A single window on the bus is open. Within four seconds of the bus starting again, the chill wraps itself around me, making the denim from my jeans hug my bones; my cheeks flushing in the warmth and then turning into what feels like snowflakes pattering my skin. I think about closing it but I can’t bring myself to do it. The bus is packed and the open window is hanging over an elderly couple a few rows in front. Just getting up and closing it is out of the question. Or maybe it’s the gin swimming through me that is tethering me to my seat. The cold is becoming mechanical. Every time the bus starts to move again, it takes exactly four seconds for the chill to reach me, but it doesn’t hit. It embraces. Envelopes. It is nonsense. The weather is supposed to be chaos, and here it is, systematic. I just want to get into town. I need to see Alex.
The walk from the bus station to the churchyard isn’t going as bad as I thought it would do. Usually, I’m greeted with the berating and goading of bored teenagers, but tonight is different. It seems like the only sounds from miles around are those of buses hissing their way in and out of the station. Even the pubs are quieter than usual, and no one is really out except for the pub-door smokers. You know the type. The same man every single day, and even though it’s eight in the evening, you know for a fact he’s been at that pub since noon. I give a slight nod to one as I walk past. We made eye contact so I had to. He returns the nod before flicking his cigarette onto the ground and making his way back inside.
I find Alex sitting on the ground in a back-alley just off the churchyard. It’s one of those dead-end alleys that take you by surprise and you could easily walk past it on several occasions and never even know it’s there. It’s typical of Alex to place himself in a place like this, and I snicker to myself as I approach him.
He looks up and then back down. I sit myself next to him and I can immediately smell the vodka permeating from somewhere. Like it’s his aura or something. True enough, an orange light catches the bottle of vodka as he lifts it and takes a gulp. A gulp a bit too large for my liking.
‘How are you doing?’ Stupid question, but it has to be asked.
‘All right.’ An even stupider answer, but it has to be said.
We sit in silence for quite a few minutes, but it isn’t awkward or uncomfortable. I’m just waiting for him to say something. You see, he invited me here earlier, and being the good friend I am, I stopped doing whatever I was doing and hopped right on the bus to come and see him. All I know is that it has to be of small importance at least. Alex very rarely invites people to see him. People just happen upon him from time-to-time and chat. I’ve been coming here and chatting to Alex occasionally for the last six months. I like to see it as doing my part for the community. The homeless are infinitely interesting.
Without looking at me, he passes the bottle of vodka to me. Well, it’d be rude not to. I take a swig and let the liquid heat my throat and flood my stomach. Momentarily the chill just vanishes. Disappears completely. I know it’ll come back as the night becomes later and later, but for now I embrace this strange warmth that a drink like vodka always seems to give. Alex clears his throat. I pass the bottle back. I take out my packet of cigarettes, giving one to Alex and then lighting one for myself.
‘I want you to kill me.’
I choke on my inhalation and splutter on my cigarette. I haven’t done that smoking since I was thirteen.
‘I’m sorry?’ Even though I did hear him.
‘You heard.’ You see?
‘I want you to kill me. I know you will do this for me, you’re the only visitor I have who I trust.’
‘I’m not going to kill you, Alex.’
‘Yes you will,’ he pulls a knife out from under his trench coat, ‘with this. It’s easy. Just a hard jab where my heart is and it’s done.’
‘The very least you can do is explain to me why you want to die, mate.’
He takes a large gulp of vodka and passes the rest of it to me. And he begins.
Two hours have passed and I only know that because I’m squinting at the clock on the church tower. I must be drunk. I find the bottle of vodka, empty now, on the ground and for some reason this really depresses me. I take a cigarette out of the packet and fumble around my pockets trying to find a lighter. I notice my hands are shaking and as the orange light catches my skin, it glistens with blood. I light my cigarette and look over to my left to where Alex is sitting. Slumped. Knife in his chest. Maybe I should remove that. It doesn’t come out easily but I manage. I wipe the blade on the inside of my trench coat and pocket it.
I get up and start making my way back to the bus station. Maybe the night buses have started running. I leave the churchyard and make my way back through the town centre, and I’m a bit surprised how much busier it is than it was when I first arrived. The pubs seems to be packed now, and there are quite a few people all dressed-up heading towards the nightclub street. As I get to the station I rummage my pockets to find my bus ticket but with no success. Strange. I definitely did have a bus ticket. I change my mind about going home just yet and decide to go to a pub for a pint instead. Not the best idea given the amount of vodka I’ve had but it’s something to do. The only thing to do at this time.
I approach the pub and throughout my walk towards it, I have an odd feeling that the bouncer on the door has been staring at me the entire time.
‘You know you’re not allowed in here.’
‘Go on, Alex. Piss off mate.’ He laughs.
Alex. Alex? Right. Strange. I turn away and I’m drawn to the churchyard. Why am I going there? I don’t know. I Hear footsteps behind me and then someone shouting after me.
I turn around, ‘What?’ It’s a young man, I recognise him but I can’t place where or how. He runs up to me giggling, and pulls a bottle of vodka from his bag.
‘Here, mate. Don’t drink it all at once you tramp! I’ll come talk to you in the churchyard alley tomorrow afternoon if you like. If you want the company.’
‘Sure… erm… thanks.’
‘No problem, Alex. You look after yourself now.’ And he jogs away.
Matt O’Brien graduated from the University of Huddersfield in 2012 with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing. He has recently completed a PGDE at the University of Bolton in order to become an English teacher. He has previously been published in Grist’s Anthology ‘A Complicated Way of Being Ignored’, Indigo Rising UK and 5 Minute Fiction. He enjoys reading his poetry at open-mic events, and has performed at the likes of The Huddersfield Literature Festival and The Ted Hughes Festival.