‘He’s a bit of nutter. Not dangerous mind you – he’s got a bit of the Tourette’s and barks and yells when he’s nervous. And he’s only got one leg. No one knows how he lost the other one or what landed him in the crazyboat. But he is mad about bicycles. And he won’t go near ‘em if he reckons they’re pilfered.’
Rainfish swung his sharp shoulder into Lunagirl with a grin.
‘Unlike some folk I know.’
Keith lived in the same grand old Victorian red brick house in Whalley Range where his parents raised him. It didn’t look so grand anymore, umbered and dripping in the rain. The scale seemed larger on the inside since Keith had stripped it back to plastered walls, and old blackened dusty floor boards.
Every room apart from the kitchen and bedroom on the third floor was devoted to bicycles; rooms for old and broken ones, rooms hanging restored bicycles on the walls like art, torture rooms with helpless frames mounted on stands awaiting dismantling or assembly, rooms devoted to every set of spare part like toolbox compartments, and rooms dedicated to absent-mindedness where bikes were abandoned or forgotten for another project. Even the table tops and kitchen table spilled over with cluttered tools, grease, gears and cables.
As Lunagirl sailed from room to room she let off an ecstatic series of gasps and yelps that made One-Legged Keith twitch and occasionally yell out from the back steps shit like ‘cunt-flaps’ and ‘fuck-hole’.
Rainfish sat with Keith sipping a brew and smoking pollen that he brought for Keith. Rainfish heard One-Legged Keith could have obtained a legal prescription for marijuana on account of his moderate ADD. But he complained the medically prescribed gear was shite, and he preferred pollen, or resin. And it meant he smoked a lot more, he said it made him feel ‘more even and functional.’
Lunagirl later called it an ‘Excalibur Moment,’ where among the clutter of discarded, bent and broken wheels in an upstairs room she seized the obsolete radial she’s been looking for. Rainfish and One-Legged Keith agreed when they heard the scream it also sounded like Eureka.
Lunagirl knew instantly the wheel was perfect but indulged Keith who insisted testing it on A-frame – tweaking the spokes to straighten minute and invisible lateral kinks like a master tuner.
Keith adamantly refused payment while calling Lunagirl a ‘cum-well’ and a ‘titty-fuck’. Afterwards Rainfish said he reckoned One-Legged Keith had a bit of a crush on Shades cos he was exceedingly reserved.
Lunagirl told Neil to ‘shut-it,’ and punched him in the arm.
The following week Rainfish and Lunagirl were all bacon and brown sauce. In stolen moments Lunagirl was alone between wake and sleep she fitted the missing parts to her prototype. It was late in the dark frosted night when they bungled into Lunagirl’s house. A plasma screen illuminated the derelict lounge room with an empty electric-blue wash that spilled out through the open doorway and splashed down the hall past the staircase to the back kitchen.
‘Where’s ya ma?’
They scurried up the stairs, out Lunagirl’s rear bedroom window and onto a crawl space on the roof. Attached to the vein of an ornamental chimney running up the brickwork behind Rainfish was an amp stack with loose casings. Atop a mixing board of volume faders reinforced with lashings of duct tape rested a row of dials and red-blinking LED galactic-buttons. Cables ran from the amp head, up the wall, and alongside a foot ladder. They connected to a large monitor speaker, which was fastened over the skull of the chimney. A television antenna protruding from the side of the unit vacillated wildly in wind like a duelling foil. And from the vacant speaker casing the bicycle radial glinted like gravel as it spun and swivelled madly on a forked axel.
‘Foukin’ hell! – You made a weather machine out of a karaoke unit and bike wheel.’
‘It’s a giant speaker innit?’ asserted Rainfish struggling to keep up.
‘Sort-a,’ Lunagirl grinned, ‘But it’s a bit more sophisticated than that.’
She snapped open a Quality Streets tin with a Discman and loose stack of burnt CD’s, and plugged the player into a loose stereo connection. Ocean Colour Scene’s Lining Your Pockets blustered skyward in dampened undertones as if the sound was immersed in water.
The antennae swung erratically forward and back like a broken metronome. The wheel gyrated with epilepsy. Lunagirl frantically tweaked faders and pinched dials. The discordant rhythm shook the whole unit in noisy mutiny while Rainfish’s gaze was stuck to the sky.
Lunagirl’s rapid adjustments of minuteness finally stumbled through an invisible barrier and she finds perfect pitch. Equilibrium stifles the dysfunctional rattle with a deafening calm. The bicycle spokes rotate and turn with a content hum. The antenna follows, oscillating in peaceful union. The music broadcasts loudly but to Rainfish it somehow sounds like it’s emanating from a well sunk somewhere deep beneath him.
Coz you’ve been linin’ your pockets for no other reason
Than to buy up the things that I gave without reasonable pay.
A tempest quickly gathers, swirling into a black sepulchre overhead, absorbing the city’s dirty luminous essence and dropping an asphalt curtain of mizzle.
Well I wondered through fortune
And I flirted with fame
But we never got the money
We always gave it away
Rainfish pounces up the rain like barrels. He swims up into the Stygian night hooting and yelping with glee. Lunagirl rolls out a foam mattress spoilt by rain over the crawl space. Her body reveals how tired she actually is.
See if you’ve been linin’ your pockets for no other reason
Than to buy up the things that I gave without reasonable pay
Her limbs and muscles melt in sweet liquid relief. But her mind is still active and a playlist is already emblazoned in her mind before she can organise the CD’s. She feels an overwhelming connection like an exalted DJ watching Rainfish duck and dive, dart and dance through the night to her tunes – Neil’s movements matching her playlist with smitten awe.
The night stretches under persuasion of the soundtrack that plays homage to a northern summer of love until both are too tired to talk or move. Yet they both feel altered, recognising a moment they are defining. They slide back inside and curl up in Lunagirl’s bed just before the front door clicks open and Lunagirl’s mum walks in from a graveyard shift at Whythenshaw Hospital.
Lunagirl fell in with Rainfish and his crew of Knights like ceding to sleep. In the afternoons Rainfish returned home to Moss Side and cooked a batch of glue. He boasted his formula of liquid adhesive set like steel. He explained to Lunagirl it was essential ‘cos otherwise competing gangs would tear ‘em down as soon as they were plastered.
When the sun was so lost in the clouds that the street lamps engaged a vapid glow, Lunagirl followed Rainfish and his crew as an extra set of eyes. They worked a contested patch along the Oxford Rd corridor leading into the city for the high visibility and density of traffic. They fly-postered waste grounds, vacant lots, construction site plaster boards, bus shelters, condemned buildings and crowded placards and billboards.
Rainfish never invited Lunagirl to his place. But Lunagirl thought nothing of it. This happiness was the cliché she had never tasted. And she drank it like cider. Rainfish’s affections emboldened his actions and deceived him by thinking he was untouchable. No matter what trip love brings, Rainfish took a heavy dose. He broke his only rule. They veered into new territory – across Hulme, Knott Mill along annexed transport conduits to the back of the G-Mex and up Deansgate, pushing deeper into the city to Victoria and the MEN Arena. They ventured out earlier into the perpetual dull pearl daylight of Manchester to cover the larger area.
Lunagirl got used to Rainfish waking regularly at night, shuddering in cold alkaline sweat from a reoccurring nightmare. It had gripped him in sleep since he could remember. He is by some dead shoulder on a lifeless canal or the elbow of a black, sinuous river. It isn’t always familiar but the feeling of being chased is. He submits to a fate he knows is inescapable and he waits and watches the silver bellied ripples slither in the flow. It always ends the same – knowing he will be set upon blindly and surrounded by cowled shadows with faceless eyes. He feels the bottle cap fingernails stab his back as he is pushed. Falling can take an instant. But sometimes it takes an eternity when a remote part of his conscience battles for his preservation and keeps him upright – pausing and rewinding, pausing and rewinding but it never prevents the inevitably, only prolongs it. He hears the tail of the splash. The cold unctuous water arrests him, consumes him, insufflates him. He feels himself thin and his life dissolve like ink bleeding away in the current. This is the moment he wakes, panting, sometimes kicking.
Rainfish admitted he was afraid of large bodies of water. He described to Lunagirl the total concentration required not to get lost in the water of rain puddle, or water feature. Forget having a bath. Anything bigger was suicide. He felt exposed and fishing for symmetry afterwards when he asked Lunagirl without forethought if she was afraid of anything. She flicked his forehead with her middle finger like he should know better and giggled.
Lunagirl said it was weird the ocean was never in his dreams.
‘It’s the largest body of water innit.’
‘Nowt seen it ‘ave I.’
‘Wot – never!’
Rainfish asked her if she could make her contraption portable and she looked at him again with a degree of consideration and exasperation.
‘Wot you think this is all for?’
Rainfish pinned her arms to the bed with one hand and pinched her knees where she was most ticklish. Lunagirl’s entire body convulsed in the painful pleasure. She laughed uncontrollably while begging him to stop and saying she’d ‘smash him in the face.’
Every day the wind rose to ransack the last dead leaves from the deciduous trees while it soiled the lenient evergreens. Lunagirl couldn’t shake Echo & the Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon, which was caught on loop in her head.
The rain regularly spat at trenchant angle filling the potholes and kerbsides, and allowing their early escape. Rainfish said he’d take Lunagirl to Blackpool, but Lunagirl made him promise to take her to Liverpool for the weekend. She wanted to see the Cavern and Strawberry Fields. Rainfish promised.
They rushed the work and sluiced back to Lunagirl’s house each day. They played the rest of the night on Lunagirl’s rooftop and slept until late in the day.
The pubescent holler breaks the serene sun flood interlude swaying softly over Manchester city like a gun clap.
Phil flits by the archway like thunder to lightening. Sunderland brothers, Collin and Gerry tumble by in a fit and tangle of limps, beastly huffs and slabs of Stella and fish n’ chip guts.
‘Foukin spitfire pilot that Phil.’
‘We’re fouked Fish.’
‘He’ll be okay, won’t he Neil?’
‘He’ll make ‘em work till they fall down with pulmonaries and paralysis – and he’ll be chuffing a fat spliff from my stash and grinning before we get back.’
Suddenly the ground begins to tremble. A soft shudder rapidly swells into a clamorous crescendo as a train scuttles out of Piccadilly Station along the short elevated tracks to the Oxford Rd Station overhead.
Fate – Up against your wi-hlll
Through the thick and thin
He will wait unti-hlll
You give yourself to him
A quivering squeal pierces the prevailing clatter to announce the train imminent arrival.
‘Split up. We’re takin’ this ride.’
Lunagirl sees the boys shrink against the brick work. Rainfish clocks the whimsical adjudication between the sun and clouds until thick slabs of broken slate reinforce Manchester’s firmament, and reinstate the sullied purity to the city. If Rainfish clocks the boys’ fear he doesn’t seem to care. He’s studying the tarnished sky for chinks and fractures.
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