Visitors .15 (Part II)
By Mark Burrow
The train keeps stoppin between stations. The driver says there’s a signal fault. I stare out the window at the backs of houses with rooves that are slanted with tiles. Rich houses have angled rooves. Poor ones are flat. There are gardens with swings, bouncy trampolines an sheds. I see a cat on a wooden fence an I get the worst twist ever.
I feel tired like I wanna puke. I don’t know if it’s the food or the thought of what Robert did to Flapjack. I keep thinking about pushin him off the Tower Block, watchin his arms wave an legs kick, like he’s trying to swim in the air.
Robert should have dropped me, not Flapjack.
Lettin me fall down to the ground.
I wouldn’t have screamed.
I’d’ve laughed so fucken hard cos when I came back as a ghost I’d haunt him till the end of days.
The train pulls off.
I wanna tell mum how I’m buggin. The train speeds up an I look out of the window an it somehow sets my brain off thinking about when Robert dangled me over the side an I was starin with nothing between me an the ground.
Flapjack musta been so scared.
I start fidgetin an can’t get my breath.
What’s up, Jay? says mum.
My brain is on repeat. It won’t stop.
Nothing, I say to mum, grabbin at my chest an coughin.
Jay, what’s the matter, love? Have you got something stuck on your throat?
I dunno. I dunno. I dunno.
Jason, you’re scaring me. Come on, breathe.
I want to get off the train. I start pushin at mum. Let me off. I need to get off.
This train. Fallin. Dead cats exploding. A paw an a tail. Spag bol. Fried tomatoes. Old ladies carried out with a table. Maggots an flies. Anne’s brittle bones. Bullets hittin faces. Tracey’s evil laugh. Guts an paws all mixed together in a mushroom cloud the colour of Edgar’s lipstick.
Mum grips my arms. Jason, stop it, you’re okay.
She shakes me, sayin, Breathe, Jason, an she does these breaths, showin me what to do. In an out. Slow an deep. Her big boobs swell up an then she breathes out.
Like this, she tells me.
We breathe together.
In through your nose, out through your mouth, she says, strokin my hair. I like the feeling of her hand across my scalp.
The Tower Block sadness softens in me. She pushes up the arm rest between us an I cuddle into her.
I start to breathe normal.
Stay here with me, she says. You don’t want to get off.
The thoughts in my brain go slower.
What’s the matter, Jay?
Nothing, I say, but I can’t stop myself from blubbin.
Oh sweetheart, what’s going on in there? she asks, meanin inside my overflowin dustbin brain.
She takes a tissue from her broken handbag an tries to dry the tears comin out of me. She ain’t got a chance tryin to stop the flood. This is Bangladesh an the Tower Block times a thousand.
You poor thing, she says, still givin me strokes like I used to do with Flapjack.
I guess I’m her pet.
Is it seeing Mike? she asks. I know you get nervous when we visit. It’ll be alright, sausage. Try not to think about where he is an who else is there. It’s Mike we’re there to see. I know he can be a proper moody git, but really he’ll be pleased to see us, I swear.
I like havin my head on mum’s lap, cuddling into her. It calms the ragin murders an waves.
Your brother loves you. He has this nasty temper on him an he’s too strong for his own good, so he did a stupid thing, but he’s like you, Jay, he’s got a good heart. So, try not to be scared about where he is. We have to keep remembering that he’ll be out soon an then things will be better for all three of us, I promise.
I use the tissue to mop up the wetness.
There, there, she says.
I sit up an check whether anyone else on the carriage saw me on mum’s lap, wailin like a baby.
You better? she asks.
Breathing helps. A friend of mine taught me that. It’s called yoga. She passes me her cup. You’ve drunk yours so have a sip of mine.
I suck the straw.
A sip mind. Don’t have it all. I’ve a thirst on me this morning.
I pass back the drink an say, I couldn’t catch my breath.
You had a panic attack. Your father used to get them.
Yeah, you’re more like him than you know. A chip off the old block. The good parts.
I didn’t know that.
Well, he claimed to have more panic attacks than he really did. I think it could be a little convenient when he chose to have them, such as when I caught him lying.
Dad didn’t lie.
She laughs at me. Your dad? Oh, Jason, if only you knew.
I don’t know why she’s making stuff up about dad. She was the one who used to cheat on him. I remember dad yelling at her, wantin to know where she’d been, but then I do remember Mike sayin dad was a hypocrite an that they were both as bad at each other.
I dare myself to look out the window. I realise it’s okay. I don’t have the vertigo. The movie in my head ain’t as full on as it was.
I want to tell mum what happened on the roof of the Tower Block. I feel like if I was in a normal family, I would be able to say. Cept we ain’t normal. I have this instinct in me that says if I do tell her, she’ll go demented an make everything so much worse.
Mum, I say, can I go to the toilet?
She’s lookin at her crappy phone. She gets up to let me out. It’s that way, she says, pointing back along the carriage.
I use the tops of the seats to steady myself. The train is goin faster. I find the cubicle an take out my fags, desperate for a smoke.
The toilet bowl is metal, probably like the one Mike has in prison.
Mum’s right, I fucken hate goin to visit my assault an battery brother.
The train pulls into the station. I look at the other passengers gettin off, wondering who else is lucky enough to see a locked up relative.
Shit, says mum, lookin at her phone. My battery is dying and I forgot my charger. I’m gunna have to buy a new one. Let’s see if there’s a Smiths.
We’re the Smiths, I say.
I don’t bother repeatin what I said. Surnames ain’t funny. I can see mum’s now in a mood. It’s cos she’s twistin about seeing Mike, I reckon. It’s like, people tell you not to worry, babyin you an going there-there, everythin is gunna be alright, sayin that you shouldn’t have these gothic thoughts, but then they’ve got the same fear in them too.
Today’s costing a fortune, says mum.
I have this feeling like it’s my fault she bought Macca’s.
I don’t speak cos I know I’m gunna get shouted at. I can feel how she’s changed. It’s always the way with mum. Living with her is like bein on some kind of merry-go-round of love an hate, especially when she’s hungover.
I don’t have the money for this, she says again.
We go into a dodgy shop that sells vapes an phone screens an bongs. There’s no one behind the counter.
Hello, says mum. Anyone there?
A youngish guy in a black leather jacket walks out from the back. How can I help, lady? he says, opening an closing a PVC door to go behind the counter. There is a plastic screen over the top half an a gap to put stuff through. It’s all to stop him getting robbed.
Mum gets out her phone an says. I’m useless with these so I forgot its name, but do you have a charger for it?
He looks at the phone she’s showin him an says, Lady, you need a new phone.
I step backwards towards the door. I know what’s coming.
Do what? says mum.
That’s an old, beat up phone you got there.
Am I asking your opinion? Do I look like I care what you think?
Don’t lady me. You can sit there, thinking you’re all high an mighty, cos what, you work in your dad’s shop? Sitting on your arse selling vapes all day. What, you think you’re a big man, is that it? You think you’re special? You think you’re it with your jacket an gold chain? I couldn’t fucking care less what you think of my phone. That’s not what I’m asking, is it? What I’m asking is do you have a charger? So, answer me that question and ditch the fucking cocky attitude.
Less of the lady, she snaps, jabbin her phone at him.
He waits a few seconds. No, he says.
We don’t have a charger for that phone.
Mum shakes her head. You don’t have a charger?
He fixes her an says, No.
In this whole shop, you don’t have a charger for this phone? This phone?
We do not.
Prick, she says an then to me she turns an says, Come on, Jason – in a shop of chargers, he doesn’t sell a charger.
We walk out the shop an along the street.
Mum goes off on one as we walk. I drop a few paces behind her, lettin her rant to herself when she thinks she’s rantin to me. We go into another shop an thankfully they have the charger, which changes mum’s mood again back to okay’ish.
Can you believe the cheek of that kid in the other shop? she says.
Did you hear how he was talking down to me?
Never let people talk down you, Jay. You have to stick up for yourself.
I don’t answer her. All I’m thinking is that Mike used to say the same.
My phone needs some juice. Where can I charge it?
A lot of the shops are boarded up or sit empty. Another homeless person asks for change. A couple of Bible Bashers stand next to a supermarket, trying to hand out copies of a magazine with a black woman an a white man smilin on a sunny beach. I don’t know why religious people think sunshine is nicey-nice-holy an storms are bad an angry. Like, why would god give two turds about weather?
We stop outside a Spoons.
Let’s go in here.
You can’t drink before we see Mike.
Her head does its angry wobble. Do I need you to tell me that? What sort of mother do you think I am?
I’m not sayin …
Yeah, you are sayin, Jay. We’ll have a couple of soft drinks. I’ll put some juice on my phone. I don’t need your lectures.
We go into the pub.
Sit at that table, she says. What do you want?
Full fat, I take it?
I sit in one of the booths an watch mum go to the bar. It’s just turned 12 but already there are men with grey hair an bald heads in here. Alkies readin their stupid papers, staring out the windows, sipping their pints of Guinness an ales. One guy sits on his electric scooter an has a small dog sleeping by his feet. They mostly sit at their own tables an seem lonely. Mum looks over her shoulder at me as the barman sorts her drinks. She’s bein well shifty an I know why cos I can see him go to the optics to fill a glass. I fucken knew she was gunna have a voddy an Coke.
She comes back an puts her half pint an my pint glass on the table. She fiddles to tear open the wrapping of her charger an cable an then plugs it into the socket by our feet, connectin her phone.
It’s charging, she says.
I don’t know how we’ve done it, but we’ll be on time.
That’s a relief.
His lordship doesn’t like it when we’re late, does he?
She sips her alcohol.
I drink my Coke. It’s nice an cold. The best Coke of all is from a bottle.
Don’t be nervous, she says.
She’s startin to relax again. I know her aggro phase is over. It’s cos she’s having a drink. It’s keepin her calm. I realise she’s become a propa alkie.
We’re lucky it’s warm, she says. It’s not normally this warm this time of year.
Yeah, I say.
You feeling better?
I nod, looking at the cubes of ice in my Coke. I don’t want to talk anymore. This gigantic wave comes over me an I start to think that chatting to other people, especially a hypocrite like mum, is pointless. I reckon a lot of the guys in Spoons, sittin at their own tables, think like me about makin conversation.
Everything mum says, it’s fake.
Just like teachers.
No one is who they pretend to be.
Cept for dad.
(next section: https://www.abctales.com/story/mark-burrow/visitors-15-part-iii)