Hot Water, Dead Air
By Mark Burrow
HOT WATER, DEAD AIR
'Clean the car,' says mum.
'Yeah, I will.'
'You clean that car.'
'Do as your mum tells you,' says dad, using a knife to uncap a boiled
I say my piece, 'I SAID I'LL CLEAN THE CAR.'
'DON'T RAISE YOUR VOICE TO ME,' she goes.
Like, fucking hell, it's Sunday morning. I was pouring Cornflakes into
a bowl, getting the milk, pouring the cold milk over them and I had to
eat my cornflakes quick-time, otherwise they get soft, mushy, and
that's rank. Makes me want to vom. Instead, I'm losing valuable time,
having to put up with their bullshit.
She yells. Saying I've got a serious attitude problem. I've no respect.
Like, she's the one raising her voice. Shouting when I'm just going
about my business, making some breakfast. She says no good will come of
me. I'm heading for an almighty fall. Okay. Whatever. It's the House
Bullshit served from her big old mouth. I can see this brown steam
curling out and upwards, staining her teeth as it does so, fogging the
kitchen. I saw the same stuff when the headmaster, Mr Royal Arsehole,
expelled me from my last school. It freaks me out, a bit, like.
'You come back here when I'm talking to you,' she goes, asking my old
man for support. He's got serious matters to attend to. Perving at baps
in his Sunday paper. Eating an egg. Matters of great importance.
National security. Waiting for The Black Lion to open at eleven. Like
me, he doesn't have a job. Mum's the only one of us who does. Although
if sitting in the Ladbrokes all day and drinking in a sad man's pub is
regarded as work, if that's how it is, then the old man is a
professional with a fucking career?Not.
I go up to my room. The Cornflakes are all soft and mushy. I put them
on the sideboard and lock my bedroom door. That was a chore. Oh my god,
"Why do you want a lock on your door? What do you have to hide?"
Fucking Gestapo. CIA. Treating me like I'm Osama. I asked her, "Why do
you have a lock on your front door?" And to mum directly, to her face,
I said, "Why do you have a lock on your bedroom door when dad sleeps on
the camp bed in the living room?" That caused a fucking riot when I
said that. My god, I thought glass was gunna break Tom &;amp; Jerry
style. But I was just telling things like they are. She turns into a
nut when I dare talk some facts. A nutcase. I'm serious. Everyone round
here's like it. The same with teachers. Whatever you do, don't speak
the obvious. Who do I think I am doing that?
She gave in in the end. I said I'd move out if I didn't get a lock. Run
away. Seriously. I'm not joking, right. And it wasn't about me having
anything to hide. I just wanted some privacy.
I pull the handle of the door. Checking it's locked. I'm supposed to be
playing football for St Matthews this morning. I can see the manager,
John, in his long black coat, hair greased back, looking at his Casio,
expecting me to step off the 149, the boys all in the mini bus, waiting
for me. Ha! The old pervert shouldn't have subbed me last weekend.
He'll regret it. He's a real nonce, that John. Makes sure we have a
shower after the game. Insists on it, and we all know why?
Football is rubbish. None of them can play anyway. All they do is hoof
it up the field, hoofing it into the air, expecting me to go for
headers when they know I like the ball played into my feet. Played into
me, so I can do my turns, my step overs. Not that it matters when Daz,
who plays up front with me, is always off side. The dumb bastard
couldn't time an egg, let alone a run into the box. I call him "Off
Side." That's what I call him when we play. The amount of times the ref
blows the whistle because he's goal hanging is unreal. No positional
sense whatsoever. Just doesn't get it. John said my attitude was bad
for team morals, or more-owls or something. Coming from a pervert, that
was rich. Fuck 'em. See how they get on without me. See how their
morals are when they can't stick one in the back of the net.
I switch on the mobile and see two text messages. One from Off Side,
which I delete without looking at, and one from Purse. His text says:
I like Purse. He's alright. A handy winger, left sided too. He's quick
and knocks in a fair cross, but it's his free kicks that are top
drawer. No one takes a free kick like Purse. Apart from me, of
Mum's yelling at dad. Their fucking life is one argument after another.
I'm sure it's a form of child abuse. Must be. Although she must've
liked him once, dad. Him too with her. Fuck knows what happened to
Mum says I happened, but that ain't right.
This estate. What did I do to deserve being born here? I ask myself
that. Seriously. Mum wants me to clean the car which no one can drive
because it's broke and then if it did go me and mum don't drive and
dad's banned. If I clean the motor, I'll be in mum's good books and
that means she might lay off about me getting a job. One thing I've
grasped is that it's all about not being noticed. Once people notice
you, that's when they start fucking you around. Then here come the
pain, big style.
Purse is trying - or was trying, see what happens after the match - to
get me a job in a supermarket. Shelf-stacking. Purse says it's alright
but secretly I'm saying to myself: Who wants to stack shelves all day?
Putting tins on shelves. That kind of says all I need to know. And I'm
waving bye, bye. You can stack your own shelves, mate. Thanks but no
thanks. Nice knowing you and all that. Although Mandy works on
checkout. According to Purse, she loves giving blow jobs. Purse says
that about all girls though and I don't think he's ever had one. I'm
sure he'd tell everyone on the estate if he had, mailing letters,
yelling from the roof of the tower block. Right. Next time he says it,
I'm gunna pull my nose out a couple of inches and say, "Yeah, course
she does Purse." Purse, I tell you, he likes a story that boy.
So I met Mandy at a party once. She's not bad. A bit wide, like, but I
like her laugh. I was making her laugh, chatting about a teacher we
both had: Mr Jackson. Maths. Oh my god. I didn't want to get too deep
and that when chatting to Mandy but I could've easily. He really made
my life hell. Maths was never my strong point at the best of times.
Numbers?man. All the triangle stuff. The square roots and pies. This
teacher, Jackson, he had a real taste for my blood. Loved putting me on
the spot. I had the fear every time I had his lesson. Serious. He made
me think in front of everybody. Working stuff out in my head, there and
then. Always, like a dick, I had to give the same answer for the
different questions: "I don't know."
Took me a while to realise he didn't want me to give any other
answer?Fucking least of all the right one.
Just lapped up seeing me look like King of the Arseholes.
He said I didn't apply myself. You know, if I did, what then? Be a
teacher in some run down hole of a school? Oooo, spend my whole life in
a classroom, teaching - that'd be nice, I don't think.
What they expelled me for is anyone's guess. Random, I tell you. Very
random. There was this fight, okay, but I wasn't gunna stand there and
let Junior cuss my new Adidas like that. Okay, they were a bit red. Too
red. I knew what he was saying but I'd played football in them, dirtied
them up, so I couldn't go back to the shops. I'd lost the receipt as
well. Like, was I supposed to let him talk to me like that? Making me
look foolish. No way. He asked for it and he got it big time. I wasn't
like the teachers. You could tell they hated the school. Saw it in the
way they dressed. Their coffee breath. Booze on the RE teacher's
breath. Sweet. Oh my god, she stank. We weren't the pupils they wanted
to teach. That wasn't our fault. They should've quit. But they put up
with it because they were happy getting fisted every day of their
lives. I'm not like that. Never will be. Too right. Believe.
I was chatting to Jamie about the army in a home economics class. Jamie
was mad for joining as soon as he could. I told him, I said: "You gotta
be brainless to go in the army."
"You should get in no sweat," he said.
The teacher, Miss Elliott or Ms Elliott. Whatever. Not Mrs Elliott, as
no one would marry a hound like her. A real manbeast. Teeth like a
horse. Shit. She said to me, "You'd never make it as a soldier."
I wondered what she was on about. I said, "You what?"
"I can imagine," she said, "Jamie having the character to become
soldier but you, I know, wouldn't make it."
"Shame," said one of the girls. Lucy, I think. Her friends were
giggling. Jamie was loving it.
I mean, like I fucking needed that from a teacher. I thought they were
supposed to give support, that kind of shit.
I said, "And you'd know all about making it in life, being a cookery
That was my last class in home economics. Mizz Shemale-Manbeast-Elliott
banned me. I was gutted. Really. Devastated. Had to have counselling
I pull up my blind halfway and look across to the row of posh houses
and the room where the woman walks about starkers. Now she is as fit
as?I'm telling you, believe. You see her tits, her bush, normally on
Saturday mornings, about 11'ish. Her boyfriend stays over, like, and
that isn't so great, seeing him, which I have, but she's well fit. I
take the telescope from the sideboard. It was lost, but I knew I had it
and then I found it in a box in the cupboard under the stairs. Mum
bought me the telescope when I was a kid but it still works good. She
asked why I wanted it again and I told her I like looking at the moon.
She doesn't believe me but she can't think of how to stop me having the
telescope in my room. I stand holding the scope to one eye, at full
focus, like captain pervert, waiting for the fit woman to show. But she
doesn't. Only on Saturdays do I get to see her. Once on a Thursday, but
that was a while back now.
I think about the boys playing the match. I bet they're missing me. The
semi-final as well. I got them to the semi. Scored a belter in the last
minute of injury time. Edge of the penalty area, right side, jinked
passed one defender, dropped a shoulder, nut megged the lumbering
centre half, and then curled it into the top corner. One of their
defenders started crying. Knew it was all over. Fucking right it was,
I should do something today. I know it's a Sunday, but all my days are
like Sundays since I got booted out of school after supposedly breaking
Junior's arm. He tripped, trying to run off. People saw it happen. How
can I be blamed for him tripping?
What I like about the weekend is the nagging from mum to find a job
isn't so intense. Mum says I should go round the shops, asking for
work, but I told her it's the busiest time of the week. I'm better off
going some time Monday to Friday.
The fit woman isn't going to appear.
Must be at the boyfriend's.
Sunday, you have me. I surrender. Raise the white flag. I pull on a
naff pair of joggers and a sweatshirt. Joe Bloggs. You know what I'm
saying. Mum is in the kitchen. She's singing Puppet on a String.
The radio is always on in my house. With some, it's the TV. With us,
the radio is tuned to Capital Gold. Plays the same fucking soppy
sixties songs every day.
She's using a long knife to cut veg. Carrots and these yellow things.
Like big carrots, but yellow.
'Can I have the bucket?'
'My God,' she says, like she's going to explode or something with joy.
'A miracle,' she says, planting a kiss on my cheek.
I don't want to, but I smile. I dunno, it's alright seeing the old girl
happy. Such a rare occurrence, what with her dodgy hormones and that.
It's mind boggling the simple shit that makes her day. A shopping trip
to Marks &;amp; Spencer, buying us all treats, you know, stuff that
has enough calories to give me a rash of zits the next day. Or hearing
a crap song on Capital Gold like the one she's hearing now. Or me
asking her for a bucket.
She fills it for me. Gets the cloths. Sponges. Tells me about the wax.
She's got a buzz. Super chuffed. Dad has gone. Sitting on his stool in
the pub, trying to get the other alcoholics to play crib.
He is a waste of space, that fella. Don't know how my mum puts up with
The estate is quieter than a PE hall between lessons. It's one of these
bright mornings, you can smell the air, and there's a breeze which at
first I think is okay and then realise it's gunna be a fucker 'cos it's
actually well cold. Whereas the soapy water is molten lava. 'Fuck,' I
say, pulling my hand from the bucket.
The car is a heap. I'm embarrassed to be seen near it. Like standing
with my old man. Don't want to be associated with old bangers, with
damaged goods. Mum wants dad to sell the car. He says he will. The
thinking, I think, behind me cleaning the car is so mum can order dad
to sell it. Although I don't think it starts anymore. Don't know why.
Dad says he can fix it, though. A typical dad type boast. He claims he
can do stuff like put in a flower bed, unblock a shower nozzle - fix a
car, but he never does. The thing, the catch, is mum never gets the
jobs she wants done actually done because dad says he can do them
himself. He doesn't let her shell out the money - which she earns - as
he says he'll do it, which he doesn't, he just spunks up her money on
beer, the dogs and the ponies.
I throw water onto the car. Real steam rises off the metal surfaces. I
hold the sponge lightly, ignore the hotness hurting my hand, and water
dripping onto my joggers, my trainers, but that's alright, they're my
knock-about-gear. I start wiping the bonnet. Then I switch to the
windshield. Then I think again and start on the roof. You know, there
is an art to cleaning a car. It isn't like just stepping into a shower.
Although it might be though, as you start with the head and work your
way down to the bottom - I suppose the ankles of a car are its hub
It's tough work. I get into it, rubbing the roof, seeing the layers of
dirt disappear. I ignore the cold. The estate is a ghost town at the
weekend. You pack all these people into identical rooms and they don't
make a sound. It's like they feel shame to be seen in daylight. As it
gets darker in the evening, the estate comes alive, like a nightclub
without a theme.
Mum waves at me. Holy shit. She's got a camera.
I pose. Like a model on the bonnet. Sleazy. Mum shakes her hand. I'm
pouting my rear. She won't take a picture until I'm decent. But she's
killing herself laughing. Seriously. A loony tune, that woman. I swear,
a care in the community case if ever I saw one.
I go into the house.
'You're doing a grand job,' she says.
'It's harder than I thought.'
'That's why your dad didn't do it,' she says.
I turn the tap so the water gushes out faster. Plumbing is crazy. When
I think about it, especially if I've smoked a spliff, I tell you? All
those pipes, interconnected, miles of pipes and bolts and bends, like
this network of scaffolding underground criss-crossing to the sea. It's
mental. Without plumbing, we'd all be fucked. Seriously. You turn a tap
and you take it for granted, but it's fucking mind blowing when you
stop a moment and think about what's gone into it, the effort, man
hours, and where we'd be if it stopped working. If I were after the
Americans, that's what I'd go for, their plumbing. Serious. Just get
all these terrorists to train as plumbers, then when they passed their
GCSEs or whatever, they could launch all out war on America's
waterworks. No one could fight that army. No one.
The water smacks against the plastic base of the bucket. The sound
changes as the water rises, like it's playing a tune in various
Mum says, 'You heard back from that supermarket?'
'No. Purse said next week.'
'That'll do you good. A year of work and then you'll realise what a
mistake you've made quitting school early.'
'I didn't quit, mum.'
'You know what I mean.'
'I'm not going back to school.'
'Never say never, not at your age,' she says, using a knife to cut in
half an already peeled potato.
I'm not going back to school. I'd rather have sex with a man than sit
in a classroom. Sex with John, and that should be enough said. Subject
closed for discussion. Thank you. Next. Lights out. Right. But I tell
mum otherwise. 'We'll see,' I say.
She turns, hopeful. Deluded. Take your pick. 'Yes,' she says, 'that's
all I'm asking. Don't cut off your options, you're too young to be
doing that. Trust me, I know.'
'Yes mum,' I say, and I get all deep and wonder what will be becoming
of me, like. What I'll end up doing. Not that I care. Fuck. I'm not
going to finish up like everyone else, that I do know. I need to make a
mental note. A memorandum: Leave home. Get off this fucking
The bucket is heavy. Birds are singing, I can see two of them sitting
on the branch of a tree.
I put the bucket on the pavement. I rush indoors and ask mum for the
keys to the car.
'Why do you want them?' she says.
'I want to put on some tunes.'
She pauses, then says, 'Alright then. But not loud, okay?'
'No, I know now. I won't have it loud.'
She gets the keys from the hook in the gas cupboard.
I put the radio on. It's already tuned to Capital Gold. I switch
between stations. Static. Song. Static. DJ. Static. Mozarty stuff.
Static - tune. Now this is a tune.
I dip the sponge and then squeeze water onto the bonnet. The sides.
Windows. A motorbike engines starts, the revs bounce between the blocks
As I turn the volume up, I wonder if I'd prefer to ride a bike or drive
a car. A bike gives you more freedom.
I have to change the bucket of water.
One more wipe and I can start with the wax.
Mum is upstairs. I wish she was in the kitchen so she could see the
effort I'm making. Not that I care but?I add some washing up liquid. I
look out the window and can't quite believe what I'm seeing with my own
eyes. The next door neighbour, Paul, has opened the car door. 'Oi,' I
shout. 'Oi, what do you think you're doing?' I run out of the house to
the car, he's getting out. The radio is off.
I ask him what's he's doing.
He cups an ear, then says, 'That's better, ain't it?'
'What are you doing turning it off? I was listening to that.'
'Do I need your permission?' he says.
I can't stick this guy. He's a worm. A maggot. He sees himself as a
gangster, one of the lads. Knows some people in Soho. Fuck knows who.
Rent boys for all I care. He's a bouncer or something. I seriously
don't know but he thinks he's Robert fucking De Niro. The whole family
are twats. The dad especially. I think he's ill, the dad, that's why
Paul is back at home but that doesn't give him the right to turn off my
radio without asking. That's just fucking rude behaviour. Given that it
hadn't been on long either.
'Yeah,' I say, 'you do need to ask my permission.'
'Give that a rest,' he says, pointing to his mouth and then almost
My thoughts are getting confused. He can't talk to me like this. You
can't let people talk to you like you're shit on their shoes.
'You gotta ask first,' I say.
He wipes his broad face with his hands. 'Son, I've been up all night,'
he says, looking at the house. 'Your music is too loud. We've been here
'You can't trespass like that.'
'What the fuck?' he says.
I cringe. Did I say that? What a moron. Trespass. Why did I say that?
Of all the things. He's walking to his house. I stand there. Feeling my
blood in my veins.
I'm shouting at him. I've said: "Who the fuck do you think you're
He keeps walking for a couple of steps. I know I've messed up. He
pinches the bridge of his nose between his thick fingers. If I've got
sense I take back what I've said. He's pissed. But I'm pissed off as
well. He's older, but that doesn't make his pissed off-ness any more
serious than mine. You can't let people...Otherwise?Before you know it,
you're sitting in a grim pub that stinks of old beer, ash and bad
plumbing, and you're on a stool by the bar, desperate for a game of
crib with pennies for prize money?
Paul walks up to me. 'I told you. I explained. You're a mouthy little
prick, you know that?'
I don't feel sure of myself. I can kinda see where he's coming from.
His dad and that. But I can't raise the flag now, say I'm wrong. And
I'm shouting. Like I've lost it. Big style. I said, "Don't fucking call
me that. Who do you think you are? A big man, eh? With your gold chains
and your rings and your leather coat. Is that it Paul, am I impressed
'cos you're a geezer?"
'Keep going,' he says. 'Keep going.'
Mum is standing in the front garden. She asks about the shouting. Why
Paul says, 'If you can't teach him to behave, I guess I will.'
'Stop this,' she says, 'why are you angry with my son?'
'It tells me a lot about you,' says Paul, 'that you've brought up a
prick like this.'
I steam into him. Before I know it, I'm on the pavement, crashing into
the bucket. The side of my face hurting big time. I try to get up. He's
strong, too strong but I keep at him and find myself slammed against
the car, then on the ground. Crying like a fucking baby. I can't see
properly. I struggle up, holding the door handle on the side of the
'That's right,' he says, 'back to mummy, you prick. Don't let me see
I'm in the kitchen, blinking. Mum tries to hold me. She can't. I open
the front door she's closed and tried to lock. I have the knife from
the sideboard, the long one.
Mum is behind me. I push her off. She holds her chest begging me not to
do it. I check to make sure I haven't got her with the knife. Pushing
her off. She's okay. He can't talk to me like this. People are hanging
from their windows. Coming outside and then going back in. That's
right. I'm banging a fist on the front door. Banging, banging. Takes
forever. The door opens inwards. He's there. He lifts his hands and I
steam him and the knife cuts through and into his chest. I tighten my
wrist. Pushing. I hear this air escaping. Then a smell. Minging. Dead.
Like a thousand army surplus stores. I don't know, it's rank. I yank
the blade and blood spunks upwards from the gash in his chest onto my
Joe Bloggs. Paul is blue already. He looks at me and we know what I've
done. I look up and see his mum in the hallway, watching. I don't know
where Paul's dad is, but I hear him calling for his son. Boy, he calls.
'Where are you, boy? You alright?' Paul's mum screams. I run outside,
pass my mum, who is spewing, on her knees, and neighbours scream when
they see me. I run round the corner, to the backgarages, hearing a
police siren. I drop the knife down a drain. I climb a wall. Hang and
drop into an alleyway. I run, feeling the dirt and mud, splashing in
puddles, leaves crack underfoot. I climb another wall. Come to the
square where the good conker trees are. I've shit myself.
Can feel the warmness down my legs.
A police car races along the road.
Coming in my direction fast, lights flashing, and the siren is very