Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chapter 20

WILLSON
Easter. Christy left a note for his mother, in case she’d forgotten. It said, ‘Away for the weekend, back Monday.’
They tramped from the front gate through the grid of chalets.
‘Looks like a Borstal.’
‘Looks like a barracks.’
‘Looks like a model village.’
‘Looks like fucking Portland.’
Patrick turned to face the others. ‘I can’t believe you cunts are moaning already.’
‘We’re not moaning,’ Danny said. ‘Just saying.’

In the Tropicana ballroom and bar Phil returned with a tray.
‘Took your fucking time didn’t you?’ Animal said.
‘Met the blokes from the next chalet. They were talking about a kick-about, Sunday. Five-a-side.’
‘What do you think this is you normal cunt? Scout camp?’ Danny said.
‘Where they from?’ Christy asked.
‘Bristol. Police cadets,’ Phil said.
Animal put down his glass. ‘Tell me you’re taking the piss. Just tell me you’re taking the piss.’
‘Seem alright,’ Phil answered. ‘It’s only a kick-about. It’s not like I asked them round for a session.’
Patrick reappeared. ‘This one mine?’ he asked, lifting a pint from the tray and taking a mouthful.
‘Where you been?’ Animal asked.
‘Around.’ He looked over to a young woman near the door. ‘Just nipping outside a minute. Might let you smell me finger later, if you’re lucky.’

Animal stood and picked up the tray. ‘I’ll leave Patrick out on this one. He must’ve fallen in.’
‘What about Christy? Where’s he to?’
‘Fuck knows. I thought he went for a piss.’
‘That was twenty minutes ago.’
On the dancefloor three Bluecoats were judging the final leg of the disco-dancing competition. Across the floor, shuffling gracelessly, came Christy, doing the Twist in a black rubber dustbin, no number on his back.
Patrick, back now, but still with Sue from Harrow, covered his eyes. Sue touched his elbow, laughing. ‘Do you know him?’
‘Christ, no.’
‘Anyhow,’ she said, not looking at him. ‘I’d better get back. Me mum and dad’s over there.’
‘I’ll come over if you want. Have a chat with them.’
Sue looked at him, nonplussed. ‘Joking aren’t you?’
The applause, the stamping feet, rose above the music. Christy stopped. He took a slow solemn bow, and hit the floor face first.
On the way back from the Tropicana, they stopped off at the boating pond. Each untied a pale blue boat and pushed out from the edge of the water. Christy lay on his back in his boat and looked at the stars. He felt the bump of an oar against the boat, then another, then another. The stars spun gently above him.
‘Can you swim Christy?’
‘Yeah. Can you swim Christy?’
‘Yeah. Can you?’
‘Can you?’
Dining hall. Morning after. Sounds different. Not all that clattering. Rustling like trees. Waiters hang on a bit, leaning over, nodding, pulling the right faces. Them words coming towards us. Reaching, breaking up. Terrible. Imagine. How old? Terrible. Imagine. Stood there. Not able. Seeing that and not being able. On the edge. Of the water. Not able. What things are like.

Patrick suggested the swimming on the Saturday. There would be girls.
‘They won’t be on their guard in the daytime. Smooth in when they’re not expecting it.’
The others gave him the usual look, gave each other the usual look.
Christy hadn’t brought trunks. He sat in the spectators’ seats, breathed the wet air, heard the ownerless screams.
‘Yeah. You sit and watch, Christy.’
‘Yeah. You sit there in the nonces’ enclosure.’
‘Can you swim Christy?’
‘Yeah. Can you?’
Like seeing it out of the corner of your eye. Like in a flick book. Front room. Like it’s four times the size. Her, miles away. Saying something. Got her fingers on the table. Holding herself up. Saying something. Something about the sea.
That evening the Regal Theatre wasn’t regal, in any case. The five got seats near the front, the better to sneer. Wrecked, they laughed while others clapped, at the desperate singers and the desperate dancers.
The first comedian, they liked. He used to work in a departmental store. The boss was a Mr Dee, who was part mental. Crushed nuts? No.
Then came the big attraction; Ted Rogers. Danny, his lungs thick with Pakistani tar, coughed, then coughed again.
‘Cough it up, camper,’ Ted said to the darkness. ‘It might be a gold watch.’ People laughed!
Ted continued. ‘I bumped into that Johnny Rotten the other day,’ he said, unconvincingly. ‘He had a safety pin through his bottom lip, and one through his top lip. I said, “Why don’t you just have the one safety pin through both lips?” He said, “I wouldn’t be able to open me mouth then.” I said, “I know.”’
Ted rode the rolling laugh, winked, twinkled. Danny coughed again, producing a large khaki clot in the crook of his thumb and forefinger. A deft flick sent it arching, over the heads of the audience, briefly through the beam of the spotlight, to land on the sleeve of Ted’s crushed velvet jacket, unnoticed by all but the five. It was their turn to laugh now, out of synch. ‘Keep up.’ Ted winked. ‘Keep up.’
Later, back from the late bar at the Tropicana, they slammed the chalet door shut behind them. There was a knock within minutes. Phil went. He opened the door an inch and no more. It was the tall one from the next chalet. ‘Just checking you’re still on for the footy tomorrow,’ he said.
‘Suppose,’ Phil said, turning to check with the others.
‘Yeah. We’ll be there,’ Danny called out. ‘Oink oink.’
‘Other thing,’ the tall one said, keeping it matey, practising for the future. ‘Any chance you could keep the music down? You’ll ruin your ears with that there punk rock.’
Phil shrugged. ‘Fair enough.’
‘Good man. See you tomorrow. Half three.’
‘Yeah,’ Phil said, thinking, fucking likely that is.

Sunday dragged like any Sunday. On the sofa in the lounge a conversation was unrolling itself.
‘Tell you what amazes me,’ Phil said. ‘Pig ugly blokes going out with really beautiful girls. What’s going on there?’
‘They’ve probably got nice personalities,’ Christy said.
‘They get really nice drugs, that’s what it is,’ Patrick said.
‘Not all of them, surely,’ Christy said.
‘Course it is,’ Patrick said. ‘You see some smelly fucker with a face like a cow’s arse and he’s going round with someone really tasty-looking, what else is it going to be?’
‘The birds do it to freak out their parents. Scare them into thinking they might breed with someone who looks like a forceps baby,’ Animal said. ‘Especially the posh ones.’
He started on about how it was a particular thing with greboes, the way they got hold of fantastic-looking girls. As the conversation wound on Christy receded into himself. He sat admiring his quarter of Pakistani Black. It was beautiful. There was gold writing on it, in foreign. It looked like monks used to do. He felt Phil watching him.
‘Are you going to smoke that or are you going to spend all weekend fucking looking at it?’
Patrick unzipped a cigarette. ‘I don’t understand you Christy. It’s like you can’t decide whether you want to be completely out of your box, or right back inside yourself.’
Christy said nothing.
On the playing field at three thirty, the police cadets padded, jogged, dribbled in the drizzle, waiting. Meanwhile Animal was busy in the kitchen. He’d carved two lip shapes from Spam and was sticking them either side of the lightswitch with some jam. Patrick had hooked a handful of hair out of the bath’s plughole and was drying it under the grill. He teased out the individual hairs and tucked them around the Spam. With his thumb Animal made a circular smudge of Marmite below the two Spam lips.
Patrick added a few gobbets of shaving foam to the collage and turned to his audience. ‘Can you guess what it is yet?’
Phil started laughing. ‘Fucksake.’
‘Fucking artist, I am,’ Animal said.
‘That,’ Patrick gestured, ‘Is the nearest Christy’s going to get to a cunt all weekend.’ With a sudden lunge Patrick splashed a blot of ketchup onto his creation. ‘Pity Kev’s not here,’ he said. ‘This’d bring back a few old memories.’
Christy lifted himself dizzily from the sofa. ‘Think I’ll have a bath.’
‘Yeah. Have a bath Christy,’ Danny said. ‘You fucking stink.’
Christy stopped still at the door. ‘I had a bath yesterday.’
‘What in?’ Animal asked. ‘Ferret’s piss?’
While Christy bathed Danny was in the kitchen scraping at a loose patch of plaster with a fork. ‘I’m fucking sick of that twat. It’s like dragging a seven year old round.’
‘I know,’ Patrick said. ‘You have to tell him every fucking thing. Christy skin up, Christy get a round in, Christy say something for fuck sake.’
‘Tight too. Fucking hog.’
‘Anyway. Get a drink out of him, one way or another.’
Danny collected the scrapings of plaster into a pile and began crushing out the lumps with a spoon. Patrick folded a wrap, and scooped in the light brown powder.
Animal put his head round the door. ‘He’s coming back. Ready?’
‘Nearly.’
They’d discussed whether they should make a big deal of it, or play it casual. They couldn’t agree. As they sat at the table in the lounge, Danny began moving aside the bong, the beercans and the ashtrays, as if he were preparing for some ritual.
‘You know when me and Danny went up Dunmore last?’ Animal asked Christy.
‘Mm.’
‘Did I mention we got some smack?’
Danny closed his eyes, thinking, fucking idiot, he’ll never fall for it like that. Christy looked doubtful for a moment, until Patrick chopped out a thin line on the table and did it with one brisk snort. Christy did the same. The four looked at him with satisfied smiles.
Minutes passed. ‘I’m not getting nothing off this,’ Christy complained. The four laughed until tears ran down their faces.

Across the camp people were preparing for the evening. The police cadets, scrubbed and shaved and aftershaved, were knotting polyester ties, pulling on white socks. Next door, Danny, grunting, shat into a bucket. He showed Animal.
‘Fuck me!’ Animal said. ‘You must’ve been keeping your back straight.’
Patrick hopped down from his position squatting on the edge of the kitchen sink. He and Phil looked at the turd he’d landed in the ice-tray from the fridge. Patrick covered his nose. ‘Jesus. Fucking stinks!’
Phil glanced at him. ‘Only you could be surprised by that.’
‘Meaning what?’
‘Nothing.’
With a butter knife Patrick spread the shit into each section of the tray, and placed it in the freezer compartment.

In the Tropicana, the first two rounds were bought with the money Christy put in for the bogus smack. ‘Cheers Christy!’
‘Yeah. Cheers.’
‘Cheers.’
‘Cheers Christy.’
By the time last orders was called they were ready for any victim. They watched as the police cadets left.

The cadets’ kitchen window was open.
‘Just tip it in,’ Danny whispered.
‘No,’ Patrick said, inspecting the contents of the bucket. ‘We don’t want to use it up too quick.’
‘Come on,’ Animal said. ‘We’ll be here all fucking night.’ He dipped into the bucket with a soup ladle, scooped out a wedge of shit and gently dropped it in through the kitchen window. He banged twice on the glass. The five ran for cover.
‘Come out little piglets.’
‘Yeah. Come out, or we’ll huff and we’ll puff and we’ll blow your chalet down.’
‘Then we’ll cake you in shit.’
Round the front next. From behind the bushes, scoop after scoop was launched, to arc through the air and slap dully against the door of the enemy chalet. Nobody came out.
‘This is bollocks. Boring bastards aren’t coming out.’
They retreated to their chalet. As the others settled down for a session Christy gave an exaggerated yawn. ‘Think I’ll turn in.’
Nobody spoke. Christy went to his room.
Patrick slammed the lounge door. The bottom pane of frosted glass dropped out and broke. ‘Cunt! We’re supposed to be on holiday and he hasn’t done a fucking thing!’
Christy paused on the edge of his bed, frozen.
Danny spoke. ‘He’s a fucking wanker. It’s like dragging a dead body round with you all the time.’
‘He does do things sometimes,’ Phil said.
‘Like fucking what?’ Patrick shot back.
‘That time he was dancing in the dustbin,’ Phil said, lamely.
‘Yeah,’ Danny said. ‘Only when he’s pissed though.’
‘He might as well be in with the straights next door.’
Christy sat on his bed shaking, listening. Count up to fifty. Same again. Crawl to outside the front room door. Shove it open. Never quick enough. He’s gone already. Even before the talking’s stopped. Nowhere to be seen. Nowhere. They’ll go soon.
Arms round the armrests on the Utility chair. Getting ready for bedtime. Getting ready to hang on. Her trying to get me out. Clair too. Lifting the chair up into the bedroom. Jump and run towards the door. Shuts it with her foot.
Seen it on the telly. Glass with the yellow flowers on pressed against the wall. Ear against the glass. Still can’t hear him. Keeping him in a secret room upstairs.
Christy saw the doorhandle turn. He ducked under the covers, pretended to be asleep. He heard the other bed creak, heard two boots hit the floor, heard the soft dry scrape of clothes being removed. He counted to one hundred, then looked. He could see Phil, pretending to be asleep. Phil twitched, grunted, turned over. Then sniggered.
‘Reality, Christy! It’s coming to get you!’ Danny shouted.
‘You’re in for a fucking shock Christy!’ Animal laughed.
‘We’re going to fucking crucify you!’ Patrick yelled.
More laughter. The lounge door slammed. The kitchen door slammed.
‘Get ready Christy!’ Animal and Danny shouted, half a warning, half a threat.
Christy jammed a chair under the doorhandle. The door shook as a shoulder rammed against it. The chair jerked, tilted. Christy flung himself against the door, leaned there, grunting. He weakened. The door opened a few inches. A handful of small dark cubes shot through the gap. ‘Eat this, Christy, you tragic twat!’ Patrick shouted.
Christy gave a last shove. The door slammed shut. He wedged the chair back in position. He looked around the room. Frozen shit. Numb, he scooped up the cubes with an empty cigarette packet and flicked them out of the window.

Dawn broke milky. Christy was packed and ready. He crept from the stinking bedroom, through the stinking lounge. He sleepwalked to the station and waited for the train. He braced himself for another stretch in quarantine.
Later, in the kitchen Animal lit a cigarette, put the kettle on, and muttered to himself; ‘Give it three weeks, the stupid cunt’ll be back.’

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