Nikki is red-faced from the bonfire, kissing the lip of a bottle of Bundy. Shouting at some guy in a cap that he’s soft. Can’t take his rum. Nikki is only six feet away, but it feels further, the air congested with smoke and heat and voices. She passes me the bottle as though passing a loaded gun. But I know her shottie is stood up against her parents’ caravan wall, with the safety on. I drink without pausing. Stand to pass the bottle back. Nikki claps her hand down on my shoulder. My heart is a butcherbird, my body: a corrugated iron fence. She laughs, shouts to the guy with the cap that he’s been beat. I smile at her, but only glance him. My shins are too hot.
I retreat to the monkey bars, climb halfway and turn to see Nikki following. It’s summer, we are sixteen and there’s no good reason other than light and congregation that there should even be a fire.
Nikki passes the rum to me.
‘Jarred likes you,’ she says.
‘The guy in the cap?’ I drink. Shake my head. And grin.
Later, I see their silhouettes roaming out across the muddy lake-bed. Nikki and a capped figure stepping between the sunken bodies of sheep, frozen there, fly-studded, in mid-bleat. The fire is low and red; the other revellers moved on. From somewhere on the other side of the caravan park their shouts bellow out into the indifferent scrubland.
I leave the empty bottle of rum lying warm on the woodchips by the swings. The smell of peppercorn and burnt things gets up my nose and I sneeze five times in a row and l augh at my feet. As I walk back to the van, I imagine the sound of the mud sucking at my boots is the same as Nikki’s mouth against his – kiss kiss, kiss kiss, kiss kiss – and laugh again, hoping they hear me.