I love this flat. It’s great isn’t it? The garden? Just look, it’s enormous. There’s three rooms; I sleep in the sitting room here in back. When I wake up and look out, there’s the garden.
So when me and Mum first came here it was winter. That tree hadn’t flowered yet: that one by the wall. It’s all leaves now. The flowers come first; they look pink but they’re actually white with tiny red bits. It’s a cherry.
I used to work in people’s gardens a couple of summers back. I’ll definitely be doing it again now that we’ve moved here. I’m bigger now, and there’s lots of gardens around.
And that reminds me of what we found in this flat when we moved in.
We came on a Saturday, a good day to move since Mum isn’t working Saturdays now. We didn’t have much to unpack. But we did have this couch, a couple of blankets, my spade and my cricket bat.
So it’s lucky there were bits and bobs left over from the people before. Like we found a kettle, a fork and two plates, that tea-chest there…. and a dustbin. Yes. A big plastic dustbin which was in the bedroom, for some mysterious reason.
So we unpacked, and then we made tea, and Mum said, ‘We’ll leave it to brew. I just want to fetch that dustbin out of the bedroom.’ And she went down the passage — our rooms all open onto the passage, it’s funny. We pop in and out to get to our rooms, cause they’re not actually connected.
So this dustbin, it’s the kind with a clamp-down lid. Like you put on the lid and give it a half-twist and it sort of locks on. Then that seals it up, like you can’t smell what’s in there.
So Mum went to the bedroom. I heard this scream. Then, ‘Holy hell!’ I ran down the passage and there was Mum, holding down the lid of this dustbin with both hands. She was laughing but helluva pale.
So I’m like, What’s wrong? ‘Hold your nose,’ she says, ‘I mean it.’ So I clamped hold of my nose and she twisted the lid off again and I looked in.
It made my eyes sting even though my nose was closed. It was like in some sort of chemical fluid. But it wasn’t the stink so much; it was the face. It was gruesome but at the same time really funny.
It was grinning up at me with these bulging eyes. It was like a skull. At the same time it wasn’t cause it had this flesh: pale, slippery, purply-blotchy flesh that just sort of coated the bone. And of course the eyes, I mean eyeballs, staring, but filmy and dead. And it had these huge teeth, and massive, massive jaws.
What was most funny was this curly fringe of hair. It looked like some old nutter going bald on top. In amongst the hair you could see the stumps of its horns.
Did I say it was a cow head? Yeah. Well. And someone had sawn off the horns to make it fit in the dustbin. It was huge.
My Mum put the lid back on and stood up. ‘God,’ she said. ‘I may hurl. What a stink, I hope no one thinks this is us…. My God, why’s it here?’
‘I don’t know, do I?’ I said. ‘What’s it in?’
‘Bleach, I think. Strong bleach, hypochlorite? Good godfathers,’ she spluttered, and opened the windows. ‘I know, I know what it was,’ she said, turning back, ‘they were art students. The tenants before.’
‘Is this art?’ I said.
‘It’s a skull. They like skulls. They like to draw skulls.’
‘Why the bleach? I mean it’s not helping, is it.’
‘I suppose they thought it’d clean the thing up. How wrong they were. So what do we do?’ said Mum.
‘Put it out with the regular bins,’ I said.
‘Don’t be silly.’
‘Complain to the landlord.’
‘Bury it. That’s the one,’ said Mum. ‘In the garden. Good man. How lucky you still have your spade.’
This was the plan. We’d wait until dark. Our landlord and landlady live across the hall. They have windows in back that look out at the garden. See? It’s their kitchen. That’s their rear entrance that you can just see. I mean, there’s a back door we all use, but they have that private one for themselves.
So we thought, we’ll wait, not just until dark but until they’re in bed and all the other tenants are too. Then I’ll dig a deep hole, that shouldn’t take long. I’ve still got my spade that I bought from the second-hand shop that summer when I was gardening.
So then, when I’d finished the hole, we said, we’d take out the bin between us, and plonk it down one bin’s length away from the hole. My Mum would whip off the lid and then we’d tip the thing right in the hole. I’d shovel the dirt back over it. It’d all be done and dusted by dawn.
We went to the shops and got eggs for our tea, came back, cooked ’em up…. and we finished unpacking. I put on my boiler suit. We waited.
I went out in the garden at half past ten. There were lights in the house. We waited some more.
At midnight there weren’t any lights except ours. I started to dig, right there in the back, a couple of feet from the edge of the border. There, right there in the grass. I couldn’t dig in the border itself. That cherry’s too close, there’d be roots.
But the place that I picked was perfect, no roots, no stones; and no one looked out of the windows. I kept looking up at first but then when I didn’t see anyone there, I got on with it.
At one, Mum brought me a cup of tea. ‘That’s plenty of hole,’ she said.
‘I don’t want the smell creeping all round the neighbourhood. Look, it’s starting to rain.’
‘So drink your tea before it gets wet.’ She was whispering. ‘And don’t talk so loud.’
‘I’m done.’ I chucked my dregs in the hole. ‘Let’s do this.’
I’d wanted to lay out a sheet for the dirt. It keeps it from spoiling the grass, and it makes it easy to put the dirt back in the hole. But Mum wouldn’t let me use the sheet, so I’d had to pile the dirt in the border and now I’d have to shovel it all back again. It made quite a heap. In front of this heap, upside down on the grass, I’d laid out the squares of turf that I’d cut when I started to dig.
Mum looked at the row of turf and smiled, and then we went in for the bin. I took my spade back indoors with me: I don’t know why, but by this time I was feeling secretive.
I took hold of the bin by one handle. It weighed a bit and I said, ‘I bet it’s still got the brains in.’
‘Stop talking.’ My Mum hefted the other side and we shuffled across the bedroom and peered out, up and down the passage: no one, nothing. We lurched along to the back door. Somehow we staggered outside without slopping the bleach. We listened: but everyone must be asleep, we thought.
It’s not far from the door to the hole. We sprinted, holding the bin off the ground the whole way. My Mum’s very fit for her age: almost thirty, you know?
‘One bin’s length,’ she muttered as we lurched to a stop. She snatched off the lid. ‘Heeeeve….’
I thought I really would heave. The stench was awesome.
‘OK,’ she said. ‘Spade. Quick, quick, where’s your spade?’
‘I left it indoors.’
‘You did what? Are you out of your mind?’ said Mum in an awful whisper. She clutched her hair. Then she raised her fists to the sky, as if cursing God for inflicting me on her.
So I started to wave my arms about too, cause Mum always likes my gibbon. You know gibbons? Of course you do. Mum loves ’em on telly, when we had a telly, they go capering round with their arms in the air. So I’m like, ‘Oot, oot,’ sort of waltzing around, with my hands up over my head like this.
So my Mum stopped shaking her fists and laughed, and she started to go Oot! Oot! as well cause she already had her hands in the air. We danced round the hole and stomped our feet. It splashed a bit, but we didn’t mind; we both had boiler suits on.
But as we danced, there was suddenly this light. I know I’d been hearing this aircraft noise, like a chopper or whatever was overhead. I guess I assumed it was the police hunting some poor sod through the streets, like you see on telly.
So this light shone down, really bright and intense, straight down, a spotlight. It lit us right up. Then of course it passed on, and we picked up our bin and ran back in for the spade.
‘The coal shovel,’ Mum said, ‘hang on, I’ll give you a hand.’ The coal shovel’s in here by the fire. We came in, without switching the light on, and Mum grabbed the shovel and we started back out.
Then we heard the landlord’s back door open and close.
We watched from this window. They both had torches, the landlord and his wife. They’re called Susan and Barry. We didn’t even know them. Mum had met Barry just once or twice.
So Susan and Barry stopped under our window and pointed their torches across at the hole. I wondered why they didn’t run over and look: you could see there was something, a bloody big pile of dirt.
‘Are they gone?’ said Susan. ‘Where’s the canister? Why did they go?’
‘Can’t see,’ said Barry.
Susan swung the beam of her torch, picking out the trees at the back. ‘I can’t feel them now. Oh Baz, they were beautiful and they’re gone.’
‘I’m going to look,’ said Barry. He stepped onto the grass, but she grabbed his arm. ‘It’s OK,’ Barry said, ‘they won’t harm us,’ and he walked over slowly, with his torch on the hole. So Susan went with him. She kept hold of his arm all the way.
They shone their lights down into the hole; they stood like that for a long time, arm in arm. At last Susan spoke, and I could hear her cause at that time this window didn’t totally close. It was chilly. We’ve fixed it. ‘Dear God,’ she said. ‘Dear God. It’s finally come.’
‘That light,’ said Barry, ‘that sound. I knew….’
‘I always knew,’ said Susan, ‘I knew they’d be beautiful. I knew they’d come.’
‘But what’s this?’ said Barry. ‘What is it? It’s nothing like them.’
‘It’s the next instar – the next stage…. or it could be a sacred object. We have so much to learn.’
‘I must say,’ said Barry, ‘I wasn’t expecting the smell.’
‘It’s not of our world, Baz. Who knows what their world is like?’
They gazed some more, and then Susan said, ‘Oh, Baz…. Malcolm and Beryl. This will mean so much to them. Let’s go and ring.’
‘Let’s just go,’ said Barry. ‘Let’s go pick ’em up! To hell with the phone.’
When their car drove off we legged it outside and across the grass. I swung my spade, then paused to look in the hole: bad move. The smell was awful and I couldn’t see in. ‘Keep grinnin old buddy,’ I said anyway as I tossed in the first scoop of dirt.
Mum shovelled like a lunatic. I could barely get in edgewise, she was so keen.
When we’d filled it in I put back my turf so the grass would be just like it had been. I made sure it was level and pressed it down – gently but firmly, as people say. It fitted together quite well, all things considered.
We were inside with the kettle on when we heard the car coming back. We switched off our light and made our tea in the dark.
Barry parked with his headlamps pointing at where the hole had been. He and Susan and two friends got out and no one spoke for a minute.
‘So,’ said the bloke who must’ve been Malcolm. ‘May we look?’
And they did look. They went over and looked. Me and my Mum watched out the window: they looked all around, all through those shrubs and up into the trees as well. Then they knelt down on top of the hole, patting and stroking the earth.
Eventually they all stood up, and walked back here to the car. Barry reached in and put the headlamps off.
‘They were beautiful,’ said Susan to Beryl or whoever it was, ‘so graceful, and they danced like this….’
‘Malcolm. Drink?’ said Barry.
‘Absolutely,’ said Malcolm. ‘To absent friends.’
As they turned to go in, Susan waved at the sky. ‘You never can tell,’ she said.
‘Time for bed, young man,’ said my Mum.
‘Our landlord’s a nutter.’
‘I’m glad that you’re glad, Mum.’
‘I’m glad I’m so graceful. So beautiful….’
‘They obviously meant me,’ I said. ‘Oot oot?’