Thirteen

I thought it was morning, but it isn’t. I thought the house was this quiet because everyone had got up and gone out. It’s only six o’clock though, and I’m stuck with the muffled light of dawn.

I get a packet of cheese nibbles from the kitchen cupboard and turn on the radio. Following a pile-up several people have been trapped in their cars overnight on the M3. They had no access to toilet facilities, and food and water had to be delivered to them by the emergency services. Gridlock. The world is filling up. A Tory MP cheats on his wife. A body is found in a hotel. It’s like listening to a cartoon. I turn it off and get a choc-ice from the freezer. It makes me feel vaguely drunk and very cold. I get my coat off the peg and creep about the kitchen listening for leaves and shadows and the soft sound of dust falling. This warms me up a bit.

It’s seventeen minutes past six.

Maybe something different will be out in the garden – wild buffalo, a spaceship, mounds of red roses. I open the back door really slowly, begging the world to bring me something startling and new. But it’s all horribly familiar – empty flowerbeds, soggy grass and low grey cloud.

I text Zoey one word: DRUGS!!

She doesn’t text back. She’s at Scott’s, I bet, hot and happy in his arms. They came to visit me at the hospital, sat together on one chair like they got married and I missed it. They brought me some plums and a Halloween torch from the market.

‘I’ve been helping Scott on the stall,’ Zoey said.

All I could think was how quickly the end of October had come, and how the weight of Scott’s arm across her shoulder was slowing her down. A week has gone by since then. Although she’s texted me every day, she doesn’t seem interested in my list any more.

Without her, I guess I’ll just stand here on the step and watch the clouds gather and burst. Water will run in rivulets down the kitchen window and another day will begin to collapse around me. Is that living? Is it even anything?

A door opens and shuts next door. There’s the heavy tread of boots on mud. I walk across and stick my head over the fence.

‘Hello again!’

Adam puts his hand to his chest as if I gave him a heart attack. ‘Jesus! You scared me!’

‘Sorry.’

He’s not dressed for gardening. He’s wearing a leather jacket and jeans and he’s carrying a motorcycle helmet.

‘Are you going out?’

‘Yeah.’

We both look at his bike. It’s down by the shed, tied up. It’s red and silver. It looks as if it’d bolt if you let it free.

‘It’s a nice bike.’

He nods. ‘I just got it fixed.’

‘What was wrong with it?’

‘It got knocked over and the forks got twisted. Do you know about bikes?’

I think about lying, but it’s the kind of lie that would catch you out very quickly. ‘Not really. I’ve always wanted to go on one though.’

He gives me an odd look. It makes me wonder what I look like. Yesterday I looked like a smack-head because my skin seemed to be turning yellow. I put earrings in last night to try and counteract the effect, but I forgot to check my face this morning. Anything could’ve happened during the night. I feel a bit uncomfortable with him looking at me like that.

‘Listen,’ he says. ‘There’s something I should probably tell you.’

I can tell by the discomfort in his voice what it’ll be, and I want to save him from it.

‘It’s all right,’ I say. ‘My dad’s a real blabbermouth. Even strangers look at me with pity these days.’

‘Really?’ He looks startled. ‘It’s just I hadn’t seen you around for a while, so I asked your brother if you were OK. It was him who told me.’

I look at my feet, at a patch of lawn in front of my feet, at the gap between the grass and the bottom of the fence.

‘I thought you had diabetes. You know, when you fainted that time. I didn’t realize.’

‘No.’

‘I’m sorry. I mean, I was very sorry when he told me.’

‘Yes.’

‘It felt important to tell you I know.’

‘Thanks.’

Our words sound very loud. They take up all the room in my head and sit there echoing back at me.

Eventually I say, ‘People tend to get a bit freaked when they find out, like they just can’t bear it.’ He nods, as if he knows this. ‘But it’s not as if I’m going to drop dead this very second. I’ve got a whole list of things I’m going to do first.’

I didn’t know I was going to tell him this. It surprises me. It also surprises me when he smiles.

‘Like what?’ he says.

I’m certainly not telling him about Jake or about jumping in the river. ‘Well, drugs are next.’

‘Drugs?’

‘Yeah, and I don’t mean aspirin.’

He laughs. ‘No, I didn’t think you did.’

‘My friend’s going to get me some E.’

‘Ecstasy? You should take mushrooms, they’re better.’

‘They make you hallucinate, don’t they? I don’t want skeletons rushing at me.’

‘You’ll feel dreamy, not trippy.’

That’s not very reassuring because I don’t think my dreams are like other people’s. I end up in desolate places that are hard to get back from. I wake up hot and thirsty.

‘I can get you some if you want,’ he says.

‘You can?’

‘Today if you like.’

‘Today?’

‘No time like the present.’

‘I promised my friend I wouldn’t do anything without her.’

He raises an eyebrow. ‘That’s a lot to promise.’

I look away and up to the house. Dad’ll be up soon and straight onto his computer. Cal will be off to school. ‘I could ring her, see if she can come over.’

He zips up his jacket. ‘All right.’

‘Where are you going to get them from?’

A slow smile lifts the edges of his mouth. ‘One day I’ll take you out on the bike and show you.’ He backs off down the path, still smiling. I’m held by his eyes, pale green in this early light.

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