by Sarah Turner

Maybe it was the girl who made me tell Gary I’d had enough. He could tell I was certain. He seemed relieved. I noticed how the muscles round his eyes relaxed when I told him, and thought for the first time that neither of us would have started this without the other. We’d been daring each other on all summer. The houses, really, were no different from the dive bombs we did from the bridge into the river. I’d watch him jump, his arms round his shins, and see him disappear deep beneath the water with an excitement that twisted into dread, knowing I’d have to do it next.

The first time we did a house, I didn’t really think about why. We never had money, and that was part of it. It didn’t seem fair that my sisters couldn’t have the things they needed, and I liked being able to help. But the main reason was Gary. He was doing it, so I did it too. We were 15 and tall, with our new deep voices and that overgrown hair that was fashionable at the time, but we were still skinny enough to fit through most of the gaps we found. There was a back alley between Gary’s building and the big houses and we used to hang out there, or in his bedroom, until we saw a sign.

It could be someone going out, but often it was just an open window. Breaking glass was noisy. Risky. We tried not to do that, but you’d be surprised how many people in those houses left their windows open on summer afternoons. Back doors, as well, especially if they were just going to a neighbour’s or to the shop.

I’d watched the house where the girl lived for a while, without mentioning it to Gary. She must have been about our age and in the middle of that summer, she used to sit out on her windowsill. Long dark hair. Faded jeans, torn at the knee. She’d stretch her bare feet up against the brick at the end, or out in front of her on the sloping slate roof and pick at the paint on the window-frame, or just stare down at the red roses that grew over their garage roof.

That Saturday, we were sitting on Gary’s bed, talking about school and this girl who worked in the supermarket, who Gary reckoned he had a chance with. Sunlight was flooding in through the window and you could see specks of dust in it, mingling with the smoke from his cigarette. There were clothes on the floor and a musty, damp smell that made me not want to breathe in too deeply.

Gary’s brother came in just as we were laughing about something. They shared a room, so it was his, too, except that he’d usually be at his job this time on a Saturday.

‘Have you got it yet?’ he asked. Gary flinched and I wondered why. Ash fell on the bed. I flicked it to the floor, so it wouldn’t scorch the sheet.

‘Come on,’ Gary said. ‘He’s only just got here.’ His voice sounded weak, less certain than usual.

Dave was older than us. He had the sort of muscles you get from doing weights and he was wearing a vest, so you could see their shape. He pulled Gary back by his T-shirt, so his head snapped back and his eyes bulged fatter, with a desperation in them I’d never seen before. 

‘Just get it, OK?’

After he’d gone, Gary put a hand on his neck. He looked at the floor, and at me, as though he was about to say something, but then his eyes moved off mine; he seemed embarrassed.

‘What was that?’

‘Don’t ask me.’

I looked at him until he sighed.

‘He needs money. OK?’


‘He knows we’ve done a few houses. Wants us to get it for him.’

‘How’s he know that?’

He shook his head and I started to talk. I wanted to say that I didn’t want to, that I’d had enough, but the way Gary was looking at me made me stop.

We scanned the backs of the houses and we both saw straight away that there was a window open. It was in her house. I’d been worried it would be. I’d had that sort of sick feeling in my chest from the moment we started looking. 

‘Not that one,’ I said. ‘They’re in. You can tell.’

‘No they’re not. The lights aren’t on.’ He was looking at me oddly. ‘Let’s just try.’

I thought of walking out of his room and down the stairs, but we’d been through a lot together.

‘This is the last time,’ I said. ‘I’m sick of it.’

He nodded, and that was when I saw his face relax.

There was a gap in front of the girl’s house that day. It had rained, but the road was lighter where the car had been. From the end of the path, the front room looked empty. Gary nudged me.

‘Come on,’ he muttered. ‘Looks like they’ve only just gone out.’

I followed Gary round the back street to the alley. There was a muddy path behind the garden walls, all overgrown, with big purple flowers on thick green stems reaching up to our waists. On the other side of their garage, where you were hidden by the building and the neighbour’s hedge, there was only a little fence. We were over in seconds.

Nothing was moving and that one open window just drew us to it. I suppose they’d forgotten it, or assumed it was too small or high for anyone to get through, but we were in there fast. From the kitchen counter, we jumped down to the cracked lino tiles. They had this old radio that wasn’t even worth looking at.

‘Not much in here,’ I said.

‘Might as well look. We’re in here now.’

It was odd, being in the girl’s house. There were wooden floors and books everywhere—huge cases of them—and a piano piled high with music. Red candles in brass holders. I imagined her sitting there, playing, but I knew I’d never see that. It was just a fantasy, part of a life I knew I couldn’t have.

‘Nice rug,’ Gary said. ‘Persian, is it?’

‘We can’t take that. It’s much too big.’

The TV was tiny. ‘Want some spider plants?’ I asked. Gary smiled, but he looked worried. The back room was the same. More books. A real fireplace, with ash in the grate. A sofa and chairs that didn’t even match.

‘They must have something,’ Gary said. ‘Picture frame?’

He gestured towards the marble mantelpiece, where there was a photo of the girl. I thought about taking it and my stomach crumpled, as though a hand was squeezing it small.

‘Let’s look upstairs.’

Her room wasn’t how I’d imagined it. A big wooden table, stacked with papers and files. White duvet cover. Bookshelves. An abandoned doll’s house, half-hidden on top of the wardrobe. The mirror was scratched, obscured at the top by stickers. One from the local radio station, with the colour missing at one side, where she’d tried to peel it off. The posters on the walls weren’t that different from my sister’s. I ran upstairs to the attic and found some cash in a desk drawer. Not much, but some. A watch. A camera, probably too old for Dave to sell. More books. Posters on the wall, but different—art exhibitions, theatre shows, some sort of poem. I could hear Gary rifling through drawers. I ran back down.

‘Look at this,’ he said.

‘Hang on.’ The phone started to ring. There was a key in the door soon after and we froze. Someone ran in, through the hall.

‘Hello? Yeah. Yeah. I know. My battery’s gone. OK, then. About six?’

Gary’s eyes were on mine the whole time she was talking. I knew it was the girl and I dreaded her coming up and us having to run past her and get out before she was over the shock. I listened hard. A sigh. Her putting the phone down. Footsteps, and then her hesitating in the hall, as if she was thinking of coming upstairs. I held my breath, but then I heard her move again. The door slammed. There was silence. I went to the front window and saw her out there, sitting on a wall with another girl. She didn’t seem worried.  She couldn’t have heard us. I still felt panicky, though. My heart was jumping in my chest.

There was a button on the front door that you could press down to stop the lock working, and a chain as well. I put them both on, but half-heartedly. I didn’t want to be there anymore.

‘Come on,’ I said, when I went back up. Gary was in the room next to the girl’s. It was done up like an office with a computer and desk that he was kneeling at, going through the drawers. Next to the bookcase was a red and black wheelchair, with its footrests pushed up. There was a black inflatable cushion on the seat. A strong smell of plastic. A lift in one corner. Buttons on the wall to control it.   

‘Grab the computer,’ he said.

‘No. We’re going.’

‘But they’ve got a—’

‘Just get out,’ I said. I was angrier than I could remember having been before, but I barely knew why. ‘Don’t take anything. Right?’

He saw where I was looking. ‘Oh come on. So what?’ He laughed contemptuously. ‘Don’t go soft on me now.’

He followed me, all the same. We dropped down out of the window, ran through the garden, and were back in the alley in no time. Near some abandoned cars, I trod through was what was left of a fire. I kicked a tin can and it sprayed brown liquid in the air as it rolled. 

‘I can’t believe you didn’t let us take that computer,’ Gary said.

I looked at him for a long time. ‘Here,’ I said. I held out my hand and he took the watch and the cash from the attic. ‘Will that do him?’

‘Probably.’ We walked to his door.

‘Do you want to come in?’ Gary asked. His shoulders were hunched forwards and his hand was clenched in his jeans pocket, holding the watch.

I shook my head.

‘Suit yourself.’ He muttered something else, and there was a moment when he looked at me over his shoulder and waited. There was something anxious in his face and normally I would have relented and gone up to talk to his brother with him, but this time I didn’t. I didn’t say anything, just stood there watching him with my hands jammed in my pockets as he went through the door to his building. It swung shut behind him and I was left there, standing by myself.

I looked at the door for a long time. Part of me thought he might come back out, and I wondered what I’d say, but then I walked away. On the next street, I started to run. I wanted all of it out of my mind: the girl and Gary and the way he’d looked at me when his brother grabbed his shirt.

I cut through the park and stopped near the playground where Gary and I used to go after school when we were little. It was empty now, apart from a woman pushing two young girls on the swings. I watched them for a minute and then I pulled my hood up and set off, squeezing through the gap in the fence near our old primary school onto the main road, lifting my face to the drizzle, and trying not to think.


Sarah Turner’s short stories have been published (or are due to be published) by After Dinner Conversation, Welter, The London MagazineToasted Cheese and Paragraph Planet. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and can be found on Twitter @scturnerfiction.