I was lost. I was drowning. Stranded within a deep, and immobilising trance. All I could do was stare at the deep red puddle that was slowly spreading across the kitchen floor. I stared at it, and my eyes filled with water, and all I could think was how could that much blood come from one foot? The puddle seemed to be growing and growing before my very eyes. Jack had walked out of there, grunting and groaning, leaving half of his blood behind. Maybe later I would find him collapsed on the driveway, having bled to death. It seemed impossibly red, and bright, and impossible that Jack had just shuffled on out, leaving that much gore behind.
The phone rang suddenly in the hallway, cutting me from the silence and yanking me from my trance. I backed slowly out of the kitchen, still clutching the wet knife between both my hands, keeping my eyes on the blood, until I stumbled back into the front door, and reached out blindly for the phone. I fumbled for it, knocked it from the cradle, reached down to the floor and made a desperate panicky grab for it. “Hello?” I did not recognise my own voice. It sounded so small and tight, and seemed to come from another place entirely.
“Danny! It’s Mike. We just took another load over to the bed-sit. Christ, we’re spending a fortune on bloody taxis, you doing okay?”
“Mike?” I sank back against the door in sheer relief. I closed my eyes tightly and pressed the heel of my other hand into them, swathing myself in a brief and comforting darkness. The knife was still clutched between my fingers. “Shit Mike, oh shit, shit!”
“What?” Michael sounded immediately alarmed. “What is it?”
I swallowed and tried to find the words, but my throat felt tight and raw. “Shit Mike,” I said again, and gave up.
“Shit, what is it?” he cried. “What’s wrong?”
“Can you come over here quick?”
“We’re there, hang on,” he slammed down the phone and I was alone again. My hand started to shake. It shook so bad that the receiver fell through my fingers and thumped down to the floor. I kept thinking, any minute my mum or Howard is going to come through that back door and see that blood…any minute, any minute, any minute. I stayed where I was, with my back pressed into the door. My knees felt weak, like they might buckle at any moment. I told myself to move, I told myself it was urgent, I had to move, had to get out of there, but it was like my body had gone into shock or something. It was useless. Nothing more than jelly and sagging bones. I was drained and empty. There was too much in my head. Too much fear, too much everything. I needed help, so I remained where I was, kept my eyes closed and took deep slow breaths.
Less than two or three minutes passed before I heard their footsteps running urgently up the driveway. Then they banged their way through the back door and just stopped. “Danny?” I heard Michael’s voice call out. It sounded high and frightened. “Danny!”
“Here,” I called out weakly, suddenly feeling horribly sick as Michael stepped cautiously into the hallway followed by Anthony.
“Shittinghell are you okay?”
“Whose fucking blood is that?” Anthony rushed to my side. He took my arm gently and pulled me away from the door, as if checking for wounds. I gulped air and shook my head. I felt faint and weak and my head was swimming and murky. My eyes felt huge and staring, and I was trembling all over.
“Jacks,” I whispered to them. They looked at each other in wonder, and then their eyes tracked slowly down to the knife in my hands.
“Shit,” said Anthony. “Where is he?”
“He left. Walked out.”
Michaels dark eyes remained fixed on the knife. “Did you stab him? With that?”
I nodded. “In the foot. I stabbed his foot.”
Anthony pulled his shoulders back, and faced me squarely with his hands on his hips and nodded. “Cool. I’m guessing he did something to deserve it?”
I nodded. I thought I was going to cry then. I was trying like hell not to think about any of it, why Jack had rolled up like that drunk and angry, what he had wanted. I felt overwhelmed with a horrible swamping kind of sadness. That’s the only way I can describe it. I wanted to get out of there and never come back. I wanted to make it all go away. “He was drunk,” I managed to tell Anthony, as the tears started to roll. “I think Howard sent him. He tried to get me.”
Anthony’s face twitched. He was swallowing rapidly and just nodding his head constantly, and his hand reached out for me and then stopped and returned to his hip. “Right,” he said. Michael tugged at his arm.
“Are we gonna’ clean that all up?” he asked in a small voice. “Before someone comes?”
“Yeah, I’ll do it.” Anthony gave his brother a push towards the stairs. “Get up there and get Danny’s stuff for him, we’re going. I’ll clean up the kitchen and then we’re out of here, okay Danny? We’re gone.” I felt confused. Dazed, and out of it. He placed a hand softly on my shoulder. “To the bed-sit right? In a minute.”
I managed a nod, and Michael shot up the stairs without a single word. Anthony turned and hurried back into the kitchen. I stayed against the door, numb and growing number. I could hear Anthony opening and closing doors. Water running into the sink. A bottle being sprayed. Michael came hurrying red-faced back down the stairs, clutching my ruck sack in one hand, and a bunch of stuffed full carrier bags in the other. He dumped it all at my feet and dashed back up for more. I continued to hold the knife so tightly it made my fingers throb. I could hear Anthony spraying and mopping in the kitchen. My feet were glued to the floor, my muscles all locked and refusing to move.
Michael ran back down the stairs and dumped another load of bags. He held out a bundle of hastily rolled up posters. “Got these down for you,” he said gently. “We can decorate the bed-sit yeah? And all the tapes on your bed, and that, I put them in the ruck sack okay? That’s everything. You okay to get going?” he touched my arm briefly. “I don’t like the thought of hanging around here much longer.” I nodded at him and Anthony came back into the hall, a bulging carrier bag in one hand. He held it slightly behind his legs as if the contents were unsafe.
“Done,” he said grimly. “You wouldn’t know anything had happened.” He looked at me for a moment and then cleared his throat. “Did the bastard do anything Danny? Are you okay?”
“Good. Why don’t you let me have that for a bit?” His eyes were on the knife. I eyed it suspiciously, frowning, not really understanding anything anymore. Anthony stepped closer and prised it carefully from my frozen fingers, and slid it into the back pocket of his tracksuit trousers. He stooped down and grabbed some of the bags Michael had packed. Michael followed suit, holding my stereo under one arm for me. “Let’s go boys.”
I moved from the door. I had just remembered the note in my pocket. It seemed somehow the only clear and obvious thing inside my head. I had to leave it for my mum. I told them to hold on, and walked shakily back into the kitchen. “What you doing?” Michael called after me in thinly veiled exasperation. The kitchen floor was sparkling clean, and the room reeked of lemons. I saw her coffee mug on the draining board, upside down. I picked it up, slid the note inside and put the mug back in the cupboard.
“Danny?” Anthony was calling from the hallway. “What are you doing mate? Come on, we need to call a taxi quick.”
I traipsed back down the hall. Antony opened the front door and held it open while we scurried out under his arm, all instinctively scanning the street for trouble. Anthony nodded to the corner of the road, and we headed there briskly, heads low, eyes moving everywhere. We got to their house and Anthony unlocked the door, told us to stay put and disappeared inside. Michael and I waited in silent shaking shock on the doorstep. The day was muggy. Everything seemed still, and waiting. I could hear a TV chattering in the lounge next door. Small children squealed from a far off back garden. I looked up at the sky and it was solid blue, and cloudless. Sweat pooled under my arms and across my forehead and I wondered if I had ever felt so utterly wretched, so immensely exhausted and weak before. I didn’t think my legs could hold me up much longer. Michael just stared around constantly, jittery and chewing at his thumb nail. Anthony reappeared and we looked to him instantly for reassurance and instruction. “Taxi in ten minutes,” he told us. Michael grimaced and spat out a chunk of nail.
“What if the cops come?” he asked.
“They won’t come,” Anthony told him.
“But how do you know?”
“Mike, that fat slug is not gonna’ call the police, don’t worry about it. The only person we need to worry about is Howard, and getting out of here without anyone seeing where we’re going.”
“He’s at the club,” I spoke up, finding my voice again. “He called mum and told her to go and get the keys to the new house.”
Anthony leant in the doorway, arms crossed and eyebrows raised. “What then Freeman just shows up at yours uninvited?”
“Yeah,” I said, meeting his eyes. “I heard a noise in the kitchen and went down. There he was.”
“Howard sent him then,” Anthony said darkly, spitting suddenly out onto the parched front lawn. “Sick fucking bastard…one last attempt to get control, eh? What a fucking…” he just shook his head then, as his words dried up. I knew what he meant anyway. There weren’t any words to describe what it was, what Howard was, what any of it was. Anthony sighed then. “That’s what bullies live off, you see,” he told me. “Fear and control. He thinks he’s losing it so he sends his little sidekick over to help him out again…fuckinghell mate, I am so glad I gave you that knife.”
“Why’d you stab his foot?” Michael asked me then, still chewing relentlessly at his nail, as his eyes shot anxiously up and down the street.
“I was on the floor,” I remembered. I felt the intense urge to just lie down then. I just wanted to find the ground and sink into it. “His foot was just there. I got my knife out.” I shook the images from my head, as the gruesome scene replayed itself over again. The drops of saliva as they flew from his rubbery lips when he threw back his head and howled. Anthony touched my arm, bringing me back.
“You did the right thing, you had no fucking choice mate. He’s lucky you didn’t stab him somewhere worse! Fucking dirty cunt deserved it. Oh hey, look boys.” He nodded and we followed his gaze, and there it was at last, a big shiny black taxi cab pulling slowly into the close. Anthony slapped our backs and leant past us to grab the bags. “Here we go then boys,” he said as cheerily as he could manage. “Say goodbye to your shitty little lives!”
It took less than ten minutes to load up the waiting taxi with what we had salvaged from our old lives. I took a window seat, my skin clammy and hot as I pressed my face up against it and watched the houses getting smaller and smaller. We sped away from it all, and I wanted to feel better about it. I wanted to feel the weight lifting from me. I wanted to feel the wind in my hair, and hope in my heart. I longed for a rush of pure relief. Instead I felt cold, and numb and totally removed from everything, as the enormity of it all began to hit me. There was no hope, no relief, no sense of freedom. Just cold, hard fear.