I’m there, Alex is there, Ralph Fiennes is there. We’re sitting on three moulded plastic chairs in a dark grey concrete waiting room.
I turn to Ralph. ‘It’s you,’ I say.
‘I saw you in that film. The one about the war.’
‘Schindler’s List,’ he says.
I nod. ‘Were you Schindler?’ I say.
‘I was the evil one,’ he says. ‘I got hung.’
‘I remember,’ I say.
I face front. I sit for a few minutes, facing front.
I turn back to Ralph.
‘You look different in real life,’ I say.
‘Oh?’ he says.
I nod. ‘You have a beard.’
‘You look older, too,’ I say.
‘That film was a long time ago,’ he says.
‘Was it?’ I say. ‘I saw it last week. It was in black and white. I couldn’t tell how old it was.’
‘Good few years,’ he says.
‘Fifty?’ I say.
‘Not that many,’ he says.
‘Oh,’ I say.
We sit. I face front again, then turn to Alex.
‘Alright?’ I say.
‘You talk to him but you won’t talk to me?’ he says, gesturing to Ralph.
‘He’s famous,’ I say.
Alex tuts. He faces front for a second, then glances at Ralph. ‘What for?’ he says.
‘He was in Schindler’s List,’ I say.
Alex looks impressed. ‘Oh,’ he says. He looks across at Ralph. ‘Great film,’ he says, giving him a thumbs up.
Alex looks at me. ‘Still,’ he says. ‘We’re supposed to be friends.’
‘Yeah,’ I say.
‘We haven’t got much time,’ he says.
‘For what?’ I say.
He doesn’t reply.
Alex tuts again.
‘Alright,’ I say. ‘What do you want?’
‘Tell me how you got here,’ he says.
I listen to the clock ticking for a few more seconds.
‘It all went black, then I was here,’ I say.
‘Before that?’ Alex says.
I think for a second. ‘All black,’ I say.
‘Think,’ he says. ‘Before that.’
I think. ‘This is my last memory,’ I say. ‘I was eating stew in my living room.’
Alex pulls out a notebook from the back pocket of his jeans. ‘Okay, that helps,’ he says. ‘Now tell me about losing your virginity.’
‘I can’t remember,’ I say.
‘What did she look like?’ he says.
‘I can’t remember,’ I say again.
‘It’s important,’ Ralph says, poking me in the ribs with his elbow.
‘Don’t do that,’ I say to Ralph.
I blink and then Ralph is in Nazi gear. He’s holding a pistol and he has no beard and his face is pulled into a weird semi-smile, semi-sneer.
‘Quick,’ Alex says, tugging me.
‘What?’ I say. I’m standing, turning and following Alex. He pulls me through a door and closes it. ‘Come on,’ he says, tugging me again.
I follow him.
Behind me I hear a bang.
‘What was that?’ I say to Alex. He’s a few feet ahead of me and walking quickly. We’re on a woodland path. It’s dark. Twigs are cracking under our feet. I look up and I can see the moon. We come out from the path and into the open. We are standing in front of a pub called the Black Robin. Alex is ducking through the doorway.
I follow him into the pub. It’s empty. Alex is standing at the bar, leaning. He’s breathing heavily. ‘Quite a walk,’ he says.
‘Worth it,’ I say, looking around me. The pub is old-fashioned. Pictures of horses on the walls, bits of brass and old plough. ‘Nice place,’ I say.
A barman appears. Alex points to a tap and orders two. The barman pulls two big glasses of something black. Alex hands me one and takes the other. The barman disappears. Alex squeezes past me and leaves the pub. I follow him. We climb steps at the side of the pub, into a beer garden. Bits of my drink are slopping over the sides of the glass and making my hand wet. Alex selects a pub bench and sits. I join him.
‘You’ll remember losing your virginity if you tell me more about the stew,’ he says.
‘How does that work?’ I say.
‘Just tell me,’ he says.
‘Okay,’ I say. ‘It was nice. Homemade. It had red wine in it. It burned me though.’
‘Okay,’ Alex says. He’s drunk most of his drink.
I take several large gulps.
Alex is staring past me, over my shoulder. ‘Now tell me more about your first time,’ he says. ‘You’ll lose the memory again. Tell me while you remember.’
‘I’m losing my memory?’ I say.
He waves his hand at me. ‘Your brain’s fucked up,’ he says.
‘Are you really Alex?’ I say.
He laughs. ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘Now tell me about your first time.’
I look at him for a second. ‘Sally Turner,’ I say. ‘We were fourteen. It was in my bedroom. A quick fumble and in.’
‘Excellent,’ he says, pulling out his notebook again.
‘What are you doing?’ I say.
He’s scribbling in the notebook. He glances up at me, then continues.
‘What are you doing?’ I say again.
He stops writing.
‘What was that thing with Ralph Fiennes all about?’ I say.
Alex finishes his drink. ‘Memory,’ he says, wiping foam from his upper lip. ‘You saw that film recently.’
‘It was like a marker on your memory.’
‘I’m losing it?’
‘It happens when you die,’ Alex says.
I finish my drink. ‘When you what?’ I say.
‘Come on,’ he says, standing.
We go back to the woods. ‘I started to burn,’ I say, as we’re walking.
‘Where?’ Alex says.
‘I looked around and there was meat everywhere, and I realised I’d knocked the stew over. It was all on the sofa.’
‘And it still burned. It really burned.’
‘Oh,’ Alex says.
I blink and we’re not on the bridge, we’re sitting in a park on a bench. We’re side by side. I look up. Alex isn’t Alex. Alex is Sally Turner, and she’s wearing a long black fleece coat tied in the middle. She’s shivering. ‘Is this her?’ she says, except she has Alex’s voice. I nod. ‘Is this her voice?’ she says, in a girl’s voice now. I nod. I’m sitting next to her and she leans her head on my shoulder. She kisses me. She has her coat open and my hand is in it. My hand is underneath her top and I edge my fingers underneath her left bra-cup. I push it up and expose the tit. ‘Ouch,’ she says. I squeeze her tit and pinch her nipple. We’re kissing, and our slobber is mingling and dripping down our chins. Her nose is running because it’s cold. It’s running and she’s wiping it on my cheek as we kiss. I’m squeezing her nipple. It’s hard. She’s breathing heavily through the slobber.
I’m in a chair in Alex’s living room. He’s pushing the door open with his foot, carrying a mug of coffee in each hand. He’s smiling. I’m sitting in the chair watching him. I reach out and take the coffee.
‘So,’ he says, sitting down on the opposite side of the room. ‘The burning was from the food?’
‘No,’ I say.
‘What happened next?’
‘I stood,’ I say. ‘Barely. I barely stood because it hurt so much. I took off my clothes and went to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror.’ I stop talking and look at the floor. I sip my coffee. I look up at Alex. ‘I was black,’ I say. ‘I was black all over.’
‘Scabs?’ Alex says, wincing.
‘I was black all over. Black scabs, and they started weeping.’
Alex scrunches up his nose.
‘And soon I was covered in this slime,’ I say. ‘This sludge, like sick. Like vomit all over me. I just watched it happen. I stood in front of the mirror and watched it happen.’
‘Okay,’ Alex says.
Sally’s naked now. Sally’s naked and on me. I’m naked and in Sally. She’s saying it hurts. She’s saying ouch over and over. She’s squirming and I like it. I like the squirming. She’s saying it hurts and I’m saying I’m sorry. I’m asking if she wants to stop. She’s saying no, no, she doesn’t, she wants to carry on until it doesn’t hurt. We keep going. We keep squirming and I’m pushing hard. She says too hard. I say sorry again and push less hard. I’m thinking I’ll tell my mates. I’m thinking I’ll put it in a blog or something. I’m thinking I’m going to finish. I finish. She’s off me and on her back and breathing heavy. I’m on my back. I close my eyes. I open my eyes. I’m in my room. I’m in front of the TV and I’m naked. On the floor are magazines and they’re Hooters, Hustler and Big and Busty. They’re spread out. The women are spread out and I’m naked in my room. The curtains are shut but it’s daytime. On the TV is daytime telly. I can smell stew. I close my eyes. I open my eyes.