It all began with Marty’s pail of weed. And I mean pail – one of those galvanised steel pails your grandma had with the chipped wooden finger thingy on the curved handle that clacked flat on the silver side when you let go – a real Jack n’ Jill style pail. Jam packed full of the greenest freshest softest and wanting to be imbibed-es weed you ever laid eyes on. Oh man.
We were looking forward to it. Me especially, and not just for the weed. No, there was Riley too. Riley was gorgeous – more gorgeous than Marty’s bucket o’ weed in fact – and I’d wanted her for ages. I’d wanted to stick my nose right into that pale shower of her falling hair and inhale her sweet perfumes til I fell over with the rush and the intake. She had it all, the booty the hips the hair the smile the lips and the stare to take down even the hungriest son of king that might ever cross her sweet path. Oh man.
Trouble was though, she didn’t know I even existed. Sure, she’d seen me, with those haunting hazel eyes, but she’d look through me, like I was a thing that existed, but no more, a thing irrelevant to her elevated status as a Beauty of the World. She didn’t ignore me, cos being ignored would’ve been acceptable – it would have at least been some sort of acknowledgement, but no, she just didn’t even ignore me.
She was keen on Sammy, who was organising the weed night in the Cemetery at Trafalgar St. She n’ he had been an item for coming up six months, and I gotta admit they did look a treat. Him with his sharp black hair style and large collared shirt, her with a flow top and jeans, bangles galore and his arm round her narrow waist. People said they did it all the time, anywhere, anyhow, and wore smiles of pride about it too. The mark of accomplishment, the mark of Cain maybe, who can tell.
So did I have a chance? Course not. You kidding? Me n’ her? Dogsbody and the Queen of the Nile? Grommit and the Empress of Chic?
Course bloody not.
I’d been reading up on positive thinking, and strategy and what to say to get a girl interested. Thirty six questions to love, the big listen, the tell me about you, honey, preach yourself to this converted and we’ll be sweet together. I figured the weed would help too, along with a bit o’ drink and the dark of the cemetery. My strategy was simple, get shadowed in, toke a bit of courage, split her off from the crowd, talk, lie back on a grassy plot and we’d howl like owls at the moon. You gotta give it a go, right? You never do what you never try.
And there’d be a small crowd there: everyone wanted a share in the bucket. Josie with the bob cut and always in the way, Terence who might even dump his suit for the occasion, Sandra – god, Sandra with the matching tight hair do and skirt – Techno Jimmy who always wore a white tee and white iPods, and a coupla others I didn’t know. Yeah yeah, Sammy’d be there, towelling his ego with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and a fat durry. Doubt he’d stay the distance though after a few rounds. Riley’d be cake for the taking.
Come 9pm we hauled our bags o’ grog to the hedges that lined the graveyard. The moon was up and lucent like a conspirator and the shadows long and purpled aired. Marty carried the pail like a talisman, a sacred relic, the Ark of Covenant. A voice behind me said,
“You good for tonight, Andy?” Josie, looking tight in stretch jeans and flimsy flesh showing cross strap concoction of a top.
“You bet,” I said.
“You got plans?” she said.
Whisky Tango Foxtrot. Who has plans on a night like this?
Yeah, I know I do, but don’t call ‘em plans for chrissake. ‘S not a bloody workplace.
We were standing on the edge of the little group. The air was salty; it was crisp on my tongue and the dew on the long grass dampened my sneakers. Clearly a few of the group had had a few already. Marty stood centre tall with the bucket in his mitt and a white Smirnoff in the other. Jimmy was forging a hole in the hedge. Behind him, open beer in one hand, Sandra mock fucked him and cried “Open it up, cowboy!”
Somebody shooshed her. “We’ll get caught!”
I looked for Riley. She was there with a bottle of something in her hand; one of her bangles caught the half-light, Sammy clinging to her like a shadow. My god she had some cleavage. The moon got them square on, like two more moons in a cradle, as calm and comforting as night.
“You know,” said Josie, right close in my ear, “cleavage is like a car crash. You take a discreet look to make sure it’s okay and then move on.”
Jimmy pulled the hedge apart and we fought our way in. A rustle in the roots sent a shriek form someone.
On the other side lay a vale of white cement and ghostly forms that rose to the night air, as if stultified mid dance. Moon side they were milky white, their backs enrobed in shadows. Give them the kiss of cold life and they’d swan about like brick brides at a ball.
The group filed along an avenue of tall grass and old graves. Someone said, “Snake!” and we screamed and jumped on to the nearest grave. A slab rocked and a woman screamed. Someone else yelled “Sssshhh!”
There was a light flash at the far end of the cemetery.
“Cops! Everyone down!’ Marty hissed and we dropped. I copped a face full of dead flowers and spluttered into the dark.
“You okay?” a voice said. I sensed her perfume and said,
“That you, Riley?”
“No, silly,” said the voice. Fuckin’ Josie, you still here? Get out of the way. I could see Riley behind her. She seemed to be writhing in in the grass, but I couldn’t make out why. Had she hurt herself? Did she need help?
“This is ridiculous,” said Josie and jumped up. In the moon he was a statue upon a grave top. She held a bottle high, and said, “The dead are my heroes!” then took a long swig.
“Don’t ssshhh me,” she said. “I’m in love with the moon!”
I could see why Riley was squirming in the grass: Sammy had his tongue so far down her throat you could almost see the back of her skirt lift. Bastard. Time to interrupt.
“Hey, you guys wanna drink?” I said, and held out a bottle of beer to them.
“I’ll take it,” said Marty standing over me. “C’mon, let’s go.”
We rose and slunk after him down a gully surrounded by a henge of crosses, marble tombs and weeping angels. They disappeared when a cloud cut out the moon.
“Can’t see a bloody thing,” said Marty. I heard the click of the pail handle on the side. He must have set it down. “Jimmy, where are you?”
“Over here,” a voice said.
There was a thud and a body fell like sculpture. “Ow!” The roll of glass on concrete. “My stoli!”
“I need to pee.’ That was Sammy, finally putting his mouth to other uses.
“Marty, where’s the bucket?” Jimmy’s voice.
“I dunno, I can’t find where I put it.”
“Whadja put it down for?”
“To get my phone out.” An iPhone light swept the dark. I could make out Marty behind it. Angels, crosses and covered columns leapt about the dark.
“Sammy where are you?” Riley.
You get one chance I thought. I put my hand out to take hers. I felt a curve. It was cold. Like frigid cold. “You okay?” I said. She was immobile. “Riley?”
“What?” said Riley, nowhere near me. The light flitted past me, catching my hand on a statue’s butt, and me goggle eyed in its brightness. I heard Josie cackle. Fuck!
“Marty! Where’s the bucket!”
“I’m over here, babe.” Sammy. Having his slash no doubt.
“I can’t find where I put it!”
A scream and another thud, less rocky this time, but with a small tumble of earth. Riley called out. Her voice seemed muffled. “Get me out! Oh yuck, it’s wet! Help me!”
Marty’s phone swept the courtyard of graves and monuments but there was no sign of Riley. Sammy appeared from behind a gravestone, the pail in one hand.
“You looking for this?” he said.
“Get me out!” yelled Riley. I turned on my torch.
Sammy held the pail out to Marty.
“It stinks,” said Marty. “Why does it stink?”
“Please, someone help me!”
I flashed the torch over to her voice and saw the open grave. I was about to say something when Marty’s voice pierced the air.
“You fucking pissed in it, Sam! You pissed in the weed!”
Sammy stared into the bucket.
“You fucking ruined the whole lot!”
I heard a thump of fist on skin.
“Fuck off Marty,” said Sammy. Another punch, and Marty hit the grass. I had been given a second chance.
My torch hit Riley at the bottom of the empty grave. She lay in a puddle of dank water, covered in grime (even her breasts I observed with a discreet look). She stared at me plaintively. The boys were still fighting and yelling at each other, the sounds of bodies cracking against headstones and marble slabs.
I took off my belt and wrapped the buckle end round my hand. “Grab this,” I said. Carefully positioning myself on the grave’s edge I swung the belt towards Riley. After two or three goes she caught it. I pulled her up. My pants fell down and I struggled not to fall in with her. When she was high enough I grabbed her hand and with a mighty tug hauled her out. I fell backwards into a plastic mass of daffodils and roses, and she landed on top, her face full in my crotch. I thought Lucky I wasn’t commando.
I looked down at her. She looked up at me. I smiled.
“Oo gross,” she yelled, jumped up and anxiously brushed the dirt off her clothes. I lay staring at her, the night air on cool my thighs. Not the time for a boner, I thought. Not the time.
I said not … oh Jesus.
“Oh, sod off!” yelled Riley and stomped off to where Marty and Sammy had finally stopped fighting.
I lay in the flowers. They were dank and murky. The moon was out again, and I was on full show. Fuck! I had had two chances, and had ruined both of them. I was her saviour, the only one who cared more for her than a bucket of weed, and I’d been let down by my body. I’m a kid. When it comes to women, I’m useless. Hopeless, gormless, juvenile. Idiot idiot idiot. Positive thinking? More like what was I even thinking?
Even the angels were laughing at me. Bitches.
One of them moved and giggled. It was Jimmy with his hand up Sandra’s skirt.
Fuckers. Things couldn’t get any worse.
There were deep voices and lights jumped about the graves. Thick forms emerged from the gloom.
A beam stopped on me. I winced and shut my eyes, inwardly cringing at the light illuminated my white legs, my pants crumpled around my feet, by belt to one side. From what I could tell there were three of them, enormous guns, shaved heads, black t-shirts. Or maybe that was the night. Whatever, they wore don’t fuck with us looks.
“Hey, Tom, this one’s having a wank!”
More lights, slabs of black boots in the grass about my head. Howls of derision.
I kept my eyes shut, willing a grave to swallow me whole.
“Don’t let us interrupt you, sonny. Middle of the fucking graveyard, can you believe it?”
A foot shoved me. “Get up, dickhead.”
I struggled to my feet and bent to pull up my pants.
“No, take them off and leave them there. You can spend the night without them.”
I looked at my interlocutors. Perhaps it was the shadows, stretched by the torch beam that exaggerated their menace, but they were massive, threatening in their bulk and mockery. I glimpsed Marty cowering behind a gravestone. Was that Riley beside him? I couldn’t see anyone else.
The legs of my pants caught on my shoes as I pulled them off and I danced about in the gap between two graves tugging and yanking at my trousers. The men guffawed. The pants legs were two long sleeves of cloth with white pocket linings trapped like elephant ears in the light. Bats squealed in a tree. I stopped, one shoe off, one on, in only my t-shirt and undies, wishing for all the world I was a cold corpse embedded with the soil.
The torchlight passed up and down my huddled frame. In all the dark of night, I was the only lit thing, a white beacon of shame amidst the spent guilt of the dead.
“What shall we do with him, gents?”
There was a beat of feet on turf up the hill. I saw the backs of Sam and Riley beating their retreat.
“You know who your friends are, eh?”
I searched the shadows for the others. Nothing moved. Not even the statues.
“We could strip him and chuck him in that grave there.
My heart blanched, white and cold as stone.
“Little pervert’d enjoy that.”
One of them picked up a bag. Bottles clinked inside. The moon tripped in each one as he held them up to inspect them.
“A six pack, a vodka, and a rum. This yours?”
I nodded. It wasn’t but no one else was going to own up.
“Fancy a night on the turps, did you, get shitfaced and tug one off on your lonesome. In a fucking graveyard.”
“He couldn’t wait but,” said another one. “Had to knock it out first then drink.” Snorts like pigs in the graveyard. “What a limp little turd.’
“C’mon, let’s just dump the fucker and go.”
They moved towards me. I wondered where I could run to.
“No boys, leave him.”
Josie. Jesus no, woman.
“Ullo ullo, what have we here?”
“Were you watching your little man, or are you part of the show?”
Josie didn’t budge.
“Well, well,” said the largest of the gang. He had some sort of jacket on. I couldn’t see if it was tartan or decorated leather.
“Two of them,” he continued. “Boys, we can have some real fun here..”
“Like?” said one of his mates in a muscle shirt.
“Dunno. Maybe strip ‘em both, chuck ‘em both in a grave.”
They shone the light directly on to Josie. She stood chin out and sneering, unmoved by their belligerence.
“Listen, shit for brains,” she said. “I don’t give a toss about the grog, but you don’t touch Andy or anybody. Not here, not now, not in a cemetery. Not never. Understood?”
The men looked at each other, then burst out laughing.
“Hear that Andy boy? Your girlfriend says not to touch your merchandise.”
A thought flitted ghost-like in the back of my head, ‘she’s not my girlfriend’. But I was too incensed to speak. Mean shit shouldn’t go down. I looked at the headstones for inspiration. It was me and her against a group of gym junkies. With who knows what capability. I could get beat. How mean were these guys, or were they just fucking with us?
“What do you say, Andy? Hmm? Can you speak?”
They shone a torch right at me, but I ignored it.
“I’ll do you a deal. I came down here with Josie to smoke weed and enjoy ourselves. I’ve got a bucket of the finest dope you’ll ever come across. Yes, you heard, a whole bucket. Fresh off the family farm. So fresh you can still smell the country air in it. So here’s the deal. I’ll give you the weed, and you leave. Simple.”
The moon hung silent in the dark sky. One of the men said,
“Whaddya mean a bucket?”
I snorted, mock arrogance like mock light in the moon.
“You don’t know what a bucket is?’ I said. “A bucket. A pail. A ten litre metal container of the cleanest meanest greenest leaf this side of the Great Divide.” I leaned into the light. “With a little wooden handle so you don’t hurt your fingers when you carry it.”
I picked up the pail with one hand and held an open bottle of grog over it with the other.
“Don’t try to snatch it, or I’ll empty this bottle on it and set it alight.”
One of them held up his hand. “Hey, boyo, easy.”
I put it down and felt about its contents for a tiny dry sample. It was mostly clammy, but I held my face. “Here, smell this.” Mr Jacket took the piece offered to him and put it to his nose. He grinned. I noticed it was tartan.
“Holy shit,” he said. “This smells good. Farmy, but yeah, fresh.” He turned to his cohort. “Boys, we have a deal, let the perve and his weird chick go and we get a whole fuckin’ bucket load of ganja.”
I motioned for them to start walking and when the last was about to go I handed him the pail. “Enjoy,” I said.
I watched them dissolve into the darkness. When I was sure they’d gone I gave a silent fist bump and in my enthusiasm hugged Josie. She hugged me back. She put her hand on my bum. Inside the jocks, skin on skin.
“Convenient having no pants on,” she said.
I stared at her. Her eyes were sharp in the moon, alive as the night.
I felt it. Not again. Not now. Not without pants on. Jesus, can’t I control anything?
She giggled and pulled herself close. Right on top in fact. “Easy, boyo,” she said.
“Where are the others?” I said.
“Chickened off. Marty and Jim and Sandra and the others ran as soon as the thugs left. It’s just you and me.”
She pulled back a bit, just far enough away not to touch my groin. She said,
“There’s an old saying: if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.” She put her hand on my cheek and kissed me softly, as softly as the air, on the lips, wisp like and ripe.
“Is that what you’re doing now?” I said.
“Nope. The premise doesn’t apply.”
It took me a moment to work out what she meant. But when I did, I could have died right there. Josie who was always in the way. Josie who stuck around when everyone had left. Josie I hadn’t taken a second look at.
“Why me?” I said.
“You’re a decent guy. You rescue damsels in distress. You look good with your pants off.”
And she kissed me there and then, in the moonlight, amid the dancing angels and cloth covered columns and the moss encrusted headstones and corrupted flesh in their quiet crypts and the burgeoning darkness and she chuckled as she drew herself close to me again, body to body, flesh to flesh, the living with the living.
From the far edge of the cemetery a voice bellowed, “What the Fuck?!”
Josie grinned. “Time to leave.”
“I’ll just put my pants on,” I said.