A Short Story by Simon Downham-Knight
Warning: Contains bad language and depictions of self harm.
When I get home to my bed-sit to find Henry gone; the first thing I think is that it’s that cunt Slater, so I go straight round to his flat to have it out with him. He comes to his door and the smell coming out of there hits me like a train; like a mixture of piss, spunk and rotting pork. And he’s standing there, the fat bastard, leering at my tits in this filthy vest and horrible, pissy, stained pants and I know straight away that he hasn’t got Henry. For one; he’s surprised to see me. For two; he starts in straight away about how much rent I owe him and how the council haven’t sent him a rent cheque in over five weeks. Finally, he goes on about how that smelly old bat from upstairs has phoned him up three times in the last week to tell him I’ve got a fucking dog in my room, grassing bitch, and he wants it out by tomorrow. He slams the door in my face without even asking what I went round there for and I’m standing in his pissy fucking corridor feeling a lot less positive and wondering where the fuck Henry is.
Back home, I open the curtains and notice one of the windows is broken and I curse myself for not noticing before I subjected myself to an ear bashing from that noxious smelling wanker, Slater. He’d never break the window of one of his own bedsits, the cheap bastard, not even to make something look more authentic.
So, now I’m streetwalking; smoking a fag and calling out Henry’s name, knowing it’s stupid really coz I’ve only had him two months and he’s only a puppy, so there’s no way he’d know his name already and he’s not lost anyway, he’s been pinched. It doesn’t stop me though, coz I’m starting to feel desperate and lonely and I can feel these big, horrible, fat tears welling up inside me and if I don’t take control soon, they’re gonna start coming out and I can’t have that, I just can’t! But then I think of Henry again and it’s the first time in my life I’ve ever felt loved or needed. I bite my lip and push my finger into the wound that I cut into my leg a few days ago to try and stop those fucking tears. They come anyway. I can’t believe it. I’m standing here on Brixton High Street surrounded by people and for the first time since I can remember I’m crying my eyes out. Pathetic! I can’t believe I’ve let that stupid fucking dog get to me this badly, I just can’t believe it.
About two months ago it was my eighteenth birthday; time for me to leave the home, get a place of me own and maybe a job or something. Chris, who’s this big, soft, bearded bastard not much older than me, and definitely the best supervisor there, brings in this bloody puppy. A little, bloody, Staff’ puppy.
“What’s this?” I said.
“It’s a puppy, Lucy.” He said.
“I can see it’s a bloody puppy, you soft cunt. What the fuck’re you giving it to me for?”
“It’s a sort of moving out, moving in present.” He said. “Someone for you to look after and someone to look after you.”
“Take it away.” I said. “Get it out of my sight. I don’t want your poxy dog. You know I can’t have dogs in my new place.”
“Look,” he said. “Take the dog for the afternoon,” he said. “If you still don’t want him this evening I’ll flush him down the toilet.” And with that he went off and left me with this little fucking dog with big eyes that smelled like digestive biscuits and, well, y’know, I fell in love with the little fucker, didn’t I? Me and Chris decided on Henry as his name after Henry Hill in that old gangster film Goodfellas. It felt really good having something to look after and something, someone that needed me, even if it was just a stupid little dog what shit everywhere, like, I’m not even kidding. Everywhere! Even in my new fucking trainers. Chris was excellent, he came round every day with food for him and me and he told me that if I got any heat from my landlord Henry could go and stay with him. He even brung some nice draw round a couple of times for us to smoke. Apart from a few moans from the lady upstairs though, I’d had no trouble at all until today. He’ll know what to do. I think to myself. He’s working the nightshift, so he should be in. I call him and even though I’ve woken him up he seems pleased to hear from me. I tell him the whole sorry story.
I’m almost back at me flat and as I get close, I see Chris ambling in my direction, and I smile as I think about what a daft cunt he is. Sitting on next-door’s steps is this freckly, ginger Kevin kid that I’ve seen hangin’ around. I look at him and he gives me a right shifty look.
“What you lookin’ at?” I said.
“Have you…” He twitches. “…you, lost a staff’?” He said. I have this weird blank feeling of confusion, then I suddenly notice I’ve got hold of him by the scruff of his neck and pulled him into me and I get a whiff of wet dog, tobacco, booze, body odour and piss.
“What do you know about it?” I said but he don’t reply, so I repeat myself, a bit more forceful like and bring his face up to mine and a stale tobacco and mucky nappy stench is added to the mix. An olfactory nightmare as Chris would say.
“Your staff’.” He said and his breath smelt of sour milk and something I just can’t get a handle on. Something foetid and ancient. “I saw who took your staff’.” I have my fist pulled up behind my head and I’m just about to bring it down and smash this little prick’s teeth in when Chris has firmly taken my hand and held it in place. I turn and snarl at him, but when I see his chubby, bearded face and his freaked-out eyes, suddenly I’m just not angry anymore.
“Junior told Gay Tony you had the staff!” He blurted out. “Gay Tony wanted Junior to show him where the dog was and Junior didn’t want to, so Gay Tony held a blade to his cheek.” His eyes were beginning to bulge. “Junior pissed his pants. He, he, he, he had no choice.” The little ginger twat was blubbing, and a big bubble of snot formed on his nostril and popped showering my face in his fluids.
“Where the fuck will I find Junior?” I growled, pulling him even closer to me, so now he’s pulling back from feeling my breath on his face.
“He hangs out by the playground in Brockwell Park.” He said. “If we’re gonna find him anywhere, it’ll be there.”
So, we take a walk across town to Brockwell Park. It’s July and Summer’s in full swing and even though I’m anxious as fuck and biting all the skin off round my nails, I can’t help notice that people seem to be happy and having fun. Flowers are out and the leaves are making a nice swooshing sound in the breeze.
Thing is though, the little shit ain’t there. We check out the playground, the basketball pitch and all the huts, but nothing.
“Where the fuck is he?” I snarl into his face as I pull it right up to mine.
“There are a few other places we can try.” He whimpers and Chris puts his hand on my arm in an attempt to defuse the situation.
“There’s a derelict house we sometimes hang out in to, y’know…” A look of shame flashes across his face. “…sniff glue and that. He could be there.” As he says it, I realise that’s the other smell on him. Fucking glue. Gross! I start getting that grinding feeling in the back of my head that tells me I have to do it. He takes us down this alley where the prossies take their customers and I’m stepping over dirty needles and soiled dunkies and trying not to think of the smell of cum that’s invaded my poor nostrils. I snag my new Nike top on some barbed wire as we climb over the broken fence and it tears. As my dad always said: I can’t keep anything nice. Cunt! We make our way through the narrow pathway that’s been made through all the brambles and prickles and I snag my new top a few more times before we’re on the other side of it. Chris, the big prick, is still stuck in there, but Kevin has already climbed in through the broken window, so I follow him in and now we’re walking through what was once the kitchen but is now just a space with a few bare pipes poking out of a wall with cat shit dotted about and a smelly, wet, yellow corner: A junkies’ urinal. Kevin’s about to walk through the building, but I grab his arm and take the lead. Who does he think he is? There’s a door that’s jammed shut with bottles and cans and I shove it open and go in. It looks like your typical squat: empty drink bottles and cans with dirty works and spoons, bags of glue and takeaway containers scattered around with a stained mattress in one corner, a couple of mis-matched old chairs and the remnants of a fire. My eyes are darting all round the place when suddenly I spot something in the corner of the room by the mattress. I leap over all the crap and grab Henry’s fucking collar and an empty tin of Pedigree fucking Chum. I stand there in despair as I realise that he was here, and that grinding feeling gets worse and I grip the lock knife in the pocket of my cargo pants.
We emerge through the broken window and I know I have to do it. Chris, the awkward prick, has just managed to get through the brambles and he smiles that big dog smile of his at me. Cheesy wanker. I fling Henry’s collar straight at him and the buckle smacks him on the lower lip and a big globule of bright red blood oozes out of it. He’ll get over it.
“I need a piss.” I said.
“Why don’t you piss in there?” Kevin said. “Everybody else has.”
So, now I’m sitting on a shitter in a café on Brixton High Street, with my trousers down, looking at all the scars on my right thigh and I’ve already unlocked my knife. It’s a beauty. An American hunting knife. The only thing my dad ever got me. Apart from pregnant. I find the spot and the knife cuts through the skin like butter and the grinding stops. It doesn’t even hurt. It fucking well will later though. I make three vertical cuts deep into my thigh and gaze at the open pink flesh and fall right into it. Slowly, the blood finally decides to ooze up into the newly formed ravines. It fills them up and then trickles down the inside of my thigh. That’ll do. As I step outside, Chris gives me one of his concerned looks and I can tell he knows, but he doesn’t say anything.
After loads more walking around and some completely fucking pointless stops at the monkey bars, the youth club and the sweet shop, me, Chris and Kevin are now standing in the shadow of this fucking huge, fifteen-storey tower block, lurking in this corner like a bunch of fucking criminals trying not to look conspicuous. I swear that turd on the ground by my feet is human. I try to breathe through my mouth, so I don’t have to smell it, but then I can taste it and I put my nose and mouth into my t-shirt.
This huge, crumbling and decaying memorial to the idea that this would be a quick fix to all the housing destroyed during the Blitz. What a fucking joke. This whole place has been used as a toilet by Brixton, in its entirety, for the last fifty years and it fucking stinks. Stinks, I tell you! An old Jamaican lady struggles through the security door with a faux leather shopping trolley and just before the door closes, Kevin has managed to slip through behind her and has stopped it from closing. As she heads off to get her shopping, me and Chris slip inside behind Kevin and as we do, the smell of faeces and urine, both human and beast, hits me in the face like a wet fish. I pull my t-shirt back up over my nose, but it doesn’t make any difference.
It’s dingy inside and it takes a while for my eyes to adjust. There’s graffiti everywhere and I can already see that the lift is bust, so it looks like we’re walking up, for Fuck’s sake!
“Dexter’s mum’s a slapper!” Chris reads the graffiti as he grabs hold of the rail and steps over a load of stinking bin bags and pulls himself up onto the third step.
“Dexter the snitch bitch will pay!” Kevin reads out and I look at a crude picture of someone hanging from a tree and I wonder to myself whether Dexter still walks among us.
Under the third flight of stairs is the outlet for the warm air heating system that’s installed in this building and suddenly, we’re stepping over the sleeping bodies of the homeless. Kevin kicks over a bucket of shit, piss and bilious puke and it seeps into the sleeping bag of this decrepit old drunkard. We’re ready to make a bolt for it, but he just moans and turns over. Imagine being so fucked up that you just don’t care that someone has just tipped all that muck over you. Pathetic! If we weren’t in such a hurry, I would have chucked a couple of digs into this cunt’s belly and ribs for good measure. Maybe on the way down!
A few flights up; we’re feeling our way along the wall in total fucking darkness and I start to imagine that I’m stuck in Hell and I’m stepping on all the burned, crispy bodies of the damned. A big crunch under my foot as I step on something and it collapses makes me think I have just caved in someone’s ribcage and I can hear rats scurrying about. Suddenly, something slithers through my legs: at first, I think it’s some kind of serpent and I have to jam my thumb into them wounds on my leg to stop myself from screaming out. It isn’t until we get to the twelfth floor and the lights are working again that I see that it wasn’t a serpent anyway, just a stupid, skinny, fucking, flea-bitten old greyhound mix that must belong to one of them old dossers. I give its chops a little rub before I follow Chris and Kevin.
As we go up the last few flights of stairs, I realise that Junior has to come up this way all the time, surrounded by all this human waste. We walk up the final flight of stairs and I look over at Chris, who gives me this smile that is trying to be reassuring, but I can see the journey up here has taken its toll on him as well.
We come out onto a long walkway with doors on one side and railings on the other and we lean on the railings and take a look at London from fifteen storeys up in Brixton. Beautiful! If I couldn’t still smell all that shit and piss I would have sworn it was worth a million pounds. I look up at Chris and he smiles at me and moves a bit of hair that has blown into my mouth out of the way. I’m just about to smile back when I see that Kevin has walked up the balcony and is almost at the final flat. I pull away from Chris and trot up the walkway, past two boarded up flats and one with no door at all. Was it tentacles I saw inside there as I trotted by? I don’t look twice. Fuck that! Junior’s front door has some kind of thick security door made of steel with a rectangular viewing hatch at eye level. It also has a barred security gate in front of it. I’m in the midst of wondering why someone in a flat like this would need so much security when Kevin has knocked on the steel door and it’s loud. I mean really fucking loud and it’s still vibrating when the hatch opens up and a black guy’s eyes appear at the hatch.
“What you want?” He said. His eyes looking incredulously down at Kevin, then up at me, then Chris.
“Is Junior there?” Kevin shouts up to the man.
“Huh?” The man replies and he closes the hatch. Chris and I look at each other and I’m just about to roll my eyes when the sounds of locks unlocking and bolts sliding come from behind the door. The door opens and standing behind the bars and filling the entire door frame is a giant of a man wearing a red, white and blue Fila track suit, holding a cricket bat, pointed down, in his right hand. Fuck!
“What are the two of you doing hanging around with a little kid like this? You alright, Kevin?” He said and swung that cricket bat up onto his shoulder. I’m just about to answer this big twat, when Kevin answers first.
“It’s ok Mister Brown.” He said. “I’m helping them to look for something. Junior might know where it is.” Mister Brown kisses his teeth.
“He at his nan’s.” He said and spins the cricket bat as he slams the big steel door with a BOOM and the sound echoes out across the empty vastness.
So, now we’re headed for Junior’s nan’s and I’m smarting. I’m really fucking ready to blow. I know I’m in trouble because I’m grinding my fingers into the fresh cuts on my leg and I can’t feel fucking nothing. Nothing?!?! As we get closer Kevin’s shoulders slump and he looks really gloomy. What the fuck is up with this kid? Then, he starts to whimper. I barely notice it at first, but it gets louder and soon he’s sobbing uncontrollably and then taking in these huge, wet, whimpering gulps of breath.
We walk up this short street and into strange cul-de-sac of 1950s houses with driveways that have been built in a circle and face each other. I see a curtain twitching out the corner of my eye. He stops in the middle of this round bit of street that acts as a sort of amphitheatre and just stands there with his head bowed, still jerking with his sobs. Chris and me stand there staring at this and I realise that I am fucking exhausted. He raises up his arm and points at a detached house, in the middle, with a black security camera with a red flashing light, bars on the windows and a metal security door. I open the gate, walk past the overgrown hedge and up the drive. As I get closer to the door, the sound of Kevin’s whimpers become less distinct and I can hear something else whining and scratching.
“Henry! It’s fucking Henry.” I call out and Henry hears me and starts to bark. That beautiful little fucker! I hammer at the door with the side of my fist and it echoes across the street. I can hear Henry on the other side of the door getting really excited now, so I hammer at the door again, harder this time, but still nobody comes. I turn round to that little ginger tosser and stride back down the path.
“What’s Henry doing at Junior’s nan’s?” I said to Kevin, whose face has become as red as his hair. He doesn’t answer. He just spasms as he tries to take in a breath. “Answer me.” I howl at this little ginger prick as I grab him by his t-shirt and pull him up to my face. He answers me, but in all them sobs it’s totally incoherent. “Answer me!” I snarl at Kevin. He doesn’t answer again. He just stands there with his fists clenched; his eyes bulging and red with tears. His breathing ragged.
“Lucy!” Chris said and touches me on the forearm. His touch makes all the hairs on my arm stand on end and I let go of Kevin’s t-shirt and step back. Kevin closes his mouth to try to control his breathing and a big bubble of snot forms under one nostril and pops.
“This isn’t Junior’s nan’s.” He said. “It’s Gay Tony’s place.”
“Huh?” I said. Confusion is fogging my brain. “How do you know?” I said.
“I told Gay Tony about your staff and told him where you live. And I stood there on watch while he broke your window and went inside.” He bursts into sobs again and I can’t even really work out what this little cunt is telling me.
“I feel really guilty.” He said. “That’s why I’m help…” Suddenly, I go all funny. Things slow right down and then I’m watching a girl that looks just like me smashing Kevin in the nose. It explodes and blood streams out of both nostrils. He brings his hand up and, this girl, she punches him in both cheeks and then again below his eye and claws at his face with her nails before Chris has managed to grab her by both arms and wrestle her under control. She kicks Kevin in the balls and he doubles over. Her face is a twisted mask of grief and fury.
Then I’m looking at Chris and, fuck! I’m furious with HIM! WHACK! I’ve socked him in the jaw, and he’s landed on the floor with a THUD!
As Chris goes down on his arse and I come back into myself and realise what I’ve done, I see a police car speeding into the cul-de-sac and pulling into the amphitheatre.
“My dog!” I said, running towards them and pointing at the house as the two burly coppers, one taller than the other, get out of the car. The tall one of them looms over me and the other one takes Kevin by the arm and leads him over to a lamp post.
As I start ranting at the copper, I can see the other one crouch down by Kevin and put his hand on his heaving shoulder.
“My dog was nicked out of my bedsit this morning. That little prick’s been leading us on a wild goose chase all day.” I said and I realise I’m spitting. I’m so fucked off!
“Have you reported it to the police?” He said and Chris manages to get back onto his feet.
“Not yet.” I said. “I was doing me own detective work. Trying to find him meself. If I’d left it to yous cunts; I never would have found him.” I said. The copper’s face looks like he’s just sucked a lemon. I can smell the detergent on his uniform and a strong smell of antiperspirant that masks his vile B.O, and the fact that he masturbated this morning.
“I suggest you go to your local police station and report this in the proper way. He said.
“He’s in that fucking house!” I said and gesticulate wildly in its direction.
“You have no proof of that.” He said and behind him. I can see the other copper bending Kevin’s head down as he gets into the police car.
“He’s behind that fucking door. I can hear him.” I said as I point madly at the house behind the overgrown hedge.
“Like I said, I suggest you go to your local police station and report this in the proper way.” He said, all tetchy like, as a vein in his left temple pulsates. Chris can see I’m about to blow and he puts his arm between me and this piece of human excrement and I’m like a coiled fucking spring.
“May I also remind you that assault of a minor is a serious offence.” He said and the other copper motions spunky over and they exchange some words that I can’t pick up. Chris holds me firmly by the shoulders and I look into his eyes. Something inside them eyes told me that I needed to dial it right back and with his help I was able to do it. The shorter copper gets into the police car and spunky stands with his legs apart and his hands on his hips looking all smug, like the prick that he is. Wanker! Chris stands between me and him, which is just as well. Cunt! Then, this cunt gets into the car, closes the door and they’ve driven off sending a spray of gravel in our direction. What the fuck?!? I watch Kevin’s bleeding, ginger head get smaller and smaller and me and Chris stand there like a couple of fucking lemons completely unable to work out what’s just happened. Fucking pigs. Fucking filth. Fucking cunts! I should have known.
We go back to the house, but it’s quiet now. No sniffing, no barking, no Henry, no nothing. Just a black CCTV camera, with a blinking red light, looking down at me and Chris. He puts his arm around me and I let him. He’s alright, old Chris. He’s got B.O. though. Smelly cunt.
I’m going to come back here later and I’m going to burn this house to the fucking ground while those thieving bastards sleep, and I’ll sit there and I’ll watch it burn. And I’ll enjoy the smell of their bodies as they burn. Fucking cunts.
Copyright Simon Downham-Knight 2020
Note: This story has a sequel of sorts with Lucy as narrator called Bring on the Lucy. https://spiralstaircase.blog/2021/10/16/bring-on-the-lucy/