Bath Road

The five boys shared a house on the Bath Road; a large Victorian building that smelled of cigarette smoke, marijuana and bacon fat. The kitchen had a skin of cold grease and the worktops were smeared with globs of ketchup and barbeque sauce. On Fridays Charlotte went there after work. They moved around her in swirls, in vests or bare-chested, pulling on ironed shirts and running gelled fingers through their hair, eating quickly—bowls of Coco Pops and Frosties—as they moved about the rooms pulling on trainers and checking wallets and keys.
She was wearing her black work skirt and black shoes with square heels and they stared at her legs when she wasn’t looking. They looked at her, wondering quite what she was doing there, but she didn’t notice. All she could think of was the square of black pot in a piece of cling film.
‘Half, wasn’t it?’ Nigel asked, handing it to her anyway.
‘Yeah.’ She nodded and tried not to inspect it. She handed him her money and smiled. At night she fell into a black dreamless sleep: she didn’t think of Aidan.
It was polite to make a joint before leaving so she sat on the edge of a soft armchair. ‘I’ll skin up, shall I?’ She wanted to leave but could not, yet.
When she went upstairs to use their filthy bathroom they made silent wanking and fucking gestures and punched each other on the arm, daring one to cry out in pain and give something away.
Adam was the youngest. He sat in the centre of the movement, at the PlayStation, pale, bare-chested, thin and cut from ice. His Bristol accent was strong. She wanted to keep looking at his body; white and oddly vulnerable yet she could see every nuance of sinew beneath his skin. He talked as he drove his virtual car, but his eyes were fixed on the screen. He talked to the boys but it was a show for her about his ex-girlfriend: they’d broken up because she was a ‘herra head’. Charlotte was wildly impressed with this dirty reality. Holding the joystick in his left hand he passed a cigarette to his mouth, as he inhaled he inclined his neck a little and reached his arm over his head, pulled his long red hair from his right shoulder around to his left—a coy female gesture that trailed his hair across his bare skin and revealed his shoulder. Joy snaked inside her with the pot smoke; she needed to touch him. Kiss him. He reminded her of Aidan.
The pot made her heart beat too fast and she wanted to be home, where she could smoke again, and pass out with the dry tears of all her betrayals pasted behind her eyes. She stood and smoothed her skirt down.
‘I need to get my bus,’ she said.
Adam toked on his roll-up and pressed a button on his game. ‘I’ll walk you to the bus stop,’ he said.
She was excited now. If he didn’t make a move on her she might do it to him.
They made a small conversation about her job as they jolted down the hill and back up the valley to the bus stop. He stood still and looked at her. She moved towards him to see what he did and he didn’t move, so she kissed him. He slid his tongue into her mouth delicately. She had seen something in that strange blue-white skin, the long red hair and the forbidden burr of the vowels. They kissed like that for some minutes, him skimming her lips, listening to the music of her aching breath. That was a gift she gave to him as he stood, bent as fuck, on the Bath Road. It was cold. She trembled with need but there was nothing she could do, she had to get home and get Sophie before day-care closed. They pulled away from one another, they laughed and their breath was misty and light and childish.
‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ he asked. His accent was terrible. ‘We’re going bowling. You could come?’
His ex-girlfriend was a heroin addict. She might get AIDS. She’d had enough near misses. She mumbled an excuse about Sophie. The fresh air was delicious.
‘You could bring it with you.’ He faltered, stuttered. ‘I mean ‘her’, bring her with you.’
She looked behind her. Where was the bus?
His eyes had changed colour. They were darker.
‘I’m sorry, I’m not sure I can.’
Even when the doors of the bus folded clumsily she felt he might take something from her—a promise of loyalty, or her ability to pretend things. She smiled sadly and waved: producing a calculated mix of characters so he wouldn’t guess what a snob she was or how frightened she’d been once the delirium of the forbidden kiss had evaporated and all she was left with was the paranoia and her heartbeat.
The driver moved the bus into second, third. She breathed out, dripped into the seat. She slid her hand into her bag and wrapped it around the lump of hash.