Rabbit had always been wild, a random kind of lad. He was spur of the moment, impulsive, a didn’t-think-just-did sort of kid. He was twitchy and funny and unhappy, growing his hair or shaving his head, getting tattooed and getting them covered up.
We’d go out drinking and clubbing, driving through the night to Nottingham or Newcastle on a whim in his battered Mini to go to the rock clubs and to fuck the rock chicks, relying on getting a shag to get somewhere to kip. Sometimes we pulled, sometimes we woke cold and crumpled, folded untidily into the damp leatherette of the Mini’s interior, watching grey dawn break through the crumbling concrete slabs of a multi-story car park.
We took a lot of speed and did a bit of acid, we’d neck Mad Dog 20/20 before dancing like idiots to get the lasses laughing.
He took me to a pub in Leeds called The Scotsman one Saturday afternoon. He was excited. The pub was thick with fag smoke, a market pub full of market folk, flimsy carrier bags filled with cheap grub tucked under tatty tables, full pints and empty pints and full ashtrays crowding the tables, creased caricatures wearing two or three crusty coats wedged on the seats along the walls like dirty pigeons on a ledge.
I asked him ‘why are we here?’ and he said ‘watch this’ and he took a fistful of coins from his pocket and fed them into a nicotine-stained jukebox, fluttered the vinyl singles behind the yellow glass, punched buttons to make his choices.
The speakers in the corners crackled and Jailhouse Rock jangled around the pub. The dirty pigeon people stumbled to their feet like automatons, jerkily twisting and gyrating to the music, stumbling onto the beer crowded tables to kick aside glasses and slither on the beer pools to Elvis’s sultry crooning. We laughed and laughed, me and Rabbit, feeding in coins for more Elvis as the crowd grew weary but wouldn’t stop dancing, wheezing and creaking and pissing themselves with the effort.
Sometimes we’d huddle together on the night bus home, the Night Rider, the Fight Rider, hoping the Dresser thugs wouldn’t notice two Rockers and decide to knock fuck out of us.
One time a local character called Cider Paul tagged along with us, a creepy wino who haunted the rock clubs looking to pick up underage girls with promises of cider and spliffs.
Cider Paul didn’t like the mood of the Fight Rider, said it ‘bummed him out’, and tried to lighten the mood by dancing and clapping in the isle. The ugly crowd turned uglier and the Dressers saw Cider Paul as an easy victim, started winding themselves up for the kill, but Rabbit jumped up and floored Cider Paul with one punch, dragged him back to his seat. The crowd cheered and left it at that. I said ‘why did you do that?’ and Rabbit said ‘to save this stupid cunt’s neck.’
Rabbit would disappear for days on solo drug benders, turn up looking fucked, his skin ruined by grease and acne. I never asked where he’d been.
He got a job in a morgue. He told me to meet him there. He snuck me through to the fridges, and pointed to the names on the trays.
Stephen. Elizabeth. Cyril. Rose. Unidentified Leg.
Unidentified Leg was locked, so he pulled out Cyril instead. There he was, dead and cold, my first corpse. Bald head, thin white moustache, drooping-comb over.
‘Touch him’ said Rabbit, so I gave Cyril a poke. Cold, waxy, dead. ‘Slap him’ said Rabbit, so I gave old Cyril a slap. Slapped a corpse. ‘No like this’ said Rabbit, and gave Cyril a right good crack around the face. ‘I can’t’ I said, so Rabbit shrugged and slid dead Cyril back into his fridge.
Rabbit had issues and I think his issues were all to do with his dad. Rabbit’s dad was stern, a wall, a rock. Humourless and critical, he’d berate Rabbit all the time, about his clothes, his job, his life. Nothing he did was right. We’d sneak into Rabbit’s house late on, silent and giggling, but the light would snap on and his dad would be stood on the landing, resplendent in white underpants and white vest, the vest tucked tight into the underpants. This special little outfit would have looked comical on anyone other than Rabbit’s dad, but Rabbit’s dad turned it into a uniform of authority. ‘Don’t mess with me, you little fuckers – I’ve got my vest tucked in my pants therefore I am invincible.’
I’d stand in the kitchen and listen to Rabbit getting a bollocking off his dad in the living room, all the atmosphere of the evening draining from multicolored riot into something cold, flat, white, and tucked in.
Rabbit got caught shoplifting when he wasn’t even shoplifting. I heard it from his brother. His brother was riding the top deck of a bus when he saw a massive fight going on outside Tesco. He recognized Rabbit in the middle of the melee, going down under an onslaught of Tesco staff and special constables, fighting till the last.
Turns out Rabbit was in the shops, not actually nicking anything for once, when a member of staff stopped him on the way out of the store. Rabbit told him to fuck off. The member of staff grabbed him and screamed for security. Rabbit hurled the member of staff into a clichéd pyramid of tinned food and began to fight the fat security guard with great enthusiasm. More staff followed and a couple of passing coppers waded in.
They had nothing on him but he got booked for affray. His dad had to go to the Police Station to pick him up. Rabbit got a fine and community service.
He shopped at Asda after that.
Rabbit once kicked a tramp. I saw him do it. This sort of thing is not pretty, believe me, and it isn’t something I would condone, but it was spectacular. We were walking through a Leeds precinct one Saturday afternoon (it was always Saturday afternoon back then) when we saw two pretty lasses being badgered by two tramps. The tramps were pissed but so were we, so who the fuck am I to judge? Tramp ‘A’ was down on one knee, serenading the two lucky ladies with a ballad of some kind, while Tramp ‘B’ accompanied him on the harmonica. The girls looked nervous but were giggling, it wasn’t an ugly scene. Rabbit’s face lit up with an expression of euphoria, and he started to run. Now, Rabbit got his boots from the Army Surplus. They were called Loaders Boots, steel toe-capped lumps of metal and leather worn by artillery men for loading shells into cannons. These boots clumped along the block paved precinct with great enthusiasm, faster and faster, until he got to Tramp ‘A’.
Boom. The Loader Boot connected with Tramp ‘A’s arse in the style of a drop goal. With an audible thump Tramp ‘A’ took off, clearing the ground by a good two feet, his grimy overcoat flapping like the wings of a huge crow. The girls shrieked in alarm, horrified by a flying tramp and the sudden appearance of Rabbit’s demented face lurching into view. Tramp ‘A’ hit the ground and lay there moaning. Tramp ‘B’ started howling insults at Rabbit, charging after him in a fury while Rabbit scampered in circles, easily keeping out of reach, laughing like a maniac.
I watched for a while, not quite able to take in what I was seeing, then I went to the pub. Five minutes later Rabbit joined me, laughing, out of breath. ‘Why the Hell did you do that?’ I asked. Rabbit just laughed. He never replied. He just laughed.
Rabbit’s drug taking started getting out of hand. Prescription, mostly, for some mental condition he would often hint at but never fully disclose. He’d save up his pills and pop a load at once then spend a day or two on the dark side of the moon.
Towards the end, near the time of The Incident, Rabbit decided to take a load of acid. Microdots. He threw them down his neck and waited to see what happened.
Days later I went to see him in bed. He couldn’t walk, because the night he took the drugs he decided to go for a walk. He walked from seven in the evening until noon the next day, wearing those heavy Loader Boots, without socks, unlaced. They’d flopped around on his feet for seventeen hours, and when he’d finally crashed his feet were a bloody mess. He had to throw the boots out as they were full of congealed blood. Rabbit was a mess, but there wasn’t much I could do. I told him to stay away from drugs, to sort himself out, but what can you do? They’re just words.
I was aware that Rabbit was dragging me down with him, like a drowning man. He needed something to cling to while he destroyed himself so he wouldn’t be lonely in the end.
It sounds harsh, but I kept my distance, for my own sake. If he wanted to drown that was his choice.
I didn’t see or hear from Rabbit for a few years. I’d moved house, got on with my life.
Next time I saw him it was at the coast, walking with a girl along the sands at Robin Hood’s Bay. Rabbit was tanned, healthy, looking in good shape.
I spoke to him for a while and we laughed about the things we’d got up to, years ago.
Then he told me about his dad.
There had been some kind of garden party at a neighbour’s house. Rabbit’s parents were there, along with the rest of the street. Beers and burgers, music, sun was shining. Rabbit’s dad said to his wife that he needed to nip back to the house, to go to the toilet.
He was gone for an hour before he was missed.
They found Rabbit’s dad curled up on the driveway in a catatonic state. No-one knew what had happened. It wasn’t a stroke, or a heart attack, or some kind of seizure.
He lay in a coma for a week.
The funny thing is, when he finally came round, he was a totally different man. He would cry over a scene in a film. He sang around the house, hugged his family. He remembered all the good times he’d had with Rabbit, but had absolutely no recollection of the bad times – the drugs, the stealing, the police. It was as if that part of him, the stern, judgmental side, had died that day.
He started sleeping in the nude.
Rabbit and his dad became close friends and now they regularly go to the pub together. They go to the football, see bands, and Rabbit brings his girlfriend round the house for dinner.
He doesn’t do drugs and now he’s trained a psychiatric nurse, helping people with the problems he had all those years ago.
I don’t see Rabbit anymore. Maybe I’m a part of those dark times he’d rather forget. Maybe I was a bad influence, I’d don’t know.
I’m just glad he is how he is now.
Who knows, maybe the dark Rabbit died at the same time as the dark side of his dad.
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