Your daughter sits crosslegged on the living room floor with a shoebox resting on her lap. Tiny clusters of mould creep up its sides. You stand there, keys dangling from your fingers, the mud from your shoes seeping into the welcome mat.
She had been a student of history, three years his senior. He worked at a tyre factory though he was, in his spare time, an avid reader. They were to elope four years later, in the autumn of 1968, though the exact details of this ceremony remain unknown.
I could never tell if it was a robot, or a microphone, or an actual person standing on the other side. I would say her name, and just like that, she would appear.
He took everything away when she passed. Shoved into boxes in the garage. There was only one thing left, a painting of a smiling, rosy lady holding a chocolate bar to her lips. Quite hideous, Mariella, he had often said. They could see it from their bed, where they would lie like two curled up watchdogs.
For all these actions he alone has been given credit, and from the whole gang he alone became an angel, while his friends have been sent to burn in hell’s thieves section.
After about an hour, the bus deposits us on the side of a road marked ‘Laoshan’. Green and imposing, the mountain looms ahead of us as we follow signs for the visitor’s centre. Walking up the long, open drive, we’re surprised to see a race set-up, complete with banners, a podium, and a finish line.
As soon as the words formed in Arthur’s mind he corrected them. The bench was not his. It belonged to the council or some such faceless body. It was just one of a number of identical wooden benches spaced alongside the path that meandered round the edge of the park.
“Is she going to get us out of this hole?” Gary asks, though not seriously. If he was asking a serious question he’d stare at his duty manager to press for a serious answer, but instead he continues sorting paperwork.
She’s meant to be at the movies tonight with Sal and Nancy and Marigold who she doesn’t like. Marigold’s thick as mud and thinks she looks like Barbara Streisand, but she’s ugly as sin. I’m glad she can’t go. It means he won’t have to put me to bed later on.
Tabitha was different though. She seemed to like me without the assistance of alcohol, which was good because by the time I snuck her in, Dad was onto my antics and had locked up his stash.
Sadie and Riz. Riz and Sadie. It seems as if no one thinks of them as two individual people with separate thoughts and ideas anymore, but as one whole entity that lives and breathes in unity. They are an institution, their friends say. A perfect match, their families say. People ask themselves, are Sadie and Riz coming tonight? Or, do Sadie and Riz know about that? What will Riz and Sadie have to say about this?
Hold on a minute. Start again. You’re at an art gallery, expecting some sort of critical explanation of a painting from an art student and you get a death threat instead? Maybe I was missing something or maybe I just needed to work harder at being good company. I leant in to inspect the painting more assiduously. Down at the bottom two men, who wouldn’t be warlocks at all as that would be childish, were hidden in the shade, one heaving forward as though fighting a mighty wind.
Being crucified was nowhere near as painful as Sonny had always suspected it might be. True, whatever drugs his abductor had pumped into his veins were likely dulling the intensity of the experience somewhat, but watching the second stake being driven through his right hand, he felt no more than a peculiar ache as the bones split to make way for the iron.
It felt a touch brutal. Like signing my own death warrant. And like they wanted me out. It wasn’t even a friend they were lining up to replace me. Maybe I should leave after all. In my head it was 50:50. In case I left – and just because – I’d been clearing out: old notes and notebooks, clothes, junk. Everything I had was junk.
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