Two by Jay Merrill
Little bits of luck can shine on you even in a luckless life. That was Hammond’s take when he found the unlocked garage. He’d clocked the empty house last month and kept an eye on things since. Curtains up at the window, but that would be to keep prying eyes away. He’d found a gap, squinted, just seen there was no sign of any furniture inside. Nothing. Now, place still empty, no for-sale sign, weeds in the driveway. Give-away. Then he’d tried the garage door. Open! No less.
Weather getting colder -- he nearly froze two nights’ ago. Last night he’d managed with an extra sheet of bubble-wrap. But doorway like ice. Hammond thought about the empty garage. Walked past the next morning. All empty as before; door unlocked. Wow. House just near a trading estate; bit of waste ground where the odd lorry was parked sometimes. Couple of other places further down the road, lived in, coupla others boarded up, a sign saying Security protected. He felt a twitch of anger whenever he saw the words. Houses were protected, humans were not. Last year he’d read in the paper how a rough-sleeper had died after being flung out of an empty bungalow. He knew the place. Derelict. A dump. But rules were rules. It was illegal to squat a residential prop. Even if you had no-where to go; even if you were freezing. Hammond shuddered and pulled his quilted jacket tighter. That wasn’t gonna happen to him. He was going to over-winter in that empty garage. Would keep a low profile. Had done it before often enough. So, then.
He moved his stuff in. Meaning, he took some lengths of cardboard and a few empty boxes round. Keep off the damp; keep out the draughts. Dumped them in a corner – out of sight. Not that there was anybody who’d be looking. And said to himself, What if he was discovered and the police were called? Replied: Prison is a whole lot more comfortable than the gutter. If you weren’t proud; if you didn’t mind sinking to that, you had a win-win situation. He’d rather not be locked up though he could see the benefits. Life was hard as hell for the have-nots in today’s society. And he also spared a thought for the dead. What so many people had had to go though at different times in history.
He suddenly pictured his mum, a gentle, fragile person from a sheltered background. Hammond could hardly bear to think of the broken way she’d look, of the screams that would pour out of her if she’d seen her beloved Hammy now. He’d turned into someone she would have been afraid of; someone she would have avoided at all costs. She would no longer have understood anything about him. A down-and-out, a rough-sleeper. Wretched. Then he cut off this line of thought. Too much sentiment didn’t help. You had to cope with whatever life threw at you, even if that meant letting go of old allegiances. The have-nots. The poor of this world. He belonged to them. The poor of all times past, and present. They were his people, his society now.
A bunch of keys hung from the inside of the garage door lock. Wow, he’d be able to lock himself in, nights. And When evening turned dim he unlocked the back-door of the house, carrying no torch for safety’s sake, but seeing things clear enough in the streetlit glow. Looked round the ground-floor. Damp; floorboards rickety. Went up the creaky stairs and heard something. More than the creaks. A whispered sound; sort of subdued, like a cough. Was a bit shaken, but he carried on. On the landing he stopped and listened. Nothing. Though he had the sense of another presence.
‘Who’s there?’ he called out. No-one replied and he checked the upstairs. Stared into all its corners and thought of who may have lived there; thought of the past. And, he didn’t feel alone. He belonged to the vast legion of those who had absolutely nothing, who inhabited spaces owned by others. It was as though they were joining with him now in an act of celebration, in this smallish tatty, abandoned room.
~ ~ ~
Funny. It hit me heavy sitting behind the car-park wall. Dreaming’s fine but if you want changes you gotta act. Like, I’m pissed off with home and want out, but... Paralysis. Maybe that’s why I’ve come to try crack. As well as Emmie being on it I mean and so I wanted to, you know¸ and then I found some. Well, found.
Togetherness. We’ve got a lot in common so why not? I just wanted her to see that. Well it helped, as I don’t think she’d really noticed me before. We sat behind the wall and had just sniffed. First time for me. I acted like not though. Didn’t want to seem a fool. Emmie did the honours, very cool-like. And emerge was what I thought of as I snorted. I shouted it out loud too. I remember that. Just that word. Emerge! It leapt right out of me and kept coming. I was telling myself and the world too, you can’t go on being a grubby little caterpillar for your whole life. You gotta move upwards; find your wings. Instant death for the creepy-crawly otherwise. Crystal clear to me. I could even see these little squirming grubs being squashed under heavy boots. The grubs were me and Emmie. I was hollering and Emmie, she was laughing her head off. I loved the look of her pearly teeth before they sank.
‘Give yourself a break Bick,’ she went. I was still angry at the thought of being crushed like that but her words helped calm me down. I wanted answers but could be Emmie was right. A break. What those words said to me was getting out of it. So I did. Trouble was, knowing me, it made me shout the more. Wasn’t supposed to. But I guess the shout was inside me and would’ve come out whatever. The shout wanted to come out and I wanted to get out. You can’t stop things and I for one ad had it up to the eyeballs with Leytonstone. ‘Let’s go away then,’ I said to Emmie. She said, yes, she would. Shit. Already had the tent didn’t I. So we took the tube to Epping; walked to the woods.
Emmie says she likes being a runaway. Me, I say, why shouldn’t we go where we want? We’re both sixteen, had enough of home, want out. She said so herself. Will be great hiding out in the forest, anyway we have the crack. I pinched it from my brother’s mate Ludi, knew he kept a stash in this little wallet type arrangement he kept under the seat in his car. He’d never think of me. The crack was a good reason for taking a holiday. It was gonna be a real cool trip.
We set up the tent and sit in the opening. Rough sleeping’s not so bad as it’s made out. Have had one or two turn-ons and now we’ve done a line of coke and we’re staring out at the trees. Far as I’m concerned don’t want to go back. Emmie says she feels the same. And we don’t have to. I tell the girl this. We can find a way to survive. There’s two of us, aint there. Then we have a bit of kissing but we’re not in the mood-like. And Emmie says she’s never done it, have I? I don’t answer her. Too much of a downer.
Our heads are somewhere else. I can feel mine dancing in the wind which blows the trees. As if I’m just another of the waving branches up there, or even as if I am the wind. Funny thoughts I keep having. But it feels good, feels great-like. I look around. All this is what is meant by the beauty of nature.
And I stand up suddenly. Emmie’s laughing herself silly. Me too. We can’t seem to stop. I’m becoming a new person; feel it spiraling out of the one I’m used to. I love to feel that happening. It draws sound out of me out in my till I’m singing in my loudest voice. There’s a rush of bushes and three giant butterflies fly up suddenly into sky. Emerge!