Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Chapter 6

WILLSON
Christy waited, annoyed with himself. He’d been given a chance but he was no use. Danny’s mum opened the door.
‘Sorry to bother you. I’m Christy. I’ve come for the band practice.’
She squinted at him, one eye clenched against the trickle of smoke rising from the cigarette in her mouth. ‘He’ll be up the top of the garden.’ She led Christy through to the back door.
He saw Danny crouching near the shed. Danny called to him. ‘Do you want to see some puppies?’
As he got closer Christy saw that Danny was crouched over a bucket of water. Beside him were several tiny greyhound puppies, pink as piglets, wriggling and tumbling and climbing over each other. ‘I’ll be there in a minute,’ Danny said. ‘I’ve just got to do these. They empty the bins Monday.’ He hitched up the sleeve of his jumper, picked up the nearest puppy by the scruff of the neck, and stuffed the dog down into the water.
‘Christ Danny. What are you doing?’
Danny looked up, his face expressionless. ‘Teaching them to swim.’ He pulled the dead puppy out of the water and tossed it onto the hessian sack beside him. A couple of the other pups sniffed around it casually. Danny picked up one of them and drowned it.
‘Why, though?’
‘They’re spare. Dad’s always bollocked on about breeding them for racing. So he bought a pregnant bitch for Mum at Easter. Mental. We haven’t got the space and Mum’s not up to it at the moment.’ He drowned another. ‘Think he thought it’d give Mum something to do.’
Christy watched as the pile of dead dogs grew. ‘I thought she was working in the bookies with your dad.’
‘No. She’s been on the sick. Bit run down.’
One dog remained alive. Danny nodded towards it. ‘Keeping that one. For meself.’
‘Why that one?’
‘Why not?’
Danny loaded the pink carcasses into the sack, tucked the surviving dog under his arm, and walked to the house. He put the sack in the dustbin and placed the live pup next to its mother in a basket in the kitchen.
Christy stayed at the top of the garden, shivering slightly.
Danny returned, wiping his hands on his jeans. ‘Thought Kev’d be coming with you.’
‘No. He’s making his own way. Where’s Phil to?’
‘Should be here soon. He’s gone down Radio Rentals to get the Stranglers’ L.P.’
When there was no band practice, the Weymouth branch of Radio Rentals was the focus of the other option for killing a Saturday. Danny, Phil, Christy and Kev would loiter in the record section, waiting for their lives to happen. They would squeeze into the coffin-shaped listening booths. Carol the assistant would pretend to believe they were going to buy the records they asked to hear. They would flick through the album racks hunting for anything that might have been recorded by people with short hair.
Punk records were trickling out but mostly they had to be ordered. The waiting was delicious, second only to that bigger waiting for the end of school when they’d have money for all the records they wanted. If an order came in they’d all go round Phil’s to listen to it. If nothing arrived they’d move on to the Cadena cafe, where, with the exception of Kev, they’d smoke themselves yellow.
Danny and Christy went into the brick and timber shed. Inside, the smell of creosote and paraffin made Christy’s mouth water. He propped the bass guitar he’d been carrying against Phil’s amp. He placed a black bin liner next to it.
Phil and Danny had been playing together for six weeks. Six weeks of Phil chugging and crunching at the two movable chords he knew, groping optimistically up and down the neck of his guitar. Six weeks of Danny frowning, hammering, moving around his drum kit like somebody trying to kill a small quick animal.
Danny had plans for them. He always had plans. His constant leaning forward into the next good thing was visible in the strange headlong way he walked; as if he were living his life in italics. At their first practice ideas had rolled out of him. Within sentences a band was formed, signed up, and living in London.
It had been Phil’s idea to ask Christy and Kev to join the band. You couldn’t just leave people out, leave people behind. Danny was reluctant but the choices were few. Nearly everyone at school was into Genesis and Yes. Christy and Kev at least listened to the right records, at least listened to John Peel.
The plan was that Christy would play bass, using one borrowed from Phil’s brother Paul, and Kev would play keyboards. Danny had found a child’s Bontempi organ in the attic. Back before his dad went, Kev had piano lessons for a couple of months, to keep up with the neighbours.
As Christy’s eyes adjusted to the near-darkness a squirt of laughter shot from him which he tried to disguise as a sneeze. ‘What’s that?’ he asked.
‘Me kit.’ Danny stood at an old ironing board. In the middle of the board was an ancient snare drum. There were bristles on the skin of it. At one end of the board were two Quality Street tins padded with cardboard. At the other end was a partially dismantled typewriter with a small child’s xylophone taped to the carriage. The whole kit was held together with straps, nails and carpet tape. On the floor beside Danny was an upturned galvanised dustbin. There was no bass drum. When Phil had remarked on this Danny had confidently explained that a bass drum was just for show, somewhere to display the band’s name.
Christy looked at the kit, then looked at Danny. Danny looked back, as stony-faced as Buster Keaton. Christy said nothing. It was something that interested him; the way Danny would have a stupid idea and just front it out, daring anybody to take the piss.
‘Where you learn the drums?’ Christy asked.
‘Taught meself. I was in a band for a bit in Yeovil.’
‘Yeah? What were they called?’
‘Fucked if I remember,’ Danny mumbled.
Christy frowned. ‘How come?’
Danny straightened. ‘That was our name. Fucked If I Remember. I never chose it.’
Before he met Phil, Danny had never played the drums before in his life. He just felt like hitting things.
Danny stubbed a Benson on a flowered saucer. ‘I had to leave nearly all me proper kit behind when we left Yeovil.’
‘How come you moved to Portland?’ Christy asked.
‘Just did,’ Danny said. He made it sound like, ‘Shut up.’ The subject was closed.
After the accident he’d gone blank for a while. His hair came out in handfuls. Months later he still had bald patches the size of fifty pence pieces. There is a photo from when he started at Royal Manor. In it he is death white. His hair looks like an explosion.
His parents acted like something out of a nursery rhyme. One of them couldn’t leave the past alone, the other wouldn’t look at it. So between the two of them they decided to move.
His dad asked Chant for a transfer. Anywhere. They ended up on Portland. Danny was relieved to be somewhere where he had no history. He met Phil in his first term at Royal Manor. Christy and Kev sort of came with him.
‘How did you get on with the bass?’ Danny asked.
Christy looked at the guitar. ‘I don’t think I can hack it. I’ve been trying but it won’t sink in.’
Phil had spent hours trying to teach Christy the two songs he and Danny had written. Deep down Phil knew Christy wouldn’t get the hang of it as long as he had a hole in his arse. Christy practised in his room for hours, every good boy deserves, every good boy deserves, but it was no good. He had no sense of time. Playing music, he began to feel, was all about maths and confidence; he couldn’t do one and he didn’t have any of the other.
Danny kneeled down to light the paraffin heater. ‘What you going to do then, keep trying?’
Christy looked at his shoes, then at his hands. ‘I was saying to Phil. I had an idea.’ He reached over and pulled something from the bin liner on the floor.
‘What the fuck’s that supposed to be?’
Christy looked meaningfully at Danny’s drum kit. In his hand was a rectangular wooden tray. Screwed to the tray were three small transistor radios and two battered cassette players. His mum had come home from a Holy Ghost jumble sale one Saturday and presented him with a box of electrical leftovers she’d bought for fifty pence. While he was checking which pieces of junk worked, inspiration came to him from nowhere.
He plugged into the hot-smelling bakelite socket in the wall. A babble of speech and music spilled from the contraption. Christy hunched over it, retuning the radios, rewinding the squawking tapes, adjusting volume controls. Every time it seemed like he was finding a rhythm, making something like music, a blurt of noise would throw everything into another pattern.
Danny watched, his head on one side. Eventually he nodded. ‘It’s got potential. Give it a proper go when Phil and Kev turn up.’
He looked at his watch. He sat on a deck-chair in the corner of the shed. Christy perched on a hardened bag of cement. Danny looked at his watch again. He looked at Christy. ‘Any news about your sister?’
Christy coughed, surprised. ‘No.’
‘Phil told me. Said you don’t even know where she’s gone. What happened there then? Didn’t she get on with your mum and dad?’
‘It’s only me mum about.’
‘How come?’
Christy’s mouth twisted. He picked at the cement sack. ‘Me dad’s dead.’
Danny knew but he wouldn’t leave it. ‘Must’ve been pretty young. How come he died?’
Christy imagined kicking Danny in the mouth. ‘It was something to do with his heart.’ He shrugged.
Danny stared at Christy’s face. He blew two plumes of cigarette smoke from his nose.
Christy stood up. ‘Where do you reckon Kev’s got to?’
‘Changing the subject?’
Silence fell. The morning dripped by. The paraffin heater popped and whispered. Danny sat watching Christy. Christy stood chewing the skin at the side of his fingernails and trying to think of things to say.
When he was bored, Danny had a habit of holding his cigarette between his thumb and second finger, and tapping the burning end with the tip of his forefinger. Christy looked at the tip of Danny’s Benson.
‘What?’ Danny asked.
‘Nothing.’
Minutes passed. ‘Why are you so quiet Christy?’
‘Why am I so quiet?’
‘Yeah. Why don’t you talk to people, for fuck’s sake?’
Hate all the howsyourfather. Asking and asking and asking. Like being peeled. Mrs Davies the fat secretary in front of everybody. Just for the records, any one not got both Mum and Dad at home? Kev gives a nudge under the table. Feel the buckle on his sandals on the leg. Hand won’t go up. Lift it with the other one. She looks. Just for the records. Sarah says is diddums daddy deaded then? Ian all interested. How? Just did. How? Just did. Couldn’t’ve just did. Stupid.
By the air raid shelter the others are singing. Where’s your father where’s your father, where’s your father Christy Cross? Haven’t got one, never had one, you’re a bastard Christy Cross. Ask Mum when there’s nothing on the telly. Lips moving like she’s reading a book. It’s a rude word for someone who hasn’t got a dad.
Kev knows about the scraping out the fridges. And the Widowed Mothers Allowance. Queue for dinner. Him and Phil in front. Don’t see. Laughing. His mum gets widows’ memories allowance. Spends it all on sausages.
Christy exhaled. ‘No reason particularly.’
The back door of the house opened and closed. Danny looked out of the shed window and saw Phil. He stepped out and met him halfway up the garden. ‘You took your time didn’t you? I’ve been waiting with Christy. Like being stuck in a lift with a fucking deaf mute. And the twat says he can’t play.’
‘He told me on the phone.’
‘So why’s he bothered turning up?’
‘I said he could still join the band. He’s still a mate.’
‘Your mate.’
In the shed Phil explained his lateness. ‘I stopped off at that tailor’s to pick up me jeans. Them flares he was taking in. Weren’t ready so I waited.’
The stooping solo backstreet tailor apologised and smiled. He’d been getting behindhand. He didn’t know what was going on with the youngsters. Phil was the third person that week who’d brought in jeans to be narrowed.
‘No sign of Kev then?’ Phil asked.
‘No. Twat.’
‘Shall we give him a bit longer?’
‘No,’ Danny said. ‘If he can’t show up on time, fuck him.’ He picked up the Bontempi organ and placed it on the ironing board. He took up his drumsticks and played a roll around the kit, ending on the keys of the organ. ‘Right. Let’s make a fucking start.’

In Karen’s small, warm bed, in the house on Avalanche Road, Kev and Karen were making spoons, curled into each other like speech marks. Kev studied the swirl of brown hair at the nape of her neck. It made him think of a Walnut Whip. When he blinked he could hear his eyelashes scraping across the pillow. When she blinked he could hear hers.
Her dad was a plumber so they had central heating. It was warm enough to have the covers off. Her parents were away for the weekend but they would have let Kev stay over if she’d asked. He was a steady boy.
They had known each other since primary school. She used to come round his to play. He used to go round hers to play. Everybody thought he was daft, being proper friends with a girl. Since his dad left the friendship had become something else; the youth club, the pictures, the under 18s’ disco at Deja Vu. And now it had changed again, forever.
He’d tried to stop himself from wanting to do it, but that just made him want to do it more. And it was so lovely, even with the messes and the noises he hadn’t expected. It was something about the way sex made time stop. There was no planning and hoping or remembering and wondering. There was only the feeling of being in the middle of everything.
He waited for his cock to soften, then pulled on his Y-fronts and jumper. He went into the kitchen to make tea and toast. He stood looking out of the window while he waited for the kettle to boil. It was nice, this. Like a marriage. Like a home. The kettle whistled and the toaster coughed up another two slices. He loaded the tray and returned upstairs.
Karen was awake now, sitting up with her back against the headboard. She smiled at him, wiped sleep from her cheek. Kevin poured tea for her and placed the tray at her side. She drank and ate, grinning. A shred of marmalade fell and landed where the curve of her belly began. Kev picked it up and fed it to her.
‘Weren’t you supposed to be having your first practice with Phil’s group today?’
He hadn’t forgotten. ‘It wasn’t anything definite. I said I might be late. Anyway, I’d rather be here.’ He kissed her on the forehead.
‘Christy might be nervous. First practice and you not there.’
‘He’ll be alright.’
Her breakfast finished, Karen curled onto her side. Her eyelids bumped shut, once, twice, three times. Her mouth opened loosely.
Kev couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was pink and she was white and she liked him. Unbelievable. He leaned down to smell her. Her armpits had a faint tang like the curly shavings from a newly sharpened pencil. At the back of her knees were tiny veins which reminded him of a marble he’d had in the Infants. There were bumps like buttons all up her spine. Her body wasn’t beautiful all over but it was interesting everywhere. He wanted to wake up every morning forever next to someone like her. No. Not someone like her. Her. Just her. Her.
He imagined Phil and Christy and Danny, waiting for him in the cold shed. He knew it was a bit off to let them down but he wanted to stay where he was. He wanted to keep his good secret thing secret. They’d probably start without him anyway. Karen was waking up again.