Ordinary Clouds

Ruskin Smith is from Hull. He now lives in Lancaster with his partner and their two young daughters. He looks after the kids full-time, and works at night - a journal, memoir fragments, personal essay, short fiction. He was published in thi wurd issue 3 and got the MLitt with Distinction from Glasgow Uni in 2018. t: @ruskin_smith

It was meant to be a demo, or a counter-demo possibly, but there was hardly anybody here. Lance hung back from a distance watching. Maybe this was just a meeting-up beforehand. Anyway the park looked nice with all the grass covered in snow. He kept his hands inside his pockets and stood against a tree but there wasn’t any wind to shelter from, it was just cold, the air. He would get a decent jacket soon, when he was sorted. But these shoes he had on, they were newish ones already, desert boots, and all the toes were getting wet.

A few were turning up but no sign of his Jase. Three youngish blokes out of the mosque had a big silver teapot on the go, going round with paper cups and trays of something, sweets. A couple of cop vans had parked up now, and two police were putting cones across the road. A bloke was talking to them with a unicycle resting on his shoulder, making gestures with his hand along the road then at the footpath which was icier. The coppers said something and laughed at him. He sort of joined in with the laugh and turned around.

Lance could get some of the tea. Why not. Of course, of course, the guy who had the teapot went. It is for everybody, please. It wasn’t tea though, it was boiling water but with leaves in it chopped up. You had to sip it slow or else you burnt the inside of your mouth but it was nice, the taste. It tasted fresh, like mints.

There was this lass he sort of knew. She was behind a fold-up table spreading leaflets out. He recognised her and he turned away to face the trees. Always these different people from the past, it was just mad. It had been mad. He kept his back to everybody, looking at the snow. A dog walker was stomping through and spoiling it all. He turned around to glance again. She had been working nights in Jackson’s garage just across from where he used to live. It must have been three years ago. More actually. She had smiled at him a few times when he had gone to get a pint of milk or rizla late at night. And he had asked her out one time. She was behind the screen. She hadn’t heard him properly. She asked him to repeat it nearer to the microphone. All these daft little things.

Maybe he would get off home. There was a crowd of people now. But where was Jase? Typical he hadn’t turned up in the end. His texts had said about a load of BNP coming from Leeds by coach, and everybody needs to show their face and push the fuckers back. But this was dead. It looked like half of them were pensioners and stood there with their eyes closed praying, Quakers was it. Plus his toes were getting saturated now. But then his room, a picture of it in his head, the bed plus shower bit, his armchair sagging sideways near the fridge, and fuck-all there to do but think and burn electric up and being forced to listen to the slamming doors and shouting from the downstairs rooms.

He had no credit on his phone or else he would have rang the cunt direct. It was that kind of mood he got in sometimes. He had shrapnel though, and knew a phone box on the other side, nearer the gates.

Funny how the door was just the same, heavy as fuck, taking both hands to rive it open, and the way it stunk inside, identical. His heart was banging in his neck a bit. How long had it been exactly since they’d spoke? No point dredging it up. He wasn’t great with timescales in any case. A while though. It went to answerphone: Hey Jazzman here, I’m sorry but… Lance banged the phone down. He had used a full pound coin on that. But he needed time to think about it, what to say.

That Jazzman stuff had always got on Lance’s nerves. Plenty of people get a nickname, that was fair enough. But it was something else, to do with the way Jase had dreamt it up himself, and how it had caught on, with all his club nights and the flyers, DJ nights, and how over the years people kept coming up to Lance to shake his hand and call him Jazzman’s brother like they knew about his family when they knew fuck-all. It was to do with that, and other stuff beforehand too, some other reasons, different things. He couldn’t be arsed to think about it now. He was on his way back. He was walking back across the snow to everybody. He was nearly there. He would go up to the table. He would say hello. Hiya. It would be no big deal. He would pick a leaflet up and read it right in front of her, the information on it. It was stupid anyway, all stupid thoughts, remembering.

Lance was nearly there but nobody was at the table, only leaflets weighted down with stones. A man was talking through a megaphone and there were coppers gathering behind him on the road. Lance heard a voice behind his shoulder go Get in! It sounded like his Jase. Get in! It was him, running over with some others, pointing with his finger in the air, Get in! and Lance had turned to nod at him, but Jase had just jogged by. It was deliberate as fuck. They’d seen each other definitely, Jase had blanked him eye-to-eye, and Lance had burst out laughing, at the weirdness of it and at Jase’s head, his orange bobble hat. It had to be a joke, the hat, but Jase was slapping hands and talking to the unicycle bloke and others, giving hugs and getting hugs and nobody had bat an eyelid at the massive orange bobble bouncing round.

Somebody bumped into his ribs on purpose. It was one of them who had ran in with Jase, an older bloke, quite small but handy looking, in his fifties probably. He had his hair all slicked back like a teddy-boy. What was his name? It had an s in it. Lance couldn’t think. The way he shook your hand, he squeezed it up against his leather coat and looked at you up close. He had some nice cologne on and his teeth were in good shape and straight. Now he was holding on to Lance’s elbow going Are you back in town then, are you sorted out for work? Are you up for it if this gets tasty later yeah? He might have been a Manc, the way he said it, solidaritteh, his thumb up in the air, Anyway it’s good to see some fucking solidaritteh. Hey Jazzman look, he turned around and raised his voice, your Lance, your Lance is here, and frowned when Jase ignored him. Oi look it’s Lance, he shouted out again.

Jase took his hat off and came over staring at the grass. Heard you were back, he said, still looking down. Lance nodded, Yeah. The teddy-boy just raised his eyebrows and said Well I’ll leave you lovebirds to it anyway, and went to near the megaphone guy and the coppers on the road, and stood up on his tiptoes looking left and right.

Your hair’s grown anyway, was all that Lance could think of.

Yeah it does that, Jase said straight away. He was rolling a cig. Wouldn’t have expected you to turn up here.

Didn’t even know about it till I got your texts.

Texts this morning are you on about?

This morning yeah or last night was it yeah.

Oh right I must have put your number in the group by accident. Was he quiet thinking about something else or was he dragging on his fag? Well see you later anyway, he said, after a bit, and walked away. So that was it then, that was it.

The teddy-boy from Manchester came back and stood in front of Lance with Facebook on his phone, scrolling up and down and reading comments really close. Three or four others came and stood around. Their heads were bowed and they were in a sort of circle standing as if Lance was part of it. Looks like they’re in the Bull, one of them said. Where’s it say that? One of them pointed, Look. Bull Inn. He looked around and then at Lance.

Where’s Jazzman gone? Lance shrugged.

If you see him tell him we have gone to Bull to suss it out.

Lance said Okay. As if he gave a fuck.

The sky had blue between the clouds now, and the blue bits made the edges of the clouds look very bright and sharp. Maybe they were ordinary clouds but there was something different if you looked. He noticed certain things like that sometimes. His thoughts were like that, they could be like that, sometimes it happened, he could focus, focus on a situation, he was able to. He could go back. He could sit in his chair on his own, it was an option that he had. It was a case of fix your mind on something positive or get a list of things, the curtain pole for instance.

His fucking shoes man, they had no grip whatsoever on the ice. The lass he knew was standing on the grass holding a clipboard in her hand. He was walking past her anyway. Do you want to sign this? she said. Did she recognise him even? How time goes by and things get mixed together in your head it’s fucking mental man. He couldn’t think of his address. He knew exactly where he lived but was it 569 or 596 it didn’t matter surely. It was different floors and rooms and his was number 12.

Your email is fine, she said. Honestly your email is fine.

Jase was back and had a football. He was keeping it up in the air. Lance turned around to watch. Maybe there would be a game, some of the young lads out the mosque. The ball span up to Lance. He kicked it back, they kicked it back and forwards for a bit then headers, swapping feet etc. They used to do this all the time as kids, they did it fucking hours in the street. Lance had to lunge to trap the ball but it slid out from underneath his sole. He prodded it to Jase but Jase had turned around to say something to the lass with the clipboard. He was pointing to his thigh and squeezing it and putting on a limp and she was laughing. Lance almost shouted Jase, Hey Jase, by accident, but stopped himself. If he ever shouted Jazz that would be fine, but Jase was out the question. What a fucking carry on.

He was off home. He started walking now. There was a copper in the middle of the path and when he went to move around, she put her hand up with her glove and fingers spread out near his heart. He must have been unsteady on his feet and she was being helpful. I’m alright, he went, thanks though.

Her fingers never moved, Stay where you are please sir. She touched her radio with one hand. Stay where you are sir, she said again.

I’m on my way home though, he said, and made a little noise like Huh, and looked around.

I’m going home. He pointed to the far end of the park, the pond.

Nobody can leave the area until we know it’s safe.

How can you stop me though?

Just keep your voice down sir and step back please. There were coppers either side of her and standing in a semi-circle in the snow surrounding all the crowd.

How can you stop me though, he went. I’m not involved in this, I’m walking through the park, I’m going home.

There’s a risk of disorder and if you try to leave I will arrest you.

Eh what for though?

For assault.

None of the police beside her turned their heads or looked towards him half an inch, just standing there like statues and he looked up at the sky and groaned, Fucking hell’s sake, and turned around. The unicycle guy was watching. Others were as well, but not getting involved. Now Jase was walking up. He said something to Lance, Lance didn’t hear him properly. Jase grabbed his arm. Lance pulled his arm away. No don’t, Jase said.

How can you say that in advance? He was moving closer to the police again. I’ve not touched anybody. How?

Her radio was crackling. The other coppers were shifting around.

Jase stood in front of Lance. Come on, he said, come on. Sit down.

She was on about assault. She was gonna charge me with assault.

I know I heard. Sit down.

Lance made a groaning noise and dropped under a tree between the roots and leant his back against the trunk. His arms and legs were shaking now. His shoulders were as well. Jase had been stood over him but now he had sat down and got his packet of tobacco out. Want one of these? he said. Fucking assault, Lance said. His head had dropped, his face was hid between his arms. A line of coppers were in front of them, not moving, tiny dots of snow against the darkness of their coats. Want one of these? Jase said. Come on. ●