Hand Me Down
by Evan Carlton
'When i was at university, I had a friend who was hearing-impaired. I never learned to sign as his hearing aids allowed him to speak quite well, and he read lips perfectly. He did sign when he met other deaf people, and the scene in the café in this story actually happened almost exactly as described. The anger and humiliation I felt on his behalf never left me, even though he shrugged the incident off with his usual good humour. This whole story originated in that moment. I have always been fascinated with the similarities between gay adolescence and growing up with a disability. The feeling of automatic exclusion, the mindless antipathy, the lack of a support structure to address our specific needs. Being adopted myself, i described my fantasy parents in this story. The family that adopted me in real life were just as wonderful in their own, very different way. I hope that this will be the start of a series of stories set around Firewall, a place with much potential for love, redemption and healing.'
Even though we were deep into October and winter had turned to spring in Napier, I was shivering as I stood outside Big Mick's bungalow. Taking cover behind a tree, I watched as a steady procession of zombies made their way to his front door, leaving again a few minutes later with their baggies clutched in their hands like they had just won the lottery. Most of them looked like corpses who just hadn't stopped moving yet.
Finally I decided I couldn't wait any longer and, with a really bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, I rang the doorbell. The two fifties were burning a hole in the pocket of my jeans, and I just wanted to get this over and done with.
A girl of about nineteen opened the door and looked at me as if I was from another planet.
"Picking up?" she asked.
"Yeah, Mick knows about it." She thought about it for a while and then opened the door wider to let me in. She disappeared into a room off the hallway, reappearing a few seconds later. "I could just pay you if you've got the stuff ready," I said hopefully.
"Nah, Mick wants to see you. He says he's got something special for you." My stomach lurched as I realised I would not be getting out as quickly as I had hoped.
She pointed to the room she had just come out of. I heard trance music and could already smell the cloying stench of weed emanating from the darkened room. I patted my pocket once more and walked as confidently as I could into Mick's den. He was sitting on the couch with two bored looking girls on either side of him. All three were smoking joints. The music was annoying, repetitive and pointless. I began to feel queasy as my nerves threatened to get the better of me. Mick stared at me for a full minute before he said anything.
"She couldn't make it herself?" he said at last.
"Nope," I said, hoping to sound nonchalant. "She's under the weather."
"Shame. I was looking forward to seeing her again." Mick smiled as he rooted through an open box on the stained coffee table in front of him. He held up a baggie with white powder in it. I couldn't believe I was going to get out of this dump that quickly. I pulled out the two fifties and handed them to him. Just as I was reaching for the baggie, he snatched it away from me. My heart sank.
"This is some new stuff. Extra special. Great quality. It's one-twenty." He said, settling back onto the couch.
"Come on Mick," I pleaded. "She only gave me a hundred. I haven't got any more and she really needs it. She can't go another night without it."
"Sorry Ben. No deal."
I held out my hand for the two fifties, resigned to having to go all the way home and pick up an extra twenty. 'Does she even have another twenty?' I thought to myself, trying not to imagine the look on her face when I asked her.
"Get out," Mick said suddenly to the two bored girls. They jumped up like scalded cats and left the room, glaring at me angrily. Once they were gone, Mick stood up and started to rub his crotch suggestively.
"Maybe we could come to another arrangement," he said with an evil grin. "I was all set to offer her a discount anyway in return for one of her specials." Anger flared briefly, then shock as I realised what he was asking me to do.
"Uh I don't know. I think I'd better just head home and…" He was standing up as I started backing towards the door. He was shorter than me, maybe five-four, five-five at the most. His nickname, like the man himself, was a joke.
"Get over here, Ben. This is offer is valid for the next fifteen minutes only. After that, the price is one-fifty. Got it?"
I knew she didn't have another fifty. I weighed up the situation, hoping to find a way out, realising at the same time that it was pointless. Mick had me exactly where he wanted me. Taking a deep breath, I walked over to him as he unzipped his filthy jeans and his cock flopped out. I closed my eyes and took it in my hand. 'Maybe he'll settle for a hand job' I thought to myself. He was stiff now. Suddenly his hand was on my shoulder, pushing me down. I realised what I was going to have to do and sank to my knees, surrendering to my fate. He pushed the stinking head against my lips and I almost gagged. 'Get it over with, Ben,' I thought to myself as I parted my lips. After what seemed like a hundred years, he grunted and I tasted his cum in my mouth. I quickly turned my head and spat as he came once more on my cheek. His mess rolled down my chin and dripped onto my shirt. Throwing the baggie on the floor in front of me, he walked towards the door. He turned at the last second and looked at me.
"That was the worst blowjob I ever had, Ben. You're lucky I don't throw you out and keep the ton as compensation. Tell her if she doesn't come herself next time, she won't get another gram. And by the way, that stuff is wicked strong. Tell her to take half the usual amount until she gets used to it. Now get the fuck out."
Grabbing the baggie, I hauled myself to my feet and got out of there as quickly as possible. I ran most of the way home, tears of shame and anger pricking in my eyes.
She was sitting up in bed, waiting for me when I got home.
"There's my Ben," she said, her eyes searching hungrily for the bulge of the baggie in my pocket. If she noticed the stain on my shirt, she didn't let on. I handed her the white powder, trying to ignore her shaking hands. I had to help her fit the band around her arm while she waited for the heroin to cook on the spoon. All I could think of was the smell of Mick, his unwashed dirty cock and his slimy cum on my shirt. I got up, not wanting to watch her inject herself.
Closing her bedroom door, I walked slowly to the bathroom and, stripping off the stained T-shirt, got into the shower. I scrubbed my mouth and chest, trying to get rid of the last traces of him. In my bedroom, I stopped to look at myself in the wardrobe mirror. I looked like crap. I felt like crap. I sat down at my makeshift desk to do my homework. Even though it was Friday, I wanted to finish up so I could have the weekend to myself. I looked again at my reflection in the mirror. The boy I saw looked a lot older than fourteen to me.
At three in the morning, I sat bolt upright in bed, remembering the last thing Mick had said to me. My skin tingled all over as I kicked the duvet off my bed. I walked slowly down the hall to her bedroom. A thin strip of light told me she hadn't bothered to turn off her bedside lamp after I'd left. That wasn't good. Not bothering to knock, I opened the door as quietly as I could.
She looked peaceful in the soft light. Her eyes were closed and her face seemed younger somehow. I stared at her stupidly, hoping to see her chest rise and fall as she breathed. But death had come for her, and even if I had waited for an eternity, that was never going to happen. I sat down gently on her bed and stroked her hair, and then I stretched out beside her, taking her cooling hand in mine.
"It'll be alright, Mum," I whispered. "Just sleep now."
I woke with a start, the morning sun blindingly bright in my mother's bedroom. The sickly sweet smell of death was stifling. I knew what I had to do. I slid off the bed without looking at her and gently closed the bedroom door. Fixing myself some toast and a cup of coffee, I set to work. I cleaned up the kitchen and the front room, straightened up my own room and gave the sink and the toilet a once over. Finally I packed two pairs of trousers and a week's worth of T-shirts and underwear into my sports bag. It was almost eleven when I finally picked up the phone and called Napier Police's emergency number.
"What's the nature of your emergency?" came the instant reply.
"My mum's taken an overdose. I think she's dead." The woman on the end of the line paused and I could tell she was trying to decide if it was a prank call. "It's not a joke, miss."
Her voice softened. "Tell me where your name and your address, son. We'll get someone there as soon as we can. Is she breathing?"
"No, and she's very cold. I think she died in the night." I told her my full name, Benjamin James Collins, and our address.
"Benjamin, would you like me to stay on the line with you until someone gets there?"
I thought about it for a while. "No thanks. I'll be fine."
The car pulled up a few minutes later and I opened the door for them just as the policeman was about to knock. A couple of our neighbours were coming out of their houses to see what was going on.
"Are you Benjamin? I'm Sergeant Charlie Drake." The policeman introduced himself as he walked past me into the house. The second policeman walked in a couple of minutes later, talking into a radio stuck on his shoulder.
"Ben. Just Ben," I said, sitting on the couch. He told me to call him Charlie.
Charlie pointed towards the closed bedroom door. I nodded. He and the other policemen went in her bedroom. I heard them talking quietly to each other.
"Do you want to tell me what happened?" he said, coming back into the living room and sitting down beside me. He had a kind face and I felt better when he reached out and put a hand on my shoulder.
"She took something last night and I think it was too much. She didn't wake me up for breakfast so I got up on my own and had some toast. I made her a coffee and took it to her, but when I saw her I knew there was something wrong."
"What time was that?" the other policeman asked.
"About ten I think."
"But you only called us a few minutes ago."
Shit. I tried to think of an answer. "I just wanted to sit with her for a while. Before you take her away," I said simply.
The next couple of hours were like a weird dream. Strangers came and went, filling up the house and chattering nonstop into radios and mobile phones. The two nosy neighbours came to the door but Charlie dealt with them. At some point, he found the file with all our personal stuff and held up my birth certificate.
"Father unknown?" he asked.
"Yeah, he was a backpacker. She thought he was American or Canadian. She met him at a party, and the next day he was gone."
Charlie stayed with me the whole time, which made everything better somehow. When the ambulance came and it was time for them to take Mum away, he took me in the kitchen and closed the door so I wouldn't have to watch, which I thought was nice of him.
Then suddenly it was quiet and it was just us again, me and Charlie and Pete, the other policeman. They started asking about Mum's family, where they lived and if she had anyone in Napier. I tried to remember what Mum had said about her family.
"I think her mother lives in Palmerston North. Her father died when she was little. I don't think she has any brothers or sisters."
"Do you know her mum's name?" Charlie asked.
"No, she didn't talk about her ever. Mum wasn't married so I suppose it must be Collins. She said she was in a hospital for old people."
"She can't be that old, Ben. Your mum was only thirty-four."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Do you have anyone you can stay with?" Charlie asked. "Anyone round here? Friends from school maybe?"
I shook my head. Charlie sighed and said something quietly to the other policeman. I heard something about 'CYF' and 'detention'. I got up and went to get my sports bag.
"I can look after myself, Charlie," I said hopefully as I sat back down on the couch, my bag beside me. "Mum wasn't well for ages. I can cook and clean for myself." Even as I spoke I knew they wouldn't let me live on my own, but I felt like I had to say it at least. Charlie looked at me sadly.
"That's not possible, Ben. You know you have to have someone over eighteen looking after you. First we have to see if we can find you somewhere to kip tonight, eh?"
"Steven Carlton," I blurted out suddenly. Charlie had just started to stand up, but he sat back down again when he heard me.
"You know Steven Carlton? Does he go to school with you?" he asked.
"Yes. He's my friend." I lied. I don't know why I thought of him. He'd spoken to me twice, but both times he'd been really nice to me. He'd saved me from getting beaten up by bullies. He was the closest thing to a friend I had, even if he didn't know it himself.
"He's quite a bit older than you, Ben."
"Do you know him?" I asked, a pit opening up in my stomach.
"You could say that," Charlie said with a smile. "His father's a good friend. I've known Steven since he came to Napier."
"Oh," I said, my heart sinking. "Well he probably can't help me anyway." I took hold of my bag and stood up. I would have to go wherever they were going to take me.
"Let's give Steven a call and see if you can stay out at Haumoana for the weekend, shall we? That'll give us time to find your gran and see if she can look after you for a bit." While he was talking he was already scrolling through his mobile phone contacts. I wanted to stop him, but he hit the dial key and wandered into the kitchen, talking in a low voice. I heard him say my name a couple of times. When he came back into the lounge he was looking at me in a strange way and I felt my face get hot with embarrassment. Steven didn't even remember me.
"Can you drop us back at the station, Pete?" he said. "I'll drive Ben out to Haumoana myself. They can't wait to see you again."
I looked at Charlie in amazement. What did he mean by 'again'? I'd never been anywhere near Haumoana and I'd never met Steven's family. I just knew Steven was a sixth-former and that he was gay. Like me.
We drove in silence to the police station and Pete shook my hand quite seriously, telling me to keep my chin up. After he'd gone inside, we got into Charlie's car, but he didn't start the engine.
"Steven's a bit confused, Ben," he said, looking at me curiously. "He said that he doesn't really know you that well, but he's glad to help you out." I stared out of the window, embarrassment preventing me from saying anything.
"I'm sorry, Charlie," I said, trying not to cry. "I couldn't think of anyone else and he was nice to me a couple of times when some kids were bullying me."
"That sounds like Steven alright." Charlie smiled as he started the engine and we pulled away from the kerb. We didn't talk much on the way out to Haumoana. Charlie listened to the radio and I stared at the sea. I drifted off into a daydream, remembering holding Mum's hand, watching her for minutes and minutes, waiting for the barest hint of movement. Then I felt a bump and we were off the main road, driving up a narrow private road towards what I supposed was Steven's house. My breath caught in my throat. It was a sprawling mansion. I could see the mast of a sailing boat on the ocean side. 'His family must be really rich' I thought to myself as we pulled up alongside a Range Rover in front of the garage. I could see Steven's Enduro trail bike parked next to the Range Rover.
Charlie didn't bother to ring the doorbell. Grabbing my bag, he opened a gate leading to a path which ran all the way round the side of the house.
"Anyone home?" he shouted as we emerged onto a terrace next to the pool.
A man came out of the sliding door onto the terrace. He was a couple of years older than Charlie and just as handsome. He was smiling as he walked towards us. He shook Charlie's hand and then turned to me.
"You must be Benjamin," he said, offering me his hand. I looked at it and then shook it nervously. "I'm Evan, Steven's dad. I hear you've had a rotten time of it. I'm really sorry about your mum."
While he was talking, Steven came out onto the terrace. He was just wearing board shorts, and I felt a lurch in my stomach when I saw how handsome he was. He wore his hair in a surfer's cut, wavy and blonde. He even wore a little wooden necklace like a real surfer. He was tanned and he had loads of muscles in his tummy. He gave me a big smile and reached out his hand, then pulled me into his chest for a brief hug.
"What's up, Ben?" he asked. "Charlie told me your mum passed away last night."
"Yeah, she took something and when I tried to wake her this morning she was..." I stopped as my throat closed up. "Charlie's trying to find my gran in Palmerston North but he says it might take a couple of days. Do you think I could sleep here until he finds her?" Steven grinned and looked at Evan.
"I think we can find room for you," Evan said. Steven took my bag and nodded towards the house. I followed him inside and he gave me a quick tour of the downstairs. His bedroom was opposite the kitchen. He had his own double bed and his own bathroom. Next door there was a smaller bedroom with a large single bed and a desk, but without a bathroom.
"You'll be sleeping in here, but you can use my bathroom whenever you like. You don't have to ask me, just make yourself at home. Dad sleeps upstairs." I put my bag down on the bed and looked at him nervously.
"Look Steven, I'm sorry I told them you were my friend," I said. "I was panicking a bit and they were going to put me in some kind of detention place. I couldn't think of anyone else."
Steven held up both hands and I stopped talking.
"Ben, I know things must be really tough for you right now. I'm just glad I can help you out. Stay as long as you want. I mean it." He sat down on my bed next to me and an uncomfortable silence developed.
"Does your dad know you're gay?" I said at last.
"Of course. He's cool with everything. I didn't tell him about you, though. That's up to you if you want to talk about it. Just so you know, I did mention it on the phone to Charlie. I think it made more sense to him why you said you'd like to stay here even though we didn't really know each other. "
"I've never told anyone except you, Steven. Not even my Mum. I don't know how to talk about it."
"Then don't. Just get settled and make sure you feel comfortable here. What do you fancy for dinner?"
I looked at him gratefully. "I'm a vegetarian. I hope that's not a deal breaker?" I said.
"No, we can find something for you, I'm sure," Steven said with a smile.
We headed back out to the terrace. Evan and Charlie were sitting at a table in the shade drinking beer. Lying in the shade next to them was a huge German Shepherd. I stopped in my tracks. The dog stood up and immediately came rushing towards me. I backed away a few paces but not fast enough and the dog jumped up, knocking me over.
"Moritz!" I heard Steven shout. "Leave Ben alone!" I sat up, eye-to-eye with my attacker. My heart was racing. Suddenly his head shot towards me and I felt a rough tongue licking my face. I calmed down a bit when I realised I wasn't about to be eaten alive. Wriggling out from under the huge dog and dusting myself down, I looked over at Steven in embarrassment. Out of the corner of my eye I saw another Shepherd appear from the house. It stood eyeing us all as if we were invading its private space.
"That's Max. He's Moritz's older brother. He's the sensible one." Steven said, waving his hand towards the newcomer. "Just ignore them both and they'll leave you alone once they get used to you.
I sat and listened as the three of them talked easily with each other. Steven seemed so grown up away from school. It was hard to believe he was only seventeen. Moritz came over and put his head on my lap and I stroked his ears, listening to him grunting with pleasure. Max kept his distance, preferring to lie at Evan's feet.
Finally the sun started to dip towards the horizon and Charlie stood up to leave. He asked to talk to me in private, so we went into the living room. I stared in amazement at the huge television over the fireplace. Charlie pointed to the couch and sa t down next to me.
"Listen, Ben. Next week is not going to be easy for you. I'll call your school and tell them you'll be out for the whole week. By Monday we'll have worked out what to do next and you won't miss much. I should have located your grandmother by then, but there'll still be a short hearing with a judge to make sure custody can be transferred legally. I've already contacted CYF to have them send someone to the hearing. Then there'll be the funeral, I'm afraid. That'll probably be on Thursday or Friday, depending on when the hospital says it's okay. Maybe your gran can come down for the funeral and we'll see how we go after that, eh? You'll probably be here for the best part of the week. Are you alright with that?"
"A week?" I said, shocked. "Does Steven know? I thought it was only for the weekend. They won't want me here for that long." I looked at Charlie and waited for him to say something.
"I already asked Evan while you were putting your things away. He's fine with it. And we both know Steven will be cool about it." He gave me a big grin. "I promise I'll stick with you all week, Ben. We'll get you through this. I know you probably feel like the world ended this morning, but believe me; it'll get better in time. Just be patient." With that he leaned forward and gave me a really big hug. It hurt to let him go.
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