BUMP AND CHOKE

Third person version

The young man walked into the car park. He stopped mid stride, shivered and leaned on the wall. He was puzzled. He had a pint to finish. Will had plonked it on the table in front of him. He could feel his head lolling on his neck.
– Lolling, he said aloud and laughed. He rubbed his knee where he felt the pain of his collision with a table. Or was it the door frame?
– Architrave, he said.
The beer had been delicious. Smack of hops after the honeyed sweetness. Crystal clear, frothy head and lacy pattern all the way down the glass as he drank.
– Smack of hops, he said.
He widened his eyes and gazed at Will’s car.
– Shitty car, he said. The shitty car. He kicked the tyre. That seemed all right actually. It’s the engine, he said. Electrics. Solar something or other. I don’t know. Got to get back home. Take me an hour to walk.
– Oh Peter. It was a girl’s voice. The young man turned and saw Margaret Zukiewicz. He had forgotten that lived at The Crossroads. She held a tabby cat at her chest. The young man could not remember how he came to be outside the pub. He scratched his head and studied the cat. It had white paws and a black tail. Then he pulled on his nostrils and wiped his eyes. Margaret, Mags might have thought he was looking at her chest. He could feel his head wobble on his neck as though it was too heavy. He smiled a lopsided smile.
– Smack of hops, he said aloud. Smack.
He grinned again and leaned on the car, watching his hand as if it might miss the vehicle.
– Calm down Peter, she said.
– I’m not Peter.
– I know who you are Rob. She scratched the cat’s head. He’s a silly isn’t he Peter?
– Peter?
– Yeah.
– Daft name for a cat.
– Good as any other. She came closer and Peter dropped out of her arms. She bent down and kept on stroking the cat’s head and tail. Rob could hear it purr. And he could smell a garden in her hair.
– He’s like a furry engine she said. The cat jumped on the bonnet of Will Brown’s car. It pushed its nose upwards into Rob’s sleeve. He began to scratch the soft fur of its ears. It purred even louder.
– Ooh. He does like that. Big softie.
– He’s a hard case. That notch in his ear.
She took over then and stroked the cat from the head across his back and his tail stood straight up. She giggled, fondled the base of the cat’s tail. Then stroked all the way to the tip. Peter stood on his tiptoes.
Mags turned her face sideways and looked at Rob. You OK, she said.
– Why?
– You look as though you might be sick.
– No. Just thinking.
She pulled her flimsy jacket around her and folded her arms around her bosom. Penny for them then.
Mags rubbing the cat had excited Rob. But I can’t tell her what I’m thinking, he thought. But he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
– The way you’re stroking that cat. It burst out of him. And talking to him.
– What about it?
Rob waved his hands about and widened his eyes.
– It’s like he’s a real person.
– Well he is.
Rob stood stock still as he thought he felt Mags’s hip touching his thigh. If it was she didn’t move away. He scratched his head, looked down and saw the roundness of her breasts in her t-shirt. He belched a taste of beer to his tongue.
– What are you doing out here?
– You’re pissed.
– Probly. Rob nodded and smiled.
She bent down to the cat. Her backside wet from leaning against the car. A real peach, thought Rob. Peter wound round his ankles. Then in and out of hers.
– This your car.
He giggled. She pouted.
– It is not. It’s Will’s.
– Good job. You can’t drive.
Rob waved a hand in the air. Can. Passed last March.
– Capri innit.
– Piece of crap. Coughs like my grandad.
– Pity. I like cars.
Over the wall he could see Hemsworth Wood’s dark shadows and then an urban glow above the trees. He remembered that time Joe Hey fell off the swing and broke both arms.
– Strawberries.
Mags backed away and glared at him.
– Once found some. Over there.
– What?
– Strawberries.
– What you on about.
– In the woods. Strawberries.
– Oh. She relaxed and Rob looked at her again. He thought she looked lovely. He moved closer to her and she did not move away.
– If I had a car I’d be off I tell you.
– Not in this you wouldn’t.
– Yeah. London.
– What about Peter?
– I’d take him.
Rob felt his head sway. He blew through pursed lips.
– Them strawberries were the best ever.
– You and your bloody strawberries.
They both looked at the darkness. The cat had gone past the fence. Rob couldn’t see his watch properly.
– It’s just gone eleven.
– Is that all? I thought it was later than that.
– How much have you had?
Rob managed to shake his heavy head on his weary neck.
– What you going to do in London?
– Dunno. Better pass my exams first.
They both stood and gazed at the amber light again. Rob sat on the car.
– I’m tired, he said.
– Me too she said. Tired of all this … I dunno. Life. It’s boring.
– No he said. I need some sleep.
– You are drunk.
– No. Only had four pints. No five. It’s Will’s shout.
– That’s enough for a work night.
– Some drink to remember and some to forget.
– You’re a deep swimming fish aren’t you.
Rob couldn’t answer that. Instead he took in her roundedness as she looked at the sky and shivered in her flimsy jacket.
– Have you ever tasted wild strawberries?
– You what? She glared at Rob as though he had suggested something vile.
– Wild strawberries.
– I like strawberries yes.
– Ah but wild ones. I’ve not tasted anything like them.
She turned and leaned into him and he could feel her breasts on his arm. He moved his arm just a little bit to stroke her, hoping she wouldn’t realise. She straightened though, lifted her arm and pulled her coat around her. Then she moved back to stand against him once more.
– I need something to warm me up, she said.
His pulse pounded in his ears. There was a beery dryness on his lips and in his mouth. He tried to think of strawberries. It was futile. They stood still.
– Where’s Peter? Did he go in?
She motioned to go back into the pub.
– If you see Will tell him to get a move on.
– I’m not likely to see him in the ladies’ am I?
And then Will appeared.
– Where’ve you been? he said.
– Nowhere.
– Been inside waiting.
– D’you remember Joe Hey.
– Let’s get going. It’s work tomorrow.
Mags reached out and snatched at Rob’s sleeve. He turned back to her. She stroked the cuff of his jacket.
– ‘Bye Rob. And she smiled.
– Oh, he said. ‘Bye.
– See you. She turned and opened the door. Then she turned back to the two young men, pouted and slipped away.
Will had to lean over to open the door from inside. Rob fastened the seat belt. Will tried to start the car. It grumbled, dashboard lights blinked off and on but the engine wouldn’t come alive.
– Have to give it a bump said Will.
They got to the edge of the road and there was a bus then a motorbike coming down. Rob pushed from the back of the car and Will had the driver’s door open. Will jumped in and the engine juddered to life. Rob felt dizzy as the exhaust spluttered then he had to jog a few yards and jump in the car.
– I think I’m going to be sick he said.
– Clunk click said Will.
Rob felt the belt round him and remembered Margaret’s body. A good time smile flickered on his face. Rob’s eyes were half closed with pleasure, his head lolling again. At Stone Chair, the lights changed to red.
– Oh shit said Will
– Still downhill. Rob’s hand went to his mouth. He wound the window down but he didn’t throw up. The cool air felt good though.
The engine complained under Will’s foot then roared.
– If you’ve splashed my car, he yelled, you can fucking well clean it off.
Rob laughed. I didn’t spew he said. Wouldn’t make any difference to this thing anyway if I had.
The car began to cooperate as the lights went green. In front of them the road was black and shiny headlights picked out the route for them round Abbscott and into Wyckham. Right outside that new estate where Viv Taylor lived there was a double bump. Something under the wheels. Will stopped and looked in the rearview. There was nobody around at all and drizzly rain spotted the windscreen. Will clicked open the door.
– Come on he said and he stood on the road leaning back inside the car. Better see what that was. You never know.
Rob’s eyes were wide awake now and he felt stiff, chilled. The car whirred coughed whirred again as they walked back to find what happened. There was dim amber light, and dimmer red lights that couldn’t make it clear what had happened but they both guessed or knew anyway. And there it was, in the gutter. A grey looking cat with white paws. It was a mangled and broken child’s model, trying to move away. Its pelvis and back legs were beyond repair. It yowled and skriked like a baby and Rob felt the beer sloshing in his guts and then acid in his throat. The cat’s fur slicked in the rain under the street light. Rob’s hair dripped into his eyes and drooped down his face. The rain began to fall heavier and Rob could hear the car’s irregular whining. The cat’s whimpering sounded like a baby crying.
– Is that blood? I can’t quite tell.
– We’ll have to finish it.
– What?
– Kindest thing to do.
– Kill it? Do you mean you want to kill it?
Rob twitched a quick look at Will and then at the cat.
– I don’t want to. But I think I have to. The car continued to growl and cough. As it spluttered and purred Rob thought of Peter and Mags and her stroking him.
– I can’t do that.
– We can’t leave it like this.
– I can’t do it Will.
Will reached out and started to stroke the cat’s head and ears. He shushed it and it screeched and hissed and then calmed but its ears were still flat, its mouth still open. Then Will took its head in one hand and its neck in the other. He jerked, twisted a quick snap that choked its life away. And then he crouched, one elbow angled on his knee his hand covering his eyes. Rob stood open mouthed as a car approached, passed them and went on its way. The cat’s mouth stayed slightly open and Rob could make out the little tongue curved behind its teeth. Its eyes were still shining in the bleak light and misty rain. Another car stopped. Red lights gave Will a phantom look.
– You OK lads?
– Yeah. OK.
– It’s a cat.
– Is it dead?
– Oh yeah. It’s dead all right.
Will stayed low on the road for a bit longer. Rob stood and looked down at the two motionless figures. Then Will stood and lifted the cat and cradled it to the car like a cushion. He moved quickly, Rob following like a page.
– Open the boot.
Rob opened the boot. He could just make out the shapes of a few cartons.
– Empty that box said Will.
– Where?
– I don’t bloody care. Just empty it.
There was nothing to put the nuts and bolts in and Rob stood dithering.
– Here says Will and he thrust the dead thing into Rob’s grasp. I’ll do it myself.
Rob felt he had stopped breathing. He didn’t want to look at the corpse in his arms. Will opened a toolbox and clanged the metal bits into it. He pointed at the cardboard box.
– In there, in there. Rob placed the body in the box. They both stood and looked at the lifeless thing. After a few moments, Will found a cloth and wiped his hands.
– Better to take it with us.
– Can’t leave it on the road.
– Some kid might see it.
– Somebody will miss it tomorrow.
– Maybe tonight.
Rob nodded. He was breathing through his mouth. He had not seen anything like this before.
– It’s just nothing now.
– It was loved by someone.
– Loved. Yeah.
– They’ll guess it got killed.
– Soon.
– Eventually.
– What will you do with it?
– Dunno. Bury it at the back of our house.
Will stretched up to close the boot. The car cut out. He cursed into the darkness.
– Bollox, he said.

September 19, 2018
2280 words

One thought on “BUMP AND CHOKE

  1. Hi Andy. I preferred the first person. Great story but the first person was easier to follow and more intimate, of course.

    Like

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