My notebook was never far from me. I sometimes took it to work stuffed inside the waist of my jeans. Made a nice difference from having a blade stuffed down there. Those days were gone, or so we liked to keep telling ourselves. Writing was a therapy, like the music. The two were interwoven at all times, one feeding the other. I’d hear a great song, be it an old one, or a new one, and I’d feel the need to jot down the lyrics, or to write about it in some other way. I could never just keep it all inside myself. It was too much, you see. Sometimes I found it hard to listen to what people were saying to me, because there were all these words and all this music inside my head. I wanted to be alone with it, or I wanted them to get it the way that I did. It meant so much, you see, and it made me feel so much, and why didn’t other people get it like that? I’d hear a song, and it would cause this utterly jolting and physical reaction inside of me. It would take me over, and it would take me somewhere else. Set all kinds of things off inside of me. Some songs, they drag you down with them, they take your hand very gently and ease you out of the sunshine. They want you to feel their pain, and they want the shivers to run through you as all your hairs stand on end. And then there are the songs that set your heart on fire, and I mean, they fill you up with indescribably joyous energy, the kind that makes you believe you will live forever. Primal Scream’s Movin’ On Up, was one of those for me, during that time. I was lost, now I’m found, I believe in you, I got no bounds, I’m movin’ on up now, gettin’ out of the darkness, my light shines on, my light shines on, my light shines on! When I heard that, or sung along to that at Chaos, my heart was exploding with hope, let me tell you, my body felt like it had wings, my soul knew that nothing bad could ever happen to any of us, ever again. Music can do that you know.
So you hang onto hope, once you’ve got it, and you take it forward, you hold it close. You wrap your arms around it and protect it from the dark. Maybe you don’t totally believe in it yet, but you are trying to. And people smiled, when they saw me. Terry did, he smiled and rolled his eyes and shook his head. I couldn’t have asked for a better boss really. He even let me take the dog to work with me. We put a little cardboard box down behind the counter and he slept in there, good as gold. I think little Kurt single-handedly helped increased Terry’s takings, to be honest. The shop was doing better. People came in to see the little dog, and they came in because they knew I could find them what they were after, or failing that, I could turn them onto something they had never heard about before instead. It was fun. I loved it.
Lucy came in one Friday after school like she always did. I made her a cup of tea and started filling her arms with records we were taking home to listen to. She hopped up on one of the stools, drank her tea, and listened patiently to me while I wittered on about the day we’d had. As always, she had her overnight bag with her, her clothes and makeup all stored inside for the night at Chaos later. We had this little routine going, and I loved it. We’d catch the bus back to the bed-sit, then take Kurt for another walk around the block. We were like an old married couple then, walking arm in arm, and she would be smiling and telling me how glad she was about the dog. “You treat him like a baby,” she teased me all the time. “He’s so spoilt!”
That day I was buzzing, full of it. I’d just taken Primal Scream off the player and replaced it with the Oasis Morning Glory record. “Had the best day ever,” I started telling her right away. She smiled and listened. “This old fella’ calls us up, he’s moving into a nursing home and can’t take everything with us, so do we want to go through his record collection before the skip arrives to take it all to dump? Terry was out the door in a shot, right Terry?”
Terry barely glanced up from his magazine. “Always worth a look,” he remarked.
“So anyway,” I go on, while Lucy shifted on her stool, and sipped at her tea. “We jump in his rust bucket and drive over, and it was totally worth it wasn’t it Terry? Original Beatles and Stones records Luce, I kid you not, original Buddy Holly, Elvis,” I started counting them off on my fingers while her smile faded in and out. “Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, and…”
“Can’t you see she’s not interested?” Terry looked up and barked at me. “You’re boring the poor girl and you’re boring me too. Nothing there that tickled my fancy much.”
“But they’ll sell!” I laughed back at him, while he glowered back into his magazine. “Sold half of them already!” I looked back at Lucy with a huge grin. “I’ve got a list see, this little book? Rang a load of people in there I did.”
“Brilliant,” she nodded. I wondered if there was something up with her then. Her smile didn’t seem to want to stay still. It was like it crept away every time I looked away, and then shot back into place when my eyes were back on her. I felt Kurt sniffing at my shoes so stooped down to pick him up.
“Oh he’s so bloody efficient,” Terry complained with a quick smirk. “Boy wonder, or what? Go on then. Off you go. I’m letting you out early.”
I frowned at him. “How come big man?”
“’Cause your bloody eager ways are getting on my wick, go on off you go.”
Lucy finished her tea and put the mug down on the counter. She picked her bag up from the floor and slung it over one shoulder. I saw that look on her face again then, sort of pained and dreading. I grabbed my coat from out the back, picked up the records I was borrowing and slung them under one arm and clipped Kurts lead to his collar. “Alright then,” I nodded at Terry. “Me and Kurt will be off. We know when we are not wanted. Come on Lucy.”
“Morrisey.” Terry mumbled. I looked back.
“The dog. His name is Morrisey.”
“No it fucking isn’t!”
“It is if he wants to work in my shop. See you later kids.”
“For fucks sake,” I complained and pulled open the door. I slipped my arm through hers once we were out on the pavement. The bus stop was just up and across the road, and the bus was due in ten minutes. It was times like that I sometimes still got nervous. I’d try like hell not to scan the area, not to try and pick trouble out where it didn’t exist, but it was hard. Hard to just stand there in the open and wait.
We crossed the road and hovered under the shelter. I kept my arm linked through hers and my hands in my pockets. It was freezing stood there. “You alright?” I asked her finally, as it was becoming more and more obvious that she wasn’t. She looked at me and blew her breath out slowly. I felt something coming. Something I would probably rather avoid. I almost covered her mouth with my hand but I didn’t. She sort of leaned into me and sighed. “Lucy?”
“No, not alright,” she said then, her head on my chest so I couldn’t see her face. I hugged her to me and waited. “Got something to tell you, and it’s not good, well, you might think it’s good, I don’t know yet, so…”
“What the hell?”
“You want me to tell you now or later?”
“Now! For fucks sake.”
She pulled away from me then. The bus was nowhere in sight. There was only one other person under the shelter with us. A little stooped old man wearing a flat brown cap. He was counting his coins out on one wrinkled and weathered palm. “Right,” she said. “Well this morning I walked past your mums house on the way to school, and she opened the front door and called to me.”
My eyebrows shot up under my hair. “Really?”
Lucy nodded, her expression grim. “Yeah, so I went. Danny,” she paused again, looking away briefly, as if searching for the best words to use. Then she looked back at me, and sort of shook her head while she exhaled again. “I went right up to the door Danny, she was….well, hurt.”
I felt cold then. I pulled my arm from hers and stared at her. I don’t know why, looking back, it came as a surprise, what I knew she was about to tell me, but somehow it did. It really did. “Hurt? What d’you mean? What are you saying?”
“Beaten up. Black eyes. Cut lip. The works.” She kept her eyes on me, searching for my reaction. I blew my breath out between my clenched teeth. I nodded, and bit at my lower lip.
“Right,” I said. She touched my arm.
“She wants to see you. She begged me to tell you.”
I looked at her sharply. “Begged you to tell me what? That’s she’s got beaten up or that she wants to see me?”
“That she wants to see you.”
“Right.” I looked over my shoulder. I could see the bus in the distance, making its way slowly up the road from the centre of town. Lucy’s hand squeezed my arm so I looked back at her and forced a smile. “Dunno why I’m surprised,” I shrugged. “Makes sense he would start on her. But I really kind of thought he wouldn’t do anything to her. Never saw a sign of it. Never.”
Lucy sighed, moved closer to me and wrapped both of her hands over one of mine. “You don’t have to do anything,” she told me. “She’s a grown woman. It’s up to her what she does. She married him after all!”
“Wonder what she wants…”
“I don’t know,” Lucy shook her head. “She didn’t say. She just said she wants you to go see her, she said he is away for a few days.”
I nodded silently, trying to take the information in. She just stared at me, her hands around mine, her eyes wide and desperate. She looked a state, I thought then. I guessed it couldn’t have been much fun for her, carrying that information around with her all day. So I smiled at her and squeezed her hand in return. “It’s okay,” I told her. “Don’t look so worried Luce. Maybe she just wants to see me.” I shrugged a little. “Maybe she wants to say sorry for not believing me.”
I watched Lucy gulp and frown at me. She looked nervy and confused. “You think so?”
“Would you really want to hear that though?”
“Not sure,” I admitted. “I suppose it’s been on my mind.”
I could see this came as a surprise to her. Her mouth opened up and then closed again quickly. She looked as though she was trying hard not to let her disappointment show through. “Oh,” she said. And then; “But what if it’s a trap? What if he’s not really away? What if he comes back suddenly and she doesn’t know? I don’t think you should go Danny.”
The bus pulled up jerkily beside us, and I nodded towards it. “Let’s go home and see what the others think,” I said, just to appease her. She clung to my arm, and we got on the bus, and every time I looked at her after that, I could see the fear etched all over her face. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how I really felt. That asking Michael and Anthony’s opinions was not going to change my mind, because I had already decided I would go and see my mother.
When we walked into the bed-sit, we found both Michael and Anthony squeezed into the kitchen, making cheese on toast. Lucy dumped her bag on the bed and released a drawn out sigh. I said nothing. I left it to her to explain things to them. I had the strongest urge just to be alone with my gathering thoughts, so I dropped onto the bed, positioned my pillow behind my head and crossed my ankles. I didn’t even look at her. I just immersed myself in silence, until eventually she yanked back the beaded curtain, and let rip. I knew what she was doing, and I understood it, of course I did. She wanted them to be as appalled and outraged as she was. She wanted them to think seeing my mum was a terrible, stupid idea, and she wanted them to talk me out of it so that she wouldn’t have to. I just stayed on the bed, stroking Kurt on my lap, and listening to them talking about me. Michael didn’t say much, but I knew he would think the same as Lucy. He would think I was nuts.
Finally Anthony pushed back the curtain and strode out of the kitchen, licking butter from the side of his thumb. He shot me one look which told me right away he was on my side. He picked up the phone, while Michael and Lucy looked on warily. “We can find out if he’s really out of town,” he said, and dialled a number. We all watched, and waited. “Hello is that K’s?” he asked, when the phone was picked up. “Yeah, hi mate, I’m enquiring about work in the area and someone said you guys are hiring. Is Lee Howard there for me to speak to at all?” Anthony turned to look at our expectant faces. Lucy was biting her nails, with her other arm wrapped tightly around her middle. “Oh is he out of town? When do you expect him back? Oh okay, that’s great, I’ll call back in a few days…Thank you. Bye.” Anthony hung up and looked right at me. “Gone to Essex to see his parents, and won’t be back until Monday.”
Lucy looked immediately at me. “I still don’t want you to go!” she said, blinking hard as her eyes threatened to fill with tears. “She can’t just click her fingers and have you back in her life Danny! She doesn’t deserve you.”
“Too right she bloody doesn’t,” Michael grumbled from beside her, his arms crossed rigidly over his chest, his eyes dark and angry.
“It’s not safe,” Lucy went on, coming to the bed and standing next to me. “You don’t know he won’t come back early and catch you there!”
I reached out to her, pulling her down onto the bed with me. “Come with me then.”
“Good idea,” Anthony said with a nod.
“We could all go,” Michael shrugged, but I shook my head at him and looked at Lucy. She moved her head, resting her cheek upon my shoulder.
“Come with me,” I said again. “Come with me in the morning. I think I need to hear what she has to say.”
I didn’t expect any of them to understand. I didn’t really understand myself. You’d have thought my first reaction to her request would have been to tell her to fuck off. But I was curious, and my imagination had gone into overdrive. Why did she want to see me while he was away? Did she want my help somehow? Did she want to tell me I was right along, and she was sorry now that she knew?
No one really embraced the night that followed at Chaos. Their hearts were not in it, and neither was my head. I kept catching sight of Michael and Anthony, huddled and talking. Whenever I looked at Lucy, she looked like she was fighting tears. She smiled bravely when I went to her, taking her face in my hands and tipping it up to look at me. She was perched on a stool at the corner table we always nabbed. “You’ve got your worried face on,” I said to her, and she laughed at me gently.
“You don’t have to be sorry. What you thinking?”
“If you want to know the truth, I was just sat here wishing to god I hadn’t passed the message from your mum onto you. How bad is that?” She exhaled slowly and lifted her hands, pressing them on top of mine, on either side of her face. I was swaying slowly to the music. I felt dreamlike. Everything had that quality to it. I’d only had one pint of beer, and it had gone right to my head. How many special people change? How many lives are living strange? Where were you while we were getting high? Oasis were playing, and my head was full of memories from that night, when we had all been together, all hugging and jumping up and down with the crowd. A smile took over my face, and I sang along softly while she started to play with my hair at the back of my neck. “Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball, where were you while we were getting high? Someday you will find me, caught beneath the landslide, in a champagne supernova in the sky…”
Lucy kissed my cheek and rested her head on my shoulder, and I wrapped my arms firmly around her as she leaned forward on the stool. I could feel the sadness and the fear seeping from her. “Wish I hadn’t told you,” she said again with a heavy sigh. “Then you wouldn’t be going to see her tomorrow.”
“I get why you feel like that,” I told her. “But you know what? For some reason, it actually makes me feel better that she wants to see me.”
“Does it?” she asked, jerking back to stare at me. “But why? Why should you feel glad she wants to see you? Is that what you’ve been hoping for? I didn’t know you felt that way.”
“No neither did I, but I dunno…it’s hard to explain. I always thought she hated me, you know, even before he came along. It was always a nightmare, me and her. I guess I just want to hear her side of things, maybe.”
Lucy looked outraged all over again and her hands fell down into her lap. “Side of things? How can she have a side of things? She stood back! I mean, how can any mother do that? Just stand back and let…” She sucked in her breath and shook her head. “I don’t understand it. I never will.”
I moved to the side of her and leant back on the table. My eyes drifted out to the dance floor, where the people seemed to all blend into each other, as it heaved from side to side. “She didn’t really know,” I said, staring out at them all. “I mean, there was one time I tried to tell her and she didn’t believe me, but you know, I’d told her so many lies and been in so much trouble before then, that I guess now I can see why she wouldn’t believe me…I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I was a total shit Lucy. She couldn’t control me, I didn’t listen to her, I did whatever the hell I wanted. She couldn’t cope. So the thing was, he came in, and she was relieved, you know? She thought he was a father figure, you know, strict and that? She was all pleased ‘cause you know, I listened to him and stuff. Stayed out of trouble.” I shook a hand at the air dismissively. “Anyway. Just don’t worry, that’s all. We’ll just show up and see what happens, hear her out, then leave. And if the bastard does show up, so what? What’s he gonna do if you and mum are there? She knows what he’s like now Luce, that’s the thing, she knows now.”
I felt her shudder beside me. Then her arm snaked around my middle and pulled me close. “You’re braver than me,” she said. “I’ll come with you, if you’re sure. Whatever you want. I love you, you know?”
I grinned down at her worried little face. “Love you too.”
The next morning I woke her with a kiss, and watched her flutter out of her dreams and into the cold reality of the freezing bad sit and the uncertain day that lay ahead. Her eyes clouded over when she remembered what we were going to do, and she gave me a small, brave smile, and I ruffled her hair, and made her laugh. I was already dressed, and passed her a cup of tea after she’d pulled one of my hooded sweatshirts over her head. She emerged from the other side of it, hair a mess, and yawning. “Want some toast?” She shook her head.
“When we get back.” She sipped her tea and shivered violently under the blankets, and gazed around the room while I started tying up my boots. Anthony had a shift at the pub and had already left. Michael was snuggled up on the sofa bed, only his shock of black hair showing from under his sleeping bag. Lucy finished her tea, and went to the bathroom to sort out her hair and brush her teeth. I checked my pockets for bus fare, cigarettes and keys. I was so nervous by the time we left that I could barely speak. Lucy slipped her arm through mine and asked me if we could go shopping when we got back. I smiled. Lucy loved the shopping in Belfield Park, and rummaging through the many charity shops and market stalls had become a new habit of hers. Her parents gave her regular pocket money which she liked to spend on vintage clothes and knick knacks, while I hunted for records and tapes on the music stalls. Then we’d grab a coffee and a doughnut in our favourite café before buying some food from the market to take home for lunch. The Saturday street market made her smile. The loud mouthed men and women, in body warmers and fingerless gloves, hollering about apples, cauliflowers, batteries and coats. There was always a bargain to be had. The smell of the burger van followed us back home, where we would tip our treasures out onto the bed with a childlike delight. “You don’t need to buy things new,” she was always saying now. “When there is all this to be had!”
We left Kurt behind and snuck out before Michael woke up. We waited silently, at the usual stop, arm in arm while I smoked a quick fag. We climbed on the bus when it came, and huddled together on the back seat, and any conversation we had tried to maintain had all but dried up by then. We just sat and watched the world roll by. We passed the record shop, and the club, and remained on the bus while it weaved its way down the high street, over the two bridges, and on towards the estate. We jumped off when it pulled in along Somerley road opposite McDonalds, and I reached automatically for her hand. We crossed the road, and the silence grew in weight and strength. I realised we would have to walk past the old house, and my stomach felt sick and weak. Lucy clung to my hand and we marched on, walking as fast as we could, and I felt as though I was trying to outrun the memories.
I didn’t look at the house. I couldn’t bear to. I felt like I was three different people rolled into one, and it was making my head spin thinking about it all. There was the old me, the messed up new kid, getting into fights to make myself heard, and there was the me from the dark times I’d had in that house, and I didn’t like that one, I didn’t like that boy one little bit. I thought he was weak and cowardly and drenched in shame, and I didn’t want him inside me ever again. And then there was the new me, the one people said was wise beyond his years, an old head on young shoulders, they said, quiet, but happy. They were all inside me crashing into each other, and they all had voices demanding to be heard. I felt the urge to cram my fists into my ears as we walked on, and as we walked, the memories slammed into me on every corner, on every street, and it was awful. It felt like hands under the ocean pulling me down, sucking me back in, destroying me.
By the time we came out onto Cedar View, my guts were a twisted mess. We slowed our pace, and Lucy looked at me as we approached the house. “No offence Luce,” I smiled shakily. “But it’s even flasher than yours is!”
Lucy clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes at the manicured rose bushes and perfect, lush green lawn. “It’s all pathetic,” she insisted. I stopped at the gates, which had been left open. There were stone lions roaring on either side of the drive. I shook my head at them and Lucy growled. “Horrible,” she spat. “He put them there. They weren’t there before.”
“What about the rest of it?” I asked, gazing around.
“Your mum does the garden. About the only thing he lets her do by the look of it. They had painters and workmen and everything in and out of here for months, changing it all. Come on,” she said then. “It’s all vulgar. It’s all for show.”
“Okay,” I laughed. “Calm down Luce.”
We walked down the driveway towards the huge front door. I seemed to feel myself shrinking, the closer we got. There was a flurry of movement at one of the windows to the right of the door, which made my stomach leap into my mouth, and Lucy tighten her hand even more on mine. She was practically clinging to me now. The door opened before we could even knock on it. I opened my mouth and gasped. Her face. Her beautiful face. What had he done to her beautiful face? Tears flowed from her swollen eyes. They flowed from mine too. “Danny…” she croaked through her broken lips, “thank god!”