Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Chapter 13

WILLSON
An October evening. The weekend hung in the air, waiting to start, as the sun set over the naval barracks and married quarters sprawled along the northern edge of the island. Amid the formica and lino of the naval base social club, Linda’s dad, the Reverend Stiles, interrupted the usual equipment squabbles between bands to establish the running order for the evening. He read out the list. Max objected. Max was told to shut up. Max shut up. Although he looked and sounded like a sitcom vicar, the Reverend was no soft touch. Years of running youth clubs had toughened him.
The vicar, a big cheese in the local CND branch, had pulled off something of a publicity coup. In what he later described as a Trojan vicar manoeuvre, he’d booked the naval social club, supposedly for a private party, but in reality for a secret CND benefit gig.
It probably could’ve been anyone. Christy wasn’t the first gig-goer to arrive. He was just the first one to walk up to the rating on gate duty and ask if this was where the CND benefit was being held. It wasn’t as if Christy couldn’t have back-pedalled; the matelot needed the question repeated three times. The third time, his mouth started making small goldfish pouts. He stepped back into his booth, shut the door, and began making a telephone call. Occasionally he would look out at Christy as if he were about to explode.
Things began to happen. The matelot stepped out of the booth and ordered Christy not to move. A landrover full of uniforms arrived. Someone with a peaked cap and a neck as thick as a rugby player’s thigh consulted with the sentry. Another phone call was made.
Inside the social club Dave and Max were discussing how they could get shunted up the bill. ‘It’s about light and shade,’ Max claimed. ‘It’d just be more varied if they had something a bit subtler on later. Like us.’
‘Besides,’ Dave said. ‘I’m fucked if we’re going to have people think we’re The Bad Detectives’ support band.’
At that point the club doors swung open like the saloon doors in a Western. In through the rectangle of light came eight matelots. Silence. The Neck spoke. ‘Who’s in charge?’
Nobody spoke.
‘Nobody is,’ the Reverend eventually said.
‘You are then,’ the Neck said. ‘All of you leave. Now.’
The sailors made things seem so simple. They had truncheons. The bands, sulking silently, packed their gear into cars.
Word soon spread. It was Christy Cross. It was his fault. Christy Cross did it, the stupid twat. By the camp gate he stood welded to the tarmac. Who knew? Olly’s Morris pulled up by the kerb. Christy’s heart sank. Did they know? Danny opened the rear door. ‘Get in, fuckwit.’
They knew.
The shoal of cars re-formed in the nearby hospital carpark. Stragglers on foot milled around. The vicar clapped his hands as if about to announce the winner of a tombola. He announced instead that the gig would relocate to the church hall in Easton. Directions were felt-tipped on the bus shelter and the group moved off.
The guilty party, the one to blame, Christy slunk into the pub opposite the church hall to dilute his embarrassment, while the bands unloaded and set up. There was a special offer on vodka. It was happy hour. He sat and gulped miserably. Later, clutching a bottle of Woodpecker from the off-sales window, he returned to watch the guest band from Yeovil.
Reverend Stiles stepped on-stage followed by the smirking band. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he said with a flourish; ‘Rim Me Silly!’
Tim the singer stepped sniggering to the microphone, said, ‘Nice one vicar,’ and Rim Me Silly began ‘You’ll Never Get a Girlfriend With Breath Like That.’
Afterwards Tim came over to speak to Hello Cruel World. Patrick, proprietorial, did introductions. He paused, indicating Christy.
Tim stepped delicately into the awkward silence. ‘You must be Christy.’
Christy cringed. Everybody knew who he was and what he’d done.
‘Yeah. Sorry about earlier, by the way.’
Tim frowned, puzzled. ‘Don’t matter. Makes it more of a laugh in a way.’
He offered Christy a Silk Cut. Christy included! Despite it all. This act of kindness felt so rare that Christy would remember the brand of cigarette forever.
Tim talked about how Yeovil had been spreading itself like scabies since Danny had left. He said that before punk the town had been so boring he’d actually gone to see the film of ‘Man About The House’ twice in one week. Christy hovered at the edge of the group, squirming.
Genius Or Lunatic loped onto the stage. They’d recently decided that the song was dead and vowed to only play improvised instrumentals. They called the night’s first offering ‘An Unhappy Childhood’. In his review Ed said this was apt as some patterns from it kept repeating and it often felt like it was never going to end.
Half way through their second piece, ‘Squiglatania’, Animal turned to Phil. ‘Fucksake. Just as well they’re only doing two numbers. They last a fortnight each.’
‘Good job we never had a puff before,’ Phil said. ‘I can hardly keep awake with excitement. It’s like music with all the good bits taken out.’
As Dave and Max came offstage Danny patted Max on the back. ‘Very restful mate.’
‘Went alright.’ Max sniffed. ‘Got a ripple of applause.’
Patrick smiled. ‘That was people tapping their watches to see if they were still working.’
Max ignored him.
Christy, Hello Cruel World, and Dave and Max, went in the kitchen and locked the door. Sitting round the two-bar fire they skinned up and ate the playgroup’s chocolate digestives.
‘I feel really bad. Do you think I should say sorry to the vicar?’ Christy asked.
Patrick looked up from warming a small lump of dope at the fire. ‘Stop fucking bleating Christy. Nobody gives a toss. It’s CND. What are they going to do, batter you?’
Phil chipped in. ‘I wouldn’t worry. It’s not like they’re paying us.’
‘Anyway,’ Animal said. ‘Look on the bright side. Gives you something solid to get paranoid about.’
Danny stood. ‘I’d better get out there. Due on with The Bad Detectives in a minute.’ He sighed. ‘I’ll be sweating like a glass-blower’s arse by the time we’re on.’
‘Alright,’ Patrick said, not moving. ‘We’ll see you later.’
Christy half-smiled. ‘Must be hard work being in so many bands.’
As he left Danny looked at Christy. ‘What’s it to you?’
Through the kitchen walls they heard The Bad Detectives playing ‘Looking For A Clue’ and rising above themselves, above the shyness and the spots and the shop-jobs.
Between The Bad Detectives’ and The Shakespeare Monkees’ sets, equipment needed moving. Patrick, nervous now, coiled leads, moved drums.
Christy dithered behind his left shoulder. ‘Can I help?’ he asked. ‘I still feel bad.’
Patrick straightened. ‘Do something useful or fuck off, will you?’
As Christy headed for the door Patrick looked at Phil. ‘Alright. I know.’
‘Don’t take it out on him if your nerve’s going.’
Christy sat in the pub, choosing cider this time, cloudy and sharp. Only locals were in there. Christy took a Sherlock Holmes from his pocket, hid behind it and drank. And drank. He wanted it all flushed out and washed away. Only meant to be a surprise. Cheer her up. Nothing to cry about. Beaker with the dots on. Tinsel. Throw it like water. Slap on the leg and everything. Just for that. Why?
Awash, at sea again, Christy Cross crossed blindly the blind bend from the pub. A cornering Cortina kissed the flapping edge of his coat unnoticed. He wove through the audience, apologising. Eddie, persuading Phil that one of Linda’s effects pedals was wired up to turn down Fred’s amp, felt Christy’s hand tug at his elbow. ‘Christy, I’d love to stand here listening to you apologise all night but we’re on in a minute.’ He walked away towards the stage. Christy stood chewing his lip.
In the next edition of Milk, Milk, Lemonade, the one with the headline ‘Demand The Impossible, Give Us All A Laugh’, Eddie explained that The Cows had initially set out to rewrite Sixties’ popular culture as a sarcastic joke. The results were supposedly to be released as a concept album called ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Boomer.’ They’d since widened their brief. They’d also decided they would write no songs, only titles. Ed had arbitrarily decreed that each title could be no more than three letters different to that of an existing song.
Only the hammered Christy could’ve danced to The Cows. Every fifiteen-second coughing fit of noise had him flailing, thrashing about in time: ‘Cats Hiss By My Window’, ‘Come Up And See Me, Make Me Smell’, ‘Like a Rhinestone Cowpat’, ‘Stop The World, I Want To Cop Off ‘, ‘Last Night a D.J. Shaved My Wife’, ‘Light My Farts’. Over and across shoulders, people looked at him and tutted. He knew what they were thinking; it’s him, he’s the one. Spar. Got the fruit salads. Round from the sweets to the tinned stuff. Mrs Finn with the dress with the flowers. Arms like legs in the cold. Her and her. Takes a while then it hits you for six. Well I don’t think. Both see. Stop saying and just look.
Between ‘All Tomorrow’s Pasties’, and ‘Born To Be Wide’, which Ed dedicated to Fred, Christy felt a familiar clamminess along his spine. His jaw tightened, his mouth began to water. He swallowed hard. As ‘Sign On You Crazy Diamond’ started he knew he had to get out.
He reached the dog-yellowed patch of grass outside and fell to his knees. His body sagged, then stiffened, straightened. A bitter, watery spurt of vomit shot from him. And again. Christy gripped two clumps of grass to stop everything moving. His back arched. A hot ugly pile formed on the grass in front of him. A string of saliva swung from his chin, broke and fell. Slowly turning his head like a whipped dog, Christy saw Max and Dave returning from the pub.
Dave laughed and came closer. ‘Alright Christy? What’s that, morning sickness?’
‘Yeah. Something like that.’ Christy grunted, then spat messily. ‘Must’ve been something I ate.’
‘Come back in. You’ll freeze your tits off.’
‘In a minute.’
Sour-mouthed, Christy returned. Hello Cruel World were playing to a hall nearly emptied by the approach of last orders at the pub. Assorted wrecks remained in corners, as well as Ed and Fred, and Linda, who couldn’t drink with her dad around.
Ed, in his review, wrote that in trying to become like a proper band, Hello Cruel World had lost some of their originality. Patrick, nerves forgotten, thought differently. In the middle eights, introductions and quiet bits they now had, he reflected on their lukewarm reception. It was like a fire drill; they’d begun playing and people had started queuing to leave. It was that cunt Christy. Guilt by association. They were being snubbed because of that prick.
Christy joined the knot of people at the front of the stage. He pointed at the band. He peered into Linda’s face, his sicky breath condensing on her glasses. ‘I’m their manager,’ he said.
‘Oh,’ Linda said.
Christy swayed backwards and crumpled like a falling wall. His head bounced twice on the lino tiles and came to rest.

Clothes still on, the light still on, a slug-trail of spit on the pillow, Christy woke. He remembered foggy moments: the last bus back, Phil’s hand on his hand, steering the yellow key into the yellow lock, Phil and Danny with a hand under each arm as he zigzagged upstairs, then whispering and impatience.
As he surfaced, the rain started. It rained and it kept raining. Another retreat began. From his bedroom window, Christy with a why, a curious boy with a lot to be curious about, looked out at the charcoal sky, and the boiling, steaming sea.
He phoned in with a lie on Monday. Potter answered. Christy knew he didn’t swallow the lie. Christy didn’t care if he never left the house again. Kev phoned on Sunday, Phil on Tuesday. Christy wouldn’t come to the phone.
He lay on his bed, looking for a clue, remembering other things he’d ruined. In the lanes. Gold. Like gold. All together properly. Not all sealed up separate like later. Lifted up. High. Higher. High up. Big fingers round the ankles. Nervous. Wobbling. Safe shoulders. Two handfuls of hair. Like handle bars.
He knows what things are and how they work. Cuts some sticks from the hedges. Back to the house. Squash in the garden. Knife and string. Makes a bow and arrow. Shows Clair how to shoot. Looks all serious. Listens. Nods. His hand on her hand. She tries. Twang. Flying.
Sitting on the grass looking at the worm. Comes over smiling, arrows in his pocket. Kneels down, snips nose, finger- scissors. Wriggling. Laughing. Says something. What? Can’t get it back.
Leatherette. That’s what they call it. Maroon. That’s the other word. Can see out through the plastic. Rain on the plastic. Touch. They don’t move. On the outside. Warm inside. There, him and her, looking at the sea. The cafe, the lighthouse, the big rock, the sea. Wind blowing their hair. Can see the way they’re talking loud. Can’t hear. Maroon. Marooned.
In silence Christy remembered silence. He wished someone had spoken then. He wished someone would speak now. These things kept appearing and disappearing but only he seemed to know these things had happened. Nobody spoke. Christy had been brought up on silence. And now something was burrowing under the skin of his mind, like a maggot in an apple.

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