JIM HAD PROCURED the bolt-cutters. Alan had suggested it. Malky and I went along with it. And now we had access to the flat roof space all to ourselves, six stories up, and within weeks a den as well.
In a land free from parents and teachers, swearing was encouraged, tall tales were told until they came crashing down and although Alan retained leadership, we challenged the throne daily trying to outdo each other.
Next to the only protrusion on the roof, the vent, we built a ramshackle den from pieces of timber no father would miss, and any other scrap of building material we could lay out hands on and sneak up to our hideout; crates, shopping baskets, an old tarp from a skip, bricks from a nearby building site. Within the rickety structure that could only shelter two people at a time were magazines of varying degrees of pornography, from the highly prized lingerie section of shopping catalogues to Hefner’s Playboy’s stolen from fathers and brothers. Keeping them company were empty soft drinks bottles and a disintegrating poster of Michael Jordan blue tacked to brick wall of the vent.
Often we would stand right on the edge of the roof, next to the six inch raise that ran along the whole it. We’d peer down at the high street, buzzed on our vantage point, empowered by height.
Adjacent to one side was a five story building with a flat roof. Many times we talked of making the leap.
“It’s eight feet across, you dickheads!” said Alan.
“No way! My Dad’s a joiner and I’m telling you guys, it’s fucking ten feet feet at least!”
Jim was adamant.
“I think Alan’s right,” I said, immediately realising I’d omitted a swearword, one which could no longer be tacked on.
“I’m right aren’t I Malky?” Alan said. “Just fucking say it!”
Malky nodded. “But, who gives a shit?” Malky had been feeling unwell recently, had some tooth infection.
We stood side by side, eye balling the roof opposite, peering into the alleyway between, guestimating, forming our own mental calculations and risk assessments.
Jim broke the momentary silence. “I could jump eight feet, but not ten fucking feet. No way!”
Allan, Malky and myself shared a look, and someone had to say it.
“Bullshit! You’re too scared!” said Alan, needling.
“Why don’t you do it then?” chided Malky, firing a warning shot. Alan stared across the gap, ignoring him.
I began taking my jacket off and checked my laces, making sure they were tight, no loose ends. I didn’t want to trip. I walked backwards twenty paces, then thirty.
My legs launched into action, my arms pumping as my trainers gripped the surface of the roof, squeaking as I neared my friends. Astonished, they turned to watch as I neared the edge; open mouthed, surprised.
My right foot reassuringly hit the raise and I leaped off with confidence, sick of all the talk and no action, destined to be a hero.
“No fucking way!” said Alan, watching my body bounce off the side of the building opposite, plummeting into the brickwork gap, sucked downwards to meet unyielding concrete.
Malky and Jim shrieked like girls, and they peered over to see my body, sprawled out on the concrete below, blood visible from my spread eagled body that lay motionless, at least one leg snapped in half.
Alan, Jim and Malky looked at each other feeling sick, not knowing what to do, panic forcibly taking over.
“Holy fuck! Oh shit! He actually did it!” Alan started to feel a horrendous guilt.
“What do we do?” Malky looked at Allan and Jim, petrified.
They paced about wildly trying to figure out the best solution knowing that the emergency services were going to have to be called. But not yet. Blame was thrown around and all fingers pointed at Allan, who was beginning to break, unable to handle what they’d just seen. Then one of them said it, like it needed to be said: “Fred’s dead!”
I peeled myself of the pavement and sprinted up the stairs as quick as possible, bursting through the rooftop access.
Allan, Jim and Malky froze mid-argument.
“Guys I’m fine! Look!” But that only furthered the look of horror on their faces, as they backed away as one, towards the edge. I inspected my hands and arms, that healed before my eyes, noticing dried blood on my trousers. And that’s the day I knew was different.