Saturday, 6 June 2015

Light a fag, swig a drink, suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

Copyright Ngaire Ruth

This is a love story. There is no romance.
At the end play: The Fall "How I Wrote Elastic Man" 

SHE’s crouched forward, concentrating on her breathing and focus, waiting for the signal.

She can hear their voices and footsteps now, as they turn into the alley, ever closer. One boy has a local accent, dragging out every vowel, missing the letter at the end, the other, snap, snap, snap. Who would wanna be his friend? He keeps taking a breathe halfway through a sentence.

“Give it me. Watch it. Where can we?” Pause. “…Smoke it?”

****
It takes Meesh a long time to walk up the stairs to the 4th floor and Sall’s flat because she wishes to go unnoticed. There’s no lift, two flats to a floor, each door opposite the other.

It takes Sall a long time to answer the door which adds to Meesh’s fear of “being observed unknowingly by god knows who”. It’s not that the elderly woman finds it difficult to get to the door quickly but there are a lot of locks and chains to negotiate before she can open it.

“Alright Meesh,” she sings.

“Yeah. You?”

“Huh,” she tuts.

And without being told Meesh makes her way down the long hallway to the orange and tan kitchen on the left, at the end of it.

Meesh sits down on the one chair and Sall comes in behind her, straight to the cooker, stirs a saucepan on the hob.

“Chicken stew,” she announces proudly. “Left over from yesterday’s roast chicken.”

“I’ve gotta make Charmane's tea yet,” says Meesh.

“Take some of this for ‘er.”

“Yeah alright. I’ve already peeled the veg,” Meesh replies, remembering the last time she took home Sall’s second day stew the whole family had food poisoning.

“So you haven’t got the time for a quick Bloody Mary then?”

Meesh's eye’s light up. Sall’s BM’s are exceptional: it’s the dash of lime, the generous pinch of Tabasco, the sprig of mint, torn off from the kitchen window box.

“Cheers.”

“Cheers.”

As part of the ritual Meesh shuffles out to the hallway, across to the front room (Hi to Toya watching TV), and out the balcony door. Sits on the chair nearest the wall; Sall needs to be near the door, always in and out. Meesh texts her daughter: Sall’s just made me a drink. Won’t be long.

“What’s the funny smell?”

“Grease. I’ve had to grease the pipes and all the bits ‘ere,” she points out, leaning dangerously over the balcony. “He’s been trying to get in. Banging on the door all night until the neighbours call the police. Now he’s trying this way.”

Poor Sal. That son of hers just won’t leave be. Says wicked, mean things about her then begs for money, then beats her. “Surely he’s too heavy to climb up a plastic drainpipe?” Meesh encourages.

“It ain’t plastic and he’s a skinny bastard,” retorts Sall.

Quiet.

Sall makes sure Meesh is comfortable and has had all the latest details of recent plantings and re-pottings explained and then she goes off, to come back with a book in her hand. She gives it to her, moves the clean laundry piled up on kitchen chair and shuffles off back out the door in to the flat with it.

Daughter texts smiley reply. :) 

“I presume you’re gonna light a fag?” throws back Sall, as she stumbles, arms full with crisp, white sheets and equally crisp, white towels, “I don’t want these stinking.” (I see Sall is still using bleach.) She can’t actually see her feet, negotiating the step over the steel doorframe she needs to make from memory.

Sall has lived here all her life. Everybody on the estate loves to have a good old bitch about her, but they bloody make sure they whisper because some time soon they will probably need Sall’s help. Meesh is not from the estate. She thinks the most revolutionary thing about Sall is how she's maintained a very shiny black fringe with the rest of her hair, blonde, in the same style for thirty years. 

The book says in gold lettering Comprehensive Diagnostic Manual of Medical and Psychological Terms. It is pretending to be leather, but of course lacks the depth of colour, sheen or texture which makes boring brown so acceptable. It says: I’m important but I’m bluffing. Careful here it will be important to Sall.

Meesh does indeed light a fag, swig a drink, suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

She jumps up and leans over the balcony to flick her ash.

“Where you puttin’ that ash?” snaps Sall, returned.

“Obviously,” Meesh sarcs, gesturing with her hand to the ground far below.

Together they stand, leaning over the balcony: suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

"Don't let Toya see me," whispers Sall.

“Are you gonna sit for a minute now?” says Meesh, ignoring her. 

“Oh, yeah. I want to ask you about that?” she says, head nodding towards the book. “You know I can’t read properly don’t you?”

She didn’t. It seemed odd because she knew for a fact that Sall nicked books. She stole them from the secondary school in which she was a cleaner. The other people she cleaned for – intellectuals in Georgian houses – appeared to Sall quite hopeless, being unable or unwilling to sort out their own dirty messes or clutter, and it bemused her that they were happier and more successful than she, despite these huge flaws in their character. That is lack of cleanliness according to Sall.

Another thing, they all have vast quantities of books, on shelves, which go with the dust and the clutter scenario. If you ever see fit to move one single little book though, it’s noticed. A boundary Sall has tested, initially in her quest to steal as many books as possible.

Sall’s logic says that it’s the lack of dust and books in her life which perhaps are the only things stopping her rise to a great success and fulfilment. And so she sets to rectifying this by stealing as many books as possible (from people and places she considers are superior to her) and begins to educate her-self and everybody else, of course. And just like magic, the dust gathers as she sits, absorbed.

Education is an evangelical thing for Sall. One week: the water cycle is explained in full to everybody who calls.  She makes sketches for you while explaining. The next week: Alice in Wonderland, inventing a great game: just open it, read the first sentence you see on the page and take that as your quote of the day.   

What does this mean? She says, frantically sifting through pages to find the spot, marked with constant opening, stroking he pages flat. "It’s a bit harder to understand than them children’s books I’ve got."

“Is there something wrong with you Sall?”

“Well, I didn’t think so but now I wonder,” she says, pointing nervously at the part she wanted me to read. Am I the person Johnny says I am?

Page 68
Sexual deviant: bisexual

“Why do you want me to read this tosh?” declares Meesh, exasperated.

“It’s medical innit?” replies Sall. “So I can get it fixed?”

“It’s these blokes that need fixing Sall!” Meesh snorts. “It’s a bunch of blokes with too much spare time. And it’s a very, very old book Sall.”

Sal knew in her heart it was wrong but it was in a book, written by someone cleverer than her, in a place of learning for other people who are cleverer than her – it must be right. And this was why everything bad happens to her.

****

She hopes that they don’t decide to sneak a quick smoke behind the three large green refuse bins she is hiding behind. It’s a good spot because there are no CCTV cameras here.

Light a fag, swig a drink, suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

Screams above from a distant balcony on the estate, a bored gang of overdramatic pre-teens, but she doesn’t budge – although it’s enough to stop the “smoke stop” as the boys swerve and continue on down the alley, kicking up beer cans and shuffling dirt on the rough concrete with the toes of their slick trainers.

She tries to stay dead quiet and dead still, otherwise the empty plastic bag she is holding open, with both hands, will crackle and she’ll be found and dead first. She thinks: last chance to throw it now and let it float quietly to the concrete. Maybe slip a hand inside the sky blue roller skating socks that I love, for the kitchen knife?

She forces herself to loosen her clenched teeth, open her mouth, and breathe: short, quiet and controlled. Wait.

She can see their backs now, just, one has his hoody up. (Damn those things.) The other has a smart polo shirt on, chinos and boat shoes. Shame she’s going to have to kill the better-looking one first.

Now they are a few paces ahead. She creeps up behind them and jumps out in time to slip the bag neatly over pretty boy’s head and firmly grip his neck. She twists the handles tightly, like a wrench, but has not expected the full force of a young, healthy body reacting against such a shock, or indeed the prospect of death. She hasn’t figured on having to hold the weight of the boy by the head either, skinny bastard, she had thought is not a heavy bastard. She hadn't figured on his punching power either – at a mechanical, rhythmic speed on any part of her body he finds in the panic - or the sound his neck makes, as his muscles clench and rip in repulsion.

The second boy lunges forward at the girl and grabs her clenched, whitening fists, which only serves to help take the weight, ensuring that the two of them are holding on to the bag very securely indeed. There they stand, hoody boy bawling, tears and snot and spit and clinging to his mate’s neck, trying to keep him on his feet but at the same time helping to kill him. Girl, fixed stare, too-late-to-back-out-now, kicking out at boy two, so that the dying teen finally sinks to the ground, his neck, surely broken by now as it’s tugged this way and that, but no.

And it’s the sound of dying boy’s exaggerated breathing, the little pit in the plastic bag going in and out where his mouth should be, accompanied by the sound of flapping white plastic, which makes both of the teenagers stop, in the end, mouth’s gaping, panting madly. 

They let pretty boy Johnny drop with a thud to the ground, the other boy skidding as he tries to get his balance.

“You’re …fucking crazy!” he bawls and makes a dash for it, only to struggle since his fashionable trousers are now around his knees. He wipes his mouth, pulls his trousers up and turns to look at the girl once more, and then runs.

The girl removes Sall’s yellow washing up gloves and turns them inside out, then tucks them in to her jean’s pocket. She checks around on the ground, in case anything circumspect that can be traced back to her has come loose in the struggle: all her clothing intact, bangles, bells on her ears, ring in her nose and on her fingers, all there, keys, coins (she’d counted them earlier), phone, Oyster card, all there. The only thing she is leaving behind is the plastic bag on the boy’s head. She was sure it wouldn’t be any danger to passing ducks or other wildlife, unlike the boy. She ambles on, never once looking down or back.

****
Sall: Meesh forgot to take the chicken stew I put by for her!

Toya: “Yeah, I can see,” she says knowingly, raised eyebrows, as she negotiates a difficult manoeuvre through the kitchen door, with the washing machine crammed behind it, dinner dishes balanced in both hands, and over to the sink.  

Sall, at sink: Have you seen the washing up gloves?

Toya: No - putting down the dishes, cracking noise of china on steel, rattle.

“Careful,” grumps Sall. “Where are my bleeding gloves?”

Toya: How do I know?

Sall: Well they ain’t here.

Toya: And I haven’t got them.

Sal: Someone’s nicked them then.

Toya: What would anybody want with a pair of dirty, old washing up gloves?


****


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