The Boy’s breath smelled like a shipwreck. Despite this and many other handicaps, I found him to be engaging. He told me, “you don’t know her like I do” and his nose began to bleed, a thin descending ribbon that ran slow and straight to his lip.
“When she sings, she sounds like Christ crucified.” I wondered to myself – does the boy’s blood smell as badly as the rest of him? Would I die if I stabbed him, punching a blade between his ribs and watching the foul red stuff blossom from his mouth? It wasn’t tempting.
The Boy began his conscious life as a gifted pianist, but his fingers were now rotten from knuckle to tip by fetid designs. She’d broken one or more of them on six different occasions and he’d never bothered to trouble a doctor so now they jostled for space, swollen in his fists.
I looked at this boy of twenty six as the blood made a softly rhythmic pat pat pat on the toes of his trainer. His eyes were deranged with lust and I felt sure I could hand him the cardboard middle of a toilet roll filled with diced beef and he’d fuck it. To step back would be to show weakness, so I clenched the flick-blade I had in my pocket and held my thumb over the release. The boy’s eyes rolled into the top of his skull and he gently sank, folding his legs delicately underneath him so he ended up cross-legged on the floor at my feet.
“I want to hear her sing” he began to moan, mournfully, grabbing at stones in the dust. He may have been crying; I was trying not to look. When I finally did, the boy was staring up at me with a sewing needle pushed through the palm of his hand – the skin raised into a little tent on the exit point. Tears were streaming down his face as he repeated the cry, I want to hear her SING.
She was dancing on the railway sleepers, playing hopscotch with the slimy, cracked planks. I awoke to the sun throbbing on my face, drying my skin tight. I opened my eyes slowly, lifting the red curtain. Everything is in black and white when I open my eyes, and I have to wait for the colour to drain back into everything. The last object to fill was her red dress, as I blinked the dead cells drifting across my vision. My pupils dilate and narrow. Like a beating heart.
“Oh good.” She looked over her shoulder mid-bounce, one leg cocked aloft. “I was just deciding what to draw on your face.” She reached inside her dress and pulled out my knife from the hip elastic of her knickers. She was on me in an instant, pouncing like a Huntsman spider, straddling me. I felt the scratch of her unshaven legs through my thin trousers. She waved the blade over my eyes. “I thought about a cat. Or a labyrinth. Or snakes and ladders.” She kissed me and I kept one eye open to watch her wrists. She stared one eye deep into mine and I saw it prickle with moisture.
Later that afternoon we relaxed under the canopy of a thick oak tree. I lay nestled between her legs, resting the back of my head on her breasts as she picked aphids from my hair. I asked her why she was so intent on destroying The Boy and she smiled her gappy grin, one front and one incisor missing from her last big fight, in which she’d destroyed a woman half a foot taller and twenty pounds heavier. The teeth were lost, not after a strike, but from a mistimed head-butt. She’d spat the loose canines into the woman’s face, freckling her with blood and gums, and levelled her with an uppercut that simultaneously tore the clouds in half. As she stood over her fallen opponent, a steady stream of rain fell and the vanquished began to sink into the waterlogged mud.
I can’t remember what her answer was. I wasn’t listening. Too busy looking at that smile. At the scar that ran from the corner of her mouth to just below her jawline. The girl terrified and thrilled me. When we fucked, it was survival of the fittest. You didn’t feel accomplished in making her arch her back and moan as she exploded. You felt accomplished if you made it out of her bed alive.
She leaned in and bit my ear. It was a gentle nip but I braced myself as best I could without alerting her to the tension in my muscles. I knew that if she sensed my unease, she would rip the damn thing off. So I waited. I held my breath in check. I even had the nerve to let out a little chuckle and a stroke of her stubbly knee. She breathed in my ear and let go. “You don’t need to worry about the boy” she told me. “I’ve told him about us. He’s weak and you… you are strong.” Her hand ran down my forearm and the nails dragged back up my skin to my elbow. In an instant, she clamped her thighs around my waist. I felt my diaphragm struggling against the lack of pressure. Her ankles clamped over my groin, and with the strength of a python she continued to squeeze. I couldn’t remain relaxed any longer. I began to struggle and then to panic as she started laughing. “Be strong. Be strong!”
The Boy quite liked bleeding, in a way that I found both disturbing and dispiriting. It was fortunate that we spent most of our time on deserted wastelands, because any casual observer would assume that I’d assaulted him, multiple times. There were moments when they may have been right.
When I dashed his forehead against the ruins of the old cellar, I was making a point. I wasn’t very eloquent, but then sometimes there is eloquence in violence. He didn’t mind. He would’ve bled that day whether through my hands or his.
After slicing his palms open on rusted oil drums or trying to dive face first through barbed wire fences, The Boy would allow his blood to run over dead plants; “before they turned to stone” in his own words. He believed that dried up husks of trees and shrubs were “on the way”, and the old ruins of buildings deep in the wasteland were plants, now “totally stonefied.”
It was useless trying to convince him of the different layers of time – of how this wasteland had once been a hive of industrial activity and that the many briar, bramble and nettle patches were a consequence of nothing else wanting to be here anymore. In his mind, the remains of the old coal cellar that had once supplied the steam trains puffing along the nearby rail line, was the calcified skeleton of a mighty oak tree. When he wasn’t convinced, I grabbed him by a tuft of his greasy hair and smashed his head against it. This was supposed to make him believe. Instead, when I was too tired to give his useless face any more venom, he pressed his disfigured and mangled forehead to the old stone and let his blood soak the crumbling mortar. The look of satisfaction on his face made me even more angry – angry that someone could be so stupid, and angry that I could never experience that kind of rapturous apotheosis. Too weak to give him a second trial, I sat and seethed as he – gently and peacefully – defeated me. Defeated logic. That’s when I realised logic didn’t cross the borders of the wasteland.
In a way I can see why she liked him, but I could never understand how she endured his company. I considered myself a tolerant and understanding human being – in other words, everything she hated – and yet I’d still be prone to bouts of dreadful violence against this simple nymph. I knew her well enough to know she wouldn’t simply tolerate this for her own amusement. Somewhere deep down she had to like him, maybe love him. This was the locked chamber that I constantly searched for. This was the key that I was so desperate to own.
I remember she painted her toenails with liquid paper, waiting for it to dry and then drawing weird symbols on the white, and saying “every boy I’ve ever met wants to understand me. But I don’t understand myself. So how are they supposed to find my answers when I don’t even know what my questions are?” She told me to blow on her toes – unwashed, webs blackened by thick sock fluff, unbelievably sexy to me – and I noticed that the little markings she drew were of hammers and compasses. I looked up along the length of her bruised shin and knee to her face. She continued. “It’s very arrogant… really.”
“There’s ghosts on that wasteland you know.” I looked up from her feet. “It’s true. I’ve seen them. Ghosts of young women crawl beneath the brambles. In all the little dens you make, they sit next to you, naked, covered in scratches. Their hair is long and black and dirty. Their teeth are….” (she shivered) “…frightening. Not fangs or shit like that, just dirty. Black gums. Their eyes are always moving, even when they talk directly to you. The eyeballs spin like marbles on a hill. It’s quite off-putting really. Blow.”
I stared up at her.
I blew so hard I spat on those precious toes.
‘Where did that come from? Ghosts?’ I looked sceptical. ‘You serious?’
“You need the right eyes to see them. He knows. The Boy. He’s trying to heal everything so the ghosts can find their rightful homes again. When everything is green, they will return to where they came from and be free. I’ve told him all this” and she let out a little smirk.
‘And he believed you?’
“Of course he did. He’s retarded. Blow.”
I dropped her foot.
“Oh, now you’re such a sensitive soul. I suppose you’re going to apologise for thumping his head against that wall. Or making him run naked through the nettles. Or how about the time you drenched his legs in lighter fluid and tried to burn him to make him dance.” A withering look. “The little moral crusader. For fuck’sake. Blow.”
I picked up her foot, grasping the ankle roughly, and sank my teeth into a big toe. It tasted rancid – the fetid musk of unwashed feet, the bitterness of liquid paper and the rich iron of blood. I bit down until I felt my jaw ache but I never reached the bone. She dragged me up, clamping those thighs around the hollows between my ribcage and hips, and I exploded inside her in several, furious, seconds.
I found the boy on the wasteland, strung up to a tree by his neck and barely moving in the breeze. He’d obviously been gone a while so I sat on the abandoned washing machine he’d used to leap from and lit a cigarette. He smelled clean for a change, but his lop-sided head glared down at me, so I didn’t look up. Instead I brushed the ash onto the sole of his shoe, still with dried spots of blood from our last meeting a week or so ago. I told the boy that it was too bad. He should’ve stuck it out. My ribs were still bruised and I struggled to get in and out of the bath. Waking up every morning and lifting out of bed was an ordeal. People told me I looked stoned but it was the burst blood vessels in my eyes. I noticed the boy had odd socks on, and his ankles looked like marble – pale with cracks of purple.
“Sometimes” I said, taking a deep drag and blowing the smoke away from him, “I think she’s more trouble than she’s worth.”
I glanced up briefly.
“Well, I suppose you’d know.”
Tapping ash onto his toe I looked across the wreckage. Everywhere was debris. Shit that wasn’t wanted anymore, just left to decay on no man’s land. Even the overgrown shrubs, the trees and the long grass looked artificial. I realised I may be the only thing alive here.
“I just wish I knew how to contain that spirit. I wish she’d shave her bush. I wish…”
My words tailed off. I looked up at the boy and he looked back down at me. He’d had another nose bleed either before or after strangulation.
“You’re a mess.”
I got out my phone and dialled for the emergency services. I tried my best to sound distressed and alarmed. The operator was very soothing and pleasant. As soon as the call ended, I stubbed my cigarette out on the ankle of his jeans, throwing it inside the washing machine.
Thanking him for the chat, I waded out of the long grass.