Scarlet Streets – a story for Hallowe’en

Originally published in Fugue II, The Siren Press

Scarlet Streets 

 

Blood runs down the street twice a week.

 

 

It comes from the abattoir up past Norfolk Drive and runs down the pink cobblestones to the drains. In the summer, the stream congeals into pudding. It stinks, and attracts flies and rats until the men from the abattoir come to clear it away. In winter, it freezes into red spikes that melt wounds into the snow.

Mothers scream at their children to keep away from Norfolk Drive on Wednesdays and Fridays. Dad tells me to keep my shoes out of it. He worked overtime for those patent leathers, he says. I keep my shoes out, but go to look at the blood, same as everyone else. The boys float paper boats down it. The galleons log with the liquid and cling to the bars in the drain like strips of flesh.

Once, someone dared Gethin to drink it. Gethin has holes in his shoes because his dad went off to do shifts in Newcastle and never came back. His mum smokes roll-ups and always wears the same bacon-stained apron. Gethin steals out of people’s lunch boxes at school. He dips a dirty finger in and licks it. Girls squeal, but the boys say it doesn’t count. They don’t stop until he’s drunk a palmful. The stuff leaks between his mucky fingers whilst he slurps. My wrists ache as he drinks. Gethin doesn’t go to school for a long time, after that.

Babies are kept away from Norfolk Drive because of the flies. Instead, they are wheeled round and round the park until they get sick and hot. Bottles of cold tea are handed to them and they set round and round again. I wish someone would offer me cold tea.

The water is shut off at home, so I put my mouth on the toilet tap at school and drink the icy water until I can feel it coming back up my throat. The tap bites into my gums and iron mixes with the water. My patent leather shoes are too small and make my feet cramp.

I’m going through another girl’s bag when Gethin catches me. He’s taking a chocolate bar out of someone’s pocket. I am holding a sealed tampon. We don’t speak, and he watches me go into the toilets. I don’t know how to use it. I sit on the seat and force it in. I wondered if it means I’m not a virgin any more, and start crying. There’s blood coming still, so I wad up toilet paper. The tiles peel from the wall, exposing the building’s musculature, the meat inside.

The soles of Gethin’s shoes are beetroot. He can swallow the stuff by the cupful now without getting sick, and he does so, 50p a drink until his lips are rouge and his belly is full of rose petals. I wonder for how long someone can live on blood and chocolate. A streetmap of reddish dribble stains Gethin’s chin. Every cup he drinks makes me slower, makes my joints burn, makes my insides leak out like he controls it. He looks me in the eye as he scoops up another cupful.

The bills on the table look like they are bleeding. They leak through the letter box. I can see a girl over the road going for a driving lesson. The instructor is looking between her legs at the pedals. When she starts the car, fuel drips from the exhaust, oil from the engine, leaving inky rainbows on the road.

The doctor explains that if I needed to, I can take more pills to stop bleeding. He tells me not to do it often. I take a pill every day until the sight of them makes me heave and one day there’s a flood like the kind that pours down Norfolk Drive. I am dying. There will be nothing left of me but a husk, and my body will drain into the sewers to be drunk by boys in exchange for pennies.

The mothers say there’s going to be An Act passed. That the abattoir won’t be allowed to let the blood into the street any more. The kids are disappointed. The abattoir is the heart of the village, Dad says. Gethin says if that’s true, we’re all sick. The heart is haemorrhaging. I watch the glug of blood down the drain, the plug, the toilet, the sink, and count down how many days I have left. There are fingerprints on my sheets.

The abattoir shuts its gates and starts slaughtering. The heart is patched up, the stent is in place. This time, the road stays clean. The streets are mummified veins. I lean over the barriers and listen to the groaning of the cows before they are shot in the head. I imagine the red spray that splatters the killer. I see the cow’s kicking legs. Gethin looks at my white face. His lips are cracked, his stomach concave. He puts a hand to his chest. It comes away scarlet, shining. The moaning is cut short.

 

*****

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