Excerpts from the trio
If memories are like bookmarks, Matt’s and Ali’s meeting was the kind of double-paged-and-reckless corner-fold that the self-confessed neat freaks among us hate. This memory would never move from its place or slip out. Its paper crease remained there, disrupting the neat setting of a page, for a long while after the book returned to some dusty attic somewhere.
So we begin where Matt first caught Ali’s eyes. He was on his trampoline, like any other day after school, so what he saw he saw in short swooping snapshots. Ali had eyes like marbles, transfixed on his, and they could only be seen at the very tip, the apex (the word he’d just learnt about in textbook line graphs), of his bounce. Matt’s thighs were burning with the effort- he was on fire, setting world records! He was a human rocket shooting out into the stratosphere and discovering never-seen-before aliens!
He could see that this new boy’s eyes were wider than normal eyes, so maybe he was actually an alien? The boy stood very still as he stared back at Matt, with an animal-in-headlights look that he’d come to be quite famous for. And while Matt knew that money didn’t grow on trees, (that would be stupid, that was a saying), today seemed to be telling him that new boys grew from hedges, shooting out from above their grassy- green and neatly-trimmed cuboid ceilings. It was about time, he thought to himself, still bouncing bouncing bouncing, it was about time there was a human his size around here. His was a neighbourhood chockablock full of the more tall and serious variety. Except Jasmine. But he never seemed to count her. She was a girl.
The trampoline began to rattle, startled at the force of such a tiny human frame. It’s tiny-holed surface wobbled underneath him and screeched on its springs, and the entire structure slouched slightly in its haphazard placement at the bottom of the garden. A bright electric blue, there had never been a time when it hadn’t leant out-of-kilt- both parents regretted the day they’d bought it:
‘Crooked old eye sore even when it’s still, rattling about... completely cramps up the line of my lovely garden’, Lydia Smith. The Mother.
But it seemed there was no where else more ‘out of the way enough’ that didn’t disrupt his mother’s garden aesthetic. It was certainly not going on the front deck, no matter how perfectly flat that may be. The best case scenario was to at least try to keep it out of sight, wedged in between the back fence, the hedge and a very deadly holly bush. Matt had bounced straight into that piece of shrubbery many times, it only took one slightly mismanaged trajectory. He always seemed to come out of it better though, with just a few light scratches, whilst the holly bush itself was permanently dismorphed, moulded into a hollowed-out, boy-shaped curve. It would probably be taken out anyway:
‘to allow for the expansion of my vegetable patch.’ (Guess who)
For now, it lived on, growing tentatively outwards, away from the trampoline’s danger zone.
Despite the dangers, Matt always loved getting home from school so he could go on the trampoline. He waited patiently, all day long, for the adrenaline rushes of sit drops and belly-flop-front-drops. He connected these with messy swivels and gangly star jumps and he’d even tried a flip once but his head didn’t really like the spinning- it had throbbed as he went over, and dizziness had started to creep in so now he kept to straight ups and downs. It was all about getting the height, higher and higher into the air... until... yes! He could see over the hedge. And there he was, on that particular day, the tiny neighbour he’d never seen before, shiny and new.
Had this boy also obeyed the command to go outside and play? The that-gets-him-out-of-my-hair-for-a-while? Did his parents also only ever talk about laundry and grass stains and five fruits and vegetables a day? He wondered what the new boy thought of him. Well, hopefully a Jack-in-the-box Matt-in-the-bush sailing over clothes lines on a twenty-six spring, catapulting bounce machine. That’s what he thought he looked like at least.
And that was it, their friendship formed just like that. Blink and you miss it.
The start can be so easily forgotten afterwards, as though there had never been a time or place where it had all begun. Almost immediately from that moment, it would feel to Matt and Ali as though they had always been in each other’s lives. But when they reached the ages when they began to look back on the past, so they could try and keep the best bits safely stored, Ali would remember Matt and his waving, flailing arms. It was a friendship bridged over a high-flying trajectory- Matt grinning, Ali waving, and finally, for the first time in a long time, Ali breaking into a tiny smile.
He’d always hated this street.
He could trick or treat down his old one, before they moved. But not here, because his Mother said she didn’t know enough of the neighbours yet. But with her sharp 180s and her head flicking down on the street every time they approached a stranger, Matt reckoned this wasn’t going to happen any time soon:
‘I’m just not sure if it’s the ‘done’ thing, around here’. That was her argument.
‘But does it have to be done already for me to do it?’
This was on their first Halloween in the house. Matt staged a protest. He thought that perhaps if he was already in costume he’d be more likely to win the argument, so there he was, a half-formed ghost, arguing underneath a spare white tablecloth. Green-and-yellow left handed scissors were already poised around the outside of the material, ready to make the eye-holes-incision. He pressed down, folding down the fabric by his left eye, his children’s scissors chewing at the cloth instead of cutting. It was a weird angle and, as it was pretty dark underneath the cloth, Matt was finding it hard to see what he was doing.
‘You make one cut into that tablecloth young man and I’m grounding you. That was your Grandmothers.’
She snatched the scissors away quickly, seeing what he was doing from the doorway of the kitchen. When she was certain the cloth was saved, she made a particular display of holding the guilty implement correctly. She returned it to the kitchen drawer, one hand closed with an air of professional confidence around the blade. As Matt was still totally blind underneath the tablecloth, he was completely oblivious to this parenting charade:
‘But it doesn’t have to be a done thing does it?’ Matt continued. ‘It’s just... like... ’
But, turning again to face the hallway, Lilian used Matt’s pause to work swiftly and surely against his improvisations.
‘You will put the tablecloth back before you get it dirty. Now’
Matt felt her voice getting louder and closer as she worked her way around the kitchen counter.
‘FINE but it’s just... that whole ‘done’ thing doesn’t make any sense at all if you know about things like... like revolution and like men on the moon... they never happened before... right?’
‘AGAIN with the likes Matthew please can we learn to use our words more creatively’.
She made her offensive then, one quick stride and the cloth was swept from above Matt’s head. He grimaced. Next time they argued, Matt would remember to plan the part when he didn’t get his way a bit more comprehensively:
‘Do you even know what revolution means Mum? Well I think it means not the done thing’