It’s very cold outside. After a while I start to shiver. Even Leroi complains from time to time that he’s getting cold – though of course he’s partly stoked by the fuel of anger and alcohol.
Every once in a while, I try to get him to come inside. There’s an additional reason for this: I’ve left my phone in the bedroom. I don’t know who, exactly, I should be calling – it just seems like a thing I might need to do.
But Leroi’s already threatening to break down the door of the shed (déjà vu, or kind of.) I say, sounding calmer than I feel inside, “You’ll have to push me out of the way to do it – would you do that Leroi?”
He just looks at me angrily, but then turns away again.
“I don’t think so,” I say. And I cross my fingers that I’m right.
A few times, at hearing this kind of interchange, Tau howls out in frustration from the shed, “Just call the fuckin cops on the lil cunt, Miss, call the pigs on the fuckin fag.”
I don’t want to do that – and in any case I can’t, without my phone. But I have visions of the cops turning up anyway, if one of our neighbours gets pissed off at being disturbed for hours on end.
Now and then, Leroi’s rage dissipates for a moment, and “Sorry, Miss,” he half-cries. “I’m sorry.” Then it’s back to the same pattern: Leroi dreaming up a stream of insults to call Tau out of the shed; Tau enraging him with growled retorts, or scornful laughter, or maddening him even further with periods of complete silence. And me the only thing standing between them – except for the flimsy bolt on the inside of the door, which could be broken with one kick.
After a while, Leroi starts asking for the buds: “The buds I paid for!” he cries in outrage. “He’s a cunning cunt, Miss – he’s a tricky fulla. He knows I need my sesh, and he won’t give it to me.” He puts his head right up to the window and yells, “Where’s the fuckin buds, cunt? Give me my fuckin buds!” Then he begins to punch his own head, in utter frustration.
“I’ll go in,” I tell him. “Just give me a minute, Leroi – I’ll try and sort it out.”
Tau lets me in again, and once more I lock the door, in some possibly futile attempt at protection – of whom I don’t quite know.
“Have you got those buds?” I ask. “Maybe if he has a sesh he’ll go to sleep.”
“I don’t know where they are, Miss,” Tau replies, sounding upset as much as angry. “I’d fuckin give them to the cunt, too – I don’t give a fuck about the buds. I just don’t know where they are.” His voice keens with frustration and a kind of grief at the night’s events.
I go back out, repeating the same instruction: “Lock the door behind me, Tau.”
“He doesn’t know where they are,” I tell Leroi.
“He’s all shit,” scoffs Leroi. “Fuckin cunning nigga.” Then, “I know where they are, let me go in and get them,” he demands.
“No, I won’t” I reply, equably.
Leroi rounds on me, puffs himself up, and clearing his throat, spits a few times on the ground. “Fuck you then,” he mutters, but uneasily. I can see he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me that way, but, “Get fucked then,” he tries again. “I’ll smash the fuckin door down and get my buds.”
I just stand there, not budging an inch, though I know it’s quite possibly futile. The thought has crossed my mind several times that Leroi might actually push me out of the way. Almost idly, I wonder at myself, that I’ll run that risk to keep them apart. And strange as it may seem, I don’t feel scared, I don’t know why. But it strikes me, once again, that protection is going to find us.
After that thought, words come easier to me. “Don’t speak to me like that please, Leroi,” I say.
“I’m sorry Miss,” he says. He adds, “But you’re not listening.”
“I’m listening,” I tell him. “I hear what you’re saying. But I can’t let you go in there.”
“At least he could give me a fuckin smoke,” Leroi says, with a touch more resignation in his voice. “Need something to calm me down,” he adds, almost with equanimity.
I have an emergency cig in the car, for the first time in ages. I’d asked Tau to roll it for me on the way to Clancy – almost as if I’d known I might need it. So I light up, take two puffs (which hardly kick in at all), and give the rest to Leroi.
I don’t want to remember just yet, some of the things he says to Tau. It just about breaks my heart to little bits and pieces, hearing Leroi taunt him through the wall. “No nuts, aye,” he jeers. “Go on, cunt… just stay there and sack it like a little bitch.”
Later, “You’re all shit at course,” he calls, cupping his hand into a trumpet at the window. “Dumb cunt. Fuckin dumb cunt, that’s what you are, bitch. You dumb fag.”
Again, I hear muffled growls from inside: Tau is restraining himself with very great difficulty. But he keeps his promise, and doesn’t come out.
At some point, I realize the night is going to end and the sun come up. I think it’s when I hear the first birds singing. It’s still very dark, but I feel a surge of relief.
“Leroi?” I say. His torrent of venom having ceased for a bit, he’s sitting on the ground next to the car, his head in his hands.
“What?” he groans.
“It’s kind of cold,” I tell him. “Can we go inside and get a blanket. I’ll get one for you too.”
“Nah, I’m algood,” he says.
“I’m not,” I say. “I’m getting pretty cold.”
“Then go get a blanket.”
“I don’t want to go in without you,” I reply.
“How come?” asks Leroi.
“Cos I don’t want to leave you two alone.”
“Oh!” says Leroi, as if this has just dawned on him. “Then I’ll come inside – but I’ll only stay for a minute.”
“A minute’s long enough,” I agree.
We go in, after more than three hours. I nip into the bedroom and grab rugs, and my phone. It’s almost out of charge, but, “I’m going to ring your Nan,” I tell Leroi, seizing the moment.
“Ok,” he says, mildly. I can hardly believe it.
As we walk back outside, I swipe the contact, and the call sign flashes up.
“Hello,” says a voice.
“Hi Pam,” I begin. “Um.. sorry to ring you so early. But I just thought I should let you know, Tau and Leroi have had a fight. I’ve been outside with Leroi all night, just trying to keep them apart, and…”
“I’m coming right now,” she breaks in. “Tell them – Nana Pammie’s coming over right now.”
“Ok I will,” I breathe, gratefully.
Leroi and I sit on the step of the deck. He’s started to shiver now, and I put one of the rugs round both our shoulders. Leroi sniffs and cries a little. Tells me he’s been depressed every day, never saying anything to anyone about it. Trying to be strong, “For Tau”, is how he puts it. Stay on a positive buzz. There’s a little pause. “I just want to have a house… and a normal family,” Leroi says.
“I know,” I say, rubbing his shoulders.
“No-one cares about me,” he goes on, miserably. “No-one gives a fuck about me. Sheree’s a fuckin lost bitch. And you just care about Tau.”
“I care about you too,” I tell him.
“No you don’t. I always feel left out, everywhere I go. It’s been that way since I was a little kid.”
“I do care about you Leroi,” I say. “Why do you think I stayed outside with you all night instead of calling the cops?”
“I don’t know,” he says, but he nods just a little bit.
The cavalry arrives, thank goodness for Nana Pammie. Together we have far more chance of diverting the situation. I’m dispatched to the shed to talk to Tau, and make an attempt to locate the missing buds. Meanwhile, Pam keeps her eye on Leroi.
Tau just repeats that he doesn’t know where the buds are. When I come out and tell Leroi there’s no chance of a sesh, he becomes agitated again, and starts to pace.
“Don’t worry honey, Nana’s gonna go get you a sesh,” says Pam.
“Where from?” quavers Leroi.
“I know where to get it from,” she tells him, muttering to me, “I don’t, but I’ll find some…”
Off she goes, and Leroi sits with relative calm, waiting for her return – which is a while delayed. By now the sun truly has come up, and there are trains and planes and cars going past. I feel so tired.
Pam bears a glad-wrapped portion of a foil, when she reappears. “I had to get someone to give me a bit of theirs,” she told me. “But it’s better than nothing.”
“I need the cap for the bucky,” Leroi announces. “If Tau hasn’t got the buds, he don’t need the cap for the bucky either. I’ll come with you if I can take the cap, Nan.”
“Fair enough,” Pam says. She turns to me: “Would you go in and get it, please? I’ll stay with Leroi.”
So I go in again. Tau hands over the cap without a protest; he just sighs a little. And I told him, “I’ll get you another one, soon as the shops open.”
“I need to go in and get my shirt,” Leroi says, when I give him the cap.
“No you don’t,” Pam and I say in unison.
“You can borrow one from your Nan,” I add, and for a second he almost smiles at me, before getting into the car.
Before they drive off, she quickly pushes something through the window into my hand. “Give this to Tau,” she whispers. It’s a second foil.
By now it’s almost eight. I knock on the sleepout door once more, saying, “Sorry, Tau,” as he trudges very wearily to unlock. “They’ve gone,” I add.
“Algood Miss,” he says, returning to bed and making a half-hearted attempt to pull a rumpled blanket around him. “Fuck, felt like smashing him all night long.”
“Well, you didn’t,” I say, coming over to him. “I’m really proud of you for keeping your promise.”
“It was hard,” Tau says. “I didn’t like the way he was talking to you – I hated it. I nearly came out to smash him.”
“I hated the way he was talking to you too,” I say. I sit wearily on the bed beside him, and he leans against me the way a cat does; a trusting press.
I keep hearing Leroi’s voice in my mind, saying those hurtful things to Tau. I lean against him too, wishing I could protect him from all pain. I’ve always known I can’t do that – and yet I love him like I raised him. And so I try.