Joy Boy Number Two

First Published in Staple Magazine, 2006

 I’ve got good eyes. I’m not good at much, it’s true, but I see what others miss. Gary calls me ‘totally fucking useless’. I can even hear him saying it now. But I’m not useless: it was me who saw the baby first. 


            It was dark and raining and we drove past it fast because Gary always drives too fast, even faster since he was banned. I said ‘Slow down!’ but he didn’t slow down because he never does when I ask him to. He never does anything when I ask him to, not even wash or go to bed. Then I said ‘Slow down, Gary. That looked like a baby lying there in the road,’ even though I couldn’t be sure what it was. It was late and the windows had steamed up.   


            ‘I saw what you saw,’ he said, not caring about what I’d seen, not even trying to imagine it.


            ‘Well, if you saw what I saw, why haven’t you stopped?’ 


            ‘Because it was a pile of rags’ 


            ‘Who’d leave a pile of rags in the road?’ I said, and as I said it I thought that you don’t really see rags any more. Not anywhere.


            ‘Who’d leave a fucking baby in the road?’ he said, as if I’d said something really stupid. As if he hated me.


            That is how we came to find the baby. Because for the next three or four miles we argued about what it was I’d seen lying in the road. We went through all sorts of things:


-           A badger (you see a lot more dead badgers these days than you used to; I   suppose there must be more living ones too, living under the ground, or living         wherever it is they live. I only ever see where they die)


-             A pile of dirty magazines (this was Gary’s idea; he likes dirty magazines. He’d     like the internet, but we haven’t got a phone line. We’ve got a phone, but it             doesn’t work)


-             A fox (but neither of us really thought it was a fox)


-             A Chinese takeaway meal (Gary has cold Chinese for breakfast sometimes,           straight out of the silver foil containers; whatever he didn’t fancy the night       before)


-             A large fish


-             An octopus


-             An alien (thinking of the octopus made us think of that and of Men in Black which            is Gary’s favourite film, though not mine. Mine is Titanic, but Gary always           spoils it for me - if he is in -  by shouting ‘drown you bastard’ at Leonardo Di        Caprio)


            That was when Gary braked so sharply that the car skidded on its bald tyres and turned around on itself, in the middle of the road, which was just like in the films, like in Pulp Fiction. We both like Pulp Fiction; in fact it’s probably the only film that we do both like. A good job there was no traffic, not that there ever is at that time of night. Gary said ‘Right, we’ll take a bloody look, shall we?’ 


            ‘It’s probably been run over by now,’ I said, but I didn’t think it would have been, and I could feel myself getting excited and sort of sick at the same time. And I wasn’t sure whether it was because I didn’t know what we’d find or because I might be about to get a baby or because Gary had listened to me. 


            When we pulled up alongside the pile I got out of the car and walked up to it and saw it and turned around and said to Gary ‘Aahh, Gary, it IS a baby. Aaah look, isn’t it sweet?’


            Gary wound down the window and leaned out and said, almost as if he was about to laugh, ‘For fucks sake you silly bitch, pick it up.’ I hadn’t really thought of picking it up or taking it home until then, I’d only wanted to take a look, really, a baby not being something you expect to see lying in the middle of a country road in the middle of the night. 


            The baby was wrapped in pretty clothes. Not modern baby clothes, which look like hot water bottle covers, but old fashioned things, like one of those china dolls you see in antique shop windows, with lots of copper coloured hair and big blue eyes and rosy cheeks and a flowing white dress made out of fancy tablecloth material and brown boots on its feet. This baby looked a bit like that, except she (only she wasn’t a she, she was a he, but I didn’t know that until I took off her clothes and saw its thing) didn’t have any hair, and had a bright red mark on her cheek, not blood or a bruise, though it looked like it in the dark, but a birthmark. Lovely, that birthmark was. Shaped like a ship on fire. 


            ‘Don’t just stare at it, pick the fucking thing up’ said Gary, no laughter in his voice this time. He was leaning out of the car window and smoking a roll-up in his really pissed off way. He has two ways of smoking, Gary: pissed off, which is when he makes his lips really tight and his eyes really slitty and he puffs and puffs and then pinches the roll-up out and chucks it wherever without looking, which means it quite often lands in my hair. His other type of smoking is his laid-back smoke, sometimes even when he’s smoking tobacco, which is when he leans right back and holds his right ankle with his left hand and smiles a really dirty smile and puts his head back and shuts his eyes. He makes a roll-up last a really long time when he’s having a laid-back one. 


            ‘You pick it up,’ I said, because suddenly I didn’t want to. Suddenly I just wanted to leave the baby there so that someone else could see it and pick it up.


            Then Gary said in his very calm, very slow voice, which he only ever uses when I’m going to get knocked-about-a-bit, ‘Pick…… it…….. up.’ 


            So I did. I thought the baby would start crying, which sounds really stupid now I suppose, but you wouldn’t have thought so if you’d been there at the time, because it looked like an ordinary baby, though I should have realised what with it lying in the road that it couldn’t be. I didn’t expect it to be so cold. Very cold. Not stiff, though. People call dead people ‘stiffs’ and I wondered if babies maybe don’t go stiff; and I wondered if maybe that’s because babies aren’t meant to die. Only old people are meant to die. Old people and sick people and people who smoke as much as Gary smokes, which is what I keep telling him. I smoke, too, but not nearly as much as he does, so I think he’ll die before me, which I used to be sorry about but which now suits me fine. But now I think the baby might have been dead so long that it had got stiff and then gone floppy again. And it worried me, the baby being so lovely but so cold and not seeming dead at all.


            On the way back home Gary drove really slowly. It was as if he didn’t want to wake the baby, so I said, not in a nasty way at all, ‘It isn’t asleep, you know.’ 


            ‘You don’t say,’ said Gary. 


            ‘No. It’s dead,’ I said. ‘This is a dead baby.’ But I was cradling it on my lap as if it was alive and going ‘Goo, goo, goo’ because I thought I might as well pretend it was alive, just while we got it home and maybe, I thought, this had confused Gary, especially as its dead colour didn’t really show up in the car, in the dark. Then Gary said something very surprising: 


            ‘I’m driving slowly because it’s dead,’ he said, really stretching out the word ‘because’. 


            I thought that was lovely, because I thought he’d meant it out of respect or something, so I said ‘Ohh. That’s lovely.’ 


            ‘You what?’


            ‘Ooh, it’s lovely, you showing respect for the dead baby.’ 


            ‘For fucks sake, you really are unbelievably fucking stupid,’ said Gary, which ruined my lovely moment. 


            ‘I’m driving slowly so we can work out what the fuck we’re going to do with a stiff baby,’ which was when I explained to Gary about the baby not being stiff at all.  


            ‘Shall we take it to a hospital, Gary?’ I asked. 


            ‘They don’t bring the dead back to life, do they?’ he said, not really asking.


            ‘They might,’ I said, as if he had asked, because you never know, these days. 


            That was when Gary said ‘I wish it had been a pile of wank mags. Or a badger. Even a fucking badger.’ Then Gary drove fast again. 


            In the end we just went home. I carried the baby in my arms, cradling it as if it was alive, pretending I could have a baby, which I can’t, but I’m so sick of people making out that’s important because it’s not, to me. Really it’s not. We put the baby on the kitchen table and talked a bit about what to do, whether to bury it or put it in the bin or call ‘NHS Direct’ and ask for advice but, like I said, we don’t have a phone. Then we went to bed. 


Sleeping with Gary is not nice. Don’t get me wrong, he can be nice in bed, if you’d call what he does when he’s in the mood nice, which I think some would. But mostly he falls asleep. Often that’s downstairs, but when he’s in bed his body and face press heavy into it, like he weighs tons instead of ten stone two and a half pounds which is all he does weigh being as he only eats carrots and lettuces he’s grown and veggie burgers and the occasional chicken chow mein. He says Chinese food counts as vegan because it’s all rat anyway. Don’t ask me. When he’s in  bed his head presses up against the pillow and his nose sort of bends upwards and his mouth drops down and he makes this growly noise, not a snore, which is a pig sound, but something more like a dog sound: a dog with a bad chest. His pillow case is smeared with his dribble, which is a bit brown, (from the smoking, I think). And he smells like a dog, too. His breath smells like the slime you get under the sink, and he breathes it all over me, which he can’t help I suppose. Often I get up and just sit at the kitchen table, which is better than sleep in some ways. More relaxing. I’m a bit nervous when I’m asleep, which might sound odd, but it’s a fact. 


I got up the night we found the baby, though it must have been quite late because it was already light. I went into the kitchen and the baby was still on the table, just where I’d left it. I don’t know why I was surprised to see it, but I was. Sometimes I am surprised by things I’ve left somewhere just the day before: a cup of tea I didn’t drink, or a toenail or a bit of money. It’s not often money. 


The baby looked very blue in the morning light. The bluest thing I’d ever seen.


We’ve had a compost bin ever since Gary became a vegan. He goes on marches for animal rights and protests about something called capitalism and grows lettuces. So he’s not just a selfish bastard. I think it’s more complicated than that. I do not like the compost bin: Gary nicked it from outside a garden centre. He put it on the roof of the car and drove off really fast, like he always does, and made me lean out of the passenger window and sort of hold the bin on top of the roof to stop it falling off. Although I do not like the compost bin, I know a lot about it. This is because if I throw something in the rubbish bin instead of saving it for the compost bin when it is ‘suitable for composting’ Gary gets angry. This is what he does: he comes into the kitchen after I have made a cup of tea and flips open the bin with his left foot and looks down into it. Then he says: ‘You disgust me,’ and he leans down and reaches into it and picks out the teabag between his yellow fingers and throws it at me saying ‘Fucking COMPOST.’ 


Gary made me read a leaflet about what goes in the compost heap and what doesn’t. The leaflet had green ticks against little cartoons of good things. Good things are: flowers, grass, vegetable peelings, mushrooms, teabags, wool and something that looks like pooh but can’t be. The leaflet had red crosses against cartoons of bad things. Bad things are: baked bean cans, acrylic jumpers, plastic bags, newspapers, cigarettes and dog pooh. Babies weren’t on the leaflet at all. Maybe that was why I put it in there: to upset Gary. Though actually I thought the baby would be perfect for composting. I walked out into the garden, which was dewy and cobwebby as it is at six o’clock on a day that is going to be sunny in September and I opened the lid of the compost bin and I popped the baby in the top of it. 


When I got back to the kitchen I decided to have a cigarette. As I sat at the table with a Silk Cut I suddenly had a thought: ‘Clothes’, I thought. Because Gary gets angry if I put anything in the compost that’s ‘not suitable for composting’ and although I could say to Gary that I thought the baby was allowed in the compost bin, he knew that I knew that clothes aren’t allowed (except for wool). So I got up from the kitchen table feeling quite tired and went back to the compost bin and got the baby out again and took her back to the kitchen table, and I saw that her nice clothes were horrible because they were covered with potato peelings and tomato skins. They weren’t worth keeping once they’d been in the compost, so I threw them in the rubbish bin.


That was when I saw that the baby was a boy. I felt sorry for it then, for its little body that would never work or feel anything at all, not any happiness or sadness. It wouldn’t know anyone or have an argument or get in a fight or eat anything or smell anything or feel sick. It wouldn’t have a cigarette or a takeaway meal or fall in love or get drunk or go on a hot air balloon flight, (which I did once, at a fair). It wouldn’t even have a name. I wondered if anyone had already given it a name; I got its clothes out of the rubbish bin to see if there were any name labels sewn into the collars, but then I remembered that you only have your name sewn onto your clothes when you go to school. The baby was too young for school. I thought I’d call him Craig, because that was my brother’s name and he is dead too. That was when I cried a bit. Not for Craig, (I’d already cried for him), but for the baby, which I hope proves that I am not cruel. Then I took the naked baby back down the garden, being careful not to tread on any of Gary’s courgettes and I lifted the lid off the compost bin again and dropped little naked Craig into it. ‘Bye bye Craig’ I said, but quite quietly, as I did not want Mr MacStravick next door to hear as he is a nosy bastard. 


When I was back in the kitchen I thought some more about Craig and realised that Craig was a stupid name to give him, because that made it like my brother dying twice. I tried to think of a name I didn’t like and then I thought of horses’ names, because I really hate the names horses are given, which are:


‘Bold Prince’ and ‘Seagram’s Folly’ and ‘Diamond Bay’ and ‘Mister Fretful’ and ‘Joyboy.’ 


Two nights later I slept really well and when I woke up I realised that I had been dreaming about Joyboy. Everything is beautiful in my dreams, even horrible things. This is what I saw: Joyboy’s hand, sitting in among the potato peelings and the grass clippings and the tea bags. It was white as soap and its fingers very long, and the line of its knuckles looked like a line of marble hills, and the tiny nails on the end of its fingers looked as if they had been chewed and even in my dream I wondered if that could be so.


Because I remembered my dream, which I do not always, I went out into the garden and peered into the bin, and guess what? Joyboy’s hand was sticking up, just like in the dream. I stood up on tiptoes and leaned right into the hatch at the top of the compost bin and looked down on Joyboy’s head. He had already sunk a long way into the soft, warm rotting mulch of the heap, and I hoped that he was not so cold as the night I found him. The ridges and dips of the heap seemed alive because they were shifting and churning with all the buzzing flies and little worms, which like to eat the rot of what we haven’t managed to stuff into ourselves. 


I couldn’t see Joyboy’s fingers clearly in the dark of the compost heap, so I leaned in and pulled him out. Something had already been eating away at him, because he didn’t have eyes any more, just bloody holes that looked much too big for his head and his lips had been pared back to show his gums and ants were coming out from under his tongue. I was surprised that Joyboy wasn’t a pretty boy anymore, but his hand was still perfect. It lay limp in mine, so that it felt like a lily flower, but as I turned Joyboy’s tiny fingers to see the nails I smelt something horrible, something that had not been in my dream: pipe tobacco. The smell (which is the smell of smouldering trees and birds’ wings and damp coats all mixed together) always warns me that Mr MacStravick is in his garden. There is no fence or anything between us, just a bit of wire, so you cannot ignore him, although he always ignores me because he thinks I am muck and should not be living next door to him, but there is nothing he can do to get me out even though he has tried. He has written to the council about me, which I know because they have told me. I looked around and stared right into his tuna grey face, right into his empty eyes and said ‘Morning Mr MacStravick’ for I am quite polite when I have to be. He looked at me a bit strangely and then turned around and walked slowly back into the house, which is what he usually does. He is so rude.


It was only then that I realised that I was holding Joyboy in my arms, cradling him just like my own lovely living baby, and I wondered if Mr MacStravick had noticed him. Then I put him back in the compost heap and pushed him down into the rotting grass where it is warmest and went inside and had a bowl of Chocopops and a Silk Cut. 


The lady who came to the door didn’t seem very interested at first. She was wearing a police uniform and she had big wide hips that stretched her black skirt very tight, like a proper policewoman, but I could tell that she was not a proper policewoman because she didn’t try to come straight past me into the house. Usually they do; they go straight to Gary’s wardrobe and take his stash. Or they go upstairs and come down with papers and things which are Gary’s and which I don’t know anything about. And they say to me in a special police voice which means that they don’t mean what they’re saying ‘So, Mary, I suppose you’re going to tell us you had no idea these were here,’ and I say ‘No’ and they say ‘Is that right, now? Thought as much,’ but they don’t mean it. But it is the truth. I always tell the truth.


But this lady was different in all sorts of ways, which is a shame really, because if she’d done what the police usually do she’d have just gone upstairs and pissed Gary off or, him not being there, taken some of his stuff and that would have been that. First of all, she didn’t know who I was. 


She said ‘Miss Sangster?’ and after I nodded she said ‘I’m afraid we’ve received a complaint from your neighbour’, but she said this as if she was really sorry to put me to any trouble. She said ‘May I come in?’


‘Yeah,’ I said, because I was really surprised that she asked me. Then I said ‘Gary isn’t here’ and she didn’t even know who Gary was, which meant that no one had warned her down the station.   


             ‘Is there a great deal of friction between yourself and your neighbour?’ she asked. 


            ‘Yes,’ I said, because I suppose that’s what you would call it, him smoking his pipe and complaining about us all the time. Friction. As she walked through into the kitchen she pulled off her cap and I noticed that she was almost bald and I couldn’t take my eyes off the top of her head. 


            ‘What sort of accusations has Mr MacStravick made against you?’ she asked, and she must have noticed me looking at her hair, because she pulled her cap back on. 


            ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Well, all sorts, really. He says we’re dirty, he doesn’t like us keeping chickens, but they’re all dead now anyway, he reckons we stay up all night playing music, that we hang our clothes to dry on his washing line, which we only do if there’s nothing on it, that we have loud fights, which is true but isn’t my fault.’ I went on for some time and told her everything I could think of, because I could see she wanted me to be honest. As I was talking her expression changed. At first she smiled at me comfortably, as if we were having a nice chat about our mums, but then she began to look a bit worried, staring at me and pursing her lips. Then she stopped me and said:


            ‘Miss Sangster, do you know anything about a baby?’


            ‘Only Joyboy, and he’s dead’


            ‘Where is he?’            


            It was horrible when she went and looked in the compost bin. I just watched out of the kitchen window and it was like watching someone in a film, in slow motion. I saw her walk to the end of the garden, her calves pumping, stuck into her sensible shoes like a pair of upside down tenpin skittles. Then I saw her lift up the lid and peer in and then she slowly-oh-so-slowly pivoted on her skittle legs and slid down the side of the compost bin making her jacket ride up over her shoulders and her cap flip off her head to show her bald spot again. I wondered whether to go and see if she was alright, but then I saw her open her eyes and take a breath, sort of startled, and then she leaned over and puked up all over Gary’s courgettes. I knew he’d be very pissed off about that. I did go out then, and went up to her and said ‘Are you alright?’ and she looked at me almost as if she was afraid of me. She didn’t say anything, but she fumbled for her radio and then said numbers into it and the next thing I was being put into a police car by a very polite and gentle policeman. 


Believe me, I did not kill Joyboy and neither did Gary. He was dead when we found him. I only saw the baby and got Gary to stop the car and he got me to pick it up and then we weren’t sure what to do with it, and I don’t see why that’s a crime, which is what I kept telling them that at the police station. After a few hours they got me to sign some pieces of paper and sent me home. 


Funny how they haven’t asked about Gary. No one has. Only Mr MacStravick, and he doesn’t count. He looks jumpy whenever he sees me, as if I’m going to do something to him, which I’m not. 


‘I haven’t seen your Gary around lately,’ he said to me yesterday, as if he and Gary had been best mates, which they weren’t. They’d hated each other’s guts. 


‘Oh, he’s around,’ I said, and I smiled at him because I felt a bit sorry for him, standing there looking at me so frightened. ‘Do you want to see him?’ I said, but Mr MacStravick shook his head quickly and turned around and sort of stumbled back up his garden path and shut his back door with a slam. He is so rude.