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A Bright Young Thing (an extract)

1

I come from a wet and dirty place. To be born by a river forms something deep and green inside of you. I ache for the water when I am away from it. When I feel chaotic I picture the riverbed, calm and quiet in the swell. I think of the smooth, round stones beneath the current, unchanging anchors in the rippling dark.

2

A woman is missing. There are divers in the water like misplaced seals, dredging the mulchy riverbed for her body. This is a regular occurrence. Students come up north from other places and are thrilled by the cheap pints of Foster’s and treble vodka mixers. They go out in their boat shoes and Topshop florals and down shots of jäger to dubstep remixes, slamming their bodies into the drops and grasping at a roughness that is too coarse for them to handle. They walk home along the river and slip in the mud on the riverbank. The darkness swallows them quietly and they choke on murky water, discarded condoms floating around their bodies like spectral jellyfish.

Her face is the first thing I see when I get off the train from London, squinting from the front page of The Chronicle. Her hair is falling into her eyes and she is reaching up to brush it away, frowning slightly at the person taking the picture.

            ‘Such a bright young thing.’ Says the man in the newsagents as I pass dull coins across the counter. ‘What a terrible loss, eh? They haven’t found the body yet, but I’m not holding my breath.’ I make a small noise in agreement. ‘So far from home, as well.’ He continues. ‘What a waste.’ My coins jangle as they hit the till and I walk out of the shop and into the city.

3

The train station is on the wrong side of the river. I wander along the street, crammed with takeaways and charity shops. Fat and grease make patterns on steamed-up windows, and women in mini dresses skitter in front of taxis, their limbs neon in the dregs of the afternoon. I pass old men sucking cigarettes in Wetherspoon’s doorways, the tattoos on their forearms blurring into blue. There is an Iceland boasting multipacks of cocktail sausages and a bus station where teenage boys linger on Saturday nights, leaving sticky pools of phlegm on the plastic seats. I walk with my hands in my jacket pockets, scanning the lipsticked revelers for familiar faces, but there is nobody here I know.

I cross the bridge over the water to the other side of town. Concrete slabs shrink to shiny cobblestones and white-walled cafes prickle with cacti. Students wrap their hands around silky coffees in ceramic mugs, rolling syllables luxuriantly between their lips. Mothers in Cath Kidston florals linger in bookshops, spearing olives with cocktail sticks over glasses of Rioja. They do not go to the bus station, where men in short-sleeved shirts drop midnight kebabs on the tiles, then scoop them up and eat them anyway.

The wrong side of the city is known as The Dark Side.

            ‘Going down The Dark Side?’ the locals ask each other, exchanging knowing looks. I grew up on The Dark Side but then I moved away and turned into something different. My fake tan peeled from my shoulders like sunburnt skin and I left it between bed sheets in rented rooms. I don’t fit in on The Dark Side any more, but I’m still not quite right. I have all that dark inside of me, but now I am bright.

Read the rest of this story in Issue 3 of Somesuch Stories Magazine.