Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Chapter 17

KEVIN
Christmas I haven’t liked for a while now. But that was the first bad one. That was when I got the news about the Maggot. I always called him that. In my head anyway. Fat, pink, and no use to anybody. He was round all the time, it felt like.
Arnie let me knock off early because it was quiet. Mum come in when I was in the kitchen doing cheese on toast. She asked how my day was. She hardly drew breath and then she was stood there, calm as you like, saying, ‘Roger’s asked me to come and live with him.’ Then she looked a bit flustered and said, ‘Us to come and live with him.’
I couldn’t think. I looked at her. She looked at me. The cheese on toast caught fire and I sort of woke up. I blew it out and opened the windows.
I went and sat in the front room. Sat there ages, staring into space. It was all happening again. Things going on you didn’t know about, things being decided without anyone asking you, just getting told and being expected to lump it. I didn’t know what to think.
I hadn’t drawn the curtains or put the light on. It had got dark by the time she came in. She said how it wouldn’t be until a good bit after Christmas to give me a chance to get used to the idea. It felt like I’d never seen her before in my life. She could stand there and think that waiting a few weeks would make everything alright.
He came round for dinner. She said she didn’t want to think of him being alone on Christmas Day. But I felt like the one on their own. He touched her bottom while she was doing the sprouts. I thought, that’s my life now then, acting the gooseberry. That was the least of it, as things turned out.
He tried to act nice to me, making conversation and so on. He was only doing it to get in with her. I thought, I’ll be polite but I won’t encourage him. Sitting round after dinner he asked me about work. He said, ‘Have you thought about getting a trade?’ You could tell he didn’t think mine was a proper job for a man. A bit later, he fell asleep on the sofa, like he owned the place.
I’d thought ahead and arranged to go round Karen’s for tea. I made out they had tea really early. It was so different round there. It was like two different things at once. Everything was lit up bright and everyone was lively, but at the same time everything was so comfortable and warm you felt like dozing off the second you sat down. I never knew how much you could miss just sitting with someone and feeling half asleep.
They all gave me presents. The Maggot didn’t. I felt a bit bad because I could only afford presents for Karen and the two toddlers. Mr McClaren said not to worry about it. Mrs M was stood holding his hand. She said, ‘We know you’re both saving,’ and she smiled and squeezed his hand and looked at him. Then she gave me a peck on the cheek.
Come January, the packing up was horrible. There wasn’t much of Dad’s stuff left. He’d come one day while I was at school to fetch most of it. That hurt me. There was only rubbish left really.
They put it out on the concrete round the back so the Maggot could take it up the dump. I sat in my bedroom looking out at Dad’s stuff getting rained on. I watched the cardboard boxes getting soft, watched his old clothes getting heavy with the wet. I didn’t know what I was thinking exactly, but it was something like, that’s it, no more home for me.
They hired a van and I took the Wednesday off. After the first trip they went to the cafe for breakfast. I didn’t. If I’d gone out in the street with them it would’ve been like saying, this is alright. More than that I wanted to be on my own in the house for the last time. All my memories were in the one place, nowhere else; we were never really ones for days out. I wanted to remember the times before everything went wrong.
I sat on the floor in the front room, and closed my eyes. It wasn’t loads of different things I remembered; more like one thing with everything else inside it. It would’ve been around the time that Dad got made up to senior sales at Halfords. Me and Mum and Dad were all curled up on the sofa, watching telly; something nice like ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’. Dad had fitted a dimmer on the light to make it cosy. The gas fire was on. I was half asleep again. Outside there was a real storm blowing. You could hear things clattering in the wind. Dad looked up from the Radio Times, nodded towards the window and said, ‘Hark at that.’ It was a good feeling, just being there.
For all he reckoned I didn’t have a real job, the Maggot was a lazy article. Me and her did most of the actual moving. He wouldn’t touch my stuff. I was struggling with my mattress. It was old so it was flopping all over the place. He come past carrying a wastepaper basket and an anglepoise. He looked at me and said, ‘Manage alright?’
I said, ‘Yes thanks. Can you manage that anglepoise alright?’ I was so cross.
He said, ‘Mind you don’t scuff the wallpaper.’
We had a Bejam’s meat pie for tea, and Smash and peas. The Maggot kept chewing up bits of gristle, taking it out of his mouth and giving it to his dog, this horrible knock-kneed mongrel called J.C. he had. I honestly couldn’t believe some of his habits.
I was starving from the moving. There was pie left over. So when she offered me some, I said yes. It wasn’t like I went out of my way to ask for it.
Afterwards, I went to my room for a bit. I started putting my records away, but I couldn’t settle, I just kept fidgetting about. I went downstairs to see if there was anything on telly. Her and him were in there so I made out I’d just come to get an apple out of the bowl. The Maggot said, ‘I’m surprised you’ve got room for an apple, the amount of pie you had.’
He looked furious. I stopped dead, with my hand on the apple. I said, ‘Sorry?’ meaning ‘pardon?’ but it came out like I was apologising. I hated that.
He said, ‘It’s traditional in this house that the dog gets any leftovers of pie. It’s his treat.’
My legs went like rubber. ‘I never knew,’ I said.
She said, ‘It certainly seemed like you were doing it on purpose.’
She was just going along with whatever he said. It was like at school. Whenever there was someone hard who picked on people, there’d always be someone wet and dim who tagged along with them. That was her. I let go of the apple and went back to my room.
It didn’t hit me properly till the next day. First job of the day was buying the papers for the shop before it got busy. I’d got the Mirror and the Sun and was in the kitchenette out the back making the tea. I was flicking through the Sun, thinking about her and the Maggot, when I seen the bit about the Pistols splitting up. That was me then. I just started. I never even liked the Pistols. It was just the feeling of having something taken off me.
Arnie called out, ‘Customer Kevin!’
I couldn’t go back in.
Then he said, ‘Kevin! Customer!’
Then I heard, ‘When you’re ready Kevin,’ a bit sarcastic.
He stuck his head through the strip curtain. He went to say the same again, but when he seen the state of me, he said the same again, but ordinary and quiet, not sarcastic.
The Pistols tour had already been on the news. It was horrible the way things fell apart, Sid scratching ‘gimme a fix’ on his chest and all that nonsense. They showed a bit of the last concert. I’ve never seen anyone look as white as Johnny Rotten did then. At the end he looked at the audience and went, ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ I was watching it in the front room. My eyes were stinging. The Maggot was there. He looked up from the paper, said, ‘Wanker,’ and switched the telly off.
That man never stopped. The ketchup was the first thing. She used to say it was nicer to put some sauce on the edge of the plate, and not dollop it all over the food. Sometimes the Maggot would wash up. He’d complain about the bit of ketchup left behind and say it was a waste even though he’d usually leave half his tea. He said I was selfish. I wondered a bit. Karen said that once.
Next was the cups. They went in the white cupboard. He reckoned I never dried the cups properly and just put them straight in the cupboard. He said the wet from the cups was making the paint in the cupboard flake. I always dried the cups properly.
Then there was the coffee. I’d make myself a coffee and take it up to my room. He said I kept spilling it on the landing carpet. I said I never, but he kept saying it. In the end I said for him to show me. There was a damp patch in one corner, nowhere near where I would’ve walked. He didn’t care. I checked after. It was where the dog had been.
It was one thing after another. The loo roll holder was awkward to reach so I used to put the roll on the window-ledge behind me. Once I forgot to put it back on the holder. The window was open a bit and the rain got in and made the paper wet where I’d left it on the sill. He went on at me about it for half an hour non-stop, pointing at me, shouting.
Once there was something floating. It was either her or the Maggot. I thought I’ll probably get the blame for that too. I decided I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. I always made sure I went at work. Sometimes I’d go round Christy’s if I wasn’t at Karen’s. Sometimes I’d go in the Merman. Herman would say, ‘Usual then Kev? Half a lager shandy and a turf out?’
To begin with I thought there must be some way I could be that he’d put up with. But anything that reminded him I was there annoyed him. I still don’t know if he was bad to me just because he could get away with it or if it was really something about me. I don’t like to dwell on it.
The way things were going I was practically living round Karen’s. I’d sit working on that family tree of the local bands I was going to do for Milk, Milk, Lemonade. Karen’d sit watching the portable. She went through a stage before where she wasn’t getting on with her mum and dad, so she had her room done out like a bedsitter with a telly and a kettle and a Baby Belling. Being there with Karen, it was like having a home again.
Once I was leaving the house on the way to see her and I heard Mum and the Maggot talking. He asked her where I was going. She said I was off round Karen’s to play mums and dads.
We didn’t go out much. We didn’t mind because we were saving. Karen sometimes used to ask me about gigs, whether we could go together. That was what she was like then, making an effort and showing an interest. But she wasn’t really that keen on going out. There was no need while we had each other. Those nights in were some of the best times. Karen used to moan about her mum and dad being boring. I told her she was lucky having a proper mum and dad who stayed together. People don’t know.
Then we got our surprise. It would’ve been not long before the disco at Deja Vu because I remember worrying about her having a drink that night. I met her at the bus-stop on the Square after work. She seemed excited. I said, ‘You seem excited.’
She said, ‘I’m scared.’
I said, ‘Scared? You seem excited.’
She said, ‘Well. Scared and excited.’
She waited for the bus-stop to clear, then she told me. She’d been up the doctor’s. I didn’t even know she was late; I never really kept track of her things. I fainted in Woodwork once. I felt like I was going to again. I was pleased as punch but woozy at the same time.
She was in a bit of a flap. She kept saying, ‘We should’ve used something. We should’ve used something.’
We never really decided not to use anything. I don’t think you ought to, but it wasn’t that so much. We just didn’t think about it.
We went and sat on the beach, not speaking, just taking it in. I put my coat round her shoulders. She said she wasn’t cold but I wanted to show her I’d look after her. I started feeling nervous. Suddenly there’s something you’ve got to look after. We hadn’t really talked about it before, but it was what I wanted, the pair of us. It was happening a bit sooner than planned was all.
I knew I had to get things organised. I get that from my Dad, being practical. Even when him and Mum were rowing a lot he’d still keep on top of everything, doing things round the house, putting up shelves, paying the rates. So I started thinking things out, where we’d live, how we’d get on for money. It felt like my chance to fix things, to get things like they should be, to make something good. I just had to take it steady and be sensible.
I got in and the Maggot was there. I couldn’t really ask Mum if I could have a word in private. I had to wait till the morning. I knew I wouldn’t sleep so I stayed up, making plans, working out a budget, making a list of things that needed doing. In the end I fell asleep in my clothes.
I told her in the kitchen in the morning. She pulled a bit of a face. She said, ‘Are you pleased?’
I said, ‘Of course I am.’
She said, ‘Well done.’
I told Arnie. I needed to ask if he could manage a payrise. I felt awkward asking but I had to. He said he couldn’t stretch to it, but from then on I got all the tips. He was good to me; really decent. The other thing was the empty flat over the shop. Arnie hadn’t let it out for years. He said it needed weeks of work but he’d think about it if the Council couldn’t hurry things along.
He let me finish dinnertime. He knew I had lots to do. I went back to the house. I sat on the sofa just for a second and went out like a light. When I woke up, the phone was ringing in the hall. She answered it. I could tell it was the Maggot from the way she was talking. I heard her say, ‘You’ll never guess what the daft sod’s gone and done.’

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