Waiting for Sandy beneath the cabby of my favourite truck, I’m thinking about all this metal and plastic and seeing body parts. Ever since Sandy told me what they were going to do to him I think I see hearts and lungs and livers everywhere. I don’t think it’s such a leap though. Some of the old cars and trucks have been here so long they don’t look anything like what the manufacturers probably had in mind in the beginning. They are metal skeletons now. The slashed leather seats in the old Jaguar could easily be intestines. The sheet of blue tarpaulin on the side of my truck, the one that right now is flapping in the wind, well that could be skin. I get a shiver and have to pull my knees up against my chest and close my eyes to get rid of all the death. Sandy has stopped smoking since he got sick, which is fair enough. I should stop too. He rides up on his mountain bike and drops it in a pile of nettles beside the Jaguar.
“What are you doing under there?” he says, stepping around a puddle and peering under the truck at where I’m still crouched in the shadows.
I shrug. “Good spot,” I say. I’m not going to tell him I had a joint without him. He’ll know from the smell and he won’t mind but that doesn’t stop me feeling guilty.
He shrugs too and crawls in beside me. It’s dry under my truck, and nettle free. You have a good view right down the track, so that if any dog-walkers or farmers decide to wander up, you can escape in time. It’s quiet too. I can hear Sandy’s heart beating as it recovers from the bike ride. I listen to it. It sounds just like any other heart.
“I can’t stay long,” Sandy says, pulling blades of grass out of the ground. “It’s Mum.”
“Don’t worry. She’s looking out for you.” It sounds small and pointless.
I don’t love Sandy. Not in that way. I think the adults like to imagine there’s something blossoming here, the way it should between two teenagers, but then they also like to imagine that it’s all bike rides and kite flying. Innocent as jam. If I loved Sandy like that it would not be innocent, that’s a fact. I’d throw him down on the grass right now beneath my favourite truck. But it’s not how it is. Sandy is something else to me. He is brown haired, soft skinned, almost a foot taller than me, with gangly arms and legs which even now he’s struggling to place. In the end he just straightens them out, his crappy converses poking out from under the truck .
He is a good friend. He is a good person. He once wasted an entire day helping the kids next door to him to build a fort. I stayed at the bottom of the garden reading a book, until I got bored and went home while he was wrapping string around some planks of wood. He said the day wasn’t wasted. He said he could never have built a fort like that when he was small so it was worth it. I thought, you’re definitely big enough now you great gawky thing. He’s polite to old people and doesn’t cause his parents any trouble. He walks the dog and cleans the car. He helps at the village fete and always has a part in the church nativity even though I tease him for it. When they print stories about young people dying in newspapers they always say what a good friend they were, how they were loved, how they made people smile. It never says anything bad about them.
I want to bash my head in so all the thoughts come pouring out.
“What do you want to do?” He asks.
“Just what you want to.”
He smiles his wonky smile. “Well I’d like to get out from under here. I’m getting too big for this crap-hole.”
I punch his arm. “This is not a crap-hole. This is the best spot there is, five star hideout!”
He is crawling out again, his knobbly knees scraping over the dirt. “We don’t need a hideout today. I want to be able to see.”
I crawl out too and he is already climbing on to the bonnet of the Jaguar. From there he lifts himself on to the front of the speedboat. The speedboat is a sad shell of a thing. It balances like a bridge between the bent in roof of the Jaguar and the backend of another truck. The paintwork has completely gone, as has the material that once covered the seats. Sandy climbs inside and I follow him. The boat rocks ever so slightly with our weight but it’s been here so long that nature has grown up around it, climbing weeds, brambles, nettles and even some small, ill-looking trees provide extra protection from gravity. There are some rotten leaves and bird shit on the seats but nothing much else to worry about so we make ourselves comfortable. We sit side by side like a middle aged couple, looking out over our kingdom of scrap metal. Beyond the trucks are miles of yellow-gold fields. There is something mournful about the colour. It tells me of the end of another summer. It tells me of all the different endings that there are. The hay bales are a darker gold than the ground they lie on, like huge sleeping animals.
I don’t think Sandy has these thoughts. He has a quiet face. He never looks as though he might start screaming any second. I don’t know if I really look like that either, but it feels like I must do. I’m no good at hiding these things.
“So what’s our plan for when you’re home again?” I ask.
“I’m getting a passport. Mum and Dad are taking me on holiday.”
“You haven’t got a passport?”
He shrugs. “Never needed one. We go to Cornwall. Went to the Isle of Wight once too.”
“Ever been to Scotland?”
“Nah, too far.”
“We’ll go together – when we’re sixteen. I reckon that’s old enough. They’ll let us, it’s only Scotland. Or Wales, Wales is closer.”
A white butterfly is making loops through the nettles. It comes right up to us, fluttering by Sandy’s knee and looks for a moment as if it will settle there, but it moves off again and disappears.
“That’s too long off though,” I say. “I want a plan for now.”
“We don’t need a plan.”
“Yes we do.”
“No we don’t.”
I don’t know what’s wrong in what I’ve said. I’m trying to get in step with him, trying to get it right, but we don’t manage things the same way, we don’t have the same coping methods. It’s been like this for months. This was the longest summer I remember, and not for the right reasons. Now it’s ending. Leaves are dropping. Sandy is picking at the rust on the boat and pretending he doesn’t know all the crazy thoughts that seep out of me. He’s so good at that.
“Why do you think we chose to come here all the time?” he asks.
I pretend I didn’t hear him use past tense, as though we won’t be coming here again. “Well, everything else round here is just too damn beautiful.”
He grins and flicks a scab of rust at me. I dodge and the boat rocks.
“Don’t you like all this ugliness?”
“I heard the Jones’ have been served,” he says.
“What does that mean?”
“Means they’ve been told to get rid of all this. They can’t keep it on their land anymore.”
I look over at my favourite truck with its skin of blue tarpaulin. Beyond it the summer growth has claimed an old Mini Cooper and a couple of other boats. A mess of metal and rubber beside us was once a tractor. I gave some of these pieces of junk names once. The tractor was called Billy, Billy-no-mates. That was before I met Sandy.
“Did I ever tell you I named some of these trucks?”
“You’re a twat.”
“I guess it makes sense to get rid of it all. Doesn’t exactly fit in with the surroundings,” I say.
“You don’t mean that.”
“I guess not. All they’ll do is replace it with a load of sick looking cows. I can’t hide under a cow. So yeah, I hope they say fuck you and bring in another truck.” They do that sometimes - the Jones family. We never see the trucks arriving, you’ll just turn up one day and it’ll be there, between two others, as if nobody would notice.
“You don’t need to hide anymore,” Sandy says. “Everyone knows you come here to smoke weed, even your Mum.”
“She does not!”
“Give her more credit.”
“Well I’ve quit anyhow.”
“Since now. Apparently your genes can make you more likely to get mentally ill. I think I have bad genes.”
“Yeah, you’re the sick one, clearly.” His expression goes all stony which is bad. He usually has such a malleable, hopeful face, full of freckles and brightness. He has a way of letting everything slip over him, as if he’s made of water. Nothing can stick on. We are so different.
“It’s fucking shit.” I can’t help it. It bursts out of me. Sandy’s used to it by now. Sometimes I like to think that I’m being angry for the both of us. But sometimes he does what he is doing now, he turns away and won’t look at me and I know he doesn’t want me to be angry at all. He would rather neither of else felt anything. I’m a fucking failure.
I climb out of the boat. I’m too ashamed to say anything. I’ve let him down with my giant mouth and uncontrollable heart, but I’ll make it up to him. We’ve been acting out these roles all summer. We’ve been going around in circles. I’ve hardly seen any other friends. My heart has only had room for him, even that has been a squash. He is just too big and too good to fit inside such a small space.
I head away from the trucks to the edge of the fields and when I look up from my feet it really feels like I am on an edge. I don’t walk this way anymore. It’s as though the truck graveyard became some kind of boundary, holding us in. Looking out at the stripes of green and gold, the deep and glittering forests of bright beech and dark pine, it hits me like a punch in the stomach how wrong we’ve been, how wasteful. All this open space, all of this wild and living summer has been surrounding us, waiting for us, while we’ve been meeting in the truck graveyard, sometimes making a few loops around the village on the bikes, sitting lazily on the swings, or sprawling out in Sandy’s room with the PlayStation.
We used to be different. There were hot, butterfly filled summers when we did exactly what I’m going to do right now.
I run for the nearest hay bale. It’s been a while since I last tried this though and I don’t have enough speed, so when I throw myself at the fat sleeping animal I just smack against the side. My fingers claw around for some string to get a grip on but gravity has already won. I hear Sandy laughing behind me. He has come down from the speedboat and is standing on the edge of the field. He shakes his head, grinning at me. “You’ll never get up like that,” he says. And then he starts to run. His long legs which look silly most of the time, are in their element. He leaps over the golden field and when he comes within a couple of feet of the hay bale he jumps. His fingers come into contact with the top and he grips, hoisting himself the rest of the way. Once fully on the bale he stands up, his hands on his hips, proudly looking down at me. The low sun is right behind him so that his body is a dark and flattened silhouette. He looks like a cardboard cut-out.
I make a beeline for the hay bale next to his. I run much faster this time. I don’t get up as smoothly as him. There’s a lot of scrabbling, but I manage it. I stand up straight, feeling tall and powerful, as we look out over the countryside that is awash in the soft, dying colours of the sunset. Then I jump down and run to the next hay bale. Sandy leaps down too and the game is on. He beats me every time, but we don’t stop. We run and climb two, three, four times, until my chest feels like it’s going to explode and I lie face down on the fifth hay bale, my arms hugging the sides, the spiky hay making my skin prickle. Sandy’s bale is very close to mine, and he springs easily from one to the other, just managing not to stamp on my head. We sit there on our hay bale, knowing that time is running out, knowing that Sandy’s mum is in the doorway looking out for him.
“We’ll do this when you get back,” I say. “I’m going to practice when you’re gone. You’ll be unfit and all stodgy with hospital food. I’ll win then.”
“There won’t be any hay bales then you idiot,” he says.
“Trees. We’ll do it with trees instead.”
“You can’t take advantage of me being sick,” he smiles his lovely wonky smile.
“I can and I will. And later, one day we’ll go to Wales.”
“You won’t need a passport.”
“Well I’ll have one anyway.”
He slides down on to the ground and I know he won’t let us have a big goodbye or anything. He is going to go home like he does every day, maybe watch TV with his family or play a mindless board game. There doesn’t need to be any other reason. We walk back across the field and through the trucks. I wonder if he is taking it all in one final time, or whether he’ll let it pass today and think about it tomorrow on the drive out of the village. The lane passes the entrance to the scrapyard. He’ll get a glimpse of the blue tarpaulin on the side of the truck that we used to sit and smoke under until he stopped. As the lane curves around he’ll see the hay bales through the barbed wire fence.
I hope it’s raining tomorrow. I hope he can hardly see through the water spitting down the windows and that he feels nothing for this place. I hope his dad turns the music up so loud it drowns out everything, the birds outside, the cows, the thoughts in Sandy’s head. Because thinking is just too damn hard sometimes. And feeling is the very worst. You better fucking come back.
“I’ll visit,” I say. “When they let me.”
“Good. Hospitals suck.”
We reach his bike and he bends down to lift it up, brushing away the nettles with the backs of his large hands.
“You coming?” He asks. “I can give you a lift.”
“I’ll stay a bit,” I say.
“You said you wouldn’t smoke anymore.”
“And I won’t.”
“That’s good. But you know you won’t get sick. You’re tough as nails.”
We both know this isn’t true. As he gets on his bike I want to shout “You’re amazing,” but of course I don’t.
His bike bounces along the track and beyond the trees. All around me are scraps of metal and body parts. I am no good at this. I don’t know how anyone could be. Except Sandy. Sandy who is big and good and can’t fit inside my very young and screaming heart.
It’s a prickly cold night. Summer ended like a book snapping shut and the coat Mum got me for my birthday is too big, too heavy, and I want to pull it off because its suffocating, but I have to concentrate on steering my bike. I was never any good at going no handed. She tried so hard to pick out something special and she spent way too much money. Its bright red, not really me at all. The toggles on it belong on a child’s coat. I wear it every day to school so that she’s happy as she watches me walk out the door. Keeping her happy is something to work towards, although it doesn’t always go to plan. I really do hate this fucking coat.
I hit a girl at school today. Nothing to do with the coat, although Daisy would probably have had a quip at it if she saw me wearing it which she didn’t because I always take it off before I enter the carpark and go straight to the lockers and shove it in with all of the books I’ve never read. No, it wasn’t the coat. It was a boy.
There had been a party at the weekend. I drank too much and allowed myself a couple of tokes of Sam Blake’s floppy joint which surprised me and caused me to cough a lot. This got Sam laughing and we laughed together for too long, sitting under a grand piano with a fat black Labrador that was hiding from the thumping feet of the dancers. I lay back on the scratchy rug and was staring up at the wooden base of the piano, trying to block out all of the noise and think only about the dark musty smelling wood and how it would sound hollow if I reached up and tapped it with my knuckle. I would like to learn the piano, I was thinking. It seemed like a worthwhile thing to do. I closed my eyes and wondered if it was the weed causing me to creep into myself like that under the safety of the piano, or whether it was just me, looking for a way out of a party I shouldn’t have bothered coming to. And then Sam’s face was next to mine, smelling like smoke and spirits. He kissed my mouth lightly and laughed. Daisy was after Sam. It was well-known. I could have rolled away from him. I could have turned to the sad black dog beside me instead. But I didn’t. When Daisy came into school and called me a slut in front of everyone before the registers had even been taken, I thought it was a low blow for a kiss and that she had always been a bitch and I had always wanted to hit her (but I’m not sure that’s true now). I slapped her across her pretty, blue-eyed face.
It’s a bright night too. I hope no one is looking out of their windows admiring the moon. But it’s past one and not likely. I pedal faster and turn on to the dirt track. When I stop and drop my bike against the fence I’m startled by the head of a cow appearing out of nowhere, its big brown eyes full of the light from the sky. It moos at me over the fence and I clap my hands so that it trots away into the field. I don’t want company, not from a cow, not from anyone.
The truck graveyard is lit up in a way I’ve never seen before. The sheets of metal, so tired and dull in daylight, now flash like glass, throwing out shards of bright fairy-tale light that splinter all of the dark spaces that I usually depend on. But nobody is coming now. It doesn’t even feel like I’m really here at all. Out of the deep red pocket of my stupid coat I pull the steak knife that I took from the kitchen. It is immediately at one with its surroundings, catching a slice of buttery moon on its slippery side. I walk over to the blue tarpaulin. It moves ever so slightly in a breeze that I can’t feel. For a second I pause and wonder if there is something alive behind it, something breathing hot living breath. I stand very still and watch, the handle of the knife gripped tight in my hand. But it doesn’t move again. In the stillness I am the only thing living and I take my knife and I slice through the skin of blue tarpaulin over and over again. If it could bleed there would be blood all over my hands and my chest and my feet. I would smell that sweet death smell that I’ve smelt in the butchers. My skin and trousers would be as red as my coat.
With the knife still in my right hand, I pull the sleeve of my coat over my left fist and punch the glass of one of cars that I don’t think I ever named. Nothing happens, so I pick up a rock instead and throw it so that the glass shatters. I stab the leather cushions that are as soft and powdery as the kidneys that Dad sometimes tries to make me eat. I climb up on to the speedboat and stab and scrape at its insides. I open the door of the Jaguar and stare at the seats which have already been slashed by someone else. It doesn’t seem right to kill something that’s already dead so I close the door again. In my other coat pocket is a can of black spray paint. I’ve never actually used spray paint before and on my first few attempts nothing comes out, then when it does it just dribbles off of the can’s nozzle. I shake the can and try again, this time with success. On the side of the largest truck, I write in fat capital letters that are bold and wonderful in the moonlight, GET RID OF ALL THIS DEAD SCRAP YOU FUCKS. Then I collapse in a red heap on the ground and do nothing at all while my heart goes on and on.