Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Chapter 18

Clueless, luckless, loveless Christy, checked his breath and armpits twice. The time had come. He dropped six of the new lot of blues to help him speak. He would’ve preferred the cinema; nobody to spot him, the excuse not to talk. He put his list of questions in his pocket and left for the pub.
He’d borrowed a library book about how to talk to people on such occasions. It recommended having a ready stock of anecdotes and stories about his own experiences. It panicked him. He didn’t have any stories, only questions and secrets. So he’d written down some questions. He didn’t want to find out anything about her, he just didn’t want her to find out anything about him.
Walking down Fortuneswell he wondered how this could happen. What could this mean? Certainly not the obvious; never that. Inside him was just meat; nothing. Couldn’t get out of it now though. There was only ever fear and duty, this was no different.
He didn’t like it, things being arranged, sorted out behind his back. Animal and Alison had set it up; he just had to phone her and finalise the details. He’d gone to the phone box on the corner, clutching a slip of paper with the words on it in case he got tongue-tied.
She’d made it easy for him. ‘Is it about Wednesday night at Deja Vu?’
They arranged to meet first in the Pilot.
That was where it had started. One night Christy had wandered in, unable to face the Merman. Animal and Alison were there. Christy thought, too late, of pretending to have come in for cigarettes. Instead he joined them. Alison seemed friendlier than usual. Animal excused himself and went in the other bar. Spotting his chance Christy drained his pint and made to leave, lying that he was on his way to see Kev.
‘Stay for another Christy,’ Alison said. ‘Kev’s probably round Karen’s.’
Christy left regardless.
In the other bar, on the payphone, Animal spoke to her. ‘He’s here now. Come down.’
She laughed, embarrassed. ‘This is daft. It’ll really look like he’s being set up.’
‘No it won’t,’ Animal said. ‘He won’t even notice anything’s going on.’
Animal phoned Christy the next night. He got to the point. ‘She’s interested in you.’
‘What way?’
‘She keeps asking after you.’
‘Like what?’
‘She likes you. Fuck me, stranger things have happened.’
Christy looked round the bar of the Pilot now. She was there. She’d bloody turned up. Wearing an Express Dairies duffelcoat with a picture of Emily Bronte on the back, Linda was sat at a table in the corner. She’d already taken two inches off the top of her pint. She drank pints. Animal said it was a College thing.
Christy said hello and apologised for being late.
‘You’re not,’ Linda said. ‘I was early.’
Christy bought himself a pint and began the interrogation, not listening to himself, not listening to her. He asked after the W twins.
‘They’re okay,’ Linda said. ‘Seem to be getting on better. Ed’s back in the house now the weather’s colder. How’s things with Hello Cruel World?’
‘Alright,’ Christy mumbled. He wanted to change the subject in case she was reminded of the CND gig.
‘I liked what you were doing at that gig on the cliffs,’ she said.
Christy smiled and examined the head on his pint.
She asked him about his work.
‘I’m a clerkstrokestoreman. I pick things up, I put things down, I add things up, I write things down.’
She smiled. ‘Do you enjoy it?’
Christy looked puzzled. ‘How do you mean?’
‘I’ll take that as a “no” then.’
He tried to remember the next question. ‘Back in a sec.’
In the toilet he fumbled in his pockets. He checked his list. He felt sure he’d written down more questions. And the pills weren’t working. He fished the rest of the blues out of the matchbox, and crammed them into his mouth.
Two men sat down at the table next to Linda’s. Their idiot, inky tattoos gave them away as matelots: no colour, no ideas, no beauty, only the marks of physical hardness.
‘You trap last night then?’
‘Course I fucking did.’
‘Much cop?’
‘Alright. Had the necessary. Rough though.’
‘Like Arthur Mullard in a skirt. Wendy something.’
‘Fuck me! I’ve been through that. Piss flaps like elephants’ ears.’
‘That’s the one. Dirty, mind.’
‘Yeah. I was doing her and her daughter at one stage. Like having your dick banged between two bricks.’
Christy returned. Linda drained her pint. ‘Shall we go Christy?’
‘Oh. Okay. Yeah,’ Christy said. Now what had he done?
On the bus he asked, ‘Have you ever been up Deja Vu before?’
‘No,’ she said, smiling. ‘But I keep getting the feeling I have.’
Christy frowned. ‘That’s weird.’
Deja Vu, Weymouth’s premier nitespot, featured a number of themed evenings. Until recently Wednesday nights had been Second Time Around Nite, a Sixties revival disco for the recently divorced or dumped. It hadn’t taken off.
The W twins, who knew the manager from schooldays, had persuaded him to let them put on a punk disco on the available night, in return for a cut of the door. Tonight was going to be the first night.
On arrival Christy relaxed slightly. He’d been correct in his hope. Ed was playing the records loud enough to make conversation virtually impractical. Linda went to fetch pints and Christy padded across the flypaper carpet to find a table. His heart folded as he realised that the twins’ cack-handedness as D.J.s left unfortunate gaps between records.
Linda returned. In between the songs, what felt like silence fell. Christy did his best; his best was dreadful. The minutes felt like weeks. Christy saw disappointment creeping across her face like a rash. But, then, what was she expecting? He looked across the dancefloor to where Hello Cruel World were propping up the bar. He knew they’d be pissing themselves laughing when he wasn’t looking.
Danny stood trying to persuade the others. Pilled again, he leaned forward into his words. ‘It’s the bloke Olly rents off. Same size house Olly’s got. Be cheap split five ways.’
‘I’m into it,’ Animal said. ‘It’s like the Black Hole of Calcutta round mine. Driving me up the wall.’
‘Won’t be much better this place, three bedrooms between five,’ Patrick complained. ‘What if one of us is knocking someone off?’
Danny took a gulp of beer and clenched his teeth. ‘Do you ever stop thinking with your dick?’ He looked at Phil. ‘You’re into it aren’t you? Be good it will.’
‘I’m tempted. Be a laugh.’
‘Go on,’ Animal said. ‘It’ll be just like the Monkees, but with more drugs.’
‘That’s the other thing,’ Patrick interrupted. ‘We rent somewhere together, the D.S.’ll set up a Portakabin outside.’
‘That’s you all over, that is,’ Danny snapped. ‘Any idea’s bollocks unless it’s yours.’
‘I’m not saying for definite, mind,’ Phil said.
‘Fucksake,’ Danny said. ‘You lot don’t know what you want.’
‘No,’ Patrick said calmly. ‘That’s you.’
Danny walked away towards the gents.
Patrick looked at Animal. ‘He’s all talk.’
‘He’s alright.’
Like somebody compulsively offering cigarettes to an occasional smoker, Christy continued to poke questions at Linda. Little relief came when Kev and Karen invited themselves to join Christy and Linda. Soon Christy was struggling to find anything to say to Kev. ‘You could help Ed and Fred if they keep it going. Lend them some of your records.’
‘Maybe,’ Kev said, glancing at Karen. ‘I’m probably going to be a bit busy.’
‘Doing what?’
‘Just things.’
The four looked at each other, stuck.
‘Anyway. We’ll leave you to it,’ Kev said.
Walking away, Karen mumbled, ‘Toffeenosed cow.’
‘Don’t, love. It’s nice to see it.’
Linda looked at Christy. ‘You look as if you’re trying to remember something.’
Then he remembered. ‘So what is it you’re doing at college?’
She was studying Psychology and Sociology.
‘Oh yeah? Enjoy it?’
‘Yeah. We’re doing Durkheim at the moment. On suicide.’ She paused, lit a roll up. ‘Anyway, you don’t want to hear about that. It’s boring.’
In the toilet again, Christy checked the list. He’d used nearly everything. He tried to memorise what remained. The blues were certainly working now; his jaw was grinding slack, moronic. In the mirror he noticed his pupils, massive and inky. He’d once read that dilation of the pupils made people more attractive to the opposite sex. But he knew that wasn’t anything to do with him.
He went back. Patrick was sat talking to Linda. As Christy sat down Linda lit Patrick’s cigarette. Patrick held her hand as if to steady it. He looked at Christy. ‘I didn’t know you were here tonight.’
Linda retrieved her hand. ‘Christy’s with me.’
Patrick stood up. ‘Fair enough.’ He walked away, shaking his head.
Christy’s brain revved, trying to think of something to say.
Linda saved him. ‘Don’t you ever worry about all this? The music and everything.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘I don’t know. That it might just end up getting swallowed up like everything else. Just turn out to be a phase people go through before they turn into their parents.’
Christy wanted to nudge the conversation away from parents but he didn’t know how. See him whistling in the kitchen. Can’t be there. Knowing he’s not there. Seeing him.
Into the cloakroom. Smells of macs drying out. Old daps. Names written neat on pink paper just above the hooks. The littluns put their coats away first. Easier to reach. Move the satchel behind. Hope nobody notices it. Only sandwiches in there. Daft even having it. Start of not getting what’s needed. No more going home for dinner. Everybody stops talking. Look like they’re going to say something. Look like they’re trying to remember something. Sally says Why’ve you got a satchel? It’s not Music and Movement. It’s for me sandwiches. You get it for Christmas? Yeah. Who off? Everybody. Everybody? Next door and everybody. How come? Looks like she’s remembered something. Hangs up her coat. Walks off.
A queue had formed at the bar. Christy waited for it to build up, then offered Linda another drink. The longer he was away from her the better.
Animal was at the bar. He looked at Christy, then looked again. ‘Fucksake Christy. You’ve got eyes on you like a fucking bushbaby.’
‘You haven’t have you?’ he asked. ‘You’re a twat to yourself, you are.’
Christy shrugged.
Animal and Alison pulled up a chair each. Alison spoke into Linda’s ear. ‘We’ve come to rescue you.’
‘I’m alright actually.’
‘Only joking.’
Christy sat, vacant, as the two talked. He looked at Animal. Animal smiled, at a loss. He nodded towards Linda and Alison. ‘Students eh?’ Eventually he leaned across and whispered, ‘Speak to her Christy, for fucksake.’
Animal stood and patted Christy’s shoulder as he and Alison returned to the others.
The toilet again and a last look at the list. There was nothing left. Christy leaned against the cubicle wall with his head in his hands. All he wanted was to get it over with and try to live it down. A bang on the door shook the cubicle. The list, furry from repeated folding and unfolding, flew from Christy’s grip, fluttered through a gentle arc, and landed in the toilet bowl.
‘Come on! I’m breaking me fucking neck out here. You’ve been in there ten minutes.’
Christy checked his watch. It was true. He returned to Linda as the lights came on in the club.
He remembered what it said in the library book. ‘I’ll walk you to the bus-stop if you like,’ he said.
She said she’d get a minicab from the office next door. That was good; the wait would be shorter, the agony briefer.
The driver in his zip-up cardigan tapped impatiently on the steering wheel. As Linda got into the cab she gave Christy’s upper arm a squeeze, as if to say, never mind, these things happen. Christy watched the black car leaving.
He walked to the bus-stop with his jaw grinding. Hello Cruel World passed by, heading for the chip-shop.
‘Night Christy,’ Animal said. ‘Take care.’
‘Night,’ said Christy, not turning.
‘See you later, loverboy,’ Patrick said.

Christy sat at the kitchen table chain-smoking. He couldn’t understand her going to all that bother, just for some sort of set-up so everyone could have a fucking good laugh behind his back. What was it all about? Maybe it was the CND thing, all the embarrassment for her dad. At least it was over now.
He wanted a clue. But you can’t remember what isn’t there. And what he was looking for really wasn’t there.
Picked up. Up on his shoulders. Touch the ceiling, rough like rock cakes. Skinny crack. River on the moon.
Him flat on his back. Marching on his stomach. Look on his face. Lift. Swinging between his arms. Laughing.
No more walks. No more piggy backs. No more larking about.
Picked up by her. When need moving. Up out of the chair. Big boy. Heavy boy. More than she can manage now.
Woolworth’s. Floor wood. Counters like boats, wood like church. Her shoes. Crocodiles. Stillettoes is it? Basket, wire, creamy. Hold on to the corner, stop her going. Don’t cling. Giving her the pip. A difference. What’s the difference? Between earlier and later. Been something wrong.
Caravans. Holiday. Before. Here to the site shop. Crouching like on the telly. Clair behind. Head start for Christy-baby. Proper way to say it. Not ready steady. Marks, set, go! Her ahead. Running on. Left behind.
Helping with the cakes for Home Economics. They make you wash dolls for practise.
Stood behind her. Lips moving making the words. Her moving her finger under the words to show how.
Her with a magazine. Stood behind. Asking something. Stop breathing down me neck all the time!
Doesn’t need to say about the meter running. Can’t get away quick enough.
Between earlier and later, something.
People go off you. People go.
Next evening there were three more phone calls. Linda phoned Animal.
‘How did it go?’
‘Not sure. Not well, I think.’
‘Thought so. Don’t feel bad; he’s damaged goods.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘I know so.’
Christy phoned Animal. His first words were, ‘Do you think I should phone her and apologise?’
‘Apologise. About last night.’
‘Don’t be a tit.’
‘It was torture.’
‘Thought so. Don’t feel bad,’ he said. ‘She liked you from a distance, she went off you close up. You’ll live.’
‘Okay.’ It was what he’d expected, a relief almost.
Christy shivered in the phonebox on the corner, shifting from one foot to the other, listening to the ringing tone. The vicar answered.
‘Is Linda there please?’
‘Yes. Who shall I say’s calling?’
‘Nobody. Sorry.’ Christy dropped the receiver onto its rest and stepped out into the cold.
He had the feeling he’d been here before. He knew he wasn’t the sort that people bothered with. One thing never led to another for him. But don’t misunderstand me. Christy wasn’t one of those people who feel sex is something to be ashamed of; he felt being alive was something to be ashamed of. He withdrew again, like a snail scorched under a magnifying glass. He taped bin-liners to his bedroom windows, and nobody knew he was there.

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