John was squatting in the dirty corner of extensive black & white murals. There was an intricate pattern splayed out like a half-assed maze, and somewhere in the middle were tiny plots of colour with the symbols of a square, a circle, a triangle and a star hugging. He didn’t notice Alex coming toward him and then Alex crawled along the ground, with a soft wave and a smile.
“What’s up man? This party’s pretty rad isn’t it”
“Party?” John gulped, stroking his beard. He pulled out a hair and stared at it with an amazement that became disgust.
“Yeah. The people are –”
“I don’t like how it feels here.”
John was becoming a sandstone monster. His mouth was dry – a giant boulder blossomed inside it, and then split his skull open, re-birthing him inside his own mouth. Echoes of terror sliced through his rocky innards, and he wobbled while the building became black and white ribbons that fell away. He floated alone and would never find safety or love. Then he fell into the wall and toppled onto the ground. It felt beautiful. Then Alex touched his shoulder and John felt the walls crushing him. Someone he couldn’t see was caging the sandstone boulder monster in darkness without trial and without end. Then Alex rolled him over and John felt light stab his eyes. Alex walked him up a flight of stairs toward the roof.
“The walls are peeling away!”
“It’s a painting, man. A poster, I think. Grass is painted on the ceiling, and water is on the floor. It’s beautiful.”
“Ohhhh, ahh, I like it.
“Are you cold?”
“I don’t know… I feel… tight. I can’t move?”
“Yeah, you’re hugging yourself and you’re completely tense, just relax.”
“Oh. Yeah, I… cold, yeah”
Taking him to the roof was a bad idea. The universe sucked him in and he couldn’t feel any edges, any distance, or difference between flesh and pavement. John thought he was floating, but he was just standing somewhere in the middle of a messy roof with little silhouettes of adorable damage – nails, glass, stone and maltreated wood. Alex cast his long arms like a net looking for a piece of white light waving at him from the black and blue landscape. He wanted that white shoe lace mixed just right with a red that was either his blood or his shoe. When he’d spun around enough times to do the hokey pokey he remembered that he jumped from this tower, and landed on the other one. That is where his shoe would be.
“Are you… jumping across?”
“Again? You did this.”
“No, it’s too… Fuck. Where are the stairs?” Alex was talking more to himself than to John. He walked to the edge overlooking the courtyard and saw a red line, short and squat. It was a motorbike. Turning around and leaning against the wall he called out to John,
“That fucking Olive. She’s something huh?”
“You, ever think you should have tried harder to hook up with Jane when we first met her?”
“Jane? She doesn’t like me ‘cause I’m fat”
“You’re not fat, you’re thick”
“People who go from being fat as a girl, as a kid, growing up is hard. Once they’re skinny they don’t like people who stay fat… Jane’s ok, but she’s immature. Doesn’t know how to love”
“She keeps guys like us around to make her feel that she is better than someone doesn’t she?”
“‘God is love’ is so true, because God is a word, for the force of unknowing and what is beyond and within everything we see, I SEE so much. Are we in the lights of a city or the stars of a completely amazing sky that doesn’t end?”
“The universe is crazy. It goes on forever and we’re stuck here.”
“Are we? Are we really out there being love and being God, or are we alone in a dirty bedroom in a block of a billion people and we need a mother’s touch?”
“I need a woman’s touch!” Alex whacked the side of his fist into the wall and small pieces of broken tiling rolled off into the courtyard. Turning around he stared down. It was six storeys of darkness broken randomly by pockmarked light beams from the active flats and open corridor on every second floor.
He picked up a fist-sized chunk of stone and held it out. It was hanging limply inside of four tweaking, ineffectual fingers and a thumb, just like something important inside a ribcage. Then the ribs exploded just like that, allowing gravity to pull the stone down.
Alex could barely hear it hit the ground, and he didn’t even trust the meek sound that he heard. He picked up another piece and aimed directly for the motorbike. The stone broke apart on the right handlebar, but the sound was diffident when he was aiming for defiant. Another one rained down and plonked fatly onto the pillion seat. Alex ignored the questions John was asking and looked for the biggest piece of stone he could find. He wanted one that he could barely lift, but still be able to manoeuvre. It was on the floor and soggy, with a smell of rot. Resting it on the wall while he rolled his shoulders to loosen the denim jacket. John said only,
“Bruv, we’re high”
“Only six or so storeys.” He laughed a little and picked the slab up for an overarm toss.
The stone slab spun in a lazy double front flip through the air until it hit the motorbike dead on, caving in the petrol tank and smashing out the dials. The sound howled up with the wind and Alex’s round, blushing face was pierced with a smile to cut glass.
John carefully walked to the edge and looked down while Alex looked away, leaning forward on his knees. He was out of breath and trying to laugh.
“Did you know them?”
“I… I hope so.” Alex turned back to look anew at his damage and saw that people were coming out into the courtyard, gathered around the red smear.
They hurried unskilfully down a stairwell leading to the street rather than the courtyard. Their bodies were clanging into themselves and to each other – out of time. They reached the street, blinking heavily to make sense of the brightening sky. There were still shadows covering the road and edges of the building. There were small clusters of people smoking or moaning and the only cars around were taxis that weren’t stopping.
“John boy! Lexy!” Jane yelled out from behind them.
“Oh, hey. Still here?” Alex wiped his hands and arms; sure the stain of wet stone was not just on his soul. Her lipstick was smeared into oblivion and her dress had unnatural patterns on it.
“It’s Saturday night! These a fucking good party, good people, but Rob’s bike is over there and some asshole motherfucker just knocked it over. I dunno, he’s being so uncool and I get it, but like, I just wanna go back inside. Or get a cab and fucking, ya know?”
Alex could see across to the courtyard from where they stood and make out a sizeable crowd either trying to help, or watch Rob throw punches and roar beside the broken bike.
“I’m gonna go. Get John home and chill, so –”
“You two didn’t get laid? Fuck… That is… You’re too nice and boring!”
“It’s fine Jay, really” Alex smiled at her and looked over her shoulder to the scene in the courtyard.
“No, Johnnie, you’re great. If you lose some weight and fix your clothes up you’ll do fine, but Alex, you’re just such a big wimpy soft cock. Olive told me you tried it on with her?”
John turned away and looked toward the spectacle around the motorcycle with a cocked head.
“I fuckiiiiinnnnngggg told you, you’re not her type, and you go creep on her like that? What is wrong with you? You do not just grab onto a girl you barely even know and expect her to fuck you!”
Alex only saw Jane’s face; the teeth slathered with hate and the eyes a cloudy black. When she stopped yelling at him, she laughed, and he threw his fist into her chin. It felt good, so he threw it again and she started moving away. He stepped toward her and really threw his fist hard but he completely missed. She did not run back toward John. She side-stepped toward the street and Alex swallowed a heavy panic. He wanted to hit her again and not let her get away. She came toward him with a handbag cocked in her fist. Alex raised his left forearm to block the bag, barely feeling the round thud and deftly hurling his right fist into Jane’s nose. It was like slapping a handful of frozen sausages into a juicy flank cut – equal parts wet smack and muffled crunch.
With her head drawn forward by the motion of her throw and the deflection, Alex’s hit to her nose knocked her equilibrium too far backwards to correct. Not in heels especially. On the third flail backwards, her shoe heel crumpled and she spun to her side, digging into the broken asphalt of the road at a sharp angle.
Alex felt icy hands claw through his guts, grab hold of his spine and shake it, crushing the vertebrae all up his back. Either side of him, no one was moving; some were even still smiling, but their eyes were either vacant or elsewhere. Jane let out a sob like her anger had broken and was running into the gutter with the blood from her nose and mouth. She sounded like she was calling for her mother, in a handful of sharp jerking moans. Her black dress mixed in well with the lingering shadow on the road, while the dawn lights filtering through the uneven skyline strained the taxi driver’s old eyes, but no one should hold him accountable for that.
Turning around with the speed of a rat, Alex was too afraid to look at the people nearby and just assumed the worst. He ran past John, he ran through the crowd around the broken motorbike and the roaring Rob, he found a dark stairwell and he ran up into the tower, leaping three or four stairs at a time. Every second step he landed on left the stamp of a grimy red sock. Reaching the top, he stopped short of the roof. He wheezed, sobbed and reeled. There was a metal door ajar and rusted almost solid on its hinges, so he bit his lip and shoved it open enough to slip inside. It was lit by the dying fluorescent light leaking in from the stairwell, but Alex saw red and blue lights blinking in time with the music he could no longer hear.
There was a hot stink of urine; weighed down and wet with BO or just human weariness. It was a lonely, lowly toilet stall, on the top floor of a meagre building in so many lines of black and blue in this city. War drums were beating either inside his veins, or someplace else where he couldn’t stop them.