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Carlisle

‘Tart’s car,’ he said.

Then he said, ‘cubism, it’s shite,’ looking through the window of a small art gallery.

I stopped, ‘this one?’

He stopped beside me, shook his head, ‘no.’

We kept on walking.

The sun was beating down on my back and shoulders, the tops of my arms, my neck. There was a patch of sweat at the small of his back. I stopped at a kiosk and bought a Pepsi Max.

maxThe first time I bought a Pepsi Max I thought it would be like double sugar, double caffeine, double fizz. Like the pop equivalent of White Lightning. 8.4% Pepsi. But no, it’s just diet Pepsi with an advertising budget. But the kiosk didn’t have diet Coke. Which is the stuff. 

He stopped, extending his hand toward me, ‘Hey, Sushi -girl,’ he calls me this for the cartoon Fish I have tattooed on my wrist. And it’s a play on my name. A pun.

I handed him the can.

He opened it and took a long drink, gave me it back. I wiped the top and drank too. He went to the Kiosk and bought scratch-cards with his last four pound coins. Then he spent a few minutes rubbing at them, with a look of concentration on his face somewhere between a frown and a snarl. After that he tore them up and threw them onto the ground.

‘No luck?’

He looked at me like I was an imbecile; ‘Yeah, I just won a million. On each card. That’s why I tore them up.’

We walked a bit further on

‘This one,’ he said.

I looked up and down the street, which was fairly quiet. It’s not that there shouldn’t be any people watching when you do it, most people turn a blind eye anyway, and if they don’t you just Mace them in the face, if you have some, or run like fuck if, like us, you don’t. Just no polis, and no bodybuilders. Police I don’t need to explain but bodybuilders, they like an excuse to throw their weight about, and they all smoke steroids and stuff, so you try and avoid them. I knew there was a gym just round the corner full of men walking on the balls of their feet, wearing dodgy pants and crop-tops. Just pit-bulls in human form. Very ugly people.

Anyway, it looked OK so I took out the centre punch and ran it across the drivers side window, which turned misty and collapsed in a shower of granules, like mini sugar cubes. Joey reached in and tugged at the inner door-lock but it wouldn’t budge. ‘Deadlocked,’ he said.

The car alarm had begun to bleat and Joey slid through the window headfirst to pop the bonnet. The alarm changed to a metallic voice saying “Stand Back! Stand Back!” as I opened the bonnet and tore out the wires connecting the alarm to the loudspeaker just as it was changing again to a sound like a chain-saw on rotting wood. I looked up from the engine compartment as a middle-aged couple walked past. They looked at me and I looked at them, but they just kept on walking. It was total adrenaline time and I was laughing out loud. Joey had started the engine as I slid through the window, landing on his lap and pushing him over to the passenger seat.

It’s easy to steal a car; you just bust in.

And no one ever stops you.

‘Stop the giggling, Sushi.’

I stifled my laughter and drove through town while Joey played with the radio.

‘It’s got a scanner,’ he said.

I didn’t dwell too long on the significance of stealing a car belonging to someone who owns a police scanner.

We drove through town and then turned south through the tunnel, dropped the car off at a yard, caught a Tube back to town and met Seamus at a car-park near the market. We got £1000 each for thirty minutes work. And our expenses? One Pepsi Max , one centre punch, the toll fare through the tunnel and two tube tickets – change from a tenner. And another expensive car was already on its way Eastern Europe .

As we walked back into town I said to Joey, ‘I love the black economy,’ and he said to me, ‘I’m all for free enterprise.’

I said, ‘Capitalism is the greatest economic system in the world.’

He said, ‘Sushi, you can drive my car.’

We passed a jazz club and Joey said to me, ‘I went to a jazz gig once, and stayed there for a whole evening listening to this music.’ He shrugged and we kept on walking, and then he said; ‘It was nothing, this jazz music. It said nothing. Just noise and wanking.’

There.

Joey puts real effort into his attempts to prove that all culture is worthless. I know it’s just a way of justifying his criminal lifestyle, but he works at it; over the last three months he has passed judgment on opera (can’t act, can’t sing, couldn’t get served at the bar), German engineering (crashed an M5, in a rainstorm), Rugby Union, (fat blokes who can’t get girls), and in a two-for-one discount deal the British Library system and the complete canon of English Literature (“it’s all shite,” was his judgment). Well, he read Orlando ; it sounded like an action book, he said, and it took him six weeks to finish. It got to the point where he had to stop buying The Sun so that he could finish this book. He explained the story to me; ‘You’d like it, Sushe. This bloke, he lives for ages, I mean hundreds of years, they just go by, and then he turns into a woman.’

‘What does he do?’

‘Nothing. Nada.’

‘So what’s the plot?’

‘None. There isn’t one. He ice skates a bit and then meets a queen. And some other bits when he meets some poets.’

‘Who wrote it?’ I asked him.

‘Some dyke,’ he said, then winced as he caught my expression.

‘Here,’ he gave it to me.

I stayed up that night and read it until I finished it. And Joey was basically right.

He let me return the book and I got to pay the fine.

We walked along the canal to the Cooperage; I got two pints of snakebite in and we stood by the bar. Joey turned to the barman; ‘Hey, this music is so 90’s , man. Get the real stuff on!’ We drank on and the barman changed the music to the kind dance music that Joey loves and that you normally only ever hear coming out of cars with fat wheels driven by guys wearing baseball caps. It was after five on a warm Saturday afternoon. ‘Got any dope?,’ he asked me. I shook my head and he nodded, as though to say, ‘we’ll get some.’

We were very drunk by nine. Then I did a line of something that might have been speed, and swallowed three jellies that Joey borrowed off a friend. Joey can buy, borrow or sell anything. I’ve seen him sell coke to people who really didn’t want it, and could barely afford it anyway, and then say to them, ‘well, if you don’t want it now, can you let me use it? I’ll get you some more later.’ And of course never pay them back.

At about half-past ten there was some kind of fight but by then my head was spinning slowly in a pool of drug-sludge, and I couldn’t really say if I was involved. But we stayed until the bar closed at about three in the morning, and then we dropped some acid that we bought from one of the bouncers, went out into the street and stole a car. For fun.

Some time later I woke up and I was in bed with this couple. ‘Hey man,’ I said, ‘stop it! Both of you!’ But we did some more stuff anyway. And then, later, I got up, got dressed and left.

It was raining.

I looked at a road sign which said Bowness 11 Mile. I stopped at a paper shop and went inside to buy a Mars Bar. I glanced at a newspaper.

It was Tuesday.

I thought of Babe Walker’s bull terrier, Pig. One day Pig got hit by a jeep at the junction next to Pizza Express. It lost an eye and got a broken leg. It hobbled around in a cast for two months. It had one of those plastic collars to stop it from scratching its wounded eye. The vet’s bill came to about three thousand pounds. Babe said that Pig still runs out into the road, but he’s terrified by the smell of garlic.

Well, I thought, all this foolishness won’t stop me taking acid. But I probably won’t be going back to Carlisle anytime soon.

I fell asleep on the train back home and I woke with a dry mouth and a blocked nose; my arse burned, and there was some stuff that had dropped out of me and congealed inside my knickers. My ears hummed and I needed to piss. When I got off the train I stood for a few moments, feeling all wobbly, and then I spat onto the line, redly.

My gums were bleeding.

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