During the week he could think of nothing else but her black eye. Had it happened in that car she had climbed out of? He had only seen the shadow of the driver, was this the villain? Or had she wandered into some dark place like some caped crusader and dished out as much as she had received, leaving her attacker broken on the floor, exiting the scene as police sirens howled warning of their coming? It was not long before he too had been there, in the scene, and, once the blow had been planted on her, he shot into action and broke the hand of her assailant before splintering his legs to leave him begging for mercy, which he was not prepared to give, and it was she who stopped him from landing the killer blow for she was a creature of clemency.
At church on Sunday, he projected an image of her wracked up on the magazine stand, in a room with peeling wall paper and a soiled mattress on the floor with just an old blanket to cover her at night. He watched himself search the city for her, at first on his bike and then his bike was stolen, so he continued on foot, searching the run down tower blocks, creeping in behind boarded up shop fronts, or sealed old houses awaiting demolition, until he found her, lying desperate from her injuries and carried her to safety.
Daizee’s poverty haunted him for three nights and her pain consumed him during the day. He needed to do something to help reverse it and help stand her on her own two feet.
On that Wednesday night he crept into his father’s study and searched the desk drawers and then the filing cabinet for his Post Office account book, determined to draw out what money he had to give to her, with the condition that he might save her and deliver her from the torment of her life, that she might come and live with him until he was old enough to leave home and set up on his own. Living together in palatable poverty he would teach her all that she needed in order to equal him in study and join him at university, when he went, and from university they would travel the world. But the account book was not there, or more to the point, he had no idea what it looked like and, for fear his parents might wake, he worked in near darkness, with only the miserly glow of a desk lamp, the flex of which would not stretch to reach the filing cabinet. The next morning he questioned his father, asking, where is my Post Office book?
His father had no idea, and any way he doubted very much if there was anything in it at all.
Even so, said Carlo, I would like it, I have no need of the money, so I was thinking of giving it to charity.
I do hope you mean Oxfam, his mother said.
Yes, he answered, knowing how to play her, I will stay within the church.
I shall see if I can find it, she answered proudly, looking at him before glancing at her husband, whose nose was stuck deep into St Thomas Aquinas, over which only the shine of his bald scalp glistened. And, sure enough, when he returned from school, there it was sitting beside his supper plate. At lunchtime, the following day, he snuck out of school and headed for the local Post Office, where he withdrew the sum his Grandmother had left him before she died, a whole fifty pounds and fifty pence. The money was in his hand, new crisp notes that reminded him of the touch of the cloth of Daizee’s coat on her shoulder where he held her the week before. As he fondled the cash he imagined that he was toying with the lobe of her ear, or smoothing her cheek, or better still erasing the black eye with a soft rub of his thumb.
That Friday afternoon, in class, he turned the money over in his pocket as he watched the hands of the clock slowly turn till the final bell of the day and he was on his feet and out in a dash, running the corridors, to the doors, to the gates, to the street, dodging the cars as he crossed the road. The sun was shining as he pounded passed the packed tower blocks, that dwarfed the three story high Victorian houses with green and blue berry stained glass above the front doors, through a network of red bricked, flat pack houses, down the hill into the royal barracked territory of private schooling, with palace walls and church sprawl, and cadets parading sea blue uniforms and die young greens.
Expecting that she would be late he was surprised to find her standing there, alone, smoking a cigarette, and behind her the temple facade of the city museum. Daizee was wearing a pair of tight blue jeans, a tight black t-shirt and on her shoulder a golden sunburst had tattooed itself. When she saw him she stubbed out her cigarette. His hand was inside his pocket to ensure that her money was still there, clasped it, and would have handed it to her first thing but she put her arm through his and said, why the fuck dew bring I ere?
What’s wrong? he asked.
She said, I don’t like et.
I jus don’t. Taint my sort a place.
I come here all the time, he said. I love it.
Ets fucken ded.
Behind the green sparkle of her eyes he sensed a deep anxiety.
Come with me, he said. I want to show you something.
Something that puts the fear of God in me.
Wot ez et?
I needz a piss furst, she said.
OK. There are toilets inside.
Entering through the sombre doors they heard stiletto footsteps echo round the gothic hall and rubber soles squeak on the old white marble floor. Daizee disappeared inside the toilet. When she came back out she was sniffing.
Carlo led her across the hall, through a narrow corridor past a dark tomb of a room in which lay the bones of a man that was once a hunter, his bones caked in black tar scabs and the remnants of rotten rags. As they crossed a second hall, from the ceiling of which was suspended a full size replica of the Wright Flyer lurching towards a crash, Carlo said it makes me shiver, just walking this way. Daizee failed to answer. When they turned the corner, at the top of the grand marble staircase, Carlo’s eyes were closed.
Ha ha ha.
Ets the skel’ton of a deer.
It’s a giant deer.
Et fucken ate grass, Carlo.
It used to give me nightmares.
Ha ha ha.
I still don’t like coming in here.
Ha ha ha.
No you, fuck off, he said.
Dohn’t tell I to fuck off, she said. Dew fucken cunten et abowt, scar’d of a ded fucken deer. Her eyes were solid, cold jewels. She turned and abandoned him.
He caught up with her outside. She was half way down the hill of clothes shops and cafes, heading towards the old docks and the centre of the city.
He said, Stop. Daizee. Stop.
He put his hand out and grabbed her arm.
Daizee, please. I’m sorry.
The sun was burning in her eyes. Dohn’t worree bowt it. Taint you.
What is it then?
She produced a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket, took one out, lit it, blew out the smoke quickly, took another drag and blew that out. I’ve bin thur bifor, she said and then she bit her lip, her hand was shaking slightly. Wiv Cristol.
Who’s Cristol? he asked.
Ur muh. Err took I. I woz a litlun, like four maybe, summut like dat. Err was wiv summun, I don’t know oo. Et weren’t dat cunt, JG. Err seen lots o men. Ee whir tending et whir a famlay day owt. They’ms did fuck off sumwhirs. I don’t know whir. A fucken room. Who fucken knows. They’m left I, looken at some ded cunt. Awl dat whir left o im whir fucken bones an black pox. An then thur whir shouten an screamen. Et whir Cristol, ur muh, screamen like a fucken banshee. They’ms was throwen her owt. Who knows wot err bin up to. They’ms was twozen et up, I shudunt wonder. An I wet miself cos I whir thur o mi tod, wiv em bones, standen in a pool of mi own piss. Dat’s wot appened thur.
She looked at the floor and took quick drags of her cigarette.
Carlo watched her. Her head was bowed and her jaw was tight. Her eyes were moving up and down, to the pavement, to Carlo, to the feet of walking shoppers that surrounded them. She smoked fast. Her eyes were red.
Come on, he said, and took her hand. He led her into a crowded cafe, where he bought her a coke. They sat in the back at a small wooden table that had once been a sewing machine. She looked at her glass for a while, circling the edge of it with her finger.
Are you feeling better? he asked.
With her shoulders shrugged she stared ahead before hunching over her elbows, then she sat back and turned to Carlo. Why’s you scared o the skel’ton of a deer?
I don’t know, he said. I just am, I guess. I came across it by accident when I was little and it took me by surprise.
Wot dew got to be scared of, she asked, whir you’s on yer tod?
No. I was with my mum. I ran off. Ahead. Turned a corner and there it was. When mum caught up with me I was standing there frozen to the spot.
Wot err do? Laff?
Mum? No. She picked me up and gave me a kiss. He looked at the counter and the queue of people, the bank of cakes and sandwiches. Funny, he said, I’d forgotten all about that.
That my mum was there.
Et mus be nice, she said, to ave yer muh do dat.
Not leave you standen en yer own piss.
She wouldn’t do that, he said. Suddenly aware that the cafe was crowded he lowered his voice and added, it’s not all good.
She nodded but her eyes flicked away.
They’re mad. My parents.
Everyone else’s parents are normal and mine are weird.
Wot’s weird bowt em?
He shuffled in his seat.
Yer blushen, she said.
Yeh, she chuckled, tell I. She was looking from outside of his spaceship again.
He looked down at the table. They’re religious.
Wot like happee clappee?
No. They’re Catholic.
Right, she said, not really understanding.
Carlo breathed out.
Dew might need to get over et.
Yer folks. They’ms thur. Even if ets a li’ul fucked up, taint nastee fucked up.
You’d understand if you met them, he said.
I wohn’t be meeten em, she half laughed.
I jus wohn’t, she said, turning away. Her expression had turned cold. When she turned back to him, she said, dat’s timez up, I gotta get go.
She got up. Looked down on him. I’ll sees ya next week. And bent down and gave him a kiss on the cheek. OK?
Yeah, he said softly. Oh, listen, I’ve got a bit more money for you this week.
She smiled. Almost stuck her hand out for it and then said, dohn’t worree bowt et.
That next week they stood on Clifton Suspension Bridge. They were looking down at the oil slick of the River Avon on which a grey ship taxied like a hearse in procession, mournful to Avonmouth, on its way to the sea.
Ur real dad were a sailor, said Daizee.
Carlo turned to face her and smiled.
Yeh, so Cristol sed. Err met im one night down the docks. Err whir wurken thur, ya see, an iz ship were in port.
What work did your mum do? he asked.
She glanced out to the forest cresting the gorge top. Ah, it dohn’t matter non, she said sadly. Anyweys, ee smuggled err on board iz boat an dat’s ow I whir got. Den summun found em, together like, an ur muh whir kicked off. Err whir right cut up speshlee az they’m was like found in the throws of… oh dew nose, twozen et up. They’ms dint av no chance ta swap addresses. Err ung to iz memree mind. Err did dat. Used to sey dat ever time err looked a I et made err fink on im. I ust to like dat. Ur muh ust to sey dat ee was the onlee bloke err ever got on wiv the best, an dat sex in a ammock were a right giggle, speshlee when yer tryen to keep the noise down an not let on dat yer thur atawl. Et were like totallee tragic dat ems lost contact. Err sed ee would cum bak one day. Err ne’er gave up on im. Sillee cunt.
Carlo said, life is about hope.
Daizee said, no, ets a fing you’s livez throo.