I’d known The Boy about six years before I realised he had feelings. Until then, I’d assumed he was like a dead tree – enigmatic and interesting to look at but essentially hollow and lifeless. The Boy only made sense on drugs – taken by himself and his audience – but in that narrow alleyway of lucidity there was a path to reaching him. Like those on the fringes of death who witness the long path to the bright light, if you were willing to get as fucked up as he could and did, you’d find windows where he made sense.
I remember lying on the floor, smashing my teeth on a brick, convinced it was a stale piece of bread, and seeing him standing above me, upright, without the usual hunching of the shoulders. His voice clear and concise, not broken and wavering. I crawled in the general direction of his shoes, blood dribbling down my chin and spitting bits of tooth and gum out onto the concrete floor. I grabbed a handful of dust and rubbed it into the smashed remains, feeling the first burning embers of pain even this far gone. He looked down on me with an expression I didn’t think he was capable of; pity.
He said; She smells like a spring thunderstorm. A spring thunderstorm. That was exactly what she smelt like, what she sounded like, what she essentially was. A storm in a fruitful season. He crouched onto his haunches and I met his eyes, but they moved too fast for me. Curling into a foetus, I began to violently spasm, kicking and dragging my body in a circle. He told me later that the retching created petal splatters of blood around my head…. like a scarlet daisy.
The Boy’s earliest memory was watching a fox with a broken leg trapped in an old oil drum, slowly starving to death over a period of two weeks. Every day that summer he’d clamber through thistles and nettles taller than him to find the poor beast inside the metal coffin, rattling and whining. Initially he would sit apart from it terrified and fascinated, as the animal crashed and groaned, trying to free itself from its prison. But as it became weaker, the noises died down to a soft howl, gentle as the wind through a keyhole. Towards the end, he would push a crate against the drum and peer inside, looking down at the fox as it looked back up at him….breathing heavily but with a look on its face of utter serenity. No noise, no whining or struggling, just two damaged lifeforms staring at each other – one at the beginning of its life and one nearing the end. He once told me; the fox went to sleep, and I kept going back to see if it would wake up. But something ate its eyes, and it didn’t move no more.
I still go to the old oil drum, now rank and loathsome, filled with black muck and vague glimpses of rib and snapped femur. I throw my old cigarettes inside, hoping one day I’ll feel bad about it, but I never had the depth of feeling that The Boy did, with or without drugs. I take enough blotter acid to wallpaper most family homes, but the sun still looks normal and the trees don’t sing anymore. I push through the thistles and weeds, remembering the pain this little child went through to experience feeling. How he’d return home covered in little white nettle bumps on his arms, legs and face. How he’d never cry, even as he slept on a mattress damp from beneath the floor. Born to indifference, raised in a slum; just a product of bad decisions and post-industrialisation, both parents dead in a public toilet cubicle.
I buried The Boy in a quiet corner of the wasteland. I picked the spot especially; surrounded by nettles guarding what they could not harm, within sight of the drum and blasted by the rays of the noon sun. He rests under his little barrow mount, like ancient kings, away from all the troubles of the world. And that is what haunts me; leaves me so helpless and jealous – not that his troubles are now over, but that nothing ever troubled this simple, stupid Boy in the first place.
© Jimmi Campkin