Billy and Ian are walking along opposite sides of the high street in Cambridge, pretending to throw an imaginary ball across the cars that glide by in the darkness. It’s really windy so if there was a ball, it would have flown off in the wrong direction by now, but these boys don’t seem that concerned by the laws of reality at the moment – the party in their fuzzed up heads is much better than what’s going on out here.
We get to the pub on the corner and they stumble in. I take a moment to finish the rest of my cigarette and watch a looming bastard of a tree shake with the wind. I feel a shudder jut through me so I walk into the bustling, chaotic pub – clocking Billy, Ian and Steve at the bar, bumping into each other and laughing at something unknown.
We manage to commandeer a table as some toffy group gets up to leave, and we quickly settle in for a few hours of drinking.
‘You fuckin’ ket heads, shut the fuck up!’ Steve shouts to Ian and Billy. Ian looks up to the ceiling, his jaw and eyes spazzing out, whilst Billy tries to acknowledge Steve.
‘Hem hactually hum, it’s him, hum!’ Billy taps Ian’s arm, who turns to him and starts a long and deliberate ‘Mooooooo’. They both crack up, I laugh too, actually, but Steve’s having none of it.
He whispers in my ear – ‘Fucking druggies, fuck that shit.’
I nod back to him, deciding not to tell him that I tried coke for the first time last week before that gig at the Junction. That was alright that, gave me a serious buzz, but unfortunately I can’t remember much of it because I was so pissed – I do sort of remember the girl, but let’s not think about that now…
I take a long slug from my pint whilst Steve starts talking about the gym he’s going to convert in his garage and how he’s only two weeks away from completing his personal training course. I watch the boys slide around in their chairs and I’m slowly finding myself intrigued by this ketamin business.
‘You havin’ another beer?’
‘I’ve still got half of this one.
‘You a fuckin’ puff or what?’ He spits, looking pretty hammered now.
‘Go on then.’
He walks off with that waddle he has because of all the squats and dead lifts, whilst I get the boys attention.
‘Can I have some?’
Ian’s eyes light up – ‘Some ketameeeeeeeeeeen?!’ He screeches, attracting a few glances from the punters dotted around.
‘Yes you twat.’ I smile. Billy tries his best to acknowledge me with some seriousness and does a weird, figure of eight sort of nod, and produces the wrap from his pocket.
I take it, surprised at how small and light the bag is.
‘Jusht key it man, jusht key it.’ Ian says
I nod, get up and walk into the toilet, taking a moment to look at myself in the mirror. I’m wearing a plain white shirt that I got from Burton and my brother’s denim jacket over the top of it. Technically I’m double denniming, but you can’t really tell because my jeans are black. My scruffy blonde hair looks golden in the low light, and I suddenly feel boosted by my overall appearance.
In the toilet I nervously get my house keys out and dip one into the sparkling powder. I lift it up to my nose and take a quick sniff and immediately wince from the sharp pain in the corner of my eyes. I cough and quickly do another one, the same feeling snapping at me again. I seal the bag and take a piss, finding myself zone in on the ‘Armitage Shanks’ logo on the basin. The name bounces around my mind and I snap out of it, realising that I’m not pissing anymore. I flush and leave, giving myself a sideways glance in the mirror on the way out.
Back in the pub Billy and Ian are play fighting with each other, causing a bit of bother. Ian falls off his chair just as I arrive, cackling, and Steve hammers over toward me.
‘They’re fucked, they’re fucked Sam.’ He growls, spinning back to the boys and shaking his head. He looks back to me, his eyes simultaneously surprised/alert/angry/upset.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ He says, thudding my chest.
I shrug my shoulders, a very strange smile forming on what feels like a very doughy face.
‘Haaaaaaaaarmitage, Steve.’ I explain.
‘Are you on that shit too you idiot?’
I continue – ‘Haaaaaaaarmitage Shanks, yeah? He got stabbed just after he invented the toilet, I think. That’s why he’s really called Armitage Shanked.’
Steve aggressively necks half his pint, dribbling after.
‘What would your Dad say, Sam? Your Dad and my Dad never did any of this shit, did they? They’d get pissed up and if need be, they’d do people over. But never drugs!’
I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying so I hug his arm before snaking over to the boys who are still lazily wrestling and fake-punching each other. I decide to fall on them, and for a minute we’re rolling and groaning and laughing and blending into something uniform and whole. I look up out of the corner of my eye and realise that Steve’s gone.
Next thing we’re turning a corner on the high street and I’m aware of the cold but I’m not shivering at all, and then we climb this absolutely massive wall, and we’re over it and we’re in a grave yard next to this dark and mystical looking church, the headstones going on forever in the hazy distance. Ian flaps like a bird and falls over and Billy leaps like a panther over one of the head stones, and it just looks so majestic and unreal that I have to sit down, and it’s like I’m sinking into the grass, and when eventually it stops I look to Billy who’s staring blankly forward now and Ian who’s laughing his head off, and I see the bush and I notice that there’s a girls’ face constructed out of the leaves and the twigs. I point this out to the boys and we all laugh our heads off and scream a bit, and then I run over and kick and thrash at the bushes until they’re completely flattened and leaves are scattered everywhere.
I’m in the back seat of the taxi with Ian and Billy’s in the front seat nodding to the driver, who’s jabbering with his thick Cambridge farmer accent, moaning about how business ain’t what it was and that it’s a damn shame how much they have to charge these days. I’m staring out to the black fen as we drive between villages and Ian mutters something, so I turn to him and say what? But it looks like he’s asleep, so I stare back out the window and there really is nothing to see.
An extract from Quarter Life