After kicking off in the record shop that day, Howard retreated. I waited for something else to happen, but nothing did. We looked around, we held our breath, and we waited, and when still nothing happened, we all began to relax into our lives. At first, it was hesitant and cautious, like the careful peeling of a plaster from damaged skin. Slowly does it, bit by bit, to minimise the pain and the shock. Life had a pattern of its own, I found. There was day to day living to be done, simple things, but it all bowled me over to tell you the truth; it was strange being able to just live. A few weeks after Howard had stood raging in the middle of his shop, Terry asked me to work for him full time. He even drew up a proper contract and everything, and had me open a bank account so that he could pay the money in for me. It was weird. I felt grown up, and trusted. Unbelievable. I felt like I was dreaming most of the time. Floating on air above all the shit I had escaped from.
Michael had picked up some extra shifts at McDonalds, and Anthony was working every hour they offered him at The Ship. Between the three of us we were easily able to cover the rent on the bed-sit, pay the bills, and start to eat some decent food. All three of us boarded the bus, and made the journey back into our old territory, faithfully every day. It wasn’t pleasant, and it made our stomachs sink, and our words dry up in our mouths, but it had to be done. There was courage, but also terror. It felt like we were stepping over an invisible line every time we climbed from the bus. It felt like we were exposed, and anything could happen. But nothing ever did. `I’m not proud to admit that sometimes I still contacted Jaime Lawler, and arranged to meet him in the alley behind the record shop.
Jaime looked even thinner these days, I thought, whenever I saw him. Haggard, and with a haunted look in his eyes that made me feel uncomfortable whenever I was near him. “Just can’t fucking get to sleep some nights,” I explained to him, although god knows why I felt the need to justify drug use to him. “Lie awake for hours, and then I can’t get up in the morning. Not good.” Jaime smiled thinly in the dark of the alley where we made our exchanges. His grey eyes, hooded by a frown, moved in a constant panicked state, up and down the alley, over his shoulder, everywhere. He was light on his feet, looked prepared to run at any given moment. “You still work for him?” I asked, and in response he laughed a hollow, cold laugh.
“You could call it that,” he replied, shifting restlessly from one foot to the other. He looked at me and looked me right in the eyes for a change. “That bastard scares the shit out of me. Not many people I’d say about that.”
“I know what you mean,” I said, moving away from him, not wanting to hear any more of what I considered to be the past. “Thanks Jaime, see you at Chaos some time?” He nodded, lit up a cigarette and walked away. I thought about him as I watched him go. It was a strange thing, a relationship of mutual dependence and trust, but I was yet to think of him as a friend.
Lucy called me one Sunday to make sure I was at home. “Course I’m at home,” I laughed down the phone at her. “It’s Sunday! No work. Day of rest and all that.”
“Right, well stay put,” she told me, and I started to smile at the undeniable excitement in her voice. “I’ve got a late birthday present for you, and I’ll be over in half an hour. Don’t go anywhere!”
When she hung up, I relayed her message to Michael and Anthony, who were instantly intrigued and started trying to guess at what it could mean. True to her word, she was tapping energetically at our door half an hour later. I leapt from the bed to open it, and there she was, grinning fiendishly back at me, with this squirming, wriggling, white and tan Jack Russell puppy in her arms. I immediately grabbed it from her, as Anthony groaned out loudly from behind me; “What the hell is that?”
Lucy stepped in and closed the door behind her. I was giggling like a madman, with the puppy covering my face in exuberant wet kisses. “Late birthday present,” she shrugged. “What do you think guys?”
“I’m not cleaning up after it!” Anthony retorted with a roll of his eyes and a lazy grin. I sat down on the floor with the tiny pup. I felt like a child on Christmas day. For a few moments, everyone else ceased to exist for me. The little pups tail was wagging so fast it was a blur. He couldn’t wash my face fast enough. It seemed to be all he lived for, slathering my grinning face with warm puppy kisses. I hugged him to me, shivering with delight at the feel of his soft warm body, and he put his front paws up on my chest and just wagged that tail faster and faster. I looked up at Lucy and shook my head and laughed.
“Are you mental? I can’t believe you got me a dog! Best present ever!”
“Zoe’s uncle had one left over,” she explained, crouching down beside me. “I just had this crazy idea when she showed it to me. I remembered what you said to me that day down at the beach. Well you can have one now, can’t you?” She glanced quickly at Michael and Anthony. “If it’s okay with you guys, that is? Zoe said she’ll take it back if it’s a problem.”
“It’s a ‘he’,” I said, as the pup fell off my lap, landed on his back and started wriggling from side to side while I rubbed at his fat round belly. Michael arrived next to me, kneeling down to stroke his silky little head.
“Fine by me,” he said. “But he needs a name!”
“Oh I got a name for him already,” I told them, lowering my face so that the puppy could shower me with more kisses. “Kurt!”
“Kurt!” Anthony exploded scornfully. “You can’t call a puppy Kurt! That’s not a dog name!”
“Not sure Cobain would approve mate,” Michael laughed beside me. He was tickling the pups neck, and he was twisting and snapping at his fingers. Michael yelped and withdrew his hand and rubbed at it. “Ouch! He’s got teeth like needles! Call him Jaws!”
Lucy laughed at him. “Kurt is a great name Danny. Call him Kurt. Look I think he likes it! Kurt? Kurt?”
“Oh god,” groaned Anthony, retreating into the kitchen to put the kettle on. “Listen to you lot, talking to it like a baby! It’ll be like having a kid!”
“You sure it’s okay?” I called after him. He laughed in response.
“Course it’s bloody okay. As long as you clean up after the little runt! I do not want to be stepping in dog shit first thing in the bloody morning.”
I turned the pup over and stood him on his little fat legs. “Aw you wouldn’t do that, would you Kurt? You’re gonna’ be so smart, I can just tell!” I picked him back up and he nuzzled his little face right into my neck. I took a breath then. Happiness was disorientating, head spinning. I reached out and found Lucy’s hand with mine. “Thanks Luce.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, returning my smile. “I just thought it would be sort of good for you. You know, they say dogs are really good for people.”
“He’s the best present ever, the best present in the whole world,” I leaned forward then, pulling her to me with her hand and finding her face with my lips. Michael moaned instantly and jumped to his feet. “You’re the best girlfriend in the world,” I told her, and it was true. She was a light. How can I explain it any better than that? That’s what she was. That’s what she’d always been to me. A light, warm and glowing and constant and good. You ever feel like you’re in such a good mood, it’s like you are walking around with a chunk of sunlight stuck in your eye? You want to blink and shield your eyes, because it dazzles and overwhelms, and you are too used to the darkness. But you can’t get it out, it’s lodged right in, and after a while you get used to it, and you walk around with it, and it’s so bright and shines so hard, it bathes everything else in the entire world in gold. Well that’s how I felt about Lucy. She was the sunlight in my eyes.
They returned to school that September; Billy, Jake and Lucy. They met at the end of Lucy’s road every morning and walked in together, no doubt feeling older and wiser, and a little bit jumpier. I was glad that Billy and Jake walked in with her. I didn’t like the thought of her walking to school alone. I didn’t like the thought of any of them being alone.
I picked up my old journal again the day after the Oasis gig. I couldn’t not. There were too many words and emotions and images compacting inside of me, bursting to get out, and there had to be a release somewhere, somehow, so it came in writing. To say it was one of the best nights of my life would be an understatement, and the words not enough to do justice to the experience. It was one of those nights when it felt like anything was possible. Anything in the world. We were together, we were united, we were all the same, and feeling the same things as we jumped and leapt and hugged and sang. Nights like that make you feel on top of the world, like you are flying, like you are so high you can never come down, you can never be brought back down again. Nothing can touch it. Terry was right about that. You can’t appreciate music properly until you go to see it live. Until you see and hear and feel it in its rawest form. It was electric. We were part of one organism, this surging, sweating, worshipping mass of people. All going crazy, bellowing the words to the songs that meant so much to us, the songs that made sense of our lives, Supersonic, and Cigarettes and Alcohol, Slide Away and Don’t Look Back In Anger, and fucking Live Forever!
I wondered if I ought to dare feel free, finally. I soaked it all up, this thing called life, life! I sat on the bed the next day, buzzing with it all, restless with excitement, the songs thumping and roaring through my head as I lay my notebook on my lap, my pen flying endlessly across the pages. I wrote and wrote until my hand ached, and my neck cracked. I wrote about the gig, and I wrote about Lucy, and the dog, and then it was like pulling a plug out of my consciousness, letting it all stream out of me.
They were good times. The best of times. Lucy came over every Friday night without fail. We snuggled on the bed, when we could, taking advantage of the times we had alone before Antony and Michael returned home from work. Stopping and starting, moving forward and then retreating in shyness, under the covers, we explored eachothers bodies. I felt a yearning for her all week long. Her parents would not allow her over on school nights. Mid-week she would drop into the record shop to say hi after school. I’d make her tea and she’d sit up at the counter with me and Terry, and we’d do all we could to influence her tastes in music, practically fighting over the record player to play her what we wanted her to fall in love with.
But Friday night was what we all lived for, what we all kept in sight. We travelled towards it from Monday, with our arms reaching out for it in hope and love. We got ready in the bed-sit, and Anthony would throw beers at us, and Jake and Billy and Lucy would arrive together, dressed to kill. I seized these nights and I never wanted them to end. They were better than ever now that I was surrounded with my friends, and had no fear to accompany me back home afterwards. Those nights were filled with the music we sang along to, the people we saw ourselves in, and a short walk back to the bed-sit for tea and toast before it was all over until next week. I couldn’t help but feel an almost desperate sadness roll over me every time an amazing Friday night came to an end. I didn’t like good things ending. The only thing that made it bearable was the promise of another one. Lucy would go home. Another Monday would roll around. I would hop on the bus and make another sombre journey back into the past. With my face against the window, the closer we got, the more my eyes scanned the streets and the alleys for any sign of him. My mind told me not to do it, not to torture myself, but my body told me I had to do it. The club was only a short distance down the street from the record shop, yet it didn’t start to show any signs of life until around six o’clock, by which time I was always safely back in the bed-sit, curled up with Kurt and a nice cup of tea. Another day done, another day I had made it back home safe. Another day, and still nothing had happened. I would sit still and listen out for the scrabbling fingers of fear within my belly, and they were still there alright, they were still a part of me and every breath I took. Sometimes I felt like I was walking a tightrope every day, balanced precariously between the normal world, and the world of pain and fear and hate I had left behind. Sometimes every time I placed a foot forward, I felt the potential to fall, and just keep falling.
Sometimes when alone, I would think about my mother. I didn’t want to, but somehow, she dominated my moments, she invaded my thoughts. I would find myself wondering about her home on Cedar View, her life in her big new house. Lucy walked past her sometimes, when she was digging in flowers in her front garden. She told me that she looked thinner than ever, with dark circles hanging beneath her blue eyes. She told me that she asked after me, but never asked where I was. I didn’t know whether her life had become everything she had ever dreamt about, or everything she had ever feared. I was relieved she had not tried to find me so far. What would I say to her now? How are you? How’s the decorating going? How’s the psychopathic husband? Have you found out about that yet? I wondered how he was dealing with the rage, and the desire to attack and cause pain. It was what he lived for, wasn’t it? I wondered about her, and her life, and I wondered if she knew what she had done.
Thinking about and playing with the past did me no favours, and I realised this, but it was hard to give it up. It was hard to pretend I was someone new, unaffected by the past, and what had gone on there. They liked to think I was fresh and new, and brave and moving forward, but it wasn’t as simple as that. The scars remained. My body, peppered with reminders. I was still only sixteen years old, and at times I found this staggering and unbelievable, because I felt so much older, like a decrepit old man wearing the mask of a fresh faced baby. Then other times, I felt it the other way around; I felt small and weak and young and in fear of the entire world, the entire future. I felt like I had been robbed of something I could not even explain to myself. There was an undeniable emptiness that filled me when the good times faded out. There was a hole, a space within me, that drugs and drink and music and friends kept at bay most of the time, but it was still there, it was always there, waiting for me to fall back in, and it crept back when I was alone, when the night was over. I shivered, and the only thing I could do was write about it and try to find words for it. “Aren’t you going to let anyone read what you’ve written?” Lucy would ask me sometimes. “You know, show it to someone, or try to get it published or something?”
I would slam the book shut and smile at her. “Not yet. Be like handing over a piece of my soul. And besides, no one would understand what the fuck I’m on about.”
One by one, I sensed my friends relaxing around me. They stopped checking over their shoulders quite so much. They stopped peering and squinting into the distance and around corners, on the lookout for trouble. I didn’t want to disappoint or scare them, by warning them not to relax too much. Anthony still met Jaime every once and again for a pint at The Ship. They were friends, I guessed. “Course I see him about,” he told Anthony when questioned about the movements of Howard. “But he don’t know who buys what from me, he just holds the strings, takes his cut. I wouldn’t ever wanna’ mess with that bastard. I try and keep my distance much as I can.”
Sometimes when the three of us were lazing around in the bed-sit, spaced out on a bit of grass, and sprawled across the two beds that were never packed away, Anthony and Michael would broach the subject with me tentatively. They would suggest that it was over, that Howard had given up, and let us go. “He got what he wanted in the end anyway, didn’t he?” Michael would shrug very hopefully. “Your mum, all to himself. You out the way. He should be bloody happy with that!”
I pulled my sleeping bag up to my chin, and laid my hands back down on Kurt, who was curled up on my lap inside it. “Mmm,” I replied, knowing they wouldn’t like to hear what I really thought. “I don’t think that was all he wanted though. I’ve thought about it a lot.”
“I bet you have,” Anthony nodded, his eyes solemn. “I don’t doubt it. But maybe now it’s time to stop, yeah? Start forgetting about it and getting on with your own life.”
“He would have done something by now, surely?” Michael asked, looking at his brother for support. Anthony nodded in agreement.
“I think he’s a very patient man,” I told them. They looked at each other again.
“You have to stop it,” Anthony warned me then. “Things are good, yeah?” We’re all working, having fun and sticking together. You’ve got Lucy, and a cool job, and that little runt of a dog in there. And nothing has happened. He’s had plenty of chances Danny. I really think it’s alright. I really think it’s over.”
I forced a smile, just for him. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Time to forget about it and relax.”
But it was easily said, I reflected later when my stomach refused to let me sleep well at night. It was easy to believe there were no monsters in the wardrobe in the light of the day. Easy to believe nothing lurked under the bed when I was able to kneel down there and check. Not so easy to believe that eyes did not follow my every movements, when I thought I was alone. I did not really want to listen to the hairs that stood themselves on end all over my body, when I climbed back on that bus at the end of the day. I did not want to believe my eyes when they urged me to stare into every shadow, on the way home from Chaos on a Friday night. There were times I would be bouncing around on the dance floor, and I would become utterly convinced of a snarling face in among the crowd. It was there, and then it was gone, leaving only a dead weight of fear in my belly and a dryness to my mouth. But I was just drunk. Or I was just tired. I was just imagining things that were not there, and I was having trouble letting it all go. My stomach was so used to being all tied up in knots, that it was a painful, confusing process when it attempted to unwind. I knew that more than anything, my friends wanted me to be happy. They wanted it to be over, and so I tried to relax, for them. I felt like I would never be able to repay what I owed them, so I did my best to just be happy, and carefree for them. But every couple of nights I would wake myself up screaming. I would hear their feet hitting the floor in alarm, and I would hear my own screams going on and on, even after they had clutched at my shoulders, and shouted in my face to convince me it was not real. I would flail out wildly with my arms, as I tried to fight Howard off, or my hands would be crawling around my own neck to ease his hands from choking me. My own voice would echo coldly around the bed-sit; “It’s not over! It’s not over! It’s not!” I knew that, just as much as Howard knew it.