THE NIGHT BEFORE
Ashley’s voice echoes up out of the darkness. I lie stretched out on her single bed while beside me on the floor her bare knees part, close and part again in an attempt to lure me into her frequently visited pants. This is Friday night, always has been. Ash throws her neediness and tits in my face, I remove my revulsion and dick from her reach and our friendship teeters along unchanging, which is kind of sweet when you think about it. But it’s also inevitable, considering we’ve lived in the same crescent in Osford for all my fifteen years, ’til Ash moved to the center of Langrick on her sixteenth two months ago. Langrick’s a mile south of Osford by the way. She dreams big, does Ash.
She moans—I’m guessing she thinks it’s seductive—and I shudder. Jesus. If, and this is purely theoretical, but if I did succumb to Ash’s few charms, bang her and risk getting pregnant, Ash wouldn’t think twice about keeping it and that’s enough to put me right off. ’Cause
then our poor bastard child would grow up within the same five-mile radius that we have, and some girl would one day rub up against him and try to tempt him with month-old Jack Daniel’s–and-fag breath. It’s the circle of life. In any case with the amount of lads who’ve climbed through Ash’s “shop door” it must be pretty disease ridden by now. Harsh but probably true. Sex is so political when you’re underage. Ash lifts one leg in the air and scratches down it with her bubblegum-pink nails. I look at my dick to check for signs of weakness—no response. Good man.
“Flick? . . . Fuck me. I’m waiting,” she singsongs in that teasing I’m-a-little-schoolgirl-check-out-my-knee-socks-and-pleated-skirt-but-you’ll-never-touch-me way she talks to older men. What a bitch. If she didn’t have a tight ass and cute tits and if we (meaning our mates) didn’t all go to the same nursery school, most of us wouldn’t even talk to her, but Ash never reeled me in. She’s a slut, but at the same time she’s like a child, every weekend crying over some guy who doesn’t love her, playing out the same my-daddy-left-me routine over and over again as if she was six years old and it was yesterday. And I’m no pedophile. That said, Ash doesn’t have that much to complain about. Her parents still fuck, so the sentiment’s there.
“Flick?” More silence. She blows the hair out of her face, a big, bouncy and admittedly beautiful brown Afro, and giggles, and by the sound of her voice I can tell she’s grinning in a sleepy, stoned way. “You’re totally wasted.”
“Yeah, Ash, I’m completely gone,” I deadpan, getting up off the bed. She lies on the stained shag rug in her diamanté-clasp bra, Scooby Doo T-shirt and black G-string.
I have to step over her to get out the door and narrowly miss her hand swiping for my dick.
“Hey, Flick, I’ll take your virginity if you like, then you can fuck who you want.”
“Maybe next week, Ash.”
I worm my way around ten conked-out bodies in the living room, pick up a joint, suck it, put it down, jump down the stairs, and I’m out the door of the flat and onto the road. Walking home at night is my favorite part of the whole Friday-at-Ashley’s debacle. No longer do I have to talk bollocks or avoid rape. I am free. It is cold and smells fresh and all I can hear are the waves breaking on the sand, a quarter of a mile east.
The walk up to where I live in Osford from Ash’s dingy place in Langrick is practically silent but for the sound of the water. It’s always like this on this stretch of coast at night, in a part of England dimly visible just beyond the bright lights of seaside tourist spots and lacking the pull of a roller coaster or a Hooters. I skip along like a ponce, hands in pockets, on desolate, isolated, particularly creepy marshland with not a tree in sight, watching out for the only people you ever see out this time: night fishermen and young, horny couples. Langrick is a quiet market town, tattered, the fishing industry gone, and the whole place way past its best, with a haggard and aged population living in pebble-dashed buildings that get progressively shittier the further you get out from the center. On the other hand, it’s where our school is, and more importantly where the pubs will turn a blind eye to underage drinking, so our social life exists within Langrick’s narrow alleys, its empty car parks and the smell of battered fish.
To the north, Osford is its suburbia, a sprawl of nineties-built semis and terraces with jazzy tiles and “family-friendly” neighborhoods, where all the windows overlook the streets, so nosy old birds and lonely pervs can hawk-eye me and my mates when we’re hanging out. Not sure that was the paradise intended by the town planners back in the day. Both towns are almost too tiny for the word, but along with a string of new housing projects and old villages along the North England coast, they make up Clyde County, an area whose jurisdiction has been fought over, passed about and now forgotten and left to rot by successive local governments who didn’t want to pay for it—for us. We’re not classy and in demand, like London, which is a few hundred miles south. We’re sort of grubby and old-fashioned, and tacked on to the top of North Yorkshire.
Clyde’s place-names all come from a long tradition of Norwegian settlers coming here for land and the fishing opportunities, which is why the names sound like we’re in Svalbard and everyone looks Scandinavian. Learnt that one day when I was paying attention in Geography. It doesn’t happen often, cause Miss P’s tits are epic.
Suddenly there’s a dip in the sand dunes next to me, and the salty April air buffets my cheeks and I breathe in, deep and clean, and stop momentarily, halted by the awesome enormity of the landscape and that feeling you get when there aren’t houses or lights around and it’s just you and nature and it occurs to you that this is forever, that if you lived in forever, this is what it would be like.
I’ve grown up by the English North Sea, and my proximity to this vast and constant guardian makes me forget at
times that life is so transient and ultimately (although this might not be everyone’s opinion, it’s mine) meaningless. I run towards the whispering waves, I stand on the sands in the dark, the ground sinks beneath my trainers as the water draws back and everything connects for just a second. Otherwise, it’s pretty shite.
My name is Flick and these are the images of my disconnected life, my forgettable weeks and unforgettable weekends. I am one of the disaffected youth, a child of the ASBO, the Anti-Social Behavior Order, generation, and we live like we might die every second, while missing all the real things we should be living for (it’s true, we know what we lack—why d’you think we’re wankered half the time?). These few lines, this poem to postpubescence, details one standout summer in my life when, and I kid you not, I suffered two epiphanies, two real things that I learnt. The first was the name of the (possible) love of my life, the second, about myself—I realized I was a knobend. And what a wonderful thing to learn at the tender age of fifteen. The only other need-to-know detail is that I am so-called Flick, because my life is like the pages of a flick book—a series of fast and frenetic images, delivered in double time, a bit of humor, a dash of tragedy, fairly black and white in its lack of variety—the end ever approaching as the pages run out. Each page a story, each flick a life failing. A life in bright yet entirely similar images. A life ending fast. A life in snapshots. So, for your pleasure, here’s a few of them.
I’ll start from where I left off. So I’m back from the waves, salt crusted on the hem of my jeans, and I’m walking along the promenade, taking in the sea air, and thinking that, while I’m always the first to disregard Ash’s subtle suggestions (and blatant pleas), there is one point she brings up that other people seem to constantly need addressing: so yes, I am, in fact, a virgin and no, it doesn’t bother me. I have a perfectly good right hand (and left for that matter) and if the Hits channel is on, and there’s maybe that Rihanna video playing, Farmer Palmer and his five lovely daughters are all I need for a good time, thank you very much. Ash just thinks if she mocks me enough about my pure and innocent ways, in her opinion a pain in the arse for any fifteen-year-old, I’ll want to sleep with her. The logic is flawed because what I lack in experience I make up for in charisma, and while other lads might freak I really couldn’t give a shit what she thinks. I’m laid-back about it. I’d just like to lose it with some dignity. Maybe that sounds a little gay but I personally think I’ve been ruined by Disney like the rest of my generation. Even Ash, tallying lads like she used to collect My Little Pony, thinks one day her prince will come. I guess I’m just waiting for something different. Just as I arrive on the outskirts of Osford, a shout interrupts my eloquent reverie.
“FLICK!” A yelp sounding excitedly from a parked black Peugeot 306. Some chav twat no doubt. “FLICK! All right?”
I peer closer and a bony head on a scrawny chicken-leg-like neck sticks out of the side window. I laugh, happy to see him, as he beams at me. “All right, our Gav?”
Gav smiles back, a big gappy grin like a kid in a toyshop. Gavin Culkin lives on my estate in a semi identical to ours, but his mam’s been replaced by some blond tart with a fag permanently attached to her face and they don’t know where the original’s skipped off to. Possibly Ness-on-Sea, the neighbor told our mam, but that’s another coastal town a few miles south of us, so how they don’t know where she is beats me.
“Yeah, I’m great, man, how’re you? You look good, you been working out haven’t you, y’little bastard? Right big muscles, you’ll be able to take me in a year!”
“Yeah,” I say dubiously. Gav’s a skinny runt, addicted to pot and poppers and on and off smack. “You’d better watch it.”
He grins wider.
“Get in, are you going home? Get in, mate, I’ll drive ya!” Troy and Fez, local hardheads and acquaintances of Gav’s, come out the kebab house and we all climb in. In terms of personality, Gav shouts the loudest, but Fez is the undisputed leader of their gang. They’re all older than me by at least six or seven years, and Gav is the only one I’ve actually talked to before, but it’s a small part of the world and the reputation of a man like Fez precedes him.
You know those kids who are fucking nuts? Like five years old, bruised knees, maybe even a little cute to look at, but psychotic, running around at school ramming the girls’ dollhouse with their skull, eating sand and punching anyone bigger than them to show them who’s boss? That was Fez. Except he grew up, started in on whatever drugs were going around, got kicked out of school for stabbing a teacher with a compass and now he doesn’t do much but
hang about smoking, dealing, collecting Jobseeker’s Allowance from Social Services and starting fights. So unless I’m feeling like being bottled over the head and picking shards of glass from my hairdo, I generally steer clear of him. Still, tonight he seems pretty out of it, so I’m feeling a little cocky. I grin at Troy as I get in the car, nodding at Fez, who sits beside me.
“Not lookin’ too good, is he?”
He knows better than to grin back.
Troy is Fez’s sidekick, quiet, a bit moody and built like a brick shithouse. He’s the muscle, but he doesn’t start on someone unless Fez gives the say-so, as if he’s just punching people for a lack of anyone better to hang out with.
Troy holds the wheel of the car and drives while Gav’s shaky hands skillfully roll a joint and Fez swigs from a bottle of Bud, while waving a wrap of doner meat haphazardly in his left hand so it drips grease onto my lap. I glance at him to see if this is intentional and his narrow blue eyes glare back with a confrontational, stoned, mean look. Poor bastard hasn’t got a clue.
“Hey, Flick, did you go to Nikki’s on Tuesday?”
“Yeah, yeah I did,” I say to Gav, still on the receiving end of Fez’s stoned stare-out. I start to sense it’s some sort of competition and if I blink or look away first Fez will be the bigger man. I do anyway. “Everyone was there, even Pie went.”
Gav sniggers. “Did she say anything about me?”
Fuck. Gav’s got this big thing about Nikki. According to Troy, he used to sit behind her in maths class and lick her hair. The image of Gav’s jittery, stringy body wanking, rabbitlike, to Nikki appears in my mind whenever he asks
me about her, so I try to avoid his questions as often as possible. Urgh.
“I don’t know. I didn’t really talk to her that much.”
“How’s your brother?” Troy asks me, with a smirk at Gav. Gav mouths, “Fuck off,” back.
“Yeah, he’s good, he got promoted at the steelworks.”
“Yeah. He’s a supervisor. He doesn’t drive the forklifts and that now, he watches other people do it.”
My brother, Tommo, is married to Nikki, another reason why I find the above image fucking sick. Tommo was in Gav’s year as well. They’re both twenty-three and they couldn’t be more different. Tommo’s massive (muscle-wise, not fat, like), serious and dependable and a little bit fascist. In many ways the perfect big brother. He doesn’t do drugs, has shit taste in music and married Nikki two years ago. They live in their own semi, in a better estate than ours. Oh yeah, Tommo’s moving up in the world all right, but he won’t move far. He’ll never leave here, which means he’ll be in steel his whole life and his children’ll have the same gray, malnourished look all the kids who live next to the works do. Our line of coast looks deceptively like paradise if you look one way, at the slightly better sandstone town houses of Ness, and the pier, and the cliffs. If you look the other way, past the toddlers playing in the shallows, swallowing pints of water as they learn to swim, you can see the waste from those gloomy, gray towers gushing out and bursting over the sea like smoke erupting from a volcano. I’ve got a half sister as well, Dad’s from a little dalliance before he met Mum. She’s twenty-nine now, and we don’t see her much. She turned into just as much
of a slut as her mother and lives in a flat above a chippie in Sandford. Sandford’s our nearest city. It’s soulless, the center having been bombed to shit in World War II and rebuilt in crappy 1960s gray block buildings that look like a series of prisons but actually contain shops; it’s mildly dangerous; and it’s about an hour away by car. I don’t know what my sister does, besides get abortions. Teagan, her name is. Tee to her mates.
“I asked you a question, man, where were you?” Gav giggles like a thirteen-year-old.
“I don’t . . .” I frown. I’ve no clue. I admit I was off on one.
Gav leans in, Troy’s on the wheel. “D’you think Nikki would?”
“What? You can’t blame a man for asking!”
“She’s my sister-in-law!”
“Yeah, so you know her! What d’you think?”
“I, I don’t, I . . .” I give up, ’cause what difference will it make what I tell him? He’ll still get wasted next time he sees her and tell her, “I love you, Nikki,” with a big dope-eyed smile. “I don’t know, Gav, maybe. Ask her yourself.”
“Wicked! I will!”
“Uh-huh.” My head’s starting to tighten. We bump on the pavement and off again.
“Oi! You’ll wreck me tires!” Gav frowns at Troy as we drop down to road level, ash from his joint floating about the car.
“All right!” says Troy, in a heavy Clyde County tongue.
“It’s just so’s I know I’ve parked properly, close to the curb as it said int’ driving test.”
“Giz that.” I lean over and take one last long drag, holding the joint in Gav’s hand.
He gives me a cheeky wink. “Yeah, you get that down you, my son.”
I nod him thanks and back out my door, bumping it shut. Gav rolls down his window as I walk up the drive.
“See you, gorgeous!”
“Shut the fuck up.” I grin back. “You’ll wake me mam!”
And I’m in the door, up the stairs, on the bed, dead.