I scabbed my ankle here and tore off some flappy skin, under the street sign, where the curb crumbles.
The hours took his face and hung it from the lamppost, just his head, eyes blinking. I walked under it everyday, to the job at the steel factory that everyone calls the box. Every time his smile caught me, like I wasn’t expecting it this time. His name was Milo Return and he lived around here somewhere. Like I cared.
First time I saw him he was on the floor, spread out tucking his hands underneath him, letting a girl balance with bare feet on his chest, at the side of the park, where the grass has dried out at the end of summer. She laughed and I turned the other way, and neither of them looked at me.
The box factory draws you in, makes you stay and digests you slowly. Some of us are too much gristle and the box spits us out, where we run through the overflows, howling like mad dogs, scrunching up plans and tripping over ourselves in the fall. Some of us dream together for a while afterwards, but eventually we lose touch.
Milo saved time by never reaching the box. He waved from open car windows, playing songs I never recognised but wanted to know, always some shuffling beat, mysterious, all of Milo’s world in analogue. It was him, passing by.
The girl was never with him, not in the car.
His car was in a carpark once, without him in it. A seagull walked the length of it, found something to stick its beak into by the driver’s side window. I looked closer. A dried vomit trail, pink and brown, ran down the door like someone had wound down the window and puked a stream. The seagull flew off at first, but then came back, staring at me like we had a moment. I pointed at it and it brought up fishy puke all over the bonnet. Then I felt bad, and wondered about the power of my finger.
That street had pampas grass and stank of caramel and sunburnt backs. Milo lived in t-shirts and was always in some house somewhere beyond where I could see. He ladled cola into plastic tankards and toasted the midday.
The street emptied itself ready for him.
Brown stains on white cotton, sweetness soaked between jagged printed band names. Flaky summer trees dropping insects with wavy legs, reaching. Milo walked along the white lines of the road, a cooked tarmac mirage. The skipping rope was red, from the handle along the rope to the next handle. He took one end and helicoptered it over his head, down the road, beneath the sun, between the grass curbs under the trees. When he reached the street sign he upped the spinning and the red rope whirred like a scream against the day. Milo waited and built some violence. At the pinnacle he brought the flying red handle down, under seething control, and crashed it through the windshield of a rusty mauve car. Glass shrapnel hit concrete and skin. Milo wiped his face and picked a shard from his neck. It twinkled clear under spots of red on his palm.
I ran away then. He never saw me.
Over the next weeks there were thunderstorms and more windshields broke.
It looked like being the end of the hot days.
His car went past less.
When it did, the music was louder.
I wrote his name on my bedroom wall in tall dark grey, then painted over it.
The box wanted to fire me, and I wanted the same, but I needed the job, because I needed a job. I tore down the staff information posters. Someone found them where I’d put them in a pile and just taped them back up again. Now they’re all in different places, like the building rebooted and glitched.
He found empty hill roads at night. I knew it was him. Cars floating down the steep, on fire, set by him at the top, aimed down below, steady until the brake cables burned through, then they rushed, sometimes hurtling true, other times twisting into curbs or parked cars and halting or flipping over to flame up.
He made sirens pretty.
Sometimes the day after I’d visit the skeletons of the cars if I had time, if it was on my way.
I finished at the box and began my walk home. Warm air of the season had the hint lick of a cold tongue. Dusk seemed earlier all of a sudden. I went through the streets, a few people here and there, all breathing backwards and trying to remember the dream that woke them. The stillness held voices. My stomach gurgled. It had been a long day.
I went to cross the road, ready to turn the corner to the final few streets, where I’d enter my house, the small house I grew up in and couldn’t afford to leave, ever at this rate. The music came first, on the sitting air, a pump of low rhythm, made imbecilic and distorted. Then it came closer and it was pulling focus, declaring itself to me, announcing his presence even though he couldn’t care less. The car appeared, caught in a strange orange light, snaring any beauty it could. Music rumbled through the ground, pulsed through my shoes, my eyes on the windshield, blacked out in the half-light.
It drew near and I peered inside, him looking back at me with eyes reflective red, his face white and melting.
A police car stopped down the road and he headed on towards it, speed indifferent, music warped and victorious.
Before he reached the police car, he stopped and got out, holding the red rope. In time with the music, blaring deafeningly, he swung it in great loops and launched it skywards, where it wrapped itself around the top of a streetlight.
The streetlight came on.
Rebecca Gransden lives on an island and writes sometimes. She can be found on Twitter @rlgransden and online occasionally at rebeccagransden.wordpress.com