‘Come-n’ – We carn’t slow down. Fouk’it Shades. Don’t stop.’
That’s what Rainfish called Lunagirl – Shades, on account she always wore turtle blue sunglasses. To her mother Lunagirl was Jane.
‘The clouds Neil!’
That’s what Lunagirl called Rainfish – because Neil was his name.
‘Fouk’s sake – we get nabbed ‘ere we’re dead meat.’
‘What the fuck you want me to do?’
‘Awight-foukin calm down.’
The dal nietne intro to U2’s Indian Summer Sky starts to spin in Lunagirl’s head – music to fit the mood as it has always done since she can remember.
‘Why aren’t there any puddles?’
‘There wan’nt enouf rain,’
‘Carn’t we just make one?’
‘Doesn’t work like that – has to be rain water.’
The opening drum and bass seems to match their frantic pace as they leg it across the road away from the Peveril.
Una-dughê Una-dughê Una-dughê-Dughê
Una-dughê Una-dughê Una-dughê-Dughê
Una-dughê Una-dughê Una-dughê-Dughê – Zhjraung!
Jgíjgíjgíjgí – Zhjraung!
They barrel down stone steps and cross a lock between Deansgate and Oxford Rd.
In the ocean, cut, swim, deep the sky. Like there, I don’t know why.
They sprint along a dank ginel behind the old Hacienda and punch it across Whitworth St West. Lunagirl pulls up, lungs burning under the railway line on Glouster Rd.
Sky! – It’s a blue sky.
She hears rainwater caught on the steel lip of arched girders drip feed black recesses of damp moss. Rainfish stares out over the vista of Hulme. Saturated in red brick, immense structures and extinct architectural relics of a bygone industry are now rapidly transmorphing into affluent living spaces.
Up for air to swim against the tide,
Hey, Hey, Hey!
Up toward the sky…
It’s a blue sky
Manchester is a stubborn city – perennial darkness and gloom are its two flavours. And it doesn’t let the seasons dictate or influence its mood. And its mood rarely changes. The sun’s general indignation and absence over the city was part of its character. It takes time to know Manchester – to embrace its pernicious charm in the endless lugubrious light. Summer is weak in Manchester. Yet it can hang about like a kid who can’t take a hint, to greet the students for the start of semester before vanishing along with the trick of sunlight.
Fear splashes Lunagirl’s face. Clouds like gossamer sails cruise overhead. They catch and tear against the city’s skyline allowing the sun’s ascendancy to spread. Lunagirl tracks the sunlight stroking the dirty cobbles stained with dry puke and cigarette butts. When the sun gets its chance in Manchester, it’s greedy like a front man demanding more stage. It forces itself under the lip of the rail arch and Lunagirl retreats as if the light was the dark. Lunagirl hugs the covered recess with her back against the damp coarse brick and wraps her lithe frame round Rainfish’s bony waist.
‘Don’t worry we’ve been ‘ere before, ‘member?’
‘Like fuck we ‘ave.’
Rainfish peels off his black hoodie sporting twin white stripes. In a white singlet underneath, he’s all pale skin over sinewy and bone. Not to be deceived, like all the scrawny anaemic kids on the estates posturing about in matching shell suits and white trainers, Rainfish is as hard and uncompromising as the drab concrete landscape that reared him.
Growing up, kids like Rainfish are worked over like iron on anvil, forging perfect harmonies of function and physique. By their teenage years they’re hard and vicious. And their unassuming strength is matched by gangly fuse-wire limbs that give them their rangy intimidating swagger and propel them over back fences and down dark, narrow ginels in a play of bold sorties and inevitable retreats and subsequent escapes. Even Lunagirl found Rainfish’s corrosive voice and stripped down power a blunt shock when he first cornered her outside ASDA on the Kingsway.
They first met under the similar circumstances. But not everything that starts a certain way stays the same. Lunagirl had never confessed secrets to another person so quickly, and Rainfish admitted later he hadn’t either. It was mid-afternoon and Manchester was content, wrapped up in its own wet misery of soft rain falling from an immovable inclement sky.
Rainfish smoked a tab while pushing his son in a hand-me-down pram from his sister Pauline. He emulated his dad, curling the tab up inside his palm between each puff like there was something to hide when there wasn’t. They waited by the sheltered entrance while Yvonne, Rainfish’s mum shopped for the coming week. Rainfish didn’t see much of the sprog. He had no cause to. His son lived with his mother and her family at the end of a red brick terraced street in Gorton – the same street Rainfish lived on before moving with his mother to Moss Side. And he wasn’t welcome much around there anymore. He offered nothing towards child support, and would have been refused any privileges, but he never asked. And that suited him just fine. But his mum’s maternal chagrin surfaced after the occasional visitations when Trish and her family were all busy and stuck for a sitter. It was an estate affair – based on bare attraction, boredom and an empty draw to fill in a cabinet in their lives.
Rainfish looked down into the resin of his son’s eyes. He got the colour from Trish. In fact Rainfish could see nothing of himself in Ttey, just his mother. Someday his kid was going to ask for an explanation – about his name, about all of it. And he didn’t have one. He’ll have to admit he didn’t care and he should ask his mother and he’ll have to live with it.
Rainfish didn’t intend to pursue Lunagirl when he spotted her. It was just that words didn’t come easily to him – he knew he couldn’t say what he wanted without it meaning something else. And that’s when his frustrations turned to aggression.
Lunagirl had a uniform of her own: Long tight black pants flared over chrome blue Doc Martins, and a bone white shirt with thick starched cuffs like loose wrist bands protruding out a tattered black cotton v-neck sweater. She also wore violet possum pelt gloves given to her by a Kiwi exchange teacher at her old school in Eccles, and a false double-breasted black canvas overcoat with pointed hood her mother bought in Salford Precinct. When it wasn’t too hot she carried a purple wool scarf that she often wrapped like a shawl around her head when the sun was out to cover her neck and hide her long silicon hair. And with her sunglasses always on she was instantly recognisable unlike Rainfish who was just another hoodlum in the pack.
Her signature look immediately made her a topic of gossip and target of abuse. She always remained cernuous and covered like a cowled monk. But crossing Moss Side, Hulme and Rusholme after dark, she became an incandescent beacon for the loud, licentious grommets clinging to street corners and their crotches. They improvised bawdy taunts from the digest of crude come-ons slung and shot from every brick and concrete hangout for so long, like an overplayed record, it sounded like nothing more than static rain to Lunagirl.
Everyone knew her back in Eccles. Her condition brought her fame. It didn’t stop people staring, but she didn’t have to explain herself. She wished they could move to Spain, or Mexico, but it was impossible. Ireland and its sombre climate was the only other practical place for Lunagirl and her mother to live.
‘At least I’m not stuck in that shithole,’ Lunagirl said to herself.
She had reconciled herself with Manchester a long time ago. When she needed cheering up she self-medicated, and invoked the trappings of the melancholic weather, and visage of morose townships and weary constant rain across the Irish Sea.
When her mother told her they were moving to Whalley Range because of what happened to her father, she hated the idea of starting all over again – having to explain herself to everyone she met. But now everything had changed – and she met Rainfish. She decided it must be what a maiden Spring day feels like on the skin and in the eyes of the country.
Most Manchester folk move silently, apologetically, surreptitiously. Lunagirl cut across the asphalt like a fresh wind, leaving chaotic swirls in her wake. Rainfish watched her case a rack of bikes by the trolley returns, mesmerised by the array of chained wheels. She intently studied the geometric diameters and dimensions, and then lifted the unlocked end of a chosen few. She spuns each wheel widely, tilting the back of the bicycles side-to-side catching the centrifugal force with cellophane awe.
‘You crazy bitch,’ Rainfish muttered. He looked down at Ttey, who was lost in the movement of everything around him, and despite feeling somewhat stupid added, ‘Looks like we got work to do, aye?’
Rainfish flicked his cigarette into a puddle and propelled the pram out of the covered entrance towards Lunagirl.
‘Wot we got ‘ere then?’
Startled, Lunagirl instinctively kept her sight to the ground as she jumped to her feet.
‘You must be new round ‘ere-’ Rainfish says with a smirk lancing a grimace.
‘Wots it to ya?’ Lunagirl moves quickly to the left to put a row of trolleys between them.
‘Nu me, but if you knew wot folks you were considering filching those wheels from, you might reconsider.’
‘Rubbish – I ain’t doin’ noofing,’ Lunagirl declares and cuts her back on Rainfish and walks away across the car park.
‘I seen you-’
‘I’m not that hard to miss,’ she shouts towards the city as she makes haste.
Lunagirl’s easy defence dents Rainfish’s adolescent bravado. He catches her in three soft coiled steps. Riled by her derision and savvy, he seizes her, spins her around hard and fast and pulls the hood covering her face. It catches some of her hair and makes Lunagirl wince.
Her scarlet lips disarm and drown Rainfish. It’s the only colour in her alabaster face. They dominate her high cheeks and small nose which is immune to shadows. Like staring into one’s drunken reflection, he’s caught trying to penetrate her skin so delicate and translucent it glows like the moonlight.
Ttey gurbles in infant wonderment at nothing in particular, thrusting his little legs and arms into a mad flutter. Smiles break, infecting each other. Feeling left out, the sun punches a weakness in the immobile bleakness.
‘Fuck.’ Lunagirl locks her face to the ground and tries to scarper under covers.
‘Wot the fouk you playing at?’ Rainfish demands.
Like Manchester’s weather, Rainfish’s mordant temper was unpredictable and prone to cracking easily. He grabs Lunagirl’s arm below her shoulder. A dour cloth of light suffuses the sky. Lunagirl struggles to get free but it just makes Rainfish’s grip tighter. Immobile and petrified she chases the shadows, which harden on the pavement to brush her toes, yet just as quickly melt away and fade into the bitumen from the clouds passing across the sun.
Lunagirl beats violently like a moth to unlock Rainfish’s grip and accidentally swivels under his beguiling strength into the light. A ribbon of UV brands a pink belt-strap across her left cheek. Lunagirl yelps. She doesn’t mean to, but it come s out to fast to catch – uncontrollable like burning yourself under a hot tap.
Tears run down Lunagirl’s face like moon beams. She expects what always happens – shock, a look of disgust like she is something contagious, occasionally a spark of rage from those who are built to blame others, but it always falls into a discord of recrimination and betrayal before a rapid escape.
‘It’s the light.’ Lunagirl feebly explains.
Ttey starts screaming.
‘Shut it awright Ttey?’
‘I didn’t know the weather would – fukin’ stupid,’ but Lunagirl stops as words fall apart in her distress.
‘Bollocks – Awright. Just keep your head down and watch Ttey.’
Lunagirl hears a swampy splash, and the distinct puff of an umbrella punching the air, before she sees it rise over her head and eclipse the sun.
‘You can thank me ma – she packs this four-wheeler like we won’t see tomorrow.’
‘Where did you go?’
Lunagirl looks suspiciously at Rainfish – half wet, glistening like a salamander with his shell suit wicking in the sunlight.
‘Come-n then – best get you indoors.’
By the time Yvonne exits the check out with a trolley full of groceries Manchester has resumed its doleful mood, growing unnaturally dark like it’s tipped for nightfall. But it is a ruse of the city, looking eternally benighted. Not that Mancunians cared because it’s a city of noctambulers.
Lunagirl feels guilty so she reluctantly agrees to follow Rainfish to Fallowofield where he has to run a few errands. This in turns makes her hate herself even more than she does already. Rainfish dumps Ttey with his mum who looks at her son with considered objection but is too exhausted to argue.
They buy fries and a coke from McDonalds, which they share. As they talk they can feel each other digging deeper – to darker feelings that don’t want to admit, and questions they know they shouldn’t ask.
Rainfish doesn’t admit he first saw Lunagirl a week ago. The weather was set to the same unrepentant theme of melancholia. He watched her crossed Lloyd St to a deserted phone box – shuffling with ecclesiastic reverence, head down, hood up, rare and hidden.
The public telephone, luminous like an expired shipping beacon cut the cold wet stoned gloom. It reminded Rainfish of endless council initiatives designed to lighten the insipid surroundings on the estate. Lame splashes of colour and sheen, vivid slabs of bitumen and bright painted playgrounds looking crass and out of context between the austere housing blocks and opaque, solemn sky. Like everything on the estate there was a point but not necessarily purpose.
Her eyes flickered to the movement of a winged shadow slowly gliding down the shop fronts. On the near side of the road, Rainfish studied her from above – her space-bubble stare where to him she searched behind her eyes for something worth saying. She hung up and exited in a single brisk movement. Rainfish followed her retreating back along the street from above the rooftops.
They both passed Platt Lane Sport’s Complex, which was dimmed by the late hour except for a hockey match in the centre of the field. Urgent shouts, whoops and whistles escaped the luminous dome of flood lights in defiance of the damp brooding night. Lunagirl halted where a cluster of BMX and mountain bikes were chained to the cyclone fence. She stood for instant gripped by the sight.
Perched up high Rainfish caught this strange girl’s face ripple with enchantment, like a wet river pebble in the moonlight. Was it a trick of the light or his strained eyes? Rainfish couldn’t decide.
What was it it with her and bikes?
Halfway to Fallowfield along deserted, despondent back streets Lunagirl hears the exposed, hypnotic lead guitar to Ceremony by New Order lay a faint raw, foundation up high in the tempestuous canopy of the sky.
The song grows louder as it’s carried down with the falling rain. The rain is light and consistent, as if the heavens above Manchester are flooded, God is absent and the sky is a sieve to catch the leaks. It is the sort of rain common to Manchester. It can last for days and weeks like a biblical curse. Rainfish and Lunagirl trudge onwards through the damp, unpolished light of a brewing storm, impervious to its existence, or ill effects the way all Mancunians do.
They start to argue about the order of event since they met. It begins light of heart, as if they’re trying to trick each other into thinking the situation won’t worsen. The rain’s consistency fastens to the silence so they can’t even recognise when one shower starts and another finishes.
The clouds swell and wind whips up in playful misery to Ian Curtis’s posthumous words.
This is why events unnerve me,
They find it all, a different story,
Notice whom for wheels are turning,
Turn again and turn towards this time,
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