Lunagirl was reeling. Her head pinballs loudly with absurd and sceptical notions in light of the unbelievable spectacle. She’s still unsure what she’s just witnessed when a gravel voice shoots out behind her.
‘Where the fouk is’E.’
Two mulish skinned shithouses stand at the alleyway entrance. Lunagirl jerks her head behind one of the bins. The stench is ripe and physical.
‘Can a girl foukin’ throw ‘er guts up in peace?’
‘Slag more like it,’ says the other one and almost chuckles.
‘We know that lit’el runt is down ‘ere – we seen ‘im’
‘Wot the fuck are you on about – any closer and i foukin’ scream.’
‘Scream you might, but not for long lassie.’
‘Come-n,’ says the other one, ‘She ain’t worth it,’ and they march off like dogs in a pack.
Lunagirl hurries back to the puddle containing a cocktail of scraps and fat. She stands over it, marvelling at the amorphous mouth cut between worn cobbles that is responsible for Rainfish’s disappearance. She stands and waits and physically tries to shake the disbelief from her head. A punctured soundtrack of freshmen’s virile laughter and ribald chants on the high street seems to have grown louder in the wake of all that has happened.
Alcohol has darkened the night. It’s a twist of the seasons to see Manchester slumbering quietly through mild summers, yet when an unofficial carnival atmosphere takes hold of the city it usurps its maudlin ways. And Manchester was flooded like sailors in port with tens of thousands of free nubile and horny students arriving for the start of semester. The wind snaps cold, the light fades and the wet turns bitter. But the souring weather is sweetened by the steady transfusion of young blood restoring the city to its nocturnal acclaim. It fills up after dark with uncaged hormones, pumping clubs, thumping drum and bass, funky break beats and soulful tunes. Student loans vanish in a fortnight until a steady groove is reached, and controlled mayhem settles over the semester before panic strikes over end of semester exams.
Lunagirl waits until the student’s voices abate, and the affronting weather sinks deep cold into her bones. And when she can’t bear it any longer she musters a will over fear and heads for home. She kicks through the refuse of empty pizza boxes, McDonald’s wrappers, kebab trays, broken bottles and crushed cans gathered in windswept mounds along the kerbsides passing Owen’s Park.
Jealously swaffs Lunagirl as she realises she could have been here. She knew she wasn’t dumb. She blitzed her O-Levels back in Eccles, but concluded the opportunities afforded by tertiary graduation would not sever her interlocking fate with North England. She quickly became disinterested and resentful of her studies. She dropped out of Sixth Form College a year later. She saw herself grow increasingly insular and acrimonious to everything around her but didn’t care. Enmity became her best friend while she lost all her others. It was a daily unction she applied to protect her from the world and sun and keep her warm and dry. And it did for a while.
Her only passion that survived was science, in particular nephrology, the study of clouds. She was obsessed by the evaporation, cooling and condensation of atmospheric moisture. She had a preternatural understanding, and knew more about clouds beyond what science could explain. She could hear the clouds – she could hear what they were feeling. She was desperate all afternoon to confess her gift to Rainfish. She wanted to tell him about the wheel and her experiment, but was scared. Then an assertive voice inside her head started to speak. It sounded like her mother, but Lunagirl knew it was her own.
‘He’s flippin’ swimmin’ through rain and jumpin’ through puddles. Take a chance. This one is different.’ Soon she could show him.
Rainfish appeared out of a dirty dark kerbside puddle in front of Lunagirl in the dim early evening the following day.
‘How did you…’ but words again abandoned Lunagirl.
‘It’s a pinch when you know where you’re goin’’
‘Can you do anything else?’
Lunagirl smiled like a crescent moon rising.
‘You aren’t impressed already?’
The night was again leaching profusely. She tried to be angry for getting left behind in Fallowfield, but was glad she let herself weaken in his skinny arms. She’d been fighting everyone and herself for so long. She didn’t realise she got so tired of it when Rainfish came along. Rainfish had time only for the most pertinent advice before lifting Lunagirl like a hollow feather over a dirty kerbside puddle.
‘Take a deep breath and hold the fouk on tight.’
Before Lunagirl’s cheeks ballooned to plug her lungful of air she squealed, ‘Ave you done this before?’
She slammed her eyes shut and heard a muddy plop – then it was all slimy water rushing past like barrelling down a full tube water slide blindfolded.
It felt to Lunagirl like she’d been sucked down a black mouldy sink. Then she smelt the warm abrasive cigarettes on Neil’s breath as he softly whispered in her ear.
A hurricane whine thundered through her. Lunagirl blinked to see the dark gleaming underbelly of a jumbo jet cruise overhead eclipsing the night sky. This time in her head Lunagirl heard the sweet, mellow marriage of warm acoustic guitar and a ripe grand piano off Primal Scream’s Damaged, as it spiralled down from the cloud.
They were stood in a waterlogged field at the back of Manchester Ringway.
Rainfish pronked into the spiteful mizzle like a kid in a playground. He swam up to the clouds that were swirling in the turbulence. Lunagirl caught his silhouette shimmer in the airport perimeter lights and smiled.
Sweet summer days
When I was feeling so fine
Just you and me girl
Was a beautiful time
Said I felt so happy
My, my, my…
Lunagirl watches planes taking off blinking hope brightly – a flashing crucifix of red and white that sublimates into the sullen night. It reminds her of a night ferry her parents once took her on across the Irish Sea. They were going to see a Doctor in Dublin. Her strongest memory is staring from the back of the boat as it departed Hollyhead – watching the town of shops and houses condense into an effulgent field of lights. And as they slowly gained distance the lights narrowed like sleepy eyes into a twinkling crescent in the dark before it too faded entirely into the night and the black sea.
When Rainfish returns Lunagirl is blue with cold.
‘Come-n let’s get you a brew.’
They entered the airport through the bus station at Terminal 1 and sat down at the Costa outlet. Lunagirl closed her eyes and curled over the steaming coffee to warm her face. Rainfish tells her how he likes the airport and comes out here a lot. He explains life is simpler in airports – it is only rejection and affection, excitement and disappointment.
Lunagirl asks if he could go as high as the planes. Rainfish said he’d been to the top of the clouds twice
‘Were you scared you would fall?’
‘No, the opposite,’ Rainfish replied. He then says sorry about the other night.
Lunagirl’s confessed her connection with the clouds. It slips out between sips like running on wet tiles. She knew it would and it all comes out in one big knotted jumble.
She explains the clouds are mood and music – and Manchester’s misery is music. Everyone’s shared gloom, hard graft, twisted melons, poverty, beatings and sickness evanescing into the ethers above the city. Pinned by the Pennines and the Dales all this goodwill, desperation and depression reduces and fuses to the musical soul of north England that radiates upward each night into the atmosphere. It pumps out of every garage band’s basement over the sprawling estates, reverberates from the Northern Quarter sweat box gig venues and wails out of every local corner pub karaoke night and drunken lounge room sing along sessions. Music is what has forever bound the city together in the overcast wretched wetness. With a handful of pills, a jewel case racked with lines and a slab of Stella, Mancunians surface to gather on sofas while rain lashes down like back symbols.
‘Bollocks!’ Rainfish blurted. ‘You built a rain machine you freak?’
‘Clouds are rain to me Shades.’
Lunagirl said she could feel the clouds like emotions, sense them condense and form, shift and harden, stretch and dissipate. And her cloud machine manipulated the city’s atmosphere through amplification of music based on sound waves, reverberation and oscillation.
‘Wot suits Manchester then?’
‘Joy Division and you won’t sniff the sun for a day,’ Lunagirl boasts.
‘Stone Roses self-titled and the city is a weekend festival of rain.’
‘Bit obvious-’ Rainfish is still grinning proudly when asks if that’s what the wheel was all about.
‘It’s the most important part.’
Lunagirl starts describing a gyroscopic drive wheel. Rainfish feels an incumbent fog settle over his brain as she fervently explains her calculations. Her voice takes on the muted silence of falling rain as she elaborates on the precise radial dimensions required to generate the exact centrifugal force to convert vibration frequencies for atmospheric transmission.
Rainfish hears Doc Brown from Back to The Future inside his head exclaim, ‘One… point… twenty-one gigawatts!’ He sees Marty hold up the ‘Save the Clock Tower’ flyer to show Doc his girlfriend, Jennifer’s love note written on the back after he admits to Marty he’s stuck in 1955.
‘Woh, woh Doc-stuck here? I can’t-can’t be stuck here. I’ve got a life in 1985.
I got a girl’
‘I been lookin’ for months for that,’ Lunagirl admits.
Rainfish makes a mental note. And he hears another voice, one’s he’s not familiar with, wondering if that’s what love could be – to remember details about someone else?
‘Is she pretty?’
‘Ah she’s beautiful. She’s crazy about me. Look at this. Look what she wrote here Doc-
that says it all. Doc, you’re my only hope.’
‘When ya gona show me it?’
‘‘Cos it ain’t finished it and it ain’t tested.’
‘Wot? You gotta promise you won’t switch a thing on unless I’m there awright?’
Warm from the coffee and light from talking Lunagirl is shattered now she’s taken a moment’s pause.
‘‘Ave you eaten yet?’
Lunagirl shakes her head sleepily.
‘Come-n. You want express or economy?
‘Economy,’ Lunagirl concedes since she just got dry.
They head down the escalator to the bus bays. Waiting for the 43 they scratch around the muddy floor for discarded tickets that might be valid. The bus arrives so Rainfish buys tickets to Wythenshaw and they run upstairs and sit at the back out of sight. As the bus snakes through the southern boroughs of Manchester Rainfish tells Lunagirl how he’s gona get out of the poster racket.
Rainfish omits the rising friction between competing gangs in south Manchester was set to burn. He never lived outside the benefits bubble of post Thatcher decline. Territory or trade was the same to Rainfish. Everyone’s protecting their little piece because they realise it’s all corroding away. And despite the danger he wanted more. Until now he didn’t really consider the risk cos everyone wanted more or nothing – the feeling was as ordinary as his heart beating. Now because of Jane, doubt tickled the empty spaces of mind between thoughts.
Lunagirl ‘Hmmms’ which he takes as endorsement. She adds ‘Wot you goin’ to do?’
From her own words James Out to Get You starts to build in the back of Lunagirl’s head.
Rainfish says his cousin looks set to get control of a development site at the back of Piccadilly train station after they tear the building down. He’s dealing Rainfish in on a piece of the action.
‘He wants me in on it!’
‘Parking.’ Rainfish states like it’s obvious. ‘Lot of money to be made in parking. Five quid a set of wheels – we could clear a grand a day!’
‘Awright,’ Rainfish scoffs. ‘Long hours mind – in at seven and close the gates at eight, five on Saturday’s – beats this shite though don’t it?’
While Rainfish carries on talking, Lunagirl rests her head in the hard bow of Rainfish’s collarbone and closes her eyes – as the rhythm and beat get heavier she feels the sky sets steadfast in wet concrete overhead.
Miss the outline of your back
Miss you breathing down my neck….
All out to get you
Once again – They’re all out to get you…
Metallic strings vibrate and slide higher and higher, gliding above it all like a harking knave and harmonies swirl, rising into the air, courting like coils, igniting a smouldering coal seam through the slab of grey night.
Insecure, what you gonna do
Feel so small they could step on you
Called you up, answering machine
When the human touch
Is what is need
What I need-
What I need-
What I need-
What I need-
I need you.
Lunagirl can still hear Rainfish talking, but it’s distant now like he’s at the opposite end of a long tunnel. He must be on a mobile she concludes and loses herself again in the plangent repetition of music and the mood of the city as it resounds through dense cloud, cityscape corridors, sodden highways, before spilling down over malicent trees and pavement.
Rainfish knocks Lunagirl awake as the bold neon signs of the curry mile flicker past the window. They tumble down the stairs before the stop.
‘Don’t think I don’t see wot you two are up to?’
‘Wot you mean?’ snarls Rainfish.
The bus driver pulls up at the stop. Rainfish springs through the doors pulling Lunagirl with him.
‘You little fuckers,’ shouts the bus driver. ‘You should’ave got off in Wythenshaw.’
‘Fouk you,’ replies Rainfish and hangs a finger in the air to salute his own victory.
The bus pulls violently back out into traffic as they cut down the back of Whitworth Park. They continue on, eventually passing the Powerhouse, with its obtuse community penchant for playful colour and curves held together by concrete tendons. To Rainfish the building resembled the upturned belly of a cartoon vessel. But he figured deep down the clowns who ran the local council resorted to comic appeal cos they knew it was all a bleedin’ joke.
They reach a row of shops at the back of the Fosters Brewery. Wing On, a Chinese, fish and chips, pizza and kebab takeaway beams with greasy fluorescence between the glowering bloody glow of the Pork Shop and Figi Sun Tanning Salon, flood-lit in a chemical orange sunrise.
A brood of youth jostle against the solid steel mesh that wraps around the shop front, obscuring the cheap coloured jade. It is a cold greeting born out of necessity. The neighbourhood youth gravitated here out of boredom and laziness because it’s a mile and a half shuffle to the next takeaway. They meet up, fight, order chips and rice and doner kebabs. They don’t wander far because there’s nowhere else to go. And they return fuelled with jejune bravado from ends of bottles and pelt the shop front with stones and bottles shouting, “Fouk off back to your own country.
The owner’s teenage daughter smiles when Rainfish enters. The shops odour is heavy and layered. Burger meat sinks to the knees from the weight of deep fryers and batter. Viscous condiments of sweet and sour, plum, oyster and Ok sauce amalgamate into one heavy aroma, while kebab meat sits on its shoulder with prawn crackers and rice filling the latticed gaps.
Rainfish looks at the time on his phone. He orders a kebab and chips and chicken burger and coke for Lunagirl. They dine on bucket seats in the plastic ornamental corner for customers waiting for pickup orders. Rainfish’s phone vibrates.
Like a trick the entrance chimes and damp trainers chalk-squeak across the linoleum. Phil, Nigel and Boz roll up, boastful and crude beyond their height and years. Rainfish introduces his crew, calling them the Knights ‘cos they always get caught in public smashed on two-pound-fifty whisky cream liquor. The Knights bluntly reject Rainfish’s version. Lunagirl asks how old they are.
‘Wot’s it to ya?’ threatens the small one. It’s Nigel, who earns a hard slap over the back of the head from Rainfish.
‘You got it all?’
A black sports duffel bags is slung forward. Rainfish handslaps Phil a soft crumpled plum note. He swings the duffel bag onto one shoulder and sweeps Lunagirl out the door.
It’s started raining again. The nocturnal brewing vats have ignited across the road at the Fosters brewery. The central smoke stack billows a ghostly lilac haze full of thick aromas of roasting hops that reminds Rainfish of Marmite.
Rainfish stops and hitches Shades’s rucksack onto his other shoulder. Lunagirl braces for Rainfish to whip around in front of her. Instead she’s shocked how familiar Rainfish wraps tightly around her from behind in a protective embrace for the second time today. In the time she blinks Rainfish has plucked her up and puddled her under Princess Parkway and St Bedes Collage to a waterlogged divot in the driveway of her house. He hands Lunagirl her army surplus rucksack back. She doesn’t invite him in – not this time.
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