‘This big gigantic guy with an eye is trying to kill him,’ Bruno says, with exaggerated affect. ‘So he can eat them.’ His voice rises and he gets into action mode, he crouches and swings his arm about in a semicircle, like a crab with hands instead of pincers, to show what he means in a world full of blood and gore and monsters, where he’s a tanned heroic hero and not someone that stumbles as he walks, catching and flicking his own heel.
He’s hoping Tony’s forgotten about the way Bruno held his wrist after falling off the swing in the garden, testing his legs as if he were a scarecrow, the back of his denims damp and filthy and the unexpectedness of landing in the laurel bush and almost hitting his head against the wall and the way he’d ducked out of the green shoots, standing on twigs and given Tony a funny smile, showing he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or apologise, and his ears burning red.
Tony blinks with the beginning of a smile on his face, takes his hands out of corner of denims pockets to bat away midges that zero in on the bright colours of stripy T-shirt and nip at the corner of his eyes. It’s damp and heat rises from the ground. They trek back to the house following a path they’d made through uncut grass.
‘Haa-Aagh,’ Bruno roars and there’s no pity on his face. ‘And then he stabs it in the eye.’
‘Then whit happens?’ asks Tony.
‘Och, nothin’ much.’ Bruno stops to explain. No longer plugged into the story, all the good parts sucked out of it, gone with a swipe of a sword and the giant with one eye. He stares down at the ground and notices a snail, crawling, horned grey, across the ground. ‘Then they get back on the boat and kill everything else. The best bit is when they’re fighting these skeletons and it doesnae matter how many you kill another wan appears and they’ve all got swords.’ He crouches on his heels to get a better look, casting little of no shadow on it as it slides along. Reaching sideways he picks up a twig and spears through the snail’s slimy body, holding up the mollusc. ‘It looks different when it’s dead.’
‘Whit did you do that for?’ Tony dampens down a shiver, but steps away.
‘It’s only a slug.’ Bruno drops the stick and stands up, turns his head, looking towards the house. ‘Soon be lunch time. I’m starvin’. I could eat a horse.’ He grins. ‘You know the French eat slugs?’
‘Shut up,’ says Tony. ‘No even you would eat a slug.’
‘You want to go up the Park?’
‘Nah, it’s boring when you’ve no’ got any money for sweets.’
‘We could go up the golfie and look for golf balls. And sell them.’
‘I don’t like golf.’ Tony ambles towards the house.
Bruno, shuffling into step behind him, catches up.
After lunch they laze on the couch and watch Crown Court on telly and listen to the older kids, sniggering at the stupidity of the accused and watch a stocky new kid, who said his name was Noel something, sneaking seconds on a smoke, and give an elaborate explanation of how he’d have gotten off with the manslaughter charge.
Tony and Bruno find themselves moping about in the lane outside. Pizza Face in an oversized Wrangler jacket spins around the corner, shoulders heaving, blowing hard, his forehead sweating and cheek blooms of pinks and purple patches, fault-lines of tiredness. Tony meets him half way down the hill. Bruno at his back.
‘Whit is it?’ asks Tony, not waiting for him to get a breather.
Pizza Face stinks of cigarette smoke. ‘It’s Angel. She’s went fuckin’ doowally and is talking about flinging herself in the canal and drowning herself. She wants you to go wae her. And kill yerself tae.’
Tony shakes his head. ‘Well, I’m no’.’
‘Fuck sake, I know that,’ says Pizza Face, panting. ‘But I couldnae stop her. She’s already away doon the canal. You know whit’s she’s like.’ He grabs his arm. ‘C’mon, you’re the only one she’ll listen to.’
Tony takes off, doesn’t wait for the others, oblivious of the traffic as he crosses the road, running up and over the hill and picks up speed on the other side. He slows at Dunbarton Road and Pizza Face catches up with him. They weave in and out of the cars and buses, teetering against the traffic for a few seconds in the middle of the road, Bruno behind them peely-wally faced, stranded on the pavement.
When Bruno catches up with them they are walking silently, hitched together, shoulder to shoulder, on the edge of the embankment, scanning the murky water, the fetor of sewerage from the nearby works, catching the throat. Tony clatters up onto the first bridge, near where they keep the horses penned and looks back the way they’ve came.
‘Angel’s no’ here,’ says Tony, a hitch in his voice. He turns to check if Pizza Face agrees, but his pal is standing looking the other way, studying the stretch of canal the runs to Bowling, the reeds and cow parsley crowding the unpeopled side.
‘Over there,’ says Pizza Face pointing a wavering finger as some white squib submerged in tender green roots, but partially floating free. He leans into the drizzle of new rain, over the railing, peering into the glaze of water and mud, his mouth falling open.
‘It’s a plastic bag, I think,’ says Tony.
‘Aye,’ says Pizza Face, relief in his voice.
‘Maybe she went hame,’ says Bruno.
Pizza Face takes a good hard look at him standing on the path, a nip in his voice. ‘Who fuckin’asked you?’
‘I wiz just sayin’,’ says Bruno.
‘Well don’t.’ Pizza Face parades towards him and slaps him hard across the cheek. ‘In fact, fuck off.’
Bruno’s left hand goes up and cups his reddened cheek. He looks towards Tony, his eyes pleading, but his roommate’s gaze is focused on the canal. His right leg buckles when Pizza Face takes a swipe and boots his arse, but he regains his balance and starts running with his head down, so nobody can see his tears, back towards Dunbarton Road and Home.
‘Whit did you dae that for?’ hisses Tony.
‘Whit?’ says Pizza Face squaring up to him.
‘Shut up,’ says Tony looking again at the waterlogged plastic bag. ‘We’ll need to go and tell Angel’s mum that she’s maybe drowned herself.’
Pizza Face snorts, ‘I’m no’ tellin’ her that’.
‘Somebody ‘ill need tae.’
They cross the bridge and start meandering the short distance towards Karen’s house, sadness overshadowing them, leading them to a place without words. When they get to the tenement block their feet slow. On the top landing, Pizza Face sniffles and stands behind Tony, mopping at his eyes. Silence stitches itself together, neither of them having enough gumption to flick the letter-box and announce their presence. Tony raises his index finger and flicks the letter box, once, twice, three times. Then he too stands back staring at his feet.
The clatter of shoes in the hall getting nearer becomes a relief. Tony looks up at Karen standing in the doorway a cigarette in her hand, a bump poking out of her pinny, but everything else about her seems shaved away, her eye sockets poking out of a skull. Angela stands behind her.
‘Whit is it?’ Karen asks, looking at Tony then at Pizza Face.
‘Is Angel comin’ out to play?’ asks Pizza Face, smirking.
‘No, she’s a cheeky wee bastard. You should hear the mouth on her. I’ve grounded her. Her da says the same thing. He’s bought her everythin’ to her heart’s content, but the wee bastard is never happy.’ Her head whips round, she look at Angela and frowns. ‘Ur you?’
‘He’s no’ my da,’ screams Angela. ‘And you’re no’ my real mum. I hate you.’
Karen shakes her head, and flings the front door shut in their faces.