce, I’m serious. They didn’t play one bad song, not one.”
She was just frowning and not caring. “How did you get in? You’re not old enough.”
“Fake I.D’s,” I said. “But we didn’t even need them in the end. It was brilliant Lucy, we had the best time ever, just the most amazing night ever!”
She regarded me with still, cool eyes. “Yeah, you look like you did. Did you take that stuff again?”
The question caught me off guard. I opened my mouth, and had no idea whether to lie about it or tell the truth. I wondered why she cared, I wondered what business it was of hers? My hesitation and flustering was enough of an answer for her though. She nodded once, answering her own question and I just smiled a helpless smile. “I just wanted to have fun,” I said defensively. “Just wanted to have a really, really good night. I needed to.”
“So you can’t have fun without it? You can’t have a good time without taking that stuff? Even though it made you really ill last time? Have you completely forgotten about that Danny?”
“Course not,” I shrugged. “Listen, Lucy I just needed a good time, I’m serious, you have no idea how crap things have been lately.”
“And did you?”
“Did you enjoy your night at this club, on speed, or whatever else it was this time!” She was getting angrier by the second and I sighed, dropped my shoulders and glanced over my shoulders in a bored kind of way. I felt like backing off and leaving her to her little tantrum. Her arms tightened over her chest and her lower lip shook at me. “And how was the morning after this time?” she went on. “I’m assuming it wasn’t as terrible as last time, seeing as how you can walk by yourself and you’re not crying all over me!”
My mouth fell open in surprise and hurt. I was genuinely shocked she had hit me with that. My weak smile evaporated to nothing. “That’s not fair,” I said rigidly. “You have no idea the crap I’ve had to deal with lately, you have no fucking idea! Alright for you isn’t it? Up here with your perfect house and your perfect family! It’s not like that for everyone you know! You have no idea!” I was getting angry with her now, and it was an ugly thing. Jealously and resentment directed at the last person who deserved it. Her expression was indignant, and I felt small, and judged.
“No!” she shouted right back at me. “Because you never tell me! You don’t tell me anything at all Danny, you keep it all to yourself, whatever it is, you just want me there for company or whatever! You just expect me to there to comfort you, without ever telling me why you need it!”
I took a deep breath and looked away from her. I could see the gardener out of the corner of my eye. He had his gloved hands resting on the end of his rake. A curtain twitched in one of the front rooms. I didn’t need this shit. I was going to have worse shit than this to deal with pretty soon, and I wanted to get some sleep somewhere first. I was close to telling her to piss off, close to telling her a lot of things, but I tried to calm down, I tried to gain control of things before they spiralled out of control. “Look, I am sorry I was late, but I did go, I was just late Lucy, and I’m here now! Ran all the way I did.”
“Late,” she snapped. “Because you were too busy coming down, or whatever the hell you call it. I don’t even want to know. I think it’s pathetic if you want the truth. I think you look a total mess, and you’re screwing up your life, and it’s not worth it, not for one night of fun! And because taking it is so important to you, you missed our date.”
“Date?” I asked, not understanding. I saw the instant flash of hostility in her eyes, the anger which slipped quickly into hurt, and I took a reproachful step towards her, reaching out for her arm. She pulled away from me. Tears had sprung into her eyes.
“Well I thought it was a date,” she said, and her whole face seemed to tremble with the effort it was taking her not to cry. “But obviously I was wrong, obviously I was wrong about a lot of things, and obviously I’ve been wasting my time and making a complete idiot of myself, and you would much rather be getting off your head and lying in bed all day than being with me so….” She left the statement hanging in the air and gazed down at her shoeless feet, her teeth raking back over her quivering bottom lip.
“I wouldn’t rather do that,” I told her, sinking my hands into my pockets. “You’re not being very fair Luce. It’s only happened once…”
“Yeah, and it will happen again,” she declared with a sudden and definitive toss of her head, as she spun around and pushed open the door. “Until you sort yourself out.”
I stepped forward desperately. “I can’t do that without you!”
“Danny, I’m not going to be your counsellor or something,” she said this softly, now safely returned to the warmth of the hallway. “I just wanted to be your girlfriend, that’s all. But I don’t think that’s what you want right now.” She sniffed up her tears and closed the door on me. I found myself facing the wood again. I let out a growl and kicked it, again and again, with a rush of anger that shook through me without warning.
“Lucy! Come back and talk to me! Lucy!”
The door reopened and Mr Chapman stared down at me unhappily. His face was even more concerned and twitchy now, and I felt his middle-aged eyes running up and down me again, making me want to snarl and lash out like a cornered dog. “I just wanna’ talk to her!”
“She doesn’t want to talk to you,” he explained this calmly and firmly. “Now, I don’t know yet exactly what you’ve done to upset her so much, but I strongly suggest you go away now, and don’t come back.” He gave me a long, warning stare, and then closed the door again. I felt the rage boil over again, and kicked and punched at the door in my face.
“Well fuck you!” I heard my voice screeching back at him. “Fuck you mate! Think you’re better than me! Fuck you you fucking stuck up bastard!” I would have gone on longer, kicking and shouting at the door, but the gardener was already on his way over, marching in olive green wellingtons across the lawn, with his rake still in one hand. I gave him the finger and stormed away.
I walked back to the estate in a whirlwind of fury and self-pity. My mind was a muddle of guilt, rage and self-loathing, and my feet wanted to kick something, my hands wanted to punch something, and if someone had stepped into my way I probably would have knocked them out. I’m turning into him now, I thought in growing amazement and horror as I walked on, he’s infected me with it, and that’s what will happen, that’s what I will become. A monster. It was almost like I could feel it happening inside of me, like my soul was curling and peeling away from me, blackened and rotting, revealing something primitive and ugly beneath.
I was storming blindly past Michael’s front door, when it flung open suddenly, and Anthony appeared before me, practically jumping right into my path. He stopped me with a finger held in the air, and a dark look in his eyes. “A word,” he said, and so I stopped and stared right back at him, waiting and dreading and hating.
Anthony breathed noisily down through his nose, and as he kept the finger pointed at my face, one of his eyebrows rose on its own. “You ever give my brother that nasty dangerous shit again, and I’ll kick your fucking arse, right?”
I recoiled from him in miserable anger and shock. I swung my body around his, but paused long enough to snarl up into his face; “Oh yeah? Like to see you fucking try! You’re just like everyone else!” I stuffed my hands deep into my pockets and rushed away from him.
I couldn’t bear it. I didn’t think I could bear it, not ever. I walked in a circle, not thinking, just breathing too fast, feeling like I was about to explode one way or the other. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t go anywhere. Pity overloaded me then. Grief, and guilt and regret, it wrenched itself through me, dragging me down, crushing me slowly. I’ll just go home and find Howard, I thought then. Let him kill me. Let him do it. They’d all be happy then, wouldn’t they? Instead, I ended up at the park, sat on a bench, and shivering in my Nirvana t-shirt. I swung my feet back and forth, scuffing the soles of my boot against the tarmac. The swings shifted restlessly just in front of me. I watched a massive seagull land on the top of the slide, where he sat for ages, just laughing at me. I stared at the ground, and watched the rubbish roll by, and I felt nothing less than wretched and pathetic and hated by everyone. I wanted a drink. I wanted a hundred drinks. I wanted a smoke. I wanted to smoke until my eyes bled and my vision failed. I wanted a pill to put me out of my misery. I wanted to learn how not to give a shit about anything, how not to care, and I wondered if it would ever become possible.
I could feel a lump in my back pocket and wondered what it was. I searched there, and pulled it out, and it was my knife, and I didn’t even remember putting it there, but it made me smile just for a second. Hello, I wanted to say to it. Hello knife. I passed it from one hand to the other as the wind lifted my hair, sending it flying back over my forehead. Then I laid the blade down onto one palm, and I felt my body begin to loosen, and relax. I took deep breaths, staring at the knife, before running one curious finger down the sharp edge of the blade. I held it by the handle and started to try to carve my name into the bench. I had carved Dan in jagged, spidery letters when I stopped suddenly, and gave in to a crazy impulse, slashing the blade across my own arm instead. I took a sharp intake of breath and heard the knife clatter to the ground. I held my wrist up to my face and stared in morbid curiosity at the cut I had made. Thick dark blood welled to life along the slash, and so I pressed a finger into it, and watched the blood dripping faster, trailing a ruby zig-zag down towards my elbow. I stared at the mess of it all in complete detached wonder and felt a strange and numb calm wash over me.
A short while later I picked up the knife, slipped it back into my pocket and walked away from the bench, and the park. The cut was stinging, but the blood had stopped. As I walked I focused my mind on the stinging, and I felt satisfied by it. Don’t ask me why. How can you explain these things? I suppose, if I look back now, I was trying to take some control, by inflicting the pain on myself instead of waiting for someone else to do it. I don’t know. Who knows? Who cares? It was him or me. I knew that all along. I knew that from the beginning. It was always going to come down to that.
Half an hour later I was letting myself into Jack’s flat. He grunted from his favourite sofa, where he was sprawled out, in a white vest and loose grey trousers. The smell of stale sweat and cold curry permeated my nostrils. The flat was warm though. The TV was on. He made me a whiskey and coke without saying a word and passed it to me when I sat down. My body lolled into the sofa, too heavy and broken to ever move again. I stared at the TV screen. “Don’t tell him I’m here,” I said after a while. Jack lit his cigar and laughed.
“You on the run?”
“Just don’t tell him,” I repeated. “He’s evil you know. He’s going to kill me one of these days. One of these days, he’s going to kill me.”
“Well I don’t expect to see his lordship tonight,” Jack told me with a sigh. “So you can stop getting your knickers in a twist. Oh that reminds me though. Someone else is looking for you.”
I looked at him sharply. “Who?”
“Jaime Lawler,” he replied, eyes firmly on me. “Came round earlier. Says you owe him money.”
“Oh yeah. I do.”
“Howard says you’re not working at the club anymore? That right?”
I nodded at him. “I’m never stepping foot in that place again in my life. Not with that evil bastard.”
Jack smoked his cigar and drummed the podgy fingers of one hand against the armrest of the sofa. “Well then, seems to me you better start thinking of other ways to earn money kiddo. Or you’re gonna’ be finding yourself in all kinds of trouble.”