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Everyone’s saying I can’t accept you’re gone, Raff. But how can I? You’re still breathing. It doesn’t matter that you can’t talk back. The line on this screen next to your bed—the way it beeps like a rave tune—tells me your heart’s still beating. And your eyes flicker like you’re skating in some kick ass skate park in another sphere that none of us here can see.
In the computer rooms at school, I discovered this thing called a search engine that lets you type anything into it and you get an answer. It’s called Ask Jeeves. I’ve been asking Jeeves about talking to people on life support machines. And the articles say it works, you know. Talking. It’s just common sense.
And do you know what? It’s common sense that you wouldn’t do this. Suicide my arse, Raff. That’s what they’re all saying because they don’t know you like I do. You so wouldn’t do this. Fuck no. Not in a million years. As fucking if. This isn’t you. And today I’ve come to tell you I’m on it.
Because, aside from the fact that you weren’t even depressed. And aside from the fact that I’m your sister, and I know you. And aside from the fact that there’s a big fuck off difference between being into pills and acid, and deliberately OD-ing on heroin. Aside from all of that, there’s something else. Something I found out that told me there’s more to this.
So yesterday I met up with Angel in Brixton, right? We wandered round Brockwell Park in the sunshine. Reminded me a bit of that time last year when we all went to The Fridge, and then Fridge Bar, and instead of going to 414 Club in the afternoon, we all went to Brixton Lido. Remember that?
Angel misses you, Raff. She said that. Course she does. We all do. But I know you’ll be especially happy to hear that about her. We all know you’re secretly in love with her. Come on—you don’t exactly do a good job of hiding it. I kind of want to whack you on the arm right now, cos I’m only messing. But I’m scared that bloody line on the screen will start going beep or something, and all the doctors’ll come rushing like on Casualty. Whatever—I’m not going to think like that. I’m not. Not going to think about you dying.
So me and Ange buy Fantas and walk round a bit. We find a spot at the top of the hill, and we can see the high-rise London buildings in the distance, all misted-up in the afternoon heat. Angel lays out an Indian scarf which glitters in the sun, and we sit on it. She looked pretty, Raff, with her wavy blonde hair and those roots that would look horrible on me but are so cool on her. She’s wearing those circle earrings with other little jingly circles hanging from them, and a hoop earring in the top bit of her ear.
The last time I’d seen Angel was in A and E. That’s downstairs, by the way—where you were before—after Angel had gone to visit you in your stinky bedroom at halls. Instead of you opening the door and giving her that goofy I’m-pretending-we’re-just-good-friends-when-really-I-want-to-get-into-your-pants smile, she found you with a needle in your arm and a packet of Diazepam next to your bed. Unconscious and dribbling.
This summer was supposed to be so sweet, Raff. I was counting the days till the school holidays. All I’d been able to think about was staying down in London with you for the summer. And now it’s a week and a half you’ve been out. Out for the count, as mum would say. I wish it was just sleep.
So, Ange and I are sitting in the sun, and she’s pushed her sleeves up around her shoulders, so she can improve on her (already killer) tan. And I take my trousers off from under my skirt cos it’s blinking hot. And we’re talking about the last time we saw you. It’s mad, we’re saying, how one minute we’re dancing with you at Alex’s barbeque, then next day we’re in A and E, and you won’t wake up, and mum’s screaming at you, saying ‘Wake up, wake up,’ and tears are running down her face but it’s not working. It’s not waking you up.
Angel offers me some sun cream. As I rub it in, I notice there’s hardly a difference between the white of the cream and my skin. Maybe I ought to be getting down the solariums.
Ange looks out at the view and narrows her eyes. Then she goes, ‘I’ve got something I want to tell you, Fern.’ And a hot breeze blows her hair, and I feel its strands brush against my skin, and I know it’s going to be something about you.
She says, ‘I didn’t say it at the hospital as I thought Raff was just going to wake up.’
I kind of get what she said next, ‘It wouldn’t have been appropriate to talk about it in the intensive care ward, with your mum and dad huddled there, all grey faced. Bless them.’
Listen—here’s what Angel said; here’s how I know there’s more to this. You texted her, didn’t you. Two hours before she found you. You said this: (Ange showed it to me on her Nokia 3310).
Angel, I need to talk to you about something important. It’s not the kind of shit I can discuss on the phone. Come over. I’m home all day.
Two hours later she finds you unconscious.
That text—it’s massive. It nulls and voids any theory that this was suicide. Who decides to kill themselves when they’ve got something important they need to say? No one, that’s who.
Plus, it’s pretty unlikely that you’d decide to take a big fuck off dose of heroin and Diazepam if the girl you fancy is on her way over. That’s just off key. I mean, I’ve seen you in some messy states (remember that time you too much K?) but Angel’s hardly going to think you’re fit if she comes over and finds you dribbling.
Oh shit. You were dribbling when she got there. Me and my big mouth. I didn’t mean it like that. What I meant is that you wouldn’t intentionally get into a state like that knowing she was on her way over. Being a bit wasted in a club, and melting into sweaty hugs in the corridors—that’s totally different.
So Mum and Dad can F off, telling me it’s suicide, telling me of course no one’s out to get you, telling me I need to just accept what’s happened. How can they actually think that because you went through a bit of depression back in sixth form that you’d go and top yourself? I’ll tell you what didn’t help- the fact that they found out at the hospital you’d been taking pills and stuff. They don’t get it, of course, and now they’re convinced you weren’t in your right mind. What fucking ever. I had a screaming row with them yesterday about it. They’re all like, ‘Drugs are bad mkay’.
Sometimes I hate you for leaving me in this shitstorm with Mutter and Vater. (See—I can’t inject German words into sentences with anyone else. They look at me like I’m nuts). But I’m stuck with them in shitty Bishops Stortford. Can’t bloody wait till you wake up, Raff, and I’ve finished a-levels next year, and we can go to India, and Cambodia, and Laos. Thinking about our trip’s the only thing keeping me sane, seriously.
Anyway. So, me and Ange are sitting in the sun at the park, and we’re going over what happened at the barbeque, trying to evaluate the info we have. And as far as we can remember, Raff, it was just a usual gathering at Alex’s place, wasn’t it? His parents were away, and there was the usual mix of people, most of whom had been out all night and come from various afterparties. Did you see Alex’s little brother there, by the way? Guess that’s going to need to be a rhetorical question. Those parties are no place for an eight-year-old boy. But that kid’s, like, pretty used to it, I guess.
After a bit Jack comes down to the park. There wasn’t room for him to sit on Angel’s scarf; so there he is in light grey chinos and a crisp shirt trying not to get grass stains on them. You know the way he sits, like he can’t find a comfortable spot. His hair’s just so, and he’s touching it from time to time to check it’s in place or something.
I know I’m your sister, but I recon you’re such a better match for Ange than he is. Do you know what I mean? I like Jack, don’t get me wrong. And this is just between me and you. I don’t want to be a bitch or anything, but look at them. Angel’s so boho with her long necklaces and wavy hair, and she looks like she’s just come back from six months backpacking in India. I wish I looked like her. And he’s so…I don’t know, perfect? I guess that’s what comes from having a dad in the police force. Makes you straight as. I mean, me and you and Jez and Angel, we’re all a bit rough around the edges.
But she loves him. Sorry. I shouldn’t say that in front of you. Or—you know what— maybe I should. Maybe you’ll get jealous and wake up. I’d better check with Jeeves about that one.
Jack puts his arm on my arm and says he’s so sorry about what happened, and that I must be so cut up about this.
So, basically, we’re all talking about you, and about the barbeque. And Jack’s agreeing that you seemed fine, not even massively wasted or anything. He’d not been to Alex’s before, and I think soon as he stepped in the place he wanted to get Ange away from there. You know what he’s like, wants to protect her from drugs and stuff (Drugs are bad m’kay).
By the time Jack arrived, it was crowded, and he looked down from the window in the hallway at the garden full of people. It was dark by then; I remember seeing him and saying hi. Anyway, good on Jack, he made the best of it and moseyed around the party talking to people for about an hour; Angel hates it if he hovers over her too much. Jack was driving, so he had his one beer then waited for it to wear off and took Angel home, back to her folk’s place in Kent.
Just as they were leaving, a group of five dudes turn up—a bit rough looking. One of them had a missing tooth. Angel thinks she recognises one of them from George 1V. He was about thirty, but she’s no good with ages. He wore a baseball cap, Adidas Gazelle trainers, and three stripe tracksuit bottoms. Not in a chavvy way, kind of in a foreign way. He chewed on a cocktail stick and walked hunched over with a swing to his arms—a bit ape like, from the way Angel described him, and the way she put on a slumped shouldered pose to demonstrate.
So that’s something I’ve jotted down in my notebook. Yeah, I’ve got this notebook that mum got me for my birthday. I’ve actually seen them in Waterstones on the high street, so I know where mum bought it. Not that it looks like it comes from Waterstone’s—it’s more the kind of thing you’d get in a hippy shop. It’s got this woman on the front and there’s birds around her head in a headdress thing, and she’s got gold in her hair.
When I look at my lovely notebook, I think—well—ok mum doesn’t know a thing about the underground clubbing scene, but she gets me in other ways. Like, she chose this notebook and I love it. It’s sad to be falling out with mum and dad, but if they won’t support me finding out what really happened to you, then I’m on my own.
Raff, I noticed something about that notebook yesterday. The woman on it’s got two tears running down her face. She’s so me right now—an avatar or something. The stuff in that notebook’s going to sort all of this out, ok? Then I can get a new notebook, without a woman crying on it, and write about all the wonderful times we’re going to have when we go travelling, and plan it all, and write stuff like flight times, and lists of stuff to buy, and places we’ll visit.
Skipping the pre-amble, I tell Jack that I’d been suspicious about your so-called suicide even before finding out about the text.
‘Who’s even saying it was suicide?’ he says, touching his hair.
‘The medics at the hospital for a start,’ I tell him. ‘It’s the excessive dose. They recon you don’t take that number of Diazepam unless you want to top yourself.
‘They asked all these dumb questions, so mum and dad told them about Raff’s depressive spell in lower sixth. Then they started probing into Raff’s drug history, asking Angel if Raff was into drugs- isn’t that right, Ange?’
‘I wasn’t going to lie, Fern.’
‘I’m not saying you should have. Thing is, Jack, is that Ange pointed out that Raff’d never been into heroin, not to her knowledge. But the medics just bunched all drugs together and drew the conclusion that Raff was some kind of depressed junkie with a death wish.’
Jack runs his hand through his hair, and frowns. ‘I get it that it wouldn’t be suicide. If your brother had something he was about to say to Angel, why would he do that.’
Too right, it wasn’t suicide. And now this text you sent Angel fucking confirms it. ‘It fucking confirms it,’ I’m saying, putting my hands in the air for maximum emphasis.
‘I’m not disputing that it wasn’t suicide, darling,’ Jack says. And he looks at me patiently, like I’m a little kid who’s brain is trying to catch up.
He continues, ‘it’s worth remembering that you’re traumatised, and that you want to believe the best about your brother. But, to me this looks like an accidental overdose. Raff uses drugs, and it’s not outside the boundaries of possibility that he was in further than you knew.’
It hurts to hear stuff like this, Raff—people thinking of you as a junkie.
There’s more. So, Jack’s squinting into the sun—none of us had sunglasses—and he says he thinks he knows what you were planning to say.
‘What if,’ he goes, ‘Raff was planning to declare his true feelings for Angel.’
Were you, Raff?
‘Think about it. Raff would need all the Dutch courage he could get to tell Angel, and that’s where the copious amounts of drugs come in.’
Angel throws her head in the air, does a little laugh, and goes, ‘Jack, don’t be silly. Raff and I are friends.’
I don’t think she has any idea how fit she is, does she. Don’t even think she notices men’s eyes on her when she walks into a place.
Don’t worry, Raff, I kept my mouth shut, even though Jack said, ‘Tell her, Fern. He’s your brother,’ and my cheeks were the colour of beetroot. I’m rooting for you, Raff, and if anyone’s going to tell Ange it’s got to be you. Your secret’s safe with me.
Jack rubs Angel’s leg and says, ‘Haven’t you seen the way he looks at you?’
Later on, I leave Ange and Jack and walk through Herne Hill to Brixton station. Cute little black kids lean out of windows, laughing with their friends down on the street.
At the station, a homeless man wanted to buy my travelcard to resell. My mind was so focused on your text to Angel, like the text was a dot the size of a pinprick, and all my attention was on the dot. The text, the text, the bloody text. You were going to tell Angel something. What was that text all about? Was Jack right? What did you want to tell Ange, Raff? I know whatever it was could be the answer to why you’re here.
At breakfast this morning, mum and dad chatted faux-cheerily and avoided talking about you. Mum’s all like, ‘pass the butter, please, Peter,’ but her voice is more of a whisper, and her hands are shaking, and I know she’s only just holding it together.
Bet you’d rather be there than hospital, though; rather be filling stuff from the old wooden worktops into the dishwasher and looking out at mum’s Julie Toll garden as the Aga gives out its cosy heat.
I sat eating jam on toast, trying to push the conspiracy theory stuff out of my head. I want to believe what Jack said is true. Because if it was an accidental overdose, that means no one’s looking for you, no one wanted to get you. And if Jack’s theory being true means you’re an addict, that’s ok Raff; I won’t judge you. We can help get you better.
But stuff’s niggling at me. See, I don’t know if it’s in your nature to go treading on Jack’s toes like that—announcing your feelings to Ange when she’s going out with Jack. You like Jack, I think. I don’t mean you’re ever going to be best buddies or anything, but you’ve got respect for him. I mean, Jack’s a smart bloke. He’s doing his masters at Edinburgh. That’s what it’s called isn’t it? Or is that an MA? Anyway, Jack’s smart. You can kind of tell from looking at him; he’s got that intense look in his eyes like there’s a lot going on in there, if you know what I mean.
Now, under the current circumstances, your average sixth-former would go to the police, right? Tell them about the text. But I can’t. You’d hate that. And aside from the fact that just passing a policeman on the street freaks me out, and even without a pill or a bit of puff in my pocket, I freeze up when I’m within a five metre radius of one; aside from that, how can I go to the police when if I did they’d go sniffing around your life? For sure they’d find out you were dealing pills. Just as soon as you opened your eyes again, you’d be banged up.
I know that you’re sweet lovely Raff, and that you were just saving up a bit of extra cash, but the pigs won’t see it that way. Oh man—I’m such a cringe bag. I’ve been reading too many Irvine Welsh books; it doesn’t suit me to say pigs. What I’m saying is that you’re not some scary dealer. You’re just you. You’re not even that good at selling pills—you give most of them away.
That’s the thing; while you’re asleep here, people can paint you as a totally different person. And I’m scared the longer you’re here, the more that image of you will change, so you’ll no longer be the Raff that put handwritten notes into the Tomy train set and sent the train from your bedroom to mine. You’ll become this addict, this drug dealer, this person that isn’t you at all. And I’ll fight for this, Raff. While you’re in here, I’ll fight to make sure everybody knows who you are.
Listen—the nurse is about to come in to check on you; she’s peering through the window, so I can’t talk about this stuff. I’ll come by and see you again tomorrow. Don’t worry, Raff. Don’t worry about a thing, ok? I’m going to find out what really happened.
It’s sunny outside today, Raff. Can you feel it on your skin? It’s blazing in through the window and there’s this stripe of shadow across your chest. You look happy. Kind of like a cat basking in the sun, kind of like Perry. Do you remember the way he used to hang his paw over the edge of the worktop when he was asleep?
You’ve actually grown a bit of a beard. These eleven days that you haven’t got up or shaved, and this is what you end up looking like. Like a sleeping cat.
I don’t want to be a mood hoover, but I’m feeling so messed up right now. Like, silly stuff—so a week ago, when this had just happened, everyone at school was really sympathetic, right. Girls with baggy jumpers—girls I’d never even spoken to before—came up to me and rested their sleeve-covered hands on my arm saying in wishy-washy voices, ‘if I ever need to talk…’ Then there were the ones who just gawped at me, so unashamedly, who were fascinated by how I’d react to this.
But now it’s all been forgotten. Old news. It’s business as usual at school. And everyone expects that I’ll be over it or something. But for me, and mum, and dad, this is only just beginning.
I almost wish we could go back to those first days when you arrived here, the hope we had. When we still thought you’d wake up any second—me and mum and dad all staying at the Travelodge on Kings Cross Road taking it in turns to stay by your side at your hospital bed. The smell of this place, its mixture of antiseptic and bleach felt so weird to me then. Now I don’t even notice it.
While one of us spent all night with you, the rest of us got some proper sleep at the hotel. That’s a lie—we barely shut our eyes. Say if mum was with you, me and dad would sit literally on the edge of our hotel beds thinking the phone would ring any second, and that it would be mum saying you’d woken up. How naïve could we have been? That call never came.
Every so often, dad’s head would flop down for sleep. Then minutes later, he’d let out an odd cry and sit upright again all startled, the flab of his cheeks trembling as he shook himself awake. On those nights, we were in another galaxy. A place where whatever ruled seconds and hours didn’t exist. And sometimes I’d be, like, passing someone at the hotel lifts, and their talking and laughing seemed to be in an alien pitch, their words in a language I once knew, a language that was now impossible to understand.
Now our anticipation is different. Now, when the phone rings at home, we think it’s the hospital ringing to say you’re dead.
Shit, that’s my mobile. Forgot to tell you mum bought me one. I need to pull myself together. Wait a minute.
That was Jez calling me back. I got his number from Central St Martin’s; hope you don’t mind.
He’s well cut up about you being here, Raff—seriously. He says he wants to come and see you. To be honest, it hadn’t even occurred to me that he wouldn’t know already. But I’ve realised that most people, Jez included, weren’t staying at halls when Angel found you. It was already the summer holidays for you guys.
Get this—tomorrow we’ve arranged to meet at the skate park on the South Bank. It’ll be hard to go. It’s going to remind me so much of you. I loved it that time when I went there to watch you. The sun was going down and you had your hoodie on, headphones in. For about twenty minutes you didn’t notice I’d arrived. You swooped along in your own world, that flac, flac, sound echoing off your board as you flipped it over. You kept going and going in endless loops that seemed like they’d never stop, as if you were part of infinity or something.
You’ve always said you get into this state of flow when you’re boarding. It’s a real thing apparently—didn’t you say? —the flow state. And you said that’s what life’s about, getting into that flow. It’s the same when you’re sitting at your mac with your graphics pen. You forget to eat, you forget to sleep, and before you know it, it’s four in the morning and you’ve been doing all these characters. I like your pencil drawings best, though.
The only time I’ve ever felt that flow—when you’re not thinking, just doing, and you go to this higher place where everything’s fluid—is when I’m dancing. I love it when we’ve done that together, and you’re flowing around, and your legs are all floppy, and you look like Casper the Friendly Ghost or something.
I’m not feeling that talkative today, not by my standards anyway. Can I just rest my head on your leg? Would that be ok. Like that. Is that comfortable?
Ok, I’ve been thinking just now. I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I’ve changed my mind. And, listen—I don’t want to be horrible or anything. It’s the opposite of horrible if you want to know the truth. I’m actually hoping that if I do tell you—about last night—it might shock you out of this coma.
Actually, the doctors say it’s not a coma anymore. You’ve gone deeper than that. Deep deep down, like into the depths of the sea where there’s those weird-ass fish that you see on nature programmes. It’s called a persistent vegetative state.
Ok—here goes. I overheard something last night. And shit—I honestly don’t know whether or not I should say this. But surely anything that might shock you into waking up has got to be worth it.
Last night I was in my room watching Hollyoaks, then got up and went to the toilet. I heard murmuring from downstairs, certain words drifting up a bit louder, like your name. I crept halfway down the stairs and held onto the bannister to drop some serious eaves.
Mum’s voice: ‘Who are we kidding, waiting like this—for what? He’s not going to wake up, is he Peter?’
Dad clears his throat. ‘And if he does…well, we don’t actually know what the future holds for him if that’s the case. He could end up retarded. What kind of life would that be?’
Mum tells him off for using the word retarded.
‘Jesus—this is no time for political correctness; you know what I meant. He could need a full-time carer. He wouldn’t even be Raff as we know him.’ Dad’s voice goes all high pitched then, and I guess he’s crying or something, but the way he’s talking, I’ve got zero empathy.
Dad carries on. ‘How do we even know Raff would want to be kept on a machine, unable to talk, unable to walk, unable to live his goddamn life. I think we need to start admitting it to ourselves. No point burying our heads in the sand. Sooner or later we’re going to have to talk about turning the machine off.’
‘That would mean admitting he’s gone, Peter. Really gone.’
‘But he is really gone, isn’t he?’
And this is when I burst in, screaming, ‘How dare you speak about Raff like that, like he’s a radio you can just switch off. It’s been eleven days. Eleven days! Do you realise how little time that is? People are in these states for over a year and they wake up. There’s so many stories. Have you actually even bothered to read up about this?’
I just stare at them then, shaking with rage, my lips clamped together.
Mum looks done in. She’s been wearing that same top for about four days, and there’s bits of dried food on it. Her hair’s well frizzy; doubt she’s been blow drying it. And make-up—well, that’s gone out of the window. She stares at me and her bottom lip starts trembling.
‘Look—we’re lost here, Fern. We’re at sea. He’s our boy. He’s our little boy.’
‘Then why are you talking about ending his life? Hang on, let’s call a spade a spade here. Why the fuck are you talking about killing him? And what about what I want for Raff? Clearly that doesn’t count.’
Dad looks at me, his mouth so downturned that his jowls droop like a basset hound’s. His hand moves towards my arm, to comfort me or something; I don’t know; and his big belly brushes against me. I pull away.
Dad’s like, ‘You caught us in a moment. Surely at times you must think he’ll never wake up?’
‘No, dad. I don’t.’
Then he tries to be all apologetic, saying they should’ve included me in this conversation. But it’s too late—I know what they’ve been thinking now, and I can’t unknow it.
I’m so fucking sorry. This must be horrific to hear. I shouldn’t have told you, I shouldn’t have told you. They do love you, Raff. They do. They just don’t know which way to turn.
In the end mum and dad said they’ll wait before having any more discussions about turning off the machine. But I don’t know how long they’ll wait. Or how much power I have to stop them when they’ve made up their mind.
That’s why you’ve got to wake up.
What I’ve got to tell you is probably going to spew out of my mouth any which way it comes. This time, you can’t do your usual, can’t tell me to breathe, or slow down. But before I tell you anything more, I just want to say don’t worry about me.
Ok. I’m going to start at the beginning like you always tell me to do when the words want to come out too fast.
I skipped school yesterday to meet Jez. I’ve still got that 1999 travelcard that gets me on the underground for free. Whenever anyone talked about the millennium bug last year, stuff like old 1999 travelcards working to get you through the turnstiles, I straight up thought it was bullshit. But since I’ve got drawers full of stuff I’ve had since I was, like, ten, I had a look and discovered one nestled between an Ace of Base cassette and a dried-up pot of glitter gel.
Anyhoo, I get to the Southbank, and Jez is sitting on a ledge under the shadows of the concrete roof, taking a break, rolling a spliff. I call over to him, and he raises his palm and nods. He sticks the spliff in his gob and slouches over. He’s got a long-sleeved Nirvana top on, and his ginger hair’s all spiked up with gel. There’s a pimple on his cheek, but he looks pretty good.
As he comes towards me, I think if I blink and look up again you’ll be there next to him. You should be there, not here, with this bag that holds your wee hanging on a hook next to you.
Jez says, ‘You don’t live in London, do you? You’ve got to see this place. It’s sweet as.’
His voice is deep for a young looking ginge with a snub pointy nose.
And as we trot down the steps, I’m glad he took me. Not just cos from the beach bit, the view’s cool, the water smelling all scummy and seawatery and the gulls calling up above. But because it doesn’t remind me of you too much.
So Jez is on his bum, elbows hooked around his knees. He keeps looking at the shingle on the ground, shaking his head saying he can’t believe you’re in a coma.
I’m like, ‘Do you think Raff’d do this? Commit suicide?’
‘Listen,’ he goes, ‘If I’ve learnt one thing, it’s that you don’t truly know anyone.’ And I don’t see what he’s getting at, Raff, maybe that I don’t know you properly? Seriously?
That’s uni kids for you. They live away from home, and suddenly they feel all wise and worldly, and think they know the answer to the world’s problems or something. Remember when Angel first came back from Edinburgh University for the Christmas holidays. She said it was nuts, all these kids away from home for the first time. Angel’d had her gap year, worked, partied hard and calmed down a few times already. And these kids acted like they’d just been let loose in a sweet shop. When she met Jack, a few years older and already onto his masters, he didn’t care about the drinking; he was there to learn, and she was into that.
‘Yeah but what about Raff?’ I go, ‘He’s not just anyone, he’s your best mate.’
Jez scoops up a handful of shingle and passes it between his cupped hands. ‘Well, to be fair, he could have killed himself, sad as that is for any of us to consider. I mean, circumstances could drive a lot of people to suicide.’
And I’m getting hacked off at this point, cos he’s talking in general terms and I need specifics. I need fucking specifics. This isn’t some philosophy class; this is your life.
He carries on. ‘I know that puts us in a difficult position. It’s painful; because it forces us to consider that we could have done more. And trust me, since your call yesterday I’ve been beating myself up for not looking out for him enough, not being a better friend. But, to be fair, the simplest explanation is probably true.’
When he put it like that, it did kind of made sense. And it’s fucking with my head, because maybe what he said next was true too, that it’s natural to search for answers, and it’s just a stage I have to go through as I learn to accept this.
But you could wake up and blow that out of the water, tell me you’re glad I didn’t give up on you, tell me I know you better than anyone, and that I was the only person who believed there was more to this.
Then Jez adds something like, ‘To be fair, I think the circumstances could have driven him to suicide.’
‘What circumstances?’ I’m saying, feeling nervous, like I could suddenly actually be getting somewhere.
Jez looks at me, raises his eyebrows softly, ‘I don’t know how much you know, Fern.’
And there it is. That’s when I know it. There’s more.
I assure him he doesn’t need to worry about shielding me from anything. That I know you were selling pills.
‘Ok, good. So this is how I remember stuff: at first everything seemed to be going well. I was worried for him, though. Seen too many films. It’s just when everything’s flying that things come to bite you. And I warned him about getting into that shit, tried to be a friend to him, you know. But he didn’t stop.’
Do you think that was a good impression of Jez’s voice?
I say, ‘It wasn’t such a big deal, though, was it?’
His eyebrows arch. He’s looking out to the water and his eyes dart from side to side, like this. And I add something like, ‘He was just saving to go travelling with me.’
And he goes, ‘I know. But—honestly….he’s not cut out for that kind of stuff.’
And I know exactly what he means. Not so long ago, you were a fresh-faced 6th former. A boff. Well, a cross between that and a greebo, slouching around in those DMs you used to love, your long hair hanging in your face and the sleeves of your Green Day t-shirt covering your hands.
Plus, you sat in the middle section of the school bus, not at the back with the tough kids. And I kind of think where you sit on the bus defines who you’ll go on to be. Will Lowry sat at the back of the bus, didn’t he. And look where he ended up. That stuff with Will’s all done now, thank God. Sorry—I shouldn’t have bought him up.
Jez opens his mouth and shuts it a few times, and I can tell he wants to say something else. Tears prickle beneath the surface; I can’t help it, and I’m scared you might not have been as ok as I thought.
‘What do you mean?’ I say. And I’m shit scared of the answer.