‘Oi Kev, pass us the salt.’
‘Pass us the salt.’
‘It’s pass us the salt please, you fucking animal.’
Gary Wilde laughed and his face seemed to inflate. He shook his head and it set his jowly features moving beneath the dark beard, grown in a vain attempt to conceal his surplus of face. He leaned forward in the creaking chair, his thin red t-shirt clinging to his fat back in damp angel wings. Gary didn’t do well in the heat, and while it wasn’t exactly summer yet it was warm enough that the broken air conditioner wasn’t doing him any favours.
‘Then pass us the salt please, you fucking animal.’ He tipped the shaker over his steak and chips. The white powder accumulated in tiny heaps.
‘You always put too much of that crap on. You’re a walking heart attack, you.’
‘Don’t be such a minge, Kev.’
‘Well you are being one.’
‘You’ve got lettuce in your teeth.’
Gary slumped back into the chair and cast his gaze around the restaurant like a chubby searchlight. Kevin had noticed while they were talking that Gary’s attention was divided between him and one of the waitresses. He rolled his eyes.
‘Could we have the bill please my darling?’
‘You creep, you just don’t stop do you?’ She looked about nineteen, probably still at college, a few years younger than Kevin. He leaned across the table slightly to watch her as she walked to the bar area for the receipt. Gary caught the movement and chuckled again.
‘Takes one to know one, chump.’
The air outside the restaurant was fresh, despite the thundering traffic of the road. Cars and huge trucks whistled past at all hours of the day and night, making the too-narrow pavement a no-man’s land. Kevin Dorian was certain that for his 24 years of life in and around Dunning Way, the whipping wall of freight and commuters had been gaining ground, year upon year, getting closer and closer to breaching the lines and engulfing the little place completely. He started to whistle as the two young men walked up the tiny strip of raised road.
‘Leave it out Kev, it aint like you got much to whistle about anyway.’
‘I’m going to have to pucker up whatever happens. And I’d much rather whistle than kiss someone’s arse. Anyway, they didn’t even catch me, did they? No one can prove it was me, can they? Er- fucking -go, I don’t think I’ve got that much to worry about, do you? Gary shrugged his fat, cowed shoulders and Kevin carried on, smiting the night air with his open palm. ‘Besides, what about Banksy? What about fucking art man? Graffiti is the people’s art, always has been. There’s something of me in everything I do. Every spray of paint is a bit of my soul, see what I’m saying?’
They turned away from the busy A-road and headed down an unlit track. There was mud everywhere, but soon they were through and out into another, smaller road, thankfully lit. Up ahead was the quiet bend Kevin had raced around during the escape, when the old bastard with the torch had started shouting over at him and threatening to shoot, like he even had a gun. Smiling, he nudged Gary. ‘Almost there,’
‘We’d better be, it’s one o’clock in the morning, you bastard’
‘It’s on the outhouse of that old Catholic school, remember that? The back of it faces onto the road? There’s trees all around for cover, it’s perfect Gary.’
And there it was. All five-feet-high-three-feet-across of it. Kevin’s eyes brought into swimming focus the thing he‘d been planning for weeks. His self-chosen name. The thought brought a swell of pride. Gary wouldn‘t understand. He cast a look over to his friend, who was scrabbling for the Polaroid camera he carried on a strap around his neck.
‘Wow, that’s a pretty sweet job,’ Gary gathered himself and added ‘for a retard.’
‘Yeah I know. Cheers. Lets get this shot done before they get rid of it.’ Kevin raised the camera and flashed it once and the shot was clean and clear.
‘Morning Tom,’ Usually he hated speaking to the teachers, whom he considered snide and superior to a man, but for once Reg was glad of the interruption to his work and put down his bucket. Drawing a large, well-used handkerchief from his pocket, he felt for his tobacco.
‘Lovely day for it again,’
‘Isn’t it just. Tell you what though,’ Reg drew the handkerchief across his leathery brow ‘It’s tough old work. There’s 300 kids in this school and only one caretaker – I spend all day mopping and sweeping and clearing up and some little hoodlum comes along and tries it on.’
‘Tries it on?’ Tom’s brow furrowed and Reg knew he was going through the mental list of troublemakers that all teachers develop after long enough in the job.
‘Well yeah, look at this here.’ Reg drew his hand back in a sweeping motion intended to dramatically reveal the graffiti, as well as showcase his smug smile at getting one over on one of the condescending bastards. His thick features couldn’t easily accommodate such finesse, and instead he looked a little like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
‘It looks like you’ve made a start though,’ Tom tried to put a brave face on it, adding a shrug and a smile as the coarse-handed groundsman bristled. His eyes bulged slightly as he replied, and a vein in his neck rose to the surface like a blue-black worm.
‘A start? I’ve been scrubbing at this bastard all day so far and all I’ve got off is this corner. I’m going to need something stronger, I said so to the Head but you know how she is with money. So I sent my Terry out to pick up some of that acid, I can’t remember what they call it. It removes the top layer of brick.’ Tom nodded. Two minutes later the bell rang and he stubbed out his fag. Reg waved goodbye, picked up the brush and once more went at the wall, the cigarette in his mouth jiggling only slightly from the effort.
Thin tones of the alarm clock split the morning air. The curtained windows were bright and bold, illuminated by the beautiful day outside, but Kevin didn’t pause to part them as he rushed to the bathroom. Holding himself across the body and cursing, he slumped wetly onto the closed lavatory seat. The bedroom was visible directly across the hall through the still open doorway, and there were large pools of blood on the bed and sheets. The blood on the bathroom tiles caught the sun with a dull pearlescence. Here and there were smears and prints; he couldn’t believe how much had come out of him.
The first itches when he went to bed had evidently kept him scratching all night. It was difficult to believe he had scratched these raw, ragged holes into his flesh, but the evidence was there before him now, pulsing and crimson and wet. And growing. The wounds seemed to have grown in size, even as he sat sprawled on the toilet wondering what to do and sobbing with pain and confusion. Was this some kind of flesh eating disease, one of those super bugs?
Kevin felt for the pair of blue tracksuit trousers in the washing-basket next to the toilet and pulled them on gingerly. His skin itched all over. Soon the itches would become unbearable. Soon the scratching would start and what would happen then? A tatty pair of trainers stood at the bottom of the stairs. Kevin pulled them on and fell through the front door in one swooning motion. The sun beat into the large breaks and fissures in his skin but the pain registered only dimly now, and the warm air felt like home.
‘Here you go uncle Reg’
‘Aha I was just wondering where you got to, what kept you?’ Reg squinted in the late-afternoon sun at his brother’s boy. ‘Did you get it?’
’Course I did uncle Reg, it was like you said, they said you had to have a license to buy it or something, but I told them it was for you and they just relaxed and told me ok.’
‘Good lad Terry. Now, let’s try it on a patch over here.’
Bright now. Lots bright. Biggest bright. Road lines. Bright light. Now go. Fast go. Know where. A sudden flash of pain and gore brought Kevin to his knees in the parched alleyway. Mud caked in bloody dunes around him, evidence of an old quagmire and a hot day. This way. This was the right way. He found and grasped at the dim certainty of this fact, clutching it close to himself as though it might hold his mind together for a few moments more. Open, weeping sores scooped flabbily at the muddy ground as he flailed himself upright.
‘Oh, that’s coming off a treat, that!’ Reg forced his face to smile.
Terry could swear he’d heard his uncle’s face crackle as it settled into the expression, like an old man into a plump chair at the end of a hard day. Terry smiled too, not just at the idea but at the fact that he could see Reg was right. The graffiti was coming off easily now. No problem, they’d be done in an hour. Only the most stubborn sections remained. Terry began to whistle.
‘For god’s sake boy, what have I-’ Reg’s craggy face drooped, became a dull battleship grey and his mouth hung open.
‘What?’ Terry realised that his uncle wasn’t looking at him anymore, but rather his gaze was directed slightly to the left, looking at something over his shoulder. Feeling the hair rise on the back of his neck and a chill creeping into him despite the heat of the day, he turned slowly at first.
‘Holy saintsholymotherofohgodwhatthefuck,’ Words and bladder control left him as he saw the shattered thing standing only ten paces away. It feebly raised a glistening stump and wrenched a sore gurgle from somewhere inside itself. Terry leapt back, knocking heavily into Reg, who was headed in the opposite direction. ‘What the fucking hell?’
‘Wait son, wait,’ Reg’s voice was hushed and his face pallid. ‘I’ve seen something like his before. It’s a one of those – what do you call them now? A leper. Has to be. And on a day like this? Poor sod must be cooking alive. We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to help!’
‘How the fuck,’ Terry’s body shook as he forced his face to move in the thing’s direction, ‘Can we help that?’ His words seemed to break the humid spell that had been cast. The figure fell heavily to the ground, and Reg immediately ran over to it. Terry noticed that he didn’t let his skin come near it, but instead used his handkerchief as a glove, putting his fingers to the leper’s neck to feel for a pulse. The fingers came back scarlet and Reg cursed loudly, throwing the handkerchief to the dusty ground and wiping his hand on his paint-splattered overalls.
‘Well, whatever he was, he’s dead now.’
‘What are-’ the voice was thin and reedy and Terry barely recognised it as his own. He cleared his throat and started again. ‘What are we going to do uncle?’
Reg’s ashen brow creaked into a frown. Suddenly he said, ‘That old tarpaulin from round the back of the classroom huts, go and get it boy, and hurry up for Christ’s sake.’ Terry ran gratefully from the outhouse and towards the school building, in search of something to wrap the body. Reg pulled a cigarette from the twenty box of Silk Cut, raising the lighter flame with unsteady hands. He sucked the nicotine down gratefully and noticed the bucket, still sat on the grass near the wall. The brush bobbed around in it like a drowning hedgehog. Reg raised his eyes to the wall, where only few swipes of spray paint were now evident.
He’d never been one to leave a job unfinished.