Authors: Richard Milward
Francis Bickmore + Canongate, Lee Brackstone + Faber, Pia Conaghan, Emily Dewhurst, family, Matthew Firth +
, friends, Vinita Joshi + Rocket Girl, Cathryn Summerhayes + DGA, Emma Warren +
. And you.
She Is Sick
At The Traffic Lights
Once Upon A Time
Outside Is Ok
Three Children On A Dancefloor
Black Lungs One
Black Lungs Two
You Had To Fall For Dynamite
About the Author
We got a McDonald’s the night my mam got lung cancer. Jenni was sat there smoking a superking, and I was trying not to sit there so upset. We looked weird dressed up and stuffing our faces, but I couldn’t eat a thing. I was hungry though. I didn’t have the heart to ask Mam for money, so I had to excavate a tenner out of my piggy-bank and hope to god it got me pissed. I slumped back in the plastic seat, watching Rachel squirt sauce on her chips while she messed around with her mobile. She was probably getting harassed by one of the boys she was screwing, but no wonder – Rachel had Hollywood hair and her skin was gold and rainbowed, but she reckoned she didn’t want a boyfriend or any of that massive commitment right now. When I broke up with Fairhurst I was glad to see the back of all boys, but when you’re out of a relationship you want to be in one and when you’re in a relationship you want to be out. Actually I broke with Fairhurst after he felt Rachel’s tit at a party, and I doubted she’d last a week without getting up to something naughty. But you’re only young the once.
What’s wrong? Gracie asked – she always asked crap boring questions. I shrugged her eyes off, then we watched a smackhead causing trouble at the counter, and tried not to laugh while he kicked off at the moron serving. I was flickering between happy and sad, and it annoyed me. Sometimes it’s good to talk about stuff, but I couldn’t tell the girls about Mam – I’d only known about it myself a couple of hours, and they didn’t want some blonde bimbo putting a big downer on the night. The plan was just to get drunk and block it out, but there we were sat in the depressing white light at Ronald’s. It spun a shiver in the threads of my dress – Mam sat me and my sisters down in the living room, and you could see it was bad news. She had that serious tone of voice, and watery eyes. I was cross-legged on the carpet watching kids’ telly and thinking up dresses and make-up, then all of a sudden my mam was dying. But it wasn’t like me to be always looking on the down side, and Mam thought she might be okay and we had a bear hug and a little cry. I still wanted to go out and see my friends.
Jenni bit into her McChicken sandwich, and I laughed inside because at school they reckon the boys at McDonald’s spunk in them. I started to lose my appetite, and it was very welcome. You wouldn’t even really want your own boyfriend’s stuff in your mouth. I got back so late from school (me and Dan read the magazines at Bells, he stole us some Anglo Bubbly and we blew it up together on the courtyard), I only managed a couple of custard creams for tea and my insides felt like a cave. I glanced back at the smack-head trying to score a free Happy Meal or something, and I thought to myself if they could afford all that horrid smack how couldn’t they stretch to some burgers and fries? But then I thought about us swallowing ecstasy pills together, and not giving one hoot about eating or sleeping or weeing or any other bodily functions. Perhaps he was going cold turkey, his hunger coming back with a vengeance dead unexpected. The boys behind the counter were clearly panicking, but they tried to look cool in the baseball caps and I wouldn’t put it past Jenni to suck their dicks anyway. I smiled the Urban Decay right across my face. That’s a lipstick.
Are you not eating, Eve? Rachel asked me, picking bits out of her burger. You can have that minging gherkin, if you want.
We laughed, but in the end I stole some chips off her. I gobbled them down, then ducked my eyes and murmured, I’m so skint. Just gonna save my money til we get in Empire.
I couldn’t wait to get in the club – it’d been a hard week, what with the exams and the cancer and everything. I promise you now I wasn’t intending on dwelling on it, it’s just the sitting around doing nothing that was getting to me. We needed to move! Kicking all the thoughts from my head, I tugged blonde fringe out my eyes then clippety-clopped my high-heels on the dirty floor. The empty stomach would at least get me dead hammered.
I bet some handsome stranger buys you loads of drinks … anyway, look you could even work here if you wanted. Debbie pointed at the poster STAFF REQUIRED, and I was surprised she could read it because she was always banging on about her dyslexia. It’s true that thing about dyslexics being good artists – I taxed another chip off Rachel’s tray, then stared as Debbie scrawled a cartoon girl on the tabletop. She squeaked the Magic Marker in between stains and rubbish, tracing a black babe with big boobies and seventies Afro. She had on typical star-shape sunglasses, and the shading was all cross-hatched and professional. Debbie wasn’t black, but she signed her tag everywhere like a nigger and she only ever went out with black boys or half-castes. It was funny the way she spelled her name DEBE like she was putting on the disease, but the letters were always mad and funky and we buzzed off her. I didn’t know why she always came out with a marker, though.
Debbie coughed and scratched her dark braids, each one of them perfect but you could tell she was bored as me. Jenni was finishing that nasty cigarette, and she stubbed it on the brown tray, probably melting it but I didn’t care to look. This was my mam’s outlook on getting wrecked: drink as much as you want and bring home boys now and again, just never ever smoke a cigarette. Health-wise I think it’s even worse than taking pills and whatnot, and I didn’t like the taste anyhow. It’s nicer taking something to make you happy than make you completely reek. I adjusted the blue-silver top, watching people come and go over Jenni’s shoulder while Rachel kept beeping her phone next to me. I wondered what sick things she was getting sent. At school these girls from the richer estates had boyfriends who took them to smart restaurants before the Cornerhouse or Tall Trees or wherever – the most expensive place Fairhurst ever took me was G-Force down Linthorpe Road, for his alloy wheels. McDonald’s was okay, but it seemed ever so lonely in the bright lights with only a little bit of movement outside and my girls not really talking to each other much. I wondered if we had more of a laugh at Brackenhoe than out on the town. I thought about Mam and I thought about getting IDed at the theatre; my hollow belly was full of butterflies, and all they had was a couple of French fries to surf around on.
You spoke to Claire today? Rachel asked me, since I was in her Maths class on Fridays. She’s not replying.
Rachel shoved her mobile back in the croc-print bag, then finished off the chips as I went, Yeah.
Is she coming out or not?
Naw, well isn’t she grounded? I think she’s having loads of hassle with Shane and all, I explained. I couldn’t imagine staying at home knowing all the girls were out, but her step-dad was probably a bastard. I wasn’t positive why she’d been grounded – often she made up excuses like that just so she could stay at home and shag her boyfriends. She was sort of the loose one. The daftest excuses so far had been debt, period pain, and petit mal epilepsy. She was a drama queen. I could see regular sex getting boring though, after all most of it’s just laying there getting pounded, but everyone gets their kicks differently. Gracie was the only one I had doubts about – she might not’ve been a virgin, but she always dressed angelic and acted shy in front of boys. She had that sort of Drew Barrymore look; innocent and pretty, but from the wrong angle you could accuse her of being a mong. She tended to attract a load of nonces – in actual fact this group of oldish men were gazing at us across the white restaurant. We made plans to hit some bars pretty sharpish – no one was in the mood to get raped, and I was feeling fidgety. Dyslexic Debbie held the McDoor open for me and my friends, then we dashed into the night. I joined up with Jenni and we clattered up the pavement nice and quick – the streets looked shimmery and fantastic, and I hadn’t even drunk anything. I smiled and hugged Jenni a little bit closer, then we set off on the rampage.
I had to shut the door seven times or else my family dies. I also had to put
With The Beatles
on a couple of times, only because it’s a good one. I got transfixed by all the words, lying back in bed and smacking my head off the wood frame. Back then they were always crooning about courting girls and twisting and shouting and that, but all I ever did on the weekends was sit around in a shit mood. I stuck ‘Don’t Bother Me’ on full-blast, though you could still hear my dad slamming the door on his way out. Every Friday he got lashed after work and went over the Beechwood Easterside Social, and I sat up and pondered if he’d left any drinks in his bedroom. I couldn’t stand being a boring cunt. I watched out the window Dad walking along then crossing Deighton Road, the sun lounging in the background and whacking off the housetops. I had to shut the curtains six or seven times or else he’d get struck by lightning.
Two disc spins later I was still sat on my bed and my head was knacking from all the inaction. The Yellow Submarine clock only said 8:31, and I crept out of the room with white spots in my eyes. I let the guitars continue clanging off the walls and furniture, then snuck my head round the door and tried to keep my toes quiet. All the kids at school had started to boast about drinking and doing sexual intercourse, but the nearest I’d been was that brandy at Christmas and wetdreaming myself over the girl with the boobies at the end of
Magical Mystery Tour
. It took me about an hour to finish a little glassful, the brandy I mean, and I went around licking the walls and being off my head. The wet dream resulted in me changing my sheets for the first time.
I spun softly into my parents’ room, over-exaggerating the detective footsteps – is it quieter walking on the balls of your feet or the heels? It was always frightening going in there – that one time I saw my mum getting changed was enough to scar me for life. She had yellow skin from smoking too much, and tits like potatoes. They hadn’t even made the bed since this morning, and you could still sort of smell the smell. I fumbled round the diamond wallpaper but there was no really obvious place to hide a crate of lager, and I couldn’t go down to the kitchen because Mum was there chaining the Mayfairs, and she’d fucking go mad at me. I stood around, then went for my dad’s cabinet, where he kept important things like aftershave and creams and massive undies. It was a bit too cramped for a keg of beer, but there could’ve been a bottle of whisky rolling about. I ended up disappointed. I tried to make it look like I hadn’t been snooping around, but it was difficult having to shut everything five or six times and I felt like I was being noisy.
‘Adam, you got any washing?!’ Mum screamed from downstairs. My heart jumped out of my jumper, and I scuttled from the drawers then yelled back, ‘Naw.’