Just say NO

Hippy crack. Most attractive and overly satisfactory piece of gas, stored in a shiny metallic pellet, looks like a pill, a capsule, bizarrely polished and neatly squeezed out. Silver bullets amass like seagull shit on a pier, scattered and littered across dry cracks. Trampled down so their bellies emerge, fish flat and dead at the surface. Hundreds upon thousands upon millions of empty souls.

The night is punctured with holes.

Sharp rushes, blackness penetrated with hissing and roaring. One shrill rapid suck from canister into balloon. Four quid each. Three for a tenner.

Natalie rocks on plimsoll plastic. Wonders where William is. Why she is here.

There are animals in this dark place. Ravers have features like lizards in Picasso paintings. Arms like snakes. Someone’s heat falls against her. The instantaneous headfuck as all intellect and understanding detonates for a moment. Drizzles, fades. She can hear his brain cells dying in triumphant little pops. A grin across his face.

Then he comes back, blinking. Fishing about for a couple more quid in the emptiness of his lining. Natalie watches and remembers to breathe. It has started to rain, tiny droplets that catch and cluster inside her fringe.

You want one? Ben is watching her, as much as he watches anyone. Just say NO. Just say Nitrous Oxide. Gas and air and nothing.

Natalie bought the festival ticket when her and William were still together, when this was a different thing. She saw him earlier, roaming lost. In his slapper neon garb, pulled just below his pants. Skinny white legs in Vans. Misplaced.

Natalie straightens her shorts and shakes her head. She wonders if she should sleep with Ben, whether that would be a good idea and what William would do if she did.

Ben claws for cash, knows he is being fleeced something terrible but buys a balloon anyway. Sticks the coins in the palm of the twelve-year-old who bought five thousand capsules off eBay, the canister by way of Amazon from some dude in Windsor who used it to fill pastry up with cream.

Elastic pink, a marshmallow, a supple womb. He crawls inside for a moment, goes back to a time where he doesn’t have to think, can forget about the world as his brain shuts down. Wipes itself clear. Nitrous Oxide. His friend.

Natalie bends her knees so her legs don’t seize. She wonders what it would be like to sleep with Ben, how far away he’d be.

She watches the comforting flesh deflate and shrink, then collapse. He’s back in the room. Hardly even registering that he was absent, such a temporary vacation that she doesn’t see the point. He doesn’t laugh. When he reaches for more coins she grabs his arm. Let’s go back to camp. Squeezes his skin.

Let’s stop by Claire’s camp, she “owes me stuff”, Ben says evasively.

Claire. William’s brother. Just say NO. The wet makes the hairs on Natalie’s arm erect. Claire’s tough, cracks nuts between her gums, spits shells like missiles, no time for pussies unless she’s eating. Natalie and her were made by different moulds in different galaxies and under different instructions.

Arms linked and Natalie can feel Ben’s heat and smell the sweat and sticky fabric, see the maroon spots that pool beneath his arms. He starts telling her about the time he discovered balloons. At a party when his mate stole the canister from her parents catering company. They used to sell laughing gas at the local bar but Natalie never tried it. A shadow trips over a guy rope in front of them, plummets to the earth. They step around him. Ben doesn’t pick up the story. Just leaves it there, he’s forgotten he was talking.

The night is stabbed and wounded by people falling through it.

They arrive at Claire’s camp and Ben slumps into a plastic chair that’s low to the ground. Descends into the type of communication only the two of them can share. Silently they stare ahead and exchange some brain waves. After a while Ben nods, gets up and goes inside Claire’s tent.

Rosa, skin decorated like a multi-coloured yawn and pierced like a cheese grater, lets out a shriek. Shit! Here comes Romeo Spunk Muscle, she exclaims not so subtly and cracks an extra beer while fixing her hair and touching herself like a multitasking octopus. Maybe he needs help finding his tent again. She disappears without waiting. Natalie feels like her neck is itching, her entire membrane is on fire.

Sit down. Crack a beer. Stop looking like a lemon.

Haven’t seen you around the house of late, Claire drinks her beer in healthy thirds. Pops another.

Me and William… Natalie pauses to suck at the air, pushing a little down her throat… We broke up.

Claire turns slightly but Natalie can’t see her face because she’s looking straight ahead. A scream is catapulted towards the moon from somewhere to their left.

So what, Claire cracks and chews and spits and cracks and chews and spits, you with Ben now?

No, no, god no – don’t protest too much – we’re just friends. He’s friends with William so of course not, no, no, no. Natalie is very interested in the fraying fabric of her inside pocket. Ben emerges and answers the same question with a snort. Where’s Rosa? He says instead of offering any further comment. He seems much happier than before.

She’s off with her festival boyfriend.

He rubs his nose. I thought she was married?

Claire shrugs, yeah she is, technically, I guess.

The night is dying and closing in. A blackness that is so close it chokes. Natalie wonders what William is doing. Wonders why she is here. Tries to hold down the fizz in her beer.