Jasper is always on these neverending world tours with Hoffman’s Circus now, but back when I knew him he was just a klutz. Always showing off in front of girls, performing magic tricks that always seemed to involve him briefly holding their hands, doing tricks on his skateboard, playing with hacky sack or poi. Even with only me as his audience on our cycle rides around the outskirts of town looking for stuff for him to photograph, he was always jumping about. It’s surprising any of his photos actually came out in focus, really.
On a May bank holiday, he wanted to go to the abbey ruins. I’d just finished my college essay (2000 sweated out words on the Ottoman Empire) and it was looking like it was shaping up to be a pretty nice day. I told Mum and Dad I was headed out. I remember Mum making me some sandwiches to take, still cut into quarters, despite the fact I’d recently turned 18. Guess you never stop being a child to your parents. She stood at the door and watched while I put them in my bike’s wicker basket (another idea of hers, which I had to admit had been pretty useful. Even though Jasper bent double laughing at it every time I cycled up to his, it didn’t stop him stowing his camera in it while he was off goofing around).
I got the awkward bit out of the way with him quickly that day.
“Mum asked me to ask you to tell Linda we don’t need her till two o’clock on Monday ‘cause someone’s coming to look at the boiler.”
“Harsh way to talk about your mother, dude.” I swatted him for that. “But yeah, will pass it on.” Then he ribbed me about my shorts. First time I’d been out that year in something other than trousers.
You see, that’s how we knew each other, Jasper and I. His mum worked for mine. And a fair few of the other mothers of the other kids at my college.
Jasper lived with Linda and her older (much too older, we agreed) boyfriend Rennie in a park home about five miles east of where I lived. He had a stepsister too, Meg her name was, and not gonna lie; I was a little obsessed with her when I met her. She was 21, had hair that fell to her waste like black silk and chain smoked. But friend’s family members and exes are off limits, that’s the rule. Anyway, Linda (also a bit of a hot ticket, not that I’d have admitted that to Jasper on pain of death) came to help out at the house and one time she’d brought Jasper as she couldn’t get a sitter. God knows what Rennie was doing. He probably had an urgent appointment at the bookies. So that’s how Jasper and I met. Despite him being three years younger, decades it feels when you’re that age, we really hit it off. He ended up coming over to play Prince of Persia whenever Rennie was bugging him, which was a lot, or to walk my lab Bevan with me.
Business out the way, we began our journey, me slowly cycling with him near-jogging or us both walking with him being annoyed I kept bumping the front wheel into the backs of his legs whenever he turned around to tell me something. But with the sun beating down and girls with more leg on display than we’d seen in months, we were pretty dang chipper.
We got up to the abbey from the west side while finishing a minor squabble on what the correct lyrics were in an R.E.M. song. Jasper took off the camera that had been bouncing on his chest and ran up the rest of the way to the first scatterings of stone. My nose started twitching in the first sign of a hay fever attack.
Jasper commenced his usual monkeying around, doing cartwheels and handstands. Then something on the other side of the slope caught his attention.
“Martin,” he hissed. “Get over here.”
My eyes were beginning to tingle. I scrunched up the ends of my sleeves and balled them into my sockets.
“What is it?” I asked, navigating the bike between broken bits of abbey, looking for a good corner I could prop it up in.
He beckoned furiously. He looked like a vulture perched on a plinth, flapping a wing. Having found a good parking spot, I joined him.
“Look,” he said. “Buncha freaks!”
I was bracing myself for some couple making out or kids doing some tagging. Not the scene that lay before us – some satanic ritual. In broad daylight.
Then a cameraman called out and the woman laid out on a slab, surrounded by five guys in black and white facepaint, sat up and adjusted her corset. “How much longer? I can hardly breathe and I’m sweating buckets in this thing.” The guys laughed, and one handed her a bottle of water.
“Must be a music video,” said Jasper, transfixed.
“Well, we hope,” I replied.
“I’m going to get my camera.”
He scrambled off to retrieve it while I rubbed my eyes and stifled a sneeze.
Jasper hopped back up on his plinth, then jumped to a higher column. He took a moment longer assessing the distance to the next one along, before leaping on that. He swayed a little, before steadying himself by clutching the sides of the column in his crouch.
“Careful up there,” I said, patting my pockets in search of a hankie, not wanting to tear my gaze from him. It was like, we’d had the theatre, and now we have the performance art.
He stuck his tongue out at me, then did a handstand. “Whoops,” he said as the camera bounced off the top of the rock. Just as well I’d bought him a protective case for it last Christmas, although he joshed me for that at the time, saying he was sorry he didn’t get me knee pads in return to wear while cycling.
Refreshed, it looked like the band members were in position again. From a van, a blast of heavy metal interrupted the usual tranquillity of the spot. Birds flew out the trees and squirrels raced up them. One of the leather-clad dudes was having his make up retouched. Jasper took a few snaps.
“Hey, maybe they’ll want to buy these off me. Exclusive behind the scenes footage.” I nodded, but this nearly shook stuff out my nose, so I stopped. I stifled three sneezes in a row. “Or maybe the fans will want them,” Jasper continued, oblivious to my distress.
He readied himself to jump to the next column over. I looked from the top of it down to its base and realised just how far up he was getting. He knows I hate it when he does this. All the fear he should be feeling transfers to me. All the envy I felt, that never transferred to him.
He was flexing his knees ready to bounce, while the cameraman screamed out some direction over the top of the music and I let out a mammoth sneeze that just about blew my head off.
Jasper had not factored these sonic disturbances into his spontaneous parkour. As such, he jumped a tad too much to the left – away from my sneeze, I noted with some pride, even in my horror. Down he went, landing heavily on the cracked earth with a sound like a sodden pile of laundry. Flomp.
I dashed to his side. He was trying to rise up, looking like a body builder on his thousandth push up, groaning like Frankenstein’s monster. I got my hands under his pits, trying my best to ignore the warm damp I felt there. “Dude, what the fuck, are you okay?”
He grunted. He was favouring his right foot as he stood. He gingerly put the left on the ground, and yelped.
The band members recognised such sweet music and all turned their pale faces. One of them, musta been about 6’5”, started making strides towards us. It was like watching a skinny giant coming to pick you out for lunch. Especially as he was also swinging a battle axe. Fe fi fo fum. For a moment I considered throwing him a quarter of sandwich.
“Hey what’s up with your buddy?” the giant rumbled. The rest of the gang had caught up with him and were making sympathetic noises, having seen the awkward angle Jasper’s left foot was poking out at.
“He fell,” I said. “He was climbing up there,” I was careful not to add ‘to get a better look at you’, “and then he fell”. I watched stupidly as Jasper wrinkled his nose and fought back tears, leaning on the treacherous pillar.
“Harsh,” observed a man with an upside down cross painted on his forehead that was in danger of dripping down into his eyebrows.
“We’ve got a phone in the van,” the giant offered, pointing his axe at the vehicle. “I’ll ask Tiff to call an ambulance. OI, TIFF!” He shouted instructions at her and with not a small amount of huffing and awkwardness, she wriggled off the table. I put the image of her skirt riding up to the back of my mind to deal with later.
* * *
“Hi, I’m looking for Jasper…Jasper Timms. Came in here with a foot injury a little while ago.” I had declined the offer for a ride in the ambulance. I loved Jasper, but I loved my bike too.
The woman on reception squinted at her screen. I watched her orange fingernails plod at her keyboard. Only two of her fingers under their neon hats seemed to have been trained how to type.
“Down the corridor, third door on the left,” came the reply, after a small eternity.
I peered round the side of the third door. Jasper was slumped on a bed, looking glum, although he perked up when he clocked me. Probably saw my nose first. Dad always said I’d inherited his, the famous Marson nose that always entered rooms before their owners did.
“So what’s the damage?” I asked him, taking a chair in the corner which certainly wasn’t chosen on the grounds of the comfort it afforded.
Jasper nodded. “Some bank holiday this is turning out to be, huh.”
“Oh, I don’t know, man. We got to get out in nature, get some exercise…bear witness to a sacrifice.” We both snickered. “We hung out with rock stars and you got to ride in an ambulance. What was that, like your fourth time now?”
“Fifth,” he replied with that lopsided grin that would go on to work very well for him with the ladies in years to come.
“I’m going to get a coffee. You want anything?”
“Wouldn’t mind a coke.”
I stepped back out in the corridor, debating for a moment whether to go and ask at the desk, then realising I could probably find the machines myself quicker than that. I trudged along, focusing on my shoes squeaking on the green floor to dissuade myself from the temptation to peer into any doors open a crack. I figured it was bad enough patients having to wear those gowns that left your butt hanging out without a teenager gawping at them.
A couple more corners and I found the drink machines. I got my coffee, then fumbled in my pockets for a coin for Jasper’s coke. Found one, shoved it in the machine and followed the instructions. I’m pretty sure you know how it works. Only, usually you get the can you want in exchange for feeding in money. Something got glued up in the mechanics of this box though. I slapped the side of it, muttering mean words about its mother. The cans and crisp packets seemed to gleam mockingly at me. You can look, but you can’t touch.
“Screw it!” I looked to my left and right, making sure nobody was around. I was going to get this drink for my young friend one way or the other. I stood back so I could get a bit of a run up and drove my foot into the chilled prison of caffeinated delights.
I slopped red hot coffee all over my hand and got a broken toe for my trouble. But at least I was in the right place to be treated.
I limped back the way I’d come, the tang of disinfected hospital piercing even my traumatised nostrils.
“Hey Jasper…you know how you’re always saying I should take a leaf outta your book? Well…”