I met Hardy when I was sixteen. He was new to my school and he stood in a corner behind the library and looked angry. We started talking and a friendship took off from there.
He was from out of town and he had a tattoo. He told me he had come home one night, late, and his father and some of his buddies were drinking in the house. His father had a far away look.
“Sit down,” he commanded.
Hardy sat and one of his old man’s friends had a tatto gun. Hardy had closed his eyes as the man cut into him. He told me to avoid any reaction to the pain he concentrated on the noise the gun made, a loud buzz, he said. The man had drawn a skull on his arm. He showed me, it was incredible.
His father drank a lot. The old man would be in the sitting room of their house when ever I came over with a bottle of something beside him. He would not look at you, only straight ahead, his face burning red. I was afraid. We would go to Hardy’s room and listen to heavy metal and talk about guns.
Once, with his father away, we opened the liquor cabinet and became drunk on vodka. I could not handle it and hurt myself walking home.
One night we walked along an old park in an expensive part of town. A white picket fence beside us.
“Watch this,” Hardy said and then using only his fist began to break the timber pickets. They snapped under each punch, the painted white timber with yellow innards shattering and flying off like broken teeth, the fence destroyed with each punch.
“Try it,” he said.
I punched one and it made no effect, my hand throbbed with pain, my knuckles red and swollen.
“You don’t have the knack,” he laughed.
A man from inside the house pushed a window up and yelled, I wanted to go but Hardy turned red and would have attacked him, I think, if i did not drag him away.
Once he turned up to my work in a large red car. A big V8 coupe. He was sitting behind the wheel laughing and smoking a cigarette. I knew he did not have a license.
“You drive,” he said.
“Whose car?” I asked.
I could see the ignition was broken. It was a beautiful car, smooth and loud. It jumped at the twitch of my foot. We drove around town for hours until we found someone worth racing. We took off along a quiet road that runs past the town’s garbage tip. We were in the correct lane, our opposition next to us. Our car was too fast but I played with them until another car came along and ran off the road. I did not stop to see what happened, we took off. It was the first time I had seen Hardy scared and suddenly I felt I had gone too far.
I waited one night with him at the railway station. It was midnight and he was taking the train out of town to visit his mother. I had school the next day, he was going to be away for a week, he said. He’d catch up; “all the teachers are motherfuckers anyway.”
We stood under the bright lights of that cold night, a large beetle numb with cold, fell on it’s back and flapped it’s wings. The noise drew our attention to it and he righted it, but it rolled over again. “This is the life,” he spoke and looked at me, “we are young men, still boys, and it’s all before us.” His train pulled in and I watched him leave.
I left town at the end of the year. I told him goodbye. He had no idea what he wanted to do. “Maybe the army, I don’ know,” he said. “Come see me when you are back in town, you can use my weights, you need to work on your strength.”
I drove away and thought about it. We were just boys doing stupid things.
I saw him once when I came back to town. He was hanging out with a friend from the army, though he had never joined himself. We went swimming and then drove around town. A young man with long blonde hair stood in the old quarter of town. Hardy knew him, he rolled down the window and screamed: “Faggot!”
The young man looked away and folded his arms, afraid.
“We should get out and bash that faggot,” he said to us and we all laughed.
I never went back after that. It did not feel right. It was going back to something I wanted to leave.
A few years later, I heard about him, when we were adults living in a adult world. Hardy had been outside a bar when two thugs had jumped him, beaten him. I don’t know why they attacked him, but he died. It was in a strange city, not in our home town. It was a cold winters night and he died on the hard cement in the parking lot. I imagine that night where he lay, his breath in thick white clouds, blood on his face. I never thought he could be beaten, not Hardy.
My debut novel The Bomber is out with Pen Name Publishing on June 24th 2015 (one month before Harper Lee’s new novel)