A default customer services display conjured itself on the screen. For the first time in three hours, the flickering, ever-presence of the television stopped. It gave way to a motionless blue glow which cast a long shadow across the living room wall. On the red carpet lay the remote control, shattered into one larger segment and several smaller smashed pieces.
Alan broke the silence: "Sorry, wee man. It wis just a bit a fun. We c'n get a new wan-it's nae problem. We just need tae send away tae Sky."
Michael said nothing. His shaven head pointing downwards, he pushed past Alan.
He ran down the hallway and slammed the front door of the flat. Down the close he spiralled, round the four flights of stairs between him and the outside world. He reached the heavy grey door at the bottom of the stairs. He noticed Alan's name freshly carved out, near the easy-touch security pad and pictured Alan using his pen-knife to "menchie" it.
Michael headed out through the security door. On he ran, a strained expression etched on his bony face. His body was barely visible, cocooned inside his blue Nike tracksuit. Round the corner, past the convenience store, keeping his head well down, he faded up Waterside Street and headed towards the waste ground that led to the canal.
Reaching the canal, breathless and irritated, Michael stopped. A beer bottle lay at his feet, discarded randomly on the orange gravel path that meandered alongside the water. The sun had set and a cloak of darkness was beginning to wrap itself around the waste ground. Picking up the bottle, Michael eased himself down, next to a huge oak whose bare, overhanging branches pointed, like arthritic fingers, towards the path. The tree was hollowed through near the bottom making a shelter. Michael soon managed to squeeze in.
Out of sight, Michael gazed at the red label on the bottle. His mind latched onto a group of goofy, but friendly Americans who seemed to spend their time shouting through security entrances or down mobile phones during basketball games. Michael put the half-full bottle slowly towards his lips. He momentarily tasted the stale beer before spitting it out.
The bitter aftertaste seemed to linger for ages. Like a dog scratching away an itch, he wiped his tongue with the back of his hand.
Faced again with silence, Michael walked towards the water’s edge. The smell of alcohol laced the air. Michael watched the stagnant water, set, smooth and undisturbed in the canal.
Reflecting the old factory and beyond that, the long smoking chimneys of the distillery, the canal's surface began to mesmerise the eleven year old. What Michael saw was free of connection to any other moment or place. For the first time in days, he enjoyed not recognising the world he found himself staring at…
As suddenly as before, he heard the noise of scuffing trainers on the path.
"What’re ye daein wee man?" shouted Alan, breathlessly. "We were a wee bit worried. I told ma whit happened. It’s ok. She phoned and a man’s coming roun' on Monday wi a new remote... C’mon back. She still cannae get the channel tae change, but she’s taken ma telly intae the living room, so we can still watch."
Michael turned away sullenly from the edge of the water and joined his brother. After a few steps, Alan stopped to pick up a large boulder. He launched it effortlessly into the middle of the canal. Water rose from the centre and circled out to the edges. The boys watched the small, momentous aftershock. Perfect ripples from the epicentre revealed the murkiness of the green water. Then the flickering reflection of the chimneys completely disappeared when Michael threw another rock.
"You’re a wee dafty... How’d you always go in the huff?" sparked Alan with a friendly punch. They trudged towards the end of the gravel path. "C’mon. WWE’s on the now and efter that we c'n catch the Man City game afore bed. C'mon. It'll be the bomb."
Rushing through the front door, pushing his brother aside, Alan flicked the switch on his flat-screen.
Nearby, the canal had rediscovered its calm. Still and forgotten and unseen by any human eye, a clear image began to hover on the water. From where Michael had stood, the disused factory and the old distillery's chimneys were shimmering once more on the canvas of its surface.