The wasp dances haplessly within the dull interior of the glass. I lean in, examining the striped beast scrabbling for purchase. Tipping the glass gently, I slide a piece of apple in before grabbing my keys. I pause at the front door, wondering whether to peer into Mum’s bedroom again.
Outside, though its only eleven in the morning, the concrete of the tower block is already baking hot. Everywhere windows are cast open, net curtains hanging apologetically as raised voices quarrel in the heat. Descending the stairwell, shifting from light to shade, the usual stale odors are overwhelmed by the aroma of someone’s greasy BBQ burning greasier meat.
Ground level and Skunkhead Phil is in position, stood smack in the centre of the estate, weeds peeking out between the cracks in the concrete beneath his feet, neck craning, hands cupped to his ears. I asked him once what he was doing. His irises, big as moons, stared deep into mine. Apparently he was deciphering the chaos of noise that emanated from the four conjoined tower blocks. ‘No need for a television with this lot!’ he chuckled into the sky.
I walk past, head down, not in the mood for engagement. Skunkhead, oblivious to my passing, listens in on his world.
I hate London in the summer. Most people when you say summer think of postcard crap. Wimbledon, pale skin cooking on the beach, picnic hampers, freshly mowed grass. For me summer is a combination of hot tarmac, white dog shit and a light that bleaches your eyes. I dated a girl once, Tamsin. Total obsession, yet in reality I was nothing but a thorn to prick her father with. He owned a car dealership, hated me, evident from the fixed grin that never left his face the first time we met. Sussed me straight off, not fooled by the Rude Boy with the East End accent intent on touching up his daughter. Yet he knew how to end this particular dance. Just had to declare me a friend, embrace the relationship.
She dumped me the next day, not even a breakup shag to lessen the fall.
Anyway, summer for Tamsin meant Spain, Tenerife, France. Far flung exotic locations. She laughed when I told her I had only been out of London once. A torturous trip to Devon two years ago, the three of us packed into a car borrowed from one of Dad’s mates, more rust than metal with a fan belt that screamed louder than the radio. No blue water or white sand awaited us though, just a decrepit ghost town teetering beside cold grey water. That holiday was the last time we were together. Back home Dad set off to the return the car, yet failed to return himself. Mum kept it calm for a while, reminding me each day over breakfast that he had always come back to her.
She pined for him, till the void in her fermented into bitter resentment. Don’t get me wrong she never turned on me. Yet the fortress was shut, the doors barricaded. Her only solace the booze, chased down with pills to help her sleep. Nothing Shakespearian. Just another insignificant drama played out through the repetition of smaller moments.
Yet we’d been happy that holiday. Well I had been. Made a killing in the arcades, working the penny falls. Watching coins drop, pushing their clinging compatriots over the edge. Conning the local kids, in awe at this scally from the big city. Initiating them in the joy of shoplifting, the thrill of the chase, and lure of Billy Whizz. I almost found myself enjoying the scent of the sea, daydreaming of staying there, getting a job.
Mum was happy there as well. Sat on the pier, a punnet of strawberries and cream. Red juice staining her fingers, white smeared across her lips. Her laughter, cutting across the serenading gulls.
Strawberries and cream. I feel the tears rising. Shaking my head, I spot D waiting outside the lockup, the only reason I left the flat this morning was he owed me some money. I light up, ignoring his eyes rolling at my lack of response to his greeting. Moments later two vans pull up. D begins chatting with the drivers, two identikit blokes, shaven-headed, bomber jackets. I keep my head down, unloading the stacked boxes lurking within. Electronic gear all off the back of some lorry. Soon they’ll be touted by loud confident voices in the market, declaring promises of a bargain.
Vans unloaded, cash paid. D asks what’s up, how come I’m, so moody this morning. I shrug, he rolls his eyes again, yet chucks a fifty into my grip and I move off. I like D, he’s a decent bloke, yet today’s a day that father figures can do one.
I hit the Red Lion, necking a pint whilst cherries spin on the fruity. Classic pub, filled with dark wood and darker souls. I nudge a couple, hitting the jackpot, another twenty. My lucky day, the universal joke. I treat myself to one more pint out the back in the beer garden, comprised of two cheap benches, a sagging umbrella and a view of the stagnant canal. Not exactly Benidorm, but it’ll do. As I watch the sunlight glisten off of the rising bubbles in my glass from somewhere I hear the cry of gulls and the crashing of waves.
Cream smeared on her lips.
I feel sick, forcing back the panic, drinking deep.
The sunlight would be coming in through her window now, barely warming the bluish white foot nestled between red sheets. The vomit, speckled on her lips, trapped inside her throat not over the bed this time.
I chuck the glass into the canal, whilst red juice dribbles down her chin, her laughter crashing like waves. Dad’s sullen glare as he again checks his watch. The scent of coins on my skin, turning fingers into dead batteries.
It’s time to let the wasp go.
(Author: Andrew Patch. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)