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,
‘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.
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.
‘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 floorboards.
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 tabletops 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.
‘I thought the Knights never got caught?’
‘Foukin’ straight,’ Boz prickles and straightens up.
‘Let’s go – watcha selves awright.’
‘Bye boys.’ Lunagirl adds.
When the distance from the boys is beyond an ear clip or backhander Lunagirl hears Nige spit, ‘Fouk off Shades.’
Wait till they graduate from drinking Buckfast and Stone’s Ginger Wine in the park thought Rainfish. Give ‘em a couple of years trading cans under bus shelters and pints in the pub and he won’t recognise any of these scroats.
Rainfish launches Lunagirl back out into the incumbent light. They skip around the back of the Oxford Rd station, between the colossal old mills along Cambridge and Hulme Street, and weave under the brick arch of Oxford Rd station to find the stairs by the Attic.
Rainfish flies up the station steps, trampolining off every second step, dragging Lunagirl behind like a balloon. They coat-tail a passenger through the guarded gates, and vault up and over the walkway to the south bound line as the waiting train hisses for attention and closes its doors.
The locomotive winces like sneakers on a polished surface to find traction. As they land onto the platform Rainfish’s abrupt stop would have put Lunagirl hard into his back but his fence wire arms absorb her momentum and he draws her effortlessly into a protective cradle behind him. Standing in the middle of the platform like boulders are two Sunderland cousins, Billy and Steve grinning like farmers.
‘Who’s this then?’
‘Little Neil Ranford from Moss Side.’
‘You been a bit naughty ‘aven’t you Neil?’
Down below in the cobbled basin of the station outside the Thirsty Scholar Rainfish and Lunagirl hear Boz and Nige shouting.
‘Get the fouk off me.’
They’re getting worked over. Their voices slump into deep, desperate grunts that blister at the end like feral animals cornered. They punch ‘fouk off,’ like pneumatic cannons which ricochets about the archway.
‘Don’t fouking touch me you paedo.’
Rainfish obsesses with the thought someone must have sold him out. Could it be Phil? Not that it matters. His senses heighten to his surroundings. He plants his feet – and like roots penetrating deep into Manchester’s core he taps into a sub terrestrial nervous system and starts to feel everything. He senses the minute variances in wind and humidity and barometric pressure, recording it all. By pure force of will he feels as if the whole planet has stopped spinning while his mind frantically rotates in orbit around it. Lunagirl shatters the spell.
‘Wot do we do?’
The boulders roll forward with bulldog jaws and ruddy fat faces. Rainfish realises he’s been pushing the both of them backwards in retreat.
‘You and your boys got a bit greedy didn’t ya?’
‘Fouk off – we ‘aven’t done n-thing.’
‘And who’s the little gothic freak with ya?’
‘It’s emo you foukin nonce.’
Rainfish hears the distinctive heavy plodding and smokers’ weeze of more Sunderland thugs approaching on the walkway overhead.
‘May have to teach her some manners as well, aye Billy?’
An apoplectic wind besieges the platform as the Virgin London Euston Express sallies out of Piccadilly. Lunagirl’s hood whips back off her head. Her hair and ears prick. She can hear The Smiths Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, as the skies blacken with tar smoke.
Lunagirl’s arms automatically rise like an antenna. The thugs chuckle like their mouths are stuffed full of breakfast butties. Rainfish sniffs rain. Lunagirl hears Morrissey buzzing faintly like a nearby commuter’s earphones, then his voice resounds in a whale breaching gust that crashes through her.
get what I want
Rainfish stabs Lunagirl with his hip as he lassos her to him with one arm.
‘Do you trust me Jane?’
No matter how callous or hard his grip, the trust and tenderness in his fingertips always allows her to forgive. The Virgin Express hurtles through the station. Spittle flies off ribcages of carriages. Rainfish grabs a stray puck droplet like monkey bars and swings them both over the three-story high railing. Cries and whistles from above are lost in the callathump of metal on metal.
Rain starts to fall. Rainfish and Lunagirl fall faster. Lunagirl’s eyes are trapshut. She still hears The Smiths like they’re being broadcast in the din of an airbus during take-off.
Lord knows, it would be the first time.
Lunagirl’s expecting a bone snapping mash of pain or death. She wishes for death. It shouldn’t take this long. Rainfish sees a soft mist of rainfall overtake him. The pavement is there. He stretches out for a splinter of a tear drop like it’s a football. He grunts. He catches the thinnest pellet and strikes down on it like hitting a steep travelator. His clenched teeth spume with spit as his leg strains to upright them both.
Mortal velocity dampens but the weight of two bodies still carries downward with frightening speed. Fingers from the ground Rainfish feels the tension catch. They slow suddenly like they’re in the resiled pouch of a bungee slingshot. His trainer grazes the concrete. The inertia allows him to pull Lunagirl and him back into balance. He lunges and jumps breaking bed springs back up into the moist air. They climb quickly but the imbalance of Lunagirl slews them violently left and right like a damaged kite up over rooftops.
The Smiths fade to a tin whistle of air. Lunagirl opens her eyes. She sees two clay moulds with thumbs for arms throw Nige and Boz onto stone with a wet smack, which gives them the rarest opportunity to scuttle out of sight. Rainfish’s entire focus extends simply to the next step in front of him.
They just clear the railway line leaping and swinging through the air – over stained tiles towards Castlefield. Lunagirl can hear his heart whack against his chest, but he is barely raising a sweat and breathing in short straw breaths. She glimpses up and sees he wears a grimace and dogged stare. His concentration is stealing his oxygen and he looks between lost and found.
The tempest, like an augury abates as rapidly as it appeared. Rainfish feels the ceiling of the rain plummet down. He descends heavily with it, knee cartilage crunching back down to the walkway along Rochdale canal. Lunagirl hears the desperation break in the rhythm of his breathing. Rainfish cusses and grunt with each buoyed stretch like they’re abandoning a temple that’s sinking into the ground without having discovered its secrets. Lunagirl opens her eyes again and sees the black murk of the canal.
‘Neil the water!’
‘Whacha think I’m-’ but he’s out breath. He can’t even scoff – he only has enough reserve energy to think what he wants to say.
The last stink of rain cushions their fall four feet from the ground and they crash hard onto the pavement like two logs with knees and elbows, and roll to a stop inches from a lowered lock.
Rainfish peaks under Lunagirl’s hood. He stares into her eyes the colour of faint stars and his mouth curls with an impish grin. Lunagirl smiles back then slaps his shoulder.
‘You almost killed us!’
Rainfish gets to his feet. Joints start burning with grazes. He hears flesh smacking on pavement. He helps Lunagirl up but she collapses heavily to one side.
‘Fuck, my ankle.’
They’ve landed on a raised knuckle of the passageway by Deansgate locks. The sealed canal gates beside them cascade loudly with maculated water.
Rainfish spots the signature white shirts and forearms further down by Hacienda. Lunagirl feels the sun. She knew it wasn’t a coward and what it wanted. She knew she fit Manchester because here misery was stronger than happiness, and the ferrous sky generally obeyed.
Rainfish feels the heat and sees the wetness rapidly evaporating. He puts her on her feet and she grips him like a tree. Two more youthful looking lieutenants march out from the Albion St underpass – mallet fists pumping with cheap gold sovereign rings.
The auspicious opening note to Stone Roses Waterfall strikes inside Lunagirl’s head, dripping in reverb and echo.
Lunagirl is scared shitless but can’t help smile as the jangling guitar matches the pounding to the rhythm of the dog soldiers approaching.
Bowh de dough dewdee dough dee
Bowh de bough dewdee dough dee
Bowh de dough dewdee dough dee
‘We’re gona fouk you two up,’ whistles out between broken teeth.
Sutures in the cloud start glowing like liquid glass. Lunagirl nuzzles under Rainfish’s arm like it’s a wing.
‘We’re fouked aren’t we?’
But for the first time Rainfish hears the music in the clouds.
To steal what she never could own
And race from this hole she calls home
Rainfish hears the galumph of more footsteps approaching along Whitworth St. He stiffens with expectancy to hear the same soles hit the wooden ramp overhead, and seal their entrapment between the canal and its steep embankment.
‘Do you trust me?’ Rainfish says with a horned smile.
Lunagirl looks up at him. She knows.
‘Will you stop saying that?’
‘It’s the Stone Roses innit?’
Retribution is at arms’ reach. Lunagirl smiles as she throws herself around Rainfish and tackles him over the edge of Deansgate lock in a breathless embrace.
There’s a thin splash like a coin in a wishing well, a single ripple, an exhausted gathering of muscle and cannonade of swearing. A small bubble bursts the dead water, then another and another that form a small chain skating patterns in the middle of the lock. One of the men dusts the ground with his knuckles, feebly grasping for loose rock to toss his aggression into water.
‘Quit it! It’s just a foukin’ newt.’
‘Must ‘ave hit their heads.’
‘They’re done in,’ says another.
‘Tidy piece of work in the end aye boys.’ adds the leader and slaps the men on their backs as they leave.
She’ll carry on through it all
She’s a waterfall
She’ll carry on through it all
She’s a waterfall
Rainfish and Lunagirl were never seen again. As predicted Phil was back smoking a spliff when Nige and Boz returned with incoherent rants and rambling stories of conflicting events that got retold in the wind and rain from bus shelters and shop fronts for the next two weeks. By the time bruises faded and cuts healed Rainfish and Lunagirl were already forgotten. But that’s the way life is.
Six months passed. Yvonne sat in front of the nightly news broadcast bouncing Ttey on one knee. He was getting big she thought. She had run a bath and was waiting for the water to cool when a news report announced strange weather patterns and storms afflicting the south coast of Spain. If they subsisted the report warned it could jeopardise tourist numbers and the vital revenue these areas relied on in the high season. Yvonne turned the TV off.
‘Shall we go ‘ave a bath then – you and me aye.’
Ttey laughed with pure delight.
‘Well you’re not like your daddy that’s for sure, God bless – he hated having baths.’
She’ll carry on through it all
She’s a waterfall
She’ll carry on through it all
She’s a waterfall