Parallel Lines (II)

/// PART II ///

He passed a church car park on his left. Rubbish strewn about, leftover from a boot fair, turned over with the breeze. He kicked a loose Buckfast bottle lying beside an overflowing bin as he approached the corner; he dug his fists deeper into his jacket pockets and rocked on his heels while waiting for the cars to let up for him to cross. He was underdressed for the chill.

‘Come on—let’s get on with it,’ he muttered to the cars. ‘I shouldn’t have left the ciggies back at the flat.’

He jogged across the road and slowed to a walk on the pavement. He wasn’t too anxious to get to school in a hurry, but it would be warmer. He ducked into a newsstand—the P___ shop along the way—to burn some time. The shop smelled of years of curry spices settling into the walls. It turned his stomach, but it was the only place that’d sell him tobacco without issue. He could always count on running into one of his mates as well. He wandered around a bit—stopping in front of the papers to leaf through The Sun to check football news and gawk at some of the more salacious photos. His mind began to wander.

Thom had been gone for almost two years now. Aside from the occasional text or abbreviated phone call, there hadn’t been much in the way of communication. Compounding the distance was the necessary surreptitiousness of it all. Thom had been reduced to an anathema, repudiated by his mum. He held no enmity for his brother—life had become hellish in the flat. He didn’t fault him for leaving; he honestly wished he could do the same. But, he was torn—he was the last his mum had left. She’d never admit it, but mum blamed Thom for his dad leaving; or, if she didn’t blame him, he at least became the stand-in for her vitriol. The consistency of name undoubtedly encouraged that. He wanted to see Thom again. A family trip to London was certainly out of the question. The delicate navigation with his mum notwithstanding, Liam had always been skint and couldn’t afford the train anyway. He now had some money saved up from the corner shop job and figured he could put himself over the edge with some punting. The football season was already over a month on.

‘Liam!’ He threw the paper haphazardly back onto the rack and turned to the voice. ‘Oi, all right, mate?’

‘Yeah yeah, absolutely. Just gotta pick up a pouch of GV.’

‘Well, come on then, I want to get out of here.’

‘All right, cheers; be out in a sec.’

Liam exited shoulder first while hunched over, hands to his mouth, finishing up a rolled cigarette. He brought it to his mouth and tossed the pouch.

‘Hey, Michael—heads up,’ he said while trying to keep his lips pursed.

‘Ah, nice one.’ Michael started on his own cigarette. ‘So yeah, what goes on?’

‘You know…fuck all. Been thinking about getting outta here and staying with Thom for a bit.’

‘Yeah? What about your mum?’ He rolled the pouch closed and tucked it under his left arm. ‘No way she’s gonna let you.’

‘Not even there yet—I’ll worry about that later. I’ve gotta get the money first.’ He paused and added almost as an afterthought, ‘Know where I can bet on some football?’

‘Honestly?’ Michael stifled a laugh. ‘Literally anywhere—none of them give a shit. If they don’t let you punt I’d say your luck’s out before it could even start up.’

Liam examined the end of his cigarette, rolling it methodically between his thumb and index finger, allowing the smoke to curl onto itself as it rose before the wind broke the column. He’d never really thought of things in terms of luck before; he didn’t really think he had much pull with things either.

‘How long’s it been anyway?’ Michael said while staring at his hands.

‘Since what?’

‘Since Thom moved to…where is he again?’

‘Shoreditch. About two years. Listen…’ he brought his hand up to his mouth as if to take a drag, but shook it in the air, shooing an invisible fly, ‘listen, we gotta get going.’

‘Right right. Yeah sorry.’

Michael handed the pouch back. Before shoving it into his bag, Liam checked his phone for messages. Nothing. That wasn’t altogether unusual, and he wasn’t expecting anything to be there, but it had become a habit to check his phone when he thought of Thom for more than a few moments—especially if someone else was talking about him. ‘Please, Michael—’ Liam wanted to say, ‘could you just fucking drop it?’ He felt frustration welling up inside of him. He settled for reticence and started to walk, hoping Michael would get the message and follow suit.

They walked in silence broken only by involuntary grunts or laughs while passing a takeaway box between them. Michael finished the volleys with a final kick to the nearly disintegrated box, landing it squarely on the boot of a car parked on the side of the road.

Michael had been one of the first kids Liam had met when they moved to the council housing after his dad left. It was a flat in a tower block. Bit like what you’d find in east London, but about a quarter the floors. You could almost pretend they were houses proper. Not to say that their previous home was remarkable or even nice—but it was a home. An old stone cottage style house—a bit away from the high street. It was rather damp and cold in the winter—he’d never taken too much notice to that, but he heard the arguments; he’d never considered it at all, really: the house just was—he never knew any different. When every flat he visited in the new block was a facsimile of his own, he developed appreciation for the idiosyncratic. Michael’s was just down the way, a different tower, but in the same council estate. He lived with his parents and younger sister. Sometimes—more and more frequently lately—his aunt would stay there with her kids. They were at least ten years younger than Michael and Liam. Another of the daily fixtures just around: Liam especially never paid much attention to them. Why would he? They were just kids. To that point, he thought it strange—meddlesome—the interest Michael took in Thom.

The walk continued without any further inquests.