The Moon Looks Away, The Light Looks Up
A flat grey building like it was made of cereal boxes and stickle brick throbs with noise and light. Fields stretch away at its back. At the front of the building the dull green of a football pitch, the metal twists of a playground. It fills up a corner of the playing fields, raised a little from the pitch. Rough grass lain over with swings and a chute and the monkey bars, all that. They stand there, mysterious and ancient megaliths, worshiping obsolete gods, or to map the movements of forgotten stars. The boys crowd at the swings, too many to all get a seat. If you didn’t know you’d think they weren’t cold in the winter air. The scuffs of their shoes against hard ground. The little bouts of laughter and punching.
The noise and the lights now are spiralling out of the place, and the kids just sit on the swings or stand and watch it all float off into the night. There, the dull thump of the music, the perpetual shrieks of manic laughter, the low insect droning of conversation. It all carries across the field and rattles on the rooftops, insistent, persuasive. They can see the flashing of colours slipping between cracks in the school’s curtains, playing secret light-shows out up against the side of the porta-cabin, like deep space photographs off of the Open University.
-When d’you think they’ll start fighting? Ronnie says it, and the question makes them all laugh after a bit second. The small flutters of their laughter carry up in the air, joining with the sounds of the revelries in the school. Once a year they had this dance, and every year it was the same. They already knew that.
-They’ll be hearing us on the moon, man. Victor gazes upward at the circling stars, shuffling from foot to foot in the cold.
And they’re all laughing again, and even he joins in, although it was him as said it, but it is funny, and it is true.
-The moon-man! Somebody shouts it out and Trevor Windram giggles wildly. Still laughing he gets up out of his swing and starts a little dance, kicking up the dirt and grit and bits of broken glass. There’s an immediate scramble for the empty swing as the boys bolt for it.
-Ho, no, no! You’re no taking that. Trevor looks up from his wee bit dance with a look that means trouble. He was bigger than the rest of them, but just.
-You’re too late, claims Victor, his chin jutting out like the cliffs at the beach. His fingers slide slow over the swing chain and he grips. -You’ve abandoned all previous rights and claims on this swing.
-What’s with talking like that? Gie’s the swing back or I’ll hammer you.
-Oh, right then. He doesn’t move, but he gets a strange like grin all over his face. The cold air steams at his mouth. As Trevor moves over get the swing back, Victor stands sharpish and holds it out, the smile never wavering.
-Merry Fuckin’ Christmas.
-Ho ho ho, say Trevor, sitting down again. He gives Victor a cocky look, like to say he’s the winner. Victor’s just wearing that same smile, like as says that it’s all being put on tick. It’ll still be there tomorrow.
Now the moon is up over them, and, looking at his friends, Ronnie sees that they all seem to be made of porcelain. Their faces have become like masks now, all shadows and lost angles. Ronnie can hardly bear to look into the big darkness of their eyes. He sits quiet enough in his own swing seat and huddles up. Breath feathers out before him.
-What time is it, asks Trevor Windram, looking up at Victor. Victor doesn’t answer, but another voice pipes up soon enough.
-Dunno. Ten? Look at the clock. Ronnie points over the rooftops toward the tower. The dials hover above the houses like ambitious moons.
-I have to be in by ten, says Trevor, his feet still on the ground as he moves the swing with his legs.
-What’s the point. Your mother’s at the dance, with your dad. It probably doesn’t matter. No school the morn.
-Yeah, adds Victor, What are you getting yourself excited for? Is that programme on, the one we were on about? What did you call it – Major Shaggings?
-No, it’s just… Ten’ o’clock? You know? My mother likes me back by then.
-Lookit the clock then!
In the distance, behind the hedges, the houses, the tip of the clock tower blocks off the light of the brilliant stars. At an angle, its face looks out over them. Flat and white. Distant and implacable. A great blaze of light above it, all done up for Christmas.
-Nelmost ten, anyroad.
-It’s getting cold though, isn’t it? Trevor kicks at the ground again.
-Shut up, you. Go home if you want to, jeez! Victor says it with a bit spit, a bit venom. Ronnie looks over and raises his eyebrow, like to say okay. Victor doesn’t make out like he sees it.
Trevor’s face makes a move downward for a second, but he’s a boy like, and straightens it out before he thinks that anyone saw him. Victor saw though, and in his head he secretly laughs at the whole thing. Trevor pushes his hands deeper into his pockets. They all do, it’s that cold. Still, you wouldn’t catch them in and at the dance, watching the adults get drunk and forget how to tell jokes. Or in with the kids and girls, dancing like that. No them.
-How, says Trevor, Do you mind that time that Jamie and them had that idea they were going tae go up the Amazon in their summer holidays?
-Jesus, Trevor, when was that? Primary Three? That’s a memory you’ve got on you.
-Aye, about then. Trevor turns to Victor. –This is a true story like, and there was a few of them about maybe five or something, most of the boys in the class, and they got this idea that they were going to get a boat and sail it all the way up the Amazon.
-There’s a book about something like that. Victor is listening with one ear as he speaks. There’s a clamour as a great cheer comes out of the school. Something happened, probably.
-I think Jamie saw a film. So this was years ago, when we were really little. They’d sit in the playing field, up the top car-park, wherever, and they’d plan this thing all out with maps that they’d make and that. Kid’s stuff really. But the thing nelmost went too far, cause one of them, was it Davey Gillen? Ronnie nods agreement.
-Ah, yes, it was Davey Gillen.
-Right, well, Davey Gillen, his dad’s off the boats? At the town? Davey somehow manages to get all the others to believe that no only is he allowed to just borrow a wee fishing boat, but that it’d be all fine and dandy if they load of them just take a wee voyage over to the Amazon one weekend in the boat, just to scout out the territory. The whole load of them were caught at the bus stop with three jam sandwiches and a can of coke between them.
-They dint go then? Victor doesn’t even know why he’s asking. He rubs his fingers together in his pockets.
-Naw, just got as far as the bus stop. You wouldnae think they could get far away from this place do you?
-Did they no take loads of rope?
-You’re right, I never…
There’s a bit noise like a brand new end of the world. The boys look over, and the school is belching drunken women out its doors. They cling to each other, propping each other up into a weird staggering quadruped.
-Imagine drunk cows, says Ronnie, watching from his swing.
-You think I have to?
The cackle of laughing women chases upward to the stars. Victor nudges Trevor in the back.
-You better gaun catch your mother before she falls into a puddle. Trevor twists the swing around so that he can look up at Victor, a half bored look flickering across his eyes.
-Ah, she’ll be wet enough when she pishes hersell.
Startled, Ronnie looks over all wide eyed at Trevor, only half believing that he has heard him right. The laughter comes out of him in a daft happy way. Across the playing field there’s a shriek and a sound like falling books.
-Thar she blows, says Trevor, and then they’re both laughing. Victor, confused, joins in and for a second it’s all that there is until they don’t even know why they’re laughing anyway.