'When the Sky Fell Down', By Gabriel Krauze
A story from the author of estate noir.
Night swims along the street, curling its black body around lonely pools of cold light that hit the pavement in the early hours of the morning. Everyone is outside the club after dancing for hours, the smell of empty streets and silence that covers most of the city at this time doesn't exist in this moment, lip gloss shines on juicy brown lips and tipsy voices are raised as if everyone's still inside, trying to talk over the beat, and somewhere above them, ignored, sits the moon. Conversations scatter into the dark air outside, Candice and the girls are gathering, ready to go home. They're all drunk, so wavey, they tell each other laughing, as they make sure that everyone's here and ready to go – they've got a long journey back to west London from the night-out in a club somewhere in Norwood – and the girl who's meant to be driving everyone is downing a bottle of water as if it's going to wash away her floating eyes and stumbling steps.
Smoky dark eyes, filled with the trace of shapes of bodies locked together in passionate nights that mess up the bed-sheets, gleam in Candice's dark caramel face, smooth and hot in the street-lights as she talks to her friend Remy. And suddenly she hears a voice that isn't loud with excitement but which cuts into the air like smashed glass scattering, making everyone flinch. The girl who's shouting isn't actually Candice's friend but a friend of a friend – someone she doesn't really know too well but who's part of the group that came out tonight – and now everyone's sobering up a bit and like—
It's the normal thing; girls spilling out of the club, a mixture of laughter, tired lipstick, long painted nails, the smell of sweat and perfume and sex that hasn't happened yet and dresses that look good because of the bodies inside them but that are really cheap and will never be worn again, just like the jewellery that everyone knows is not real gold, weave tired on some of their heads but still looking good, short skirts revealing tasty brown thighs and loud voices that draw attention. And as usual you have a group of mandem, quieter than the girls, more calculated, prowling lazy outside, maybe even smoking a zoot or two, spitting into the road with one eye open for passing police cars, and they've been waiting for this moment. So the pretty ones who don't look away quickly are always the first to get it, and sometimes you'll hear the friends of one of the brers who's decided to approach, providing a background of encouragement – oi draw dat fam! Yo check the back-off – and their eyes are watching the girl below her waist, watching the moving curves behind her, imagining it without the flimsy skirt on, imagining themselves inside her.
And so Rochelle's outside the club, a distance away from Candice, Remy and the others, and they can all hear her shouting, voice rising and falling, stabbing at the brer who tried to draw her – are you mad?! Fuckin' wasteman tryna talk to me like I'm any ho – and he's saying Dickhead with real hate in his voice and eyes that are suddenly cold and hard. And they can all hear the seriousness in his words, the boiling anger inside him that's suddenly burnt away any sense of attraction and interest.
But Rochelle's not walking off, it's probably the drink that's making her want to tell him what she thinks of him, what she thinks of types like him who take pretty girls home for one night and never call afterwards, types who make her think she's wanted for a few hours and then send her with only hollow regrets to keep her company on a lonely train journey home. And Candice realises that it's gotten a bit serious and it's not her place, definitely not her place, to get involved – it's neither her friend nor her argument – but she walks over and she's drunk and she doesn't watch what she's saying because why should she and true some people like Candy are too quick to run up their mouths when they're drunk and misjudge a situation, misjudge what the consequences could be, and she doesn't just walk over like wagwan, what's going on here – na, she's all up in the man's face like fuck you who the fuck do you think you are you pussyole you BANG
He knocks Candice out with one punch, spits in Rochelle's face and walks off to his boys and the pavement holds Candice sprawled out unconscious on its dirty concrete shoulders, spotted with old chewing gum and the ghosts of feet. Rochelle can smell cigarettes and weed in the spit running down her face before she wipes it away, and the night has changed its face completely.
Candice wakes up in the back of the car and she doesn't know what's happened and she can hear the girls' voices shouting amongst themselves, shrieking almost, repeating Candy, Candy, and what the fuck this and that and other snatches of conversation that are just abstract words composed of letters falling around her. And she can smell tired sweat, anxiety, stale perfume and cocoa butter. And her teeth are full of blood, liquid iron on her tongue, dribbling hot out of the side of her lips but she can't talk, can't open her broken mouth even though she wants to. Darkness swallows her.
Her friends take her to hospital in the car. Maybe it's just stupid drunken panic – not calling the police and getting the crime recorded properly – or maybe it's pride; they don't want their girl lying in a heap on that pavement getting looked at by shocked eyes that aren't shocked enough to look away and not pull their phones out and start filming, and there's always someone who's going to say she got knocked da FUCK out! harsh laughter in the voice – no empathy. They didn't want Candy to be a spectacle, with an ambulance arriving, blue lights slicing the night up, sirens making people come and indulge in someone else's drama, they didn't want the fuss, so they somehow got her into the back of the car and drove to hospital.
Candice awakes in a bed surrounded by sterile whiteness and the noise of machines beeping for attention and it's late in the morning, or something. She can't remember much, but her mouth feels as though it's locked, as if her cheeks and chin are trying to smother it and she can feel her own heartbeat pounding down her jaw-line and the pain makes her eyes go numb. Her thoughts are drowned out by the whiteness, the clean sheets, the plastic bib she's wearing, trying to take it all in, and no one's there with her and her mind tries not to think too much, floats away from her to protect her, and she just sits up mechanically pushing her back against the pillows. A nurse and doctor appear, and she manages a yes in response to her name, although it feels like an iron hand is gripping her by the jaw trying to squeeze her mouth shut.
Your jaw's been broken in three places – the doctor says while the nurse gives an impression of being busy by fussing with something beside the bed. So we're going to have to operate – and now her thoughts return, come rushing back in a wave that crashes against her mind, and she's not listening any more, although her ears register – the operation will take place tomorrow morning – and – metal plate and screws – and – only drinking through a straw – but her thoughts are saying ohmygod and whatthehell, my jaw's broken and they're going to put metal in my face.
She realises she's drooling slightly, she can't control it, her bottom lip is completely numb and suddenly she's listening again because there's a seriousness in the doctor's voice which makes her heart start beating hard and fast, dropping into her gut like fear, even though she doesn't know why – when we did the scans in A&E we discovered that you are in fact three weeks pregnant – and the nurse is standing beside him, looking at Candice with something resembling pity, but it also seems like a practised look.
And Candice looks down, sees the white bib actually jerking as her heart beats against her ribcage and she wants to suddenly get out of bed and run, wants to throw up, wants to tear off the hospital gown and the crisp sheets on top of her, wants to get out of this clean white space full of electronic noises and the well-rehearsed tones of doctors and nurses.
But she stays, face frozen without expression, numb and nodding at the doctor who leaves and the nurse who asks her if she wants a drink and tells her it's important to have fluids. And it feels as though Candice is trying to tear herself out of this body that she's wearing, this strange thing that encloses her, that everyone can see and is talking to, but on the outside everything stays calm, unmoving, and she sinks helpless against soft white pillows. The nurse leaves and Candice is alone with her thoughts, taste of blood still in her swollen mouth and a second heart growing in her belly.
A while later she is on the phone, looking at the white and red sign on the wall across from her bed – Please switch off all mobile phones it says – and she's talking to her boyfriend Vega with her free hand, tracing an absent-minded pattern on her belly that hasn't begun to grow yet. And he's pissed off, vexed, mad at what happened, angry with her for getting her jaw broken – on some slippin ting with your dumb girls he says. But he seems vexed for real that some random brer did this to his girl, vexed about the whole situation and he's talking – I swear down I'm gonna find out who that brer is and get my mandem on this – but deep down within him, practically hidden from himself even, is the hope that it's impossible to find the guy who broke his girlfriend's jaw, since once you commit to revenge in these situations it's impossible to back out and not follow it through with some properly thought-out violence which isn't just a fantasy. And the knowledge of this reality flickers inside Candice but she lets him vent, lets him spill these emotions out over the phone, and then she tells him that she's pregnant.
And again her chest goes hollow – as if her heart and lungs and breath and thoughts, everything, sinks into her stomach in a churned up mess as she hears his reaction – na babe you know I wanna have youts with you but it's just not the right time, we're not ready for this – and she kind of expected it, she'd heard it in her ears before he said it, along with all the explanations about not having a good or stable job or living together – issues which had never seemed to be on his mind till now. And all of this told by him in a voice that seems to care, a gently calculated voice, empty of the fire that burned in it when she told him about exactly how her jaw was broken.
And he goes on emphasising that he does want to have children with her but Not Like This and she just listens and realises that she can never tell him about the first abortion she had – about a year ago when he first got her pregnant – that she kept secret from him because she knew he wouldn't want it at the time and that would have caused problems between them so she never told him, she simply went and got it done and carried on with life. And now she knows she'll never be able to tell him.
It is late in the afternoon, everything dark outside as if the night sky has fallen down into the street, turning the hospital windows into mirrors from the inside, and Vega has told Candice that he won't be coming to the hospital. He's too stressed out by the whole situation he says, so he's going to a friend's house in Clapham Junction to bun weed and get shit off his chest. And there's no point in phoning mum, she thinks for the millionth time like a reflex, knowing it's too late for that now and anyway that's all long. She called a few people earlier and mumbled what had happened with her broken mouth but now it is late, the dark sky has poured itself down into the city and the lights on the ward are dimmed. Candice spends her first day and night in the hospital alone.
After the operation the next morning, a metal plate with screws and 12 stitches later, general anaesthetic wearing off, Candy is sitting up in bed surrounded by two friends asking questions. There's Remy, who she was talking to just before she got knocked out, and Donna who didn't go out with them that night, and they are both asking again and again why did you get involved though, why? And Candice is saying I'm just not dat type of person, I can't just stand by seeing someone I know in a mad situation and not get involved. But she's not even your friend! replies Donna almost shouting – I'm just not dat type of person to see someone in a situation and not back it – Candice carries on stubbornly.
What did the girl say? Donna asks Remy – what did she say? and Donna turns to Candice – I mean the girl who was arguing with dat brer who broke your jaw – and Remy tells Candice and Donna what Rochelle had to say about the whole thing because she spoke to her yesterday on the phone. And the only thing Rochelle had to say, about Candice and the whole drama was I didn't tell her to jump in for me – she didn't even ask if Candice was alright or anything. And Donna avoids Candice's face, staring at the bed sheets like what the fuck is wrong with these people, thinking that she's glad she never went out with them that night.
Remy leaves after a while and Donna stays with Candice and she's saying why isn't Vega here Candy? I can't believe your man knows you got your jaw bruck by some next brer and he still hasn't come to see you! What the fuck Candy? But Candice spoke to Vega this morning straight after she woke from the operation and he was talking about them having children, about living together, about how he wants to have more children with her – and he's going to come and see her later. And Donna is calling Vega a wasteman – she still can't believe he hasn't come to see Candy in hospital yet, but Candice is protecting herself from Donna's words with the simple understanding that this is real life and that's just how it is.
A few hours later, Vega still hasn't arrived, no calls no texts, maybe his phone's dead, maybe he had to go and— and Candice's father and mother who don't talk, haven't talked, haven't seen each other in years, are in the ward beside her bed. Mother fusses over her daughter, tearfully fluffing up pillows and making soft noises that don't mean nothing, like something everyone's seen in a movie. Father sits on the end of her bed – as if it might bring him closer to his daughter, somehow fixing what he tore apart years ago when he left – with disbelief and other things carving lines across his forehead as he kisses his teeth, cracking through the stillness of the ward, and asks her Well why did you get involved? And Candice stubbornly repeats that she's never been dat type of person not to jump in when someone's in dat kind of situation. The father who left Candice when she was only five and who's never done anything for her in his life shifts uncomfortably where he's sitting, coughs, looks down at the floor and shakes his head. And her mother says I'm proud of my daughter, I raised her well. And she's smiling to no one in particular with eyes glazed and wet as she leans over Candy who can smell the rum on her breath again. Because nothing ever changes. Not even in the worst moments.
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