The Changeover by Callum Norman

James cleared his long ginger mane from his freckled face and put a cigarette in his mouth. He lit it, inhaled deeply, exhaled a monstrous cloud of smoke, then held his cigarette in the space between his crossed legs. His battered old skateboard sat next to him with the deck facing upwards: it featured an image of a red dragon. Britney was sat on the ground next to James with her long legs stretched out in front of her. Her long purple hair swayed with the gentle breeze. She was clutching a bottle of energy drink, which was open; it was filling the air around her with a sweet, sickly smell. Next to Britney, Dylan was stood on his skateboard, reclined against the railings behind him, with his elbows on the rail, his meaty forearms sticking out, and his big hands dangling awkwardly. James, Britney and Dylan all looked up at Jasmine.

Jasmine was stood on the edge of a bowl, with the tail of her skateboard on the coping. She tied her dark brown, teal-tinted hair back into a ponytail. Then she dropped in; she started by carving the bowl for several minutes, switching between frontside and backside carves; she threw in a rock to fakie; she did a blunt to fakie; she then took her foot off of the skateboard and pushed the board up the bowl: it flew up the bowl, then returned back to her safely. Jasmine sat down in the middle of the bowl, let her hair down, lit a cigarette and smoked it slowly. She had a pained expression on her face.

“You’d think she was losing,” James observed.

“I’ll bet she doesn’t move when Oliver gets there,” Britney offered.

Oliver appeared at the edge of the bowl that Jasmine was sat in. He was clutching his skateboard with his left hand; the deck was facing outwards: it featured an image of a severed blue hand. Oliver’s intense brown eyes held Jasmine so tightly that it could have been agonising.

“Are you going to move?” Oliver asked sharply.

“Probably not,” Jasmine replied.

“You’re not the only person here.”

“You were sat drinking with Chris and Alex before you saw me come in here.”

“Now I want to skate. What’s your problem?”

“You can skate around me.”

Oliver stomped off in the direction of the half-pipe at the other end of the skatepark. Jasmine smirked as she watched him grow smaller. Alex, who had a can of beer in one hand, picked up his skateboard and rushed after Oliver; once Alex had caught up to Oliver, they marched side by side towards the half-pipe. Chris put his aviator sunglasses on, picked up a case of beer, then walked towards James. Jasmine picked up her skateboard and walked towards her friends: James, Britney and Dylan.

“You’ve come bearing gifts!” James cried as Chris got near to him.

Chris threw beer cans to James, Britney and Dylan. Then Chris took a beer, turned around, and held it straight out in front of him for Jasmine to see: she was just coming up behind him.

“You can have this when you start being nicer to Oliver,” Chris said half-jokingly.

“He could have gone around me,” Jasmine replied indifferently as she went around Chris to stand next to James.

“It’s the biggest rivalry in skating and yet James will end up winning the next competition again anyway,” Chris laughed.

“I’m not as dedicated as everyone else,” James said drily, then opened his can of beer.

Chris threw a can of beer to Jasmine. It flew high up in the air before it came down to her.

“Ely is getting some more beer. He’s getting some weed as well. Do you guys want to go in with us? I can ring him and get him to get some more,” Chris offered.

“When will he get here?” James asked.

“He should be here in a few hours. I think he’s coming with Jade and Donna.”

“Not the Donna party!” Jasmine smirked.

“I like you, Jazz, but you have to start behaving,” Chris said.

“She’s fine as she is, but thanks,” Britney interjected.

“You don’t have to put up with Oliver going on about her all the time,” Chris said to Britney.

Jasmine, James, Britney and Dylan all wanted some beer. They also wanted some weed, but there had been a mix-up: Ely had thought that Alex was meant to be picking up the weed. Chris stepped in and volunteered to get some. Shortly after Chris had left, Dylan turned to Britney and asked her to go into the town centre with him; earlier in the day, they’d planned on going off at some point to get something to eat. Dylan had asked James and Jasmine, but they had each declined the invitation: James had eaten a full English breakfast; Jasmine hardly ever ate anything at all.

Once Britney and Dylan had left, the four skateboarders who dominated all of the local, and regional, competitions, and who did quite well in national competitions, could be caught in one frame, without another soul around: Jasmine and James skated in the same bowl; in the distance, Oliver and Alex skated on the same half-pipe. It was an interesting spectacle because of the fierce rivalry that went on between Jasmine and Oliver, but also, by extension, between the two groups: Jasmine and James; Oliver and Alex. At the last local competition, where Jasmine had been ruled out through injury (she’d fractured her left wrist), she celebrated when James beat Oliver to first prize. Likewise, Oliver cheered when Alex beat Jasmine in a regional competition, despite the fact that Oliver had finished behind Jasmine and James in the same competition.

After about an hour of constant riding, James sat on the edge of the bowl and smoked a cigarette. He watched Jasmine attempt her first handplant of the day: she couldn’t land it; she bounced back down the bowl, and her skateboard flew away from her. She got right back up; she hadn’t been hurt. Despite that good fortune, she picked up her skateboard, then threw it across the bowl. Then she stormed over to the skateboard and threw it out of the bowl, on the opposite side to where James was sitting.

“You need to chill out, Jazz,” James shouted.

Jasmine climbed out of the bowl and sat down next to James.

“Give me a smoke,” Jasmine demanded.

Jasmine took out a cigarette, put it in Jasmine’s mouth, then lit it.

“What good does it do to get like that?” James asked.

“I have to win the next competition.

“Why? To beat Oliver?”

“It’s not just that. If I can’t win at a stupid regional competition, then what chance do I have of ever turning professional?”

“It doesn’t matter that much if you don’t turn pro, does it?”

“What else am I meant to do?”

“Does it really matter?”

“I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Most people don’t even like what they do with their lives. How is that good enough for anyone?”

“You’ll change your mind eventually, Jazz. None of this really matters that much.”

“It matters to me,” Jasmine sulked.

“Listen, Jazz, you’ve become a really good skater, but you’re good at other things as well.”

***

Britney and Dylan were sat on a bench on the first floor of a large shopping centre. A cardboard bucket, which was full of greasy chicken remains, gravy, and a few chips, sat in the middle of Britney and Dylan. Britney kept wafting her hair away from her face; she was trying to concentrate on her phone. Britney’s friend from college, Chloe, was telling Britney about how Chloe’s boyfriend, James, had been caught cheating. Britney had been texting Chloe about it intermittently throughout the day to try to comfort her. Dylan checked his phone as well. Dylan’s older brother, Chris, had texted Dylan, asking him to babysit for Chris’s son, Daniel. Dylan told his brother that he couldn’t babysit that day, but he’d babysit any other day.

A group of five rowdy men, who each looked to be in their thirties, made as though they would stagger past Britney and Dylan. One of the men splintered off from the group and approached Britney and Dylan.

He stood close by Britney, turned to his friends, then shouted, “What kind of a haircut do you call this then?”

Each one of the group of men started laughing, then the man who’d mocked Britney re-joined his friends. When the group of men were going away, towards the escalators, Dylan turned and inspected Britney: she looked quite upset.

“Are you okay, Brit?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“I like your hair, for the record.”

“Thanks, Dylan.”

Britney took Dylan’s hand in hers.

“It always amazes me how fat old men think they can mock other people,” Dylan said.

Britney gave Dylan a small smile, squeezed his hand gently then let it go. Dylan stared into Britney’s blue eyes for a short while. Then he suddenly stood up, grabbed the bucket that was sat next to him, and stormed off, away from Britney. It looked as though he was heading towards the bin, but he carried on past it: he went over to the bannister just next to the escalators, then he forcefully emptied the contents of the bucket on to the group of men down below. The men were appalled once they’d realised that they’d had chicken carcasses, chips and and gravy thrown all over them. When one of the men looked up, there was no perpetrator there to be seen. As Dylan ran towards Britney, he could hear several voices that had melded into a violent racket. Dylan grabbed Britney’s hand; they ran away, side by side, as fast as they could, through the crowds in the shopping centre. Not once did they look back.

***

“Why are you doing that?” Jasmine asked.

“I’m not quite sure,” James replied.

Jasmine and James were sat next to one another, cross-legged, in the middle of the bowl; their boards were sat close by them. James was smoking a cigarette. In between taking drags, he’d burn holes into the cuffs of his long-sleeved black t-shirt. Jasmine watched James; she was fascinated by him.

Jasmine and James looked up when they heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Alex appeared at the edge of the bowl and smiled down at them.

“Hey, do you guys mind if we borrow the bowl? You can use the half-pipe if you want to,” Alex offered.

“Yeah, no problem. I wanted a go on the half-pipe anyway,” James said.

“I had a bad fall on it earlier. It’s a good job I brought my helmet today.”

“I keep meaning to invest in a helmet. I used to think they were wimpy, but I’m sick of cracking my head on the concrete.”

Oliver appeared at Alex’s side.

“My mum’s always made me wear one, since I was a kid. I guess I shouldn’t admit to that,” Alex said, then laughed.

“I wish my mum had. I’d have a few more brain cells left,” James replied.

“Perhaps you should have worn a helmet, Jasmine,” Oliver sneered.

Alex looked away apologetically. James rolled his eyes. Jasmine watched Oliver blankly.

“You might have done better in school if you’d have worn a helmet.”

“There’s no need for that, is there?” James snapped.

Jasmine opened her mouth slightly, as though she were about to say something, but then she closed it again. She picked up her skateboard, then hurled it out of the bowl; she climbed out of the bowl, picked up her skateboard and rushed out of the skatepark.

“It’s not as though she doesn’t give it back,” Oliver remarked.

“She’s never said anything like that to you,” James snarled.

James climbed out of the bowl, taking his skateboard with him.

“She’s been winding me up so much lately,” Oliver explained to Alex.

James skated up to Jasmine. She was walking down a street which was near to the skatepark, with her skateboard tucked under her arm. When Jasmine realised that James was approaching her, she used her sleeve to wipe away the tears that were in her eyes. James didn’t say a word to Jasmine. He picked up his skateboard, walked alongside her, then he put his arm around her. After they had walked together for a short while, they stopped, almost by mutual consent, then they hugged for what seemed like forever.

***

James checked his watch, then he drank the last of his latte. He stood up and turned to go outside when Britney and Dylan walked through the door. They went straight to the bar, not having noticed James. They ordered two pints of lager from the barmaid, Florence, who had bright pink hair. James went through the door at the side of the bar, then he approached Britney and Dylan, who both smiled when they saw that James was approaching them. James returned their smiles as he scrutinised them: Dylan had gained a lot of weight, and he’d gone completely bald; Britney had gained a bit of weight, and she’d dyed her hair since James last saw her, from brunette to blonde. Britney and Dylan scrutinised James in turn: he’d cut his hair so that it was shorter than he’d had it since he was a child.

“It’s good to see you, James. How long has it been?” Dylan asked.

“A few years. You shouldn’t have moved away.”

“You still need to come up to see us sometime. You need to see Jasmine,” Britney said.

“I know. Where is she now?”

“She’s with our friends, Kelly and Richard. We’re only here for a few hours, then we need to head back,” Britney said.

Florence finished pouring the second pint, then she put both pints down in front of Britney and Dylan. Dylan went to give Florence a twenty pound note, but James intervened.

“Your money’s not welcome. You’ll have to wash some pots for us instead.”

“Go on, Dylan,” Britney joked.

“Can you pour me one, Florence, then bring it to that corner over there?” James said, pointing to a corner at the far end of the room.

“Yeah, no problem,” Florence said shyly.

Britney and Dylan scrutinised the bar as James led them across the room. Britney and Dylan hadn’t been in that bar since James had first started working there, many years before. The bar, which had been called The Black Pearl, had been changed to Diabolo’s. It had become a shrine to extreme sports: photographs of skateboarders, bikers, climbers, surfers, divers, snowboarders, skiers and skydivers lined the walls; several skateboards hung from the ceiling. James had persuaded the owner that the bar would be more lucrative if it had a strong identity that was out of the ordinary.

***

James finished his third pint with his left hand; in his right hand, he held a small photograph of Jasmine. Dylan had produced the photograph from his wallet for James to look at. Jasmine had bright blue eyes, just like her mother. There was a shy smile on her face that closely resembled her father’s smile.

“She’s so different now. She’ll be learning to skate soon.”

James carefully handed the photograph back to Dylan.

“Part of me hopes that she does something else, to be honest.”

Britney sat down next to Dylan. She’d been at the toilet; she’d been gone for quite a long time.

“James, I just saw it,” Britney said, sounding rather shaken.

“Saw what?” Dylan asked, with a hint of worry.

“There’s a photo of the four of us around that corner,” Britney explained. “We’re sat next to one another on the edge of a half-pipe. It was when we went to London one time. Jazz is smiling on it, bless her.” With that, tears came into Britney’s eyes. “You just forget. Life goes on, and you forget what she was like…. It’s a nice photo, James. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be such a downer.” Dylan put his arm around Britney. James stared off into space.

“She does seem really far away now,” James said disappointedly.

Several minutes of silence followed, in which James, Britney and Dylan seemed to be very lost in their own thoughts.

“What do you think she’d be doing now?” Dylan asked no one in particular.

“I could imagine her running a place like this. Maybe she’d be here, helping you, James,” Britney mused.

“What do you think she’d be doing, James?” Dylan asked.

“I can’t imagine her doing anything but skating. She couldn’t stand the idea of doing anything else.”


Callum Norman is a short story writer from Doncaster. He is currently studying on the MA in English Literature programme at the University of Sheffield. His work has previously appeared in STORGY and Terror House Magazine. Find him on Twitter here.

 

 

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