• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 07


When I was eleven, I’d go over to my friend Clare’s house and we’d make up dance routines. Sometimes, if it was a good song, I’d let myself go completely, and then I’d catch Clare kind of looking at me, like an alarmed glance, and I’d quickly rein it back in and return to shuffling my feet.

One time, I went over, and Clare got sick. Lock-yourself-in-the-bathroom sick. I sat outside asking her if she was okay. She wasn’t. I asked if I should ring her mum at work. She didn’t think so. In the end, I knocked on her brother Mattie’s door.

‘Clare’s sick. She’s in the bathroom.’
‘Did she eat cheese again?’
I shrugged.
‘She shouldn’t do that.’

Mattie was thirteen. His room had brown curtains and was full of reptiles. He fed them crickets, only some had escaped and were now living behind his bookshelves.

I stood on the threshold, peering over his shoulder.
‘You want to see them?’

Inside, he talked me through the tanks: the geckos, a couple of lizards, and a yellow and white corn snake, who lived on mice Mattie kept in his mum’s freezer.

‘It’s so pretty.’ And there must’ve been something about the way I said it, because Mattie asked if I’d like to hold his snake. You’re probably feeling uncomfortable now and wondering what’s coming next, which means I’ve given you the wrong impression, because Mattie was luminous. That’s the only way to describe him. He was a luminous boy, and for a few short years he was a luminous teenager and then he went and died of leukemia, so no one got to see if he would go on to become a luminous man.



The sun was coming through the brown curtains. The crickets were yakking. He had a cassette on. It was The Doors, the song where Morrison croons, Ride the Snaaaake!

I sat on Mattie’s Spiderman duvet and, with the air of a priest, he draped twelve pounds of corn snake around my neck and shoulders, like a fancy scarf.

‘Her name is Lucy.’

Lucy’s tongue was tasting the air.

‘She likes you,’ he said. ‘She really likes you.’

‘I think she likes the music.’

‘Really? Do you think so?’

I did. Jim Morrison sang about the end and Lucy’s eyes gleamed and at some point, I suggested Lucy might like it if we danced. Mattie thought about this.

‘We could try it.’

I got to my feet and began to move to the music. And, let me tell you, Lucy had no problem with that at all. She was definitely enjoying herself. After a couple of songs, Mattie had a go too, a little go at snake dancing with Lucy, the brown curtains lifting in the breeze, the lizards, geckos and chameleon watching from their tanks.

‘You’re a good dancer,’ he said. And some things, if they’re told to you by the right person in the right way, you only need to hear them once.