Saturday comes charging in in a wave of unashamed yellow and blue glory, again, and uncle Bru and I buy a whole bunch of food down the shop (with cash! Abi looks absolutely flabbergasted that we’re actually paying for something) and, on the tables in the back doorway, I meet Blue and Wendall. I should remember Wendall from when I was a kid, but his face just can’t seem to stick in my mind; already it’s slipped away and I only have a vague, misty impression of a person. Bruce works for Blue, and also spends most of his time at his house in the winter; he’s got wayward brown curls, faraway blue eyes, a grey-stubbled face and clothes in a constant state of painty-ness. He seldom speaks, but when he does his voice is harsh, abrupt and completely at odds with his appearance. I can’t think of any name that would suit him more than Blue.
The rest of the day we sit around at home, and I cook up some of the food we bought. (Corned beef and spaghetti, anyone?) I ask uncle Bruce what he did last night (nothing, apparently) and who Andy is.
‘Ahh, Shitty Andy!’ he grins. I’m intrigued.
‘Why do you call him that?’
‘Because he sucks shit!’ cackles Uncle Bruce.
‘Nah, that’s his job. He drives the shitsucking truck.’
‘Ah, I see....’
Later, we sit on the beach, staring at the sunset; I ring dad to make sure he got back ok and establish that he did, much to the annoyance of bruce, who yells ‘YOU’RE USING ALL MY BATTERY!’ and grabs the phone back off me. We sit in silence, contented on my part, although uncle bru seems kind of pissed off at me – I try to ask him what he’s doing tonight, but he’s unresponsive and monosyllabic, although he does mention the party in Claris that everyone’s been talking about.
We have a smoke and, just as the sun touches the horizon, a battered car comes skidding to a halt on the road behind us. A slightly anaemic-looking white-blonde boy leans out of the window and hails uncle bruce. In the car, I can make out other figures and stacks of beer.
‘We’re off to this party in Claris!’ he calls to uncle Bru. ‘You wanna ride bro?’ Uncle bru refuses, obviously not in the party mood, and introduces me (ish, he gestures in my direction saying ‘you know Henry?’ and we jerk unenthusiastic chins at each other) and before long they go squealing off up the road, revving and burning rubber quite unnecessarily. I wait for the sun to wink out below the horizon, and then stretch and tell uncle bru that I’m setting off for the Currach. I’m gagging for a beer, badly, and I’m so not up for another night of listening to the rats crashing around in the kitchen and running across my floor. (I don’t particularly have a fear of rats, but I don’t really want to wake up with one nibbling on my nose, which has happened, apparently.) I’ll wangle myself a couple of beers if it kills me. I say as much to uncle bruce, as I stroll off towards the house to get my shoes. (He’s banned me from wearing his cowboy boots.)
‘We’ve got a beer up home’ he points out.
‘Yeh’ I say ‘but that’s my emergency beer. Only for emergencies.’
‘Isn’t it an emergency now?’
‘Not while there’s one person left on this island with money!’ I shout cheerfully over my shoulder, almost at the boardwalk; he doesn’t reply, and I head up to the house, get dressed, throw some makeup and uncle Bru’s hat on, and head out over Miller’s. The sunsets look so spectacular from just......here. I totally fail at getting a lift, but that’s ok because I hate arriving at the Currach when it’s light. (I look better in the dark. Far away. Or just not there.) The night’s slightly thunderous and there’s a twang in the air that’s got my heartrate going a bit; there’s adventure afoot tonight, if you can find it.
I reach the Currach, and poke my head down the path; there’s only about three people there, none of whom I know. Nope. Everyone must be up at the club, or perhaps at this fabled party? I swing back out onto the road and start heading for the club. (Already, my legs are stronger than they were; they’re hardly complaining at all about the walk so far.) I approach the bridge, into a rhythm now, apprehensive but dogged. A white car comes flying over the bridge far too fast, hurtles past me, screeches to a tyre-shredding halt and reverses rapidly back towards me, nearly bloody running me over. Who the fuck is this, I wonder? I can’t think of anyone who knows me well enough to stop for a chat, especially not in such a dramatic manner. I back up and peer in through the window. It’s TT. What the hell?
He pokes his head out of the window, looking owlish and anxious in a red hoodie. (His face is really nothing to shout about, nice but slightly goatish?) I can’t remember the conversation; I’m too thrown by this sudden familiarity from someone I’ve never even been introduced to. I explain that I’m heading for the club, because there’s no one at the pub, and he says there’s no-one at the club either, and he’s off to the party in Claris, after dropping the tourist girl he’s got off, and would I like a lift over? I’m not really sure I want to go to a mysterious party on the other side of the island with someone who I suspect of being a twunt, so I say casually that he might see me on the road, if I decide to go. He nods, smiles and drives off, the asian girl silent beside him, and I’m left bewildered, wondering if I should have said yes, wondering how he knows who I am, wondering if there will be anyone up the club. I trudge up there, knowing with absolute certainty that if I go up and have a look in the club, TT will drive past when I’m up there and I’ll miss my only chance for a lift. I go anyway, just to check he was telling the truth about there being no-one there. It’s a protest of some kind, but I’m not sure what against. Of course, he was absolutely right; there’s one person and a couple of small kids, and that’s all, and of course he does go past while I’m up there. And suddenly, as if the decision had been made ages ago, I know that despite my better judgement (which seems to have gone on holiday, or perhaps I left it somewhere) I’m going to the party in Claris.
Nightfall, then, sees me walking up the twisted road over the mountain, further into the gulleyed bush as the light seeps away. It’s like, 15k’s to Claris, but things like that don’t seem to matter here in the listening bush; I’ll just walk until I can’t any more, and then I’ll stop for a while and then walk some more. If I don’t get there until tomorrow.....it doesn’t matter. I’ll just turn around and walk back. It’s all good. But probably I’ll get a lift. And with this in mind, I stroll ever upwards, round the perilous curves and gaping, hacked-out cliffs, the twin peaks rearing dark above me. I see a few lights here and there, people’s houses spaced on the hills, but I understand why, here, people are driven to congregate in bright places, to find life and voices and company even if it’s uninspired, and to drink until they have to concentrate very hard on putting one foot in front of the other. No matter how bright your lights or how noisy your generator, if you’re alone and sober up here, there’s no way you can escape the silent, crowding bush swelling blackly outside your door, no way to move the jagged, impassive mountains shutting out the sky, no one to hear you shouting, nowhere to hide. I carve happily through the blackness tonight, feeling the air swirl in and out of me until I’m saturated with heady night smell, starlight lighting the road just enough; the bush seems, for now, to accept my passing, probably because tonight I’m not afraid. I pass the roadworks machines, tractors and rollers and diggers parked silent by the road like sleeping monsters, and I consider trying to nick one, but realise that my getaway would not be speedy, and I’d have trouble parking it. I steal past them.
After about half an hour, when I’m nearing the top, I hear a wheezing rattle somewhere below; a car! Ace. I wait for it to come up behind me. (Inevitably, it catches me on a dangerous and blind corner.) A jeep comes belting round the earthy outcrop, just visible in the light of its one working headlight; I stick my thumb out and it coughs to a halt. I catch up and tug gratefully on the mucky handle, smiling. (Writing this, I realise that this seems kind of dangerous, but it’s not, honestly.)
My first thought on encountering the jeep’s occupant is Shit, this guy’s wasted. I can’t really see him – there’s a silhouette of curly hair and long legs, but that’s about it – and he’s pulling stuff off the seat, muttering confusedly to himself.
‘Sorry’ he mumbles to me ‘there’s just chocolate...um....I’ll move this too...uh watch the petrol there it’s open....uh....do you like chocolate?’ He’s shifting packets of chocolate and other things on and off the seats, in a befuddled kind of way. I help him and jump in, introducing myself cheerfully, he jogs the rickety white jeep back into life, and we trundle onwards. His name is Josh and apparently he’s not been drinking, at all, for some months, but he must surely be on some kind of meds because he’s slurry, confused, shaky....I like him instantly, he doesn’t seem very old (twenties, maybe? I still can’t see him, but that’s the impression) and as we begin to drop down into Medlands we talk about cameras (he’s a bit of a filmmaker) and the state of this jeep, which is decidedly Dodgy. ‘I’m usually on my quad’ he says vaguely ‘but I found this in my garage and thought I’d fix it up...’ He lives in Medlands but says, generous in his bumbling way, that he’ll drive me over to Claris, because it’s still quite a long way and he doesn’t reckon there’ll be any cars along for ages. He gets clearer and more strident as we continue the journey, and as we crest the hill between Medlands and Claris he reveals, laughing, that his lights don’t have a dipper; if a car comes the other way, he just has to turn them right off. He demonstrates this enthusiastically, flicking them off for quite long periods of time as he navigates the gnarly, metalled corners. Again, I should be afraid at this point, but it’s just not happening, even when another car comes roaring the other way on a narrow blind corner and we have to mount the bank slightly, at speed, with no lights. We rocket over the bridge and into Claris, heading for the club, where he says the party is (I try to persuade him to come, but he says he has to go and make his garage into a studio, or do something to a car, or something) but on the way into Claris there’s music, cars, kids running around in the road; it looks like the party’s here. We go and check the club anyway, which is a few k’s further up the road, but as we approach it the owner drives out, glaring disapprovingly at us as we lurch towards him, lights off, and U-turn on the grass behind him. (‘Please’ I giggle ‘Don’t drive this thing wasted. You’ll die. I don’t want you to die.’ He reassures me that he won’t.)
‘Well, there’s nothing happening there then’ says Josh noncommittally, rattling back the way we came. ‘Is it alright if I drop you at this party? And um, do you have a lighter? I’ve got to....dropped my....’ He’s getting vague again. We pull up on the stretch of road that’s littered with cars and flooded with sound, and I open the door, jump out, and spark up my lighter to help him find whatever he’s looking for among the flotsam that lies like snow, all over the cab. There is chocolate everywhere, piled in drifts on the dash, on the seats and in the footwells, even jammed under the handbrake.
‘Why do you have so much chocolate?’ I ask curiously. He looks at it mournfully.
‘Uhm....I just....I dunno, I just really like chocolate....I guess....do you want some? You can....’ In the light I’m surprised; he’s older than I had thought, early thirties perhaps. I decline the chocolate, thank him for the lift and say he can keep the lighter, begging him not to wave it around too close to the open petrol can next to his seat. He agrees mildly, smiles me a goodbye and clatters off; I watch him go, perplexed, amused and touched in equal measure. Then, taking a deep breath, I scurry off the road to take in my surroundings and formulate a plan.
The road here is straight and flat, moonlight and warm light from the party mixing together and lighting it quite well. On one side greenish land drops gently away towards the floodplains, a few houses and trees strung along it, and on the other sandy, duneish scrubland humps over to the sea about half a k away. (If anyone sniggered, slap yourself.) Among the scrub there are latticed pathways, some created by the council for pedestrians, some by walkers, some by kids, etc; I sit on one of them and stare across the road at the party. The house is set some way back from the road, surrounded by a shadowy expanse of grass some metres below the road, scattered with leaning tea trees and screened by scrambling bushes and flowers. There are a few cars and trucks parked under the trees, and near the house there are tables, gathered people, laughter and music, Fatboy Slim to be precise, pulsing intoxicatingly out across the flat land. Up and down the road and in the paths and everywhere around there are kids, flocking like birds from small groups to big ones, hooting and calling to each other, swerving erratically through the darkness like a shoal of darting fish. Obviously I’m terrified of them, so I sneak across the road and down towards the light of the party and lurk in the shadows under a tree, checking it out. There aren’t nearly as many people as I expected, I can’t really see where all the booze is, and I can’t see anyone I know. This isn’t the kind of party I can just walk straight into. Someone looks my way and I retreat hastily back across the road and into the scrub, where I sit down on the path, dangle my legs down the bank to the road and try to work out what the hell I’m doing here. I think if Fatboy Slim hadn’t been playing I would have got up and started walking home right at that moment, but despite being almost literally petrified by the proliferation of kids all around me, bound to spot me at any minute (I can’t quite walk properly, my balance is affected by fear) I can’t tear myself away from the funk soul brothers. The greatest hits pushes its way in through my feet and hands and up through all my muscles until it’s pretty much got my whole body, and I start to feel braver, which is just as well because at that moment three kids burst out of the bush, see me, stop short, and one of them blurts ‘Who are you?’
There’s two girls, both about thirteen, and a small boy with messy hair and quick eyes.
‘I’m Henry’ I say, smiling and pretty calm. ‘Hi. Who are you?’
They introduce themselves, looking puzzled and smirking, but not aggressive. I can’t remember the girls names, but the boy is Matt. They smile queasily at me and scurry round the corner, where they have a giggly but perfectly audible argument about my gender. (‘It’s a dude! Honest!’ ‘No, seriously, it’s a chick, I’ll bet you!’ ‘No way, clearly a bloke...’) After a while, they come back, obviously not having come to a conclusion and wanting another look.
‘What are you doing?’ one of them asks.
‘Oh, urm, just sitting....I heard there was a party so I was planning to crash it, but it doesn’t look that crashable at the moment....I was thinking I’d wait until they get a bit drunker and then have a go.’
This answer seems acceptable to them. ‘Oh, they’re all pretty drunk already’ says the biggest girl boldly. ‘Just go in, they won’t care.’
‘Yeah, they’ve been drinking since, like, eleven’ puts in Matty. ‘They won’t give a shit.’
Emboldened by this, I make a second foray into the party area, but I still can’t pluck up the courage to emerge from behind my truck. Some of the kids have come down and are running around between the trees; on my way out I bump into the same three again. They’re following another kid who’s about to throw up, and then some more come barrelling in, and somehow I get swept out onto the open road and into full view. Attention swings instantly onto me like a fucking prison camp searchlight; clamouring voices keep asking ‘Who’s this? Who are you? Matty, who’s this?’ I introduce myself again and again, still somehow getting tugged and pushed and swept up the road towards a larger group. The initial three kids, obviously seeing that they’re onto a good thing here, are ushering me along, grinning at everyone and yelling ‘It’s Henry!’ (They obviously haven’t decided on a gender yet, but I think as I get into the moonlight more people are leaning towards Girl.) We hit the bigger group like a ship into ice, and the reception’s the same, except here they start noticing my jacket and gloves.
‘AH BUZZY, ARE YOU LIKE A PUNK?’ screeches one curly-haired Maori kid, bouncing cheerfully across in front of me. ‘DO YOU LIKE GUNS ‘N’ ROSES?’ He straps on an imaginary guitar on and hurls himself back the other way, howling ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ with surprising accuracy. This theme is immediately picked up on by the rest, and soon my jacket and gloves are being felt, prodded and pulled in all directions, while band names are randomly shouted by the assembly. Suddenly, something just kicks into gear. I can so deal with this. Fuck it. I grin, throw caution to the winds and myself into the game; I’m swinging through the group, grabbing everyone’s hands and pulling them into gangsta-ish backslapping hugs, shouting ‘FUCK YES’ to the bands I do like and yelling names back at them (G-unit? D12? Do you like Scribe? What about the Game?) playfighting, insulting them, laughing, swearing, insisting cheerfully that I am a girl, and somehow it seems to be working. The subject of 50 Cent is raised.
‘He’s been shot nine times’ I crow, and suddenly another voice joins in beside me to chorus ‘Why won’t he get the message and fucking die?!’?!’
I look round and see the pale blonde boy from the car before, grinning beside me. ‘Hey!’ I say happily ‘I saw you in Mulberry earlier!’
His eyes widen. ‘You were with Bruce!’
‘Yeah, that’s my uncle!’
‘TRIPPY! He’s awesome!’
‘I know! I’m Leon!’
Hands are shaken. Another kid, a small one who only looks about twelve or thirteen, bounces up wearing a beanie and white zip up hoodie. ‘Are you Henry?’ he asks, a massive grin on his face.
His face is permanently paralysed with laughter and he’s really reminding me of someone, someone I love; I already want to pick him up and swing him around. We’re drifting off the road towards the verge, a spot next to a car, up a steep bank from the party. There are some guys here who are kind of taller and more scary-looking, but I’m not too bothered any more; I have a feeling tonight might be alright.
‘[INSERT NAME HERE]!’ screams a burly Maori boy, bowling into a much smaller kid with startling violence ‘YOU’RE A CUNT!’
‘Why?’ asks the smaller kid defiantly, clearly terrified.
‘BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!’ He slams into him again, this time bearing him to the ground where they playfight, laughing and swearing. A tall boy in one of those sideways caps looms, hunched, behind me, quite intimidating for a second.
‘That’s Kyle’ says Leon, gesturing. I say hi.
‘Where are you from?’ asks Kyle quietly, staring down at me from black eyes, his expression unreadable. I explain, as best as I can, that I’m pretty much from everywhere, and ask him where he’s from.
‘Here’ he says, as if it should be obvious. ‘We all are.’ I nod enviously, and he elaborates reluctantly. ‘I was the first person...’
‘He was the first person to be born on this island!’ interrupts Little Henry excitedly. ‘True!’
‘Well that’s not fucking true’ I frown; I’ve been reading Grace Medland’s autobiography and I know for a fact there were people being born on this island nearly a hundred years ago. I don’t know how old Kyle is, but he’s definitely not 100. ‘There’ve been people being born on this island for ages. Come on, stop taking the piss.’
‘No’ says Kyle, smiling slightly for the first time ‘That’s not what I said, that’s just Henry exaggerating. I was the first person to be born in the new community centre over there.’
That’s a lot more believable. I dodge around this area for a while, still introducing myself to people, still being quizzed about everything. Little Henry has decided I’m a ‘punk from the mean streets of London’ and nothing I say can disabuse him of this notion; he grabs people and introduces them to me, enthusiastically relating elaborate tales of my hourly street fights and other equally fictional things. (The holes in the knuckles of my gloves are from all the times I’ve punched police cars, apparently.) Leon’s got some bud but no papers, so we run around looking for someone who’ll loan us a skin; eventually we find a very drunk woman, who appears to own the car, and she and Leon jump in to roll up. It takes a long time; she’s really drunk, and keeps falling over and dropping things, but eventually (it’s just Leon, Henry, Kyle, this woman and a quiet girl now) we have a joint, and spark it up. I seem to be included in this, just by being there, which is all good. I still haven’t managed to get a beer, although I’m doing ok without one at the moment.
As soon as the joint is lit, lumbering figures emerge from further down the road, pacing towards us like vultures on a dying man. These boys are all tall, wary-eyed, eyes glinting sullenly under peaks and hoods. They assemble around us, assuming a share in the joint, greet Kyle, Leon and Henry peacefully, and then turn on me.
‘Who are you?’
‘Who the fuck are you?’
‘..Are you a chick or a dude?’
‘Shut the fuck up, you’re a dude.’
‘Where the fuck are you from? You talk like a FREAK.’
‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’
‘Are you an undercover cop?’
‘Do you smoke P? Do you have any P?’
‘Have you got any heroin?’
‘How about meth?’
‘He’s an undercover fucking cop!’
‘Are you a fucking transvestite bro?’
‘Shut the fuck up you’re a chick, what the fuck’s up with your voice?’
I gesture boredly to my chest; I’m wearing a top which makes it quite clear that I’ve got breasts, but this doesn’t seem to convince them.
‘They don’t look real!’
‘Are they real? Let me feel them, they aren’t fucking real!’
‘Fuck off’ I snap, thwacking rough hands away. ‘They’re real, and you can’t touch them.’ They’ve pulled off my hat now and are tugging on my hair.
‘Bro, it’s not real!’
‘Are you a hooker?’
‘Fuck, it feels like a wig!’ (Hysterical laughter.) ‘Seriously, it feels like plastic!’
‘She is a girl’ says a dreamy voice at my elbow. ‘She is really beautiful, you should see....’
I look round in surprise. It’s the girl from yesterday, the hippyish one that we gave a lift to, standing here in her floating skirts, with a peaceful expression on her face and flowers in her hair. This is new. Everything up to now is familiar territory, but this is new.
‘Hi!’ I say, hugging her delightedly. ‘How are you?’ I offer her the joint, but she shakes her head, smiling, and hugs me snugly round the waist. The boys look affronted by this interruption to their interrogation, but the joint is gone now, so their interest is waning.
‘Not that we’re giving a shit or anything’ spits the one who seems to be the ringleader, crushingly, ‘but, for fucks sake.’ He turns away and they all slope off back into the darkness, shaking their heads in disgust. Their slow, assessed, defiant pace reminds me of rogue male elephants on the plains. I turn back to hippy chick, and ask her her name.
‘I am Jessica Rose’ she says simply, her voice soft, high and strangely accented, like a lilting child’s song. Of course. No other name would fit her. TT, I notice, has appeared as well, greeting Kyle, Leon and Henry companionably, although he doesn’t acknowledge me. And now, poor thing, it’s Jessica Rose’s turn to be interrogated, although perhaps not with quite so much intensity. She, however, has a different way of handling it; she tells people her name and then, smiling blissfully, almost nothing else.
‘Where are you from?’ asks one person.
‘The earth’ she chants, waving her arms happily, ‘the earth, the earth, the earth.’ She won’t say her age, or surname, or even country of origin; if I did this, it would really annoy people, but as she’s standing there in the moonlight, long warm brown hair tumbling down to her waist and small bare feet resting lightly on the ground, it’s hard to be cynical. ‘I sleep in the mossy place’ she explains in her fairy-child voice ‘under Maude’s tree.’
I glance at Little Henry, mouthing ‘is she for real?’ He shrugs back, wide-eyed. When asked how she got here, it emerges that she travels the world by hitchhiking......on boats......across the ocean. She just sailed here on a catamaran. From Tonga.
‘What was that like?’
‘Fish in the water’ she replies dreamily ‘moon on the sea....’
I have never, ever met anyone like Jessica Rose in my life before.
....To be continued.