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A young boy and drugs

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  1. 1. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarke JULES He did not like to be touched. They pushed too much, so he waited untillast, until all the others had left the classroom. He was always the last one to leave. Jules needed a drink. He needed a coke. If he had not been so thirstythough, he would not have had to walk that way. He would not have had to walkpast the boys. There were four of them standing next to each other in front of thecool drink machine, staring at him, blocking his way. He wanted to turn back, but the double doors had already closed behindhim, so he continued to walk towards them, slowly, not knowing how to escape. Fear attacked him. It pounded inside his temples, a hot stone swinginginside a boxing glove, bashing behind his eyes, muddying up his already muddledbrain. His thin body felt drained of strength. His knees turned soft, and his smallbody shrank, a feeling of sinking down into his large shoes, which held hisextraordinarily big feet. He walked forward a few steps, then stood still, his headdown, looking at his feet, which poked out from under his over length trouserslike the big feet of a wader hesitantly scavenging for food. Panicking, Jules looked for another way out of the narrow passage. Therewas none. He had to walk past the boys. He walked forward, slowly, his eyes fixed down on his embarrassingly bigfeet. His mouth felt dry, his tongue thick and coated. He tried to peel his drygummy tongue away from a dry sensitive palate, then he bit the insides of hischeeks to get some moisture. The blood tasted wet, salty and comforting. He knew what was coming. Butch the bully came walking towards him, slowly. Jules’ downcast eyes fellon Butch’s doc Martins. Black leather. Thick rubber. Mean steel tips. With long, sinewy arms stiff and jumpy inside his school blazer, Jules cameto a complete standstill. Wet with sweat, the nylon lining of his blazer clung to hisforearms, compressing them like vacuum-packed meat inside two airtight tubes.Nervously he wiped a bony palm against his jeans. His hands were trembling. Butch stood still, waiting menacingly. The other boys were quiet. His thickneck bursting out of a tight, round necked t-shirt, Butch stood, looking at Juleswith small, close-set blue eyes. His thick, muscular arms were crossed over a Page 1 of 14
  2. 2. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarkebroad chest. A smear flattened his broad lips over huge, even teeth. ‘Give a man a coke,’ Butch hissed through the smear of a smile stuck onhis lips, which were hardly moving. He stepped forward, forcing himself intoJules’ space, a dart of spite hitting the boy in the face. His cheeks stinging, Jules stepped back. With all his mind he kept his eyesdown on his feet, which had drawn themselves close together in fear. Jules’ heavy glasses started to shift off his nose, riding down on a slipperyslope of sweat as his head sank further down in defeat. His shoulders saggedforward as he let go even before the fight had started. He swallowed to calm thescorching muscles in his throat. They burnt with dread and dehydration and hisbladder started screaming. Butch came right up to Jules and pushed a fresh, wet can of coke onto theboy’s cheek, the tin fizzing invitingly, drops of ice melting down the side. ‘Take it, fool.’ Butch kept his eyes on Jules and saw fear creep up in pinkblotches over Jules’ pale cheeks. A snigger from one of the boys slapped Jules inthe face. He reached for the can. But one of the other boys stepped forward andsnatched it away before he touched it. Then he had to lift his eyes, which caughtButch’s flat face, now only a few inches away. At that moment Jules’ nose gave up and the heavy glasses slid down hissweating nose. Instinctively he reached up to catch them with one hand, while theother hand pushed forward, towards Butch. With bent elbow he tried to makespace between himself and the bully. But his movements were nightmarishly slow. Butch caught his hand easily. ‘Shit!’ Butch shouted, pulling his hand away, shaking it. He moved hidhead up and around in a circle, his eyes following an imaginary arc from his handto the floor as he continued to shake his hand, is if water were falling from hisfingers to the ground. Again, ‘shit!’ he shouted, this time looking at the other boys with a silly,mocking smile, his eyes darting from face to face. He breathed in deeply,extending his chest. His deep, exaggerated in-breath sucked explosive laughterfrom the boys. Page 2 of 14
  3. 3. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarke Jules’ face filled up with blood. And more sweat. ‘He’s bleeding sweating with fear!’ Butch mocked. With an open palm Butch hit Jules on his overloaded backpack, whichmade the frightened boy stumble forward. His frozen legs suddenly thawed into amicrowave of activity as he was propelled forward by the weight of his backpack. He ran. With superhuman focus and every last ounce of strength, he ran, drowningout the jeers, which echoed behind him along the passage. As he ran around thecorner, he saw his hollow cheeks and frightened eyes stare back at him from theglass windows. He ran through the glass-panelled corridor to the double doors onthe other side. Short-sightedly, hurriedly, he bumped himself into, and through,the swing doors, out into the sunlight. By then he knew they were not following him, for he would have heardthem. But he kept running, across the yard, out through the big gates, and acrossthe park, while pressing a fist into his tummy on each in breath to stop the sharpstitch which was paralyzing his insides. § The nightmares became worse after that, so bad that they persisted into hisdays. A confusion of thoughts and voices jumped around in the boy’s head,visions real and imagined, mixing nightmares and mashing up daydreams.Eventually he was unable to tell them apart. Jules stopped going to school. § Constable Dan Cope could easily have seen what was happening on thebridge if he had looked out of the window. The top of the bridge was clearlyvisible from the window where he had been sitting. The velvet curtain kept the inside of the pub to itself over tightly closedwindows. This, despite the fact that it had been a hot day and the August eveningwas sticky and humid. Page 3 of 14
  4. 4. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarke The pub was full and the queue at the bar counter five deep. Dan waitedpatiently. He was in no hurry, for the day had been a long one. A boring Mondayof paperwork and irritable superiors. As soon as he was given his pint, even before he had paid for it, Dan bentdown and sipped thirstily, his thoughts far away. The pub door burst open. ‘Call the cops!’ a man shouted. Dan swung around and saw the manhurrying out of the pub. He left his drink on the counter and rushed out behindthe man. A small crowd had gathered outside the pub. ‘Police, excuse me, out of the way, please,’ Dan said as he forced his waythrough. A slightly overweight woman stood in the centre of the group, with ayoung girl crying in her arms. The girl’s thin body shook as she tried to controlher sobs. ‘It’s ok, sweetheart,’ the woman said. She had both arms around the girl.‘Tell me what’s upsetting you,’ she said, for the girl could not stop crying. Thewoman glanced up over the girl’s head at Dan. ‘Police,’ Dan said, with a questioning frown. ‘The police are here,’ the woman said softly to the girl. This seemed tohave an effect, for the girl’s body stopped shaking and her sobbing subsided into atremulous in-breath. ‘Will you tell the policeman what happened?’ the woman asked softly. Before the girl could answer they heard a loud shout from behind thecrowd, ‘Police here yet?’ A man’s deep voice, coming from under the bridgesomewhere. ‘Will someone please call an ambulance!’ the voice rose with hysteria. Dan turned and ran across the road, down the steps, which led to the bankof the canal under the bridge. As he came to the bottom of the steps, he sawanother girl lying on her back on the narrow canal pathway. Her left elbow wasfolded under her tiny body, her long black hair a mess of congealed blood andmud. A short, stocky man was on his knees by her side, his shabby black coatsoaking up the muddy water in which the girl lay. Page 4 of 14
  5. 5. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarke ‘Police!’ Dan called as he knelt down next to the man, immediatelyreaching out to feel the girl’s pulse. He could not feel anything. ‘How long has she been lying here?’ he asked the man while bendingforward over the girl’s face. He did not hear the man’s reply. With an ear close tothe girl’s mouth, he reached to feel for a pulse in her neck. There was a very faintpulse in her, and, deep down in her throat, he thought he heard a gurgle. ‘She’s still alive,’ he said as he glanced up. By this time two paramedicswere coming running down the steps. Dan did not wait there. He ran back up the steps, back to the pub. Thewoman was still there, outside, holding the first girl by the hand. They were sittingon a small brick wall next to the pub. ‘She did not see how it happened,’ the woman told Dan before he had saida word. The girl sat with her head down, straight blond hair falling over hershoulders. She looked up as Dan came to stand in front of them. She had a pretty,small, pixie face and a pert, freckled nose. ‘What’s your name, love?’ Dan asked. The hazel speckles in her eyes weresparkling with tears. ‘Myra,’ she whispered. ‘Is the other girl under the bridge your friend, Myra?’ She nodded. Freshtears started out of her eyes. She did not blink, but kept her eyes on Dan’s face,while the tears ran freely down her cheeks. She stared at Dan, not moving. ‘Were the two of you together?’ Another nod. ‘Was anyone else there?’ At first the girl shook her head, then she frowned. ‘Did you see anyone?’ Dan prompted. Yes, she nodded. ‘A girl?’ Another shake of the head. ‘A boy,’ she whispered. ‘Do you know him?’ Yes. Another nod. Then she started sobbing again. She bent herselfdouble, dropped her face on her knees which she held tightly together, andsobbed into her hands. ‘It’s ok, don’t worry,’ said Dan. ‘We won’t talk about it now. You go home Page 5 of 14
  6. 6. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarkeand have a rest. I’ll come and see you at home tomorrow, OK?’ She nodded without looking up. ‘I’ll walk you home if you like,’ Dan said, reaching for her arm. She stoodup slowly, trembling against his hand. § ‘I saw the boy there, on the bridge,’ Myra told Dan the next morning. Shelooked much calmer, her long hair tied back in a tidy ponytail. But her thin facewas very pale, her eyes big and round. ‘Do you know the boy’s name?’ ‘I don’t know what his real name is, but I think they call him Jules,’ shesaid. ‘Where was he when your friend fell over the bridge?’ ‘I never saw him before she fell over, but I’m sure he pushed her.’ ‘Why do you think he pushed her?’ ‘Coz she screamed before she fell and I came running back when shescreamed, and I saw him just after she fell.’ ‘Where were you?’ ‘On the other side of the bridge.’ ‘Could you see her from where you were?’ ‘No, I was too far away. But I heard her scream.’ ‘And that was when you came running towards her?’ ‘Yes. Then I saw the boy.’ ‘Jules?’ Yes, she said. He was running away from Myra. He ran down the road, offthe bridge she told Dan. He must have pushed her friend, Myra insisted. Today she felt angry. Herfriend was still unconscious, critically ill. She was sure that that weird boy, Jules,had pushed her friend, she said. ‘He’s real weird,’ she told Dan. ‘What do you mean weird?’ Dan asked. ‘He looks strange like, you know?’ she said. ‘Always alone. Kinda sad, like, Page 6 of 14
  7. 7. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarkecoz no-one ever talks with him at school. He mumbles to himself, acts crazy like.And he smells. His clothes smell. It’s gross, the way he is. Scary-like,’ she said, nolonger crying, her lips pinching up as if the smell were there, coming from Dan. § The voices were all talking at the same time now. They were saying all sortsof things. Important things, like that he should not desert his gran, that he shouldlook after her. He listened to them. He did look after her like they told him. Hedid this very seriously, for she needed him, now, more than ever before. That morning, as he had done for many days, he took his time, carefullyputting the ointment on her face for her. The ointment was meant for her hand,he knew, but he had nothing else, so he offered to put it on her face, and she didnot object. He patted it on her cheeks, taking his time, for the skin was verydelicate and he could not rub it in without hurting her. The bossy voice said, ‘Stop that, you silly ass. Can’t you see that she’s notenjoying it?’ He looked up at her, wondering if she’d heard the voice too, but shejust kept her eyes closed, enjoying the way he gently stroked her cheek with theointment. He hated the bossy voice most of all. He ignored it, and he carefullycrooked his index finger and scooped up more ointment. ‘Turn this way, Granna, I can’t reach your throat,’ he said to hisgrandmother. Gently, lightly, he turned her head to face him, and he thought hesaw a small smile on her lips while she kept her eyes shut. A wetness returned on her cheeks. ‘Don’t cry, please Granna, don’t cry,’ hetold her softly, trying to wipe the wet away. With his little finger he lifted a wisp ofgrey hair from her forehead and applied the ointment above her eyebrows. Heworked gently, taking his time, loving her. The little voice encouraged him. Ask her to read you a story, it said. Shewill do it for you, you deserve it, the way you are looking after her. Go on, askher. Bet she agrees, it whispered. He bent down and picked up the open book and put it on her lap. Lightlyhe lifted her hand and put it on the open book, to keep it in place. Her eyes werestill closed, her smile now faded as she went deeper into her silent world. Page 7 of 14
  8. 8. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarke ‘Please read to me, Granna,’ Jule whispered, hoping she would open hereyes and read to him. He, too, now closed his eyes and he sank back into thecorner on the floor opposite her chair, pulling his knees into his chest. He put hishead on his knees, his legs up in front of him, hugging his knees, as he used to dowhen he was very little. ‘But Big Ears,’ his grandmother’s soft Noddy-voice drifted through hiscomforting infantile world, ‘Mr Plod said that I should stay here with you.’ Jules kept his eyes tightly shut, savouring the sound. Although her voicewas soft, it still managed to block out the bossy voice and drown out the littlevoice inside his head. Slowly he opened his eyes. He stretched his neck and peeredover his grandmother’s arm, at the picture in the book which lay open in her lap,under her hand, just where he had place it. He jumped up, shocked, as the doorbell rang. His head hit against the door as he tried to get out of his confusion. Hestumbled forward through the door. He had still not got his glasses back, and hecould not see through the gloomy passage. He stopped, feeling disorientated, notquite sure what to do, what had shocked him out of his half-sleep. He stood with his back against the wall for a moment, breathing heavily,blinking his eyes, trying to settle his jumping, confused mind. The voices were allquiet now, nobody told him what to do. The doorbell rang again, longer this time, insistently. He could see the shape of the man through the lace curtain as he steppedforward. He was two steps from the front door, but his legs would not take himfurther. He stopped, scared, stiff, hardly breathing, hoping that the person wouldleave. But the doorbell rang again. This time it did not stop. Slowly, heart pounding, he stepped forward. One step. A big drop of sweattrickled down his spine. A second step and his underarm slid on the sweat in hisarmpit. He stopped. The bell had gone quiet. Dan had stopped ringing the doorbell. Something looked very wrong, buthe did not know what it was. He knocked on the shiny green door, loudly. He Page 8 of 14
  9. 9. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarkeopened the top button of his shirt, pulled at his tie, which had gone very right inthe hot sun. From the corner of his eye he saw the lace-curtain fall back behind thewindow next to the front door. Everything was very still in the cul-de-sac. The little garden in front of thegreen door looked tidy, but in need of water, for the flowers neatly bordering thepath looked withered. He raised his hand to knock on the door again. Just then itopened, very slowly. The young boy did not open the door very widely. Dan could just see athin nose through the opening, opaque eyes staring obliquely and short-sightedlyat him. Jules tweaked the fine tip of his nose up. This made him look very youngand vulnerable. Sweat appeared like drops of water out of his waterlogged skin. ‘Yes?’ his voice squeaked in broken adolescence. He blinked up at thepoliceman, into the bright sunlight behind his bigness. Dan took off his hat. He opened his mouth, then shut it. The smell whichrushed out from behind the boy almost knocked him back into the street. ‘I must talk with you,’ Dan said. He did not wait for a reply, but steppedforward and pushed past Jules, who did not resist. The smell inside the tiny, dark passage was almost unbearable. Dan lookedat Jules, who hung his head, staring down at his oversized shoes. ‘You know what I’ve come about, don’t you?’ Dan asked the teenager. Jules nodded. He did not take his eyes off the carpet. ‘Is your name Jules Delaney?’ ‘Yes,’ Jules said, in a hoarse whisper, his eyes still down. He had not usedhis voice for days. His breath smelt of rotting teeth. Dan realised that there was something very wrong in the house. The boy’seyes darted from Dan’s face to the cupboard under the stairs, then back to Dan.The door to the cupboard was slightly open. ‘What’s in there –‘ Dan said, pushing past the boy to the half-open door. Jules jumped forward, trying to block Dan’s way. Dan grabbed him by thearm and pushed past him. Page 9 of 14
  10. 10. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarke With incredible speed Jules turned around and kicked Dan in the shin.Dan’s leg folded back and he tripped. His head hit the banister and he went flyinginto the hall table, which the boy had pushed away from the wall as he ran out ofthe front door. It was not too difficult to catch Jules, who ran without energy, with thelistlessness of the hungry, as if he wanted to be caught. Dan grabbed him frombehind by his sticky neck and brought him down onto the pavement. § The decaying corpse was sitting tidily on a small armchair in the cupboardunder the stairs, an open book in its lap, held open by fermenting fingers. Thebulb above its head was yellow with age and gave very little light. It cast shadowsover the muddy cheeks, which were covered with a white ointment. The boy hadtried unsuccessfully, for days, to stop the flow of body fluid from the oozing eyeswhich were closed, the mouth set in a rigid smile, congealed by death. Crustywhite layers of body fluid, slimy in places, which had flowed from the nose andears, had settled in the folds of her neck. The boy had tied her to the stool, and the rope was hanging loosely aroundher sagging body, looped through the drain pipe behind her against the wall tokeep her from falling forward. She had once been an obese person, for her rottingflesh was hanging in empty, uneven, bags under her high-necked floral dress andapron, from under which came the most suffocating stink Dan had ever smelt. It was a long time before the police managed to get the boy to talk aboutit. Under police guard, Jules slept for days, first with the drugs which the doctorsgave him, then in a semi-conscious, exhausted stupor. His concern when he finally awoke was for his grandmother, his lovingGranna, whom he had found lying in the passage when he had come down fromhis room for breakfast one morning, the nurse told Dan. ‘She doted on the boy,’ said a shocked neighbour. A thin, curious woman,with widespread fingers covering a bony chest, she spoke with the sombre,sanctimonious sobriety of the curious, all the while peering inquisitively over thefence between their two houses. She was eager to speak. Page 10 of 14
  11. 11. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarke ‘Brought him up from when he was four, when his mother left them. Howterrible. Just upped and left the child with the poor dear. They never got on.Never heard from her again. That were nine years ago,’ she said. Jules’ grandmother had died from natural causes, a heart attack, the policedoctors reported, while Jules lay in semi-consciousness avoidance. He had found her lying at the foot of the stairs, Jules mumbled to thenurse during a brief, reluctant bout of consciousness. Slowly the young nursepieced the story together while she tended to him over the next few days. The harsh reality of his grandmother’s death eventually dropped like astone into his befuddled brain, starting fresh ripples of insecurity over an alreadyfragile life. He eventually started to speak his grief in broken tones, his crackedvoice splintering under the strain. Between freak outs and blackouts, voices anddream attacks of steel blades ripping bloodless flesh into metal strips, Jules’ mindrelived his distress. The young nurse had a job piecing the story together, had aworse time protecting the boy’s delicate personality from complete fracture. His gran was all he had. Now she was gone, and his brain refused to acceptit. His grief and fear had made it impossible for him to part from his gran, thenurse reported to the police. The voices had told him to put her in the cupboard.They had given him the strength to drag her there and pull her onto the smallchair, given him the super determination to do so. She would not sit up, so he hadtied her to the pole behind her, ‘..gently, I never hurt her,’ he made sure the nurseunderstood - so that he could rub the cream over her face, the cream which thedoctor had given her for the cracks in her hands. This he knew. His dreams had kept her alive for him. And the voices had assured himthat she was alright, as long as he stayed close to her. That’s why he dared not goto school. The doctors would not allow the police to question Jules for many days. ‘It might turn into a murder charge,’ Dan told them, for Myra’s friend wasslipping further into unconsciousness as the days went by. On the fourth day Dan was allowed to interview Jules, with a nursestanding close by. Page 11 of 14
  12. 12. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarke The girls had not at first seen him, Jules said. In fact, he did not think thatthey saw him at all, for he had stood out of their sight, under the bridge all thetime, while the two girls were playing around on the bridge. Even when Myra’sfriend with the white trainers had leaned over the railing and spat out her gum,she did not see him, he was sure. He had watched the gum as it sailed downslowly, as it took a turn and landed a foot away from his toes, where he had stoodbehind the bush under the bridge. ‘I looked up,’ he mumbled to Dan, who listened intently, not wanting todisturb the tenuous connection he had established with the boy by writing thingsdown. Then one of the girls had raised the edge of her school skirt to wipe hernose, Jules said. This detail he remembered, recounting it to Dan with clarity, as ifit proved his innocence. He had watched the girl carefully. Myra was not there then. He knewMyra’s name, but he did not know the other girl, the one who had fallen over thebridge. After that it had happened very quickly. Someone must have walked up to Myra’s friend, he said. ‘Did you see anyone?’ Dan asked. ‘No, I never saw him, but I heard them talking with the girls on the bridge.I think it is one of the boys from my school.’ Jules wanted to get away before the other boys saw him. He was just aboutto step out from behind the bush where he was hiding under the bridge, he said,when he saw Butch running under the bridge. ‘He ran past the bush and I waitedfor him to pass. He ran past me. He did not see me,” Jules whispered, close totears. ‘He ran fast. He did not see me,’ he repeated. He watched Butch scramble up the bank, onto the bridge. Then Jules heard the girl scream, while he was still in hiding. ‘I was too scared to come out,’ he said. Dan did not believe him. Myra had not said a word about anyone elsehaving been there. She had seen only Jules. ‘What did you do then?’ he asked Jules. Page 12 of 14
  13. 13. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarke ‘Nuffink. I was too scared,’ Jules said from behind closed eyes. He hadwithdrawn from Dan. ‘I heard the girl screaming. Then I saw her fall over thebridge,’ he said, almost inaudibly. He drew himself back deep into the bush under the bridge, he said. Hecould see the thin girl’s legs and lower body lying on its back on the cement pathfrom where he was standing. Her legs were spread wide apart, and blood wasrunning from a gash in her leg, onto the pavement. Everything went quiet on top of the bridge. The boys had run away, so hecame out and ran up the steps, onto the bridge and away. ‘He’s lying,’ Dan thought, watching the boy carefully, wondering what lineof questioning to follow next. He stared at the boy, who did not open his eyesagain. ‘Why should we believe you,’ Dan asked softly, almost to himself. The boyhad slipped away into his comfortable world and did not answer. Then, louder,‘Why should we believe you. How do we know that you had not pushed her?’ From somewhere, from very far away, Jules heard Dan. And with Dan’svoice came a vague memory. He tried to grab it, then it faded away, out of hisgrasp. He frowned, and Dan knew that the boy had heard him. Dan remained silent, watching the boy intently. Slowly Jules’ frown settledand his face relaxed. The memory appeared again, further forward into the presentthis time, and took shape in a reluctant cloud of fact. Jules pushed it forward tothe front of his mind with great effort, making it jump over other images, dartbetween the voices which had started to mumble in the back of his life as theyducked to allow the memory to flow over them and past jumbled thoughts, downinto Jules’ dry mouth. ‘Butch’s knife,’ Jules said. ‘What?’ Dan asked, caught by surprise. ‘Butch dropped his knife. I saw it. I kicked against it when I ran away. Itmust still be there, next to the bush, under the bridge.’ His words collided overeach other excitedly. He opened his eyes, frowning at Dan accusingly. As quickly as it had risen, the fight in Jules subsided. ‘The knife must stillbe there,’ he finished weakly. What’s the use, they won’t believe you, the bossy Page 13 of 14
  14. 14. Jule, a short story by Monica Clarkevoice clearly said, and that was that. Jules closed his tired eyes. The natter of thevoices increased and he went to join them, for that was where he received hiscomfort, where he was safe. He ignored everyone else and slipped away back intosleep, even while Dan and the nurse where still waiting for him to finish talking. Dan nodded at the nurse and left the room quietly while the nurse drewthe curtains to allow the boy to enjoy, with undisturbed relief, his own world, theonly place which offered him safety from the other world of cruelty and loss. ‘What will happen to me now?’ he asked as soon as he woke up. The roomhad gone dark. He had slept and slept. The sun was gone. The policeman had justcome back. He was standing at the door, talking to the nurse. Hearing Jules, Dan turned to him. ‘You get yourself better, son. That’s what must happen next,’ Dan said,glancing at the nurse as he walked out and closed the door quietly behind him. Butches’ bloody knife was inside a plastic evidence bag in Dan’s pocket.He signalled to the policeman on guard outside Jules’ hospital room and togetherthey walked out into the sunshine, out of the boy’s fragmented life. end Page 14 of 14