Visitors 15. (Part IV)
By Mark Burrow
Mike must’ve seen me driftin. So, Smudge, what have you been doing?
Not much, I say.
How’s the running going?
I feel myself perk up. Yeah, I say, I won a race.
I don’t doubt it.
Mum says, You never told me.
The teacher might get me to run in a competition.
For the district?
Nice, says Mike. I told you that you’ve got talent. Is Mr Barker still a perv?
Watches you get changed?
Stands by the showers.
He did that when I was there too. Well creepy. And Miss Hillard, is she still sheer fitness in her tight tracksuit?
Yeah, you know it, he says, grinnin back.
How come I don’t know about this competition? says mum.
He’s telling us now, goes Mike.
I keep to myself the part about Mr Barker reporting me to Mrs McNeil for fightin with Johnny Fuckface. Not that it was my fault.
I should come and watch you, says mum.
Sure, I say.
Me an Mike give each other looks. Luckily, mum don’t notice.
She says, I never did like PE at school… Hated it … And school generally for that matter. I didn’t mind maths. It was English I was terrible at. I couldn’t wait to leave. I did like drama, though. I had this one teacher who told me I was a very good actress. We did this play. It was set in America. What was it called?
A Street Bus Named Desire, says Mike.
That’s it, she goes. How’d you know?
He laughs an says, How’d I know? He turns to me an goes, How many times has she told this story?
A gazillion, I reply.
We both crack up.
Oh, sod the pair of you, says mum. I won’t bother speaking.
Come on, says Mike.
Not if you’re going to be rude.
Piss-taking more like.
Mike says to me, I’m glad you’re running. Let me know how the next race goes, okay?
He senses I’m keeping something from him. Our wifi has good an bad sides.
What else is news? he says.
Well, says mum, you do have some other news, don’t you, Jay?
She’s fixin on me to answer but I haven’t a clue what she’s on about.
She says to Mike, Have a guess what it is?
Oh, give over.
Mum goes, Who went and got another cat?
I hear what she says an my guts drop down below fucken China.
You didn’t? says Mike.
It’s a kitten, really. It’s the cutest thing, ain’t it, Jay?
I sit there, feelin them both eyeballin me, waitin for me to talk about the last thing in the whole history of the fuckin planet I ever wanna chat about.
This kitten is an absolute button, says mum. Wait till you see it.
Won’t he have to give it back?
I don’t think so, says mum. Not if he’s telling the truth about how he found it, although it’s always a lottery when it comes this boy and the truth, ain’t it, Jay?
Hey, says Mike, what’s the matter?
Mum goes, Jay, what’s up?
I keep my head down.
Smudge, what’s going on? Tell us.
I can’t lift my head. I try to talk. My voice is croaky an my breaths are jerky.
Jay, take it easy, says mum.
Get him some water, says Mike.
He was breathing like this on the train.
It’s a panic attack.
Don’t you think I know that?
Alright, she says an she walks to the water cooler.
Smudge, you’ll be alright. You can tell me.
I know everything is gunna be worse if I open my mouth, but there is so much poison in me right now that I kinda have to get it out like when I had hot pus in a boil on my arm.
Mum comes back with a plastic cup of water. Here, drink this, she says.
The cup has little wrinkles on the sides, remindin me of the face of the Old Lady I did murders to.
Mr Santini gave us a whole lesson on how plastic is damagin for the environment.
Carbon is evils.
Causin icecaps to melt.
Polar bears to drown.
Settin forests on fire.
I start talking.
I go, Robert Brown is a fucken twat an I’m gunna get him for what he did cos he was holdin Flapjack over the side of the Tower Block an he let go of her an she’s dead an I saw her guts an paws an tail all mushed up on the ground like spaghetti bog’anese an he held me over the side of the Tower Block too an he was danglin me, holdin onto my feet, an I thought he was gunna drop me an I was gunna fall through the air an it wasn’t me, it was Flapjack, an the Tower Block tears couldn’t save her or me, but I’m gunna get Robert Brown an Junior an fucken Tracey Clarke too …
Mike is reachin across the table for my hand.
Mum is touchin my head, trying to get me to look at her. Jay, she says, Jay – come on, what is this? What’s gone on? You’re not making any sense, sweetheart? You’re scaring me.
Smudge, says Mike. Look at me, Smudge.
I like that nickname. He’s always called me it. No one can ever remember why, includin Mike.
Who is Flapjack? he says to mum.
The kitten, she says. He found her in a bin. What’s this about a tower block, Jay?
Dad left me the keys to get on the roof of the Tower Block, says Mike. I gave them to Jay when I came in here.
Your father did what?
He ignores her an says, Smudge, give me your hands.
I try an remember how to move them.
Breathe, says mum.
I do as they say, lifting my hands onto the table, touchin Mike like he did with mum.
I think he’s her favourite. We were both accidents. One of her blokes once told me she only had me cos she didn’t want another abortion.
She puts the cup to my mouth an I have a sip of water.
Mike says, It’ll be alright, I swear. You’re not alone. I’ll be out soon.
Don’t be angry with me, I say.
Why would I be angry? he replies.
Cos I can’t fight as mad as you can.
Jesus, Smudge. That’s what makes you the best. You’re not like the rest of us. What happened to you? Am I hearing right? Robert took the cat off of you on the roof of the tower block and dropped it over the side? And he tried putting you over the side too?
No, cries mum.
It is, isn’t it? says Mike, keepin on.
Yeah, I say.
Mum goes, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Oh, Jay, why didn’t you tell me? Why couldn’t you come to me when it happened? I’m your mother. It’s why you were upset on the train, wasn’t it?
Not now, says Mike.
But why wouldn’t he? she says.
Mike fixes on her an she shuts up cos he’s told her another truth without havin to move his lips.
She starts her blubbin.
You need to hold on, Smudge, he says. Don’t do anything stupid. I’ll be out soon. You know that, don’t you?
A man walks to the table an tells us the visit is over.
You know that, Smudge?
Yeah, bro. I know.
To the man, he snaps, Alright.
You’re a couple of minutes over already.
Smudge, says Mike.
I repeat to him that I know.
Mum rushes to Mike an gives him a hug, which she gets in trouble for.
Bye bro, I say to him.
Remember, he says, I won’t be in here much longer.
Okay, I say.
He heads out of the room. It’s guttin to watch.
Mum tries to hold my hand as we leave an I feel some of the boys in the room notice an they give me snide looks an wanna make jokes.
She has to sign forms to collect her things. We’re shown through doors that are heavy in their size an the waves of depression they give off. We pass guards an cameras an suddenly there is the freedom of air an sunlight on the other side of the wall. Mum reaches into her bag an takes out her pack of cigarettes.
This is a one off, she says, handin me one an lighting it.
We stand by the side of the road, smokin our fags.
Mum, I say.
What, petal? she says, trying to sound tender.
Your make-up’s smeared from cryin.
She does one of those unfunny laughs an says, It ain’t like it was ever fooling anyone to begin with, was it?
We both know she’s not wrong.
Mum enters a newsagent that’s also a supermarket with boxes of dodgy fruit and veg in green plastic trays out the front, soakin up the carbon from exhaust fumes. We enter an I get an extra thick layer of gothic buttered onto my soul cos I watch her stormtroopin straight for the wine an beers section.
Get yourself a pack of crisps and a fizzy drink, she says.
I really, really don’t want her to buy booze. I know how pear-shaped the day is goin to go if she starts pourin that shit down her throat this early.
I go to the aisle for crisps an biscuits. I check left to right an shove a family-size pack of cheese an onion crisps into my jacket an zip it up. I then go to the chocolates an act like I’m eyeing the delicacies before sliding a massive fruit & nut bar down the front of my jeans. I don’t ever steal things cos I ain’t no thief but, then again, maybe I am. Look at Mike, he’s the kindest person I know an they fucken lock him up an treat him like an animal.
It don’t matter cos what you are to one person is what you ain’t to another.
Get some crisps, says mum.
You want a drink, though?
I take Dr P from the chiller an put it in her basket. She places it on the counter. There is a large bottle of white wine with a screw top lid, four cans of lager an my drink too.
It’s another young person serving. This time it’s a girl. You got ID? she says, grinnin like she’s made a killer joke.
I beg your pardon? says mum.
Nothing, the girl replies, realising that mum ain’t in the jokin frame of mind.
Are you taking the mickey?
Nah nah, she says.
What is this, national take the piss outta Carol day?
The girl says, Sorry, Miss.
Can you fucking believe this? says mum, lookin at me. Who the fuck do you think you are, girl?
Please don’t swear.
Don’t swear – do you know the day I’ve had? And now I come in here and I get you calling me an old woman.
I didn’t call you that.
Does my age amuse you?
So, you do think I’m old?
I didn’t mean to … I, I …
I know what you thought. Do you think you’re gunna look like you do forever with your thigh gap, tight arse cheeks and boobs? Well, it doesn’t work like that, my dear. That skin of yours doesn’t last, so enjoy the boys calling you fit and enjoy your white teeth and enjoy your gym selfies while you can because it’ll all go south soon enough. And if you ever have kids, you can’t begin to imagine what will happen to you. Stretch marks ain’t the half of it. So, I’d be careful how smug you are in the future cos ageing is coming for you too.
I am sorry, says the girl.
Oh, fuck it. I can’t be bothered. Just let me pay.
I walk outside. The girl didn’t notice the crisps in my jacket. I reckon she just thought I had a fat belly.
Mum comes out holdin a cheap carrier bag. What a fucking day-and-a-half this is, she says, reachin into the bag an openin a can. She has a swig an says, A fucking humdinger and no mistake. Why are people such a bunch of cunts?
Whoah, C-bomb, I say to mum.
I know. It is an awful word.
We said no swearing.
Yes, we did and you’re totally right to tell me off, but sometimes, Jay, sometimes there’s no other word to drop except the C-bomb for what people are. It’s like this can of lager, nothing else will do. God, the fucking cheek of her. She’s lucky she didn’t get a slap.
We walk to the station. The attendants have disappeared an the barriers are open so we don’t have to scan through. Mum looks at the clock for our train. Oh bollocks, she says, it’s only been cancelled. We’ll have to wait ages now.
We look for the sign to show when our next train is due an then we walk across a footbridge to the platform. As we’re goin down the steps, mum’s carrier bag splits an her precious wine drops an shatters.
Fucking bastard bag, she yells.
Three cans starts rollin.
She stands an stares at the pieces of green broken glass, Flapjacked on the steps.
A lemony smell wafts upwards.
In this weirdly quiet voice, she says, Will anything ever go right?
The thing is, I don’t think she’s talkin to me. It’s more like she’s chattin to her own soul.
She comes out of her trance an goes, Fuck this for a game of soldiers. Let’s wait in the pub. I need a proper drink.
I pick up her dented cans for her an we head back along the high street of boarded up shops to go and sit in the Spoons.