‘Monkey Blood’

When I look at a clear blue sky in August, all I can taste is monkey blood. My nose aches with a sneeze that’s coming, coming, but not. There’s the tinkle of an ice cream van, and just by the sound of it I can tell which street it’s on. I run there, shouting for Josie on the way. I’ve got enough for two, I guess, counting out the twenty pence pieces in my hot palm as I sprint. She can pay me back.

I get there and there’s no queue. He’s out of the blue ice pops, he tells me, and I’m glad because I’m here for 99s, with as much strawberry sauce as I’m allowed. I meet Josie on the way back and we cut through to the park. The grass is crisp like straw and scratches behind our knees, but still we lie back, licking circles, watching the dripples of blood red syrup give way to streaky tounguestrokes of pink, pale rose, and then the purest vanilla, until the combination of cream and dry cone becomes almost not worth eating.

Up there, looking down on the estate, it was too windy for the wasps to find us. Too high for our voices to carry. We talked about everything on that hill; about Josie’s stepdad, the money under the floorboards, the way it made us feel when two boys kissed in the playground…

It was like that every summer until we were sixteen. It was always sunny, the sky was always blue, and we always went home with blood on our hands.