Chapter Fifty: Far Away In Time

The flat has felt very empty since Fliss left to go on tour, and Marmalade has separation anxiety and has taken to mewing pitifully all night, every night. I let her sleep at the end of my bed; it seems to help.

  I didn’t want to leave the flat today, as it’s the first time I’ve been outside since February, but something was calling me, a yearning guitar riff, a lonely melody, which led me to Hazel Grove in search of my mother’s Martha And The Muffins ‘Echo Beach’ 7”.

  The weather was surprisingly warm when I left the house, but I didn’t feel reassured.  I had taken care to cover my body in clothes that were bland enough to make me invisible, but my hackles were up all the same.  A neighbours door slamming made me jump, gangs of kids coming home from Saint James’ made me nervous, so I kept my head down as I walked to the bus stop.

  On the bus, I looked out of the window as though seeing the world for the first time, and took care to mark off each district as the bus trundled along the A6.  Soon we were in Hazel Grove; the white monolithic Sainsburys building heralding our arrival. I got off opposite MacDonalds, a smaller but equally invasive monstrosity, and slowly and nervously began to walk to my mother’s house.

  As I made my way down the path to the front door, I was forced to recall my last visit, the one that had ended when I stormed out, my mother screaming after me.  I took a deep breath, and knocked on the door.

  The door opened, revealing Thomas, clad in a suit and tie and holding a piece of toast.  We awkwardly exchanged glances before he said, “Rachel’s still at work, she’s got an evening class tonight.”  As I turned to leave, he said, “Don’t go, I’ll fix you something to eat, and you can wait.”

  I demurred, but I really wanted that Martha and the Muffins 7”, so… “O.K,” I nodded, and he stepped aside to let me past.

  “I didn’t realise that you were up to leaving the house yet,” he said as he steered me into the living room and onto the sofa.

  “I’m not really,” I admitted “this is my first attempt.”

  “How’s it been?”

  “Pretty terrible” It was strangely easy to talk to him, “You don’t have to feed me you know; everyone else has been…”

  “It wouldn’t be any trouble; I’ll need to cook my own dinner anyway…”

  “Tea”

  “Dinner, tea; whichever”

  “Well, alright then, do you want any help with it?”

  “Possibly, but I shan’t start it yet, and it doesn’t sound as though you came over simply to be fed”

  “No,” I agreed.

  “Do you need Rachel for it, or can I help?”

  “Well,” I began awkwardly, “I kind of need to ask her, but… I want to borrow some of her records.  Do you know where she keeps them at the moment?”

  He shook his head, “You would probably know better than me.”

  “Well, she used to keep them in the loft, but…”

  “I’ll get the ladder; you can go up and look.”

  Later, as I sorted through the records, he confessed, “I was never really into punk, I mean, I liked some of it, but it never had the same pull for me as it seems to have done for your mum and dad.”

  I pulled out Neena’s ’99 Red Balloons’, “She used to sing me this when I was little,” I commented as I put it to one side, “I used to love it, I’ve been trying to remember what else she sang me, or played me, when I was little.”

  By the time he left to start preparing tea, I had located The Raincoats ‘No Ones Little Girl’, 10,000 Maniacs first L.P, some Throwing Muses, The Beauty Queens L.P, and a selection of Smiths 7”’s.  At last, I found the Martha and the Muffins 7”, squashed between Strawberry Switchblade and This Mortal Coil.  I walked over to the Hi-Fi, switched it on, lifted up the lid of the hardly used record player, and lined up the record.  The moment the opening chords faded in, I began to dance.

  As the record began to fade again, and the static began to crackle, I became aware of Thomas, watching me from the doorway.  He dried a mug with a tea towel as he remarked, “You’re very like her you know.”

  I stopped dancing, “I know,” I wheezed, “everyone tells me, it’s the hair and the eyes.”

  “No,” he shook his head, “it’s more than that,” he finished drying the mug, “Can you help me with the vegetables? I fancied a roast dinner, but it takes time.”

  As I peeled potatoes, he asked, “Is it normally you or young Fliss who does the cooking at home?”

  I smiled, it sounded as though he had taken rather a shine to ‘young Fliss’, “Are you obsessed with food?”

  “No, just making small talk.  I thought it might be less irritating than asking you how you’re feeling lately, that’s generally annoying when you’re depressed I’ve found.”

  I nodded sagely, “It would be irritating enough if I wasn’t depressed; it’s one of those questions that people never really want an honest answer to.”

  “It’s on a checklist of questions, yes”

  “How do you know this?” I asked sharply.

  He hesitated, and then said, in a rather less jovial tone, “I had a particularly bad bout of depression shortly after my wife left me, five years ago.”

  “Oh,” I said quietly.

  An awkward silence followed as I resumed peeling and slicing the vegetables. 

  “Why did she leave you?” I asked, cautiously, then, seeing the expression on his face, I quickly added, “If it’s not too rude to ask.”

  He sighed, “There’s never just one reason…”

  “No,” I murmured as I thought of Fergus and Terry, and of Nat and Dylan. “I suppose not.”

  “She met somebody else, but it was over before then really.”  He smiled, but there was a strong trace of bitterness as he said, “I was too plodding and boring, I think, and I suppose we wanted different things by then.”  His smile became brighter, and the bitterness disappeared, as he added, “Maybe it was all for a reason though, I probably wouldn’t have met your mum again otherwise.”

  I smiled wryly as I admitted, “I’m glad you did.  I wasn’t at first, but… I am now.”

  Mum still hadn’t come home from work by the time we had finished tea, so Thomas offered to drive me home to Heaton Chapel. “They’ll only get knocked about on the bus,” he pointed out as he gestured to the records.

  In the car on the way home, he asked, “have you talked to Fergus lately?”

  I could feel the colour rising to my cheeks as I realised, “You know what happened,” I said softly, “I suppose everybody does.”

  “I drove your mum to the house that night,” he confessed.

  I was right: Everybody knows.

  “I think you scared him,” he said carefully, “and I think that he would come back.”

  I shook my head.

  “Well,” he said kindly, “you don’t know if you don’t try, he seemed to care about you.”

  “How do you know that?”

  “He phoned for help; he stayed until he knew you were safe.”

  “He dumped me,” we pulled up in front of the flat, “I have to go, thanks for tea, and for helping me with the records and everything.”

  “Want me to help carry them in?”

  “Thanks, but… I’ll be fine.”

  He nodded.

  Later, as I sat with Marmalade on the floor in the living room, listening to records as the sun set outside, I thought about what he’d said; it was strangely comforting, “He seemed to care about you.”  It was probably true, but only as hindsight, not as anything to build hopes on, for despite what Thomas had said, I knew that I didn’t have the right to try and win Fergus back.

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