…And then my mind is spinning backwards…
…Back to a safer time…
…One short hour ago…
…And then I’m not here anymore.
9:46. I stood at the top of the stairs, doing the buttons of my shirt.
“Dad!” I shouted, “I’m going out!” I ran down the stairs, remembering the creak of the third step. He was standing at the bottom, trying to look angry, ending up sad.
“Where are you going then?”
“Just out. I don’t have to tell you everything.”
“Who are you going to be with, then, Ella, was it last time? Or was it Katie?”
“No! Not Katie, Lisa. It’s always Lisa.”
“It wasn’t Lisa a week ago”
“Well… It’s different – you don’t get it.”
“Maybe that’s because you never tell me anything! One of these days you’re going to make a big mistake. Something that’s going to go really wrong. I just don’t want you to blame me for not trying.”
He looked into my eyes then, the rage, never really there, had gone. All that remained was anguish.
I looked down at the floor. There was a stain on the carpet. I didn’t remember what it was. Dad had been talking about getting the carpet up and having lino fitted, but of course he never got around to it. He never got around to anything these days.
“Nathan, if mum could-”
“I don’t want to hear about mum! She’s not here now, is she? You only mention her because you aren’t strong enough to give your own opinion.”
He looked away, wincing slightly. I knew that had hit hard, so I was going to pick at it for all it was worth.
“See? You can’t even look at me! Go on, look me in the eye and tell me what you think of me!”
He raised his head, anger burning in his eyes. I knew he was going to shout, but all that came out was a mumble.
“I just wish you would try. You do this deliberately, just because you know it upsets me. What did I ever do to you?”
There was a long pause. I looked him straight in the face.
“You let mum die.”
He looked at me with shock in his eyes.
“I didn’t let her die. There wasn’t anything anyone could have done.” He whispered.
“You put her off going to the doctor. And only because you were scared.” I spat the word, letting him know what I thought of him.
He looked down and stepped backwards as I pushed past him.
“Don’t be too late.” he muttered.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I stuffed my keys in my pocket and pulled on my jacket. The door opened with a familiar click and I stepped out into the pouring rain. It was dark, but a dim lamppost lit the street just outside the house. I could hear that he hadn’t closed the door behind me, but I didn’t look back.
I stepped onto my bike, sweeping raindrops off the seat before I sat down. My hand was instantly numb, and I rubbed it against my coat. The engine started with a judder – it always had trouble in the rain.
As I pulled out onto the road, I could see Dad’s silhouette in the rectangle of yellow light. He didn’t wave. Neither did I.
9:52. Stood at the door of Lisa’s house, my head bowed against the rain.
Her mum answered with a smile, and disappeared inside. Lisa appeared a moment later, in a tiny black dress. She pulled on a long coat and boots and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. Her floral perfume enveloped me, and my mind softened.
“What is it?”
She always knew what I was thinking.
“Come on, tell me.” She murmured, her lips close to my ear.
“It’s just Dad.”
“Dad? Or Mum?” She raised her eyebrows. She knew more about me than I knew about myself.
“Both.” I sighed. “He just…” I growled. “I hate him.”
“No you don’t.” her cute insistence made me smile.
“No I don’t.”
“You love him really.”
“Say it.” She said, accusingly.
“I love him really. Can we go now?”
“What about Mum?”
“It’s just the same. He always brings her up. He’s trying to convince himself he’s not to blame, I think.”
“Why don’t you tell him he’s not?”
“Because he is!”
“You know he misses your mum as much as you do. He’ll be feeling guilty enough as it is, you don’t need to make it any worse. It’s only been a year anyway; you can’t expect things to be normal.”
I sighed, leaning in to her.
“Things will get better.”
“No you don’t.”
I shrugged, chuckling. You couldn’t win with Lisa.
“Ok, we can go now.”
10:07. We were standing outside the club. The bouncers were letting the queue in a few at a time, and we had met up with some friends. Most of them had already been out for a while, getting smashed. It was quite late already by the time we got to the club, because Lisa had been to some play with her girl friends.
We reached the bouncer and he looked us up and down. I was never sure what he looked for in deciding whether to let us in, but he seemed satisfied.
The blue lights in the bar cast a strange blur over everything. I wondered if that was so you didn’t know what you were drinking. Or who you were chatting up.
Me and Lisa sat at the bar at first. The others went to dance and god knows what else, but we just sat and talked.
A beer found its way into my hand, and it never seemed to empty, so I just kept drinking it.
“Why is it his fault?”
“What?” I frowned. We were just talking about her weird play, and I had no idea what she was on about.
“Your dad. Why is he to blame?”
“He didn’t let her go to the doctor.”
“Didn’t let her?”
“Well he – you know – convinced her not to.”
There was a pause. She looked at me intently. I felt like I was being studied by a psychiatrist. I guess that was the effect she was hoping for, because they have a strange ability to make you spill your secrets to them with just a few moments’ silence.
“He – she was going to, you know.” I hiccupped. “But she didn’t – wouldn’t – he changed her mind.”
I paused for a moment, organising my words, but they still didn’t come out straight.
“She was going to, but he – she wasn’t sure, and he helped her change her mind.”
I frowned at myself, trying to work out what I meant in a way she would understand.
“You mean she wasn’t sure whether to or not, and your dad maybe suggested she shouldn’t?”
“Yeah.” I grinned. Then I frowned. “But it was – it was more him – he – he convinced her.”
“It doesn’t sound like it.”
“Why did she go to the doctors anyway?”
“She found a – a lump on her leg. And – and he told her-” I hiccupped again. “He told her not to worry about it.”
“It seems to me that your dad isn’t the type to get right out there with such a strong opinion. Are you sure he told her it was nothing, or did she tell herself that, and he agreed? Maybe you just needed to find someone to blame.”
“What are you, a psychologist?” I said, words slurring.
I stood up and went to drink from my glass, but it was empty. I frowned at it. “You can’t just analyse my family like that. You haven’t even met them… Him.”
She shrugged. “I’m trying to help.”
“Well you’re not helping.”
I turned away and headed for the dancefloor. It was 10:23.
A woman in a tutu and a bra smiled at me as I passed. “How’s it going?” She tittered. I would have tried it on with her, but I wasn’t in the mood. I glared at her and stumbled on.
A man staggered over to me and grabbed my arm. His hair was greasy and flopped over his eyes, and his pupils were huge.
I told him in no uncertain terms that his day would be a lot harder if he stuck around, but he clung on to my arm.
“It’s OK mate, don’t worry, it’s legal.”
I frowned at him. I looked down. In his other hand was a single white pill.
“This will make it all go away.” He waved his arm in the air as he said it. I would have laughed at how ridiculous he looked, but I actually listened to him.
I glanced back over to the bar; Lisa was sitting there with her head down, clutching a cocktail. She didn’t see me.
“Sure. How much?” I asked.
“First one’s free.”
I picked up the pill wordlessly and swallowed it. I shook my head. It was bitter.
“Ten minutes and you’ll be dancing again.”
I nodded and gulped hard as he disappeared into the shadows. My mouth felt funny. My stomach felt funny.
I staggered on to the dancefloor, looking around for my friends. They waved me over. I grabbed Mike’s arm as I reached him and grinned. His face looked weird.
“Wow, Nathan. What’s up with you?”
“Nothing.” I mumbled. “I feel great!”
James glanced over. “Man, what are you on? Your pupils are huge!”
“I have no idea.” I grinned “But it’s good!”
Time span away from my control.
I was dancing for maybe minutes, maybe an hour. But then I remembered Lisa, sitting alone at the bar, and I lurched back towards her.
10:32. She looked up nervously when I reached her.
“I’m sorry I-” She began.
I lifted her out of her seat and pulled her towards me. My lips pressed against hers but she pulled away. “What’s going on? What’s wrong with you?”
“Just because I’m happy there’s something wrong with me?”
I glanced back to the corner the man had retreated to. He waved and grinned persuasively.
“Who’s he? Is that a – what did you get off him?”
“I don’t know, but I like it.”
“Nathan you don’t know what he could have given you!”
I looked away from him and back to Lisa. I nearly leapt backwards. Her face was all wrong. All… wrong.
“What is it? Nathan you’re scaring me.”
“You’re scaring me” I mumbled, stumbling away from her. Her voice was twisted and distorted.
The colours around me were sharp and bright. I looked back at the man and back again. Suddenly she was back to normal.
“W-what was that?” I asked, half to myself.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, sure.” I turned around and staggered over to the barman. His eyes pierced mine, and I shielded my face with my hand.
He gave me a drink and it tasted…amazing.
Lisa came over and got another cocktail. A couple of the other guys we were with came back off the dancefloor to get a beer and get us up there, so we went with them.
10:36. Lisa was pressing against me. We were twisting and spinning with the music, I was dizzy but I didn’t care. I could feel the beat pulsing through my body, like it was flowing in my veins. It seemed like we danced for hours, but it can only have been a couple of minutes, because Mike and Pete came over to us, still drinking their beers.
“We’re gonna go on to another club, you coming?”
“What’s wrong with this one? I like the music…” I said the word slowly, closing my eyes and savouring the feel of it, and the sound.
“This place is lame, man. You don’t know what music is unless you go to Flood.”
“The club. Come on, you know you want to. This place closes at eleven anyway, it’s already clearing out.”
I looked around me. The clock on the wall said quarter to eleven. It felt like we had been here for such a long time, and yet so short too. Barely even twenty minutes.
I shrugged. “Sure, why not.” I glanced at Lisa. Her face was flushed from dancing, and she nodded enthusiastically. I looked around me and put my drink on the first table I found, then we headed outside.
10:41. The cold snapped at my fingers and tickled my face. There was a soft breeze blowing through the frosty air, and my breath steamed in front of me. I gazed around me in wonder. Never before had a night seemed so beautiful. I pulled Lisa close to me and she leant her chin on my shoulder. She looked up at the sky and smiled. The stars were out, and the moon was nearly full. She shivered suddenly and I looked around, trying to remember where my bike was.
A crowd was gathering outside, just by some chaotic psychological phenomenon. And by the same phenomenon, trouble was already brewing. A few guys were shouting at each other, waving their arms around, acting big. It didn’t look like it would turn too nasty, but you can never tell.
I think they were talking about football. I wasn’t really listening until Pete stepped in, and by that time the conversation was based purely around each other’s mums, both sides having forgotten why they were arguing in the first place.
He walked towards one of the guys, gesticulating madly and swearing. Lisa cursed under her breath and spoke softly. “Tell him to get out of it, you don’t know what those guys might do…”
I walked up to him, feeling confident. “Pete come on, let’s go.”
He ignored me totally and stepped up to the guy doing most of the talking.
“Come on then, what you gonna do?”
“You don’t wanna know.”
“Oh yeah? Try it then.”
“Fine I will, you-”
A woman in a pink furry jacket appeared and wrapped herself around the big guy.
“Come on John, let’s go. These guys aren’t worth your time.” She giggled.
“Don’t worry, babe, he needs putting in his place.” He tried to extract himself from her grip, but she curled around his shoulders further.
“I don’t want you to get in trouble…”
“I won’t, baby. When I’m done, there won’t be any evidence left.” He sneered, and Pete stepped forwards, jutting out his chin.
The big guy glared at him, “When I’m done with you-”
The woman whispered something in his ear. I didn’t catch it, but I expect it was something along the lines of what she planned to do to him at some point later on. He grinned and glanced back at Pete. “I can’t be bothered with you, mate. I’ll see you later, if you’re unlucky.”
He staggered off with the woman clinging on to him, and the crowd began to dissipate. Lisa breathed in my ear. “What an idiot. That guy could have crushed him.”
I caught sight of my bike. Of course, right there on the bollard.
Lisa put her hand on my chest. “Maybe we should get a cab.”
I frowned at her, “I’m fi-fine. The roads are m-empty now anyway.”
I took her hand in mine and kissed it gently. “I’m fine. That stuff’s wearing off now anyway…”
“Are you sure?”
Pete stalked over, Mike and James behind.
“Are we good?”
“Nathan, why don’t you ride with me, I’ve only had a couple.”
“I’m fine! Why does everyone think th-think I’m- n-not fine?”
He shrugged and walked over to his bike.
“Follow me then, right? It’s only in town.”
I started up my bike and Lisa got on first. I didn’t have a helmet, I had never liked the feel of them. The moonlight glinted off Lisa’s hair and I couldn’t help but stare at her.
She chuckled as I got on and leaned in to me, putting her arms around my waist.
Mike whizzed off and I followed quickly. The roads were really empty, so we were going fast.
“Nathan, slow down.”
“It’s fine, don’t worry.”
“Nathan, please, I’m scared!”
“Don’t be scared, everything’s OK.” I pulled round a roundabout and swerved back on to a dual carriageway.
I turned to face her, putting my hand on her shoulder. “It’s OK.”
“NATHAN!” She screamed.
I had my back to the road.
The bike suddenly jolted.
We flew up into the air. We hit a bollard.
…And now my mind has caught up with me. I am now. Here, now.
I see the stars above me again. So beautiful tonight.
The cool air blows past my face. It feels nice.
I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. Must be my dad. Remember to call him back.
Lisa is squeezing my chest, her breath warm on my cheek. She makes everything OK. Maybe I love her.
And then the bike hits the ground.
The wheels burst and buckle, the first point of impact.
It twists to the side and the engine hits the ground. I hope that doesn’t explode before we can get away.
The handles graze the ground, my hand scratching against the pavement.
We start to flip forward, we are turning upside down.
Lisa is screaming.
I am not screaming.
We’ll get away before the engine explodes, bikes are made like that.
And then my head hits the pavement.
I feel shards of bone buckle and push inside me.
I feel the vertebrae of my neck shudder upwards, cracking against each other.
I feel the skin ripped from my face, blood pouring out.
I feel my arms snapped backwards as the bike judders upwards again.
I feel Lisa’s hand on my shoulder, her grip loosening, until it drops away.
And then I don’t feel.