Authors: Wayne Price
First published in the UK Feb 2012
By Freight Books
49-53 Virginia Street
Glasgow, G1 1TS
Copyright © Wayne Price
The moral right of Wayne Price to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any
information storage or retrieval system, without either prior permission in writing from the publisher or by licence, permitting restricted copying. In the United Kingdom such licences are issued
by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1P 0LP.
All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemble to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library
Kindle ISBN 978-1-9087540-3-5
Typeset by Freight in Plantin
Printed by Martins Printers, Berwick
When my older brother Alfie left school for good he got a job collecting up the balls out at the airbase golf range. He couldn’t learn how to drive the little electric
cart they normally used but he helped out on foot, lugging a great sack behind him like a baby-faced Santa, ducking too late when anyone sent a ball close and bothered to yell. I think they took
him on as a favour to my mother’s boyfriend from those times, a pink-skinned, sandy-haired sporting type whose name I can’t recall now. Anyway, this boyfriend drank and golfed with some
of the airmen who practiced there. Or maybe it was my older sister Carol who fixed it for him. She drank with plenty of airmen too.
In late July of that year sudden, incredible rains flooded the river and all the brooks around town and then, just as suddenly, a freakish, continental heat set in. The air felt baked and
stifling, not just in the day but for hours into the dark. At thirteen, the feel of that weather was entirely strange to me, and ominous. I’ve never forgotten it. In all the back yards giving
on to water a kind of eggshell glaze, pale orange from iron oxide in the local streams, topped the fine silt left behind from the floods. There was a wide expanse of it left at the foot of the
empty schoolyard, a place I often escaped to in the summer holidays. I spent one wholly absorbed morning there, treading out long careful lines of footprints in the weirdly perfect, pastel casing
that covered the black asphalt and sports markings. It was like breaking the crust of some virgin, alien world.
Like any sudden change, the strangeness of the weather was bad for Alfie. Early one morning I wandered into the kitchen and found him transfixed at the window, sweating in the sun. He was
waiting for Carol to take him out to the golf range on her way to work. Only his right arm was moving, like part of some machine – jerking up and down between his throat and hip, a spasm
every few seconds. Each time the hand went up, the big pink fingers went fluttering over the tight collar button of his shirt. His round face was sheened over and puffy and he grunted quietly each
time he touched the fastening. His eyes were bulging, almost glassy, but he never went open-collared, not even at home. Not even in pyjamas. I watched him for a minute or so.
Oh just open it for Christ’s sake, I said at last.
But then Carol yelled through from the hall – Alfie, I’m going! Get in the car! And he went, lunking past me same as he always did like I hadn’t said a word.
* * *
Later that same day Jez and Fisher call round. I’m hiding from the sun, living room curtains drawn tight, sweating into the sofa and sipping from one of my mother’s
bottles of sweet blue liquor. Both Jez and Fisher are Alfie’s age, three years older than me, and only sometimes want me around. When the doorbell rings – one heavy, drawn-out chime
– I know it’s Jez. My head’s swimming a little from the drink, making it hard to stand up quickly. The bell goes again, even slower this time – someone’s finger
grinding on the face of the button. Once, a single fat turd came through our letterbox on Halloween, and whenever Jez rings the doorbell the way he does I remember seeing it there on the doormat
and feel like I know for sure it was him.
Jez takes the bottle out of my hand as he moves past me into the hall. What’s this? he says, and fills his mouth with it.
It’s spirits, I tell him, watching his face.
His lips pull back tight over his teeth.
It’s my mother’s, I say. But it’s strong. Check out the label.
He ignores me and passes the bottle to Fisher. Taste that, he says.
He moves restlessly around the living room, picking things up and putting them back somewhere different. Then Fisher settles himself on the edge of the sofa, tilts himself forward and takes a
couple of really big neckfuls, sucking at the bottle like a baby on a tit. When he swallows I can see the gulps moving under the fat.
Let’s go, I say.
They glance at one another and laugh.
The heat outdoors is a shock even though I’d been sweltering inside. The tarmac’s cooking along the sides of the gutters and the thick oily smell of it seems to
carry up off the road with the heat shimmers, rolling along with us as we walk.
It’s not long before we leave the streets and wander into the back-alleys near the allotments and the old railway line. The flies are worse there, but at least the tar-pit stink is gone.
Jez and Fisher are hanging back from me, like they usually do, plotting and sniggering. It doesn’t bother me much, though sometimes I slow up to eavesdrop and check if they’re planning
anything bad for me. Now though, Jez catches up with me and whips the backs of my legs with a thin branch he picked up somewhere.
Hey Nicky, he says, where’s Carol hanging out these days?
She still working out on the estate?
A fat summer bluebottle razzes right across our faces. I flinch back but Jez doesn’t even seem to notice.
What time does she finish?
I take a quick look at Jez, sideways on. How would I know? I say, trying to sound calmer than I feel. I pull some air back in and try to whistle.
He grins, showing his teeth. They’re tiny and very straight. Just tell me what time she gets home, he says.
Most days she picks up Alfie and then brings him home with her, so they get in about six.
Jez suddenly stops walking. Big Alfie’s got a job? he says, amazed. Hey Fish – Alfie’s got a job!
Fisher gives out a loud, false laugh from a little way behind us. A job!
! he crows.
Jez starts walking again, but he’s interested now and leaves off swiping at me. So where’s he working? he asks.
I tell him about the job at the golf range and he just walks quietly alongside me for a minute or so, thinking about something. It’s funny, eh? he says. You and Alfie.
I don’t say anything because I know exactly what’s coming.
I mean Alfie being just a big soft fucking retard. And then you. He looks me up and down as we walk. The sly professor, eh? He swishes the branch onto the backs of my legs again. Little
Yeah right, I say.
Then there’s Carol, eh? And when I don’t answer again he turns his head and calls back to Fisher – hey Fish, what about Carol, eh? What about Carolingus?
Yee-hah! Fisher shouts, and when I turn back to look at him he spits straight up in the air and scoots under it, grinning all over his white fat face. He carries on jogging so that he catches up
It’s having different fathers, Jez pronounces.
Yeah right, I say again, sweating even worse now.
That’s why though, he says, seriously. It fucks up all the natural stuff. It’s why you’re hot for your own fucking sister. That’s right, Fish, right?
That’s what it is, professor, believe me.
We carry on in silence for a time. Jez maybe senses he’s gone too far because he starts switching the branch at Fisher’s legs instead of mine.
Nicky, you ever been out to the golf range? he says at last.
No, I lie.
They’ve got pitch and putt out there, behind the range.
Jez slows up with Fisher and soon they’ve dropped back behind me again, conferring, and I’m on my own trying to stop the flies landing on my head and neck in case they follow the
trails of sweat and end up inside my T-shirt.
Around noon we’ve drifted right along to where the railway used to cross the river. Without saying anything we scramble down the embankment, through dusty gorse and broom and bramble
bushes, until we’re in amongst the big river rocks left high and dry by the low water. We stop there for a smoke, sitting on the warm boulders. What’s left of the river curls away green
and quiet between the broken pillars of the old viaduct. It feels peaceful to be there, sitting and smoking in the sun. Even Jez looks relaxed, watching the smooth run of the river, letting the
smoke come lazy out of his mouth and nose.
Then, somehow not making a sound, Fisher vomits onto the rock between his legs. He keeps his head down a minute while Jez stares. A cord of sticky blue stuff links his chin and lips with the
mess on the boulder but it’s like he doesn’t have the energy to spit it clear.
Christ’s sakes, Jez says, turning back to the river again. Let’s go play golf.
It’s a long walk in the heat but Jez makes us tramp all along the road to Milo’s garage at the edge of town before he lets us get on one of the small airbase buses.
We’re the only locals on board – the well-dressed airmen’s wives with bulging carrier bags and the airmen in civvies are all on their way back to their quarters on the base. Jez
spreads himself wide to take up the whole of his double seat and smokes, though the whole bus is no-smoking. After a while one of the women starts giving him disgusted looks, but the airmen in
front of us don’t seem to care and nothing gets said.