From the bottom of the stairs, I could hear the music playing, and that was the only thing that mattered. I grinned in relief, because it held a hand out to me and guided me up towards safety. Slide away, and give it all you got…my today fell in from the top…I dream of you, and all the things you said…I wonder where you are now…They were either side of me, Michael and Anthony, helping me up, and I think I was smiling and singing as we climbed up the stairs. I could feel the fire inside of me growing stronger, and stronger, and stronger. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it was happening, and it was making me feel so happy. “Hold me down, ‘cause all the world’s asleep…I need you now, you knocked me off my feet…I dream of you, we talk of growing old..but you said please don’t!” The flames were inside of me, alive, and licking and reaching, and the heat was intensifying with every breath I took. “I love this song! Come on…now that you’re miiiiine…we’ll find a waaaay! Of chasing the suuuuun…oh let me be the one, who shines with you…in the morning, we don’t know what to do!” I felt like my head was on fire with it all, and my heart was pounding and leaping, fanning the flames inside my chest.
Once we were inside the bed-sit, Anthony closed and locked the door, and I pulled away from Michael, to scoop Kurt up from the floor. “Danny, you’re bleeding…” Michael sounded like he was going to cry. I didn’t look at him. I buried my face in Kurt’s fur, and he covered my beaten face in kisses. “You’re back, your back is bleeding!”
“Mike, calm down…” Anthony told him. “We found him hiding under the bed Danny…he’s okay. Limping a bit. Where the hell have you been?”
I placed the dog carefully onto the bed and staggered towards the bathroom. “Danny?” I heard Michael calling after me. He sounded awful, desperate and terrified. I couldn’t even look at him. “What the hell happened? What should we do?”
“In a minute,” I replied, in a flat tone. “Roll me a fat one, would you.”
I slammed the bathroom door behind me, shutting them out. I faced myself in the cracked mirror that hung on the wall over the sink. I saw this strange version of myself snarling back at me. My hair, flattened by the rain at the cliff top, covered in sand, and caked in blood along the hairline. There was a gash on my forehead, and all the blood had run down onto my face, into my eyebrows, and eyelashes, staining them all crimson. My nose and my lips were swollen and scratched from hitting the wall. I turned on the taps, staring back at myself. Then I grabbed the bar of soap and lowered my face into the flow of water. I used handfuls of soap and water to rub at my face, and I felt like I was rubbing it all away, and this time it would be gone, because it was never going to happen again. I washed until the water ran clear. Then I lifted my head, grabbed a towel and dried myself off. I examined myself again. I saw dead blue eyes glaring back at me. I saw a face that I wanted to pummel into mush. I saw a head that I wanted to smash against the wall, until all the memories were gone. I put one hand into my pocket, where I had stashed the bag from Jaime. I stared at myself, and listened as all the voices inside my head, as all their incessant and distorted chattering, finally began to join up, and make sense.
Anthony had rolled the joint. Michael had just hung up the phone. He looked so miserable, so forlorn, and childlike that I could not even bear to look at him, let alone talk to him. “Lucy,” he told me. “She’s been worried sick. I just told her you’re back.” I did not answer him, because the noise in my head was too loud. I did not look at them. I loved them, but I had to move away from them. It had to be done. So I climbed onto the bed and pulled the blankets over me, and Kurt. I curled into a ball, rested my head on the pillow, and I did not look at Michael as he cautiously approached the bed.
Anthony was sat on the sofa. “Danny,” he said sombrely. “You gonna’ tell us what happened? It was Howard. Wasn’t it?”
Michael looked at his brother for a moment, and then sat down warily on the edge of the bed, close to my feet. I could feel their eyes upon me, waiting. I put my hands together and rubbed one wrist against the other. I watched the dried blood flaking off. I used my nails to scratch away at it. It looked like rust red snow, falling from my skin. “What happened?” Michael prompted, when I did not speak. Anthony got up then, came to the bed, lit the joint and held it out to me. I took it down with me, and smoked it like that.
“I’ll call the police,” he offered, with this sad and shabby shrug. “Whatever happened Danny, whatever he did, you can tell us. Tell us, and we’ll call the cops right now.”
I took long, deep drags on the spliff, and felt my mind easing into a gently, cushioned state. The edges were softening, and my heart was slowly down. I could hear my breathing getting slower, and slower, and I could not prevent my eyes from closing. “Danny?” I heard Michael saying again. “Danny, what happened? Please tell us. Don’t shut us out.”
“Talk about it tomorrow,” I murmured. “Need to sleep.” I lifted the joint twice more to my lips before holding it out to Michael. I got hold of the blanket and tugged it up until it covered my face. There, I relaxed gratefully into the darkness and the silence, and I could hear my ragged breathing getting slower, and quieter. My face ached against the pillow. My back burned, and I was glad of it. There were voices, taking up their chatter in my mind again, and I whispered back to them, colluded with them, agreed with them… “Know it’s over,” I muttered as the darkness began to carry me away. “Know it….it’s over.”
I slept deeply, for a while, and then I woke up, and I was done with it. Michael and Anthony snored on, breathing, and twitching and murmuring in their sleep. I lay there, awake for hours. I only eased myself from the bed when the first glow of yellow sunshine stole in from behind the blankets pinned to the windows. I stood up, and walked slowly to the bathroom, the welts on my back stretching and screaming to life. I shut myself in, had a piss and then took out the little bag Jaime had given to me. I took the mirror down from the wall and balanced it across the top of the sink. I sprinkled two lines of powder onto it then used my fingertips to pinch them into longer, thinner lines. I stooped over, closed one nostril, and sniffed them up. I blinked, rubbed my nose, sniffed again, and hung the mirror back up. I came out of the bathroom, found my old battered Nirvana t-shirt lying on the floor close to the bed and picked it up. It smelled. It smelled of old times. I pulled the blood stained one I was wearing up and over my head and tossed it to the floor. I pulled on the old one, and noticed it was getting a bit small for me now, but it didn’t matter, did it? Not today. I pushed through the beaded curtains and begun to look for a knife.
So that brings us up to speed. Here I am now. Whoever the fuck I am. Not sure what is left, to be honest. Not much. I have written the letters, one for Lucy, one for Michael and Anthony, and one for Jaime. I have slid his twenty pound note inside the envelope. Nevermind is playing on my Walkman, in my ears, in my head. I am lost inside the music of yesterday. I have picked Kurt up, kissed him and put him back on the bed. I take my battered old denim jacket down from the hook and shrug it on. I turn to look at my sleeping friends, just once, before I go. I remember hanging onto that one verse from Teen Spirit, all that time ago, at the party we had at Michael’s house and I hear it now inside my head and it’s like a knife to the heart, so much pain, I cannot breathe…I’m worse at what I do best and for this gift I feel blessed…our little group has always been, and always will, until the end…I smile this bitter, rigid smile, at the memory of four teenage boys, leaping around the kitchen, their long hair swinging, holding onto each other, holding onto the music that was ours, the music that meant so much. There is a single stinging tear, and I wipe it from my eye, turn around and close the door softly behind me.
I head for the bust stop. Jaime’s drugs are starting to take hold. This is a good thing. My heart rate is accelerating, forcing the blood through my veins, feeding the fire. I climb onto the early bus and pay my fare. I feel the weight of the weapons on my body, and my breathing is getting faster and harder. Some sort of strength, and belief, is flooding me quickly and surely. It feels so good. I get off the bus along Somerley road and begin the trek towards the house on Cedar View.
As I trudge past the old house, I make myself look over at it. The memories besiege me, but this is good, as they only seem to strengthen my resolve. I march on, past the Andersons house. It’s rented out to a family now, you can tell. There are terracotta plant pots around the door step, and brightly coloured plastic windmills spinning in them. I remember how we always used to go around to the back, and throw stones at the windows. I put my hands in my pockets, I think about the knives, and I walk on. I head through the park, and up the hill, and I think about the base, hidden in the woods, and how important it had once been to us. It had never felt the same though, after Howard caught me there when I tried to run away. Horror had tainted its walls. Fear clung to every part of it. I wondered if other kids had discovered it yet. If another group of misfits sat around the lop-sided table to smoke roll-ups and drink stolen beers. A small smile passes my lips.
Cedar View rolls into sight. It dazzles me on a bright June morning. I snap my mind back to the present, grit my teeth, lower my head and walk on. I glare at the pavement and watch my boots tramping along. As I get closer to the house, a paralysing fear seems to take me over, and my teeth start to bang against each other, and my spine tingles with it, and I have to open my mouth up wide to suck in enough air to force my feet to keep moving. I stalk up to the door and I feel sick. There are tears in my eyes, and for a moment, I doubt it, I doubt everything, and I am just weak, barely human, barely alive. My fists hang at my sides and I stare at the door, and my bones feel tight and stiff, and it is agony to move, and I lift one hand and wipe at my dry mouth. I am not sure if I can do it. I am not sure if I can do what I lay awake and thought about all night. Can I really do it? Throw myself through that door and hold a knife up to my enemy?
I have to do it, I have to do it, I have to end it, it has to end…I close my eyes. I push the clouds away and I force myself to remember everything. It floods in. It is a gory human landslide of punches, kicks, belts and fags, it stinks, it reeks of agony and blood and snot and piss and vomit, and it turns over like a violent wave inside of me. I remember everything. I remember the things I denied even to myself. I remember dark nights, curled under blankets, and I remember rough hands where they shouldn’t have been, and I remember heavy breathing choked and thick, and I remember thinking it is just a dream, just a dream, and I remember not being able to move, and I remember last night on the cliff top, and I remember the black swell of waves lurching up to meet me. He should have thrown me in. It would all be over now if he had ended it last night. I remember him telling me this is my last chance, the last time, and I open my eyes and I am insane with anger and grief, and I lift up both my fists and I hammer them upon the door.