Simon K Brown is a writer who lives in Edinburgh. He won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2017 and has had his work published by 404 Ink. He’s currently trying to squeeze out his third novel.
The following piece is an excerpt from Simon’s second novel, Kinski in the Attic.
Excerpt from Kinski in the Attic
Fraser Ross. Fraser Ross with his fucking fake tan and faux-hawk. Fraser Ross with his banger of a car parked in the square, honking and shouting at any women that pass. Fraser Ross with his fucking misspelt tattoo (“follow you’re dreams”). Fraser Ross with his monopoly on all the rich American golfers who come to play on the course. Fraser Ross with Becky Sutherland in the toilets at lunchtime. How could you, Becky?
It’s still chucking it down outside. Don and I scurry beneath the giant umbrella I nicked from the clubhouse, bounding over puddles as one. The few streetlights we pass bleach the raindrops. We vault the wall bordering Fraser’s back garden and take shelter beneath a plastic slide. The grass tickles our chins. I’m in no position to criticise, but if his house is anywhere near as cluttered as his back garden we’re going to be here all night.
But it could be worse. At least we’ve got ourselves a rain-free nook here. A square patch of light spills over the fence which runs round to the front of the house. He’s in. I slink up to the back door and try the handle. Locked. I tuck myself in beneath the dark double windows and skirt round the side, moving slow, soon passing what I take to be the living room window.
Farther along I find the bathroom window ajar. I listen for a moment to make sure no one’s in there, then push it open. It squeaks—I stop and drop to the ground. I listen again. Just the faint sound of things exploding on the TV. Don arrives and boosts me through. I swing one leg inside, half-expecting to knock something over but I don’t and, as I heave the rest of myself through, I see it’s actually quite fastidious; certainly not what I was expecting, what with the state of the garden. The room feels clammy and smells like cinnamon. Someone just took a shower.
I move from the bathroom into an L-shaped hall. The floor’s carpeted, which is just as well because my shoes were squeaking on the tiles. Light seeps out from under a door to my right; sounds like it’s where the explosions and throaty bellows are coming from. Other than that the hallway’s dark. Door open on my left. I can just make out a wedge of chintzy quilt. I tiptoe in.
Someone’s in the bed. Becky, curled up in the foetal position.
She stirs. I fall to the ground as silently as possible and get into a foetal position of my own. I lie there, willing every part of me invisible.
Need to move.
I drag myself under the bulging mattress. I think my legs are hidden but I can’t move my head to check. More creaks, a groan.
Becky plods into the bathroom and as soon as the door clicks I scramble out from under the bed and tap-tap on the window so Don knows where I am. He appears a few seconds later, hands shielding his eyes as he peers in, the tip of his nose squished against the glass.
I scour the room, keeping on ear on Becky’s progress. They’re not going to be in the chest of drawers, or the clothes basket. The walk-in closet?
Its mirrored door opens with a squeak. I brush aside all the shirts and dresses and there they are, tucked away at the back: Fraser’s golf clubs. The light is poor so I have to grope the club heads. Two drivers. Fifty-fifty. Fuck it. I pull both out and shove them down a trouser leg each, tucking the grips into my socks.
The toilet flushes.
Not enough time to make it out. I get back into the closet and palm the squeaking door shut. It’s still wobbling when she plods back into the room. The bed creaks. Could be waiting here a while. Shit, her dresses smell just like they did at school. If she were to catch me now, with a face full of laundered dresses, it’d be the talk of the town for months. There are people whose couches face their living room windows, where they lurk for hours on end, waiting for the slightest whiff of gossip.
The bed creaks again. Becky approaches the closet – and goes past it. She must open the living room door because suddenly all I can hear is tense music and constant gunfire. Might not have another chance. The closet opens easily enough. I hobble out into the hallway, where the door to the living room is open.
‘I’m not asking for silence,’ Becky’s saying. I scamper past the door, catching a glimpse of her in an oversized grey t-shirt.
‘Fine,’ shouts Becky, her voice coming into the hallway. ‘We’ll see how you like it tomorrow.’ I run round the corner and throw myself up against the wall with a clatter. Becky storms out of the living room and slams the bedroom door shut. I sigh and slide off the wall, no doubt leaving a sweaty impression behind.
The kitchen is cold and dark. I can see the top of the slide through the windows. My shoes squeak on the linoleum as I make for the adjoining utility room and the back door. The living room door opens, letting loose another flurry of gunfire and screamed dialogue.
Footsteps clomp in my direction.
I stride into the utility room, speed trumping silence, and lean into the bit of wall to the left of the archway, nearly tripping on a mucky old pair of boots. The clomping arrives in the kitchen, pauses. I think I’m breathing too loud. The clomping carries on, still heading towards me and my minimal cover. A noise like suction—the fridge. Glass chinks, the fridge closes. A few more clomps, a pop and a hiss, and the footsteps recede back to the living room and the yelling becomes muffled. I wipe my hands on my inner thighs. The key is in the back door and I slip out into the curtain of rain. A smile spreads across my face as the door closes behind me.
I skirt the house again to find Don, still beneath the bedroom window. He’s frowning but it fades when he sees me.
‘Get it?’ he whispers; I nod. He grins and we pick our way back through the garden, past a rusted trampoline collecting rain, past faded and deflated footballs, past reams of nettles, back over the wall into the street behind, striking out eastward, the cathedral’s floodlit edifice looming over the rainswept streets. At first I’m laughing along with Don, but as we get farther away from the house the smile fades from my face and a familiar gnawing at my insides starts up.
Outside the Social, cherries light up in arrhythmic patterns; little red constellations peppering the darkness. All the smokers hide under thin bits of piping despite it providing little protection from the rain. The whole building throbs to a muddied beat. If I touched the brick, I’d feel it. We handshake and fistbump our way through the usual suspects and ignore the half-joking, half-serious requests for drink.
Inside, there’s a decent-sized crowd. Seem to be a few from other towns as well, always the ones you have to watch. Anonymity and alcohol don’t mix well. The DJ’s shit. He’s trying his best to appeal to the only two who’re on the floor – a couple of girls who were the year above me, who pinch one another’s noses and shimmer up and down, their laughter exaggerated so it’s perfectly clear that they’re not to be taken seriously – which means we’re being subjected to some hideous early 00s pop. Perhaps because of this, everyone else has moored themselves against the wall.
There’s no sign of Joe so we get ourselves a couple of nips. Single malt – the Social’s got some sort of deal going with the nearest distillery where they sell a measure of it for a quid. I suppose the thinking is that if we get it on the cheap we’re more likely to recommend it to the rich Americans that come over, the ones with the disposable income to splash out on the more expensive bottles. Me and Don hung around with the son of one of these rich Americans a couple of summers back. He took us up in his dad’s private jet and circled the town. It was weird because I could see everything at once. My house, Don’s house, the schools, the cathedral, the golf course – our whole world visible through one tiny window. And that’s all well and good but it’s hardly a fucking driver is it?
This is it though: these are our Friday nights. Same faces, same chat, week in, week out. I feel like we’re all in a cuckoo clock, each of us following our little paths as we stream in and out of the house, performing the same stilted actions, day in, day out.
Joe and Campbell appear midway through our third. At first when I hold out the club – the expensive one, the other’s bog standard – he looks livid.
‘The fuck’s this?’ ‘It’s a golf-‘ begins Don, but I cut him off before he can finish.
‘I see you out there when I’m caddying.’ I whip the furry cover off the head. ‘Titleist 915D3. Worth about four hundred quid.’ Joe takes it and studies it. Anger has changed to irritation.
‘This isn’t the same thing.’
I shrug. ‘You’re right. But like I say, I see you out there. I think you need all the help you can get.’ Hope that was the right side of playful.
Joe snorts and tries to shake the smile from his face. ‘Aye, maybe you’re right.’ He holds out his hand for the other club. ‘That’s you then, Donny boy. As for you…’ Joe shoots out a hand and pins me against the wall by the neck. ‘…don’t you ever point so much as a fuckin finger at me again,’ he says, his spit flecking my face. I nod. He kicks my stomach so hard that I crumple and fall to the ground, trying not to throw up. The floor reeks of stale beer, which doesn’t help. I watch two pairs of shoes head to the door.
Don picks me up. He looks sheepish. ‘Sorry mun. Kind of all my fault.’ I bat his apology away. Still can’t speak. ‘Thanks though,’ he adds, slapping my arm. ‘Lifesaver.’
I get some air back into my lungs. ‘Welcome. Don’t do it again though, eh?’
Don offers me a drink (!) but I decline. The gnawing that started on the way from Fraser’s has only gotten worse and if I drink any more the evening might be a weepy affair.
I stop off at the shop on the way home. Place stinks of wet clothes. Sodden cardboard disintegrates beneath my feet as I search the shelves for a prompt. I’m perusing the eggs – organic, free range, or both? Why does the smallest decision have to have an ethical dimension tacked on? – when the shop bell dings and in walks Holly of all fucking people, with some huge hispanic looking guy in tow. Our eyes meet and she gives me this guilty look and she might say something but I’ve already pushed past her and fled out into the pissing rain.
I’m passing the cathedral when I hear an engine in the near distance that sounds as though it’s seconds from exploding. I look behind me: a pair of headlights blossom from pinpricks to golf balls and continue to swell.
I don’t have to think about it.
I step out onto the road and make like I’m crossing but loiter on the white lines, fumbling with my laces. When it’s close enough I lurch into its path. Brakes screech. The Beetle skids, carving up rain. The moment stretches out. The car glides towards me. I can see the horror on their faces, I can hear their screams. The car pirouettes round me in a neat arc and spins for a few more feet then stops, straddling the white lines. The driver winds down his window. His teeth are dazzling; there’s something of the Hollywood actor about him.
‘What the fack do you think you’re doing?’
I flap my arms. They fall back against my sides with a squelch. ‘Sorry.’ The driver swears at me and tears off into the night. I stare after him, watching his car become a red smear in the distance, then scrape the hair up off my forehead and continue to the Social.
I march straight up to the bar and get four whiskies lined up. Down they go, one after the other. I’m getting another when a girl I don’t recognise approaches the bar. Rosy cheeks, like she’s worked a farm all her life. Her features crowd the centre of her face. She catches me staring at her.
‘You’re a bit wet.’
‘This season’s look,’ straightening my duds, ‘marine chic.’
‘Suits you. Wait, you’re the one who got punched earlier, eh?’ I nod. My whisky arrives. I lift it up and knock it back. The girl leans in towards me. ‘You alright?’
I gaze far away, like a grizzled war vet. ‘I’ll live.’
The girl pays for her drink and comes close. ‘I hear that guy’s a drug dealer.’ As she mouths the last part I catch the vodka on her breath.
‘I’ve heard that too.’
‘So are you, like…’ Her eyes widen with suggestion.
I straighten up, roll the shoulders a bit. ‘Well I uhh, couldn’t say one way or the other.’
Real close now. Hint of blue above the eyes. ‘Could you get us some speed?’
‘Oh aye, sure, no bother.’ Like no one’s ever lied to The Girl From Another Town before. She looks back over her shoulder at her mates. ‘Wait here.’ I slink off to badger Valdas and return with a little bag of something clenched in my palm. She offers me some. I accept. Be rude otherwise.
Aggy (short for Agnes. ‘Dad says I’ll grow into it. Arsehole.’) and I tell each other everything about one another but it’s not for the simple pleasure of knowing; we rattle through our histories at a hellacious clip, like we’re cramming for an exam. Waves of artificial happiness carry us to my house. Afterwards, too wired yet to sleep, I stare at the ceiling, feet twitching, and try to ignore reality tugging at the corners of my consciousness.