I drop to a crouch. There are tiny pebbles in the cracks. Smaller than gravel stones but I don’t have a name for them. I like that. Not knowing the name for something. I have less rules about what to do with it. I turn the pebbles over with my finger. They click against each other as I run my finger across them. This is what childhood is like. A series of moments that fade into rules. I can hear the three women talking quietly to one another but I can’t hear what they’re saying. I don’t want to hear. I want to run my finger over the pebbles and hear them click. I expect they’re deciding a plan of action. They’re going to tell me they’ve decided I should… but I’m not moving from this spot. This is my spot and no-one can touch it. I don’t want their stupid show. I don’t want to be on TV. I don’t want to talk to the camera or smile at the girls with facial hair. I don’t believe in it. I think it’s stupid. They’d say that’s only ‘cos the world I’ve always known has pushed women into wearing makeup and shaving off any hair that might possibly represent manliness in any way. But men shave too! I shave every day for fuck’s sake. I select three pebbles; one white, one beige with speckled brown bits and one white with a grey splodge. I put them, one by one, in the palm of my left hand. I make a fist and bring the fist to my left ear. I shake it. Tiny rattling. I throw my fist in the direction of the three women and release the pebbles. They scatter dancing across the tarmac. The women stop talking for a moment. I am bored with pebbles. I wonder what it’s like to walk in this position? I’ll try it. I think circular movements are best so I move my feet in tiny steps. No, crab-like is best. I move sideways away from the women. It’s a slow process. I wonder how come crabs move so quickly? I guess they’re used to it and they’re built for it. I’m not. I’m wearing smart shoes. TV shoes. They’re shiny. Not new though. I polished them before I went to bed last night. I don’t like it at the council block of flats. I don’t want to go back there. It’s miserable. Dead space. Space that’s dead. I have made a semi-circle with my crab-walking. I stop. My back is to the women. They are not talking. Rebecca is crouching beside me.
“Are you feeling okay, Steve?”
I nod, “yes, thanks, Rebecca.” I smile at her and quickly look at the ground again.
“Um. Would you like to go home now?”
I nod. Yes. I would. Very much. But I don’t know how to stand up. Can I crab-walk back to the studio? I’ll try. I move off slowly. Some of these weeds are really tall. I have to move them with my hands. They must be like huge trees to a beetle.
“What’s he doing?” My mother’s voice comes to me on the breeze. I freeze. It’s okay. I can do this if I want. I carry on crab-walking. I know they think this is strange. I know they are puzzled. But it’s okay. I’m not puzzled even though I don’t know why I’m doing this. I just know it’s the right thing to do. I did this for a whole day once. It was after my mother left. I was eleven. I lived with my Aunt Lucy. She didn’t bat an eyelid. She just talked to me like normal. I didn’t even tell her why I was doing it. Not that I would have been able to. I knew my mother wasn’t coming back. She’d said. And she was always true to her word. She was wearing her red felted coat. It was waterproof. She used to wear it when we walked in the rain. The buttons on it were square and big. There were three of them. It had large lapels and sometimes, I would put my hands inside the pockets when it was hanging up in the hall. It was silky in the pockets, except when an old crinkled up tissue was in there too. A tissue. A tissue. We all fall down! I laugh and let myself fall to the tarmac. Laying very still I watch three pairs of feet run towards me.
“He’s pushing his feelings outside of himself. They feel too big and overwhelming for him to deal with. He’s regressing. He needs love and care.” Lily’s voice is gruff and homely. I like it very much. I wonder who she’s talking about.
“Who are you talking about, Lily?” I gaze up at her. She is standing next to the bed. We are at Rebecca’s apartment. They tried to take me to the council block but I screamed and rolled on the floor so they brought me here. Lily and Rebecca. Mother is still at the studio.
She smiles down at me, “you, my boy. We’re talking about you.”
“Always about me and never to me. Puh!” I close my eyes tight.
“Yes, yes, you’re right, of course. It’s so rude. But I thought you weren’t interested in the conversation. It’s good. You are. So tell me what you think!”
I peek through one raised eyelid at her. “I think you stink!”
“Do you? Of what do I stink?” She reaches for my hand and holds it in hers.
“Cats!” I laugh manically, jerking around the bed.
“Of course. Yes. Cats. You like them?”
“No. I do. But. I don’t want to answer your question. It stinks.” I sit up. Where is Rebecca? “Where is Rebecca?”
“She’s making some tea for you. She’ll bring it in.”
“But who were you talking to?”
“Rebecca. She was standing in the doorway a moment ago.”
“But I didn’t see her.”
“Well, okay. But she was there.”
“I don’t believe you. She’s not here. Where is she?”
“Rebecca! Could you come to the doorway a moment?”
And there she is. Standing in the doorway. Conjured up by Lily’s magic words. She turns to go. “Nooooooo! Rebecca! Please don’t go!” My cheeks are wet and my fists are tight, gripping the duvet. I’m wearing pyjamas! They’re blue. I don’t remember them. Rebecca comes and sits on the bed. Lily rubs her shoulder and leaves the room.
“Rebecca, where did these pyjamas come from? They’re not mine! Whose are they?”
“Don’t worry, Steve. They’re new. We picked them up for you.” She pats my leg but it’s not reassuring.
“You don’t fancy me any more do you?” I stare at her. Her mouth is slightly down turned. “I’m not manly enough for you. You haven’t touched me since that first time. And the semen. The semen. You had it tested and you won’t tell me why. It’s too much. Please tell me why!” I cry through tired gasps. She looks horrified now but I don’t care any more. I don’t care.
“Steve. I. Your mother is really best placed to tell you that.” She’s looking at her hands. Picking at bits of skin at the sides of her nails.
“My mother isn’t here!” I wail. It dissolves into more sobs. “She’s never here!”
“No, she’s not here. But she will be soon. And we’ll ask her to tell you. Okay?” She strokes my face with a finger as if I’m ill or retarded. I stare at her. She’ll never be mine. I look at her eyes, her nose, her mouth; they’ll never be parts of intimate moments with me. She lets her hand fall to the bed and I grasp it. Holding her finger in my fist I wish that she loved me. She can feel my wish, I know she can. But she lets it go as Lily comes back with a tray of tea things which Rebecca takes from her and places on the floor.
“You’re all treating me like I’m ill.” I spit my words into the room.
“Well, you have been acting peculiarly lately. I think maybe you need a rest.” Rebecca brings a mug of tea over and plops it gently on the bedside table.
“And I think you need a goo-”
“Be careful what you say, Steve. You might regret it.” Lily sits and takes my hand. “Some desires are best left unspoken. You’re upset now but in time you won’t be.”
I study the navy blue piped edging on my pyjama jacket. “Have I been asleep? I don’t remember us buying these pyjamas.”
“We stopped on the way here. In the taxi. You and I waited in the taxi and we played a game of I Spy while Rebecca bought the pyjamas. You said you wanted blue stripy pyjamas. Don’t you remember?”
I shake my head. No. I don’t remember that. I hate blue stripy pyjamas. Why would I ask for a pair? They remind me of when I stayed at Aunt Lucy’s. When Uncle Fred-
“When will my mother be here? I want to ask her something.”
“Soon, darling. Very soon. She’s finishing up at the studio and then she’ll be along.”
“I’m tired. I don’t want my tea.”
“Okay, darling. You sleep. We’ll wake you when your mother arrives.”
I sigh deeply and my eyes close. Sometimes I’m afraid to enter that place before sleep. And then I forget my fear because I’m tired and my mind drifts off. As it drifts deeper I feel a dropping sensation that is physical inside me and it makes me wake right up again. But today is not one of those times. Today I’m so bone tired that I don’t think I’ll ever wake up again.