I was already in pretty big trouble when I ran over the black-tailed godwit. I live by and stand by my decisions. I chose to let my relationship with Liza stagnate. I chose to take a few short-cuts at work when I had a genuine aptitude that with steady application might yield a comfortable career. I chose to be late to meet an unimportant client because I could’t be arsed getting out of bed, having already booked the estate out from carpool.
I choose to soak the children on the trip when I eventually do get on my way, all fluorescent jackets and two to a maternal grown-up, gavotting their way somewhere mundane; the fire station most likely. I didn’t choose the blocked drain at the foot of the hill. I didn’t choose the torrential downpour at dawn that hasn’t drained. I do choose to aqua-plane through the small lake, though. They cheer. They bounce. They scream. They cry. The maternal grown-ups let go of little hands to make gestures less caring than they might ordinarily. I see that one of them has the foresight to photograph my number plate. Company car. That will be a disciplinary job. It might take a while to come through. Perhaps I have time to make things right.
I cancel the client. She swears at me on the phone and threatens to take away the small-fry money she is dancing around handing over. I could have suggested a more subtle place she could put it, but I figure she is small-time, no big deal. I think about the number plate and how that might be a slightly larger deal. I decide to blame Kier from accounts. I know that he also has a car out, same model same colour. I can fabricate the records in car pool, not easily but easily enough for someone of my talents. Not from work though, and not fromLiza’s wifi either. That would be too suspicious.I decide to take a sick day and have a morning pint at the local ‘Spoons, all Mad George, knarly dogs, school jumper seconds and fat skunk spliffs in the beer garden. I call into the office whilst I wait for my fry up. Mad George’s cross staffie crosswill not stop barking, making even my dopey line manager Balrin deeply suspicious.
‘Is that your dog?’
‘Didn’t know you had a dog.’
‘Got to go. Coming out of both ends.’
‘I thought you said it was a burning pain?’
‘Ooh. Fuck, stay in bed, don’t come near us!’
I should fucking try.
The fry-up is awful but the pintis worse. First rule; I should keep that to myself but I have a killer status and can’t resist. Balrin calls straight back.
‘What the fuck? Are you at the pub?’
‘Err, No. That was an update from the weekend, I just opened my laptop and it must have been waiting to go through.’
‘You want to buy some weed?’
I wave Mad George away with my fork. ‘Sorry, Balrin, it’s the TV.’
Mad George doesn’t like that and gets out his pocket knife.
‘For fucksake, George.’
‘What is going on?’
‘Nothing, got to go, I’ll let you know if I’m up and about tomorrow.’
Balrin doesn’t seem to be buying it. I buy a twenty-bag of best green from Mad George, as much to placate him as anything else and finish my limp sausage, cold beans and rubber bacon. A bean drops into my lager. I stare at it as though it somehow might reveal the true nature of the human condition. It slowly goes brown and sinks. I decide to headto Liza’s for a spliff and a wank, neither of which are activities strictly unheard of in ‘Spoons on the early-day shift, but both of which I feel would be better expressed in the comforts of my girlfriend’s bed. In the car park I discover thatsomeone has keyed the company car, right under the driver’s door handle. “M.G.” it reads.Great. I drive over to my home. Strictly speaking it’s Liza’s home and she hasn’t invited me to move in yet. I have gotten round this by not telling her that I’ve stopped paying rent on my old place and keeping my clothes on rotation under my desk at the office, my ornate wooden stash box in the cupboard under her stairs, and the password to her laptop revealed by a small piece of spyware I bought off my coke dealer, Fifteen Minute Shaz. This is doubly useful as I can follow her movements via her mobile and tell when I have the place to myself.
I let myself in, roll a fat one, go to her bedroom with her laptop and have a rummage in the dirty wash basket before hitting the dark-net porn boards.Choice can be a difficult thing. I try to find what mood I’m in, but the options these days are just mind-blowing. Too big. Too brash. Too fake. Too real. Too, oh Jesus, no, far too real. Ah, but,OK. I’m sure she’s an actress anyway. Oh Jesus maybe she’s not. Ah well, the screen is secondary to the great theatre of the imagination. I visualise Liza, then one of the teachers from the road. Then it gets weird. Balrin’s there. So is Kier. Eugh, Mad George too. Ho-hum. Can’t police the mind. Back to the laptop. Good grief. Sympathy almost stops me dead, but then reason drops back down and the devil of self-passion rises and consumes. I have almost finished the rather sad process of teasing myself back and forth, keeping half an eye on the poor wretched creatures whom I have called forth from some unpleasant depths of the internet, when the doorbell rings. For fucksake. I leave the computer on, I’ll be back in a minute.
A small man is there. ‘Have you considered loft insulation?’
‘No! Have you considered fucking off? Have you ever had sexual fantasies that you were deeply ashamed of?’I don’t know where that comes from.
‘No need to talk like that sir.’ He casts his glance down to myhastily pulled on semi-stiff and a wet-patch suit trousers. The sickly-sweet pungent stink of skunk wafts out from behind me. I still have a pair of Liza’s underwear clutched in one hand. Not classy, not classy at all. The man shakes his head and turns away.
Standing there coming down from abusing some wage-slave salesman with the remnants of a joint and a wank hung limply about me like the measliest of laurels, I have a shaming moment of clarity. A little honesty and apology would go a long way. I call out to him down the road ‘Eh, mate.” He speeds up with a nervous glance around his shoulder. I change my clothes and go to put the rest of the weed in the box. I’ll save it for a happy sharing time with Liza. I’ll go into work and make things right with Balrin, carpool and my client. In my box a small wrap of cocaine is sat visible amongst the rizla. If I am going to make everything all right I will probably need a little pick me up first.
It is now 11:15. I sniff deeply and feel an exciting numbness sicken down the back of my throat. I drive the car around to Deb’s Garage.Debs is a cash in hand sort.
‘Sort the keying out Debs, toot sweet.’
‘You got gak on your nose.’
‘Can I have some?’
‘Fuck off. Alright.’ On an oily bench next to Deb’s office I shovel the remains of the cocaine into two lines and we take one each, along with a nose full of the assorted grime that sits around his workshop. We both make achey, sniffing yawn faces. ‘Happy now? Get that fucking scratch fixed, ASAP.’
‘Yeah. Have you got any more?’
‘No that was it.’
‘Shame.’ I think it is a shame too, so I decide to call Fifteen Minute Shaz. Shaz is a Friday and Saturday night kingpin, flying all over the city sights delivering two or more little folded papers of buzz to all the party creatures. Only the rich or the very regular are deemed worthy of his details. I have him as one of my quick dials. In my experience fifteen minutes is pure hype on his part.
‘What the fuck do you want?’
This takes me back a little. ‘What the fuck do you think I want? You got some?’
‘Yeah I got some but I can’t deliver now.’
‘You’re the fucking fifteen minute man.’
‘On a Friday night mate, not at half eleven in a wet Wednesday. You’ll have to come and pick it up.’
‘Where? Where the fuck is that? Fuck. Is that even in London. Alright. How much? Fuck. What happened to austerity?’
I hang up. Debs looks at me, semi-hopefully. I shake my head. ‘Well that’s me off to somewhere the fuck.’
‘You gonna come back with some?’
‘Just fix the fucking motor, alright?’ I start to walk to the underground. The day is getting complicated.
I am halfway to the station in the grey drizzle when Liza calls. She sounds breathless with rage.
‘What the fuck were you looking at on my computer?’
‘Oh.’ I recall that I had left a rather unpleasant series of searches and downloads open when I took the visit from the salesman.
‘You sick fuck I ought to call the police.’
‘Baby, it’s not like that.’
‘What is it like?’
‘There was this guy. He was selling loft insulation.’
‘And you were looking at this sick filth with him? Leave your keys when you pick up your stuff from the garden, we’re through.’
‘Don’t baby me. Jesus, the FBI will probably be round.’
‘Can I at least come and get my box.’
‘You cunt!’ With that she hangs up. I think about rushing back and apologising, setting things straight and promising to change. But I am nearly at the station now, and the buzz is beginning to fade a little.
I hit the tube to head to Shaz’. I start to feel rather horny, staring wild-eyes at the people around me, a manic monotone whistling through my head which begins slipping out into real conversation. ‘That girl is hot. Hey baby.’
‘Oi mate. Don’t speak to women like that.’
That girl is also hot. ‘Hey baby.’
‘Oi mate, fuck off right or I’ll call the police.’
‘Alright. Chill out man. What’s with the police threats already?
‘That one is less hot. But maybe more impressionable.
‘Mate for the last fucking time.’
‘Alright alright. Didn’t know it was the same girl.
What about that one. Mmmmm. ‘Hey baby.’
‘I’m going to fucking kill you. Is this guy bothering you? Mate I told you.’
‘No fuck off man, he’s not bothering me.’
‘Oh alright then.Sorry.’
‘Yeah you fucking should be you cunt. When I need a knight in shining armour you can come clanking.’
She looks up. Angels and harps and all that shit flood the carriage. Her skirt is camouflage, her hair is a rainbow, her ear is swiss cheese and boots are doctor Ms himself. Everything goes slow motion and suffuses with a sparkling golden light. That may be the cocaine. She seems to have soot on her cheek.
‘Are you lean man?’
‘Could I get lean too?’She is a vision.
‘Maybe. I’m having a shit day. I just got dumped and I might be about to lose my job.’
‘Shitter. You don’t deserve that.’ She is an impressionable vision.
‘I’m just looking for good times.’
She is an available, impressionable vision. You don’t see that every day.
‘No strings good times.’
‘Really?’ Even in my discombobulate state I am conscious that people are not usually available with genuinely no strings.
‘Yeah. Really. Maybe I like strings.’ I have no idea what I’m talking about, either.
‘Where are you heading?’ I tell her.‘Where the fuck is that? Is that even in London?’ She offers me a pull on a Polish lager can and slides sensually into the seat next to me. There is a ladder in her dark tights which leads to a hole disappearing under her skirt and I have to restrain myself from slipping my hand through it. She looks at me and licks her lips. She tells me her name is Root. ‘Root?’ She licks her lips agin. I think I might die.
The train eventually breaks surface and my phone comes flickers momentarily before geeing up to life. I have six missed calls. All Balrin. First from the office, then from his mobile number. Shit. I switch the phone off. Eventually we reach the quasi-mythical suburb where Shaz resides. Our oysters beep out a small fortune. A deli cafe adjoins a dry cleaners with a two suits five shirts offer. It’s very leafy. Root lights a roll-up, with matches I notice. ‘Your man is doing well.’
I think about the price he quoted me for pick-up. ‘Clearly.’ I have to switch my phone back on to find the address. Another two missed calls. I go to maps and we navigate several streets to a wide road of semi-detached mock tudor. I spy Shaz’ beamer outside one, along with a bunch of porcelain dogs. The doorbell sounds Beethoven’s fifth in an octave high enough that Ludvig himself might have heard it.
‘Hey Shaz. This is Root.’
‘Fuck. You better come in. Leave your shoes there.’
Root gives Shaz a look that seems to say, ‘Fuck you and your shoe rule, but I really do want some cocaine’ and begins unlacing her DMs. The carpet is cream coloured and deep. In the living room is a low, dark pink and brown marble table which looks ridiculous against the lilac wallpaper. The television takes up half of one wall. There is a sheathed samurai sword on the wall, one of the half-sized ones that people used to buy from head-shops for some reason. The table is covered in the scattered white trails of used lines. Shaz indicates for us to partake. Root smiles, and so do I.
We sate ourselves in a frenzy of sniffs, slurps and gasps. After a while buzzing and talking shit, I put my serious voice on.
‘Can I borrow your computer.’
‘I’m a drug dealer not a fucking Internet cafe.’
Root laughs. ‘Internet cafe, ha ha. Old school.’ Shaz and I exchange confused looks. We crowd round the screen.
Iget access into carpool. I know Kier’s password because I know his kids’ names, and I know he is an unimaginative prick. I feel like I’m in MI5 or something; I sit debonaire and clackity-clack at the keyboard. A satisfactory but pointless bing noise tells me I am successfully in. I get a great cocaine fuelled swelling of purpose and self-belief. I switch the cars from pool so that he has been driving the keyed one that soaked the children. I’m sure Kier will be OK with it. He probably just doesn’t remember soaking those children. Parents get tired and forget shit like that. Shaz and Root stand behind me watching. I’m sure they are impressed. If this was a movie the data on the screen would be filmed scrolling down my irises. The thought that this is not massively unlike a situation Bond himself might find himself in flits happily across my mind.
‘Is that it?’ asks Root.
‘What do you mean “it”?’ I demand.
‘Is that all you’re going to do? Change names on a standard request form?’
‘Why? What else do you want me to do?’
‘Do you know his birthday?’ Asks Shaz.
‘Why?’I suddenly feel deflated. Shaz shoves me aside and takes control, typing twice as fast as me. ‘Name, date of birth, likely features of passwords?’ He opens up a window announcing itself as some sort of encrypted messenger service. I go back to the table. ‘Those lines is all coming out of your buy, by the way’ Shaz calls out.
It’s now mid-afternoon and I am feeling awful. Shaz is waiting in the car. He has driven Root and I to the high street area of his suburb and we are standing in line at the National Westminster Bank. There are three people ahead of us. We both had a scrub up and another line for confidence. In spite of this I do not really like the way events are panning out. I initially said that I was not sure I was in, and I would not have agreed to the enterprise at all if hadn’t been for two factors. The first was an air of thinly disguised violence from Shaz; his exact words are difficult to recall through the drug-fug but they went something along the lines of ‘You’re so fucking in or I’m going to cut your testicles off with my samurai sword.’
The other factor was Root. She had waited until Shaz was out of the room, pumping himself up after he had finished his conference calls. She took me by the nipple and slid her hand down the front of my trousers, cupping my balls and teasing my scrotum back and forth ‘I want to love you baby, but I need to be protected. You’ll protect me won’t you? If we do this I’ll be yours. I’ll go anywhere and do anything for you.’ She tugged at my left ball. It was always a little more sensitive than the right. ‘We can be like Bonnie and Clyde. Except without the getting shot a lot bit.’
I feel a sudden rush of sympathy for Kier and his family. He probably doesn’t deserve this, even if he did run over those kids. Which he didn’t.
‘I’d like to close my account and withdraw my savings please.’
I push our hastily printed documents over the counter, feeling like I’m getting on a train in the Great Escape, even hoping she’ll say ‘Good luck’ so that I can fuck it up. Part of me really hopes this doesn’t work, really hopes it isn’t even possible. In fact, it can’t be. We have so many checks and balances these days. Big brother cares for us, in a way. I’m not sure my faith in society would survive if I learned that this was something which someone somewhere had done, let alone a small-time coke dealer in a mock-tudor semi on the outskirts of London had done following a couple of brief online messages with someone called ‘4geehad’ in the Yemen.
‘We are sorry to hear that Sir. The full amount Sir? How would you like that Sir?’
It’s evening now, and we are racing toward the setting sun. The giant cat’s cradle rears before us, drawbridge to the old country. I don’t know why I suggested Wales. My parents live there on the farm where I grew up, alone. Perhaps even after all these years we still look to homeward in a crisis. The police were outside Shaz’ house when his Beamer drove back from the bank, clear plastic envelopes in our pockets and my jaw still very much on the floor that it had been so simple.We kepton rolling down through the leafy suburb and onto the motorway, which was close by and convenient. We have been on the downers, smoking cannabis and popping cocodamols all the way across the M4. Root was curled up in my lap for a time and I was happy. ‘Protect me’ she had said, so I’d wrapped my arm lovingly around her as though to shield her from the madness and from the beats of Shaz’s murderous hip-hop, but then a tune she liked came on and she climbed off me and over the gear stick, showing me a tantalising glimpse of her underwear and settled next to Shaz, swearing away. He put his hand on her thigh, as much to annoy me as anything I guess.
I sink into a melancholic paranoia when my phone rings again, crossing the Severn estuary. I choose to answer it, asking Shaz to turn the flaming raging gangsta bass lines down.
He tells me to fuck off.
Balrin is going insane, ‘Where the fuck are you how can you vanish on a day like today? It’s been hell. I have to have you in tomorrow. The police came round just before the end of the day and dragged Kier out in handcuffs. They confiscated his laptop. Something about attacking children with a company car, illegal pornography and embezzling funds to give to terrorists in the Yemen. In the fucking Yemen. They tasered him in accounts by the photocopier. Shit is raining down, I need you in. What the fuck is that music? Where are you?’
‘Home in bed.’ The music stops abruptly.
‘Fucking how much to take a car across, Sonny-Jim?’
‘What the hell is that?’
‘You might be a toll-booth wage-slave but tell me you mistook us for a convoy of juggernauts or I’m going to throw you off your own fucking bridge you Taff cunt.’
‘Sorry, Balrin, it’s the TV.’
‘Sounds violent. Look, will you be in tomorrow? And why are you listening to music and watching the TV. I thought you had a migraine last time we spoke.’
I’ve got to go Balrin. I’m, I’m not sure if I’ll be in tomorrow. I would love to be.’
‘Look, what’s going on, really? You’ve been a steady guy for years, now all of a sudden?’
‘Fucking open that fucking barrier or I’m fucking driving through it you fucker-fucker.’
‘Oh dear lord.’ I ring off to the sound of splintering wood and Root cheering and calling the operative a ‘slim-dicked cock-sucker’ as she pushes her breasts out of the electric window and makes wanker motions with one hand and flicks lit matches at him with the other.
It’s fairly late at night when we roll up to the farm. My mother is conflicted, bless her. On the one hand she is clearly very pleased to see me after all these years. On the other she is obviously a little concerned at the manner of my arrival; in a smashed up beamer with Root in a state of semi-dress and disarray and Shaz wearing sunglasses in the pitch dark and quite clearly snorting a bump of cocaine off his car key as we crowd in the porch.
My father is less understanding. ‘What have you done now you little fuck up?’
‘Hi Dad.’ He sits in his armchair, pretty much where he was when I left home all those years ago. Mum brings in tea and Shaz compliments her on her cardigan. She titters. My father grunts when Root tries to compliment him on his. For fucksake. He eyes her up casually. I take a shower and try and get some semblance of normality back into my body, I’m feeling ruined after the day’s exertions, the anxiety peaking as we switched to the back roads to avoid the police looking for whoever had jumped the barrier at the toll bridge. Frankly, I am astounded we got away. In fact I’m almost a little disappointed. It wouldn’t have been the ideal ending to get locked up in a Cardiff police cell, but it would have been some ending at least. The day is starting to feel interminable. Supper is a plate of cold meats, which is all my mum can rustle together at this time. The village shop has long since closed. Root doesn’t eat meat. I offer her my bread roll and she cries a little bit. She is very hot and cold. I’m trying to protect her like she wants but I feel our relationship has already reached the rocky, drawn-out middle phase of inane back and forthing, never happy. ‘She’s very young’ mum whispers to me when Root goes to the toilet.
‘This is absolutely delicious, thank you!’ I am concerned Shaz might be hitting on my mum. He helps her clear the plates away and we sit around the fire with more tea.
‘So, are we going to play trivial pursuits?’ Shaz and Root look at me as though I am insane. I fear that too. I just want some point of control, some way to show that although my glorious return home has been a little more sordid and a little less respectable than I might have fantasised, there has still been at least one improvement in all my years away. My mum is finds the box under the stairs. I think I know all the questions by heart, anyway. My dad still fucking beats me.
‘Well that’s us then. Can’t take the pace like you young-uns. It’s good to see you again love.’ My dad just glares at me, and takes in one more appreciative look at Root, who licks her lips and eyes him up and down. It makes me feel ill. There is no way we are getting to sleep, so Shaz, Root and I take a drive in the dark for a mile down the hill road to the beach, where we throw cold damp stones into the uncaring sea. The grey weight of the rounded slate still crushes me like death. I remember why I left. On the way back I drive, navigating a short-cut through the fields. There is a splattering sound and some squawking. The next morning over breakfast my mother- treasurer of the local branch of the RSPB- tells us with pride that one of the first wild breeding pairs of black-tailed godwits in Wales are nesting in the sea-path field.
My father comes in from a morning walk. ‘What the fuck are all the feathers on the front of your car?’
Shaz is running low on cocaine. My phone is is ringing and ringing. Balrin’s apoplectic voice on my answer phone suggests that the truth may be beginning to out. I wonder if it’s too late to turn back. I can’t figure out if Root is interested in me or not. Anyway, I haven’t seen her this morning. My father is watching the news. There is some footage from the bank. Then there is some from the toll booth. There is nothing about the black-tailed godwit but it really wouldn’t have surprised me.
‘You’re in fucking trouble.’
‘Thanks Dad.’ I notice the mantelpiece is missing several carriage clocks and bits of gold glitz. Really? In my jacket I see the plastic wallet with my share of Kier’s savings is gone. There is the sound of Shaz’ car driving off. ‘I think we were already in trouble before we ran the fucking godwit over, papa.’
I go looking for Root and eventually find her across the field in the hay barn, full of nostalgic smells of childhood; the sweet fug of mouldering hay, the sharp tinge of rusted machinery and the intoxicating vapes of red diesel. Root seems upset. I put my arm around her but she shrugs me away. ‘I’m sorry about the godwit.’
‘It only had one chance, so small and innocent. We should have protected it.’
‘It already was protected.’
‘We should save the weak.’
‘Will you save me?’ She turns her head towards me and I see the look I fell in love with all those hours ago. I do want to save her. I do want to protect her. It’s me she needs, not Shaz, not my father, but me. I can be the hero she needs. I would be the first to admit I haven’t made the greatest of showings so far, but this is what I was made for.
‘Of course I will save you.’
‘Yes,’ I venture; ‘my love.’
‘Yes. Love. Haha. This is it, it’s time. I need.’ I notice the matches, but don’t register.
‘You have needs? Let me meet them. Get ready to be saved.’
We roll together in the hay, like I spent my whole childhood dreaming I would with someone. It seems a lot more brief, spiky and hollow than I had hoped it would. Still, a deed is a deed. I doze off afterwards with her in my arms. Saved. Although perhaps not as saved as she would like. She wakes me up when it’s time to do more.
I can hear sirens in the distance. I wonder if Shaz got away. The fire is really hot and I wish the fire brigade would come but I don’t think they will make it in time. The smoke is choking my lungs. I’m glad Root got out. I wish she’d let me out too though. I wish she had explained more clearly what she meant by her ‘saved’ fantasy. I wish I had applied myself better to my life and made more of the start I had. I wish I had treated Liza with more respect. I wish I hadn’t stolen Kier’s savings or implicated him in a jihadist conspiracy. I wish I hadn’t let Balrin down. I wish I hadn’t soaked those children. I wish I had spent more time getting to know my parents, trying to appreciate the upbringing they gave me. I wish I hadn’t run over the black-tailed godwit. There are so many things I wish I had done, now I think about it. Oh well fuck it. I only lived once.
R.S.W. de Mox grew up in Lancashire and is now based in south London. He writes contemporary fiction with a strong lyrical bent; hip-hop poetry and electronica prose. He has been published by Lighthouse Magazine and The Squawk Back, amongst others.
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