Just reposting an old story that has been down for a while. FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE.
He’s out fishing, again. Fat greasy river, going nowhere quick. He looks at the point where the line meets the water. Alone, with his thoughts, but thinking nothing. Or maybe thinking about the dirt beneath his nails, where it came from. Running his finger round the hard edge of the scab on his knee, picking at it, slightly, until a stream of hot red blood dribbles out.
He knows this spot on the towpath well - likes it, never anyone around. Good to get away from it all. There’s the things that have been fly tipped by people who have missed the opening hours of the dump across the way, the torn posters on the shutters of the closed down supermarket, the bobbing swarm of mosquitoes over the water. Tatty cat in an empty car park, staring up at a crow in a leafless tree.
“Here cat, catch you a fish for your tea,” his voice echoes, but he doesn’t mind: there’s no one to hear. “Puss puss pussy cat!”
Cat just keeps on looking up at that bird. He leaves his rod and steps towards it; startled thing darts off, tail high, jumps on a rattling dustbin lid, on the fence, away, across the tip, into the forest.
“Not very nice now, just wanted to be friends!” Smiles to himself. Puts his hands in his pocket for a moment, touches through the fabric, closes his eyes, the last of the day’s sun on his face. The little cells collide under his lids, technicolour.
Then, all of a sudden, feels like he’s being watched. On the edge of the forest, there’s something there, in the shadows, can’t quite make it out in the gloom.
“Hey there? Hello?”
Slowly, low to the ground it comes out, stooped over, two legs but almost like you’d imagine they walked millions of years ago. A creature. Female. Tangled hair and body dark with sun and dirt. Just steps a little into the worn out light and stops. Looking straight at him.
Few seconds pass and he realises he’s not breathing. Pinches the fleshy skin on his palm. Bird crows on that skinny black branch and shuffles off, lazily flapping its wings in the airless sky. So quiet here now, just the buzz of the motorway overpass where it crosses the river further down. People just coming back from work probably, heading home to their wives and kids and that. Not knowing that he’s standing here, like this, and she’s looking at him. And he’s letting her get her fill.
She lifts herself up a little, spreads her arms- he’s far enough away that he can’t make out the details but the shadows from the trees are making this pattern on her body like contours. There’s a dark fuzz under her arms and between her legs. She takes another little step towards him, as if- he thinks with a swift glance about him- as if she’s presenting herself to him.
Maybe ought to go home. But he’s curious now, and not scared, not at all scared. He’s not scared of girls. Still sees them, sometimes, the ones from his class, when he’s come off his nightshift and walking back through town. He’ll spot one falling out of some club or bar, drunk on cheap cocktails with stupid names like ‘SEX ON THE BEACH’, this fat necked Dwayne or Trevor hanging off her arm, hands all over her. Always wearing the tiniest dress, even in winter, shimmering like a thousand pearls in a tropical sea. Mostly they don’t notice him- he keeps his hood up and his head down, gets home as quick as he can. But once one of the girls, Gemma Higgins, she spotted him and said: ‘Hey, you’re that kid from our school aren’t you, what’s your name again?’ and she got the others to come over and pose for a photo with him, all pouting lips and girl band v signs. Gemma said she’d email him the pics when she got home but how could she have done when she never even had his email address? Stupid, stupid.
But this one’s not like that at all. So, seems okay, clenching his hands into fists at his side, he starts moving, slowly, slowly towards her, away from the choked up river. The whole time he never stops looking at her. All around them fridges pile up like towers of Babel or something, dead TVs chopped off at their coppery holes reflecting the pair of them on blank screens. The sun is setting and eventually he’s so close he can see his shadow there, burnt on the backs of her eyeballs.
He splays his hand out to her like a dog, for some reason, feels like he ought to give her his scent. She bends towards it, her nostrils twitch, glances, up at him, and then rubs her face against his fingers so suddenly he gasps. Then smiles, runs his fingers across her lips, up into her matted hair. She rises up again, allows him to look at her, standing there, completely naked, right there in front of him. As if she doesn’t mind. And he’s not feeling awkward, not in the slightest, he runs his touch over the surface of her with a frank curiosity it’s almost like she’s asked for. How bony she is, all elbows and protruding ribs, and he thinks maybe she’s hungry, he takes her wrist and she resists at first, but then she lets him lead her, walking with a funny kind of waddle, back towards the river. She seems a bit surprised by her reflection, but he plunges his hand right through it, sending little ripples out, pulls a silvery fish from his net. She grabs it and gobbles it down, all blood and teeth and muscles and translucent scales. She gets close to him, rubbing the gory remnants of her meal on his shirt, using her senses of him. Rips at the buttons and a tuft of strawberry blond chest hair pops out. Makes him feel manly. She pushes her tongue in his mouth.
But he doesn’t like having her out here, all naked, where anyone might come along and see. He starts to pull her along with him quite quickly, but she stumbles and trips, so he finds an old piece of blanket to wrap her up in. It’s itchy, probably, and there’s a bit of an odd smell about it, but he clasps it around her firmly, lifts her. Her struggling makes him think of those great long legged spiders that he keeps rescuing from his bathtub, weightless, almost, but something about the feel of them as they wriggle in his hollow grasp sends a bolt down his spine, like he’s carrying something from another world. Stupid spiders, he’s only trying to help, stop them getting drowned. They don’t ever seem to appreciate it.
Flat’s not far away, pretty close to his old school, actually, he used to pass his block every day. Funny to think now he’d never really considered he might end up here. He can still see the kids from his window, the lads laughing and shoving each other, kicking a battered old ball about on the patch of grass outside. Not tonight though. It’s got late. The street lamps have come on and the moon’s like a big electric beam.
No risk of anyone round here stopping him to enquire what he’s been up to, or where he’s going, or what he might be carrying that manky bundle of old blanket for. Not really ones for talking much, people keep themselves to themselves, and that’s how he likes it. Lift’s broken again so he carries her up the stairs to the third floor, bent under her weight. Someone’s pissed right by his door, but he doesn’t notice today, he fumbles with his keys, impatient to get her in, wondering why he’s always got to lock it three times.
Inside, he looks at his flat properly for the first time in ages. Sees he has a lot of stuff. Pin boards covered with maps, old articles from history magazines, passport photos he’s picked up in the street. Abandoned filing systems puking up their contents on neglected shelves. Dust. A couple of old towels on the floor. All over the walls biro sketches of strange rare animals and extinct animals and animals that don’t exist with super powers: blue prints for evolution.
He crosses quickly to the window and pulls the heavy curtains. There’s this faint, sweaty tang when he moves them, and he disturbs a drowsy moth that has settled in a fold. It flutters like it’s really pissed off, crashes itself into the walls, then throws itself headlong at the bare light, keeps banging into it over and over and over again. She’s on the floor, cowering in that bit of blanket, watching it, not moving, looking pretty frightened actually. Eventually the poor thing dies, spirals down and lands on the carpet next to her. Then she’s up on her feet, scrabbling at the door they came in through, but she doesn’t really get how door handles work and ends up sort of flapping at it.
He goes to her, places his hand on her shoulder, smiles. She smiles back. He really, really likes her smile. She gives it to him so easily. At first her body’s all tight but when he touches her she relaxes straight away. She starts pulling at his shirt again, and he takes it off, his shoes, his trousers too, his boxers. She looks at him standing there, naked as the day he was born, and she beams.
On his mantelpiece he finds a comb and she rests against him as he pulls it into her hair, where it jams in all the knots. He chuckles and she copies him, copies him as he walks, first of all his manliest swagger, and then he minces for her as a joke, an impression of how she’ll be. Together they prance into the bathroom and in warm water he peels the filth off her surface, amazing her with her pink, pink skin, so clean and soft when he’s done she looks like a new born baby. He shows her her reflection in the mirror, and she searches for herself in the vacant air behind.
Amazing how he just touches her, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He’d always imagined that when (if!) it happened it would be awkward, he’d have no idea what to do. Seemed like girls’ bodies weren’t for him, they belonged to the stronger boys, the funnier ones. ‘Gash’, that was their word for it, and that had made him imagine it being a bit like a wound. But it was more like- a precious ruby, or a pomegranate splitting its skin with juicy, gleaming seeds. And now, because he’s thought that, he puts his mouth to it, instinctively, and she flexes beneath his tongue, bucking like a fish out of water.
‘Go slow’, he tells himself, but she’s slippery and he can’t resist any longer, he slides into her easily. This is happening to him, and now all he knows is that he believes in the existence of angels, not angels dressed in white and shimmering like a thousand pearls but ones that rise up from the ground, moss in their hair, skin all red with dust. Her head’s thrown back, her mouth wide open, and in the little gaps between her teeth he imagines he can see flames, like she’s bitten off a chunk of the middle of the earth. He penetrates her hard and deep, finds more fire in the heart of her. He explodes. When they awake, hours later, he’s still inside her.
He’s never been much of a one for a lie in, but they end up staying in bed all the next day, together in the tossed sheets. ‘Hello’ he teaches her. It’s a greeting. You say it when someone walks into your life who you’ve been missing. Or who you should have been missing. Or who you reckon you might miss, one day.
He’s always been a bit suspicious of happiness. Seems to him somehow untrue, or like if you were too happy you’d be missing out on real life. But now it seems like happiness is a stowaway in life’s pockets, arriving in the shape of a damp bottom lip pressed in the small of his back, or the flutter of lashes on his cheek waking him in the morning. Hard to believe but he lives in harmony with happiness now, yes, the spotty kid, the ginge. It creeps up on him from the deepest corners of her, even whilst he’s crushing her as hard as he can, and she’s begging him to crush her even harder, like his happiness is too much for her to bear.
He confuses her with “hey”. It’s the same, but for people you share more with. It’s softer. He says it to her when he pushes the door open, arms heavy with bags of pizza and beer and ice cream. He shifts her weight from where she’s wrapped herself round the last place she’s seen him. He’s been trying to get her to wear one of his shirts, a big baggy white one like he saw someone do in some film, but she’s got herself naked again, and he lifts her goose bumped body onto the bed, nearly drops her. He wonders if she misses him when he’s gone: she’s still not talking, even though he’s taught her loads of words, it’s almost like she doesn’t trust them. But she finds other uses for her tongue, makes him understand.
The rent won’t pay itself and soon he has to return to work, leaving her alone for long dark hours. So she starts fucking him like a drowning thing gasping for her last breath, all wide eyes and gritty muscles: an ecstasy he’s never imagined.
There’s a part of him that starts to resent the happy moments. They make him feel nervous, waiting for their departure. Even when they’re happening they feel like he’s remembering something that took place long ago. Unless he can buy them and package them and keep them on his shelf, he’d rather not bother.
And if angels can fly, well, she just seems to be ruled by gravity these days. His fault really, all that junk food he’s been giving her- she’s getting heavier and heavier, and the weight begins to get too much for him, it seems like she’s sinking, like the earth might swallow her up. He starts having nightmares and he flails around in his sleep, getting the sheets wet. He wakes up and finds her curled up on the floor, as if the mattress gives her vertigo.
One day he comes home and finds her squatting down in the corner, spittle on her chin, and then he sees her fingers are jammed into the wall socket, electricity running through her back to earth. Her hair’s all static and just for a moment he feels quite afraid of her. He swallows and his throat makes a weird gravelly sound.
How are you supposed to live with someone who sticks their fingers in electrical sockets? And more to the point, can you love them? Here’s one word he’s somehow never got round to teaching her. Because what if she gets it wrong? She’s got this way of taking phrases and twisting them around, torturing them into weird meanings: ‘howareyouhowareyouowahhhhoooo’ she’s screamed at him, with strands of her own hair tangled in her palms, him balled up like a coward by the fridge.
Doesn’t seem that long ago but it’s actually been months since he was sitting there, by the river, minding his own business, and everything changed. There’s a bit of him that misses his solitude. She helps herself to whatever she fancies from the fridge, throws his papers around all over the place, douses herself in his deodorant. Sometimes he’ll lock himself in the bathroom for hours just to get a bit of peace and quiet, tries to slip out to work without her noticing, but more often than not she comes flying at him, howling like a banshee, grabs at his legs, and there’s been times he’s arrived for his shift with torn and bloody trousers.
So it’s a bit of a blessing when she starts sleeping more. She lies quietly whilst he does his own thing. Stops eating so much- he’s switched her to salad now, and of course she’s not as keen on that. She’s got a bit of a rattle in her chest when she breathes, but its fine, nothing a good dose of Benylin won’t sort out. Probably ought to take her to the doctor, but he’s not really sure what he’d say.
One night, it takes him longer than usual to get home. There have been riots in the high street, kids smashing up the J D Sports and nicking stuff from Dixons. On his way in one of them caught his eye and without hesitation just picked up a piece of loosened brickwork and hurled it at him. So he takes the scenic route back, down one of the dark back streets where the shops are long since emptied and boarded up, not much chance of running into them there.
Opens the door and she doesn’t even lift her head to greet him. Well, she never does anymore. He goes over and sits beside her. She looks so peaceful when she’s still, like someone totally untouched by the world. He picks up the comb from the side and lifts her head so it rests on his knee, gently starts working the matted strands. It takes him a long time- hours, who knows- but he finds it calming, focussing on the task in hand.
Later he stands up, moves her on the bed, lays her with her hair spread across the pillow, her hands down by her sides. He crosses to the window and pulls back the curtain. He disturbs a drowsy moth that has settled in a fold, and it flails about drunkenly, comes to rest in some unseen corner. Out in the street someone’s set the corner store on fire, and the kids are gathered round it, swigging from bottles and smashing them into the flames. Somewhere in the distance there’s the wail of a siren and the flashing blue. But he knows he’s safe up here, standing in the darkness, listening to the quiet rise and falling of her breath.