July 2016 Winner

Halloween Cider

Kevin Doyle

I am hidden in the silent dark behind fresh smelling peppermint leafy bushes on an ice shattering cold Halloween night. The air tastes crisp and the painful cold of the night sticks pins through my black jacket making my teeth clatter and my cool body shiver. The fireworks shooting in the distance mix together the loud colours red and orange and explode in the sky, the bright colours disappearing very quickly as the night returns to its quiet dark self. The smoke left behind I can imagine smells like Grandma’s fire when she throws in the extra coal and makes the room insufferably hot. We could do with Grandma’s warmth right about now. I can see the last of the children being brought around by their proud parents in the estate and they will be full with different flavoured sweets tonight, the witches and ghosts as well.

Looking down at our Tesco bag for life full with eighteen cans of cider, the three of us open up our first can. My friends Tom and David accompany me on this night. I have been anticipating the clink and gush and the lingering apple smell all week, dreaming about this moment mostly during Mr Walsh’s double Geography on Wednesday afternoon. The reality is the alcohol smells like bleach and tastes like Mam’s fairy liquid lemon. I gulp another swig out of mine. I’m sorry but I have to wince at the light red coloured unpleasant sensation of poison. The other two are acting like they are supping on a can of fizzy pop. I know they are feeling my pain but are hiding it better. Finishing our first can, the little liquid metal froth scum at the end of the tin cylinder is flicked onto the moist grass that I will be playing on tomorrow in my under-14 league game. We all squeeze our first can together, crushing them and make a manly grunt sound. I’m already on the phone and Rock ‘n’ Roll Kid plays out with us all humming the words to ourselves. It may be ancient and I wasn’t even born when it was sung at Eurovision 1994 but it gets the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. The can is having its desired effect. I get a text. I don’t believe it. Sarah, the hottest girl in the school next to us is joining us with her two mates. Time for another tin.

Earlier before meeting in the dark bushes, after my shower, I sprinted to my room to make sure nobody in my family saw all that hairy brown fluff growing under my armpits, which is so embarrassing. I tried to shave it off with my sister’s leg razor, but I made it uneven, raw red and unnecessary pimples developed straight after the insane shave. Drying myself in my room, my chin was sore as I dabbed the towel on it. I looked in the mirror and it was full of little spots, some witch like with green goo visible just in time for Halloween and the others with rice pudding texture deep under my skin impossible to burst. My voice is irritating me these days as well. I sound like a broken musical instrument, properly a saxophone. I want to talk to Dad about all these issues but he’s never in the house, ever. He plays golf a lot with his friend Olivia, who looks like a porn star by the way. I overheard Granny say she shouldn’t be hanging around with married men. She must be a few years younger than Dad as well. I’m surprised Mam allows him to hang with her, considering I am starting to know what men think about daily.

We are apes that have no control, I’m convinced of it. Where’s the evidence? My physical body for one. And two, my pecker. I remember when I used to use it just to pee. There’s never a perfect time to tell Mam about how I feel. She hides her glass of Budweiser behind the toaster when Dad isn’t in the house. She thinks I can’t see it. I never say anything to her because I know it makes her feel enlightened. Maybe I should suggest that the three of them could do things together? Maybe Mam could take up golf? Maybe.

Sarah has arrived and she doesn’t look anything like the stunner I see on my way to school. Her eyes are rolling into the back of her head and the violent smell of vodka off her is deplorable, even vile. Her mascara is smudged and is running down her cheek like the aftermath of mud hitting a window on a rainy day. She is swaying from side to side, her legs just about holding her up. Her words do not make any sense. Put me in central Beijing now and we are at the same level of understanding. It’s a scientific fact, according to my sister, one girl in a group always cries on a night out when drink is involved. I officially don’t fancy Sarah anymore.

The alcohol is really soaking into my blood now and pumping through my apple veins. I’m very vocal and confident now expressing my opinions about people who annoy me in school and general blasphemy splutters from my vocal chords and everything is becoming double. I’ve hidden my feelings about Dad but they are rising to the surface. The picture I’ve hidden in my subconscious has come out of its hiding place and this new character controlled by alcohol is alive inside, unfortunately outside as well. The picture of me peeking out my living room behind my curtain, the cloth hurting my eyelids as I look through the white greasy fabric and see Dad kiss Olivia full on the lips for only a few seconds as they sit in her BMW car, just up from the house, won’t disappear. He swings the golf clubs around his back like nothing has happened and puts on his family act as he enters through the door. The smell of fear always stenches out the house when we hear the crunch of the key in the lock and Mam, my sister and I become shook still, hoping we don’t say anything out of turn to annoy him. I can hear Mam fling her beer into the sink, running the tap at the top level to let the addiction evidence flow down the sink and finally open up the third drawer in the kitchen to pop her Polo mints into her mouth and crunch the sugar minted glucose syrup circles to hide the smell of her escape.

I don’t like the way Tom is edging with Sarah. She is completely not in control of herself or her surroundings. I see him leading her off away from the group around the corner and I know he is taking advantage of her because she has a naggin of vodka already on board, maybe more. My mother warned me about him before. She said his natural dark skin, perfect combed hair and charm is initially appealing but underneath the mask lies a self-obsessed person and is someone who would step on a lot of toes to get to the top. How Mam can say this about a fourteen year old? I don’t know. That said, with Mam’s sentiments ringing through my ears, I shout at him to come back to the group but he keeps walking. The best thing to do with five and a half cans on me is to crack the last one off Tom’s head, he can’t ignore me then. That’s exactly what I do.

I’m a big fan of MMA so I get into their fighters’ stance. Fists clenched, leading with the left and the right tucked behind. My left foot in charge but my secret is my unknown right, hidden ready to be unleashed at the right time. I charge towards Tom and he catches me solid on my jaw straight away, blood getting spat out and some getting swallowed down my throat. I check my teeth and they are all there, thank goodness. I go for another right hook. I think I’m swinging like a professional but I’d say I look more like a drunk thirteen and a half year old with anger issues who hasn’t thrown a punch or kick since the womb. Tom has me in a headlock now and is squeezing me very tight with one arm and smashing me with the other, my nose in particular getting a right thumping. I hit the floor and lay pretend dead. How the night went like this, I’ll never know? I was just defending a girl who was about to go to the unknown. I can feel bile coming up to the top of my throat and I puke up Mam’s roast dinner and poisoned apples. David is the only person left in the group and he pats my back and reassures me everything is ok and to let it all out.

As I’m walking home alone in the frozen silence, I’m thinking I’m going to get in so much trouble when I get home. My sister is out for the night but Mam and Dad are going to kill me. I’m going to be grounded forever when they see the state that I am in and considering I have a match tomorrow as well, boy they are going to be pissed off. On my way back to my house, I get a text off Tom apologising for the fight and I write back to him it’s ok. Looking at my house, Dad’s car is not there. The house is fully locked up but the alarm isn’t on. As I peek through the window beside the front door, I notice the living room light is on. Mam is still up. After three attempts, I finally open my front door and lock it gently behind me. I walk up the hall, knowing my life will change now when I get caught with my face looking like a boxer in round 12 and the smell of alcohol off me will be detected by the poor cover up of chewing gum. I open the hall door and Mam is sitting at the kitchen table on a chair, her forehead flat on the table, two arms collapsed in front of her. Three bottles of wine are in the bin. I take my mother in my arms and she is like a rag doll. She reminds me of a baby, her head bouncing back and forth without control. I leave her on her bed, fully clothed. Her dignity, still intact. I kiss her on her cheek and I retire to my bedroom. I tuck into my bed holding my face. I hear the pounding of rain on the gutter outside my room and the lightning flash is seen in the distance and the bang of thunder’s rumble is on the way. I pray to God my game is called off tomorrow.