The last summer of the w.., p.13
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       The Last Summer of the Water Strider, p.13

           Tim Lott
 
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  ‘How many?’ said Pattern.

  ‘Six – obviously. Idiot. Then we each throw the die and we have to follow the challenges.’

  ‘Like kiss-or-dare,’ I said.

  ‘Sort of.’

  ‘What kind of options?’ asked Vanya.

  ‘OK, well,’ said Troy. ‘One of them could be, say, go down to the Handy Gandhi on the corner in your pants.’

  ‘Shit, man, I ain’t doing that,’ said Pattern. ‘And don’t call it that, you fucking racist.’

  ‘I’m a homo. I’m allowed prejudices.’

  ‘Let’s lighten it then,’ said Vanya. ‘Option one, kiss Troy. A proper kiss.’

  ‘Oooh,’ said Troy. ‘Pattern, this could be your lucky day.’

  ‘Let me check that die. It’s got to be loaded.’

  ‘Like you’re my dreamboat. You wish, darling,’ said Troy. ‘What about you, Straws? What options?’

  ‘Drink piss.’

  Everyone laughed.

  ‘You’re kidding – right?’

  ‘Not at all. I do it all the time. It’s a health thing. It’s good for you.’

  ‘Disgusting,’ said Troy.

  ‘You’d be surprised. Chill it down a bit with ice, it’s OK.’

  ‘Whose piss?’ said Pattern.

  ‘Your own. Troy’s if you like.’

  ‘He’s not having any of mine. It’s vintage. Year of forty-nine. Anyway, it’s on the list,’ said Troy. ‘Four more to go. How about a soft option? You’ve got to have some hope. Adam?’

  ‘Um. I don’t know. Suck someone’s toe.’

  More laughter.

  ‘That’s a good one.’

  ‘How’s that a soft option?’ said Pattern.

  ‘Depends whose toe you want to suck,’ said Vanya. ‘Don’t suppose anyone will be getting in line for yours.’

  Pattern took off his sock. ‘Nothing wrong with those babies.’

  There was a strong Parmesan smell in the room. Strawberry and Vanya made retching noises.

  ‘OK, that’s three. Three more to go.’

  ‘Putting ice cubes up your ass,’ said Troy. ‘Old junkie trick for waking yourself up after an OD. Sounds kinda fun.’

  Pattern suggested the men dressing in women’s clothes, but then decided there was no equivalent trial for the women. So he changed it to eating six cream crackers within ninety seconds. Since there were only five of us, Troy offered the final option – stripping down to your underwear then walking around clucking like a chicken for thirty seconds.

  Vanya threw first, then Pattern. Disappointingly – from the point of view of the spectators at least – both threw a number four, eating mouthfuls of cream crackers. The task proved entirely impossible, but entertaining to watch. Vanya gave up after about twenty seconds, but Pattern set out with a real determination to complete the task, chewing manically and throwing his head back in order to get the mush down his throat. It still defeated him in the end. There were crumbs and lumps of half-masticated goo all over the floor by the time he’d finished. It was making me uncomfortable – calling up memories of my mother’s choking fit. It was over soon enough. I hoped no one else would throw a four.

  Troy went next. He threw a two: drink piss. Everyone whooped and clucked – none of us believing for a moment, I suspect, that he would try. But immediately he stood up, grabbed a glass – a small one – and headed for the bathroom. All the time he was in there we were laughing, convinced that he was just bluffing. But sure enough, he came back with some yellow liquid.

  ‘You want to smell? To authenticate?’ he said, waving the glass in front of our faces, one by one.

  ‘You’re not really going to,’ said Pattern.

  ‘It’s fine,’ said Strawberry.

  Instead of answering, Troy went to the fridge and took out some ice cubes. Removing a rolling pin from the drawer, he crushed the ice. Then he produced a cocktail shaker, poured the yellow liquid in with the crushed ice and shook it.

  ‘Can I add anything?’ He looked at Strawberry.

  ‘Why not?’

  He poured some lime juice, vodka and chilled tonic water into the shaker. In the end there was something like half a pint there.

  ‘Down the hatch.’

  He opened his throat and downed it in one. We all whooped. He slammed the glass down on the table.

  ‘That’s one for the cocktail book. A piss martini.’

  We were all doubled up with laughter now.

  ‘How did it taste?’ spluttered Pattern.

  Troy looked thoughtful, and licked his lips.

  ‘Absolutely fucking horrible.’

  Everyone started laughing again. Pattern slapped Troy on the back. Strawberry gave him a kiss on the cheek. Vanya shook her head in astonishment.

  ‘Now nobody can go back on their dare. Not after that,’ said Troy.

  I was beginning to feel acutely apprehensive. My turn was still to go and, clearly, to back out now would seem cowardly.

  It was Strawberry first, though. She got the option to suck someone’s toe. She looked around at us one by one.

  ‘OK. Well, Pattern’s out of the running, obviously. Ain’t sucking no Limburger. Troy, I don’t think he’d get the full effect. Gay toes are different. Vanya, let’s have a look.’

  Vanya removed her shoe – a small black plimsoll – and revealed a set of perfectly pretty small toes.

  ‘Dry skin in between. Could be a fungal infection. Adam?’

  I took off my left baseball boot. My foot was unremarkable, my toes more so. However, I had recently cut the nails, so they looked neat. And they were tanned, and powdered from this morning. I thought they looked like pretty good toes.

  Strawberry got up, found a clean cloth near the sink, then rinsed it in hot water.

  ‘OK, Adam. Lay back.’

  She got down on all fours and started coming towards me.

  Vanya said, ‘Is this your big fantasy, Adam?’

  ‘The kid’s a foot man,’ said Pattern. ‘A foot freak. A pedi-phile.’

  I closed my eyes. I was embarrassed, but also excited. First I felt the cloth rubbing me in each crack and crevice. This seemed to go on for some time.

  ‘Why don’t you just dip it in Dettol, Straws?’ said Pattern.

  ‘I don’t like impurities.’

  ‘If there’s any germs left on those tootsies they’ve got to be getting their last rites.’

  ‘OK, maybe that’s enough.’

  There was a silence. Then I felt Strawberry’s lips close around my big toe. I could feel her little teeth nipping at it. She moved her mouth back and forward.

  ‘Remind you of something?’ said Troy.

  ‘No,’ I lied.

  ‘Maybe you should try the little toe, to make it a more, um, analogous experience for Adam,’ said Vanya.

  Strawberry disengaged her mouth.

  ‘I don’t have to do all of them, do I? Not that I mind, Adam. But it does feel a bit unhygienic.’

  ‘It tickles,’ I said. ‘Really tickles.’

  ‘Otherwise, I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would,’ said Strawberry. ‘I’ll just do one more.’

  She took my little toe in her mouth and began sucking it in and out. I felt myself, to my horror, stiffen under my trousers. She began to moan theatrically, and everyone started laughing again. I desperately wanted her to stop now, so that my excitement didn’t become visible.

  ‘OK. That’s my limit.’

  ‘Hark at her,’ said Troy, pointing to my groin. ‘She’s a big boy now.’

  Vanya squealed with laughter.

  ‘It just tickles,’ I said feebly.

  Strawberry took her mouth away.

  ‘Thanks, Adam. I think I discovered a new experience. Much better than I expected.’

  ‘Any time,’ I said, attempting to restore my cool, but my voice came out cracked and overstimulated. Strawberry went to the sink and drank a glass of water. I heard her gargle briefly.

  ‘OK, one more to g
o,’ said Troy. ‘Adam, you’ve had your fun. Time for you to put out.’

  I anxiously picked up the die, weighing it in one hand. I dreaded drinking the piss. So when I saw it wasn’t a two, I felt immediately relieved.

  ‘What’s a one?’ I said.

  Troy puckered. ‘Guess, sweetheart.’

  I quickly leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.

  A round of boos immediately ensued. ‘Cheat’ and ‘Not fair’ and ‘Cop-out’ rang in the air.

  ‘Not like that, sweetheart,’ said Troy. ‘Like this.’

  He grabbed me on both sides of the face, pulling it towards him, and before I had a chance to do anything about it, he pushed his tongue into my mouth.

  Without even thinking about it, I bit down.

  ‘FUCK!’ Troy pulled back from me, rubbing his sleeve against his tongue. ‘Shit. I’m fucking bleeding.’ His voice had lost its American twang and now sounded vaguely Brum.

  ‘Come on, Troy,’ said Vanya. ‘That was rape. He was meant to kiss you, not the other way round.’

  ‘Shit, man, I’d have bit down harder,’ said Pattern.

  I could taste Troy’s blood in my mouth.

  ‘He caught me by surprise.’

  Troy was examining the blood on his finger. I saw Strawberry put her hand on his arm, as if to restrain him.

  ‘Troy, he just got a shock.’

  Troy flexed his shoulders back and forth, took a tissue out of his pocket and wiped his finger clean. He stared at me, and for a moment I thought he was going to fling the tissue at me. But then he seemed to relax back into himself. He dabbed at his mouth once, then delicately placed the tissue in a bin that sat by the sofa.

  ‘OK.’ I heard him sucking on his tongue and swallowing. ‘I guess I didn’t really give him a chance. No hard feelings, Adam.’

  He put out a hand and I took it. Then he pulled my hand to his lips and kissed it.

  ‘So are you going to do it properly?’ he said. ‘You know. With you being the man?’

  ‘Come on, Troy,’ said Pattern. ‘You’ve had your tongue in his mouth. He’s traumatized enough as it is. Kid’s only seventeen. Give him a break.’

  ‘He’s confused,’ said Vanya. ‘Strawberry’s just been plating his toe, and suddenly he’s Truman Capote.’

  ‘I’ll let you off, kid,’ said Troy. ‘But you don’t know what you’re missing. So – another round?’

  ‘Once blood is shed, time comes to change games. Who wants to do the weejee board?’ said Vanya.

  There was a chorus of approval. Troy went to a cupboard and returned carrying a wooden board with an alphabet painted in a circle around its edge.

  ‘I don’t know, Troy,’ said Strawberry. ‘Ouija’s a head-fuck.’

  ‘Well, this girl’s game for it,’ said Troy.

  He placed the board on the coffee table. Vanya clapped her hands. Pattern sneered. Strawberry looked uncertain. I took my place next to Vanya. Dusk had fallen, and Troy started to light candles around the room.

  Thirteen

  ‘I want to talk to Jim Morrison,’ said Vanya.

  ‘Only he’s not dead,’ said Pattern. ‘No one ever saw his body.’

  ‘That should make it easier, then,’ said Vanya. ‘Anyone you want to talk to, Strawberry?’

  ‘Can you get through to God?’

  ‘Now he is dead,’ said Pattern, deftly fingering a rollie.

  ‘What would you ask him?’ said Vanya.

  ‘What was he thinking of, I suppose. How he’d do it differently next time.’

  Troy switched off the electric lights and sat down at the head of the table.

  Strawberry’s face, in the half-light of the candles, looked hollowed out, afraid.

  ‘I’m really not sure about this, Troy.’

  ‘It’s just fun, Shortcake. Remember fun?’

  We all laid our fingers on the top of an upended wineglass that he had placed in the middle. Pattern’s finger fat like a chipolata, Strawberry’s fine as the handle of a bone-china teacup. Troy’s long and powerful, Vanya’s nicotine-stained, nail cracked. Mine, trembling slightly. I did not believe. But then, I wasn’t sure I believed in my disbelief.

  A hush descended. The undertow of levity was receding. Each person, I imagined, was thinking about someone dead. The glass remained still.

  ‘Is anyone there?’ said Troy in a slightly overwrought parody of a medium.

  Vanya giggled, but it sounded forced. Strawberry and Troy shhhed her.

  Troy raised his voice slightly and raised his eyes towards the ceiling. This time his voice was serious.

  ‘Is anyone there?’

  Nothing happened. We all sat with our hands on the glass in silence for maybe a minute. Vanya coughed. Pattern sighed.

  Then the glass gave a slight tremble and shifted a millimetre to the left. It paused, then shunted a few millimetres to the right. Then it started to move slowly, but with apparent randomness, around the table. It didn’t move towards any of the letters, but made circular trajectories around the central point where it had started.

  ‘Shit, Troy,’ hissed Strawberry.

  ‘This is bullshit,’ muttered Pattern. But his shoulders were stiff with tension and he kept his finger on the glass.

  ‘Shut up!’ said Vanya, now apparently in deadly earnest.

  Troy spoke. ‘Who is it? Who is it speaking to us?’

  Now the glass begin to slide across the table towards the perimeter of letters. I wasn’t aware of exerting any pressure on it at all. If someone was, it wasn’t detectable.

  ‘Troy! Are you cheating?’ hissed Vanya.

  The glass stopped.

  ‘No. No, I promise! Shut up! It won’t work if we don’t show it respect.’

  After a few more seconds of silence, the glass started to move again, this time apparently indicating letters; but it spelled out only nonsense – A, F, P, W, L.

  ‘The dude is obviously stoned,’ said Pattern.

  Strawberry, Troy and Vanya together issued an urgent ‘Shhhh!’ I remained silent and anxious. I wanted to leave, but didn’t want to show my fear.

  The glass kept moving, speeding up. Then it started to go crazy. It darted madly across the board. There was an E. Then it stopped for a few seconds. Then V. I wanted it to stop. I exerted pressure on the glass to stop it moving. But somehow, Troy sensed it.

  ‘Adam’s pressing down on the glass!’

  ‘Adam,’ hissed Strawberry.

  ‘I’m not,’ I said, releasing the pressure.

  The glass started to move, again apparently randomly in the centre of the board. Then it travelled to the perimeter again – this time stopping at E.

  The silence thickened. Even Pattern seemed drawn into the ceremony. There was no longer any sign of mockery on his face.

  ‘What does E-V-E stand for?’ said Troy, raising his face to the ceiling.

  ‘Anyone know an Eve?’ said Vanya.

  The glass did not move. My finger was now trembling discernibly on the glass.

  ‘Bad connection,’ said Pattern, very quietly.

  ‘Are you OK, Adam?’ said Strawberry.

  I said nothing, but sensed bile heaving in my stomach.

  The glass remained at the E. For a minute we just sat there. I began to assume the ‘visitation’ – if that’s what it was – was over.

  Then Troy raised his head again.

  ‘Do you have a message for someone?’

  The glass immediately began to move towards YES, where it stopped.

  ‘Who is the message for?’

  The glass stayed where it was.

  ‘Do you wish to say something to someone here?’

  The glass moved away from YES then back to it again.

  ‘To whom do you wish to speak?’

  Again it spelled out EVE. Than an R.

  ‘Ever?’

  ‘R. Is that short for “are”?’

  ‘Ask it what it wants to say, Troy,’ whispered Pattern. Clearly he had started to take
things more seriously.

  The glass picked out Y.

  ‘Why? They’re asking why.’

  ‘No, he’s spelling out “every”.’

  ‘I thought it was a she. I thought it was Eve.’

  ‘I don’t know what that means.’

  Then the glass began to move again, almost frenziedly this time, at a terrific speed.

  U DID IT

  And then GILTY

  The glass stopped. Then it smashed. Fragments scattered over the table. Strawberry recoiled. Vanya screamed.

  I stood up, took the edges of the table in my hands and upended it. The board flew and the glass fragments spread across the wooden floor. Strawberry, Pattern and Troy looked at me in astonishment.

  ‘What kind of stupid game is this?’ I heard myself say. My voice was high and tremulous. My head was swimming from the wine I had drunk.

  ‘Calm down, Adam!’ said Vanya. ‘Someone was probably just playing a trick.’

  I swayed slightly, and went to kick what was left of the glass across the room, in fear and fury. As I did, I lost my balance. My legs went from under me, and the world turned upside-down. I was just about aware of the sharp pain of the impact of my head on the edge of the marble fireplace.

  It took me several minutes to come back to consciousness. Strawberry and Troy were leaning over me. My vision cleared, taking in the rest of the room. Pattern and Vanya appeared to have left. Strawberry had propped my head on a pillow. She was holding a glass to my lips.

  ‘Are you OK, Adam?’

  ‘Urgh.’

  I felt sick. I took a draught of water all the same.

  Troy leaned over me.

  ‘Did you drink too much?’

  ‘I don’t know. I guess. Did I faint?’

  ‘You slipped and banged your head. You’ll be OK. But you’re going to have a bump.’

  ‘It was a stupid game. Troy, I tried to tell you. Something like this always happens.’

  I raised myself up on one elbow.

  ‘It was the drink.’

  ‘This is your fault.’ Strawberry looked at Troy accusingly.

  ‘Come on, Straws,’ said Troy quietly. ‘It was Pattern who thought it would be hilarious. There’s always one who takes it too far.’

  ‘Pattern?’ I said, my head clearing now.

  ‘It was Pattern who was pushing the glass,’ said Troy. ‘He admitted it. He thinks we’re all guilty, see. Guilty of everything. The Vietnam War, poverty, inequality, you name it. He was sending us a message. To “everyone”. The E-V-E was the first letters of “everyone”, but then he lost control of the glass. Sometimes that happens. Not because of supernatural reasons, but because other people, deliberately or inadvertently, start to exert equal pressure. Then he spelled out an R and a Y but we couldn’t understand it. Then he found the rhythm again. Spelled out the rest before someone else took control of the glass again. And then he pushed down on it and broke it. For dramatic effect. The gimp.’

 
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