Happy pills. At best you’re a dancing queen with a direct line to God; at worst you can fry your brain. Thirty bucks each, retail. They come wrapped in a brown-paper package that fits in your bike basket. Plain view is good because a backpack on a Dodd is asking for an illegal search by a cop.
I pick up the package from Feeney Tucker, a small man with a face like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces have been pushed together to make them fit. He has a caveman’s brow and a cute, flared Barbie-doll nose. His lashes are long and pretty, his mouth thin and cruel. A thick neck, a pianist’s elegant hands and a strange floating grace like a cartoon maître d’. Dr Frankenstein could have put him together out of spare parts.
Feeney stalls before handing over the package. He makes a call, asks about the boys, and gives it to me grudgingly. After all, I’m a sixteen-year-old girl on a clapped-out, yellow bike—hardly a convincing courier
‘Make haste, little girl,’ he says in a voice like a Dickens chimneysweep.
My reputation and my conscience are going to take a hit. So far, both are clean. My mum says her princess doesn’t need to be involved with ‘the business’. Not with two older brothers who share a couple of hundred brain cells, eleven arrests, two convictions and a sprinkling of bastard offspring. Mum’s words, not mine. But, needs must, Mum’s words again. The boys have got a short stint in remand and we don’t have a car. There are customers waiting and Fat Mother Dodd—on a bike, with a package—is as probable as life on Pluto.
Feeney shoves me off on my bike and I pedal hard for a couple of blocks. But the sky is blue and birds are singing and what could happen?
I’m thinking, only this one time…it’s not like I’m a real criminal…just two more blocks and I’m home free. Feeling bursts of joy that it’s still summer, that there’s no school for two more weeks. Anticipation is a constant, wonderful state, when my life has gone nowhere for so long and a life-changing event must be imminent. Waiting for fate to step in is almost better than something actually happening.
I hop off and walk the bike. Savour everything, even my paranoid imaginings. In my mind, the package is leaking a trail like Hansel’s breadcrumbs and there’s a queue of shiny, happy people skipping along behind me. I can feel my face burning brown, taste vinegar and chips, smell the odour of hot tar and old oil baked into the melting road. Hear the flip-flop of my thongs and the clack-clack of the wonky wheel. The bike rides too low, the handlebars too high like a chopper, but I don’t care. I’m smiling like an idiot. Days like these I feel innocent and happy, but I don’t know why.
Heat seeps through my thin rubber soles and I hop back on. Pedal in a wavering line. The neighbourhood is so familiar I could make it home with my eyes closed. Nothing changes.
I round the corner by the shops and everything changes.
He’s there. Jordan Mullen, cool and relaxed leaning up against a wall, when my heart’s blown up like a puffer-fish.
Not now, not now. But I know I might not get another chance any time soon, so I drag my toe along the gravel and slow up.
He’s smiling at me like he wants me to stop.
So I stop.
I smile back, but it’s a corpse-grin. My lips are stuck to my teeth and I can feel my hair doing its own thing. There’s grit in my eyes but I can’t rub them because I might miss something.
‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ he says, and I have this moment like in that old movie where the waves roll in and the gulls shriek and there’s nothing but me and him. Except that there are no waves and the gulls are shrieking because the car park is a Macca’s mecca.
‘What for?’ I ask him but forget to bat my eyelashes or some other flirty thing that would make me sound less rude.
He’s not bothered though and I remember why I’ve been in love with him for a hundred years—or at least the last five—because he looks like Leonardo DiCaprio before he got old, and his eyes are like shards of blue glass. It’s a bad-boy face—like when your letterbox gets bombed, and you know if you stake it out for ten minutes, one of them has to come back to check out his handiwork. That’s him, the one who comes back.
So I say, ‘What for?’ again, but kinder this time. He winks at me and I can see myself in something satin and strappy with a freakin’ corsage pinned over my heart which is ready to burst.
Jordan takes my bike by the handlebars, wheels it into the alley behind the shops. The act seems almost chivalrous. I follow, my eyes fixed on the smooth, brown part of his back where his jeans hang low, just so. I’m sleepwalking, reacting, not thinking. This perfect, blue day.
Jordan kicks the bike-stand down and turns to face me. His eyes search mine like he’s found something in there—back and forth, back and forth. I’m mesmerised, as if he was swinging a pocket-watch. My lips pucker even as I tell myself: be cool, don’t sweat, suck in your belly.
Then he says, ‘Give me the package.’
‘What?’ I ask, blinking.
Jordan Mullen is looking at me like I’m something he wants to scrape off his shoe and right then my heart breaks, but somehow beats on.
He says again, ‘Give me the package.’
‘Don’t,’ is all I can say, as if it will make a difference.
He takes the package anyway. He rolls my bike into the dry creek at the end of the alley. It lands upside-down and he walks away. Leaves me standing there.
Jesus, I can’t do anything right.
The next breath I take fills my lungs with despair. I stare at my bike, one wheel skewed like a lazy eye. I leave it there. I leave it because that bike reminds me every day that I could hold my breath between the times I’ve had something I wanted, and lost it—and still live.
The summer holiday is nearly over.
This is not how it’s supposed to be.