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The Dead of Summerby Camilla Way
Along the back streets, down to the river he took me. Through the wasteland filled with those white flowers, the ones that smell of cats piss and summer. Past our hideout, past the warehouses and the factories, almost to the gasworks. Into a scrap yard, not the one we used to play in. And there it was.
By the end of that summer three of us were dead. But you already knew that. Tell me, does your pulse quicken when you see those headlines? You know the type: murder spree of schoolgirl loner; boy, 13, rapes classmate; child, 10, stabs pensioner. Mine too; Ive collected them all, over the years. And when you pass those gangs of half-grown ghouls that haunt the streets in the half-light, does your pace quicken just a bit? Do you walk a little faster? Its understandable. Mugging, fighting, raping, killing—kids today, theyre animals.
But of all the worlds minimonsters making headlines, wreaking havoc, my friend Kyle was the most famous of all. And I was there; I loved him. Take a seat, Doctor Barton; Ill tell you everything. Its time to tell you everything.
We moved to Myre Street in 1986. I remember I was embarrassed by our crappy furniture. We were so obviously the skint Paki family without a pot to piss in, moving it all in by ourselves. So predictable were we with our brown, flowery sofa and rubbish telly, sitting there in the middle of the street. Plus I was humiliated by my dads manky old cardi and my sisters miniskirts. And my auntie Jam in a sari, for Christs sake.
I knew all the neighbours were watching from their windows. Knew they were saying, Family moving into thirty-six, dear. Asians by the looks of things. Dont think much of their sofa.” Knew that somewhere, behind one of those curtains, someone waslaughing at my hair.
I sat on the curb behind a smashed-up car and willed my brother, Push, to drop our sofa on his feet while those grand-but-fucked South London houses crowded and jeered over our row of council homes like playground bullies. I watched my family traipse back and forth with the cardboard boxes that contained our lives and turned away just in time to see Kyle walk out of his gate.
No. 33 Myre Street. The House of Horrors.” Big, black windows and peeling paint, a roll of carpet rotting amongst the weeds outside. The newspaper men must have been chuffed to bits when they first saw those pictures—the place had creepy” written all over it.
And what did I think of Kyle that first day? Not much. I just thought he looked stupid. It was boiling hot and he had an anorak on, zipped right up to his scrawny, birdy neck. And his trousers were too short for his legs. He didnt look at any of us as he walked off down the street, but that was the first time I saw Kyle—if thats the sort of thing youre after. He walked off down the street and I didnt see him again until I started school.
The thing you have to remember here is that to everyone else this is a horror story. The Events.” The Truth Behind The Mines Murders!” But to me it was life. It was just my life. Do you know what I mean? Things happened. Things went wrong. Okay, things went very, very wrong. But at the time it was just us kids—me, Kyle, and Denis—just kids knocking about. Because after the questions—after the whats, the whys, the whens—after the outrage and the disbelief, Im just me, here, without anything I used to have.
My brother Push and I started school the following Monday, halfway through the summer semester. Lewisham High was pretty much just like any other shit-hole South London comprehensive in the eighties: concrete and kids, wired glass and pissed-off teachers. A forecourt with a broken fountain full of empty crisp bags out front.
When I was introduced to my class and told to take a seat, the only place left was next to this fat black kid called Denis. He was the sort of kid who sits alone for good reason. You know when you can just tell without even having to talk to someone that theyre a bit simple? He was the special-needs kid; every class has got one. He had National Health glasses thick as car lights and his school uniform was spic-and-span, his tie too perfectly tied right up to his chin to have done it himself.
I sat down next to him and he turned around, took his specs off, and did this weird thing with his eyes. He sort of peeled the top lid over until the pink under-lid was left so it was just the bloody film. Then he grinned at me like he expected a biscuit or something. I just smiled politely and hoped hed leave me the fuck alone.
No such luck. I was obviously the only person who had sat next to him in years. I was his new special pal. I was stuck with him. He knew it, the other kids knew it, and after my first long day with him trailing around after me like my big, fat, black retarded shadow, I knew it too. I didnt really care. I guess I thought that even Denis was better than nothing. I am not someone who makes friends easily either.
Denis wasnt much of a conversationalist. That first days efforts pretty much went like this.
Me: So, Denis! Whats the canteen like here?”
Him: Do you like The A-Team?”
Me: Got any brothers or sisters, Denis?”
Him: Have you ever stood on your head until your nose bled?”
But theres something strangely intriguing about having your every question answered by another, totally random, one, and by lunchtime I was beginning to enjoy myself.
Me: Live near here then, Denis?”
Him: Have you got a dog?”
Throughout the day Id catch glimpses of my brother Push hanging out in the canteen or drifting through corridors between classes. He was clearly throwing himself into Making New Friends. I guess it helped that he was a good-looking, charming bastard. I just thought he was a bastard. He pretended not to recognise me when Denis and I passed in the hall. I eased my way through that first day, taking in the important landmarks, noting the leaders and the losers while pretty much being shunned by both, and by the time lessons finished for the day it was crystal clear that this school was going to suck just as much as my last one had.
By home time Id managed to get out of Denis that he lived around the corner from me in Brockley. Assuming this meant Id be stuck with him for the entire bus journey home, I was actually pretty pissed off when he seemed mad keen to sidle away by himself as soon as we reached the gates.
You not catching the fifty-three, then?” I asked, not actually caring, and trying not to sound like I cared, in case he got the wrong idea and thought that I cared. Which I didnt.
Denis shrugged his massive shoulders in his too-tight shiny blazer, looked at his feet, and for once answered my question with a proper answer. Gotta wait for Kyle. Gotta wait here til he comes.” Then he looked away, down the street where no one was. A big, dumb smile on his big, dumb face.
I looked down there too, not really knowing how to stick around, then said, Oh right. See you later then.” But I stood there for a few minutes longer, swinging my Co-op carrier with its pen sticking out of a hole in the bottom, staring at a Popsicle melting into some dog shit by my foot. Denis didnt move a muscle or even look at me again. Finally I shrugged and trudged off by myself, not quite able to believe that Denis had any mates and more than a little put out that he didnt want me to hang out with them. Still, he was a retard and his mates were probably retards too, so what did I care? I had better things to do.
As I reached the corner I looked back and saw the skinny white kid from my street walking up to Denis. He was still wearing the anorak. Denis was flapping his arm up and down waving like a lunatic, his big plate of a face beaming like the moon.
That summer of 1986 was hot everywhere in England. In our corner of southeast London the days rolled by in blue and gold, the sun bouncing off the dustbins and burning into windscreens. It lit up our faces, bit at our eyeballs. And when I think about that summer I think of it as like a flaming meteor tearing through empty space. As my bus lurched and heaved through New Cross that first day, my school shirt was damp with sweat and I knew it was going to be a long couple of months until the holidays began. I wished I had a cigarette.
Seven years ago, that was. When I was a different person. When I was thirteen and still Anita. When I didnt know Kyle.
Copyright © Camilla Way 2007
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