Him and Me: A Short Story
When we were kids, he was always up a tree, perched atop a rock, cycling no-handed down hills. I thought he was so brave. I thought he was fearless, turns out, he was just as scared as me.
We live inside rockets, powered by our own perceptions of ourselves and everyone else. Our memories are recycled air, not quite pure. Not quite real. I remember him so vividly, so brightly. I don’t remember myself. I was under a Tupperware lid, murky and lost.
My subconscious is full of holes. The past is a train going too fast and I can’t read the station names. I am young. We are in the living room by the patio doors. The sun is hot on our backs. The wicker bookcase throws a lattice pattern on the carpet. I remember the carpet exactly. The swirls made me seasick. They went on and on and on. I remember too, both of us, sifting through the box of Lego. Him selecting a red glass dome which he slowly and solemnly pushed up his nose while I watched on with silent approval. I don’t remember what happened next. Did we get in trouble? How did it we get it out? Was the piece of Lego red or was that blood? Did this even happen at all?
Fast forward. I’m going over the handlebars of my red BMX. It’s the day before school photos. He mops the blood up with his t-shirt. I cry and laugh, and it hurts, and he picks out the gravel. A scab on my nose. A smile for the camera which does not crinkle my eyes. He is next to me on the bench. The backdrop is an old curtain. He is always next to me. Micro machine cars in the dirt and double skipping and worms held under tongues until one of us screams.
Another bang. Another year. The towpath made a slick noise when it got wet. We walked along the canal tugging at cow parsley, sticking weeds on one another’s backs. The winged seeds from maple trees spun around us. Landed like confetti. Summer was hot. We had ten pence ice poles from the corner shop. He paid. Our lips were blue.
The water was murky, moulded at the edges, green slime hardened over the locks. The air smelled of sulphur and dried out reeds. The fisherman sat in lines like fat garden gnomes, rods out in front, flasks and sandwiches beside them. A heron lurked in the background, watching someone else do his work for him. We wedged ourselves into a gap in the hedgerow, amongst old cans and empty crisp packets. Insects buzzed in the bushes. Twigs prodded at us in protest. We were not welcome anywhere. He took his jumper off for me to sit on. The whiteness of his skin was always a shock. The bait was pushed on the hook, a new float added with a stripe of neon yellow. The line was cast out, a ripple in the thick water that spread out to the edges. Green cream folds.
One of the fishermen had brought a radio, the batteries were going. Everything was slowing down. The float bobbed up and down fast, a star blinking. On the radio, a man slurred his way through a news bulletin. The rod started to bend. The reel squeaked in protest as it was wound backwards. Fishermen twitched. The carp fought, thrashed, twisted. Brassy gold scales glinting in the sun when it broke the surface. Beside me, he clenched his fists. A tear rolled down his cheek. His lip bled from the hook of his own teeth. The carp opened and closed its mouth. Oily eyes bulging. The fisherman held the carp firmly, prized open its mouth. We didn’t talk about it as we walked home, how he could feel the fear of a fish. Did it hurt him to hear the grass get mown? When stupid boys pulled the legs from crane flies, did that hurt him too? He had to be what I needed him to be. Once he fell from a swing rope. Had to sit in a bath of salt. I didn’t understand. He’d been hurt enough. I wanted to swap his skin with my own. The years turned. Police cars and ambulances. Broken hearts and smashed windscreens and my guts twisted into knots I’d never undo. Late nights and red ants. Smoking on our backs under a tie-dye sky, Sunny Delight in a bottle by our sides. I could hear his car a long time before I saw it. Big fat stinking bass and exhaust. I would wait by the side of the road. On the drive. He would pick me up from anywhere. I didn’t like his music when I was not with him, but in the car I knew all the words. We tripped over the lines. His fingers on the wheel, my bare feet out the window. He pulled away too fast. We went over humped back bridges with our eyes closed tightly, the damage we were doing was momentarily suspended. We found a way to stop time in a car made from old parts. The whole world froze when our four wheels left the road. Bums off seats. We only flew briefly, but we flew none the less.
There you are. Crackled and paint splattered. There you are, smiling. I found you. I found us. Not everything hurt you. Not everything hurt me.