RIP Kurt Cobain; Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

The Boy

“People always say they can remember exactly where they were when a big news story broke. You know, like Kennedy being shot, or Martin Luther King being assassinated, or Elvis being found dead on his toilet. I didn’t used to care, or pay much attention, until it happened to me. I will remember forever and ever where I was, what I was doing, even what I was fucking wearing the day I heard that Kurt Cobain was dead.

I was in The Record Shop again. I had only been in about five minutes, brimming with excitement, clutching the money to pay for the stack of singles and albums I had piled up behind the counter. Beck’s Loser, Oasis’ Supersonic, Talking Head’s Remain In Light and Pixies Surfer Rosa. See? Remember them all. I was wearing blue baggy jeans, and I had just been thinking that I must have lost a bit of weight because I had to keep hitching them up, and I was feeling pissed off about this. I wanted to be getting bigger for God’s sake, not smaller. I had on an old Clash t-shirt I had picked up in a charity shop, and my beloved baseball boots which were coming apart at the soles. I went around the counter, and clutched the records to my chest, inhaling the musty smell of them while Terry chucked my money into the till. He was drooped over his stool, mug of tea steaming in front of him, and a stack of dusty cassettes to one side, waiting to be shelved. 

You still don’t have a record player to play them on do you?’ he asked, struggling to disguise his own amusement.

Gonna’ ask for one for my next birthday.’

You’re weird, you know that? All the other kids are getting into the CD’s mate. That’s the new thing! You’re going bloody backwards!’

I like old things,’ I shrugged defensively. I stayed where I was behind the counter, stalling for time by gazing longingly at my records and wondering if he would allow me to turn off the radio and put one on. We heard the news announcement at the same time. We both lifted our heads instantly when we heard the words spoken. Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain has been found dead at his Washington home. It was a long, stretched out moment, dizzying and sick, and I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world, just crashed on out under my feet. I was standing on nothing. The fat man was staring at me and I was staring back at him. My mouth fell open in slow motion, registering the horror. Terry’s face seemed to twist in shock, his eyes becoming loaded with despair and disbelief. I was rigid and could not speak.

Oh my God,’ Terry whispered as the news reporter rattled on.

I held my records to my chest and shook my head. ‘Can’t be true,’ I heard my voice croak. I walked stiffly then, around the counter and towards the door.

Oh shit,’ he was saying behind me. ‘Not another one. Jesus fucking Christ, it’s never fucking Michael Bolton or Phil Collins is it? Hey? Hey Danny, come on, you all right mate?’

Can’t be true,’ I said. I wrenched the door open and started running.

I ran all the way home. I stumbled up the driveway with my sweaty hair plastered to my face. I barely paid attention to the two cars parked in the drive as I dashed past them, still clutching my records, all my coherent thoughts commanding me to get to the television, to find out more. I ran into Howard and Freeman in the back garden. They had the barbecue going and were lounging in plastic garden chairs, smoking and drinking beers. There was an instant and undeniable light that leaped into Howard’s eyes when he saw me.

Whoa look who it is! Our number one man!’ Freeman greeted me as he often did, with just a silent nod of his head. ‘You heard the big news yet eh?’ I scowled at the snake like smile that crawled across his face, and the delight that shone in his beady eyes, and turned away from them, into the house. There was a roar of laughter behind me. Their footsteps echoed mine. ‘Don’t you love this about Danny?’ Howard was asking Freeman. ‘He’s so bloody talkative!’

I hurried into the lounge, placed my records on the sofa, turned the TV on and started to flick through the channels with the remote. They came into the room behind me, and ordinarily the fear would have started to crawl down my spine, but I was too absorbed, too desperate to hear it was all a joke, a mistake. 

Ah looks like he already knows,’ said Howard, drinking from his beer bottle. ‘Oh damn, I was looking forward to telling you. What a fucking loser eh Danny? That so called hero of yours, that idiot junkie? Worthless piece of shit, blowing his own head off when he has a wife and a baby daughter!’

I barely heard him, and I stopped flicking channels because I had found him. There he was, locked inside the TV set like so many times before, on Top Of The Pops and MTV. They were playing the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit, and there he was, in his striped top, peering through his blonde hair as he snarled the lyrics. He came up to the camera lens, shook his hair from his eyes, and I mouthed the words as he sung them.  My eyes tracked down to the information that was running along the bottom of the screen.  Kurt Cobain found dead in his Washington home. 

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. My mouth fell open and I reached out with one hand, placing it shakily on top of the television to steady myself. I forced a deep breath of terrible, heart breaking shock. I listened in mounting sorrow, as the reporter relayed the information that he had probably been dead for a few days, that it appeared he had died from a shotgun wound to the head, and that a suicide note had been found at the scene. But at the same time, there he was, alive and kicking, killing his guitar, thrashing the hell out of it, while the cheerleaders bounced up and down in slow motion. They started playing shots from their other videos and from live performances, Kurt destroying his guitar and hurling himself into the drum set.

I wanted to reach into the TV. I wanted someone to speak out, to voice a doubt, to suggest it was someone else, not him. The footage then went on to show the thousands of distraught and weeping fans that had already gathered outside his home. Howard made a disgusted sound from behind me.

Oh Christ look at them all! Pissing and moaning! What a bunch of babies. Christ, they all look like you Danny, like they’re fucking homeless! It’s a bloody uniform, the way you all dress.’

Shut up,’ I growled the word from the very back of my constricted throat. It was all so wrong. All of it. He was just a young man, just twenty-seven years old, how could he be dead? How could it be over? I pressed one hand to my mouth and became slowly aware of the icy silence behind me.

You better not have told me to shut up.’

I didn’t reply. I chewed at my thumbnail and tried to take it all in. They were talking about drugs and depression now, showing clips of him looking ill, or sad, as if that was all it came down to. And it made me feel angry the flippant way they discussed the loss of this genius young man.

Don’t get it,’ Howard announced. ‘Do you Jack? Don’t get all the fuss. It’s not like when Elvis died for God’s sake. Just some drugged up scruff who made whiny depressing music. You wait now, bloody hoards of ‘em will start topping themselves! Come on, turn that off now. We’ve had enough of that shit.’

I want to listen,’ I protested, not looking at him.

Pathetic,’ he sneered, coming closer. I stood my ground, spreading my legs and holding onto the TV. ‘Turn it off I said.’

I gestured in frustration. ‘It’s not finished, I just want to listen!’

Don’t fucking argue with me, turn it off now, or I will!’

I gritted my teeth and stepped closer to the TV. ‘I just want to listen. You weren’t watching it.’

What else do you need to hear for fucks sake? Your hero is dead, little man. There you go. Who gives a flying fuck anyway?’

Shut up!’ I pushed the words through my tightly clenched teeth as my eyes bored into the TV screen, both my hands now balled into fists at my sides. The thick hand crashed into my skull from behind, knocking me into the TV which rocked back slightly on its stand. Then the hand was closing on my neck, wrenching me backwards and hurling me down to the floor.

Don’t you ever tell me to shut up you little prick!’ The hateful face was right there, breathing beer and juicy fruit chewing gum into mine. I shuffled backwards, back towards the sofa, holding onto my head and weeping. I pressed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to see any of it anymore, didn’t want to hear it or believe it was true. Howard straightened up and stalked arrogantly around the back of the TV where he ripped the plug right out of the wall socket. There was only watchful silence from Jack Freeman in the doorway, and I didn’t care anyway, because nothing mattered, because everything was shit. They’d killed him; they’d taken him from me… ‘You better watch yourself,’ Howard warned me softly before leaving the room.

I crossed my arms over my knees, buried my head in them and let the sobs wrack my body. I felt overwhelmed by this gutting grief as it ripped right through me, and it felt like it would never stop, would never end. I heard them laughing at me. In the kitchen, or outside, they were laughing about it, so I jumped angrily to my feet and stormed recklessly into the hallway. I rubbed my hands viciously into my eyes and thought well come on then, you might as well kill me you fucking bastard! 

That’s right laugh!’ I yelled at the kitchen.  A stunned silence followed. I moved back, positioning myself against the front door, ready to run. I used each palm in turn to rub at my wet cheeks. ‘Just laugh then!’

Howard appeared in the kitchen doorway, his head slung low on his shoulders, while a deep frown hooded his stone like eyes. His expression was stunned. He could not fathom why I had shouted at him. 

What did you just say?’ he asked me, stepping into the hallway, and I could read him like a book. He was pissed off and worried, doubting his power all over again, losing his good boy.

You wouldn’t understand anyway!’ I cried at him. ‘You don’t even like any music! You have to have a soul to love music and you don’t fucking have one!’

The phone rang then. It was so sudden, so shrill and loud and unexpected in the shrinking space of the hallway, that I jumped about a foot in the air and Howard visibly flinched. I snatched it up before he could even move, pressing the receiver to my face with trembling tear stained hands. I heard a snivelling in my ear, and I let the air flow freely from my sagging lips. 

Billy?’

The snivelling gave way to a hicuppy sob. ‘Danny…have you heard it?’

Yeah. I heard. I’ve just seen it.’

Howard backed off slowly, his expression wondering and pensive. He turned on his heel but paused to point one finger back at me.

Pathetic,’ he hissed and was gone. I immediately sank back against the door, my legs going weak on me, my spine folding in, as I dropped my head heavily into one hand.

I don’t want to believe it…’ Billy was saying, his voice small and dazed. ‘Why would he do that Danny?’

I don’t know Bill. Don’t know.’

Do you think it’s really true?’

I think it is. It looks like it Billy.’

I can’t believe it,’ he sighed hopelessly into my ear. ‘I can’t. I fucking love that band man. I fucking love them…’

I could only nod. I knew exactly what Billy meant, and exactly how he was feeling, and yet there were no fit words to explain it. Later I wrote in my diary that it felt like we had been cheated, and stolen from. Something had been taken from us, something we would never be able to get back, no matter how hard we tried, and no matter how much more music we fell in love with. It had been ours. We’d all loved it, all of us. It had united us like nothing ever would again. I lay on my bed for the rest of that heart-breaking day, with Nevermind on constantly. When Something In The Way played, the emotions got the better of me, floored me and battered me, and all I could do was cry.

My mother came up to see me when she arrived home. She viewed my swollen eyes from the safety of the doorway and sighed in sympathy. 

I just heard, and I’m so sorry love,’ she said. ‘I know how much you love that band.’ She sighed again and gazed around at the posters that adorned my walls. ‘I know he was like a hero to you. I just don’t understand,’ she said then, with a small and nervous shrug. ‘I don’t get it. I don’t get why they do it when they have all that money and success!’

Maybe he hated his life,’ I told her stonily from my bed. ‘Maybe he despised all that. Maybe he hated waking up every morning. Simple as that.’

I expect it has more to do with drugs and depression,’ she said knowingly, making me writhe with fury and contempt. ‘They all seem to go the same way. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison. Such a pity. And with all that money and fame you’d think they’d be happy!’

For God’s sake,’ I spat at her then. ‘Money and fame don’t equal happiness mother, there is a lot more to it than that! Like maybe his parents did a really good job of fucking him up!’

Oh that’s nice! That’s lovely! Why do the parents always have to get the blame?’

Because you reap what you sow.’

She shook her head at me, edging away. ‘You what? What is that supposed to mean? You don’t half come up with some crap Danny!’

I think it’s true.’

Well I don’t know where you heard that nonsense, but one day you might be a parent and then you’ll find out how bloody hard it is young man!’

I rolled my eyes and laughed at her. ‘I’ll do a better job than mine!’

What is your problem?’ She made a stance that filled the doorway, hands on hips; head cocked to one side, staring at me as if I were some kind of alien, not the very child she had grown inside her own fucking womb. Her eyes flashed at me angrily, so I tore mine away, found Kurt’s poster above my bed, and fixed them there.

If I ever have kids,’ I said, ‘I won’t disappear and never see them again, and I won’t let psychotic bastards come into their lives and wreck everything!’

Oh,’ she snapped. ‘So now we’re back to Lee are we? Well I don’t have to stand here and listen to this thank you very much, I’ve heard it enough times by now. I came up here to offer you some sympathy!’

More like to gloat,’ I grunted at her. ‘Just like he did. Yeah, he couldn’t wait to laugh at me and rub it in!’

Danny, it’s called teasing, and it’s no surprise he’s not a fan of that music…’

He’s not a fan of anything except himself! He stood there laughing and gloating, the bastard!’

Danny, we are getting married next Sunday whether you like it or not…’

Yeah, and that’s what you’re marrying Mum,’ I said bitterly, not taking my eyes from the poster. ‘Someone who makes fun of me being upset about something that really, really matters to me. But then you already know that don’t you? You just don’t care. Now just leave me alone and close the fucking door behind you.’ I closed my eyes and dropped my arms across them so that I would not have to see whatever depressing look she gave me before she went away.” (Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side by Chantelle Atkins) RIP Kurt Cobain xx

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain

The Dark and the Light

The Dark and The Light

 

It is wrong. Like me.

Everything about me is wrong, and I hear them say it. I have heard it often enough. I amble through it, warm inside, warm outside, full of acceptance and impatience.

I am impatient because life is long, and slow. Like my love. I need them both to end.

I am thinking about this in my flat. My flat is always warm. And so am I. I am not sure what being cold feels like. I have too many layers, one on top of the other, dirt and grit in-between, guilt and shame. They layer up, they gang up on me, they bind me up and keep me warm at night. I am always warm.

Like now. Watching him.

My face is warm and so is my groin. I lift one arm slowly. I watch it travel through the clogged up, fogged up air, and I can feel how tightly the air surrounds my skin, lingering there, filled with secrets. My hand moves slowly. It is a juddering, shuddering thing, a dark starfish turning, curling through the dust.

I touch my face. My palm is rough against my whiskered jowls. It is a landscape of lumps and bumps, craggy and weathered and warm and pulsing. And I can smell it. If I stand here still enough, if I breathe in slowly enough, inhaling the life I exist in. I can smell my skin and I can smell the stink of age and ruin.

Whiskey on my breath, coating my tongue. Nicotine stains upon my fingers. I can smell the scent of who I am, of what I am. I suck it up. Breathe it in. Remember. Rotten on the outside as well as the in. Decayed from within.

Was I ever anything else? Anything more, or less than this?

I am too old now, too far gone, too hunched and sorry and broken and lustful to remember. There must have been another me once. A younger, trimmer, taller me. With brighter eyes and sounder mind. I can’t be sure though. I can’t be sure when the rot set in, when the infection took hold. I do know that I never once tried to fight it. Life was too long then, too slow. And it still is now.

Watching him. On guard. Waiting. Always waiting. Stood behind, looking down. Cocooned by the flat, by the dark, warm cave it has become. Lonely, but somehow we are joined here, linked. I sniff it. The darkness does not hide my secrets well. For I can smell them in the sweet cloying air as it cloaks my face. My flat smells too, of everything I am, of everything I bury here, of longing and loathing, and love.

Orange curry and gone off milk, cobwebs hanging with dust and dried flies, stains on the carpet, mould on the walls, fingerprints in the books and on the dirty magazines under the mattress.

In here it is dark, and he is the only light. He never sees this because he thinks he is ruined and destroyed, and maybe he is wrong, maybe he is right. He never thinks about anything too much these days. Only the home he escapes from, and the fear of being found. Only the music he keeps in his ears, in his brain, blocking everything else out, refusing it entry. Only the dark oblivion we enjoy together. Try this. And this.

I am the dark and he is the light.

His pale face turned up to mine, eyes closed and mind gone. I want to reach out and touch him but I cannot. If I lay my dirtied hand against his pale skin I might leave a stain upon it. I might destroy the light. And then we will all be worse off.

I stand behind and look down.

Breathing him in. Absorbing the light. My hand remains against my face. Warm and throbbing, rough and worn. I hold myself there. And my guts are inside me, behind the wall of fat and whiskey and sloth. Behind the solidified alcohol and curry and waste. My guts are back there, knotted and aching and crying. I can feel them there. I want to ease them out and relieve the pain and pressure. I want to stretch them out and let them breathe. They are a weight holding me down. Holding my feet to the sticky carpet.

Everything I deserve is in this place. Dirt and dust and shadows. I don’t belong anywhere else. One day I think, I won’t leave here. The doors and the windows will seal me in. The air will thicken until I suffocate. I will die here and I hope it is soon.

But what of him? What of the light?

How much time have we got? How much longer can I keep holding myself back? I examine the contours of his face lovingly, as I drag my rough palm over my own soggy, saggy features. Where his is sharp, defined, clean edges, mine is lost, sunken, shabby and derelict. My chins pile up. My cheeks hang loose. My eyes vanish under folds of flesh.

His skin is clear and soft and new. The only blemish is the deep cut to his top lip and a slight swelling there. My hand is reaching out to it now, reaching for the bump on his lip, but I pull back just in time. I always do that. I long to reach out and soothe what the monster has inflicted. I don’t say a word when he does it though. I hang back and look on.

Silence pounds my brain.

Blood throbs between my legs.

The monster jeers and laughs at this, but this is not all there is. It’s not just that… It’s not just blood and longing and desire. This is different. The boy has a light. And now the pounding is in my heart as well. The aching and the longing is in all of me.

My hand is where it should not be. It has landed in his hair again. My heavy fat fingers falling through the tousled blonde strands while my heart beats faster. I pull my hand away when the door suddenly opens. I walk quickly away, shoving my hands into my pockets, blinking away a salty tear.

In walks the monster. In walks King Of The Castle. In walks Mr High and Mighty. Mr The Big I Am. He walks in and the air grows colder and the boy shifts and stirs and moans softly on the sofa, but he does not wake.

The monster smiles at me because he can always smell my guilt.

‘Behaving yourself?’

‘Course I am. What do you want?’

No answer, because he does not have to answer your questions. Not the King Of The Castle. Not the King of the Shitting World. He goes to inspect the boy, who he thinks he owns, who he tries to turn into a robot, a yes-man, a minion. The beautiful boy full of light.

‘Is he out of it?’

‘Looks that way.’

‘Little prick.’

I sigh and shuffle towards the kitchen, where there are dead flies on the windowsill.

‘Do you want tea? Whiskey?’

‘Tea. Not staying long.’

‘Are you taking him home?’

‘Might do. Why? Will you miss him?’

Of course he laughs at his little joke, because he has always found my pain amusing. I deserve it though. He knows this as well as I do. We exist like this, somehow. The monsters. Both of us. Vile. Inhuman. We don’t deserve love or light.

Only I feel the guilt. That is the only real difference. The thing is, we both want the same thing. We both want love given to us, we both want what we do not deserve, what is not rightfully ours. We go about it in different ways. And the boy on the sofa knows all of this and none of this. He knows everything and yet nothing.

I make tea and in the lounge the monster sits next to the sleeping boy, dulling his light. Can it work the other way around, I wonder? Can the light fight back? Can it ward off the darkness and win? Theirs is a fight to the death. A fight neither can afford to lose. I make the tea and try not to think about the future. Time passes too slowly for the likes of me. I have been dying slowly for years. I am trampled fruit underneath the autumn tree, I am crushed and squashed and pulped and rotting. It takes too long. I should be dust by now, but it all takes too long.

Another unseen salty tear stings my eye while I make the tea and think about the boy. I think about him and how rotten we are to surround him like this, to want to own him and love him, to want his light to reflect back on us. I think about the very first time I saw it. I think how my breath hitched in my throat, and how my old eyes widened and my mouth fell open and how my blackened old heart ran up to my mouth, pounding, though it had no right to, though it was not allowed.

I have no right to love of any kind.

And there is a clock ticking somewhere in this place. There is inevitability and pain waiting for all of us in this dark, warm cave.

Something will happen. Something is coming. This, this is all wrong…I swirl the bloated teabags around the mugs, one at a time, my movements clumsy and stiff, sploshing brown liquid over the sides. I listen to the voices in the lounge. King of The Castle is waking the light up, easing him out from his dreams. I wonder how he feels when he wakes up like that. Realising. Remembering. Does he get a jolt of cold fear right in the centre of his chest? Do the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end? Does he feel the most powerful urge a human body can experience; the urge to run? Or does he just feel flat, empty and resigned? Does he just remember and then give in? I don’t know anymore. There used to be more fire in his eyes, I remember that. I enjoyed that. But now I don’t know.

I pick up the mugs and carry them in. They don’t look at me or speak to me, and yet I know what we are. We are a triangle of misery and hatred and love and the whole thing turns like a never-ending circle, but it can’t do that forever, because one of us will be blunted. One of us has to go.

 

This is a short story written from the point of view of one of the minor characters in my novel The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – you can find out more about these characters and this story by following this link – the novel is available in ebook and paperback 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boy-Thorn-His-Side-ebook/dp/B00W8DLGKA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431972783&sr=1-1&keywords=the+boy+with+the+thorn+in+his+side

 

The Boy Who Flew Away – short story

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The Boy Who Flew Away

 

            I am a mixture of all things. Broken body. Broken mind. Weakened and conquered. Destroyed. Yet somehow still railing wildly against it, fighting back, resisting, no, no, no, no. I won’t go quietly. I won’t give in. I won’t let you win.

I drive him home in the car. I am fresh and awake, steely in my resolve to finally show him the way. My wayward son. The prodigal son. I am bringing him home. I am showing him the way. Progress has been made. I can breathe again now. Big, deep, long breaths, filling up my lungs. In, out, in, out. Calming, soothing, winning. Guiding him home.

He swings the car into the drive. A light goes on above the double garage doors.  I blink up at his house. His castle and his kingdom. He has delivered me back to his lair. I look sideways and glimpse his face, and it is meaty and it sweats and gloats, and his small eyes shine. The door is rising up slowly and cleanly, and the car glides in. Sleek, slow and smug.

            ‘Home,’ he tells me simply. ‘Last chance saloon. Your new life starts now Danny. What do you say?’

            I stare out of the window with dead eyes. I can see a work bench with shining metal tools hanging above it. I need to come to terms with something. If we go inside that house one of us will have to die. I look back at him and say; ‘thank you.’ He likes these kinds of words. He pats my leg and gets out his side of the car.

He gets out the other side and we look at each other across the roof. Like so many times before, the moment stretches out and we are both immobilised, lost within it. I feel like he is staring into my soul, seeing every inch of me, and I am doing the same to him. His face is pale. His hair is full of blood. He stands hunched, in pain, as his body starts to shake. I feel the rushing urge to be tender now. To lead us both out of the darkness.

            ‘Come on,’ I tell him brightly. ‘I’ll show you your room.’

            I feel a tremble of excitement, at the thought of showing him his bedroom. We enter the house through the door inside the garage, and we come out into the utility room. I put my hand on his shoulder and walk him forward into the kitchen. The lights are off. The tiles smooth. I can feel him vibrating under my hand. ‘Time to start again,’ I am telling him, and my voice is husky and tight. I am brimming over with so many things. I just hope he can understand. I just hope this is really it. I squeeze his shoulder and reach for the light. There is suddenly something I feel the urge to do. ‘Just a minute.’

I wait, knowing, dreading. Sick yellow light spills into the room, and my eyes react by screwing up. Everything is too bright in here. The floor tiles, the kitchen cabinets and worktops. Everything shines and burns. I lift my hands and press them to my eyes. I cannot really believe I am here. I cannot really believe he let me live, and I cannot really believe this will continue much longer. I’m not the only one who is broken. We both are. Clinging onto a life which is doomed. He is pulling open a drawer, his fingers grappling, while metal implements bang against each other. My skin crawls and time stands absolutely still. I think, we are both finished, but I am the only one who can admit it. He thinks he has won. I know neither of us ever will. Now we are both dying, rotting on the inside. The stench of us turns my stomach.

I turn back to him with the scissors. He is this crushed and staring thing. Silent. His face still. His eyes blank. I stand behind him and press my hands down onto his shoulders. He is stiff, like a little doll, but he is also weak, and his knees buckle easily. He makes a little sound and then nothing. ‘Shh,’ I tell him, lifting his hair away from his neck. ‘We don’t want to wake your mum. You know, I’m looking forward to seeing her face in the morning. She’ll be chuffed to bits, won’t she eh? Us all back together again? Like a proper family.’ I chuckle softly and open the scissors. ‘Just need to sort you out a bit, eh? Start afresh properly. Out with the old. In with the new. ’

I kneel there in silence while the scissors open and close. He is careful and methodical, changing me. What he wanted all along. My lips are pressed together. I breathe in and out through my nose while my arms hang at my sides. There is tightness in my throat. Tears blurring my vision. I am putty in his hands. He thinks this is enough. He thinks this ends it. But he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know that it will never be enough for him or for me. There will always be more, there will always be another day, another fight, another rebellion, another crushing. On and on and on. He must know this, somewhere deep inside of him. Last chance, he keeps saying. Last time. How many times has he promised this? Why does he keep going back on his word?

When the cutting is over, I help him up, turn off the light and urge him forward through the tufts of blood stained hair. He says nothing. ‘So much better,’ I am telling him. ‘You’ll feel a lot better for it. Cleaner and smarter. That’s the way forward now. Family business eh?’ We go through the hall and up the stairs to his room.  At the end of the landing, overlooking the back garden, is his room. I open the door slowly and proudly, guiding him in, and reaching for the light. ‘Ta da!’ I say, as he gazes around. It was one of the first rooms I decorated, but I don’t tell him that. Midnight blue. Matching curtains and wooden shutters. Double bed. Matching wardrobe, desk and bedside table. En suite bathroom. ‘Lucky boy eh?’ I close the door behind us and he looks at me briefly and nods his head. I walk around, strutting, checking the window and shutters are locked. I beckon him into the bathroom and he follows slowly, painfully. ‘So much nicer than where you’ve been hiding out,’ I say, pulling the light switch. He stands out though. Pale and shrunken down. Blood on his t-shirt. Sand in what is left of his hair. His jeans are stuck to his legs with sand and rain. I pull open the shower door and give him a nod. ‘Come on. In you go. You can’t go to bed like that.’

There is no point arguing with him. There is no point in me thinking, feeling or reacting. I have to be what he wants me to be for now. I have to be a robot. A nothing, a no one, a shell, a puppet, a doll. While he lets me live, I have to take that and nothing more. So I kick off my wet trainers and I hold onto the wall while I pull off my wet socks. I undo my jeans and let them drop. I pull my t-shirt over my head and my messed up body screams in protest. I cry out, just a little, but then I stop, biting it down, returning to nothing, no one. He steps out of the bathroom while I remove my boxer shorts, and while I am showering off the blood he took from me, he steps back in to gather up my soiled clothes. I am under the water, remembering a scene just like this that was played out three years ago.

I lay his clothes out on the bed. T-shirt and pyjama trousers. He has a whole new wardrobe of clothes and shoes. Tiredness is hitting now. I blow out my breath, and think of my bed and my woman, and tomorrow. Danny comes out of the bathroom with a towel around him and he does not look at me. He looks at the clothes, and then he goes to them and starts putting them, on. ‘Do you want something to help you sleep?’ I ask him. He stops.

            ‘What?’

            ‘Something to help you sleep? I can sort that out for you. Wait.’ I go back into the bathroom, open the cabinet and take out a bottle of pills. He is sat on the bed, hands between his legs. He looks like a ragdoll now. Lifeless and lolling. Collapsing in on himself. His lower lip hanging and swollen. His eyes on the floor. I feel sorry for him then. That always happens, I remember. I yield and soften. He does that to me. I go to him, opening the pot, making him an offer, and he takes it, like a good boy, like a good son taking his medicine, with his new haircut and his new clothes. And then I tell him to go to sleep, I say goodnight and I lock the door behind me. I stand outside for a moment, my eyes closed and my smile soft. I did it.

Why not take the pills? Why fight, why cry out, why question, beg, or scream? Maybe I am in shock. I feel cold all over. I feel like I am floating outside of my body. I lie back on the bed, locked in, broken down, infiltrated. My hands claw at the bedding, holding on, while my body floats. I close my eyes and welcome darkness. Just like before when I was in the car, whilst my mind was drifting on the ocean listening to The Smiths…music is coming back to me now but it’s a different song…where did you go? When things went wrong for you…I whisper to myself in the darkness, like I used to do, mouthing along to the words, comforting myself. I’m coming home…I’m coming home…just for a short while…

In the morning I tell her to wait in the kitchen because I have a surprise for her. Cautious, she does as I ask and I go to his room to collect him. I unlock the door and breathe him in like I used to do, and then I clap my hands together, and this is it, this is how it starts, our new life, our real family, our last and final chance to make this work. I feel new. Without me even asking, he slides out of the bed and heads for the door. I smile, wondering what is in his mind. He is locked up, closed down.

            ‘Come and have breakfast with your mum,’ I tell him. ‘She’s gonna’ be so surprised to see you. Can’t wait to see the look on her face!’

            Shuffling, wincing, but holding it all in, he comes down with me to the kitchen. I notice that his eyes are wrong. Probably the pills wearing off. He is off kilter. A shadow. Her eyes though, her eyes explode when she sees him. She slaps her hand to her mouth. Cries out. Reaches out and then stops herself, looking at me, terrified, disbelieving, overjoyed. They both look to me, waiting for instruction. ‘Give her a hug then!’ I tell him, pushing him forward. ‘She’s been going out of her mind you know!’

Pretending, make believe, a game, a lie. She knows it and I know it, and Lee, knows it too. How long can he keep it up? Smiling and chuckling, with gentle hands. Not for long. We all know that. She wraps her arms around me and whispers into my ear; ‘what happened? Are you all right?’

            ‘What do you think of the hair?’ I ask her, ignoring the question, pulling back to take up the stool he has pulled out for me. My voice sounds strange when it comes out. Thick and slow. My head is fuzzed. Everything is blurred. Her hand shakes as she reaches out to touch it. Tears are falling down her trembling cheeks.

            ‘Very nice,’ she says, because she knows this is what she must say. ‘Very nice indeed. It’s so good to see you…’

            ‘Coffee is on,’ he announces to his bright shining room and his dulled and fading prisoners. ‘Oh, that’ll be the newspaper.’

            He goes to get it, and her eyes widen and her head jerks towards the French doors leading out to the garden. I laugh softly and look away from her. She still doesn’t get it like I do. This is going to end, one way or another. One of us will have to die. But not yet. Not today.

            Today is a good day. Today is the best day. Today is the day we all get another chance, another shot. We are all reborn and new today. We enjoy a quiet, lazy morning. Coffee and toast. TV and newspapers. Danny and his mother sit together on the sofa, and she strokes his limp hand and when she looks at me, I can see how grateful she is. He doesn’t say much, but then he never did, not really. Not unless he was losing the plot and screaming at me. But there will be none of that now, not this time. He is home.

            Days pass like this. Me and him, playing the game. Mum on the outside looking in. Her white face and her bruised cheeks and her mouth hanging open, never knowing what to do or say. Days and nights. I don’t have my music here, but it’s okay, because it is in my head. I sing all the songs inside my head. I keep them all going. Days when we march like tin soldiers, and nights when I am dead, because he gives me the pills. Oh the temptation of the pills…To not feel, to not think, to not care or wonder or wish or dream. To not exist. All night long I do not exist. I am gone. Until morning, when it wears off sluggishly and I feel more weighed down than ever. The police come and go, but he has not seen me, no one has. My friends come and go, but the same story applies. No one has seen me. I have gone.

He never leaves us alone. He keeps the doors and windows locked. He tells me that there is a cellar below the house and he will take me down there if any of that old defiance comes back into my eyes. So it is good to have the pills. It is safer to be blank, and dead, and shut up. But I still know one thing. I know and he knows, that it doesn’t really matter how well I play the game, it doesn’t really matter how good I am, or how short my hair is, or how neat my clothes, or how silent my life. He can’t keep this up forever, because he needs it. He needs to release the beast inside of him every now and again, like a werewolf on a full moon, like a vampire that needs a taste of human blood, he can’t survive without it.

Days pass, and all is good. All is well. We all feel like we are on holiday, but holidays always have to end. I feel a great sense of achievement though. I go back to work on the fifth night, leaving them together, and while I am working, a hollowness opens up inside my chest. It fills with ice and I am cold from top to bottom. I resist calling them. I have to trust them. Or am I an utter fool? I rush home early, my shirt sleeves rolled up, spilled beer down my front and sweat across my forehead. But I needn’t have worried. She is asleep on the sofa with the lights off and the TV on. I run up the stairs two at a time, but he is in his bed, snoring softly. The little bottle of pills is on the bedside table. I check it, a brief stab of paranoia lurching me forward, but it is fine. It’s fine. He just took one. He just took it early and now he is asleep. I let out my breath and my shoulders roll down and I close my eyes and smile and inhale. No need to panic.

On day six his personality cracks open and splits right down the middle. The devil is set free, for a brief and predictable two minutes. He is spitting rage and eyeballs rolling. He is muscles tight and huge and hard and he is tiny teeth bared like a wild animal. If I wasn’t so spaced out on pills I would probably laugh right in his face before reaching for a knife and going for it. My movements are thick and sluggish because of the pills and in passing my mother the strawberry jam, my elbow makes a grand error and nudges his coffee mug just as he reaches for it. He knocks it more than I do, but that does not matter. Truth never matters. The next thing I know he has my face down in the coffee, my stubby hair soaking up the hot brown puddle, while my mother sucks in her terror with hands over mouth and huge moon eyes. Afterwards I feel gratified and amused. And that night I take the pill and hide it under my mattress. The time is coming.

He’s still a good boy though, he’s still a good boy. He says sorry and he does whatever I tell him, and he keeps his room clean and tidy, and he has his nice short hair and new neat clothes, and no music up there in his room, and takes his showers, and eats his food and does his chores without a word. And his friends stay away, they all stay away. And the cellar is a threat, and the puddle of coffee is just a warning. And it’s just a twitch, the way I am, the way I feel, it’s just a twitch inside of me, a little explosion that takes place sometimes. And the truth I try to bury is that I really quite enjoy it. I don’t like fights. But I do like beating flesh.

I don’t have much time. Not much time left in this house with the monster. Not much time left in this world, or this life. I don’t feel sad about this. I am still numbed and silent, except for the music inside my head. The music is always there. The music is my only friend now. It washes in and out, takes my hand and holds it tight. I curl my fingers in response and remember to breathe. The spiralling guitars jangle through my ear canals, warming up my brain, pulsing inside my heart. It’s time, they say, it’s time to go, it’s time to move, it’s time to act.

He’s humming in his room. I can hear him from the hallway. Humming and murmuring. Singing along to nothing. Why does it make my fists clench? Why does it make my jaw tight? Why does the sound of it grate on my nerves like finger nails down a blackboard?

He comes up to see me, and I can see it there on his face. His jaw is twitching. His eyes are restless. His chin quivers as he points his finger at me and demands to know what I am singing about. ‘Nothing, sorry,’ I tell him and I try to tell him something else with my eyes, because we are almost telepathic, me and him. We don’t need to speak, or argue, or beat around the bush. He can feel it trembling to life within him, and I can feel it vibrating inside of me. We stare at each other and I feel like fireworks are going off in my brain.

I’d like to…I want to…I don’t though, I don’t. We’ve moved on. We’re doing better now. I back off, I back out of the room and move quickly down the stairs. I want my heart to slow down.

I wait until I hear the garage door rising up to release his beast. I go out onto the landing and into their bedroom. It’s all shiny black silk and mirrors. The doors to the balcony are open and the cream curtains are blowing in the wind. I go to the doors and watch his car leaving. It purrs away down the road and he is gone. All I need is a ten pence piece.

I don’t need to be in work for long. I am thinking this as I drive. The hairs on my arms are all on end. I shake my head, try to rip free of the tingles down my spine. Why did he stare at me like that? What was he saying? I don’t need to be long. I’ll leave the manager in charge. I’ll just tie up a few things in the office and hurry back.

I don’t take anything but the ten pence piece. I find it in my mother’s purse which is on her dressing table. She is downstairs, swishing the mop around the wet look tiles. I won’t speak to her. I won’t go near her. I can’t. It’s life or death, you see. His or mine. I know exactly what I am going to do. I take nothing. I don’t need a thing. I climb over the balcony, and ease my legs down one by one. It’s about a ten foot drop to the soft lush grass beneath. I let go and land neatly and silently under the kitchen window. For a brief moment I think of her in there, swirling circles on the floor. I wonder if she can see her face in them yet. I wonder if it will kill her that I never said goodbye. But I can’t hang about. The look that passed between him and I meant too much, and he will be back. I turn around and run. There is a phone box at the end of the road, and I have one number in my head. It’s the only phone number I know off by heart, and it is the only number I need to call.

In my office, on the phone, behind the bar, checking stock, and the feeling grows and grows and swells and consumes me. It’s like I can’t breathe properly. I have to keep opening my mouth to swallow more air, and it doesn’t work, it’s never enough. My chest is getting tighter, as are all my muscles until I feel like I am too stiff to move. My head is pounding, pain rippling at the temples. My throat is dry, my lips are trembling. That look. That look he gave me. That humming and singing and mumbling. I need to go back and check on things. We’ve come so far now…I can’t relax too quickly and let it all go wrong again…I just can’t.

As I run I wonder if anyone can see me. I wonder if anyone is upstairs in their house, looking out of the window, or standing on the balcony. It doesn’t matter anyway. I am running so fast I am nearly gone already. No one could catch me now. No one could stop me. I am running so fast, and soon enough I will take off and fly.

My hands are shaking as I stick the key in the ignition. My palms greasy with sweat. I try calling home, just to check, but no one picks up the phone, which enrages me further. He gave me a look. It was the way he used to look at me, back then. Even after I’d pounded him, even after I’d smashed him into the ground, even after I’d made him vomit and bleed. He’d look at me in the same way. It was always the same, always the same. Fuck you. It was fuck you. Again and again and again, until I wanted to kill him. I will kill you. I will end it. I’ve warned him a million times. This was the last chance, the last, I am not going through this again, and again and again!

I run along the cliff-top. I am so close to the edge now. I can see over, I can see down. I can see the water crashing against the rocks. I keep running until I am back where he put me. Beyond the red and white tape, to the spot where the land caved in. I stop here, as close to the edge as I can get. The tips of my shoes teasing the land, daring it to crumble. I lean forward, smiling down at the water, wondering if it wants me.

Traffic all the way home. And the bad feeling rises and expands inside of me. I finally get through to Kay on the phone. She sounds confused and far away. ‘Where’s Danny?’ I ask her. ‘What’s he doing?’ She takes the phone around the house with her to check. I hear doors opening and closing. I hear her breath getting shorter, more panicked.

‘He’s not in his room. I don’t know where he is!’

‘Fucks sake!’ I spit at her and hang up the phone.

On the edge of the cliff I am standing and falling at the same time. I close my eyes and the air on my face is cold and pure and I think about flying and soaring and I think about finally being free. I think about living without fear and hatred. I think about one of us living and one of us dying. I’ve got so much music in my head that I think it will explode and become me. Just me and the music. All that remains.

Finally I swerve the car into the drive, get out and start running. She follows me around the house, breathing and sobbing, ducking from my punches, as I scream and shout and tear the place apart. He’s not anywhere, he’s not hiding, he’s gone! I search his room and nothing is missing. Nothing is missing from anywhere. He has left in the clothes and shoes he was wearing this morning. Little bastard. Fucking little bastard! I push her away to escape her mewling and I am back out of the door, looking right and left, thinking, my head hurting too much to think right! Where would he go? Who would he go to?

It’s cold here. I have a heaviness inside my gut when I think about leaving them all behind. So I try not to. Instead, I just think about being free. Weightless.

It’s too late by the time I get there. I wasted all that time driving around looking for his friends. They were useless, they knew nothing or are very good liars. Nothing. Nowhere. Until I remembered that night on the cliff top. Something made me go there. I went on foot, my shoulders hanging, my head low. My feet like concrete. As I make my way towards the cliff, the rain starts to fall. I can see something sat there, right on the edge, waiting for me. When I get closer I see that it is his shoes. He has left his shoes on the edge of the cliff and he has gone. I am on my knees, my hands clutching his shoes, and down below, the waves are giants pounding the cliff, breaking and rolling and screaming over the jagged rocks.

We’re in the car, Jaime and me. The only number I knew by heart. He came as fast as he could, and I ran to his car as fast as I could. So fast and light I was flying. Leapt in and slammed the door on myself before the pull of the fall became too much for me to resist.

‘Where we going?’ he wants to know, as we hit the motorway and the speed climbs towards seventy. ‘Where are your shoes?’

I want to say a lot of things to him, but only one thing is important right now.

‘I’m dead Jaime, okay? I want you to remember that. I’m dead.’

Author’s note; This short story is actually an alternative ending to my novel The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. If you would like to know more about these characters and how they ended up in this situation, you can get the book here; http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boy-Thorn-His-Side-ebook/dp/B00W8DLGKA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431972783&sr=1-1&keywords=the+boy+with+the+thorn+in+his+side

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side: Chapter 2

Two

April 1993

So where did it all start?  What do we go back to?  We go back to me, wanting a fight.  I didn’t like sport, and I had no interest in cars.  I liked books and my own imagination.  I didn’t mind a kickabout, but I did not follow a team.  I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what, and whatever it was always eluded me, so all I could do was fight, because everything seemed futile and I was always angry.  Me, always wanting to fight.  That was where it began.

 

We’ll go back to 1993. You might remember it.  You might have been there too.  The Conservative Party were still in power, and had been for my entire life.  Bill Clinton was the President of the United States.  It was a year of violence and horror in the news, I remember that because certain grotesque stories stuck inside my head. The abduction and murder of two year old James Bulger by two schoolboys.  The stand-off and fire at Waco, Texas, where seventy-six members of David Koresh’s cult died alongside him.  The racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.  The troubles escalating in Iraq.  Horror, everywhere you turned, everywhere you looked, even in music.  You see, I remember 1993 for lots of reasons, and music is one of them.  The charts were shoddy.  Whitney Houstons’ ‘I Will Always Love You’ dominated the start of the year, and it didn’t get much better after that.  I discovered that you had to look for music, you had to seek it out, and hunt it down, go forwards as well as backwards.  I had just moved house with my mother, and older brother John.  I was a stranger, a new kid, sullen and jarred by the unfairness of her mistakes affecting me.  I was standing on the edge of a great swelling discovery; music.  I felt like I was turning the pages of a good book faster and faster, but that I would never get to the end, I would never discover all of the music.

 

It thrummed in my ears, Guns ‘N’ Roses, my new favourite band. November Rain. Except it was April, not November, and it was sunny, not raining, and as I stared through the net curtains at the window, I knew there would have to be some kind of fight.  I knew it, and they knew it.  It had been three days now.  I couldn’t let it go on any longer, couldn’t bear to.  They were always out there, circling slowly on their battered bikes, like vultures, hovering on the perimeter of some unfortunate half dead prey. I stuffed my hands into my pockets and glared at them.  They would shuffle their bikes together and flick their mean eyed gaze to the house, where I lay trapped within.  They appeared hungry to me, huddling together, heads low and shoulders hunched, discussing me.  Their foreheads would almost touch, before they would all recoil again suddenly, dramatically, mouths gaping with laughter muffled by the window pane.  I reached for them, touched the glass with an outstretched index finger and knew they were laughing at me.  The new boy.

 

So what did they want?  I felt they were waiting for me to decide, waiting for me to make the first move.  A fight then.  Better than feeling like a prisoner, holed up in the new house, while my mother and brother moved our old lives into it behind me.  The boys had appeared on the first day, rolling in on their beat up BMX’s, heads low, hair long and eyes flat.  Their arrival had made me pause in the doorway to the new house, cardboard box in arms.  Hello had worked its way to the tip of my tongue, but at the emergence of three piercing scowls, the word had evaporated in the air before me. The second day had been worse. I’d been sent out to retrieve my mothers’ handbag from the front seat of the car, and they had been out there again, just watching.  “Forgot your handbag?” the dark one had called out in a mock high voice, sending the other two boys into howls of laughter.  I’d gritted my teeth and gone back in.  That had cemented it.  I had a problem.  Again and again I returned to the living room window, drawn to the dusty panes like a moth to the light, not wanting to know they were after me, but unable to stay back and ignore their presence.

 

I had been thinking about the dark one.  The dark one was the ringleader, without a doubt.  The one I would have to fight.  Winning did not really matter at this point, and I knew this.  But starting the fight, and putting up a good one, would mean everything.  The dark boy was bigger than me, with jet black hair long on his neck and hanging down over his eyes.  Those eyes gleamed at me from across the street.  He looked angry, I thought.

 

It felt like my body was always rigid with displeasure, arms crossed tightly, jaw jutting out, forehead creased with a frown.  Of course they; my mum and my brother, just bumped and bundled past me, sighing and clicking their tongues.  I did as little as I could to help them carry our old life through the doors.  They did their best to skirt around my dark moods, making light of everything like they always did, while I merely stood and considered the injustices they forced upon me.  I wondered dismally if life had been this unfair to my mother at age thirteen, but she never told me anything, so I wouldn’t know.  I just felt like we were not supposed to be here, in this new place, and the unfairness of it all formed a constant lump in my gut, that twisted and churned every time I saw my mothers’ face.  Every time I looked at her, the same thought would fill my mind, literally going off like a bomb in there; I am being punished for her mistakes.

 

I got away with shooting her the odd hard look, but I couldn’t push it too far, or she would go off on one.  She thought the same when she looked at me though, I knew it.  The looks she gave me were cautious ones.  We tiptoed around each other, or we locked horns and fought.  That was the way it was, the way it had always been.  She made me laugh sometimes when she went off.  When she gave the full works, it was hair pulling and everything.  She’s even smashed plates and things. Why can’t you be more like your brother? You are the thorn in my bloody side! Funny stuff, if you were in the right mood for it.  My brother, Good Boy John I called him just to wind him up.  The golden boy.  I could have hated him, but he was too fucking nice for that.

 

I bided my time.  I watched and waited, gearing myself up for the challenges that lie ahead.  If mum or John vocalised their despair at my lack of movement, I would just turn and offer them my iciest stare.  You don’t have to be me, I thought, whenever I looked at them, you don’t have to go out there at some point and face those boys, and it was true. So she’d moved us to this seaside town called Redchurch.  She used to holiday there when she was a kid.  She raved on and on about the beaches, and the quay, and the ancient Priory church.  I didn’t give a shit.  She’d made it sound like we were moving to millionaires row or something, like we would be out on a fucking yacht every day or whatever.  Of course, she was on her own since my dad bailed out years ago, so all we could afford was a rented end terrace house on the housing estate at the edge of town.  It was like a box, identical to all the others.  Dull.  The kitchen was tiny, just big enough to squeeze the round table into one corner, although you had to suck your tummy in when you passed it to reach the back door.  The kitchen window gave a view of the postage stamp sized garden.  Like all the other rooms in the house the kitchen was painted magnolia.  The floor covered in cheap beige lino, and all the other carpets were grey. From the kitchen, the hallway led to the front door, with a downstairs toilet under the stairs, and the living room to the right.  I’m not saying we lived in a mansion or a castle or anything before, but this place just hung with inescapable dullness.  I felt nothing but apathy for it, and I needed some excitement.

 

What was amusing was watching her stride purposefully from room to room, in those first few days.  Always with this cloth headband on her head.  I’d never seen her wear things like that before, so it made me sneer a bit.  She had an outfit for every occasion, my mum, and denim shorts, red vest top and matching head band appeared to her moving house ensemble. I watched her scurrying about, lugging boxes, scrubbing windows, and knocking down cobwebs, and all the time she was spouting all this excited drivel at us; “we’ll soon put our stamp on it won’t we boys? Can’t wait to start decorating! Don’t you want to go out and explore Danny? There is so much to do around here!”  She was doing her best to be positive I suppose, I’ll give her that much, but there was guilt behind it, and that irritated me.  She wore a permanent fake smile, painted across her face, while her eyes gave her away as usual.  The smile had shown no signs of cracking just yet, and I knew that when it eventually did, it would be because of me. “Wait until you see the beach, it’s gorgeous!” she was prattling on behind me.  “You’ll want to spend the whole summer down there Danny. It’s amazing.  And the town even has its own cinema you know? Did I tell you that already?  Why don’t you go out for a bit and have a look eh?”

To this I turned and looked at her.  I suppose she was getting sick of the sight of me, so I sighed in response.  As much as she tried to keep up this jolly front for us, I knew that my dark moods irritated her.  Unable to think of a response that was not rude, I looked back out at the street, my stomach giving a little lurch when I remembered that I would be starting school in two days.  “You’re really going to love it,” she was saying now. You are going to love it, I corrected her inwardly, you think it’s all amazing, not me.  At that moment John came into the living room with an armful of books.

“You could pop to the shop,” he started saying, without even looking at me.  He dumped the books on the sofa and trudged back out again. “You’re not exactly any help to us here,” he threw back over his shoulder.  I glanced at mum.  She had a bottle of cleaning spray tucked under one arm, and had picked up one of the books.  Her blue eyes regarded me cautiously.

“You can go out you know Danny.  Go on, go out and explore! You’re started to get on my nerves just stood there the whole time staring!  What are you looking at anyway?”  She dropped the book and came around the sofa.

“You guys can never wait to get rid of me, can you?” I shot back, arms folded, as she arrived at my side.  John groaned out in the hallway, but that was all from him.  He hated confrontation, and never liked to get involved in anything.  That didn’t stop my mother from calling on him constantly for back up though. He’d always do his best to be fair.  He’d try not to take sides, and he was really good at calming mum down when she lost the plot with me, but you could always see he hated it.  It made him uncomfortable, stepping in, playing the father figure.  We looked nothing alike, John and me, and everyone always mentioned it.  John was tall and broad shouldered, thick chested, and kept his mousy brown hair neat and short.  I suppose he was good looking, in a traditional, conventional kind of way.  Girls always seemed to go for him anyway.  He was the double of his dad, everyone always mentioned that too.  They never said I looked like my dad though; just that I had my mothers’ eyes as well as her temper.

With mum beside me, I felt the niggling urge to nudge her away, to poke an elbow at her, but I didn’t.  Instead I folded my arms even tighter and looked back out of the window.  I noticed right away that the boys had gone.  I had not seen them go, and wondered what exciting distraction had finally torn them away from me.  I reached out then and scraped my finger nails down the pane.  I wouldn’t say I did this deliberately to annoy my mother, I just sort of did it without thinking, but she reacted like I had, leaping backwards, slamming her hands against her ears and looking at me in horror.  “For God’s sake Danny!” she practically shrieked at me. “Stop that awful noise and just do something!” I didn’t look at her then, but I could imagine her perfect red smile splintering on her face.  I turned to her reluctantly and right away the expression on her face made me decide to get the hell out of there after all.  It was the face she only seemed to give to me; all taut and tight, anger mixed with anxiety, fear mixed with love, I don’t know, but it was always the same and it always depressed me one way or another.  I narrowed me eyes at her.  Looked her up and down, which I knew she hated, because she had a real paranoia about being judged, by anyone.  I wanted to shake my head at her, maybe I did just a little bit, just at the sight of her, not quite forty with two teenage boys.  She was always wearing tight fitting clothes which made me question exactly how the hell I was meant to take her seriously.

 

I threw up my hands in mock and exaggerated defeat and stormed past her. “All right I’ll get out if it makes you happy!” I yanked open the front door and paused long enough to shout again; “happy now?”  They said nothing, but I could feel their relief.  I’d walked for a few fast minutes before I realised how warm the day was.  I slowed down, blinking in aggravation at the sun, and removed my shirt to tie around my waist.  Under the shirt I had this cool Guns ‘N’ Roses t-shirt I had picked up back home.  Black, with the guns and roses logo in the middle.  I could smell the sea. It twitched my nostrils and I wondered if I could even hear it.  The sky was pale blue, and streaked with low slung clouds.  I shoved my hands into my pockets and stomped along, my hair hanging down over my eyes the way I liked it.  I remembered then that I still couldn’t even listen to my music, as they hadn’t found the cord for my stereo yet.  That was part of the reason I’d spent so much time staring out of the window, I reasoned, as I marched on.  My mum had laughed when she saw me organising my small collection of tapes on the desk in my room, tapes I couldn’t even play until they found my cord or bought me some batteries. “You seem to love everything I hate!” she remarked, and then she had given me a stern look. “I don’t want to hear swear words coming from your room young man.” I’d smiled secretly at this.  What she didn’t know was that all the tapes I owned had swear words on them.  It wasn’t the swear words I liked though, not really, it was the music, you know the screeching guitars and the mad drums, but not just that, it was the lyrics.  She always moaned and said she couldn’t hear a word they were saying, but she didn’t listen, or she didn’t care.  The lyrics were brilliant, and I was always scribbling them down, so I could learn them or think about them.  I don’t know why, but they just always seemed apt to me.  It’s like I would be thinking or feeling something, for whatever reason, and then a song would come on and I would think, hey fuckinghell, that’s exactly what I mean! I had Axl Rose in my head as I walked then, and as usual the words were spot on; when I look around, everybody always brings me down, well is it them or me, well I just can’t see, but there ain’t no peace to be found. You see what I mean? Brilliant. There are song lyrics for every moment of your life, you know.  Every second.

 

Nodding to the music in my head, I walked to the end of Curlew Close, and turned right.  There were more houses, identical to ours, with a wide expanse of green in the middle of them.  There were kids out, riding bikes and scooters in loops around the houses.  I stalked quickly past them, lifting my head long enough to see trees in the distance, up on a hill. I was looking for a place where I could smoke my cigarette in peace.  I was thinking about my smoke, and I was thinking maybe I would stay out for hours and make them worry about me, and I was also thinking what would happen if I ran into those boys?

By the time I reached the top of the hill I was a bit out of breath, and sweating under my hair.  I pushed it back and walked on.  My mum was constantly on about the hair.  She hated how long it was, which only made me want to grow it longer.  I had this huge poster of Axl Rose on my wall above my bed, and his hair was way longer, and looked so cool.   

. I crossed the road and slipped under the low fence that surrounded the park.  At the bottom was a football pitch, and some younger kids were in the middle of a game.  I slunk around the edge of them, and headed up the hill.  To the right was a swing park, which didn’t really interest me.  I kept on until I was at the top of the hill, and from there I could see woods in the distance.  I was getting desperate for a smoke now.  I didn’t think I was addicted yet though.  The first time I’d smoked at all was when I was twelve.  Me and this boy from my old school used to walk home together, and one day he just had some, so I gave it a try.  I’ve got to be honest, I found it pretty disgusting to start with.  I left it alone for about a year, and then I started pinching them from my mums’ handbag when she started going on about moving us.  It was the stress, you see.  I didn’t find it disgusting anymore.  I loved everything about it.  The taste, the smell, the feel of the fag between my fingers, lighting them up, everything, especially the thrill of not being allowed.  I spotted an empty bench under a tree, not far from the woods, and headed for it, one hand in the back pocket of my jeans, fishing out the stolen cigarette.

 

I sat on the bench, pulled up my legs, hugged my knees and lit up.  I felt momentarily happy.  I watched the smoke circling above my head and I felt my body loosening up for the first time in days, relaxing.  Behind me, I thought I could hear the distant roar and crash of waves, and guessed I must be pretty close to the beach my mother had been raving about.  I’d only taken a few tokes when I spotted the trio of boys entering the park down where I had.  I didn’t recognise them at first.  I had to squint down, hold one hand up against the glare of the sun and still I didn’t realise it was them until it was too late to move.  Not that I would have run off or anything, anyway.  I watched them plough through the younger kids football game, charging at the kids when they protested, sending them scattering like skittles across the grass.  They came up the hill quickly then, but I wasn’t sure if they had seen me or not.  It was them.  The three boys from the street.

 

Shit, I thought, and lowered my feet to the ground.  I had no choice but to stay put and try to appear either cool, or invisible.  So I sucked on my smoke and watched them get closer.  They had slowed right down now, and were slouching their way towards me, and I saw the tallest one flick back his hair and say something to the other two.  I took the chance to look them up and down and take them in properly for the first time.  They were all dressed alike, scruffy jeans with holes around the knees, checked shirts worn unbuttoned over t-shirts, and hair that was too long.

 

They stopped right in front of me, so I looked up at them expectantly and wondered whether I ought to smile or not.  For some stupid reason I felt the strongest urge just to grin at them.  The tall one stood back slightly, his arms crossed loosely around his middle.  He had pale brown hair that curled in wisps around his ears and danced across his forehead.  His face was lean, his cheekbones high and his hazel eyes sombre.  The smallest one had a squat and stocky build.  His hair was rusty orange, stiff and wiry, while his eyes were a bright and inquisitive green.  He placed one foot up on the bench beside me.  I glanced at the dirty Adidas trainer next to me, and then looked back at them.  The dark haired boy was just staring at me, his only movement being a quick shake of his head to knock the hair from his eyes.  I had to concentrate hard now, to keep the scowl on my own face.  My lips wanted to smile, and there was a tremor of a giggle caught in my throat.  I sat up, straightening my back, reacting to a shiver of excitement that shot up my spine.  “You’re on our bench mate.” The dark haired boy said finally.  Again I had to fight hard not to smile, or laugh, but it just sounded so funny.  I looked at each of them carefully in turn, and then I glanced down at the bench I was sat on.  I drew on the cigarette and puffed the smoke out towards them.

“I don’t see your name on it mate.”

The boy raised his thick black eyebrows in return.  The other two looked at each other, and the small ginger one sniggered.  “You’re the boy who’s just moved in.”

 I nodded. “You’re the boys always out the front.”

“What’s your name?”

“Danny.”

“Guns and Roses are so fucking over mate,” the small one said then, taking me a little by surprise.  He was sneering at my t-shirt, the one I was so proud of, and the other two were laughing softly now.  I tried not to let my confusion show.  Part of me wanted to explain that I had only recently been getting into music, and there was just so much of it, that I felt I would never be able to catch up.  I frowned a little at the small kid then. I wondered what he knew that I didn’t.

“In your opinion,” I told him.

“Where you from?” back to the dark boy.

“Southampton.”

“Why’d you move here?”

“My mum,” I shrugged, and told them. I was still trying to work out if there was any chance they were actually being friendly, but the persistent scowl on the dark boys face was not giving me much hope.  I could tell they were waiting for more. “She had this mental boyfriend,” I explained. “She dumped him and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Started following her everywhere and making weird phone calls, so we moved.”

“You mean like a stalker?” the ginger boy asked, leaning over his knee now, while his green eyes widened in interest.  I felt doubtful.  I hadn’t heard that word before, not in relation to crazy old James anyway.  So I shrugged.

“Think so.”

“So where’s your dad then?” the dark boy wanted to know.

I shrugged again. “I dunno.”

I saw a look pass between them, and it gave me the feeling that I was going to get away with it this time, that I was going to be able to walk away from this.  The other two boys had their eyes on the dark one, and I felt like they wanted to discuss me.  I also knew I was right, about him being the ringleader, the one I had to beat, and I felt that fizz of excitement course through me again, churning my guts and making my limbs feel restless. I wanted a fight.  I needed  a fight. Finally the dark haired boy put his hands on his hips, dropped his shoulders a little, and sighed.

“Okay Danny, whatever your name is, this is our bench right? We come up here to have a smoke and a chat, so I’m gonna’ ask you nicely to get up and fuck off back where you came from, okay?”

I blew my breath out really slowly, and glanced down for a moment.  I took one last, long drag on my cigarette before tossing it behind me. I wanted them to think I was considering the offer.  What I really wanted to do was either laugh in his face, or smash my fist into it.  I quite liked the idea of a fight, to be honest.  I wondered how mental my mother would go if I came back home all bloodied and messed up.  But I was outnumbered, and I was smaller than two of them.  I was waiting urgently for some kind of fucking growth spurt, but my mum kept telling me not to hold my breath.  You have my build, she would tell me, making me want to tear out my own hair and stuff it into my ears so I wouldn’t have to listen to her.  Small and light, like a bird, she was fond of saying.  Yeah great, a fucking bird no less, exactly the look a teenage boy wants to have.  I shrugged carelessly and got up from the bench.  I tried to move as slowly and casually as possible, exaggerating all of my movements to make it look like the most boring thing in the world.  “Okay go for it then mate,” I told him, sliding through them and gesturing back towards his precious bench.  “I was leaving anyway.”

I started to walk away, but walked backwards for a bit. “Maybe I’ll see you guys in school on Monday,” I told them.  I nodded at the dark boy then.  “Maybe I’ll see you in school on Monday.”

“You starting at Somerley?” he called after me.  I nodded and kept walking.  “See you Monday morning then,” he said, and when I looked back at him one last time, I saw him nod at me.  His face was dark and serious, his eyes narrowed down to slits, his lips tight.  I understood that expression perfectly, so I grinned and laughed.

“See you then,” I said, and didn’t look back again.

I walked back with a small smile upon my face.  It was all spinning around and around inside my head.  The boys, the bench, the threat.  School.  When I thought about those mean eyed kids, I felt something fill the emptiness inside of me, and it was a relief.  I would either have to fight them, or win them over. Whatever happened, it was going to be interesting.