Read by David Mildon
Four minutes. Not bad.
Billy stepped back to his favoured spot behind the bin. He plunged his hands in his pockets. It was by far the best way of dealing with wearing a blazer, but you had to make sure the blazer bunched forward and was tight around your back, otherwise it stuck out behind and revealed your belly at the front and made you look stupid.
Under the shelter the girls were already there. Two from the private school, who looked a bit alike only one of them was probably fit and the other one definitely wasn’t, and one from the catholic school who always came to the bus stop with her nan. The girl and her nan were the main reason he never stood under the shelter, not even when it was raining. He hated them. Well, not hated, but he couldn’t be near them. The girl was a weirdo. The uniform for that school was rank anyway, but she was a bit fat and she always wore stockings that only went up to her knees and you could see the tops of them where they bit into her fat knees, and it made her legs look like sausages.
The nan was the worst, though. She made his skin crawl. She was just like the girl, only old, and sagged, and just disgusting. She walked like she was a zombie, not a proper zombie, but from those shit old films where they couldn’t run.
Two minutes. He held on to his oyster pass in his pocket.
He hoped it was just Ryan on the bus. If that other lot were there, Carl, and Joe, and Reece, he’d have to sit with them, but it was quite nice just sitting with Ryan and talking about homework and stuff. And he hoped the Holloway boys weren’t there. They once spent a whole journey calling him gay, and he had to just ignore it, and pretend it wasn’t happening, because once it happened to Ryan and he said something and they waited until they got off the bus and threw a milkshake at him.
He looked at his watch. 7.33. The Holloway boys were normally on the later one.
The drunk guy was circling down by the traffic lights.
One minute. People started to shuffle around in the shelter. He walked round the back of it so he’d be in front, ready to flag the bus down. He always flagged the bus down. He knew other people did it too, but he hadn’t done it once because he was embarrassed because the fit girl was looking at him, and the bus had just gone past.
The bus was approaching. So was the drunk guy. One time, the drunk guy had breathed on him, and it was disgusting, he could smell something rotten inside him. Billy edged nearer the shelter.
The drunk guy got closer. Was he going for the bus?
Billy held out his hand to flag the bus down. As it slowed, he backed towards where he predicted it would stop. He mostly got it right. But the drunk guy was going for the bus. Billy backed towards it a little quicker than normal, keeping one eye on the drunk guy.
The bus eased to a stop and Billy turned just as he felt himself bump into something and he put a hand out and pure terror washed over him because he’d backed into the nan and her face was about an inch from his and his hand had pressed into something soft and she made some kind of noise and he could smell her and he went “Sorry!” and stepped back and he felt the sweat start under his arms and he felt sick because he was sure that was her tit.
He’d touched her tit.
They trooped on to the bus. His Oyster beeped. He went for the stairs. All he could think of was her tit. The feel of her tit. It was gross, like a deflated balloon. It was soft. Too soft. And her face. He’d been so close to her face that he couldn’t even pretend it hadn’t happened. Her face was so sagged and fat, her tit must be like that too. Her mouth was the worst. It was like it had melted a bit, so that the hole was lower than normal people and instead of seeing two sets of teeth, above and below, you just saw the bottom half of the lower teeth and a horrible grey lumpy bit of gum. It was like she had no strength in her lips to close her mouth, and the bottom one just flapped open, a useless bit of flesh.
He blinked. It was Reece. He was sat with Carl and Joe. They each were spread across a double seat and there was one spare on the other side of the aisle. Ryan was sitting four rows beyond them, near the back.
Billy sat down.
“Nah, there was bare gash. It was sick, bruv, honestly.” Carl was talking to Joe. His face was bright and he was doing that jerky thing, where he looked like he was having an electric shock. Billy only ever saw him on the bus because most of the time in school he was in special needs. “Even that wasteman, what’s his name, that one with glasses, even he was lipsing some year 7.”
Billy knew they must be talking about the fireworks. He’d gone with his Dad, but he knew everyone else went on their own and met up with the Parly girls.
“I heard Liban got off with Johnny Palmer’s sister,” said Joe slowly. He always spoke slowly, as if he was thinking over every word. “Matthew saw him. He said he touched her tits.”
Billy saw his opening.
“Nah, bruv, don’t even talk about it.” He shook his head solemnly.
“Tits, bruv. Fuck, man, that was awful.”
Billy leant in, his face animated. He spoke in a piercing whisper.
“Man, I fucking touched some granny’s tit by mistake in the queue!”
All of them burst out into cackles of laughter.
“It was fucking rank! And her face! She was proper rank! It was like her face had fallen off!”
Billy felt a thrill of excitement. They were properly laughing. It was great when you said something and they all laughed. There was always a risk, though. Sometimes someone might use it against you, no matter what it was. He’d got torn apart a few weeks back for saying he’d fingered Latitia, when he’d thought it was probably the coolest thing he’d ever done.
Carl’s face suddenly fell serious. “Oh, no, I tell you what, though, did you see that shit last night? That monkey shit?”
“Yeah!” Reece’s face was a mask of delighted horror. “That was bare disgusting!”
“Nah, honestly, I was going to be sick, bruv,” Carl said. “I was going to fucking vomit.”
“What monkey shit?” said Billy.
“Didn’t you see that shit?”
“Fucking Oprah. It’s in the papers. Some lady got her face ripped off by a monkey.”
“She got her face ripped off, her whole face, like there was nothing left, and her hands ripped off too.”
They sat in stunned and appreciative silence for a moment. That was pretty extreme, Billy thought. That was like in Silence of the Lambs. He wished he’d seen it. He’d watched Silence of the Lambs a few months back, and he thought it was the best film he’d ever seen. He remembered the bit where the guy got his face bitten off, and you just saw his teeth without lips.
He thought with an odd queasiness about the nan’s face.
Joe was gearing up to say something. He looked thoughtful. “But she got, like, thirty million pounds compensation.”
Reece was intrigued. “Really?”
Joe carried on. “Yeah, she got thirty million pounds. And she was on Oprah.”
“Thirty million pounds, just for getting her face ripped off by a monkey?” said Reece.
“Yeah, but it’s pretty bad, though,” said Billy.
“Yeah, but, like, thirty million pounds!”
“Would you do it?” said Carl.
Everyone was silent for a moment. Then Joe spelt it out. “What, get your face and hands ripped off by a monkey for thirty million pounds?”
Carl nodded. “Yeah.”
Joe thought carefully. Billy could see that everyone else was thinking too. He didn’t really want to think about it. He felt a bit uncomfortable. He looked around. The bus was pretty full now. He saw, with a sudden lurch in his gut, the girl and her nan sat three rows in front. They sat with the same hunch in their shoulders. The nan was in the window seat. She was facing out. He could see her profile. Her eyes sagged just like her mouth and they seemed all of a sudden like the saddest things he had ever seen.
“I’d do it,” said Joe. “You could buy a flat screen TV.”
Carl jeered at him. “What! That’s bare stupid. You’ve got no eyes, bruv, your whole face is ripped off. You don’t even have no hands to change channels!”
They all began jeering too. Joe struggled against the noise to say “I don’t care, I’d do it!”
Billy was silent. The noise was sharp and brutal. He looked at Carl’s crazy little face, all twisted and laughing. He felt an odd lightness. His hand rested on the bus seat, and he felt the fabric under it. The sun glinted on the windows of the parked cars they passed, and the bus engine chundered and roared. He lifted a hand to touch his face, and imagined it old.
Old by Sammy Wright was read by David Mildon at the Liars' League Flesh & Fowl event at The Phoenix, Cavendish Sq., London on Tuesday 8 June 2010
Sammy Wright has been writing for several years, but rarely to his own satisfaction. He works by day as a teacher, and sleeps by night (mostly). His favourite sound is the breaking of small glass phials.
David Mildon is a LAMDA-trained actor and playwright who's appeared at the Hackney Empire, Trafalgar Studios, Theatre 503 and BAC as well as in Belgium and Italy. He was a founding member of Liars' League and his pseudonymous stories Worms’ Feast and Red have been performed by them. Red is also forthcoming in the June issue of Litro short story magazine: www.litro.co.uk