Two boys standing in the road with the throb of summer, the tarmac swooning like a Tennessee virgin offered her first swatch of stubbled jawbone, the boys bouncing a huge ball between them. Taut and cobalt and weightless. And Michael doesn’t want to play, Michael wants to be inside where he can lie on the sofa with a curtain teased over the sunbeam. A tall glass speckled with sweat by his hand, the ice cubes capsizing like broken yachts in still water. But Dad told them to Get the FUCK out-SIDE and PLAY, so they did.
It’s not much of a game. Ben throws the ball as hard as his chubby arms can muster so it thwacks the white line and looms up in front of Michael like an alternate sun rising over a sci-fi sequel. Ben shouts “Les Ferdinaah! Les Ferdinaah!” and Michael hits the ball with his head. Ben waddles after it, scoops it up, and throws again. They don’t swap sides.
“I’m the thrower,” said Ben. “I’m a expert at bouncing.”
So Michael closes his eyes and pretends, and it’s not as bad as a slap really, the plastic’s clammy but it’s brief. He closes his eyes because between the ball and the sky it’s too much blue and there’s bile in his throat at the thought of yet more summer. He pushes his eyelids shut to the luminescence, the over-exposure; he craves a darkroom to develop his thoughts. Michael is too old for this shit, it’s hot. And he’s had enough of play.
He opens his eyes and swats the ball to the ground. It skitters, tail between legs, to the gutter. He is swirling curse words around his mouth like gumballs (quietly: he’s not allowed to swear), and there’s an ulcer like a bee-sting where he bit his tongue.
“Are you done yet, Mum, it’s hot.”
His voice as sullen as gooseberry jam. His hand on the door. His step inside.
But he didn’t mean to interrupt this conversation and she steps in front of Dad, stretching her arm in slow motion. She moves like replayed footage of the goalie missing again, and again, and again. After the whiteness of outside it’s dark, and his eyes squint and adjust.
It takes a minute for them to see each other properly. Then he finds her gaze in the room and they’re eyes like the missing child from a decade-old milk carton, where you can’t help thinking that if they haven’t found her yet, she’s probably already dead.
Jane Flett was awarded the Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award in 2009 and promptly quit her job managing a music venue in order to spend more time swanning around in a silk bathrobe, tinkering away at words and playing synthpunk cello in a gameboy band. Unfortunately, this has proved to be less lucrative than expected. Come visit: http://janeflett.com