A fictional story from the weekend. Same time, same characters, different place, come back every week. Catch up here.
“Where’s this sun then?” grumbles Jack, zipping up his Arc’teryx. “Swear you said it was gonna be a mad sunrise? You lied to me Lace.”
It’s true – it’s pretty shit. The part of the sky usually flooded in a coral-pink subterranean flame is now just sort of vaguely illuminated, like someone has switched the lights on at the end of the rave and it’s all just a bit much.
I mean, someone has just switched the lights on at the end of the rave. We’ve just stepped off the boat – spilled out of it, really – and now we’re ambling down the canal in a kind of shambling, scrambling dream, a walking, talking blend of all our accumulated substances and their effects.
A cyclist flies past, almost clipping Jack’s shoulder.
“Oiiiii,” says Risky behind him, a devilish glint in his eyes. “Remember back in the day when we used to push people off their bikes into the canal?”
“Why you gotta bring that up for?” says Jack, but he can’t help but laugh.
He looks back at Lace – who’s walking next to me – and she’s scowling. “You lot were such badbreed teenagers man.”
Fizz is deeply shocked, as though they’ve just thrown her grandmother in. Not for the first time I wonder how long it’s going to be before the boys go too far, say something too reckless, and she gives up on this bargain-bucket chakra cleanse she’s been trying to sell us for years. They really are a bunch of fucking wrong’uns – but you’ve gotta love them, don’t you?
I do, anyway.
It takes Fizz all of 30 seconds to get distracted, and suddenly she’s jumping up and down, a rainbow light bulb flashing over her head.
“Let’s get trippy!”
“Oiiiii. Yeah I’m down.” says Maya, obviously.
Lace gives me a look – shall we? I nod. Por que no?
Jack and Risky nod too, but Jay doesn’t even look up from the zoot he’s trying to save. It’s burning down the side, disappearing away from him.
He snorts. “Nah.”
“Nah man. I’m not into all that.”
“Have you ever even tried it?” Fizz’s face is all screwed up and sincere like she’s trying to work out his star sign.
“Nah. It’s not for me b.”
“2C‑B’s banging,” tries Maya.
“I don’t do trips.”
“It’s not even proper trippy like that,” says Lacey. She nudges Jack.
“Trust me Jay, you’d like it bruv,” says Jack assertively. “It’s like being buzzing but everything’s mad pretty. Bare vivid colours and that.”
Jay stops walking and looks over at Jack. “Bruv, I’m not tryna not be on point. You know that.”
“Obviously I know that. Always on point G.”
“So that’s what you’re on yeah?”
Their eyes meet and something is communicated. I’ve seen this look a thousand times before. In that look there’s a subtext – a language they’ve been speaking since they were kids, since they were small boys playing run-outs in the gravel – since before a world Jay would ever have known a Fizz. Let alone a 2C‑B.
Anyway, Jack’s said what he needed to say.
Now Jay looks over at Fizz – the flame of her hair, the sparkle in her eyes – and I know she’s the LED cherry on the psychedelic cake. You know when they say you should only do trips if you’re with the right people?
Well, we’re definitely not the right people for everyone – but we are for Jay. With a final, laboured, am-dram sigh, he reaches into his boxers and pulls out his party-bag. Unwrapping some clingfilm, he hands them out, and then for the first time in his life, Jay holds one of his own trips in his hand. It’s a little orange pill. He throws it back with his last gulp of Hennessy.
I feel excited for him, and a bit nervous – for us.
We hit up the corner shop for supplies. Red wine for me and Lace; more brandy for the boys. A twenty-box for Jay; long Rizlas and some ready salted Hula Hoops. Pineapple juice for Fizz – “for serotonin!” – and fairy liquid for Maya, who found a bubble gun on the boat. Jack throws cash on the counter and tells bossman to keep the change.
Then we’re on the street and the boys are chatting shit again, and I’m laughing and next to me Lace is laughing, and then I look around and realise everyone is laughing, and in a sort of compulsive way that comes from the gut – a proper explosive, uncanned laughter, and it’s weird, I know, but thinking of this makes me think of a little Heinz Tomato soup can of laughter – and then I think, if we could prepare in any way for the apocalypse – or even the fucked-up pseudo-dystopia we’re living in now – if us degenerates could contribute anything, it should be to pack all this lovely laughter in a can and keep it safe, stored in the war bunker/wine cellar next to a lifetime of pre-rolls and a stable’s worth of ketamine.
And yes, in the next moment I realise, it has begun. I am tripping. But that awareness also slips away and is replaced by a warm buzz that’s come from somewhere deep inside, it’s usually curled up like a Cheshire cat inside all the cells in my body, and now it’s awakening.
We cross the street, following Fizz. Heading for “Mother Nature”.
The visuals aren’t that mad for me – one time at this festival in Croatia I went literally blind with psychedelia, and if that sounds like hyperbole I’d like to see you accidentally take sixteen doses of an unnamed psychedelic.
But it doesn’t matter – I don’t need visuals.
Ordinary things take on a sense of wonder, become extraordinary. A tyre-flattened Coke can flush with tar crust. A black bin bag caught in the skeleton of a summer tree. The way Jack looks at Lacey when he busses a joke.
So we’ve found “Mother Nature” – she’s also known as Victoria Park, east London.
The park has transformed into a great, ancient forest – an infinite, magical, rolling green. The sky has opened up and the sun’s finally appeared, a disc of pure white light, a portal to somewhere else.
Still, I’d rather stay right here.
Maya’s blowing her bubbles – full and iridescent; Risky’s catching them between his hands. Lacey’s teaching Jack – I shit you not – how to make a daisy chain. And most wonderful of all, Fizz is showing Jay how the whorl of his thumbprint follows the same pattern as the open tree trunk in front of us.
“How beautiful is that?”
“When I was travelling in New Zealand, I met this incredible palm reader and he explained to me what the different patterns in your prints mean.”
I’ve never seen Jay concentrate so hard on another human being.
“If you have a lot of loops, that means togetherness – people who love being around other people and like, being interconnected.”
Jay’s nodding along and he looks almost wholesome. Almost like he might kiss her.
“And if you have swirls – see, look here – they mean independence, and autonomy. And if you count how many loops you have and how many swirls you have, it can help you understand your true self.”
Jay’s basically on the verge of enlightenment. “I’ve got bare loops. Does that mean I’m a people person?”
On a normal day, Jack would laugh at this – to be honest, we all would – but today something stops us.
Fizz looks unsure now. “Um, let me see,” she says, and reaches for his hand.
I’ve never seen anyone properly touch Jay. I try and hug him every now and then – we all do – but he usually freezes up like an abused child. It’s like he doesn’t know how cuddly he really is – how cuddly he could be. In another life, Jay Adams could be someone’s carebear, someone’s everything.
Or maybe in this, more magical one, with Fizz in front of him, fizzing away, sequinned in the sunlight.
She’s flushed pink with embarrassment ‘cause she knows she’s mixed up her metaphors, but it doesn’t matter ‘cause she’s the sweet, forgivable kind of wrong, and besides, Fizz can make meaning out of anything.
“Oh fuck, I got it wrong. The loop circles within itself – so that’s independence. And the whirl is open, so that’s the sense of togetherness and community – because you’re connected to other things, to other people…”
“I was gonna say,” Jay offers gently. “‘Cause man’s mad independent.”
“Right!” She beams. “Exactly.”
And she is right – eventually. Jack and Lacey have very intense loops, almost identical really. Maya’s loops turn into whirls – which makes sense for an Insta-queen – and Fizz is basically one big ice-cream swirl, like she’s carrying the Milky Way around in each digit.
Mine’s so faint I can barely make it out, and I make a mental note to ask Fizz what this means, later, when things are quieter and the boys can’t laugh at me and – most importantly – when I’m actually able to string a sentence together.
As I’m making this note, writing it out in big milky swirls in my head, I lose sense of the conversation entirely. Jay appears to be trying to tell a story, bless him, and he says:
“It was so long. It was a whole fucking falafel bruv.”
“A falafel yeah?” laughs Lace.
And Jay looks very confused, and I know he’s completely forgotten the word it’s supposed to be – and I open my mouth to help him out, but so have I.
“Bruv. You know what I mean.”
“A kerfuffle!” gasps Fizz, giddy with laughter. She looks like she might take flight at any moment, the way she’s sat there with her legs crossed. Like they’re keeping her anchored.
Everyone looks pretty blissful.
Maya’s taking photos. Risky’s smoking a cigarette. Lacey’s laid out Jack’s fresh white Goose on the ground, and not only has Jack said nothing about grass stains but he’s even lain down on top of it next to her.
A wisp of cloud crosses the sky. To me it looks like a trace of candy floss left behind at the bottom of a great blue bowl.
I watch Jay. He smears Vaseline over his cracked lips, wipes the excess on the cuff of his hoodie. Glances at Fizz, then at the sky.
A thoughtful pause. “Slyly looks like candy floss.”
I give him a big smile, and settle down into the grass.
I’m listening to Fizz go through Sacred Geometry 101 with my eyes closed when I hear it in the distance. The aggy talk, the reckless laughter. The ripple of danger.
“Allow it,” says Jack under his breath.
I open my eyes. There’s a group of boys rolling slowly towards us, and it’s palpable, the threat in the air. Not a shock, though, more a sinking feeling – not something new and scary, but something familiar and sad. This isn’t new – just London.
There’s three of them. Two older guys and a little one who looks a bit like Jack’s brother.
The boys have sat up. Risky spits on the ground, ready.
Jay’s reached instinctively to the tracksuit bottoms under his Carhartts, reaching back to a time when there might have been something to protect him.
And though I do think, I’m so glad there isn’t, I’m so glad that time has passed, the thought that seems to push forward – and what seems most sad of all – is Jay is never going to let his guard down again.
And then. One of them – the tall one in the Stoney – looks down at Maya suddenly. He’s recognised her.
“Swear you’re that chick off Insta.”
Maya’s silent. She’s wearing this baby-blue Stüssy hoodie she was sent in the post – I know for a fact it has “MMS” embroidered on the back.
He’s not giving up, and turns to his boy. “Bro, I swear she’s that Savage girl. Maya Mae Savage.”
“She’s slyly even danker.”
“What, the Insta one?”
“Nah you prick. This one,” he says, giving Maya a wink. “Don’t be rude fam.”
The little one pipes up. “Not gonna lie, I preferred your old shit you’know. What happened to the bikini pics?”
“What, lemme get your digits b.”
Maya laughs. They have completely forgotten what they came over for.
Jack’s sat back on his elbows again, chuckling. “So what, you man cool yeah?”
All eyes on the tall one. A heavy pause.
“Yeah, we good man.”
And then they walk off. No beef, no trouble – nothing. They even give Jay a roach for his zoot – the little one even rolls it for him.
This – not the way Maya’s bubbles seemed to contain the sky, not the thousand-year-old sacred pattern in my fingertips – but these lot walking away, and the boys relaxing back into the grass – this was the most magical moment of the day.
It feels like just five minutes ago we were on the canal, listening to Jack complain about how shit the sunrise was.
But time must have passed – a lot of it, actually – because the sun is setting.
Here we are, full-circle. Shuffling home.
I think back to the damp, white awakening of the day, and I attempt to say something, to express something – anything – about the warm pink light of the golden hour, but I fumble with the words and they’re sat too long on my tongue, like when you’ve taken a dry pill and it’s started to disintegrate, and you’ve either got to spit it out quicktime or swallow it forever.
Jack slaps Jay on the back and says grandly, “It’s fucking beautiful, isn’t it?”
Which seems to say everything.
Jay just shrugs.
I’m walking just in front of them, now, and I know they think I can’t hear them but it’s my moral duty to eavesdrop.
“Bruv, stop. It’s not that deep.”
I hear the teasing smile in Jack’s voice. “It’s not that shallow though is it?”
“You think you’re funny,” says Jay, but when I turn around a moment later to steal a cigarette I swear I see Jay Adams’ smile.