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

 

In Blood – short story

In Blood

We met in blood.

His and mine.

Sweet, dark tangy blood. Do you know how it tastes? Thick, dark blood. The essence of life. I do. And I like it. I like the rich, metallic tang, and I like the full, intense aroma, and I like the sight of blood in its many forms and shades.

In blood, it ended the same way that it started, and now they call us toxic. They call us sick. But I will wait for him.  We are connected now. His blood runs with mine.

The night of the party, that was our night. Our first night. But I had been watching him for a long time before that.  Let mel tell you what I saw. I saw a brute, a bear, a man, a thug. He was top heavy with arm muscles and his movements were precise and fast. He was a man who had never doubted himself, never questioned anything. He did not know hesitation or procrastination. He knew who he was, and the best thing about him was that he did not give a shit about anything. Not one single thing, not one single person.

Everyone knew who he was. The big lad, the top one, the bully boy from the bad family. Bad reputation. From the estate. Not to be messed with. Steer clear. If you had the brains you were born with, you would steer clear. But silly girls never listened. Silly girls saw his looks and his power and believed they could change him. But not me; I never wanted to change him.

I didn’t worry about brains, although I had plenty of them. Instead I concerned myself with instinct; where my guts led me. Besides, trouble was fun. Good girls were dull. Life was short, and Heaven was a lie.

He didn’t notice me back then. I was in the background. I think that is how he sees most people. Blurred noise while he cuts through it all. You always see him coming. You always stand back, hold your breath, look on. I remember doing that, when I was just in the background, looking in. I was a self-satisfied,  slinky, skin slashing, know it all. I still am.

I watched him, watched and learned. I was intrigued. I thought maybe, we had things in common. You see the thing about him I liked, was the thing about him they all hated, or feared. He was mean. He didn’t give a shit about anyone. He would hurt you, use you, laugh at you. It was just him and his brother Travis to take on the world; the twosome, one long and lanky and messy haired, and him, solid and immoveable. The younger brothers were not on his radar, not any of them. Not the little sticky fingered brats, and not Joe. If Joe was anything to him, it was a punch-bag.

I didn’t care about Joe. Not much. Or Lou, my so called best friend. I try not to care about people, for numerous reasons. It’s boring, for one thing. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but people are mostly terribly boring. Plus if you do care about them, it tends to get sticky and complicated. So, we had that in common at least. Me and Leon. See, I knew it would work. I knew it was right. If I had said such a thing to Lou or Joe, or to anyone, they would have laughed and jeered, and then looked at me as if I was crazy. Yes, I am a little bit crazy, I want to tell them, so fucking what? Who isn’t anyway? Everyone is fucked up, and that is the truth, my friends. That is the truth. With some people it’s obvious. It’s written all over their face or their body. Some people hide it better, but usually they are the ones who are more fucked up than anyone. At least the freaks and the geeks and the oddities let it loose, let it out, embrace it and rejoice it. Be different.

Don’t be afraid of pain.

That night, we caught each other’s eye for the first time, and it was all how I knew it would be. I get a feeling, a sense about these things. I was tiny and dark in my little dress and shoes, and he was the monster I invited to my party. The kitchen was full of people, packed tight. But Leon was the only one I could see. The rest were blurry-faced. I moved closer to him, and then moved away. I caught his eye, and then refused to look back at him. I watched from the edges as he drank beer with his brothers and Lou. I felt flashes of hot, surprising rage, when she looked like she was in the centre of them. All three brothers looking at her and laughing as she got pissed up.

I made my move when she ran outside to be sick and Travis followed her. Joe turned away from his brother, and Leon was alone.  He took a chair and sat down, and before he could lift his beer to his lips, I was on his lap.

‘It’s quieter upstairs,’ I told him, and then I was gone. I heard his curious tread coming up the stairs behind me.  I opened my bedroom door,  and in he came. Just like that. We didn’t talk a lot at first. He sipped his beer and looked around at my room. Then he went to the window to check out the garden.

‘Your bedroom is about the size of our house,’ he muttered, and I laughed. I was lying on my bed and playing with my razor.

‘Don’t you get bored,’ I said to him. ‘With everything, and everyone?’

He came closer, his eyes narrowing in on my razor blade. ‘What are you, suicidal?’

‘No, not at all. I’m just bored. And I’m interested in pain. How about you? Tell me something interesting about you.’

He was quiet for a moment, just watching me. He looked hungry then, like a dog sizing up a good, juicy bone.  I waited for him, eyebrows raised.

He said; ‘I’ve got a wrap of coke in my back pocket, if you’re interested.’

I grinned and held up my razor. ‘Well aren’t we just made for each other?’

And we sat together at my desk, and I passed him my blade to chop up the coke, and my bare leg was pressed against his denim clad one, and the pulses in my body were on fire, throbbing and swelling. And then she knocked on the door. That little bitch.

Let me tell you a few things about Lou Carling.

She used to be fat, but now she’s not. She’s on a mission to destroy herself, and I am along for the ride. These kinds of things are interesting. After all, isn’t that the gist of being human? Isn’t that the curse? Once we are old enough to understand that everything must die, we start to destroy ourselves any way we can. Drugs. Drink. Sex. Work. Hate. Love. You name it. It cuts us up, from the inside out. Lou Carling is one of these people, cutting herself up on the inside where nobody can see it. On the outside she is tough and sarcastic and slow to smile. For some reason, she cannot see that her best friend Joe is totally and utterly in love with her. It makes me quite sick. It’s almost like incest. I’m not kidding. They were bathed together as kids, ran around naked in the garden, you name it. But now that their bodies have grown and been honed and hemmed and tightened and lengthened, things are getting all screwed up. Believe me, spend ten minutes in a room with those two and you will want to scream at the top of your lungs; for God’s sake just fuck each other and get it over with!

But anyway. I digress. Lou Carling, short and sweet and bitter and more fucked than any of us. I hang around with her because I want to see how fast she unravels. I want to see what lies underneath.

She knocked on the door with Joe because she was worried about me. How sweet. What happened next was not surprising to anyone at that party. Leon went out there, called her a few choice names, and then beat his brother up. Meanwhile she stormed past them to see if I was okay, and yes, how surprising, I was okay! I was chopping up lines of coke, and she could join in if she wanted to, but no.  No, of course, not Lou Carling. Not perfect little Lou. Smoking the odd spliff with Joe and drinking cider in the park is fine, but you know, anything else is evil! We had words and she went on her merry way to see to her precious non-boyfriend.

When Leon came back in, he had blood on his knuckles and blood on his face.

‘Little bastard,’ he said, under his breath.

God, I wanted him then. I wanted him so much. I couldn’t even speak. But that didn’t matter, because it was all there in the way he looked at me, and the way I looked at him. He was breathing hard and fast, and part of me wished I had gone out there to watch. Pow! Pow! Take that Joe, you little runt, you loser, you nothing!

I don’t mean it. Not really. I kind of like Joe. I kind of like everyone.

But things get so boring

We got back to business. I watched his face as he cut up the powder. I examined the contours of his features, and the curve of his chest, as he breathed fast, in and out. The muscles flexed on his bare arms. He was so very alive. And so was I. So was everything and everyone. It got so much I wanted to eat it. I wanted to grab the whole world and all the fizzing exploding swelling life within it, and shove it right into open mouth, chew it up and swallow it down. Weird, when you feel like that.

We took our medicine and then went to lie on my bed. We kicked off our shoes and stared at the patterns on the ceiling. After a while, he rolled over and looked at me. It felt like he looked into me. He cupped my face with his hand, held it like it was china…

‘What are you waiting for?’ I asked him, and he shrugged.

‘Nothing.’

That was the first time. But it was not the last. His blood mingled with mine, and then again on the night he rushed in and saved me. I was out of it. Mostly, I was absent. But I do remember his arms scooping me up from the bloody mush of my bed. It felt like I was being ripped from my mother’s spongy womb. I remember the feel of his arms, like branches of a tree, holding me close and holding me up. I don’t remember him ripping his t-shirt, which that night was once again doused in the blood of his brother Joe. I don’t remember him using the cloth to tie up my wounds, but apparently his quick thinking saved my life. He tied me once again to this world.

The thug, the animal, the sub-human scumbag. He came to me that night. He could have gone anywhere. He could have vanished from all of our lives, and Lou and Joe and his mother, and the rest of them, would all have been relieved. Good riddance to bad rubbish. But he came to me. He came to me. With the vilest crime a crimson stain upon his hands and all over his clothes, he came to me.

And our blood met again, and when all of this is over, he will be back.

And I will be waiting.

If you are interested in these characters and would like to find out more, you can download the YA novel they are related to here ; (available in paperback and ebook)12227067_1068628339823097_548647694753202354_n

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mess-Me-Chantelle-Atkins-ebook/dp/B00CSVQ8EQ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

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 Headphones (short story)

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The Boy With The Headphones

For the first few days, I didn’t even know his name. The boy with the headphones. He wore them all the time. Over his ears, or in class, around his neck. I can still remember the very first time I saw him, because I am certain that my heart stopped. Or if it didn’t, then time did. Everything slowed down. I think there was suddenly music in my head too, the way there always was in his. It was like we were in a film, not ordinary, muddy real life. It was just me and him. The rest of the school corridor blurred out, sounded out. He slowed down, and so did I.

The boy with the headphones. Eyes down, moving fast. Moving through the crowd as if he did not even see them. His hair was long, and I saw this first. Perhaps it was the first thing that drew my eye. Because all of the other boys back then looked like boy band material. Curtains and short back and sides. Not the boy with the headphones, who marched through them like they were nothing to him. His hair was a dirty shade of blonde and my heart skipped a thousand beats. His hair was touching his shoulders, curled and tousled around his ears. It flopped over his face, shielding one eye, until he flicked it back, and that was when our eyes met across the corridor.

That was the first time. When I did not know his name. When he was just the boy with the headphones. The new boy. Ear to the ground, I listened for gossip, soaking it up when it came my way, tucking my hair behind my ear to listen in. I was quiet back then, but popular. Of course, all the kids like me were popular. We had it easy, and I never really understood this until I met the boy with the headphones.

‘From the estate,’ they said. ‘New in town.’

‘In trouble already,’ they said, as the days passed by. ‘Fighting in the boys toilets!’

The rumour mill went into overdrive that week. The new boy was a troublemaker. He came from the estate, just like the boy he fought in the toilet. His mother was a single parent, and looked like a model. He had long hair and angry blue eyes and he always had his headphones on.

By the end of the week I knew his name, and the boy with the headphones had made friends with the boys from the toilet. Eyebrows raised and people smirked. I was an outsider then, thirsty for more information. All I could see when I closed my eyes at night was his face, and his dark blue eyes staring back at me accusingly. He always looked angry, like he was about to punch someone. I could stare at him all day, when he wasn’t looking. Those beautiful blue eyes with the thick black lashes. His face was hard angles and defiance. His lower lip was fuller than his top. I thought he looked like he belonged in a film, not here in my life, not in this place where everybody looked the same.

I didn’t want to know about him, or think about him, but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop looking at him. I kept him in the corner of my eye during class. I could feel him behind me sometimes. I could feel his eyes burning into my back. I wanted to turn around and smile at him, say hello, I’m Lucy. But I didn’t, because I couldn’t. I couldn’t open my mouth when he was near me.

Looking back, those first few weeks were the easiest. Although at the time they felt like utter torture. Every night I pulled out my diary, lay on my bed in my house that overlooked the sea, and wrote about him. He brushed past me after Maths. His elbow bumped me as he walked past my desk. I was hot cheeked and mortified about a hundred times a day. I tried to avoid him, because that seemed safer. How could I be around a boy like that? A boy who made my heart skip and my mouth dry? Our eyes met in Science today. So embarrassing. I looked up, so did he. I looked down, then up and it happened again. But he has no idea who I am.

            The boy with the headphones was lost in music and life on the gritty side of town. He didn’t have time to make friends with people like me. We were from different walks of life. All I could do was watch him from afar and hear the things that were said.

‘Arrested at school! Broke someone’s nose!’

‘His mum goes out with that guy from the garage?’

‘Him and those other boys are always in trouble.’

‘Yeah, dirty skanks.’

He wasn’t a dirty skank to me. He was a mystery that I wanted to unravel. But looking back, I needn’t have worried. In truth, we were always going to cross paths, again and again, until something happened. We were always going to dance this way and that, coming together and then breaking apart.

The first few times we spoke, it was stuttering and shy. He gave me the first tiny glimpse that maybe, just maybe, he had been watching me too, waiting for me to speak to him. He called my name one day as I passed his house on the way to meet Zoe. Oh Zoe. So much of it was down to her!

My best friend Zoe. The prettiest girl in school. She came from the other estate near school. Long blonde hair that looked dyed but wasn’t. Her lips pouted when she spoke. Her hips jutted to one side and then the other. Her backside swung when she walked tall in her white slingbacks with the cork wedges. The men who whistled didn’t care that she was thirteen, or fourteen years old. All they could see was who she would become. She was like something from a movie. And she was madly in love with Michael, and Michael was best friends with the boy with the headphones.

We chatted briefly that day in front of his house. He wore his shirt around his waist and his small hard body glared back at me as I blinked in the sunshine. His was a dirtied tan, and his hands were oily. His ribs were bruised from his latest scuffle. He was cleaning cars to make things up to his mother’s boyfriend.

That was the first time I had hope. Me and the boy with the headphones. Maybe one day I would get to hear the music too.

What came next was our awkward, teenage dance. One step forward, then two steps back. I will never forget the day he took me on a proper date. My dad grilled him on the doorstep. It was mortifying. I could have killed him. But after that he took my hand, and we walked in silence.

That was the thing about us. Our comfortable silence. He didn’t always want to speak, and neither did I. But one night at a party, I hugged him and told him I would marry him one day, and I meant it. I can still hear the music from that night. He was alive when the music played. He was the music. Nirvana on the makeshift dance floor. Four teenage boys going crazy. Flinging their hair about, headbanging and yelling the words that meant so much to them. After that, I watched his face when the music played, and saw the way his lips moved with the words. He always knew all of the words.

Those were good times, but good times never last. Summer turns to winter, and everything changes. I tried to be his girlfriend, but it never seemed to happen. I couldn’t get close. I couldn’t break through. His mum had a new boyfriend and he hated this one more than ever. That was all I really knew, and it wasn’t enough. The rumours followed us back to school, and I saw the way that everyone looked at him, even the teachers. Especially the teachers. With pity and concern and suspicion.

That term he changed so much. The boy with the headphones became a ghost. A fading figure we barely saw. I looked out for him every day. I would grab the window seat and train my eyes on the school gates. But he rarely came, and when he did, he was just as absent. His eyes guarded, his head even lower, but still with the headphones, still with the music that none of us could hear.

Our story seemed to be over before it had even begun, until the day I saw him walking on the beach. I was sat there revising, my text books spread out on the sand. I saw him walking, and I called out to him and then wished I hadn’t. For a moment he just stared back at me, his hands in his pockets, and for the longest time I thought he was going to ignore me and walk on. He was wearing a suit, which looked so odd on him with his messy tangled hair.

In the end he came and sat with me. He didn’t have his headphones that day, which made him seem sadder than ever. I leant into him, and wondered if that was too much, too soon. But he let me stay. And we watched the sea, and talked about where we wanted to go, what we wanted to see.

Our story faltered, but it winded on in a ragged, haphazard fashion. I went to the beach the next week, and he did too. And the next week, and the next. We didn’t talk much, because he didn’t have much to say. Sometimes he let me listen to the music with him. Sometimes his headphones were broken and his neck was covered in bruises.

Side by side on the beach, or lying on his bed in his room, I watched his face and listened to him breathe. He talked to me about music and songs. He was into everything. He listened to it all. He wrote the lyrics down if they meant something to him. We wrote love letters and I still have them all now. We used to write lyrics and circle them, circle the bits that meant the most.

Ten Storey Love Song…I built this thing for you…

When the boy with headphones went away, the music died down. It all went quiet and none of us could listen to it in the same way again. I remember I went out that day and got his name tattooed on my hip, so that he would always be with me, always be part of me, whether he knew about it or not. Whenever I heard a certain song, out of the blue, on the radio, or in a pub, or a shop, I would stop and so would my heart, just for a moment, like that day in the corridor, like the first time our eyes met. I would have to fight hard to take a breath and carry on, with the music fading out behind me. Every song, every guitar riff, every drum beat brought him back to me with a crash. There was no escaping it, because the music was everywhere. It followed us about like a haunting. Although he was gone, he was with us every single time we heard a song. It was a punch in the gut, a knife to the heart, but it was also beautiful and wonderful. Every time we heard the right song, one of his, the boy with the headphones was with us again.

This short story is written from the point of view of Lucy, one of the characters in my novel The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – if you are interested to find out more about Lucy and the boy with the headphones, you can download the novel 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