He’s got dark hair and he’s grinning at me from the pew behind.
“Neville,” he says from my driver’s seat, a flower tucked behind his ear. He drives like a fucking maniac, deathly reckless, and I have no idea if he even has a driver’s license; if he does, he’s long since forsaken the Highway Code for his own.
He takes me to a graveyard and sprawls out on the ground like we’re about to have a picnic. He holds out a flower for me, and I know he wants me to put it behind my ear, too, but I still think he’s psychotic, so I just hold it and let it twist between my fingers.
“Do you like flowers?” he asks. “They grow, and wither, and die, and are reborn. I think they’re amazing.”
“They look nice on a mantelpiece,” I say, morbid in a sea of ceramic death. Neville laughs from the grass.
“So do you,” he says, “but I think you’d be nicer if you stepped off it and got a little closer to the fireplace.”
I don’t know what he means. He doesn’t seem to care.
Too worried for the welfare of my car, I drive him home. He lives in a cottage with a garden full of bright, blooming flowers, ivy creeping up white stone walls, and his rooms are filled with growing flowers. He sits on the floor, not on any chair, kimono sleeves swishing against his fingers.
“Tell me your name,” he says, “and tell me what you smell.”
He listens almost exclusively to Cat Stevens records and eats his lunch anywhere from quarries to scrapyards. I have nothing better to do, so I join him. I tell him about father’s frivolous attempts to set me up with a woman; he laughs, and tells me about life.
He knows a lot. He must be the same age as me, but he’s wise like a guru and fearless like a biker, swinging his legs over the edge of a cliff as we eat sandwiches.
“Your problem,” he says, “is that you’ve retired from life.”
He runs screaming across the field barefoot, laughing like everything’s funny, and when I finally catch up with him by the car, he pushes a flower behind my ear, too. I leave it there.
I think he might be right; he watches the sky rush by from the windows as he steams along the roads.
“My parents,” he says. We’re sitting having a picnic at a pier and watching the gulls shriek by; I expected him to be the sort of sick bastard to throw his lunch to them, but he doesn’t, lying propped up on his elbows, the setting sun like melting cheese setting his features aglow. He makes it look beautiful to be alive. “They died, when I was young. I made a promise to live the rest of their lives for them, so I’m living three lives.” He takes a bite out of his sandwich, and a gull steals the other.
“You can’t live that much life,” I argue. “It’s ridiculous.”
“You can live however much life you want to live,” he rebuffs simply.
“I feel like I’ve been dead since I was born,” I admit. “Big mansions. Fancy cars. Three keyboard organs - it’s not for me. That’s empty. Those girls my father forces me to see, they want my money. They don’t look at me. They don’t care about me, or who I am - no-one cares about who I am.” I think I might be crying, but I can’t tell; Neville has sat up, a hand teetering over my cheek, catching a tear I feel slide down. He’s beautiful. “I want to live, Neville. I want to know what that’s like.”
When we steam down the roads, I let my hand out of the window and catch the air rushing between my fingers. He takes me to a greenhouse and I sweat and feel clammy; he pulls his shirt off and stands half-naked, arms extended. “Can you feel the life?” he asks, and turns abruptly, coming towards me and pressing his hand to my chest, hard. “I can feel it.”
I kiss him, and touch his neck, and feel his pulse. I wonder if he really does feel mine.
When I pull back, I reach my hands out into the air and some of my fingers graze plant leaves that seems to move back against me. “I feel it,” I whisper.
“Live it,” he says, and grabs my hand, laughing as he pulls me back to the car.
I tuck two flowers behind each ear the next morning and lie shirtless in the garden; Neville plays the banjo on a stool with the paint cracking off. He can’t play, not really, but he makes noises and they sound good to me.
“Am I living yet?” I ask him. He peers at me.
“Ask yourself that,” he shrugs.
“Good,” he says. “Hold on to that life. It’s important. Make use of it. Be embarrassing, and loud, and true, and live it for those who can’t.”
I think of my own parents, and then his; he keeps a photo in the cottage, the only one he didn’t burn. I’m not sure I can live three lives, but with him, I want to live mine.
“Where are we going?” he asks as we tear down the highways, head out the window.
“Does it matter?” I ask. He grins.