Felix Garner Davis
The backboards of the basketball rings have the same dilapidated sheen to them but it’s different here, where I remember scrabbling up on top of the girls’ toilet block and banging on its lid whenever I heard a flush. From that outpost the crumbling asphalt courts sprawled around me like plains of war, littered with yelping children and cracked white lines. The girls who dashed out of the toilets and confronted me from below must have seen a godly figure. When I snarled down at them I felt my teeth sharpen and crystallise.
Annie was there, then, a frowning cherub squeezed into a dress that smelt of itchy washing powder. One time she roared up at me after some of the older kids told her to, jetting a shriek so wicked it tore my eardrums. I squatted, blood-slick, with my blotchy palms pinched to the sides of my head. Annie never let me go. She seemed lost, afterward, eyes frozen on the crimson paint spilling over the crest of the corrugated iron but quivering, her left ankle lolling stupidly as her knees knocked together. If Annie was a villain, she was the best I’d ever seen.
The bell rings, a croakily-amplified peal whose ferocity seems to have increased with the years. There’s no school today, though. The net chews my fingers as I ease my feet from the ground. It’s metal. An electric spider skids along my spine as I see my ears pricked to points for the tinkling swish, shoes crumpled in half and flexing on the bulging foul line, outstretched fingers twisted and white like frosted talons. It’s there, gentle and lavish, a sprinkle of sonic delight. It’s gone.
I’m still dangling from the ring when she trots up. My eyelids are clamped so tight they’re trembling but I hear her heavy steps, the way she drags the toe of her trailing shoe through the shards of bitumen. It’s Annie, for sure, scraping to a shivery halt before me, just like she did before she screamed me off the toilet block.
‘What are you doing?’
‘You should fucking hang yourself.’
‘Take it easy, Annie.’
I loosen my eyelids. She flinches. Behind her, a grey smudge swings by, swooping over the playground and vanishing beneath a canvas shade.
‘I came to tell you to stop it, in person. You probably get a kick out of this but I don’t care. I’ve never done wrong by you. I want you to leave me alone.’
Her eyes are bloodshot, vessels split raw by her whimpering. The fat droops off her like the remains of some gelatinous alien. I can see her stomach, purple and dimpled, spilling over her zipper. My neck tingles.
‘That’s fine by me, love.’
I accentuate the good news with a smile. She reads it as a smirk, dropping her gaze to the asphalt and grinding on her heel. A furious waddle propels her across the schoolyard at alarming speed. I call after her, slathering the air with as much lurching hatred as I can muster. She’s at the road.
‘See you later, Annie.’