Something in the way you love me won't let me be

I don't want to be your prisoner so baby won't you set me free

- Madonna, Borderline

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


Debbie Bullock’s mum was as horny as hell till the day she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary scouting up at her from the bottom of a fish and chip tray. Call it divine intervention, whatever. That was the day the shit really started to hit the fan.
We were sat on the end of the prom. Salt was shaking in off the waves. We were feeding up before we headed back to the Travelodge for more. Under her knee-length coat she wore panties the colour of ketchup. She had stilettos to match. She kept them on the whole time.
The trays were warming our knees. She finished her chips and blinked down. Then she blinked down again. Her lips shone out in an O shape. She said, ‘holy…’ Then she said, ‘Jesus..’ I leaned in. The batter crumbs made a perfect outline. She said, ‘it’s a miracle.’ She said, ‘you see it, don’t you?’ I saw it all right. The way it greased out of that tray, I just knew it was going to be trouble.
Me and Debbie had been off and on till the day she went and got herself fish-fingered by a lad from the fleet. We’d known each other since first form. We were the golden couple. She looked hot, with banged-up blonde hair and a strain-out chest before the others wore bras. She stalked round school like she owned the place. We spent nights in the long-stay static with the broken latch. Then I screwed her best friend and things cooled right off. While she was camped up in the same long-stay static with twin sprats swimming round in her belly, I took Marnie Sleightholme down Back South Lane. We spun on mud and went side-on into a tree. They cut Marnie out and took her right arm off with it. It was kind of a hard thing to hide.
News of Debbie’s seaside dallies eased the guilt trip a little. Debbie’s dad slung his shotgun over his shoulder and headed straight off to town to try to hunt him down. There was more chance of Captain Birdseye washing up with the high tide than there was of him hauling in the lad in question. Debbie’s dad came back three days later with bloodshot eyes and a skin rash. Debbie’s mum near-drowned herself in gin for a couple of weeks then she buffed her hair bright and headed off down the gym to get her beauty back. When she showed up at my door soon after, she shone health and fitness. She said, ‘you must be hurting, babes.’ I invited her in. We sat on the couch. She slid her hand on my thigh just like the milf-movies. Next thing I knew, that gym-honed arse of hers was bobbing up and down on me like a pair of tight life-buoys in a swell.
After that time, Debbie’s mum fish-hooked me in every chance she got. She’d pick me up straight from school, hiss in my ear that she was naked underneath. She’d claw at my clothes, rub her nose in my class-dust. Some days she’d phone me in sick, beg me round to her place to spend the whole day in her marital bed. Once time I lamped out the back window in my boxer shorts when Debbie’s dad came home unexpected from the animal feeds. She took me shopping for new clothes to make up for it. She spent money she didn’t have on tight-fit tee-shirts and Calvin Kleins. She gazed in my eyes and said, ‘I need you.’ Our record was four times a day. After, she spoon-fed me porridge, crouched nude by the bed-side but for those stilettos. My grab-marks still twisted her tits. She told me, ‘it’ll keep your strength.’ I was seventeen. We made plans. She said she was leaving him just as soon as she got things fixed up. Said she’d get enough cash from the split-up for a place of our own in town. We window-shopped bed-spreads and televisions. I dumped my A-levels, gave up on my chance of a college place. I told my teacher, ‘I don’t need college where I’m going.’ I set my sights on a nine-to-five job on the quay. I reckoned the night-times would more than make up for the boredom.
It was our first night away when she saw the Virgin Mary greased out of chip fat. She’d thrown a bathroom bag and a bottle of gin on the back-seat, tossed in those ketchup stilettos and motored right out. She picked me up out of sight at the truck-stop. She kissed my lips and squeezed my balls. She said, ‘I need you.’ We booked in the Travelodge as mother and son. We had to squeeze the single beds together. We ordered champagne on room service. She drank it all off me, then she said, ‘I’m hungry.’ I smiled, ‘uh-huh?’ She play-slapped my cheek and told me we had all the time in the world. She wrapped her coat back over her undies and we headed out for those chips.
Debbie’s mum gripped that tray right back to the hotel like she had her hands on a chest of pirate treasure. When we reached the room she laid it down on the dresser. She sat in front and stared down, fumbling for the gin. She swigged and said, ‘I read about this.’ I waited on the bed in my boxers. I said, ‘uh-huh?’ She said, ‘tomatoes and shit.’ Then she said, ‘I haven’t set foot in a church since the day I headed up specially just to make double-sure his mother had gone in the ground. Why us, Jake?’
I said, ‘maybe He likes a challenge.’ When I looked back over her head was hung and her shoulders were shaking. I reached for her. She pulled back and said, ‘it’s a sign, Jake. I don’t know what it’s saying, but it’s a sign all right.’
She sat and blubbed her way through most of the bottle. She said, ‘it’s not right. It’s not right.’ I ordered pizza and ate hers too. I watched sport. Later, I stripped her nude but for her stilettos. She said, ‘it’s not right.’ I licked her right enough. Five minutes in, she stuck a stiletto in the bed-gap and wrenched her ankle ninety degrees. She bawled about telling me about it not being right. She screamed so high she shook the gin bottle on the side. I headed out to the McDonald’s opposite and fetched a super-sized ice-cold coke. I stuck it against her ankle and tipped it over. I rubbed in the cubes. Her ankle swelled bigger than her daughter’s belly. She said, ‘I think it’s broken.’ Then she said again, ‘I said it wasn’t right. I said it wasn’t.’
I wriggled her on her panties and blouse. Her foot was too swelled to take her jeans. I wrapped her coat around her and hopped her down the hotel lift to a taxi. He dumped us at the door of A&E. They smelled her breath and stuck us at the back of the queue. The X-ray showed up sprained. They strapped her up and gave her pills. I wheelchaired her out. She said, ‘the tray!’ I flagged a taxi and we headed back to the hotel. She wailed the whole way. The bed was made and the bins were empty. It seemed the Virgin Mary had gone out with the trash.
Well, that was the time the shit really did hit the fan. Debbie’s mum levered up and slapped me hard. She spat, ‘I told you!’ She swung out the door and lurched down the corridor. She palmed the walls. She fell on the first cleaning trolley and started tearing at the bin-bag. She pawed out food leftovers and shit paper on the carpet. A maid popped her head round the corner. She had dark skin and wide eyes. She saw the slew of mess and shouted, ‘what the hell?’ Debbie’s mum was on all fours, tossing stuff high. Her coat was open. Her blouse rode up. Early-nighters peeped out of their rooms. One of the rooms peeped out a whole hen-night of old girlfriends. Tammy, Lizzie, Jodie – I’d been with them all in my off-time from Debbie. Now they all posed bare-legged and strappy-topped and leered like I wouldn’t stand a chance in hell if I tried, not since I left poor Marnie with her arm hanging half off the way I did. They said, ‘Jake? Mrs Bullock?’ They’d all grown up with Debbie and they’d taken enough of her shit not to give them reason to keep it in their traps. They giggled and glued phones to their ears. Debbie’s mum burst out more tears and splayed her ketchup knickers for all to see. They said, ‘Mrs Bullock? Are you okay?’ Debbie’s mum said, ‘my Virgin. They’ve taken my Virgin.’ They hooted when security came and carried her off. She got dumped on the hotel steps and sat for half an hour spewing see-through gin-sick. She shivered and told me to stick it. Then she crawled back up the steps on all fours and stuck her fist through the hotel front window. I peeled my shirt and tied it round her wrist. The ambulance splashed blue at the front walls. They loaded her in as the hen night struck out. They clacked past the gin-sick and didn’t look back.
By the time I reached home the next day, I reckoned the whole place must be in on the story. I’d spent half the night cricking my back on an A&E chair. Debbie’s mum got kept in for some sort of psycho check. I struck out when the sun came up. When I passed village limits it seemed the whole place fell silent. I held a Kwik Save bag with her red stilettos. I’d about got past the static site when I heard Debbie calling. She leaned out of the broken-latch window and said, ‘shit, Jake – what happened?’ My tee-shirt was caked in her mum’s wrist-blood. She flung her door and helped me in. The place stank of stale fags and hung with cold. She flopped back in the couch I used to fuck her on. Cardboard stuck round the windows. She said, ‘home sweet home, huh, Jake?’ I said, ‘you don’t have to do this.’ She said, ‘it’s the way I want it.’ I crumpled opposite. She laughed, ‘look at us pair of fuck-ups.’ She struck a fag and threw me one. She nodded at the bag and said, ‘I never knew you were that way inclined.’ I tried a smile. Her hair was mud-brown and stuck-down limp, and baby-weight clung in folds from her face down. I don’t know where it came from, but I started crying. Debbie said, ‘shit Jake, it’s me who has the hormones.’ I wiped the wet from my eyes. I looked in hers and blurted out the whole of everything.
Debbie leaned up and stared deep in me. She sparked another fag when I got to the Virgin Mary. When I reached the end a smile curled her lips. She smoked the rest of her fag and stubbed it on the table in front. She smiled again. She said, ‘they’re yours, Jake. There never was no boys from the fleet. No-one but you.’
I sat and my head spun. Debbie got up quiet and made coffee. We sat some time. Then Debbie reached in a pile of old clothes and tossed me a tee-shirt. It was stained and smelled stale. Debbie said, ‘I need you to do something for me.’
I took her to church. She looped my arm and puffed down the pavement. She made us sit third row. I felt folks’ eyes. I eyed up the Virgin and in secret asked her why. We mumbled forgiveness for our sins. I reckoned Debbie must have seen I was weighed down by bad choices. We took the communion. Then we went back to the static. The wind pushed us back. Debbie said nothing. When we got back she motioned to the couch and said, ‘get some sleep.’ I stretched down and was out in seconds.
When I came to it was back to night and in the thick yellow side-light I saw Debbie sat on the chair opposite, cradling her dad’s old shotgun in her arms. I screwed upright. She swung the barrel and said, ‘he always said I had a good eye for vermin.’ I said, ‘shit, Debbie.’ She outlined her lips with her tongue. She toyed the gun over me. She said, ‘give me one good reason.’ I looked around frantic. I gestured at her belly. I said, ‘the kids, Debbie..’ She dry-laughed and jabbed the rifle at her guts. She said, ‘should I?’ Then she pulled it away and said, ‘just kidding, I reckon. ’
Car beams swung past outside. Debbie jerked the rifle back up. The car passed. She smiled. I said, ‘why’d you lie, Debbie?’ She cackled out, ‘it’s a bit late to be playing happy families, Jake.’ I saw her squeeze the trigger. The world went slo-mo. I swear I saw the bullet coming, digging in. I heard a buzz of silence and felt pain a thousand times worse than I’d ever felt before. I saw the van roof and its pebble-dashed damp. I blinked out the darkness. I heard dogs bark and shouting. I saw strobes of bright light. I saw Debbie doubled up on the couch, wet creeping out between her legs, the gun dropped on the lino floor. I saw blood spewing sideways from my gut, how it looked the same colour as ketchup.

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