the middle

The Grand Hotel. Two boys swing round and round the crooked trunk of a tired, stunted tree. Heads flung back, arms outstretched, their thick hands grip at the cracked bark, clawing through gravity. A security guard watches. Dark green overalls, baggy and belted; tight canvas boots laced up the shin; a soft green beret tilted fractionally forward. His narrow buttocks are seated on the head of a bare-breasted woman, pert nipples poking through the stubble of grass. Slowly, rhythmically, he claps a truncheon into his left palm – blackslap blackslap slap – otherwise motionless. Round and round the laughing children swing.

And then they stop. Arms flop to the sides, tree released. They cross the broken pavement towards the wall of the hotel a few feet in front of the seated guard. The larger boy takes a jump and pulls himself up onto the bricks, tumbling down to the grass on the other side. And then he’s up, walking towards the guard and the truncheon, whispering words that make the man nod and smile. He sprints across the dried out lawn towards a fibreglass pool of water surrounded by fibreglass boulders and fibreglass rock. He squirrels about in the fake feature until his hand pulls out a rusting Pepsi can followed by a white nozzle pump that might once have been attached to a bottle of detergent. He pushes the can into the pond watching impatiently as the bubbles gulp to the surface, dappling his distorted reflection. A hand scoops, a head dips, but the dusty boy does not take one drop to his mouth. He splashes his forehead, his cheeks and neck, casting patterns in the layers of dust that shroud his face. He guides the nozzle into the Pepsi can, pumping the small handled until water sprays out in a large arc over the pond. A rainbow. The guard whistles. And the boy is up, dashing across the grass, back over the wall, squirting water from his weapon. The children chase up the pavement and down and up and down and up, screaming every time a cascade of water bullets the skin from above.