We had two special weekends coming up. Weekend one was Blackpool. Six of us. The lads only. Weekend two was Stig coming out of prison. Weekend one was excitement. Weekend two was dread. The weekend before Blackpool we were on our usual pub crawl. A pub every half an hour. One pint equaled thirty minutes. We were on pub seven. Pint seven was the Ship Inn. At the bar, Andy’s Liz came up beside me. ‘Will you bring me a gift back from Blackpool?’ ‘A gift? Can’t Andy bring you a gift?’ ‘I want you to bring me a gift. Not Andy. Some sweets or one of those ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats.’ I felt my cheeks redden. Like they always did. She went back to Andy with a look over her shoulder at me. Liz and Andy were our gang’s ‘married couple’. They’d been together two years. They were the first we knew to lose their virginities. I was in the three who hadn’t yet and didn’t want to be last. It was a running joke. ‘Who do you reckon will be the last virgin standing?’ ‘It’ll be Kimmbo I reckon.’ ‘You can’t talk! Could as easily be you.’ ‘Aye, but at least I don’t turn beetroot when I chat to a lass.’ We all fancied Liz. We all knew we did and Andy did too. Liz knew. How could she not? The weekend Stig came out was the same weekend I first kissed Liz. Andy had stayed at the club. I walked home with Liz. Our houses were five minutes apart. Going though Duke’s Park she suggested we sit in the grandstand before saying goodnight. ‘You didn’t get me a ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hat.’ ‘I couldn’t do that, could I? With Andy there.’ ‘You’ll just have to manage it without the hat then, won’t you?’ We stayed about ten minutes. Liz teaching me how to kiss better. I’d never been in someone’s arms for that long. We held hands for the remaining few minutes needed to get to her door. The next day a few of us went to pick up Stig. There had been no reason to go to his house in the last eighteen months. He’d been in borstal, then prison. It wasn’t the first time he’d been away. He’d come out of borstal the first time with his face mangled by a dormitory beating. They gave all departing kids a dorm beating. This meant the other fifteen inmates in the dormitory piling on you. Giving you a kick in before heading home. ‘So your mother sees you like this’ is what they said. Stig hadn’t known they’d use soap bars knotted into socks. He’d counted twenty-six welts, not including his inflated ear, split lip and black eye. His mother had done no more than tut when she saw him like that. She didn’t like him. She didn’t like any of her children. Not long after that he’d left home. He had just turned sixteen so the application for under-eighteen rental benefits required parental consent. His mum had signed it straight away. He’d rented a room in a guesthouse which took in the unemployed. He was easily the youngest in there. On the third weekend staying there he’d got steaming drunk and decided to burgle the guesthouse next door. He broke in through a window. He didn’t turn lights on so as not to wake anyone up. He lit his way with matches. An hour later, back in his bed, he was woken by a fireman. The house next door was on fire. That had been his last night not in confinement until arriving back at his mum’s house eighteen months later. That was today. We knocked. His mother opened the door. Her shape almost the same as the door, letting no light in or out. She looked at us. Insects on her doorstep. ‘I suppose you’re here for that fucker. You’ll find him upstairs.’ We squeezed past. The stench of old chip oil filled the kitchen. Stig was lying on his bed in the box bedroom. He sat straight up when we walked in. He cracked open a huge grin. Palms on his knees he stood up and we filed out. Even though we all had work the next day, with the exception of Stig, and it was midday, we went to the pub. Over several lagers Stig listened to how our lives were now. Prison wasn’t mentioned. Everything we said he seemed hungry to listen to. Our stories, nothing in themselves, compelled him. He leaned in to listen about our different building apprenticeships. Who of us had a girlfriend. Who didn’t. I couldn’t say a word about Liz despite her being all I was thinking about. Liz split up with Andy. Andy didn’t know why. She’d said something to him about wanting more freedom he told us. Me and Liz continued our secret walks home from the club. Our cuddles and fumbles in the grandstand. Fridays and Saturdays. ‘Why me Liz?’ ‘I don’t know. Maybe I like a sad case.’ ‘A sad case!’ ‘I like you, Paul. That’s what is.’ ‘So, do we have to stay a secret? It’s been four weeks now.’ ‘No, we don’t I suppose, but I want to speak to Andy first.’ We kissed more. And more. And I fell in love with Liz in that grandstand. In the four weeks since Stig had rejoined us, coming to the pub with us, it hadn’t worked out well. He’d come back with an anger in him. A brick of violence in his guts. When he was sober he concealed it behind a toothy smile. A set of teeth guarding his insides. When he drank it came out. His first weekend in a club he’d nutted a wall and bruised his forehead. The second weekend he got talking to some women, but had swung a punch at one of their boyfriends. It was only Liz, her smile, that persuaded the bouncers not to throw him out. By the third weekend he was quieter. Sulking in corners. Leaving the clubs earlier. The next day he’d recount to us what hooliganism he’d practiced. Breaking a car showroom window. Setting a litter bin alight. We grew afraid of him. Our dread was being realised. The weekend following Liz telling me she’d speak to Andy, she didn’t come out. I didn’t see her. Andy was fine with me. She couldn’t have told him. There were eight of us. All lads. Stig moped away before we went the club. I couldn’t understand why Liz wasn’t there. The next day I went to Duke’s Park and kept walking between the grandstand and her house. Each way a few minutes’ walk. I did that walk about thirty times until Liz came out of her front door. ‘Paul?’ ‘Where’ve you been Liz?’ ‘I’m sorry Paul.’ ‘But where’ve you been? Have you spoken to Andy?’ ‘Paul, I’m sorry. I think you’re great. There’s someone else though. Nothing serious. I just don’t want anything serious. Do you understand me?’ She held me and I said I understood. I didn’t. She kissed me on my right cheek. She said sorry again and went back inside. I walked home. We’d never got past being a secret. One week and one day later. Monday morning. I went downstairs and got breakfast. Cereal and orange juice. I sat in the living room. My sister was already in there curled up with her bowl and spoon. ‘You know Liz Watson and Darren Stigson, right?’ ‘Liz and Stig. Yeah, why?’ ‘They both got killed last night. He’d stolen a motorbike. She was on the back of it. Doing about ninety apparently. Up Easton Road.’ I left my cereal in the bowl. Put on my overalls. At the building site I half-filled a pot with white gloss paint. Took the alloy ladder to the house I was working on. I started finishing the windows. The distance at the top of the ladder was high enough to be away from everyone. I took on all the ladder work from then on. A few weeks later I was walking past a sweet shop. The smell of sugar made me stop. I looked in. Paused. Checked the coins in my front overall pocket. Enough for a quarter pound of cola cubes. I told the shopkeeper what I wanted. Handed him eight pence. Back on the street I put one in my mouth and felt it fizz on my tongue. By the time I got home I’d finished half the packet.
Paul Kimm currently lives and works in Kazakhstan and has been living overseas for almost 25 years. Originally from the North East coast of England, he writes stories inspired by his hometown and life experiences from there. He has an upcoming publication of a short story, Saturday Omelettes, in Literally Stories.