The Monday after Jackie died, they organized a memorial service down at St. Martin’s, and we got the whole morning off school. I didn’t want to go to the memorial but Mam said I had to, and she made me put one of Dad’s old suits on.
We hadn’t really spoken much about what happened, and I’d only told Mam and Dad the bare details: we were on the school trip, and Jackie fell into the river, and he drowned. What else was there to say?
So anyway, there I was, sat in the kitchen arguing with Mam, when Dad walked in and asked what all the fuss was about.
“He’s saying he’s not going to the memorial service,” Mam replied.
“He says he doesn’t want to.”
Dad turned towards me. “Why not?”
“I just don’t. I don’t see the point.” I didn’t like the idea of watching Jackie’s mam bawling her eyes out, but I didn’t want to say that.
“Well you haven’t got a choice,” Dad said. “You’re going, and that’s that.”
The doorbell rang. Mam went to get it, and I listened for who it was. “Hello Jamie,” she said. “You here for our David?”
I jumped up and went over to the door. “Alright Smithy,” I said.
“Alright, Dave. Thought you might want to walk down to the church together?”
I looked at Mam, and she nodded. “We’ll see you down there,” she said.
Once we got to the end of the road, I took my tie off. “We’re not actually going, are we?” I said.
“Nah,” Smithy said. “Waste of time.”
* * *
We went down to the den, which was basically just some planks of wood and canvas, all stacked up by a couple of trees in the woods down by the allotments. It was a bit weird having a den at our age, but the three of us had built it when we were bairns, and what had originally been a good place to meet up and play had become a good place to meet up and get pissed.
It had been drizzling all morning, but the trees gave us a decent amount of cover. Smithy had already been down there to drop off a six pack, and I found half a packet of tabs in the inside pocket of Dad’s suit jacket, ones he’d probably been hiding from Mam.
We sat for a while with our backs up against one of the trees, tin in one hand and smoke in the other. The ground was a bit damp, but it was alright. Better than the alternative.
“We should do something with Jackie’s stuff,” Smithy said.
For a while we’d kept a stash of odds and ends in the den, things we’d collected over the years, just pieces of tat really. But some of it belonged to Jackie, and now he wasn’t there anymore.
“We should burn it,” I said.
We found some twigs and sticks to build a fire and tried to use Smithy’s lighter for the flame, but they were all a bit too damp, and we couldn’t get anything going. Dad had some petrol canisters in the shed, so I nipped back home to get one. Everyone else was gone by then, packed into the pews at St Martin’s.
By the time I got back, it was pissing it down, but Smithy was standing at the edge of the woods, out in the open.
“You’re getting soaked, dickhead,” I said, but he didn’t say anything back. There was water running down his face.
We dug out a little trench for Jackie’s stuff and piled it up, then sloshed a load of petrol on. Smithy managed to light a twig, and when he threw it on the pile it all burst out into a big plume of flame. I nearly shat myself.
“Fuck me,” said Smithy. “That was class.”
We settled down in front of the fire. I like watching them, the way the flames jump about, back and forth, always twisting into something new.
“Smithy?” I said.
“Would you live forever if you could choose to?”
“Like being invincible?”
“More like, you’re just lucky and really healthy, and you never get cancer or heart disease or owt.”
“So I could smoke all I like and not gunge my lungs up?”
“Well, aye, I suppose so.”
Smithy took a long drag and let the smoke escape slowly. “Nah,” he said. “Be boring as shite.”
* * *
I walked back through the allotments on the way home. Mrs. Appleby, who’d lived on our street since before time began, was working on her vegetable patch. It was still pissing down, but I stood there for a while watching her, wishing I had a waterproof like the one she was wearing.
When she saw me, she waved. “Hello, David.”
“Hi.” I looked over at the pile of courgettes she had collected. “You eat them?” I said.
“Yes, of course. They’re lovely.”
She walked over to the other end of the allotment to pick up a sack of something or other.
“Do you not get bored of this?” I said. “Working the same patch every year?”
“No, not really. It keeps me good and busy.”
“You know, you can get courgettes down at the supermarket dirt cheap.”
She smiled. “No, you can’t. Not like these.” She picked one up, the fattest one of the lot. “I tell you what, why don’t you give this to your mam and tell her I said hello.”
“I will do,” I said.
When I got back home, Mam and Dad were waiting for me.
“Where the bloody hell have you been, young man?” Dad said.
“And what on earth have you got in your hands?” Mam added.
I put the courgette on the side. It was a daft-looking thing, all rough green skin, and bits of stuck-on mud.
“Jackie’s dead,” I said, and I went up to my room.
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