by Barrie Darke
He didn’t want to go ahead with it at first, Rick. Wasn’t all that keen, which is fair enough, it must’ve been a strange thing, hearing it for the first time. I could see on his face, halfway through, he wasn’t sure. He got this unusual expression on it, and it took a while to think what it reminded me of. It was like an old woman hearing her granddaughter swear for the first time, with her daughter saying nothing about it. I wasn’t worried though.
We were in his flat. I’d gone round specially – I didn’t think it was appropriate for talking about in the pub, since you run the risk of someone always listening in. The telly was on, some stupid quiz or other. I wanted to sit forward in the chair, turn it down, but that would’ve made it all too extreme, which wasn’t the way to handle him. Just give a basic introduction to the idea, trying to keep it a picture he could see in his mind, so he could see himself in there. I knew that was the best way.
After a while, even with that granny look on his face, I thought I could leave it. We carried on talking about other things, none of them important, then watched the telly in peace. I forget what was on. It wasn’t long before I said goodnight and was walking home. I was enjoying myself on that walk. It’s surprising how long the novelty lasted, walking home in the dark, when you’re not long out of HMP Durham.
I got the idea from this documentary that was on the week before. I personally think it’s important to watch documentaries now and again, not always quizzes and rubbish like that. I can’t remember much about this one now, to be honest, but I got something out of it, so what else matters?
It was about things in Shakespeare’s time. Don’t ask me the exact dates, since I won’t be able to tell you and it’s beside the point anyway. The important word to remember is ‘abtam’. I went so far as to get up and write it down.
‘Abtam’ means a person in the criminal world who does this thing where – Say you have two pickpocket type of thieves. Well, one of them has the job of throwing a fit like some kind of headtheball. Rolling on the ground, babbling gibberish, maybe even spraying spit, all those things people think of when you say total lunatic. While all this is going on, the other one’s also going berserk, except it’s in people’s fucking bags.
As soon as I saw it, I couldn’t wait to tell him.
Rick’s from Leeds, but don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he’s not thoughtful about the right things. I knew he would’ve been thinking about it ever since I mentioned it, and the next time I saw him I was proved right.
This actually was in the pub, which I was quite uncomfortable about, but never mind. Sometimes he liked to take chances like that. We were in a corner, it was fairly quiet, and the jukebox was on, some poodle metal band, I forget which.
He said hello (‘Owahyuh?’), asked what was going on if anything, but all he really wanted to talk about was the idea. People, especially ones who’ve been in HMPs, don’t want you to know they’re enthusiastic about anything apart from football, drink, drugs and of course women. I was a bit like that myself.
‘So it’s about being a cacker, is that right?’ he asked.
‘Aye,’ I said. Cacker was his word – maybe all of Yorkshire’s word – for someone so gone in the head they could shit their pants and not be ashamed. ‘Just for three minutes or so.’
‘Where’d you get the idea from?’
I nodded. ‘Read it somewhere.’
He looked confused. ‘What, in magazine or …?’
‘In a book,’ I said carefully, looking at him.
‘Fuck me pink,’ he said. He took a long drink. When he put his pint down again, he was swallowing and shaking his head. ‘There might be a problem wi that.’
‘What’s that?’ I asked. I frowned, but really, I thought I had everything covered.
‘Well, think about it. If you read it, somebuddy else might’ve read it an all. Just teks one of them in crowd and that’s that, we’re fucked.’
‘It was a pretty old book,’ I said, having to improvise a bit. ‘Very obscure sort of thing. I wouldn’t worry.’
‘But I do worry, Carl, I do. Since I’m sposed to end up on’t floor, I better ad worry. I tek it it’s me on’t floor?’
‘I reckon it should be yee,’ I said. ‘Yee’d be much better at it than Ah would.’
‘Ow’d you figure that then?’
I shrugged. ‘You’re a better liar than Ah am, aren’t y’? By fucking far.’
He couldn’t deny the power of that. ‘Well I might be, Carl, you’re probly right. But this in’t lying – it’s acting, is this.’
Another drink, then, ‘Why dun’t we toss forrit, like?’
I shook my head. ‘Mate, it’s far too important to be left to chance.’
‘At least ave a practise then. See oo’s best.’
I shook my head again, more tightly this time. ‘Practising’s the worst thing y’ can dee, they reckon in this book. Y’ shouldn’t knaa what ya ganna dee. Just hit the deck and see what happens. The, the adrenalin of the moment, that’s what counts. It’s like a footballer in the box, or chatting up a lass. Instinct is what gets y’ the best results. And you’re better at aal that than me.’ Which was true, except I hadn’t had a clue I was going to say any of that.
It got him thinking anyway. His lips went thin, his eyes went faraway, and he tapped his feet without realising he was doing it. He put his head down and scratched the back of it. He laughed a bit. ‘You’ve thought about the where and the when, ave you?’
I nodded. I had. ‘Thursday neet,’ I said. ‘Late night shopping. Not too busy, not too quiet, everyone a bit tired and a bit slow.’
‘Where though? They don’t ave late night Thursday shopping all over’t place.’
‘I think they dee. Late night Thursday shopping is … it’s a universal thing.’
‘We’ll ave to check it,’ he said.
I nodded. That was just his natural born stubbornness. It was all right for me to sit back from it a little bit now – let him think he was taking control. We had a few more drinks, and he was quiet in a good way. Thoughtful. He drank quite slowly, he was so thoughtful.
‘Dun’t matter about other places wi late night shopping,’ he said after a while. ‘We shouldn’t go elsewhere, uz. Do it right fucking here, lad.’
I didn’t disagree. We went on to get pissed.
There’s a lot of things I remember about that next Thursday, and I’ll get to them in a minute, but the first thing was how pretty the street looked. I never used to notice much of that stuff, in fact I would go out of my way to ignore it since it does you fuck-all good when you find yourself banged up every eighteen months, but something about it struck me that night.
The light was on its way out of the sky by the time we got there, only different shades of dark blue left, like deep and cold lakes, and the streetlights were just coming on. You know how they glow weak red, orange, for a bit. There was that, but the main thing was the shop fronts, the big windows and displays. All the light they were putting out was … phenomenal. I’d never even seen it like that before, never mind ignored it. Big golden swoops of it on the pavement, the shadows on either side. It was like Christmas, it was like a hundred years ago, it made you think of the brave little things people could do. It could make you a bit weepy, all that, if you looked at it long enough, so I didn’t. I didn’t mention it to Rick, either.
We came on the bus, since neither of us could drive, or had cars. Rick was due to get on a couple of stops after me. I never thought for a second that he wouldn’t get on, that he would leave me looking like a dicksplash, but his face wasn’t overflowing with happiness. Part of me expected him to say he wasn’t going to bother, so that was that.
‘Let w’ gan for a drink first. Y’ look like y’ could dee wi’ one,’ I said.
‘No, no, I’m reet, I’m reet.’
‘Y’ haven’t been practisin on the sly, have y’?’
‘I an’t, I an’t.’
As I’ve mentioned, he was a good liar, but there was something in that that made me totally believe him. His face was open like I’d never seen it before. It took years off him.
Neither of us felt much like talking, so we went the rest of the way with our faces shut. I looked out of the window, and it was the same thing as when I was a kid – the bus went past all these people, and I wondered if they would be heading for the same place as me later on, even though I knew the chances of that were stupid. It got so I tried to lock a face away in my memory, to see if I could see it later.
We got off, walked a little way, and came to the main shopping street. He might’ve noticed me looking at the lights, come to think of it, but he wasn’t going to say anything. I didn’t look at them for all that long anyway.
I put some distance between us, walked off to one side, and turned away from him. I made it look like I was on the mobile, though I did more ‘listening’ than ‘talking’, and tried not to stare into people’s faces.
It wasn’t a long wait before I heard him hit the ground. He must’ve thrown himself down with some fucking energy. People around me got a fright, flinched back, made small moaning noises. I had a long few seconds where it looked like no one was going to go over to him, and I thought, fucking great, this is what society’s come to. But then some did, and I could head over myself.
He was on his side, facing into the main part of the street, where he could see me, in theory anyway. Right in one of those pools of light, though whether that was deliberate or not, I couldn’t say. You should’ve seen him thrashing his legs about him – it was the full-on screaming ab-dabs. My first thought was that it must’ve been shocking on the joints, though that old adrenaline of the moment would have some say in that. He was kicking himself round a bit too much, I thought as well, he would end up going in a circle if he wasn’t careful, which would be funny more than anything else. His hands were clutched into his chest like a Tyrannosaur’s arms.
When I got close enough to see his eyes, that’s when I started to go drymouthed. My body tingled, I can’t explain it. They were like meteors, his eyes, they were flying through space, they’d never be back. He was making mumbling, bubbling sounds. That was bad enough, but then he started saying things. I hadn’t really expected that side of it. Someone, a middle-aged, heavy blonde woman, was going in to crouch down beside him, maybe touch him on the shoulder or something, but she soon stood up straight again when he started saying things.
‘Oh come on come on cannons and sharks in foul weather wi stars on Sunday say thanks a million it’s a crying match is this.’
Someone laughed nervously, a young woman by the sound of it. She was probably ashamed of herself for it, but no one was taking any notice of anyone else.
‘Shock time thrown off a mountain big day it’s a big day in rapid city there in’t no cooling off where there’s a substation Friday night pay night.’
He fell over on his back, keeping his feet drumming.
‘They’re in the night it’s the baby wasps the baby wasps you’ve got some of the outside inside stuff washes ashore the rush is on.’
One hand pointed up to the sky now.
‘Rolling forward the maps the top of the hour collecting in the food rove around the names drop down they fall off the roof take it out take it out heads and the fog see where it’s been where the spray hits forward march the chute and the tunnel what for the glass is out the door is here things that creepy crawl around find the juice the juice the juice.’
He slowed down after that, and got quieter, repeating the word ‘juice’ till you couldn’t hear it anymore. When his mouth stopped moving, so did his legs, and he pushed himself up so he was sitting still. He shook his head, like he was clearing it. Then he could look at everyone looking at him.
‘Ahh shit the bed, it an’t appened again, as it?’
‘Are y’ aal reet, mate?’ someone asked, a hard-looking bloke.
‘Do y’ need to get someone here?’ the middle-aged blonde asked. ‘Is there anyone at home?’
He stood up, shaking his head to say no this time. ‘Sorry everybuddy, sorry about that. It appens now and again, that, dun’t worry about it. I’m all right now, thank you very much.’
He walked off, limping a little, which I didn’t know if it was put on or not. He was scratching at the back of his head. People looked at each other, not sure about this. Some of them even looked at me. Then we all went away.
He was waiting for me at the bus stop, his jacket off. You’d be surprised how much of a difference things like that make. His eyes had calmed right down also.
‘That were fucking great,’ he said. ‘Ow’d we do?’
I just looked at him.
‘Oh you fucking fannypad,’ he said, and it didn’t recover from that.
We stopped working together, stopped going for a drink, stopped seeing each other. A nod if we passed on the street, that was the extent of it. It was entirely mutual. Soon, I heard anyway, he got himself a woman. Good luck to the both of them, that’s what I say.
Barrie Darke lives in the UK, where he has some track record as a scriptwriter, working for a few theatres and the BBC now and again. But he thinks prose is the main thing.
He has recently been published in the UK by Byker Books, New Writing North and Sentinel Literary Quarterly; and in the USA by Menda City Review, Nossa Morte, Demon Minds, Infinite Windows, Underground Voices, Big Pulp, Pseudopod, Inwood Indiana, Bastards and Whores, Onomatopoeia, Orion Headless, Xenith, Otoliths, Fiction365 and An Electric Tragedy.
He also teaches Creative Writing, when and wherever possible.