Tears are bursting down her face. I look at her and I think to myself; she must be so cold. A knife wind is searching us both thoroughly and I can see every extraneous part of her is burning with dry ice.
I ask her again, are you sure, and she nods, using her sleeve to brush away the river deltas from her cheeks. I look down, dumbly, at the little tissue wrapped dead animal in my hand. Hanging slackly in my other is my fisherman’s slingshot. I have a feeling this will cost me somehow, that I’m making a mistake on her behalf. No matter. I shrug and with a tempest in my stomach I turn to face the target. In front of me is a line of grey concrete covered in decades of faded graffiti, topped by a stern wire fence. Behind that, a derelict factory looks down at us curiously, disapprovingly. I scan for a group of windows that are still intact and settle on a group of five clumped together.
I place her dead guinea pig inside the rubber cup of the slingshot. Drawing it up to my eye, I pull back hard. It’s hidden from me now, and even its weight is disguised by the tension in the elastic. But I know I’ll see that little white missile when it goes. I pause for just a few moments longer, hoping that she’ll change her mind. Instead, she fidgets impatiently, as though she wants it to be over, and she becomes agitated. I relax my shoulders and let go.
Mr Bubbles sails with a velocity that surprises even me. In a narrow arc he flies over the tall fence towards a wall of grey and black factory windows. Her hands were over her mouth but I can already tell it’s a perfect shot. He shatters straight through one of the windows, bursting dead centre. For a moment we see a small black hole where he entered before the rest of the glass gently tumbles away like spring snow. We don’t hear his landing, thank god. What’s done is done.
She looked at the ground and then back up to me and I’m expecting hell but I get a hug that squeezes me breathless. It’s what he would’ve wanted she said. Thank you.
My body trembled with released adrenaline and I pretended to hug her, disguising the fact I’m leaning on her, because my legs have gone and I cannot stand up anymore.
When she finally emerged from the public toilet her eyes darted from left to right, hands buried deep inside her pockets. I theatrically tapped my wrist.
“I know, sorry, I was talking to a drug dealer.”
‘In the toilet?’
“In the cubicle next to me. He said…”
“Yeah, it was a he. He sold me some weed.”
We started to walk away. She still glanced around furtively, as though expecting a bust right here in the car park.
“He said, ‘hey I got weed’ and I laughed and said, ‘I just weed as well’. Weed. Like pissed, you know?” She thumped my arm. “That would be a joke. A joke you should laugh at. Right now.”
I affected a laugh to an unimpressed audience.
“Poor. Anyway, I got weed.”
‘But you don’t smoke.’
“Neither do you. But there’s a first time for everything. Like today. I never thought when I woke up today I’d meet a drug dealer and buy something.”
‘You want to say that a bit louder? I don’t think God heard you up there. How much’d’you pay?’
She shrugged. “I ‘unno. Tenner, maybe.”
‘So this is quality then.’
“It’ll be fiiiine!”
‘You’ve just spent a tenner on a little packet of tea leaves…’
“It’ll be fiiiine.” She linked her arm into mine. “Where’s your sense of humour?”
‘Oh yeah. Sense of humour. Weed. I just weed as well. Classic….’
My first ever sexual awakening was thanks to her. For some reason we’d snuck back into the school from the playground during the lunch hour – a definite no-no and proof that I was being led astray at a tender age – and we started chasing each other around the cloakroom. When I finally caught her I found myself like a cat, having finally caught a mouse, but with no earthly idea what to do with it. So we stood there facing each other, panting ourselves hoarse, until she nuzzled her hand into my groin and I snapped upright like a mousetrap. She started laughing and ran around the cloakroom again offering another round of chase, but I had to sit down, perturbed at this new turn of events and wondering when it would go down before we were both caught.
I told her this memory, a shared secret, at our first ever school prom and she laughed so hard she squirted juice from her nose and ruined my imitation tuxedo. That same evening she promised me a dance with the girl I’d had a crush on for over a year. I saw the pair of them whispering together and I presumed this was the ground work for my eventual triumph. It was only at the end of the evening, after being ignored not only by my crush but by the entire room that she confessed. She’d sold everyone a pack of lies that I’d trodden in dog shit on the way to the prom and not to dance with me in case I stepped on their feet and ruined their amateurishly painted toenails.
I walked home alone that night, past the taxis, the parent’s cars and a stretch limo. Once I was sure no one was following me, I took a diversion from my route and sulked in the graveyard.
“Does this look right?”
She held up a joint that looked more like a badly stuffed pillow, or an untidy bale of hay. It wasn’t even pinched at one end but both were flaring with a mixture of weed and the loose tobacco she’d stolen from her older brother. She’d also only brought out two papers. I rolled my eyes.
‘Go on then, light it.’
“Hang on” she said, and pressed one end into her lips trying to flatten it down, spitting out flecks of tobacco that stuck to her like loose hair. “I think I got it.” Then she fumbled for the lighter. The joint, as fat as a pair of thumbs, balanced precariously from her mouth, already beginning to disintegrate.
“This is harder than it looks you know…” She held the lighter just below her chin, striking up a flame, and tried to guide it towards the end of the spliff. Looking across to me out of the corner of her eye, the lighter still hovering perilously close to her jaw, she said “…am I near?”
‘No, you’re going to set yourself on fire.’
A gust of wind sent the flame dancing. She swore aloud, dropping the lighter and shaking her hand. The joint tumbled from her mouth and landed in a puddle at her feet. Gently, it broke apart in front of us as we both stared down at it.
‘Well that’s that. Ten pounds well spent.’
She looked up at me with a sudden broad grin on her face.
“Drink the puddle.”
“Go on, do it. Drink the puddle. I wanna see if you get high.”
‘I’ll get dead.’
She took a step forward with a deranged look in her eyes, pupils flashing.
‘You drink it.’
‘Oh fuck off.’
Ten years after Mr Bubbles took his first and last flight, we lay on our backs on the remains of a loading bay. The concrete had been stripped or crumbled away so we were spread across sheets of exposed metal, warmed by the midday autumn sun and now still humming with heat beneath us even as the air temperature dropped. We’d broken into an old warehouse we nicknamed the Crapopolis, because the exposed metal beams holding the remains of the roof up looked like Greek columns. We’d seen the security guard clock off for his lunch hour and we knew he’d be at least two; always the same routine of hiding in his van for a stale coffee, dried egg sandwiches and his dog-eared copy of Reader’s Wives. Whilst he wanked himself into his own personal Valhalla, we lit up a couple of decent joints (by now, age and experience had taught us well) and stared through the rusted roof at a rusty sky. At times like this, we felt as though we lived on the inside of the world rather than the outside, cosy inside the globe with the sky below and above us and the sun everywhere that it could touch.
She curled an ankle over mine and I leant over and kissed her chin. The pillars cast long shadows that seemed to bind us to the floor across our chests and thighs. The evening entered our nostrils with a cocktail of dust, pollen and diesel. The building, condemned and left to rot, usually made a lot of noise during the day – forever creaking, howling and banging – but it too settled down in the evenings and dozed with us. Smoke rose up to meet the clouds.
We’d been adventuring all day and our limbs were sore. The entire morning was spent following around a junkie called Ben. Trying to be covert around a shuffling cadaver was not easy but fortunately Ben was banned from most of the town, so he had to keep moving. We followed him around, working out his routes, theorising on when he might repeat himself and when he might think it safe to go into the town centre and grab some food from the bins behind the bakeries.
Just after noon, he stopped orbiting the centre of town and began to zig-zag through the side streets to the outer suburbs. His attempt at getting food had been unsuccessful and we could hear him cursing bitterly to himself and to society in general, to those motherfuckers at the bakery who caught him even before he made it to the back yard where they threw out the day old bread. This seemed to energise her just as our spirits were starting to fail. Good, you’d said. He’s hungry and weak. It’s our best chance. Then we realised he was heading towards the old, deserted industrial area.
She’d never forgiven him. Ever. And she impressed on me that I should feel no pity and no remorse. She told me to imagine that feeling I had at the school dance over a decade ago, when I realised that I’d been the victim of a terrible lie and humiliated. All that pent up fury that I’d been unable to release because I was uncool and I was piss-weak in a fight, and so all I could do was rest against an old gravestone and sob into my stained tux, and dream of the day I would get retribution. Her nails were digging into my arms as she told me all this. I felt it all over again.
She went through the well-told details of the accident. How he’d been driving the taxi carrying her parents from an evening out. The paralysis of the mother. The guilt of the father. The decay of the marriage. The suicide. The fact her father had become so stained by cheap whiskey his skin was now translucent ochre. I didn’t need to hear it again. The entire situation was already dark enough without it. I just wanted to sleep this night. For some reason I had a feeling that a good night’s sleep would make everything better and wash all of our sins away, even that prom or the chase around the cloakroom.
She asked me how long I thought we had before the security guard came back. I glanced away from the warehouse, beyond the old loading yard, towards a patch of nearby wasteland saluted by a solitary tree, blasted dead from an old lightning storm. Ben hung, pathetically, from a thick grey branch, his head bowed towards us in deference, his silent body rippling in the deep amber rays of a sinking sunset.
When it was fully submerged, we’d need to go.