He’d been watching the kids play across the street for a while before the police had showed up. He didn’t know what time it was exactly, but knew she’d be here soon. She always came round after her Thursday shift.
The sun had dipped slightly out of sight, but the chill of evening had not yet cloaked the estate. In the distance, he could still hear lads kick a football outside the chippy. Washing no longer flapped on lines, but had yet to be taken in. The pubs hadn’t turned out, so he knew he had a while before his father returned, red-faced and heavy with lager.
Near where he sat on the front step, pressed into the damp lip of an discarded Tennent’s, were the spent ends of three cigs. He calculated that he must have been perched there for at least 20 minutes when he saw the blues silently flickering towards the end of the road.
The kids – two boys – were playing on a trampoline that took up the entirety of the square front yard of number 43. As they leapt about, it’s metal framework skittered and giggled across the concrete, echoing against the parallel walls of the estate. Two coppers exited the car. A man and a woman.
The other night I dreamt you came into my house and wouldn’t leave. At first, I didn’t mind – we were just sitting together in my kitchen – but as I neared the dregs of my second cup of tea, I started to wonder when you planned to go. When I woke, I considered the parallel universe where we now somehow coexist: your keys in my fruit bowl; your hands on my bath taps; your feet on my couch. And in the haze of my morning I wasn’t sure what it had meant or whether it had even been a dream at all, and half expected to see you pass by, step-less and slight, like a ghost on the landing.
Finally! A good one. Can’t remember who asked. Who knows how these things come up, just go with it fast. Which creature would you least like to be killed by? If you had to. If you just had to. Doesn’t matter why. We dipped into silence, underwater in thought, each seeking an answer in the fashion we’d wrought. The lot of us sat in a circle of green bottles and spent ends, barely friends in a debauched fairy’s ring – and, for a second, not saying a thing. Godzilla doesn’t count. Then one spoke out. A grizzly bear. Why? You could just run. From a bear? You’re fucking joking, son. A few others offered and we talked through the zoo. But I didn’t have to think – I already knew. How, being frozen in the deep, I’d die thinking of you, as it swam, torpedoed steel, and took what it wanted. It’s eyes gloss and haunted. I wondered if you’d feel it burst you apart. Turn your organs to mulch. Teeth through the heart. After a while, we spilled beer, and turned to something new, but I sat for a while, and thought of the blue, of the dark and of death, and of it, and of you.
Later on, as I’m walking back to the station, I remembered when she used to do her lists. They started years back, before she started ditching mass, before she started pinching things – even before Nan. She would spend hours somewhere secret, because I never saw her do it, writing list after list of all the families we knew – our neighbours’ families, our teachers’ families, our friends, their mothers and fathers, families off the telly, their names, their ages, aunties, uncles, cousins – all the many ways in which they belonged to one another. All the families we had ever known, all but our own, hidden away in drawers and under mattresses for years. In that quiet house, I always found them, and when she didn’t think I was in, or if she didn’t think I could hear her, she would cry, and no one ever came.
It was like lugging a dead cow, and that was the way we would forever describe it. All four of us had heaved it, the great patterned reject: digging our fingers into the threadbare fabric of the arms and sweating, our faces red and determined. Two at each end, and another – less of a help – trotting along near the middle. Every dozen yards or so, we’d stop, taking loud, open-mouthed breaths of chilled October air and grinning at one another, before tackling the next stint.
Shaun and Luke had calculated that it would take us about an hour to cart it from the layby outside Victoria Wines, where we’d found it, to Broan’s Field, behind Shaun’s house.
‘An hour. How’d you work that out?’ Siobhan had scowled.
‘Just worked it out like. Maths.’ Luke had shrugged.
‘You’re in red group for maths and your mam says you still can’t tell the time.’
Gunther did not remember much about his death. In fact, the moment had passed somewhat uneventfully and, had it not been for the audience’s few gasps of surprise and an ill-timed giggle, he might have thought he’d dreamt it up altogether.
Emily had been sat in the second row, slightly left of centre stage – not that he’d been able to see his wife during much of the performance itself. The stage lamps had masked the audience from the players with a brilliantly intense void of white light. He had felt the glow draw conspicuous beads of sweat to his forehead almost the instant he had taken his first steps on stage, like the rapid onset of fever. It had felt like being in the presence of a dying star.
One time I seen Shaun’s dad in a dress. Well, that’s not true, Gary seen him. I just heard about it. But, another time, I did see him talking to Mr Walker who lives up May Road. Dad said never to go up May Road. That’s where all them sorts go. I’ve done nowt but walk past, cos’ of what Dad said about it, but I still seen him once talking to Mr Walker, and everyone knows about him.
Anyway, Gary said he went round Shaun’s last Monday to knock for him, and he weren’t in. And then his dad answered the door in a dress.
“It was blue and yellow,” he said, “with little frills on it, like me mam’s apron.”