The house is in darkness; there is no traffic on the street. Callum tiptoes up the stairs. His stomach feels sore from crawling in through the toilet window. He opens a door leading off the landing. It must be Aiden’s bedroom, with the poster of Manchester United stuck above the bed and clothes chucked all over the floor. There’s a laptop on his glass desk, and an iPhone next to it, still in the box, like a brick of gold. Callum hesitates, then puts it in his bag. Aiden gets picked up from school every day by a man in a Mercedes. His dad, probably. Callum hasn’t seen his own dad for a couple of years now. He thinks about the gold ring on his little finger; his dad whacked him across the face once and the ring drew blood.
Callum crawls under the bed, looking for weed or a stash of money, but there’s nothing except a load of shit. Old socks, mugs with mould in them. Once he’s under the bed, he collapses. Lying on his stomach on the carpet feels good; the thick wool cushions his body. He rests his cheek on his arm; he could drift off under here, protected in the dark. Tommy is downstairs pulling out drawers, smashing plates. Callum gave him the tip off – Callum sits next to Aiden in English and Aiden told him he was going out with his parents to a posh steak house in town that night. Callum has never been taken to a posh steak house. His mum works nights, so he eats takeaway chicken most evenings. When Aiden’s mum calls it’s all I’ve made you a lovely dinner, darling. He’s learnt a lot from listening to their phone calls, like the code for the alarm…
The restaurant is in the basement. Lit by candles. There’s no one in it except the three of them, sitting by the window. Aiden is jigging his knee against the table leg.
‘What do you want to drink, Aiden? Some of our wine?’ says his dad.
‘Yes please, Aiden,’ says his mum. Her forehead is stiff with bunched-up lines, ‘stress lines’ she calls them. She reaches her hand onto his knee. He stops moving it.
‘Yes please.’ Aiden takes off his puffa jacket.
His dad pours him a tiny amount of red wine, his lips pressed together. He looks even more pissed off than usual. ‘What do you both want to eat? The sirloin steak is good.’
Aiden can’t remember the last time they went out together. He usually avoids his dad. Hides upstairs in his room all evening, so he doesn’t have to listen to him moaning about the news or telling his mum off about the food.
‘I’m not really hungry,’ says his mum.
‘For God’s sake, we’re having a meal in a restaurant. Play the game.’
‘I’ll have the plaice then. But no capers with it.’
‘I’ll have rump steak, medium rare.’
‘Okay. Now where’s the waitress?’ His dad stands up, almost knocking his chair over. Aiden slumps over the table, his hands pushing his cheeks up. ‘Mum, I haven’t done my maths homework, or my history.’
‘We need to talk to you about something.’
Aiden looks up at her. Her lip is quivering. She can’t control it. His dad comes back and sits down heavily.
‘Tell him what’s going on, Dave,’ says his mum.
His dad stares at his wineglass, looks at Aiden, and looks away again. ‘We’re getting divorced. You don’t need to worry, nothing much is going to change. I’m going to move into a flat round the corner. We both love you. You know that, don’t you?’ He rubs Aiden’s shoulder. Aiden almost shudders in revulsion at his touch.
His mum sobs, her mascara running. Aiden wants to give her a hug, but he pushes the plate of bread and olive oil away from him, spilling his dad’s wine.
‘Fuck off, Dad.’ he says. He grabs his jacket and stumbles up the stairs and out into the street, where his bus is just about to pull out. The driver lets him on. The top deck is full of girls screeching about their phones. His dad is probably having an affair, that’s got to be the case. He’s the boss so it would be easy for him. Aiden pulls his hoody over his face so no one can see him crying.
Callum is nearly asleep. The carpet has sucked the desire to ransack the room out of him, made him dream about Kayleigh, a girl he likes. She’s got red hair and the bluest eyes he’s ever seen.
‘Callum, what the fuck are you doing up there? Have you found the gold?’ Tommy’s voice sounds like he is miles away. Gold is not something Aiden’s mum would wear. She looks more like a diamond earrings type, from what he’s seen of her at school football matches.
‘Callum. Where the fuck are you?’ Tommy shouts this time. Maybe he will get bored of waiting for him and leave, but no, he’s pounding up the stairs. ‘You little shit.’
Callum says nothing. This is the first time he’s gone with Tommy on a ‘job’. They’ll split the money down the middle, Tommy said, as Callum supplied the info. Tommy is a kind of cousin, three years older, handy with his fists. Callum can hear him in one of the other bedrooms pulling it to pieces. It’s the quickest way; fuck being quiet, he says. Now there’s silence. Callum tenses up, pulls his leg in further under the bed, but it’s too late.
‘I can see you under there. Get out. You need to help me find the safe.’
Callum mumbles something into the carpet.
Tommy’s hand is round his ankle, fingers digging into his flesh. He pulls him out roughly and the pain makes Callum scream. ‘I said get the fuck out of there.’
Callum stands up. Something pops in his head. He runs at Tommy, swings for him, but Tommy dodges out of the way and he hardly makes contact.
‘The fuck you doing? We’re supposed to be rinsing this house, not fighting like ten year olds.’
‘Don’t fucking grab me then.’
‘You’re lying under the bed, and you won’t come out… you know I’m in charge.’
‘Yeah, and I’m sick of it.’ Callum punches Tommy on the arm; his knuckles crack into flesh as hard as a piece of wood.
Tommy laughs. ‘It’ll take more than that to make a mark on me.’
‘Oh, fuck off.’
‘I’m warning you, boy, I’m going to give you such a kick in–’
There is a crash, the sound of glass breaking, coming from downstairs.
‘Shit, who the fuck is that? You said they’d be out all evening.’
Callum feels sick.
‘Let’s climb out the window.’ Tommy slams into the desk in his haste, banging it against the wall, cracking the glass. He opens the window and backs out. ‘It’s okay, there’s a drainpipe.’
Callum follows him, his arms aching as he struggles to hold on. He jumps the last six feet to the ground, landing awkwardly on his left side. They sprint down the garden. Callum’s ankle hurts, but he runs through the pain, focusing on reaching the fence at the bottom of the garden. He’s left the bag with the iPhone in it on the floor of Aiden’s bedroom. Tommy is empty handed too. What a joke.
Aiden can’t get his key in the lock. His hand is shaking. He tries the key again. It slides in this time. He runs his hand over the wall until he finds the light switch. The alarm doesn’t come on, which is strange. There’s a bitter smell in the hall, overlaid with something flowery like deodorant.
He grabs a cricket bat from the cupboard under the stairs. It doesn’t take much force to smash his dad’s painting with it, the one that cost thousands of pounds. The sound of the glass breaking makes him want to do more. He shoves a plant onto the floor. The soil looks shocking on the white carpet. He walks into the living room; it’s a mess in there, all the books have been pulled off the shelves and the flat screen TV is lying on the sofa. Now he’s confused. Is there someone in the house? At that moment there’s a loud bang from upstairs.
He walks up the stairs, the cricket bat giving him courage. The window in his bedroom is wide open; he rushes up to it. Two lads are sprinting down the garden, heading for the fence. They both have shaved heads and there’s something about the way they are running, so fast and determined that makes him wish he was with them, a part of their world, running away from this house that feels broken and cold.
RACHEL WILD is a published writer living in East London. Her first love is short fiction, but she is currently working on a novel. She is also an editor of The Forge Literary Magazine, which publishes short fiction and non-fiction by new and established writers.