PE 10. (Part IV)
By Mark Burrow
I lie on the carpet in Edgar’s bedroom, feeling the flavoury goodness of dinner in my belly. I roll onto my front and say, I’m stuffed.
Edgar’s on his bed. Me too, he says.
You’re so lucky to have a mum who can cook like that.
She’s always on at me, Jason. Inspecting how I dress. Asking who I’m meeting. Wanting to know what my grades are like, whether I’ve done my homework. It’s like living with the police.
That’s not so bad.
He gives me a, You’re crazy, look.
Straight up, I say.
Edgar doesn’t get it. He’s thinking about something else and not listenin to the truth I’m tellin. Peering down at me from the foot of the bed, he says, When we lived in the place before this, it was a flat, and there was a woman who would bang on our front door, hammering with her fists, shouting at the top of her voice about the smell of our cooking, but she didn’t say it was a smell, she called it a stink. I was only little but I remember it. The way she said, stink.
I hate racists.
They’re everywhere, but she was one of the first I remember and really scary. Like, she hated us. I could feel the hatred in her. Even dad was frightened of her.
Mum gets evils from her neighbour, especially this Jehovah’s Witness, Amanda. They can’t stand each other neither.
It’s different to you though cos it’s not a race thing an I wouldn’t want to live next to my mum. She’s a fucken nightmare beast from hell most of the time.
You think I’m jokin?
The way you say it makes me laugh.
It’s true, I say, lookin at all the things he has in his room an wonderin what I would ask for my birthday and Christmas if mum was holdin-the-foldin like Edgar’s parents.
Don’t tell anyone, he says, but we’re moving.
I think so. Mum wants nan to come an live with us and this place is too small. She’s had enough of flats and estates and dad earns a lot more since he fully qualified as an accountant.
We’re not sure, but it’ll be up North.
I think so.
Fuck. That’s miles away.
You mustn’t tell anyone.
Sure, I say, feelin another wave roll through me.
He must of noticed cos he says, You can come an visit.
Deffs, I say, but I know it’s one of those bullshit comments people make when they’re bailing out on you. I’ve always had this fucken feeling like I’m a slowly sinkin ship people wanna escape from.
I don’t want to leave, he says.
It’s fine. I get it.
Edgar swivels round an sits on the side of the bed. I can trust you, right? he says.
It’s annoyin me how he keeps asking. Yeah, I say, I’m not a blabbermouth.
I won’t tell anyone you’re leavin an who am I gunna tell anyway, Flapjack?
I thought you called her Terry?
Oh yeah, I did… but then I thought Flapjack sounded more cattish an I’m not sure if it’s a boy or a girl.
He goes to speak an stutters.
What? I ask.
Well, you know when you told me you called your girl kitten a boy’s name?
I think Terry can be a girl’s name too.
So, you’re cool about that stuff?
I suppose, I say, not at all sure what he’s on about.
He looks at me an goes, If I show you something, do you promise to keep it a secret?
I look at him an feel like we’re gettin into deepness an I say, Course.
On your mum’s life?
I don’t like saying that cos part of me thinks it’s gunna jinx mum an if she gets hit by a bus or squashed by a fallin airplane engine then it’ll be my fault.
Do you swear?
Okay, I say an I do what he says an swear on her life, thinkin how she better not die over the next two weeks or I’ll be to blame.
He rolls off of the bed onto his feet and says, Stand outside the room an wait. I’ll tell you when to come in.
What’s going on?
Will you do it or not?
His voice is all aggro.
What if your mum comes up?
How’d you know?
Jason, can you do this for me, please?
Alright, I say, not knowing what it is I’m doing or why he’s so sure that his mum won’t come up the stairs an randomly see me standin outside his bedroom lookin well dodgy, but that’s what I go an do. He shuts the door an I stand on the landing, hearin his mum downstairs in the kitchen. She listens to the same music on the radio that mum does, which I find freaky.
I lean on the banister, looking at the photographs on the wall.
Mum doesn’t have any pictures of us in the flat.
Edgar’s family are smiling in the Taj Mahal picture. I wonder what it’s like in foreign places. I’ve never been. Not once. I’ve been teased at school about that before. Never going on a plane. No holidays in the sun to Spain or Greece. Not knowin my Malta from Gibraltar. I don’t know what’s so special about the sunshine but everyone always goes on about it being sunnier in other countries. I dunno. It’s not like sunshine makes anyone happier in this country. All people seem to wanna fucken do is drink more an get stoned which, if you ask me, ain’t exactly a massive change from what they get up to when it’s cold an chuckin it down. Not round here anyways.
Mike’s been abroad. He went on a holiday to Benidorm with his mates, which he said was a laugh but a total shit hole of a place, and he’s been on a school trip to play a football tournament in France. No, it wasn’t France. It was the other one, Belgium. I reckon Mike could have turned professional if he wanted. He’s the best striker you’ll ever see. No one has a first touch like Mike. Defenders and keepers don’t have a chance when he’s on the ball. Doesn’t matter if the ball’s in the air or into his feet, there’s only one winner.
Part of me wants to go to a foreign country. I like the idea of arrivin in a place where nobody knows me. I’d be on my own, left alone, which I know I am now, but I’d be a stranger abroad, so they wouldn’t know about mum, the flat we live in, Liam being a total loser, an how we’re broke, never having what mum calls a pot to piss in. I could be someone completely different. I’d steal some posh clothes. I’d say, Bonjour and Bon soi, si vous plait and merci. I’d wear a fake moustache, walkin the streets of Paris like a grown up, without anyone on at me, givin me grief for being who I am, telling me what I’m supposed to be, what I’m not, getting in my face like everyone thinks they have a right to do round here.
An they like smokin in France.
Mike’s told me all about how it’s the law so you have to smoke if you’re French, even babies.
Or would I go to India?
See the Taj Mahal.
Eat all the delicious food, tastin the flavours.
I look at the picture of Edgar’s sister. I wouldn’t know from the photo that she’s anorexic or bulimic. People like pictures an photographs because mostly you can never see their pain, their dirt on the inside. Her fella has his arm round her. Tara and Edgar’s dad don’t touch. Edgar stands in front of them. There are other relatives too, dressed in their Indian clothes.
I realise I can’t go abroad cos I don’t have a passport.
We never go anywhere, unless it’s to the fucken caravan that Liam’s brother has where everyone gets shit-faced and goes mental an starts arguin.
Edgar calls me through the door.
I go into the room an see he’s dressed in a sari.
I start to say, What the fuck?, an then stop myself.
He can tell I was goin to speak an he says, What?
Wow, I say, looking at the red lipstick.
Just wow…I wasn’t expectin… I didn’t know.
He does these nervy hand movements, gettin upset an turnin round. I knew I shouldn’t have told you… You best not…
Hey, no Edgar, it’s fine.
On me mum’s life, I’m tellin the truth. I’m cool with it. You look… pretty.
Totally. Where’d you get the dress?
He faces me an says, It belongs to my sister. Feel the material.
I walk up to him an touch the sari. That’s propa, I say.
I like how it makes me feel, he says. I don’t know why.
I nod, feelin how we’re close. There’s this way he’s lookin at me an breathin.
I step back an say, They’re cool dresses. Where’d you get the make-up? Is that from your sister too?
Nowadays I buy it but I used to sneak it from her, one piece at a time. She’d always get upset, noticing bits had gone missing, telling mum how someone must be stealing her lipstick, mascara and eyeliner.
I bet they guessed.
I bet they know.
My dad would beat me if he ever found out.
Maybe that’s why they haven’t told him.
Edgar thinks about what I’m saying and then goes, Haven’t you ever dressed up in your mum’s clothes?
Have you seen how my mum dresses?
Not really, no.
She’s like a builder. Jeans and t-shirts all the way. Every fucken day.
Oh, he says, sittin on the bed.
I don’t think she’d know how to put make-up on.
He’s not listenin to me. It’s something I’ve noticed about Edgar. It’s his own thoughts he’s bothered about when chattin, not what other people think. It’s as if he’s his own favourite subject. Like, if he was a school, each lesson of the day would be about Edgar, then Edgar, an a double period of Edgar. But I know he does have a kind side too. Bringin me to his house an getting his mum to give me dinner cos he could see I was starvin hungry.
You look good, I say to him.
And you won’t tell?
You’re the only one who knows, Jason.
What about your other friends?
He laughs. I don’t know why you think I have other friends. You’re my friend.
An there’s this wave that goes through me when he tells me this, cept it ain’t like the waves I get at school or when Liam is fucken on at me. This feels warm an full of goodness. It’s Flapjack nuzzled against me an purring. It’s Tara’s cookin. A new pack of fags an a pocketful of money. It’s me on the top of the Tower Block, starin at the streets an the buildings, close enough to the aeroplanes in the sky to be able to touch their wings.
I don’t share any of that emosh shit with him though.
I need a smoke, I say.
Let me get changed and we can go for a walk, he says.
He shakes his head, smiles, an gestures for me to leave the room.
I stand on the upstairs landing as he wipes off the lipstick and puts on his ordinary clothes like some kinda special agent or superhero who’s back to pretendin to be a regular person.
Where are you going? says Tara.
Jason and I are going for a walk.
It’s too late for that.
Don’t you have homework?
She looks at the clock on the kitchen wall, which is a normal, regular one. Not the dumb bright yellow smiley face we have.
I realise that Tara’s alright actually so, before she can reply, I save her from havin to be strict with Edgar in front of me an say, It’s okay, I need to get back.
It is getting late, she says.
Yeah, I say.
Thank you for dinner, I say.
My pleasure. Make sure you come over again.
You definitely should, says Edgar.
What, so you can whip me at Fifa?
You and that horrible game, says Tara. Jason, do you play those awful games?
Nah nah, I don’t have one.
She goes to speak an then doesn’t. I reckon she’s sorry’ing for me cos she knows mum can’t afford to buy me a console, nevermind the games.
Edgar an me leave the kitchen an walk into the hall. It’s funny seein him looking like a boy again. I can tell he’s sorta embarrassed about letting on to me about his secret.
Tara calls him from the kitchen.
Wait there, he says, goin to speak to her an then running upstairs, sayin to me, Hold on.
I stand by the door, wantin a smoke badly an, I realise, a poo. I hate pooin in other peoples’ houses an, as for school, forget it. I haven’t taken a dump at school since infants.
The door to the livin room is open an I chance it by runnin to see what it’s like an sure enough, it’s a palace. They have a massive television, lazee-boy armchairs, a fuck-off big sofa, pictures of family shit on the walls an there are these sliding glass doors looking out onto a garden which has propa flowers. It’s the sort of house a fucken headteacher would live in. I dash back as Edgar walks the stairs.
He’s holdin a carrier bag. Here, he says, this is for you.
Tara comes from the kitchen. Take some more pakora as well, she says, handing them to me, wrapped in foil.
They’re trying to be nice but they’re makin me feel like a charity an I don’t like it. I wanna start my ragin but I know that ain’t right either, not with them. They’re not the enemy. No way, so I take the bag of clothes as well an act like the good boy, sayin my thank yous, tellin them how kind they are, an that makes them happy an I leave the house, walkin along the street with my donations, lightin a fag, gettin my head around what just happened with Edgar an yeah, I don’t fucken know why so don’t bother askin, but I start blubbing.
Flapjack’s not eatin her food.
I lie on the floor with her, tryin to feed her but she won’t eat. She sorta flumps down into me an I stroke her head an back, feelin the softness of her fur, looking at her eyes which are like marbles.
Come on, have some food, I say to her.
She’s not listenin to me. I wonder if she misses her mum.
I turn on my back an light a fag, lookin at the moonlight on the wall comin through the curtains. The flat is quiet. Mum is workin down the pub an Liam is probably down there with her, poncin pints or out doing whatever it is he does.
I close my eyes an picture myself as a soldier, joinin the invading army. I’d be hailed as a hero. Shootin all the fools. Johnny Moran. Mr Barker. Mrs McNeil. In the different battles in the school, I’d’ve taken them out, peppering them with bullets. I’d be a machine gunner in a helicopter that flies over the estate, firing off round after round into Robert an Junior, makin their bodies shake. As for Liam, he’d be runnin for his life, tryin to hide, but the chopper would hover like a dragonfly over him an he’d be in my sights, finger on the trigger, an he’d turn an hold his hands up, beggin to surrender, an then the Commander’s voice would come over the radio and yell, Smith, no prisoners, an I’d squeeze the trigger an that’d be that.
When the helicopter landed, Tracey Clarke would run over to me an give me a hug, kissing me big style, Come here, Jay, she’d say, You big sex god, an we’d go to a posh hotel with room service and a double bed with a giant gold ‘J’ on the duvet cover.
Cept there aren’t enough bullets to shoot all the fools on the estate an at school.
It’d have to be a rescue mission.
I’d save Tracey Clarke, Flapjack an mum, pickin up Edgar from school, Anne, maybe Miss Robinson an ol Santini, an then probs Tara in her house. I’d have to think about Miss Hillard cos it might cause issues with Tracey Clarke if they started fightin over me, which they most definitely would. Once we had them in the chopper, I’d give the coded message to the Commander on the radio, something like, Blue Goose is a go, an then we’d fly away over the sea to France where we’d all have to live in disguise, wearing moustaches, apart from Edgar, as he could wear dresses, an then the Commander would launch a billion megaton nuclear missile that would blow this whole fucken area to smithereens.
Me an Trace, we’d watch the mushroom cloud risin in the distance from our French hotel bed, drinkin ice cold Dr Pepper from champagne glasses, wavin our au revoirs, an then we’d get down to business.