The names of these two characters came from the last two guppies I had left in my tank after they had inbred so badly that they became a bit mutant and bent in the middle. These two were actually ok and led long and happy lives, achieving immortality in this, my first short story:
Blacklip & Tyrone
From the train window, Tyrone could see into the back windows of the passing houses. Despite the veil of mist on the inside of his glasses, the petty squalor of urban life was all too obvious. Dirty net curtains looked out on neglected gardens with crumbling walls blackened by soot; it was the face of people’s lives they hid from their neighbours. The only charm here was the residents’ innocent assumption that their smart front gardens preserved a face of respectability, when in fact hundreds of commuters gazed at their secret shabbiness every rush hour.
Tyrone removed his glasses and wiped them on his scarf. He didn’t have a ticket as usual and would need all his faculties working at full strength to jump the barrier at Camden Road. He felt a familiar nervousness arising in his stomach causing embarrassing whining and grumbling noises. He stood swiftly and went to wait by the door, before the attractive girl next to him became an unwilling audience to his stomach’s symphony.
An hour or so later he was biting into an egg roll in the café where he was to meet his brother and the angry stomach god was appeased. The fluorescent light was a little too bright. A familiar feeling of unreality began to seep into his surroundings and it occurred to him, as he sat behind the plate glass windows, that being in the café was like being inside a picture on the TV. Tyrone was used to his mind playing tricks in this way. He never talked about it and could control it, in that he could choose how far to allow a hallucination to unfold. It was as if the dream knocked at his mind’s door, and if he was bored he would let it enter. Then, when it was no longer convenient, he would show it out and it would politely leave. He watched with mild amusement as the brown and vanilla coloured moulded plastic of the table and chair ensembles began to melt slightly like giant ice creams. The two other customers munched their way through plates of food in oblivious silence with a level of concentration akin to contestants in a game show on the million dollar question, while a tinny radio in the background made loud but incomprehensible sounds.
The door opened and a blast of cold air made him look up and see Blacklip walking towards him. As he weaved through them, the tables and chairs regained their rigid form and all the strangeness disappeared. Blacklip nodded at him with the hint of a smile and sat down. Almost immediately his phone rang and he silently answered it. Tyrone drifted off again but this time his mind was as blank as a contented cat’s.
Blacklip had instructions from the boss. They were to go to an address near Regents Park and “collect” a car. Although they had a spare set of keys, it had to be said that this was not a strictly legal operation. The boss’s brother owned a garage in Essex selling high-end luxury cars and every so often one would be reclaimed to boost profits. Only the insurance companies lost out so Tyrone felt no remorse.
After Blacklip had had his cup of tea, they walked down into Camden. It was a grey February day and the melting pot of youth culture that had drawn them both here in their teens was nowhere in evidence. Its colourful members were presumably on lying on warm sofas in their parents’ lounge; too cold for fishnet tights and safety pins thought Tyrone regretfully. They crossed the canal and Blacklip flicked his cigarette end into the black-green water to join the plastic bags and takeaway boxes floating there half-heartedly. After fighting their waythrough the throngs of eager tourists around the tube station they made their way up Parkway and soon the massive creamy houses of Regents Park replaced the Camden restaurants and pubs, facing out from the park like giant sentries for wealth and gentility.
The house that they were supposed to steal the car from had a conspicuously empty driveway, so they settled down on a bench a little further along the road to wait. After an hour or so the Aston Martin smooched past them like a ghost bride and after purring in the gravel drive for a minute or so it was quiet. Twenty minutes later, Blacklip had carefully unset the alarm and opened the door. The tan interior boasted a thick luxury and seemed slightly indignant at the grubby, jean-clad bottoms parked unceremoniously on its seats. Unfortunately for them, the owners’ daughter chose that moment to look out of the front window, and while she was not unduly concerned, she did shout, “Mummy, why are those men taking our car?”
They were spotted by the patrol car heading east along the Euston Road and Blacklip felt the adrenaline kick in as the siren and blue light closed in on them through the traffic. Swearing and sweating he did his best to get to the next junction to lose them on the side roads but the traffic was too heavy. Tyrone had started making little grunting noises as he always did in stressful situations, rising higher and higher with his panic, as their situation seemed hopeless. The police car was right behind them now and they could both see the pasty faces of the policemen set for the kill. In a last ditch attempt to escape, Blacklip jumped the lights, and as he accelerated down the short stretch of empty road, the sirens multiplied followed abruptly by a loud sound of crunching metal. As they turned off into the relative safety of the Kings Cross backstreets, they saw the pursuit car halted outside the fire station, the front end of it crushed beneath a perpendicular fire engine.
“That was bloody lucky”. Blacklip was a man of few sentiments and even fewer words but he always hit the nail on the head. After that they kept to the backstreets and soon they were driving through the eastern suburbs of London towards Maidstone.
Night was falling and the motorway was a confusing mass of moving lights. The sun was setting in the rear view mirror but Blacklip was immune to its pink and gold sighs. Even when the clouds were aquamarine with gilded edges he was unmoved. He had no time for beauty and beauty had abandoned him as a man who could not give her the attention she deserved. As always, this deep-seated personality failure originated in his early years. He was Tyrone’s half brother, brought up in the same house in Hackney with the same mother, but he never knew his father. Tyrone’s father was a shadowy substitute for a while but then he faded into the London underworld, Blacklip stepped into his dirty trainers and from then on he and Tyrone were inseparable.
There were many theories amongst his associates concerning the origin of his name, or rather of the anomaly that had caused the discolouration on his lower lip. One rumour was that he had tattooed himself whilst inside a young offenders’ institute, a theory made more believable by the clear evidence of self harming teenage years on the back of his hands. Another theory was that he was stabbed in the lip with a black pen at school in a fight. The black patch was a curious shape, not unlike a manta ray swimming through a pink sea, or a squashed kite flying through rose coloured skies. No one ever asked Blacklip directly because no one dared, except maybe Tyrone but he probably knew anyway.
Tyrone had witnessed most of Blacklip’s troubled life: the abuse at the hands not only of his stepfather, but of his mother also. The only time Tyrone had seen him cry (though he heard him many times) was when Blacklip had come to his mother covered in guilt-inducing bruises. Often, after a beating from his stepfather, Blacklip would hide away because any appeal to their mother would be met with violent shouting to the effect that what the hell did he expect if he behaved like that etc. etc. On this occasion, however, she had abandoned her usual wall of sound tactic. Instead, she had looked into his seven year old eyes and said, “We are born alone and we die alone. I can’t help you.” After that, Blacklip shut himself away with his pain and his love and neither had reappeared to this day.
They dropped the Aston Martin off in a remote place reached by a dirt track. A dim ramshackle construction, which could have been a hay barn, loomed out of the dusk and they parked in there, swiftly shutting the barn doors before they began the long walk back to civilisation. Once in Maidstone, they made their way to the Long John Silver where they were to collect their wages and a well-deserved drink or two.
The pub was half full, mostly of office workers who looked like oversized school kids playing truant in their crumpled suits and shirts. The dim lighting made the orange pine and swirly carpet a little easier to live with and the heat of the radiators made it positively atmospheric. Rather out of place in the corner was an older man in a camel coat, sitting up too straight and nursing a pint of lager.
Tyrone bought two drinks then made his way to the table where Blacklip was already filling the man in on their close shave. The man’s face was set hard as granite but he nodded at Tyrone as he passed an envelope of cash under the table to Blacklip. Then he rose and left his unfinished pint fizzing lazily on the table.
Slowly the pub began to fill up and suits were replaced by more casual attire. At the bar, a young girl smiled flirtatiously at Blacklip, her eyes flicking imperceptibly down to the fifty pound note he held. She licked her lips in a parody of seduction and laughed, her pink tongue tucked behind her pearly top teeth.
He bought her and her more retiring friend some drinks and they joined Tyone at the table in the corner. His tongue loosened by alcohol, Tyrone became quite a charmer and soon even Blacklip was laughing and adding the odd comment. Come closing time Tyrone ordered a taxi to take them all to the room they were staying in for the night courtesy of the man in the camel coat. It was a bedsit in a run down house on the edge of an estate. They had stayed there a couple of times before and it had depressed Blacklip so he opted to walk back and maybe find somewhere else to spend the evening. The pushy girl who had first smiled at him said she would join him leaving Tyrone and the shyer friend the taxi, the bedsit and the next few hours to themselves.
Out in the cold night the streets were fairly empty. There was a waning moon but no stars, only the sulphurous light of the streetlamps. In the window of the odd take away people waited hungrily for their food but the glass that separated them seemed to border a different world.
Blacklip hadn’t really wanted any company, but he had been too drunk to resist the girl’s insistent clamp on his arm. He regretted his weakness now. She constantly demanded his attention, pulling him out of his safe, controlled inner room into her realm of shifting sands. He could feel the anger rising in him like an ancient beast woken from its slumber. She bombarded him with information about herself, and questions, always questions that he was supposed to react to. What with? Desire? Sympathy? Indignation? A laugh? He had no idea. Confusion blew through his mind like a rising hurricane and before he knew it he was lost in a sea of fear that had turned to stormy fury. Without thinking about what he was doing he pulled her violently into the doorway of a shop and locked his mouth over hers, as much to shut her up as anything else. He saw the sudden alarm in her eyes as she realised the Pandora’s Box she had thoughtlessly prised open was now unshuttable. He held both her arms behind her back with one hand and began to paw her body with the other but she turned
her head sideways and managed to let out a blood curdling scream, attracting the attention of two men on the other side of the road.
Anxious to prolong their evening’s entertainment with some kind of sport, both men pricked up their ears, sensing an opportunity for a fight. With a whoop like the blood cry of a hunter, one of them was on him in seconds. Released from his grasp, the girl shouted curse after curse at him, one minute encouraging her saviours, the next venting her fury. The two men, their kebabs abandoned in the gutter, kicked him senseless then left him where he fell at the edge of the road, his spilt blood mingling with the chilli sauce.
Tyrone awoke with a start. The girl (he had forgotten her name) lay next to him, dark circles under her eyes where her make up had run. He knew without checking that Blacklip had not returned and the sick feeling in his stomach was more than too much to drink. He quickly put on his clothes and left the bedsit, thinking of nothing and following the invisible silken thread that was pulling him with increasing urgency to where Blacklip lay.
The dreamy realm that Tyrone mostly occupied (except when they were together) was where Blacklip had been drifting. He had remained in the road unseen due to the parked cars either side of him and had felt no ability to move. He wondered if he was dying. Dying alone. That was what Mum had said. “Born alone, die alone. Born alone, die alone.” He repeated it like a mantra in his mind and felt the tears and the pain well up inside him like a newly tapped vein of oil. But then, as time passed, another memory from his childhood insisted on his attention, pushing out the hurt and replacing it with wonder.
He was four years old and his mum had been away while he stayed with “Auntie” Mary next door. This wasn’t unusual in itself, but when his mother returned this time, she brought something with her. Auntie Mary took him into his mother’s bedroom where she sat on the bed in her nightie looking wan. In her arms was Tyrone, newborn and wrapped in a white blanket. The light shone in the window behind her. Although it was only three in the afternoon the golden hour illuminated the room. It kissed the broken MFI chipboard and tired magnolia with benevolent compassion, giving its blessing and making everything blurry at the edges with gold dust. His mother and the baby glowed with Byzantine splendour and the whole world stood still. He approached her slowly but only saw the bundle in her arms. In the folds of white material was a small crumpled face the colour of a mushroom with blue eyes set in it like glass. His face was now inches from the baby’s and its eyes widened in acknowledgement. Carefully he turned his head and felt the baby’s breath in his ear. Suddenly, it made a cooing noise, and then a gurgle. A voice from far away said, “Oooooo – he likes you. You’re his big brother”. But he wasn’t listening to that voice, he was listening to the baby’s. It was trying to say something. He listened harder.
He couldn’t be sure. If only it would do it……
It did! It said his name. It spoke his name and it was the sweetest sound he had ever heard. Like angels singing. The scene froze to a tableau in his mind, shimmering gold like in a heat haze and for the first time that he could remember he felt happy. It was as if he had been living with an eclipse, everything tainted in its shadow, but now that shadow had moved on.
In a rush, his mind replayed his life like a speeded up film but not as it had seemed at the time. He saw his hurt and his anger and all the bad things that had happened from the outside and felt a deep desire to help himself. It took him a few seconds to work out what was happening. He was seeing himself through his brother’s eyes. Every event in his life where Tyrone was present had seemed to work out in his favour. From narrow escapes to wins on the horses, Tyrone was his lucky charm. He made things go his way, but he had never realised it until now.
Tyrone was running, searching while his guts were almost bursting with panic. It didn’t help that Maidstone had taken on a degree of strangeness. Although the streets should have been familiar, they suddenly looked foreign, and the more he doubted himself, the worse it got. He tried to banish the monsters his mind was creating but this time they wouldn’t leave. The shadows looked like people, sinister and watching, ready to trip him up or rob him or worse. His ears began to fill with a strange singing noise that almost formed words but not quite and he could no longer feel his feet.
He could see a cloud further up the road. It was forming slowly and getting larger and denser, like a swarm of bees. He ran blindly towards it, even though it frightened him. A woman crossed to the other side of the road in alarm as he ran up it, his eyes rolling like a lunatic.
At first he couldn’t see Blacklip in the darkness between the cars, but he felt he was there instinctively and also that was where the cloud was. As he touched his brother’s bloody face he let out a sob. His eyes were closed.
“Vinnie”, he whispered, his voice caught in his throat.
Tyrone was crying now. He looked around for help but although he didn’t remember being on a hill, the ground seemed to fall away like a cliff. He had the feeling they were floating away from the earth. He closed his eyes and clutched his brother’s jacket with both hands, the fear of separation cutting through his confused mind. His hand felt a hard lump and he remembered the phone. With a glimmer of hope he opened his eyes, fumbled for the mobile, dialled 999 and blacked out.
At the hospital, Vinnie woke up after a day or so with Tyrone sleepless by his bedside. He had suffered serious internal injuries and his face was pretty mashed up but over time he recovered enough to set up a car mechanic business with his brother in Kent, which they ran until they were outrun by old age. In their spare time, they fished at the reservoir or the river, and as the years passed, Tyrone’s strange perceptions became less vivid; or maybe he just stopped inviting them in. In direct proportion to their decrease, Vinnie came to love the light at sunset or sunrise, its beauty striking him more and more. The long, slanting rays of the sun would reflect off his brother’s fishing rod and break into a thousand diamonds on the water, collecting, then bursting like stars when the writhing body of a trout broke the surface. The black mark on Vinnie’s lip had gone, pummelled out of existence, but no one ever dared to mention this and no one ever called him Blacklip again.