A chainlink fence runs along the back of the houses and the posts have been pulled across the path. Taking giant steps, the boy walks on the green plastic mesh. Avoiding garden refuse and a rusty bicycle frame, he reaches the gap between the garages on his right. He leaps clear of the web and stumbles onto the ground. Flies rise in his face but he stays down and, collecting himself, he crawls forward on all fours.
Keeping to the centre of the narrow cut, he pushes an old Coke can in front of him. A little of the drink spills onto the dirt. Flies buzz around the sweet and sticky droplets and he notices now the swarm, a little to his left, close to the wall. He stands and peers down but it is impossible to see through the flies. He unzips and urinates, clearing them with his stream. It is a finger. He steps back, splashing onto his trainers. A severed finger.
He sees now how it was done. Where the hand was held against the wall and where the blade has scarred the bricks. He notices too the gouged area, where the flies are concentrated, and that the congealed blood tapers until it is just a stain on the wall where it has run.
He knows that he really should leave, get away. It seems like the sensible thing to do, the only thing to do. But he doesn’t move. He stays put. He is rooted to the spot. He looks down but the ground under his feet tells nothing of what has happened here. There are no footprints, no scuff marks and no trampled grass.
The flies are working on the blood, it won’t last long. It will soon be just a stain and then not even that. He glances again at the finger. It seems to him like something you could buy in a joke shop, like something he would buy.
Head down, he scans the rubbish gathered at the edges on either side of the cut but he doesn’t find what he is looking for. He needs a cigarette packet, an empty packet, a discarded packet and it seems to him unfeasible that there isn’t one.
He reaches the end but isn’t ready to step out into the open, not yet. And so he starts back, slowly now, kicking through the cans and the sweet wrappers. He must use something from here or try somewhere else.
He grasps a red and green shiny paper sheaf and also the stick from an ice lolly. He uses this to coax the finger into the bag, folds to seal and carefully tucks the package into his pocket.
He hasn’t looked at it yet, hasn’t even so much as taken a peek. It is still wrapped in the waxy paper and stowed in his pocket.
Resisting the urge to run, he walks away from the cut and once clear wanders aimlessly. For hours he meanders back and forth, eventually making his way home where he slips unseen into the garage and then buries the package in the chest freezer under the pizzas and the pies.
Clutching an empty cigarette packet he trudges along, grimly determined. The wet patch is spreading and he can feel it pressing against his thigh. It is melting and he needs to find somewhere to make the transfer.
In his efforts to go unnoticed, he is making himself all the more conspicuous. Hunched over, he studies the pavement but, at regular intervals, he jerks his head upward and glares at the sky. He notices some boys from his school up ahead and it seems to him, on this bright and lurid day, that there is nowhere to hide.
He hops up and over the wall on his right and slides down the bank. He runs on the level grass in front of the windows to the ground floor flats. He reaches the entrance and tries the trade button. It doesn’t work but an old woman appears in the foyer and shuffles toward him from behind the wired glass.
She pushes the door and, taking hold of it, he waits for her. She stands on the threshold, uncertain and seemingly unaware that he is there. He could step around her. But why should he?
He leans back against the heavy aluminium door and at last she slowly makes her way up the steps, toward the road.
He fishes it from his pocket, peels away the soggy paper and there it is, in the palm of his hand. Like a metal cylinder, it is corroding. Already, it is much the worse for wear.
The old woman is stalled again, at the pavement’s edge. He watches her as she manages not to topple and closes his hand.
Holding it in the hollow of his fist.