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Peace Be With You. By Simon Friel.

      - How many have you had?

      - Half.

      - Get t´fuck.


      Half including the half of the one John gave us 5 minutes ago, and that I saw you put in your mouth?

      - Yeah.

      - Fuck off, Sam.

      - You, fuck off.  Don’t forget that it was less than a week ago that I found you in those woods with bile running down the sides of your mouth. You looked like a sick ginger version of Casper the friendly ghost.

      - Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. That was last week, this is now. I’m not telling anybody I’ve only taken half a pill.

      - Fuck off, Chris.

      Chris was right, of course, I had had much more than half a pill, but when he asked the question I honestly believed half to be true - though as soon as the answer had left my lips I knew that it was a complete fabrication. Whilst instinctively attacking Chris, I saw what he had just mentioned happening all over again, right in front of me. I saw the rapid assured movements of Chris, with his back to me, breaking the pill in two, then his deft actions as he moved infinitely closer to the light to see which side had split more evenly than the other. I saw myself wild-eyed behind him, slumped in the V where the kitchen units met with a halo of luminous white light springing out, up and around me, powered by the utilitarian bulbs that were hidden from view by the cut of the unit and which bathed the whole scene in a ghostly film of light that stylised everything into some kind of beautifully grotesque ballet that was being captured in slow motion only for me. I stepped out through the glare of this metallic fog and dumbly opened my slack jaw as Chris turned round and, as though choreographed to music, dropped the semi-circular little piece of ecstasy onto my grateful tongue.

      - Hang on a minute, you’re right.  I’ve had eight, I think.

      - Get t´fuck, Sam.

      - Why are you being such a dick? Don’t forget that you don’t even officially live here anymore.  See you how smart you feel tonight when you’ve got to get on the 36 back to Langworthy Road, that’ll be a nice ride.  The best part will be when you get inside your mam’s flat and you start to clock all the religious shit that’s all over the place. I swear that weird Jesus on your living room wall looks the fucking spit of Beckham. I don’t know how you can put up with it; it freaks me out just thinking about it now.

      I’d wanted to call a truce, but he wasn’t up for it, so the only thing I could do was to try to hit him where it hurt. He hated it when I started winding him up about all the religious stuff that his Mum kept in their flat. Thinking was probably the last thing he wanted to be doing right then, especially if it was about the reproduction of a crucified man on the wall of his living room that looked like David Beckham. I should have never wound him up about that shit, though, because I knew that it did really freak him out to think about anything too much. He hated to be alone and he hated to have to think about anything, because when he did he always went too far and could never get himself out of the holes he would inexorably find himself in.

      Chris had lived most of his life in foster homes as his mother hadn’t been fit to take care of him and his sister. She was in Meadowbrook at the bequest of the local government. You can do pretty much anything in Manchester before somebody will really try to deal with you, but attempting to smother your two young kids pushes even that boat out too far. In spite of all that, I never once heard Chris complain about how the cards had been dealt to him. He was always the one who was the most full of life and energy to do things, but inside I knew he was afraid that what she had had would be passed on to him.


      - Fifteen.

      - Fifteen, what?

      - I’ve had fifteen.

      Chris dared me to look back at him with a face that was unconditionally resigned to fear and straight away I forgot all about my 8 and the problems they were about to cause. He had said “fifteen” with the confessional honesty of a little boy who truly wanted to repent to the priest he still believed in. It often fell to me to play this part and as always I absolved him in a joyful laughter that was as close as anything we could ever come to being truly spiritual. Unfortunately, on this night, Chris had already gone too far with his thoughts and thanks to my previous provocation he was in no mood to be acquiesced by my laughter.

      - Are you not afraid of God?

      - Has he got a knife?

      - What are you talking about, it’s God?

      - I understand that. What I don’t understand is how I’m supposed to be afraid of him when I don’t whether he’s got a knife or not.

      - He doesn’t need a knife. He’s God, he can do whatever he wants.

      - Well, he ain’t doing fuck all now. I tell you what Chris; when he gets here, you let me know and then I’ll tell you if I’m scared or not. But, I really can’t be arsed with this stupid shit right now because I need to get back to my Mum’s. I’ve got to get back so I can go with our Mark to his first Holy Communion. When I get to the church I’ll have a look around for him. Do you want me to give you a bell if he’s there?

      - You’re a sick bastard, Sam. You’re going to burn in hell.

      - Probably, but there’s clearly nothing to be done in here with you, so I’m going to get off and see where Lee is.

      - Fuck off, Sam.

      In the living room there were about 10 or 11 people all attempting to forge some semblance of conversation amongst themselves and over the regulatory beat emanating from the stereo, which as was the custom was set to 40 on the dial.  It was said that 40 was “right” and that anything above that was “takin the piss”.  We lived in a small mews of flats with neighbours on both sides and above, it was 7.30 in the morning. 40 wasn’t right.

      - Lee, are you still alright for what we talked about earlier?

      - What what what what what what, p p p p p p p p what ya talking bout Sam? Do you know what I mean Sam? Do you know what I mean? Do you get me Sam? Do you know what I mean? Do you know what I’m sayin?

      - Come on Lee, chill out. You know what I’m talking about; you said that there was no problem before.

      Lee was about 10 years older than the rest of my friends and the madness routine was the trick that he often used to try and get some attention for himself. He also had a worrying penchant for young girls. It was only a few weeks earlier that he had told me that the Olsen twins, who we were watching on some TV magazine programme, had been better when they were younger- they were still only about 11 years old. But, he had a nice BMW and he would always be the one who ran around getting everybody’s drugs for a night out. His feigned madness was irritating as fuck but despite that, and the not so latent paedophilia, he was a funny guy- especially on the occasions where he went too far with the tablets and there was no shame in his insanity.

       It was always only ever a question of patience with Lee; he needed to feel important for him to do something for you.  I persisted and soon we were sat in his car in the car park outside the flat. The flat’s windows were still vibrating from the noise inside and shadows could be seen moving on the other side of the heavy blue curtain that permanently covered the window, and the towel that had been placed over the glass section of the door; dirty little vampires trying to chase away the light.

      Lee drove the car in a way that meant I was forced to constantly be aware that we were in it together. He raised and lowered the volume of the music sporadically, and at times slowed the car down to nothing more than walking pace as we made the tortuous journey back to my mother’s house.  Outside the car the ugly buildings and the outside world came alive in front of my eyes as the drugs readjusted themselves to the light of a new day, and as the car finally made it to my mother’s estate I was only barely able to cling on to the consciousness that I was now completely fucked and higher than I had been at any other part of the night. The road that gave entrance to the estate was blocked by police and bald men in yellow coats. Lee immediately became serious and was informed that he couldn’t pass up the street as the roads had been closed for the annual Boothstown procession.

      I was forced to get out of the car and make the final 500 metres through the estate to my mother’s house by foot. I thanked Lee, who drove away laughing, and walked out into the unnaturally hot June Sunday. The unreasonably fast chain of events from leaving the flat to having found myself stranded alone in the glare of the summer morning started to take affect and I began to doubt whether I could really go through with this at all. I loved my kid brother but what benefit was he going to get from having his drug riddled junky brother attending a religious ceremony with him that he probably neither understood nor cared too much about. A frightening vibration in my pocket and everything had been decided for me as my mother emphasised how important it was that I came, as Mark’s father was on holiday and he was really looking forward to his big brother being there to accompany him.

      The numerous pubs of the estate had all opened early and lecherous lizard like men were stationed outside on the car parks facing the street making lewd comments about the pretty-at-a-distance girls floating by on the procession floats. The men revelled in the cheap tricks of their double entendres whilst trying hard not to be seen by the other as their leer defiled the bodies of the kids that were their daughters.

      Everything that wasn’t attached to the floor, or some other solid base, was falling down towards the ground- caught in the frenetic whir of over-excitement that this event never failed to generate. I saw Salvador Dalí’s golden elephant high in the sky, mincing gingerly in an attempt to walk without impaling the people below. His tentacle like gold and jewel encrusted legs were somehow invisible to the rest of the people in the Sunday morning summer sun, or maybe they were just all so lost in the gaudy gratuity of a real true to god community celebration to notice. More than a little perturbed at having found himself amongst this scene, the elephant’s priceless spears were less than accurate in their intended execution; young and old alike sent splaying into dizzying twirls to the ground after unwittingly crossing paths with his failed attempts at navigation.

      Those not caught off guard by the surrealist elephant’s movements were busy being dazed and confused from the unrelenting bombardment of out of date packets of mini-size Special K that were being hurled manically from every other procession float, by a shackled assortment of dwarfs, freaks and any other of the town’s socially non-desirables; who had all been clandestinely rounded up, under the cover of night, and herded onto the trucks especially for the occasion.

      I survived all of these attacks and soon found myself with my face squashed up against the ¾ length mirror in my mother’s bedroom, being stared at by my brother Mark who was all dressed up and ready to go to eat the body and blood of Christ, or was it Jesus Beckham. At that moment those details both escaped and fascinated me, which semi-explained how it was I was now salivating all over the mirror. I was having real difficulty in distinguishing reality from mythology and superstition, as well as having completely forgotten how to fasten a tie, which was twisted sickly around my neck in some sort of demented hangman’s wet dream.

      Luckily, the real beauty of youth is that it gives the holder a mask to wear that can overcome almost all drink and drug situations. Relying on this beautiful borrowed gift i kept my mouth shut and clumsily got into my mother’s car, whilst trying uncomfortably to avoid the still bemused stare of the 7 year old Mark. Outside on the street some of the vengeful dwarves and other socially non-desirables had slipped their chains and I struggled to withhold a snicker as I watched them systematically devour the family of the police detective from next door, who had been unceremoniously thwarted in their quest for free supplies of out of date Special K.

      Inside the church the mood of the place imposed itself on my demeanour. There was no forthrightness nor were the people expected to show any overly excessive excitement at being there. The people exchanged nods of the head which were unequivocally non-committal but laced with thousands of years of conspiratorial hatred and unease. The light of the bright day outside was commandeered by the heavy stained-glass windows; whose depictions of a valiant death shafted the light into obtuse angles that forced it to fall unerringly toward the altar and the solemn priest raised high-up in his pulpit at its head.  I bowed my head in a false prayer of complicit movement and remembered the hours lost sat in those benches as a child; forced to suffer through twice weekly visits to this cold unwelcoming place which was now opening its doors to my youngest brother and a whole new flock of sweet sacrificial lambs.

      My hands began to sweat as I realised the severity of the situation, of the sacrilege that I must surely be committing; and I felt no shame - more a sly sense of ecstatic aftershock. I lifted my head and searched the aisles for the God I had told Lee I would attempt to seek, but found instead remnants of faces I had long forgotten from the past and whose existence I had ceased to be aware of. I realised it was because it was only ever here that they came - that it was only ever here that they had been given a voice to be heard, even if it was only one of monotonous supplication.  Surrounded on all sides by the ghostly souls of men and woman deep in trance, or pain, I noticed the oily twisting texture within the varnish of the benches on which we sat and lost myself in their design as I floated down toward the pinnacle of their truth, unravelled their mysteries, and caught myself quickly before I fell sideways into the good brother behind me ready to catch my fall.

      The service moved along quickly and the children moved forward with their proud teacher to collect their first mouthfuls of soul food - of the body and blood of the man who they needed to know had died for them, for their sins. In threes they approached the harsh marble altar to kneel nervously before the priest of whom they were afraid but unsure as to why. In threes they represented the holy trinity of this thing that they were too young to be involved in. In the threes of grammar that they shouldn’t know express all the relationships of all humankind. In threes whose thought, word and deed completed the sum of their capability.      

      Mark returned to his seat chewing uncomfortably on the stale not quite tasteless paper of bread in his mouth and looked at me for assurance that all was right. The blackness of my stare forced me to refuse his eyes, instead I held his head warmly with my left hand as I followed the word of the Lord and turned triumphantly to my neighbour and bid them that wherever they go that peace go with them.

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