First person version
Frothy head clear amber and the herby smell of hops. I can feel my head lolling on my neck. Lolling. Lovely word. Try right hard to lift the pint and drink. Lovely. Smack of hops after the sweet honey of the beer. The beer. Lovely.
– That’s it. No more. Harry’s called time.
Half the pint gone already. Need a piss. Knee one the [ouch] edge of the table. Pints wobble. Hand on the door frame. Trip. Stagger. Keep going. Almost running. Stand in the bogs and giggle.
Nobody else in here. Head on the arm on the tiles. Then outside. The car. The shitty car. Kick the tyre. That seems all right actually. It’s the engine. Electrics. Solar something or other. I don’t know. Got to get back home. Take me an hour to walk.
– Oh Peter.
– I’m not Peter.
It’s Margaret Zukiewicz. Forgot she lived here. She’s got a tabby cat at her chest. Might think I’m looking at her chest.
– I know who you are Rob. He’s a silly isn’t he Peter?
– Daft name for a cat.
– Good as any other. She comes closer and Peter drops out of her arms. She bends and keeps on stroking the cat’s head and tail. I can hear it purr. I can smell fruit and flowers in her hair.
– He’s like a furry engine she says. And the cat jumps on the bonnet of Will Brown’s car. It pushes its nose upwards into my sleeve. I scratch the soft fur of its ears. It purrs even louder.
– Ooh. He does like that. Big softie.
– He’s a hard case. Look at that notch in his ear.
She strokes it from the head across his back and his tail stands straight up. She giggles fondles the base of the cat’s tail. Then strokes all the way to the tip. Peter stands on his tiptoes.
– You OK.
– You look as though you might be sick.
– No. Just thinking.
She pulls her flimsy jacket around her and folds her arms around her bosom. Penny for them then.
I can’t tell her what I’m thinking. Can’t think of anything else to say.
– The way you’re stroking that cat. And talking to him.
– What about it?
I have to wave my hands about and widen my eyes.
– It’s like he’s a real person.
– Well he is.
Is her hip touching my thigh. Scratch my head. Roundness of her breasts. Tight t-shirt. Why did I come out here. Belch a taste of beer to my tongue.
– You’re pissed.
– Probly I nod and smile.
She bends down. Her backside is wet from leaning against the car. Peach. Peter winds round my ankles. Then in and out of hers.
– This your car.
I giggle. She pouts.
– It is not. Will’s.
– Good job. You can’t drive.
– Piece of crap. Can. Passed last March.
– Capri innit.
– Coughs like my grandad.
– Pity. I like cars.
Over the wall I can see Hemsworth Wood. Dark shadows and then urban glow above the trees. I remember that time Joe Hey fell off that swing and bust both arms.
Mags backs away and glares.
– Once found some. Over there.
– What you on about.
– In the woods. Strawberries.
– Oh. She relaxes and I can look at her again. She looks nice.
– 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.
My neck feels weak. My head wobbles. I wobble. Blow through pursed lips.
– Them strawberries were the best ever.
– You and your bloody strawberries.
Then it’s all quiet and we’re both looking at the darkness. The cat has gone past the fence. I can’t see my watch properly.
– It’s just gone eleven.
– Is that all? I thought it was later than that.
Why did I come out here? Maybe I could walk from here. Shit car. Can of crap. Margaret – Mags – looks at me.
– You are drunk. How much have you had?
I can only shake my heavy head on my weary neck.
– What you going to do in London?
– Dunno. Better pass my exams first.
– I’m tired.
– Me too she said. Tired of all this … I dunno. Life. It’s boring.
– No I said. I need some sleep.
– You’ve been drinking.
– Yeah. Only had four pints though. 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.
I couldn’t answer that. Instead I looked at her roundedness as she looked at the sky and shivered in her flimsy jacket.
– Have you ever tasted wild strawberries?
– You what? She looks at me as though I was crazy.
– Wild strawberries.
– I like strawberries yes.
– Ah but wild ones. I’ve not tasted anything like them.
She turns and leans into me and I can feel her breasts on my arm. Very nice. I move my arm just a little bit to stroke her. She straightens though, lifts her arm. Pull her coat around her and stands against me.
– I need something to warm me up she says.
I can feel my pulse pounding in my ears. There’s beery dryness in my lips and mouth. I try to remember strawberries. Futile. We stand still.
– Where’s Peter? Did he go in?
She moves 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 toilet am I?
And then Will appears.
– Where’ve you been? he says
– Been inside waiting.
– D’you remember Joe Hey.
– Let’s get going. It’s work tomorrow.
I turn to Maggie. ‘Bye I say.
She reaches out and snatches at my sleeve. I turn back to her. She strokes the cuff of my jacket.
– See you. She turns and opens the door. Then she turns back to me, smiles and slips away.
Will has to lean over to open the door from inside. I fasten the seat belt. He tries to start the car. It grumbles, dashboard lights flicker off and on but the engine won’t come alive.
– Have to give it a bump he says.
We get to the edge of the road and there’s a bus then a motorbike coming down. I push from the back and Will has the driver’s door open. I feel dizzy as the exhaust splutters. Will jumps in and the engine judders to life. I jog a few yards jump in going to be sick.
– Clunk click says Will.
I can feel a good time smile on my face comfy like a three day beard and Will is driving my eyes half closed with pleasure and my head lolling. At Stone Chair and the lights go red.
– Oh shit says Will
– Still downhill. I might be sick.
The engine complains under Will’s foot then roars.
Will turns the radio on and it’s Gary Numan.
¬[I’ve started to think / About leaving tonight / Although nothing seems right / In cars]
I’m laughing and the car cooperates as the lights go green. The road is black and shiny headlights picking out the route for us round Abbscott and into Wyckham when there’s a double bump. Right outside that new estate where Viv Taylor lives. Something under the wheels. Will stops and looks in the rearview. There’s nobody around at all and there’s drizzly rain spotting the windscreen. Will clicks open the door.
– Come on he says. He stands on the road leans back inside. Better see what that was. You never know.
My eyes are wide awake now and I felt sort of stiff, chilled. The car is running still and it whirrs coughs whirrs as we walks back to find what happened. There is dim amber light, and dimmer red lights that can’t make it clear what had happened but I know anyway. Guess. A cat. Grey with white paws. A mangled and broken child’s model. Plasticene. It is trying to move but its pelvis and back legs are beyond repair. It yowls and skrikes like a baby and I can feel the beer sloshing in my guts and then acid in my throat. Its fur slick under the street light. My hair soaked and dripping. Rain is falling on my face and in my eyes but I can hear the car whirring irregular.
– Is that blood? I can’t quite tell.
– We’ll have to finish it.
– Kindest thing to do.
– Kill it? Do you mean you want to kill it?
I twitch a quick look at Will and then at the cat.
– I don’t want to. But I think I have to. The car is growling and coughing, spluttering and purring and there’s Peter and Mags and her stroking him and all.
– I can’t do that.
– We can’t leave it like this.
– I can’t do it Will.
And I can still see Will reach out and start to stroke the cat’s head and ears. He shushes it and it screeches and hisses and then calms but its ears are still flat. Mouth open. Then he is taking its head in one hand and its neck in the other. He is jerking twisting a quick snap that chokes its life away. And then he is crouching one elbow angled on his knee his hand covering his eyes. I am standing with my open mouth as a car comes towards us passes us goes on its way. The cat’s mouth has stayed slightly open and I can see the little tongue curved behind it teeth. Its eyes are still shining in that bleak light and the misty rain. Another car stops. Red lights give Will a phantom look.
– You OK lads?
– Yeah. OK.
– It’s a cat.
– Is it dead?
– Oh yeah. It’s dead all right.
Will stays low on the road for a bit longer. I stand. I am looking down at two motionless figures. Then Will stands and lifts the cat all floppy like a cushion and cradles it to the car. He is moving quickly. I follow him.
– Open the boot.
I am opening the boot and it is dark inside.
– Empty that box he says.
– I don’t bloody care. Just empty it.
There is nothing to put the nuts and bolts in and I am wondering where to put them.
– Here says Will and he is thrusting the dead thing into my hands. I’ll do it myself.
I am not breathing. I don’t want to look at the carcass in my arms. Will opens a toolbox and clangs the metal bits into it. He is pointing at the cardboard box and saying in there in there so I am placing the corpse in the box. We both stand and look at the lifeless thing. After a few moments, Will finds a cloth and wipes 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.
I am nodding and breathing through my mouth. This all seems like nothing. Nothing I have seen before.
– It’s just nothing now.
– It was loved by someone.
– Loved. Yeah.
– They’ll guess it got killed.
– What will you do with it?
– Dunno. Bury it at the back of our house.
Will stretches up to close the boot. The car cuts out.
– Bollox says Will.