‘What’s the story with you and tyres?’ Rainfish asks.
Lunagirl falls silent as the rain soaked leaves drenched in wind break away from the silence in a deafening roar.
‘You’ll think I’m insane as well as a freak,’ Lunagirl finally admits.
‘Who says I don’t already?’
‘This is Maun-Ches-Tur luv – didn’ anyone over there in Salford tell you we all nutters here.’
‘We’re all certified in Salford as well.’
‘That’s it. Naw you gettin’ it.’
Their auspicious introduction kept company by the rain and expectation brews a heady mix in Lunagirl’s svelte frame and she shivers between the warmth of excitement and the chill of the wind. Rainfish looks across at her moonbone face – her lambent skin glimmering thin veins of quicksilver.
Now it’s Lunagirl’s turn to question if the light is making mischief. She swore Rainfish just moon-jumped a foot over the back of her shoulder and landed on a spaceless breath.
‘It’s part of a contingency plan. I realised a long time ago the only person I can rely on in this shithole is me.’
‘What ‘bout now?’
Lunagirl blushes the colour of ripe cherries. An added hindrance of her exceptional complexion was thoughts and feelings projected onto her face like celluloid. She dealt with it like everything, keeping stoom and burying her head further into her hooded top. But the power of confiding is like popping a box of Pringles. Time loses its grip. The spirit of trust breaks Lunagirl’s cynicism and unlocks her secret. For the first time in her life she feels her story has a force of its own, and she can’t control it, or keep it in. It feels like an instant and forever are inextricably conjoined as she explains her abnormal sensitivity to UV light.
She described how doctors said to her mum after she was born if she had not been conceived in the north of England or Alaska, or some other place forsaken by the sun it was unlikely she would have survived after birth. She was one of a kind, and Rainfish went ‘mmm’ in confirmation that made a dormant spectre in Lunagirl’s stomach flutter. She admits the one advantage being the only soul inflicted with a ridiculously rare disorder is you get to name it. She called it ‘Moon Drift,’ and that’s how it appears in medical journals. She talked about her wayward, distant, drunk dad who named her Lunagirl because he said she shone like the moon in her cot at night.
Rainfish said everyone called him Fish cos as a toddler he loved playing in puddles in the rain. Lunagirl thought he was talking rubbish to get in her pants.
‘So where’s your kid’s mum then?’
A penetrating flash of resentment crosses Rainfish like a current, abating just as quickly to where it lives above him, out of reach and out of control like the clouds. Lunagirl wonders if he would have admitted to having a son if they’d met under different circumstances. She saw what happened to her friend Cora last year – how her belly button popped out, her boobs ballooned and got all leaky. She didn’t see her after but heard she needed stitches and Lunagirl swore she would never let that happen to her. But Rainfish tickled her somewhere she couldn’t quite find. The more she was with him it spread and got stronger.
Secrets are like alcoholic sacraments. Sharing them is a covenant that lives somewhere outside the natural order of things. The order of confidantes can expedite two random souls into a bond as strong as any forged of trust and intimacy because it is an alembic ritual of exchange – and while disclosure liberates a soul, it demands reciprocity until both players are rich in the knowledge of the other. But sharing secrets can also deceive a pair into thinking knowing equates to something deeper, when all they know are the facts.
But Rainfish is caught in the saturated fever of confession, where sentiments are replicated cheaply and in earnest. Lunagirl’s honesty pries open an unstoppable compulsion to unburden himself and be afforded the liberation and lightness of spirit confession brings.
As darkness throws a dolorous blanket over the turbid surroundings Lunagirl hears a school boy’s choir opening chant, I don’t know where it comes from to the song sharing the same title by Ride.
The sullied orange hue of Manchester city lights rise like a halo through the sanguine state of night. Winds whip up the muddy autumn leaves in a bleak sinister display that Mancunians cut through with cernuous heads bowed to oblivion. There’s not another soul in sight. The city’s population is stuck in cars and on packed twin deck buses, steamy and cold like public swimming pool changing rooms – everyone together and alone in the glum humdrum of a nine-to-five life.
Seems like everybody’s sterilised
A piece is missing from their lives
They’re never going to be surprised
They cut through Platt Field and across the back side of the boat lake. Rainfish explains no one else has seen what he’s about to do, so they have to go somewhere secluded.
‘So we both got a secret.’
‘Just you right now innit,’ says Rainfish and warns, ‘So you beta’ keep stoom about it.’
‘Who am I gonna tell,’ she replies and earns a sly smirk.
To Lunagirl the journey so far was in bubble, and was iridescent with pleasure – allowing herself to be freely guided without taking in any of her new surroundings. They shunt up a grassy knoll, shoulders bumping to an isolated clearing in a ring of tall poplars and birch swaying unpleasantly.
Grinning a cheeky grin Rainfish stops in front of Lunagirl. Their lips brace in anticipation for their bodies to lean inwards, but Rainfish denies his ache and leaps back like a summer breeze into the lashing rain and wind. He bounds like a Springbok off nothing in mid air and sails effortlessly into the sky. He steps again and again on nothing, arching weightlessly over Lunagirl’s head and climbs into the night. Each step buoys Rainfish higher and higher like he’s swimming up through stair rods of rain.
‘How you doin’ that?’ Lunagirl shrieks with delight.
Rainfish dances a bravura round the tree tops. He swoops back down to her like he’s rising to the surface from the ocean deep.
I don’t know where it comes from
(don’t ask me)
I don’t know where it comes from
(don’t ask me)
I don’t know where it comes from
(don’t ask me)
Don’t ask me where it comes from
‘Keep an eye on me feet – watch real close.’
Rainfish then dives back up through the rain and sinks into the clouds. Lunagirl pays close attention, but can feel her body swoon and mind unravel from an afternoon embroiled by strangeness and enchantment. Lunagirl thinks Rainfish looks like a mad balloon caught in a gust. Her concentration is shot and she barely sees the blur of his white trainers. Lunagirl feels her long worn armour loosen as she stands in sight of the impossible. Lightening pulses above the low cloud. Lunagirl suddenly feels the cold, which makes her feel alone. She pinches her black coat together at the neck and shivers. Fear trickles into her belly as she scans the carbon black night. Then she hears Rainfish over the back of her right shoulder.
He floats down to Lunagirl like a dandelion seed. She watches him take two small last steps like the phantom last step you misjudge when ascending a staircase in the dark. Lunagirl notices small splashes under Rainfish’s trainers. He squelches back onto the sodden grass.
‘You’re walking on the rain!’ Lunagirl cries.
‘Somefing like that.’
‘Can you walk on water?’
‘I aint the Messiah. Manchester’s already’s got too many of ‘em anyways.’
‘I was thinking of Ian Brown. You shivering innit’. Come on – I’ll buy you a kebab.’
Two scraggy little runts in matching dark shell suites burst round the corner and bolt under the archway when they see Rainfish and Lunagirl. They pull up panting and spluttering with hands on knees. For a moment the baleful teenagers look slightly ridiculous in the bashful sunlight, but the waterproof shell is the youth uniform of Manchester estates. Even when rare Indian Summers drop in with balmy afternoons and mild evenings at the start of autumn the shell suites stay on. This is because in Manchester’s disconsolate demeanour is never far off. And when it returns, so to does the menacing spectacle of the gangs, with skeins of lads gathered on high streets and street corners, impervious to the dismal rain and bitter wind that whips through the passageways, alleys and walkways.
The young boys can’t be older than nine or ten. They have lustrous dull eyes of criminals. They are photocopies of their gaunt Irish ancestors who flooded Liverpool and Manchester during the famine. Even Lungairl can see how their chalk faces have wilfully sharpened with abuse and life like Rainfish.
‘Wot the fouk are ya doin’ ‘ere?’
‘Gave ‘em, the slip Fish.’
‘Bunch of nonces those Sunderland boys.’
‘Stupid fat foukers’
The boys snigger in discordant unison. Rainfish whips a white baseball cap out of his back pocket to cover his ferret head and dog-blue eyes.
‘Down the back of Potato Wharf.’
‘They’ll foukin’ be back. Those scab’eads own this whole patch.’
‘Nige lost his balls and ditched the bucket and posters?’
‘Bollocks I did – get fouked Boz.’
‘Where the fouk is Phil?’
‘They’d tear us a new jam roll if they got’n caught us Fish,’
It’s strange for Lunagirl to think that a week ago she didn’t know Neil or this world and all this shite. It had passed like a lifetime. That’s how life often is tackled. It’s a violent, pitiless, repetitive and predictable cliché so people approached a new crisis just as routinely as they forget their last.
Rainfish drapes the hoodie around Lunagirl. It’s not necessary, but Rainfish never had much interest in words that weren’t harsh or expletive and the gesture goes some ways to calming Lunagirl.
‘Think ya smooth don’t ya?’
‘I can take it back Shades.’
‘No – but don’t think it’ll work twice.’
‘Worked last time didnit?’
Lunagirl understood Rainfish implicitly so he never felt the need to fill the rain and silence with talk. And Lunagirl enjoyed the spaces between words. She knew Neil could be silent and cruel, but she saw his affection and sensitivity hiding in his perverse pride and harsh honesty.
As they reached Wilmslow Rd and headed into Fallowfield Rainfish explains he has to meet some of his boys and run an errand, or two. Traffic had eased into a quiet dejected evening. The emblematic coloured stripes of Manchester’s bus companies rocketed through the remorseless night, striking road puddles that makes Lunagirl jump away from the sidewalk.
Rainfish slides into the Gaff’s to buy another pack of L & B’s. Lunagirl waits outside watching the short-skirted girls shriek and stumble carefree on sidewalk cracks. Young lads holler with bravado and stagger between kerbsides and Wilmslow Rd, balancing takeouts and lager.
Rainfish bolts from the store, already taking a long sip on a cigarette and rasping ‘bollocks,’ under his breath. Mad Mick and his Burnage crew were about.
He should have known. With students spilling into halls or residence and shared houses Mick and his mob would be manoeuvring the streets like sharks crammed in unregistered, unlicensed shit-boxes in a sinister tinker convoy. They’d be parked on side roads and noting the variety of LCD screens, televisions, laptops, palmtops, phones, stereos and computers that followed the new students into their new residences.
Mullins’ Crew would easily recognise Rainfish and presume he was up to mischief. If he got caught they’d batter him way worse than before.
Rainfish needed Lunagirl to understand the gangs who controlled south Manchester – where they’d carve out invisible lines criss-crossing boroughs down streets ubiquitous as Corrie, concrete walkways and back ginels, across supermarket car parks, foot bridges, over waste grounds, around bus shelters, public phone boxes and through graveyards like a Stalinised vision. But it was too late.
‘Oi,’ barks a menace between the broken pavement and leaden sky.
Lunagirl turns to face a murderous pounding of heavy soles on the sidewalk but before she can put sight to sound Rainfish has her.
He darts round the corner onto a side road at the back of the Queen of Hearts.
‘We gotta split – me boys must ‘ave already got tipped off about Mullins’ crew.’
Rainfish throws Lunagirl out-of-sight down a dead-end alleyway that services the back of Troff, a local student café. There’s an irreverent order of empty beer kegs and bread and milk crates beside four big green skips that overflow with oil drums and leftovers rotting in the rain. Its turgid funk is Manchester. In a blink Rainfish is by a permanent catchment of rain water between broken cobbles like an icy crevice in the mountain deep that never sees the light of day.
‘They don’t know ya so trust me you’ll be fine. But if they catch ya with me fouk knows what they’ll do.’
From where Lunagirl stands she sees Rainfish launch himself two feet into the air over the puddle, seemingly without his feet leaving the ground. He hangs weightless for a fraction longer than is possible, winks at Lunagirl and says ‘I’ll see ya soon enuf,’ then disappears into the puddle like liquid lightening.
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