A novel excerpt by Joe Berwick.
We found the way into the scrapyard, used bolt cutters and cut the bolts holding everything together. The gate on metal fence ungated, taken down. Broke and made a sound like a screech, like a screech. We looked around, broken baby bones in piles. Used microwave still spinning and emitting lights. Hot plates, hot plates and spinning around a discarded washing machine; flies, whose wings were tipped in aluminium. Scrap flies, junk eaters. Scarecrow made a sound, she was scared, and we stumbled over. We stumbled over the hot plates and microwaves. There was a dead dog, whose eyes were in heaven but whose body was petrified and smelly. Coiled up like rope. I poked a rib, I poked a rib and hated the sound. I stopped poking the rib and didn’t like the sound as it stayed in my brain and didn’t leave. I wandered because I saw something shining in a pile and I was a magpie. I had wings, and feathers and beak and-
I dislodged the spatula, Scarecrow was still crying, she had a wet face and no feathers. I was sure I had feathers so I checked, I could check right now and jump from this pile where a spatula had been lodged, like Arthur’s sword. I was holding it now, like Arthur. He was from books, he was in the pictures. He had long blonde hair and never went near garbage. He beat back the invaders and he knew the dragons and the Lake Lady. Scarecrow wasn’t a Lake Lady, but she was wet. Because she had tears packed in her eyes, when the dog was dead, she got Dewey eyed. I got to the top of the pile and felt like Arthur in the legends. Except it wasn’t England, Albion, it was a pile of junk. Ratpack called to me. He called out from the bottom of the pile, I’ve found it, I’ve found it. Ratpack wasn’t the dragon, and he wasn’t Arthur, I found the spatula first. Ratpack was pudgy, and reeking and only had one shoe, and didn’t even know how to tie it. I had two shoes sometimes. I yawned and fell down the pile and I caught my skin on a scrap piece, and the scrap piece cut me and I bled and when I bled I winced and caught the sight, no feathers, red liquid. I pulled over my shirt – my synthetic shirt. Now the synthetic shirt was red and I was weak and Scarecrow had stopped crying but the dog was reeking, worse than Ratpack who we followed.
He stepped in and out of barbs, avoiding the barbs. The serrated barbs, put down to stop the young’uns by the toothless man, who wasn’t really toothless because he had one tooth, but it was black like bad candy and hung on threads. But he had a tooth, so he wasn’t toothless. He liked to chase the kids – he wasn’t alive though, not now. He had fallen in his bathtub and turned his head into berry jam. That is what I heard, we heard. He was dead, but he still had a tooth – so he wasn’t really the toothless man. His traps were still around, they were like teeth too and bit down on you. Scarecrow told me a story before, about a boy. About a boy called Phillip, but he was called Flip because he was angry sometimes, but sometimes not. And Scarecrow said: Flip broke through the fence, with his bare hands, and that was why the toothless man put the bolts in and we needed the bolt cutters to get inside. I stopped her and told her that he had a tooth and that the name didn’t work. She took this as a scolding and stopped talking, so I ruffled her hair, mousey hair, long and sticky. I ruffled until she smiled again and thought she looked like the Lake Lady. She was quick to tears because her father had a short temper, her father would also flip. Not just flip but slip and somersault like the jumping robot dog toys everybody wanted and nobody had. He would leave marks on Scarecrow that stayed around for weeks and didn’t go away. She covered them with muslin ties. The boy whose mummy ran the shop was dumb, he called it Muslim. MOOSLIM he said. He made Scarecrow laugh, so I didn’t bully him.
Ratpack did the bullying, because his one boot was so big, like an army boot, so he would kick things and when there was no way to kick he would throw it. And when he couldn’t throw he wouldn’t bother anymore because his boot was his power. He didn’t have any power, when he wasn’t wearing the boot he was scared of flies and spiders. I was scared of spiders all the time. Black widows live on my windowsill so I always closed the blinds. Someday they would come through the blinds and I would confront them and if I won I wouldn’t be scared of spiders but if I lost I would be like Scarecrow. I would find out, that I was packed full of straw.
Look, look, look, said Ratpack. Ratpack said to look and jumped around and looked tribal and smeared his hands all over scrap and coveted it. I asked, what is it. Tell me now. I was impatient because I wanted to go, I wanted to go back to the streets, I had a gum in my pocket, mint gum. I liked gum, it made me smell nice, I didn’t want to smell like Ratpack. I didn’t smell like a dead dog, I still had my ribs inside my body. I hadn’t lost my eyes, I could still see, I had my eyes. Scarecrow said what is it? What is it? What is it? And I asked, again, what is it? What is it? I asked him, I wasn’t interested. I asked him. He said and shined his grubby face, shined like a lantern. It’s valuable is what it is, he said. He didn’t know because he didn’t work in a shop, but it sparkled. It sparkled like stars. He collected it up in his shirt. Held it like a baby, he looked pregnant, pregnant with a metal baby that wasn’t put together. If he put it together, he would be a daddy. He would have to get a job and stop playing around. Just like my Daddy and my Mummy. Mummy wasn’t here now because she had gone to heaven through the hole in the ground. I put flowers on her hole. Daddy said she was in heaven now which was a part of the clouds where everything was shiny. She could see what I was doing, he said. She was looking at me now.
Ratpack collected his pieces all together in his folded shirt and we were about to go, I needed to go because I remembered Mummy who was looking at me from heaven and because Scarecrow was crying again for no reason. And because I was bored. I wanted to eat my gum on the streets and bully the kids who had the skateboards and couldn’t do tricks. I wanted to show them tricks but for that, I would have to bash a kid and take his skateboard. For that: I would have to learn my own tricks and I couldn’t do that standing in the scrap and swatting the flies.
If Mummy saw that I was bashing kids she wouldn’t be happy. Scarecrow hung onto my arm and I was red because I thought she was nice. I thought she was nice enough to kiss on the head and sometimes the lips and sometimes the belly. That tickled her and she said to stop it. But she didn’t mean what she said. Sometimes people don’t mean what they say. Sometimes people are liars, and sometimes they don’t mean to not tell you things and other times they are scared. I didn’t like Scarecrow in any way though, no, not me at all.
We were leaving, but the pile of scrap nearest to us was shaking and humming and making funny noises. It was like locusts, or cicadas. Trapped in jars, trapped under scrap. I looked at Ratpack who looked at me and then I looked at Scarecrow who looked at the floor and then I looked at the scrap and then I looked at my Mummy and then I looked at the gum in my pocket and I said: do you want to look? I said we should look. Ratpack agreed, he was heavy with his baby so he dropped all the pieces on the floor and they scattered about, his shirt was stained black. A large bolt fell on his foot but the boot protected him. I prodded the pile, I prodded the pile with my spatula, I was Arthur and fearless. I would fight off an invader, and Ratpack would kick an invader and Scarecrow would try their best. The pile moved again, it wasn’t a pile, it was a mountain, a mountain of trash and thrown away things and things that didn’t have anywhere else to go and bad things that didn’t work well. Clocks that went backwards. Clocks that reversed time, we all agreed that was cool and wondered why the adults would throw that away. I was inside the pile. We had hollowed it out, I threw aside old and broken things, discarded things, a discarded bike. The kid must be dead, it was a kid’s bike, it had stabilisers. We couldn’t ride bikes, we never had bikes, and no one would teach us anyway. I pulled on something that looked like a person. A leg. It was pale and looked dead and I was scared I had found a body but it didn’t reek and it didn’t look compost. I pulled hard and hard and Ratpack held up the rubbish that now made a roof over my head. I was like a mole in his home. I had never seen a mole, I had seen a mole like I had seen Arthur.
The leg came out with me, I fell on my butt. The leg came out, we all held onto the leg in a line and pulled and pulled like we were pirates raising the flag. I had seen pirates in movies but they weren’t like Arthur, they were more like us. I was closer to a pirate; the spatula was my pirate sword. My cut-lass. Me, Scarecrow, Ratpack, we all worked together and put our strength together. We played tug of war with the mountain of rubbish. Eventually we won against the pile and a whole body came out. And the whole body ended up in front of us but we all fell down. And we became a pile ourselves, a pile of pirates, of naughty kids. I brushed myself off. I helped Scarecrow up, Ratpack didn’t want help. He said he was fine. He had a cut too. We better wash well when we get back. Our skin could go green and our parts could fall off and go away. Runaway, we didn’t take proper care so our arms and legs and stomachs decided to find someone else to stick with.
The mole house of rubbish we had dug out collapsed and the pile was a pile again, nothing interesting in it, or at least on the surface. It made a screech sound. It made a screech sound when it collapsed in on itself and took on an uglier shape than before. I didn’t have any more cuts, I checked my cut from earlier and it wasn’t green yet. There was still red, lots of red, my shirt was half dyed. We crowded around the thing from the rubbish. It was a Baby Doll. It was a beautiful Baby Doll. It still had all its bones, but no power. Its power was gone. Its eyes were off. Shut, like ours when we sleep but no signs of existence behind them. Only shut, like the door to a neighbour’s house. You never know what’s going on behind the shut door, you know about your own shut door. Not the neighbours. I only had a house sometimes, and Ratpack didn’t but Scarecrow did most times, except when she didn’t then she lived in a box, with tin cans.
It didn’t move. The Baby Doll was still. The Baby Doll had silky hair and smelled like fresh laundry or fresh flowers, or perfumes like the movie stars have or sweet icing on the cakes that I only saw through the window. I licked my lips when I thought about it.
My lips were cracked and sore. The Baby Doll was naked, I could see the bits, that the men poked with their-
I could see the mounds. I wanted to touch them, they were bigger than Scarecrows. Scarecrow had nothing there, but she would when she grew up, she would be like Mummy. She would be like the Baby Doll. Ratpack didn’t care about his scraps anymore. He looked at the Baby Doll, he touched the foot to see if it jumped or wiggled. The skin wasn’t skin, but it was made to look, to feel, like real skin. The skin was fake, but it also wasn’t because it was close enough. It did the same job. Scarecrow said we should go and I shushed her and put a finger on her mouth and she was quiet. The Baby Doll started to reboot. Its body started to warm, we backed away, it started to make sounds. The eyes came alive. It opened its eyes. She opened her eyes. She had red eyes, people don’t have red eyes, no person had fire in their eyes. She raised a hand and snatched at the sun. It was in her eyes. The day was warm. That was good because you wouldn’t need Clothes. Would a Baby Doll get cold? She had skin, fake skin, she might feel cold. Fake cold. She covered her eyes with her hand, she had long nails, longer than mine and I had long nails so I could fight. I had chipped nails too, but her nails were perfect, and blue. She winced and sat up. You could hear the insides turning. My gut made noises like that sometimes, but my gut didn’t make noises all the time. She was making noises with every movement and that was how she was different. How you could tell the difference. She stood up and looked at me, moved in my direction and she followed my motions while she was getting the hang of being alive. She stopped before me and that made me stop so she grabbed my hand. She held my hand and asked me if I was master. I didn’t say anything because I was confused, because I didn’t know this Baby Doll. Because her mounds were pointed at my face and her face was looking down at me, she was taller than us but only as tall as most adults. Ratpack looked angry at me and Scarecrow looked scared. The Baby Doll said her name was Dolly. Dolly. Dolly had long hair in a big tail but there was lots of hair left around that hung under her shoulders and was disordered but looked nice. She said she wanted water, she was thirsty and I asked if she needed water and she said yes and no and said it was nice to choose. We didn’t have water, but I had gum and I might be able to trade it with someone. But why would I do that? Dolly said that I had awoken her. And That meant I was her master now and a good master would also care about their property. Ratpack said he found her first, he tried to introduce himself and his boot. She ignored him, I found that funny. Scarecrow introduced herself. Ms. Dolly, she said. I’m Scarecrow and it’s very nice to meet you, she said. Like she was talking to a parent. She bowed, she bowed like she was talking to a priest. I didn’t do that, I said; hi Dolly I’m the Kid. I live on Sycamore sometimes and I like to collect baseball cards but I don’t have any right now and sometimes I like to skate and play baseball. But I don’t have a skateboard or a bat. I love spaghetti, I don’t mind eating it cold and straight from the can. Dolly said, nice to meet you Kid, I like spaghetti too and I like baseball, my master liked baseball too but he’s gone now. I asked who her master was and she told me.
He was a fat man who might have been Russian or might have been Estonian – and I didn’t know what that was so I shrugged it off – or might have just been funny sounding. Dolly sounded normal and had an American accent, like me, except she was from the south, where everyone likes cold tea and drove big trucks and had a different flag that they raised an arm for and sang out to. She said the man liked to paddle her and I wondered if she was a boat. He was a mean man, with a mean eye. He often left her in the box for days and didn’t let her wear clothes, except when he wanted her to wear a pair of jeans. She would wear the jeans and the fat man, who was talking in Russian or Estonian or-
Would rub himself and rub his leg and rub other things and tell her to turn around. She would and he would salivate, like a dog, like a hungry dog who was waiting for scraps under the table. She would come closer to him and he would look straight at her butt and then he wouldn’t do anything because he had wasted all his own energy so instead he would make her draw a bath.
A bath in a bathtub, I didn’t have a bathtub, Dolly explained to me what a bathtub was like. It was a bowl, a human sized bowl of hot and soapy water. The fat man would sit in the hot water and he would clean himself. I cleaned myself with water that came out of a pipe in the street, I would get naked in the street and let the water wet me and I would feel clean, I cleaned my soles because they were grubby. I cleaned under my arms because they were sweating. I cleaned and sometimes bigger boys laughed and me and shouted to one another: his dick is small. His dick is small, I didn’t understand what that meant. I would say the word to Daddy and then he would, he would make me clean my mouth. He put solutions inside my mouth and I had to gargle.
Dolly said she had to gargle too, I didn’t understand so she made the sound. It was like a vulture, except the vulture was trapped in the back of a throat and the vulture was covered in saliva and that was why the sound was so swallowed and crooked and not nice to hear. It was not nice to hear, I wondered why the fat man would want her to make that sound. Did he like it while he was in the bathtub? I said- I asked, why did you leave the fat man? And Dolly paused and she didn’t speak and she thought about it. She didn’t make faces like we did, she was the same all the time. She told me that she hadn’t left the fat man, that the fat man had gone back to Russia or Estonia and that he had left her in a box and when the government people had come and demolished his home they had thrown everything into scrap piles and waited for everything to go away with time. Time vanishes everything. I knew in time I would grow hair on my chest. Because daddy had hair on his chest, it looked like a gorilla except in other spaces where there wasn’t any hair so he didn’t look like a gorilla there. He looked more like me and that was how I knew we were related. I asked Dolly if she grew hair while she was waiting, or if the house debris grew hair while it was in piles. She said she didn’t know. She looked at her body, she put her hands over her skin and ran her fingers over the skin break between her legs and then she checked the mounds on her chest and then she patted the back of her neck and then she shook her head, she was sure she hadn’t grown more hair. She might have even lost hair. I didn’t think so.
She said she didn’t have anywhere to go but she would make me her master and I could tell her what to do, I told her I didn’t want to tell her what to do and that she should do her own thing. I thought her expression changed and I thought I saw something in the corners of her mouth. I rubbed my eyes, I wanted water. She wanted water too. She wanted clothes, she would need them if it got cold or if she wanted to go into a store, you couldn’t go into a store naked they would kick you out. Ratpack said he knew where clothes could come from, Scarecrow vouched for him, she had gotten clothes from the place where Ratpack found clothes. I bashed his head because he should have told me. I needed new clothes, I didn’t care if they were dirty at all. All clothes are dirty unless you have money and then clothes can stop being dirty and then you can get a job. People who have jobs don’t smell. I whacked Ratpack who let out a small yelp and said, sorry! Sorry! And let me know he was planning to tell me, I didn’t believe him. He wanted his own thing, his own secret so he could hold it over me in his head. His head would get big, thinking about the clothes he could have that I couldn’t have. Now I was going to have clothes and so was Dolly. We followed Ratpack. We walked in order, Ratpack, and then me and then Dolly and finally Scarecrow, who was at the end and whenever Dolly stopped and Scarecrow accidentally bashed into her, she said sorry, sorry, sorry!. She Bowed and Dolly patted her head and said it was alright. Scarecrow looked back happy, she liked having another girl. That must be it, girls like other girls, just like boys like other boys. Sometimes girls only want to be with other girls and sometimes they want to be with boys. Scarecrow wanted to be with boys more often. She liked me, I didn’t mind her. She was great even though she was scared of everything. She was always trying not to be. Ratpack took us places, we looked funny, people covered their eyes when they saw Dolly because she had no clothes on. I didn’t mind, it was just flesh. Everyone had flesh and it would be funny if you didn’t. Dolly might not have people flesh but it looked like people flesh so I didn’t know why everyone kept looking, this wasn’t a job. This was outside. Sometimes people had nothing but flesh. People were looking all the way to the place where the clothes hid. The place was big, like a scrapyard but a scrapyard for things that weren’t metal. It was like a big rubbish bin. We climbed over the gate this time, the bolt cutters weren’t used. We didn’t have them, we left them in the scrapyard. It was scrap now, if you’re in the scrapyard too long you become scrap. Not people, not kids. Kids can’t become scrap, unless you where people like the way Dolly is, then you could get grinded down into your baby bones and scattered on the piles of trash, like toppings on a pizza. I Knew all the best toppings of a pizza, I’d seen them in-
Ratpack looked proud, his face was round and proud. He had a big grin and it covered his face but it made his chin pudgy and round. It made his cheeks puffy and round. He was very round, when he was emotional he was rounder. He was a bowling ball, he had holes in his back, I was sure. He was a meatball. He ducked behind a pile and his arm came out from behind the pile and he led us over. This time I was in front and then it was Scarecrow and Dolly was behind the rest, she was looking at pieces of baby bone that were scattered between the rubbish. Rubbish coloured in all the colours, the baby bones are only one colour, stainless steel. Tiny luminosities. Dolly picked up a baby bone that could have been from the spine and she turned it in her hands and she looked at the back of it, then she dropped it. She picked up another baby bone, it was probably a piece of the leg, she looked at it and she didn’t look happy. She didn’t look unhappy either though, because I still thought I knew that she could only make the one face. She looked like she was sad inside though, I could read that in her eyes and features and the motion that lay under all that. When people don’t say what they mean but they feel what they mean. You can feel what they mean. I felt what she meant so I took her hand in my hand, we looked like a mummy and a son. She looked at me and I looked at her and then Ratpack looked out from behind the pile he was behind. He was impatient and tapping his boot and his bootless foot fidgeted. He had stopped bleeding, I had stopped bleeding. He showed us the way, we followed his way.
Read more about the author Joe Berwick HERE.