Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tunnels Between Islands

Blackpool, South Shore
Sunday, 18 August 1997

The first thing Lee remembers seeing were her eyes, pale pink and blue, looking his way but elsewhere, unexpectant. Like him, she often passed out with them open. It was a good party trick. They were entitled to strange dreams.

One cheek rested against her hands, on the carpet, her neck strained at an angle, and Kieran was behind her, in his croupier shirt and waistcoat, face set with an expression Lee won’t think about, fucking her hard, gripping the dress bunched around her waist. Lee tried to speak but it was barely even slur, tried to stand and couldn’t. All that they’d done in the night returned to him, and he struggled to find the energy to look around him: for Sam, safety, for somebody to stop this.

On the carpet next to him were some trainers he recognised, leading up to a pair of jeans, and Lee turned enough to see Sam, brushing the hair out of his face, leaning in to get a closer view. ‘Sam,’ he tried to say, ‘stop’ he tried to shout, and then it was the next day and Lauren wasn’t there. Sam was out cold on the other end of the sofa, Kieran on the floor.

Lee ran to the toilets and was sicker than his seventeen years had believed possible. The smell and stain of scorched tinfoil, the steady slap, the unreadable eyes: they formed a landmark, the end of a journey, of childhood. He spewed them up, flushed them away.

Sun was coming in through the bathroom window. The seagulls were screaming outside. He opened the window and looked out; no one was on the streets, it must’ve been early. He checked the bedroom for Lauren. Frank was asleep in his bed with girlfriend Lydia, his gear on the bedside table. No Lauren. (How long had she spent looking into Lee’s face for some recognition before she’d given up? And Sam’s? Before she resigned herself?) Back in the living room, Lee looked down at Kieran. His head rested on hands joined together in pretence of a sweet sleeping kid. That was the end of him for Lee. There was no regret in the decision, except that it hadn’t been sooner. He wanted to step back, take aim and score a penalty with his sick fucking head, but Kieran had it in him to do something far worse to him. He was a twisted fuck. Lauren wasn’t going anywhere near him, he’d see to that.

It was Sam who was the problem. Her boyfriend, his best friend, surrogate brother – his singer. He remembered the eagerness on his face, the absence in Lauren’s. What he thought he’d seen. Thought. They’d never tried it before – it gave you vivid dreams, that was all. Nightmares. Lee looked tenderly at Sam. His fringe was covering one eye; he was hugging a cushion to his chest, his leather jacket thrown over one shoulder. Who’d covered him up? It had slipped down a bit and Lee straightened it, covered his bare arm. He could see him having another fit soon – he should wake him, get him out of here, away from Kieran and Frank. He should ask him what had happened. Lee felt sick again. He should find Lauren. He had to get out of there. It was real.

He put his coat on but paused again as he walked past Frank’s room. He could see the bag on his bedside table. He looked back to the living room. He could see the end of Kieran’s legs, still wearing the shiny black shoes of his uniform. He hadn’t even taken them off. Lee gritted his teeth and tried to smile. He stepped slowly into Frank’s room, took the bag from the table and put it into his pocket.

He opened the door quietly and let himself out. It was a senselessly beautiful morning, pure blue and crisp. The sun warmed his face but the wind made him shiver. The road was empty except for a street sweeper chasing a Mars Bar wrapper with a pair of tongs. Lee nodded at him and walked past, made his way down to the seafront. The tide was in. A tram came. He got on, made the rickety way home. He’d go and find Lauren at hers later. She’d be all right, he told himself, gazing out the window across the sand at the sun mirroring in the sea. This never happened.

Luke Brown

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