September 12, 2011 by markstani
(courtesy Gavin James Bower & Quartet Books)
I could love you.
I pass a girl crossing the canal on my way home. It’s dark but our eyes meet, and there’s a connection.
We could talk, I think. We could laugh.
We could spit on the heads of imaginary tourists taking boat trips along the water below us. They’d have to be imaginary, of course, because nobody ever visits here.
I live on Every Street, in a town that’s so common it might as well be called Every Town. Half of the houses on our road are boarded up, the Asians are taking over and the only shop isn’t even a shop; it’s a Co-op Funeral Care. It used to be a pub before the landlord, a man called Dorian who liked dressing up as a cowboy, got arrested for masturbating over a guest’s face while he was asleep.
I want you, I think as the girl walks away from me. I want you to want me.
I want you to creep up behind me while I’m sitting at my desk, doing homework, and wrap your arms around my neck.
I want you to whisper my name.
My granddad always used to tell me that I should be an artist, because of my name. It’s Russell Crackle. Apparently Dad was a bit of an eccentric when he was younger, spending all his time reading books and listening to music in his room. He had his name changed by Deed Poll when he was 21. Mum never bothered to change it when he left us, because you have to pay.
I walk down the grassy embankment and up the main road that leads to my house, passing what used to be Lambert Howarth. By the time she was my age Mum had left school and got her first job there, but it’s closed now.
Life is transient, I think as I walk through my front door. But love, well, love is different.
Love is forever.
Jenny’s passed out on my lap, a bottle of White Lightning in her cold, pale hand.
I’m up the canal, and can see the whole town from where I’m sitting. The old mills to my left, the rows of terraced houses boarded up now on that side of town, and the council blocks where Trafalgar Flats used to be, before they knocked them down. Straight ahead’s the new bus station, lit up in purple. To my right’s the new sports centre, which used to be the multi-storey, and next to that’s the new multi-storey, which used to be the sports centre.
I take the bottle from Jenny, chuck it under the bench, and pull her close to keep her warm. I stroke her hair and she smiles, half asleep.
‘Am I drunk?’ she asks, her eyes closed.
‘Back in a sec,’ I say, after she doesn’t say owt else, then, smiling to myself, ‘don’t go anywhere, love…’
I climb over the wall behind us and piss in the canal, my back to town, the abandoned train track in front of me. Brooker and Digger are slumped against the wall. Nicola’s with them, fumbling with a baggie. She looks fucked.
‘Lend us a fag,’ I say, coming up behind them.
‘Fuck me!’ Brooker shouts. ‘Yer scared shit outta me!’
Brooker likes snorting speed and getting into scraps. He goes to my school and we’ve knocked about since day one. I met him when he was going round cuffing everyone with a fifty pence piece. I thought it was funny, at the time. He’s only small, Brooker, but he’s from Stoops Estate so knows a thing or two about fighting. He plays football for school and Centre of Excellence, like me. He was top scorer this season, but he’s best known for kicking the shit out of people on the pitch. In our last game, against St Ted’s, he tackled this lad so hard he ended up being carried off and needing bolts and pins and that in his leg. He might be a scrawny fucker but he’s scared of no-one, the little knob.
He stands up, hands me one.
‘Got a light?’ I ask, looking at Nicola. She tries to line up some ket on a pocket mirror, but spills it. I look back at Brooker as he rummages in his pockets then lights my fag for em. ‘You should take her home, you tight cunt.’ I stare at him, so he knows I mean it. ‘She’s spinnin’ out.’
‘OK, OK,’ he says. ‘We were only ‘avin’ a bit o’ fun -‘
‘I’m fuckin’ off anyway,’ I interrupt. I’m tired and not in the mood to get into an argument with him. ‘I’m gonna take Jenny home…’
‘Yer comin’ out tomorro’?’ Digger asks, chopping up what’s left of the K.
Digger likes Brooker and getting into scraps. He goes to my school and all and I don’t remember when I met him but, for as long as I can remember, wherever Brooker was he was too. He’s stocky and tough, the kind of lad you’d describe as being carved out of wood.
‘Prolly,’ I say, even though I know full well I will be.
I walk Jenny home. She lives just up from the canal, about fifteen minutes, but it takes twice that ’cause she’s falling all over the shop, deadweight. It’s only when she hugs me on her front step I realise she could’ve walked quicker, and without my help.
‘In a bit,’ I say, not wanting to linger.
‘Why d’yer waste yer time wi’ us lot?’ she says, holding my hand and hugging me.
‘What d’you mean?’ I say as she pulls me in, tight. Her hair smells like strawberries and cider.
‘Those two… knobs,’ she says, slurring her words a bit. ‘Why d’yer hang round wi’ ’em? Why d’yer waste yer time… wi’ us… wi’ me?’
‘I dunno,’ I say, trying to get away again. ‘It’s a laugh…’
‘Yer think yer too good for me, don’t yer?’ she says, a bit OTT, pulling me back towards her again then kissing me hard on the mouth.
I step back and look at her. It’s sloppy but she tastes nice, of vanilla chapstick, so I pull her back into me and shag her right there, against the front door, just to shut her up.
Dad knocks on the door to tell me I’ve got a brew waiting on the landing. I live with him ’cause my mum died of lung cancer when I was thirteen. He does his best, but I miss her loads.
Every night before bed I lock the bathroom door and sneak a ciggy on the loo, freezing my tits off with the window open so Dad doesn’t catch me. I’ll be dead if he does. Then I take a long shower to warm up again. Sometimes, I sit down in the bath and let the water hit me in the chest until it turns so red I look like a lobster when I get out. But tonight I just let the spray hit me in the face.
I’ve been for a walk up the canal with Gemma, my best friend, and all this eyeliner what she gave me is running down my face and drip-dripping at my feet. I stare down at my piggy toes – I hate my feet ’cause they’re so massive, well, size six, which I reckon is massive for my age – and watch the black swirling its way down the plughole.
I usually have a good cry in the shower, ‘specially when I’m missing Mum. Now’s no different, but I soon start singing to cheer myself up again. She always used to say life’s more fun with a song, and I should belt one out every chance I get. Tonight it’s ‘Daydream Believer’. Mum’s favourite.
I only get through one verse, though, before Dad taps on the door again, telling me my brew’s going cold. I can’t sing when I know people are listening.
‘OK Dad,’ I say, stepping out then grabbing my hairbrush. ‘Cheer up, sleepy Jean…’ I mime into it. ‘Oh, what can it mean, to a… daydream believer, and a… homecoming queeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen?”