Facing Sides: MA Publishing Module
By Jake Williams-Hirst
Jack Kelly and Dushane Flack were born on facing sides of a blind alley. Their mothers were kindred spirits in the way that new mothers often are, brought together by sleepless nights and the shared fear that they were going to be bad parents. Jack and Dunshane were side by side before they could stand.
On the football pitches of Stonnall juniors Dushane played as a 9 and Jack a play-making 10. Jack fluffed forward passes if Dushane was put on the bench whilst Dushane’s first touch was 50p-footed if Jack was benched. Parents of the other players complained about the boys’ blatant disregard for fair play and sportsmanship but the manager, who was still rueing the shortcomings of his own playing career, preferred winning to healthy team spirit and Jack and Dushane became the first names on the team sheet.
In the few after school hours that Stonnall Juniors did not dictate, the boys attended a Scout group. On the third week, ‘Knot Night’, Dushane minded the door to the storeroom as Jack emptied a 400g box of gummy crocodiles and five spools of Hubba Bubba into his rucksack. The boys were accused of pilfering the next week, ‘Knot Night part 2’, by the troop leader, a chubby ginger man who, if he had yet known the word, Jack would have accused of being a nonce. Although there was no concrete evidence the boys were summarily kicked out of the Scout group without a badge to their names. Dushane would often watch the door for Jack.
With more extracurricular hours available the boys found mischief. No houses were safe from a knock-a-door-run but the boys took the most pride in taking the biggest prizes, far from the thin terraces of their dead end- the posh homes. Knocking on the thickest doors, escaping down the longest drives and evading the angriest hounds. These protective wrappings of wealth would not stop the boys from extracting their fun. At the end of a particularly hot streak of increasingly daring feats, Dushane was caught, gripped by the hood of his jumper by a repeat victim who had taken to hiding behind his front door and waiting for that first, hard knock. His grip was firm and his barking threats severe. ‘I’ve had enough! Every day you come here, harassing my wife and I. I’ll give you something that will teach you and your little mate to never step foot on this street again-’
Dushane was helpless.
As the man’s spit flecked tirade carried on like it might never end, Jack emerged from his hiding place. At the bottom of the long drive he rose from the wall he was crouched behind, a rock the size of a tennis ball weighed in his palm. He approached. The knocked-on man welcomed the challenge. ‘What do you think you’re going to do with that son?’ He laughed and pointed at Jack until the brave faced boy stopped beside his Jaguar S-type and raised the stone high above his head.
‘Let him go or I’m going to put through every window on this car.’
The man’s expression changed. He stepped forward, dragging Dushane with him. ‘Eh eh eh,’ Jack warned, faking a swing that froze the man in place. Reluctantly the hand that gripped the hood opened and Dushane was free. He ran toward Jack who told him to keep going. Jack, who now knew the word, took a few steps back, called the man a nonce, cocked his arm and threw the rock against the back of the Jaguar. It left a fist sized dent in the car and a terrible rage in the owner, but Jack was too fast. Often Jack got Dushane out of the trouble he had encouraged him to get into.
By the time the boys were sixteen Jack had acquired the moniker of Jack-the-Lad. Given to him by one of the few teachers that had affection for him. What the nickname lacked in originality it made up for in exactness- and it stuck.
Dushane on the other hand was slowly but surely coming to peace with the knowledge that he was not going to blossom into the kind of precocious young man that Jack had so easily slipped into being- the kind that flirted with old ladies, knew everybody and forced them all to have an opinion on him. He was instead quiet and self-assured in a way that few teenage boys are- a kind boy that you could take home to your mum if only he wasn’t knocking around with Jack-the-Lad all the time.
Whilst on his paper round, Dushane noticed that a woman who lived a few streets over always left her car unlocked, and once Jack had extracted the information out of his friend, the machination factory of his mind was set to work. Dushane told Jack he would be no part of it as he was in the costly process of learning to drive and could not afford a ban; but the die of Jack’s designs had already been cast. The bass he felt in his heart and the tingle in his palms when he had decided to do something that he knew he shouldn’t. The promise of the word in his mouth: joyride. He spent that night and the next morning on the internet learning how to hotwire a 1997 Honda Accord. When Dushane heard the jerking thrum of an over-revved, first gear crawl outside his bedroom window at 3am he knew that his words had fallen upon ears that did not want to hear. The harsh buzzing of his phone vibrating against his bedside table was only the stable-hand shouting at the horse that had already bolted.
‘You said you wouldn’t,’ said Dushane into the phone.
‘No. You said you wouldn’t,’ replied Jack.
Dushane pinched the bridge of his nose and wondered what had possessed him to tell Jack about the permanently unlocked car.
‘Dushane! Dushane! Dushane!’ Dushane heard Jack’s increasingly small voice repeat as he took his phone away from his ear.
‘It kills me to do this to you but I need a teacher,’ said Jack. Mischief was not the same without someone to share it with. Without a pair of eyes looking back into your own with fear and adrenaline in them.
‘Then don’t drive.’
‘Oh I’m driving. That is non-negotiable.’
After two minutes of denial and three of bargaining Dushane agreed to an hour of driving upon the conditions of no speeding and putting the car back in the shape it had been found in. Easy on the gas was the mantra of the proceeding hour but Dushane was a better driver than he was a teacher and Jack did all his breaking halfway across a mini roundabout and drove the Honda Accord through a garden wall, across a beautifully manicured rose bush and onto the front lawn of a man who, according to his wife, was married to that fucking mower.
Jack, pale faced, turned to Dushane. ‘Run.’ And he did. Out of the car, over the collapsed wall and into the night. But Jack stayed. The owner of the lawn burst out of his front door a moment later, his dressing gown taking the shape of a great cape as he charged toward the Honda Accord.
At Walsall Magistrates court Jack was sentenced to a seven year driving ban and 70 hours of community service. The judge told him that he only avoided jail time because the owner of the Honda Accord refused to press charges as she didn’t trust the police, which was strange since she trusted the entire neighbourhood with a perpetually unlocked car. Two months later, Dushane passed his driving test and as a late seventeenth birthday present his myopic grandma gave him her car as she could no longer identify the difference between amber and red. Dushane drove Jack to his remaining community service hours, which he felt was a small price to pay for retaining his access to the freedom of the road. However Jack took good account of his sacrifice and totalled Dushane’s obligation at a greater price than taxi services.
Standing at his kitchen counter on a sunday morning, stirring milk into his tea, waiting for the call he had been told was coming, Dushane readied himself to lie.
‘Dushane,’ Louise demanded when he picked up the phone. ‘Jack says he was with you last night?’ The indirectness of her accusation was a small acknowledgment of Dushane’s reticence to lie- of his known honesty and forthrightness.
‘Well then explain to me why I’m hearing that he got in a taxi with some little slapper after sucking on her neck all night and then when I went to his this morning his mum told me that he hadn’t been home?’
‘I can’t explain it. Maybe somebody thinks I’m a little slapper. I don’t remember the end of the night but I woke up with Jack, top to tail, in my bed,’ Dushane repeated the line he had memorised, still stirring the milk that had long disappeared into his tea. ‘I don’t have any love bites though.’ Jack knew how much he didn’t want to lie and he knew Louise knew too. He depended on it. She took Dushane’s word and filled in the gaps and sanded down the edges of the story herself, making half a tale a whole.
‘Don’t ask me to do that again,’ Dushane said.
‘Cross my heart,’ Jack smiled.
Jack and Dushane got invited to most parties and Jack mostly stayed later than Dushane. The Jack-the-Lad brand had pivoted into the arena of bassline/two-step garage DJ-ing with the launch of DJ Jack-the-Lad. His bookings (unpaid Dushane would add), were plentiful on account of his flexibility. As he would say, he’d play a bit of anything if the moment called for it, and ABBA’s ‘Voulez-Vous’ was no stranger to the inside of his CDJ.
2017 had brought with it a cascade of 18th birthdays for Jack and Dushane’s turn of the millenia born cohort, and the year had saved the best until last. Sharon Pinder, daughter of scaffolding magnate Sean Pinder, lived in the largest home for miles around. Her birthday party promised a scale and spectacle the likes of which had not been seen in the local area since Simon Pinder’s legendary 18th of 2011. Jack had done the legwork of two men to ensure that he and Dushane got invitations. Whilst he had no qualms with gate crashing, Dushane’s enthusiasm for events like these had waned in recent times and it was hard enough work getting him to go even if you didn’t have to scale the two-metre wall that boarded the Pinder’s garden.
Friday night. Ascending the long drive, like the ones they used to sneak up and run down, Jack looked at Dushane. ‘Oh come on, what're you so glum for?’
‘You look like you’re going to a funeral.’
‘Parties are hard work.’
‘No. Getting invitations to this party was hard work so you’re going to enjoy it. Listen,’ Jack crooned, ‘this is the first night of the rest of our lives. In a few months we’ll have finished college and then the world is our oyster. Me and you bro. This is the start.’
‘Whatever you say,’ Dushane said, his voice becoming obscured by the noise of the party getting closer.
The night rolled. From the outskirts Dushane watched the party. DJ Jack-the-Lad shrouded in more attention, draped in more and more outrageous attire, obscured by more and more outstretched arms and reaching hands, at the heart of this crucible of loud voices and spilt drinks. Dushane finished his last can of Stella, waved at Jack who did not see, and left the conversation that someone was shouting into his ear.
Saturday morning. Dushane woke up then made and ate breakfast. He went to the gym for an hour and then drove to work. He stacked shelves, smiled at customers and his fault-finding supervisor, and looked forward to the day he could hand in his notice. When he finished his shift he bought the ingredients for dinner and drove home. An hour later Jack called.
‘Don’t tell me you’ve only just woken up,’ Dushane laughed, his phone pinched between his ear and his shoulder as he chopped an onion.
‘Can you come over please.’
‘I’m in the middle of making dinner and my mum’s on the night shift. Come here.’
‘I can’t.’ Jack sounded afraid.
‘Are you okay?’
‘Just come over please.’
Dushane put down the knife, turned off the boiling pot and told his little sister that he would be back soon. ‘Don’t open the door to anyone whilst I’m gone.’
‘You can have a yoghurt if you don’t tell mum I let you.’ Dushane locked the door behind him and crossed the street. He knocked on the door and Jack’s mum answered. ‘Hi Julie, is Jack okay?’
‘He’s asleep as far as I know, love.’ Julie Kelly calmly moved aside and gestured up the stairs to Jack’s room. She’d long stopped panicking whenever someone came to her door asking about her son.
When Dushane reached the top of the stairs Jack was waiting for him. ‘Close the door.’ Despite his pale face and unstyled hair, Dushane could tell that Jack hadn’t just woken up; his eyes were alert and his hands nestled as if trying to find a semblance of comfort within each other.
‘What happened?’ Dushane said. Jack paced, his hands coiling. ‘Sit down!’
Jack sat at the edge of his bed like a child in over his head and ready to listen to whatever a grown up told him.
‘What happened?’ Dushane repeated.
Something in Jack tipped and the words tumbled out of him. ‘We were at the party and it was getting late, everyone was hammered. That Lucy girl was all over me, you know the one from Sharon’s lot? She was all over me. We were dancing and that, her hands all over me, touching me. She was saying “give me some of what you’re on”, “go on give me some” and she kept going on and on so I gave her a few keys or whatever. Then we’re in the garden and we go right to the bottom where they’ve got that big empty barn and we’re shagging. Then all of a sudden she’s shouting, like “get off me!” proper screaming,’ Jack’s voice is as low as a whisper. ‘So I got off her straight away and I’m saying sorry and I don’t know what's happening and I’ve sobered up straight away. Then her friends come running down the garden like “what’ve you done to her” and Lucy is rolling around on the floor not making sense. And then one of them says “you’ve spiked her”. I didn’t know what to do so I ran. And now I’m getting texts off people saying that she’s gone to the police and told them that I raped her.’ Jack's hands parted and he buried his face in them.
‘What did you give her, Jack?’
‘Just a bit of coke and K,’ Jack said, crying now.
‘Was she too drunk?’
‘I don’t know do I? I was mashed too. She’s a slag anyway. She goes with everyone.’
‘If she’s such a slag why is it only you she’s saying raped her?’ Dushane grabbed Jack’s hands and pulled them away from his face.
‘I don’t fucking know Dushane. I just need you to help me.’
‘How am I going to do that?’
‘Tell the police that you saw us and that it looked consensual. That it was a misunderstanding.’
Dushane recoiled from his friend and moved away from the bed toward the door. ‘No. No. No. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see. I don’t know.’
‘Please Dushane! Her mates weren’t there either but they’ll be saying they saw something. No one will know that you weren't there, everyone was fucked. If you don’t do this they’ll lock me up. I’ve got previous with the stolen car. The blame that I took for you! This is supposed to be the start of my life. Our life! I can’t go to jail, Dushane. I am begging you.’
Dushane’s memory of the next day is a smudge in time. As if someone had pressed their thumb into his life and turned it, again and again.
A grey room with walls that looked like dull polystyrene. Words that weren’t his coming out his mouth.
She looked like she was having fun until suddenly.
Everyone was too drunk to know what was going on.
She got that off somebody else I think.
A policeman’s head nodding routinely. His eyebrows rising up and coming down on the right beats. An affirmative hum and a knowing tut. Turning to his colleague and saying, ‘it sounds like a case of buyer's regret.’
The feeling in Dushane’s stomach as he left the room. His head over a toilet. The seat covered in somebody else's urine.
Jack waiting nervously by the bus stop down the road. ‘What did they say?’ Dushane pushing past him, wanting to get away. Changing his mind. Turning around. Jack splayed out on the asphalt, clutching his nose. Blood on his hands and his t-shirt and the pavement.
Dushane’s mum asking what was wrong. Slamming his door closed. Shutting his eyes.
Lucy was not in college the next week or the week after that but Jack was. It appeared that he wasn’t going to go to prison. Dushane didn’t speak to him and Jack didn’t try to speak to Dushane. He looked over occasionally, the area around his eyes still purple and blue. Dushane did not look back. He looked down at his work, did his exams and finished college for good. He handed in his notice at the supermarket, packed his belongings into his car, hugged his family and left the blind alley without turning to look at the other side.
A year later, in another city, scrolling through his phone over his lunch, Dushane saw a sponsored advertisement for DJ Jack-the-Lad- weddings, parties and more. The biography read, “Don’t kiss the sky, give it a love bite”.
When he went to sleep that night, Dushane dreamt that he was floating in an empty expanse of dark water. He was afraid. The stillness broke with a surge in the depths beneath him and Dushane took a deep breath and held it. The water swelled and the surface tension took the shape of a giant face before Jack, the size of a tower, breached out of the surf. The crevices of his features releasing gallons of inky liquid as he rose toward the sky. A sound like sea and groaning metal and great weight filling the emptiness. Waves crashed around Dushane and the water pulled at him, forcing him down and back up again. Almost fully extended now, Jack’s mouth reached up to the sky and latched on to something incorporeal and he began to suck. His dull eyes rolling back with the alien pleasure. His throat rising and falling with the effort. Around his open lips the sky grew black and purple and mottled, a bruise in the atmosphere. When Jack finally stopped, having had his fill, he pulled away and where he had left it there was a hole in the sky with only a black void behind it.