There’s a storm outside, and the gap between crack and thunder,
Crack and thunder, is closing in, is closing in
The rain floods gutters and makes a great sound on concrete
On a flat roof, there’s a boy leaning against the wall of rain
Aerial held high, calling, “Come on thunder, come on thunder.”
“He’s on the roof again, isn’t he?”
“In his usual place,” she says.
Her fingers, coarse and flicked with ink, turn the circle of the lighter and his face is illuminated. Her eyes look particularly green today.
The other girl watches the smoke and takes a sip of her drink. She knows the girl with the smoke is drinking stolen beer. Stolen beer from a stranger’s fridge. And the girl, the other girl, knows that there’s one left.
The girl with the smoke doesn’t know this place. She wonders if it’s obvious to other people. She doesn’t think so.
But it is.
Everyone knows she’s only there because of the boy on the flat roof. Most of the people are only here because of the boy on the flat roof.
But, unlike the girl with the smoke, everyone else knows everyone else.
The only link the girl with the smoke has is currently on the flat roof, white t-shirt completely see-through, hair dripping and bellowing at the moon behind the cloud.
The girl with the smoke feels like she knows this building but her knock off Docs have never trodden these floors. It’s above a bar that she’s never been to, in an area she never dared to go. But she’d seen the photos. Developed and then scanned from a parent’s scanner and uploaded and tagged on Facebook. Lit with the tinge of past that Instagram filters only wished they could portray.
She’s seen it so many times. She’d heard the stories. The foundations of Him. The people here. The memories that he carved here. The photos of him, flushed faced, sometimes dangerously pale, eyes closed, eyes wide, mouth screaming: pain vs laughter.
Come, he said. It’ll be fun. One last time. One.last.time. Our swan song.
“Swan song,” the girl stated as she surrounded herself with smoke once more. A protection. “That seems so final.”
The boy raised an eyebrow. “It doesn’t have to be. Let’s fill their heads with wild ideas.”
The girl with the smoke scowled. “Their heads are already filled with wild ideas.”
“Let’s make them wilder,” he saw her doubts. “The wildest.”
So she had agreed.
And now she is in a flat in South London, trying to forget about the fact that the last tube to civilisation (what. he’d say. with no punctuation) is going to leave in twelve minutes. It’s a fourteen minute walk to the tube station.
Should she risk it?
She breathes out.
This whole thing is a risk. An unknown. A dare. And she’ll never say no to a dare.
“How do you know him?” the other girl asks. She’s making polite conversation with the outsider. Maybe the girl with the smoke looks lonely. Maybe she looks tragic. Maybe she looks lost. Maybe she looks interesting, quirky, kooky, manic. Maybe she looks a dream.
The girl with the smoke wonders if she could ever be described in that way.
“Love,” the girl says, breathing out smoke. She imagines how it would feel to be a dragon. A dragon girl.
“You two are in love?” the other girl asks.
“We’re best friends.”
“So that’s a no then?”
“No,” the girl with the smoke says. “That’s a yes.”
“How can you be in love with your best friend?”
“How can you not be in love with your best friend?”
The other girl raises an eyebrow.
The girl with the smoke leans back against the kitchen table leg. “Love is just a disease.”
And the boy on the flat roof bends his head back and bellows into the abyss: “A plague for the naive.”
And it’s poetic and it’s raw and it’s stolen. Words from a song they think no one will know so they claim it as their own.
They get away with it.
It’s almost as if they’ve practiced this whole thing.
Maybe they did.
It’s difficult to tell.
“Why does he always end up outside?” the other girl asks. “Everytime he comes round here. It’s the first thing he does. Wait. No. The first thing he does is make himself a drink with whatever’s going and then he kicks of his shoes and climbs through the window.”
“He likes electricity.”
“Even when it’s not a storm?”
“Especially when it’s not a storm.”
The girls sit in silence. The party thunders on around them. The girl with the smoke wonders why he likes this place so much. The people seem OK, drunk and off their tits on everything and nothing, but the flat is a dive.
“How do you know him?” the girl with the smoke asks.
A cloud of smoke escapes her mouth.
“Whose house is this?” she asks when the smoke has cleared.
“Mine,” says the other girl.
The cigarette falters at her lips. There’s a pause.
“Well,” she says. “Thanks for the beer.”
The other girl holds out her hand and says her name. She waits for the girl’s response but it doesn’t come. Just more smoke.
“Maybe I should start locking the window. Which side would he be on?”
“Him,” the other girl says and points at the boy on the flat roof. “Which side of the window would he be on?”
“Where he is right now is exactly where he needs to be. On the edge of the world.”
“I’d like to see him through your eyes. Every one of us,” the other girl says, gesturing around the room. “We all see him differently. Whether it was how he came into our lives or what he did when he decided he was going to stay… for a while, anyway. But…”
“But it’s your version that I’d like to see.”
The girl with the smoke smudges the ash on her finger into her tights. There’s a knock on the window and he’s standing there, his hand against the glass. He’s grinning and he beckons her.
And the party thunders on.
Lads are crying over girlsandslashorboys they’ve loved and they’re dipping pizza crusts into congealed garlic mayonnaise and drunken ladies are singing oh sit down, beer breath yelling the words, and swapping stories of conquests and it’s all girl boy girl boy and everything smudges into one. And the neighbours will complain about the noises above and the footfall on the hardwood floors and the amount of recycling in the corridor the next day. And everyone has their secrets and they all know each other’s although they swear they’ll never tell. They never have so why start now?
He wishes to run away, she wishes to stay, he kissed him four days ago and the message still only has two grey ticks, messed around with gender roles, she hasn’t eaten a proper meal in three days and she’s going to say yes to her question and he only comes when he’s on…
And it’s a trick of the light, a trick of the life, but everyone’s playing along. Because there’s absolutely no other choice.
And the girl with the smoke leans out of the window. The air is thick with clouds but the city lights are blurred but they’re still there and, suddenly, she sees. She sees why the boy on the flat roof comes out here every time he’s at this house.
Because it has the best view of the city. His city. Our city. Their city. The cars below, the toy buses making their routes. And the stories, the feelings, the people and the memories and the dreams, the dreams and the dreams.
And he wants one last look. He wants to absorb the water and let it mingle with his tears, his sweat, his laughter and whatever he’s drinking. And he wants to feel the electricity when it comes, so he can take it with him. And he can transform. .
“Hey babe,” he says and he gives the girl with the smoke a kiss on the cheek. Teeth and stubble and rain, rain, rain. “Having fun?”
His face is close and she swears, sometimes, that when she looks into his eyes she can see his soul. But she knows better. She knows him better. She’s only seeing what he’ll allow her to see. The eyes are the window but he can choose what he shows her.
“Of course,” she says. “Are you?”
He tugs at her ear and winks before turning away, finding his way to the edge of the roof. He holds out his arms, wide. And the rain is still thrashing down. The boy on the roof, his back against the wall of rain, his trainers are sodden and his hair is plastered against his neck. But his eyes are closed and his face is against the rain.
She knows if she could hear his heart right now, it would sound like the ocean.
She hopes he’s a good swimmer.
“Come on thunder, come on thunder,” he mutters under his breath. And he holds up his phone. There are messages on the screen, each from a different person, ever-green bubbles. Fragile and beautiful and waiting to burst.
And with a grin, his thumb finds the power button. He digs his finger into the side. The screen goes black, as black as the sky around him.
The boy on the flat roof closes his eyes.
And he imagines the lightning.
And it lights him up.