Chapter Seven – She Cries Your Name
Darkness and warmth enveloped me completely. I was forty thousand leagues beneath the sea and wrapped in a warm soft blanket. There was no light. No noise. No movement. Not a thing. And it went on forever. The nothingness was wonderful. The void. I liked it. You’d have liked it too.
Bright lights suddenly hit hard and there’s loud noises, movement, pain, in the head and pain on the body. I’m tumbling around. I’m dizzy. Someone’s shouting. There’s screaming. I’m sweaty, I’m strangulated by my own clothes. My brain is all fucked up and some how there is a refrigerated house brick competing for space in my cranium.
I try to focus my eyes but I can only see a carpet I do not own and the legs of a table. The table’s not mine either. Reeling, I see a light fitting with a burning sun where a light bulb is usually placed. Below it the outline of a man with a raised fist. The cold brick is dislodged. Steve you’re in a fight. Remember. Remember what these are like? There is a loud breaking of glass. There is a sharp jolt of deep pain in my hand. You know it’s bad when you feel pain in nerve endings you hardly ever hear from. This one is a long way from the surface of my skin. This one is deep and should not be reporting to the message center that it feels like there is glass in a wound.
Scruff. Is that you mate? Yep. That’s Scruff. He’s very angry and he’s just put his knee on my chest and his fist in my eye socket. Fuck! For a skinny bastard he’s got a serious right hook. I put my hand up to block the next one and whip a thick strong layer of my own blood across his face. He and I both stop. Both horrified at what we’ve just seen. Trace slaps him hard across the face. It’s a full half windmill open palmed humdinger. He rocks back on his knees, off my chest. I look for the first time at the large gash in my hand. Then I look at the broken glass coffee table all around me and the scene of Scruff and Trace’s living room. “What the fucking hell are you doing you psycho?” screams Trace at her boyfriend as he sprawls around on the floor trying to right himself. All skinny legs and tattered converse. “What am I doing?” Scruff scream back at her in fury. “I’m coming home to find my girl and my so called friend sleeping together in the middle of my flat. That’s what I’m doing!” I mean, I understand the sentiment but not Trace “What? You fucking idiot!” Trace dropped her hand from the threat of another slap. I had pennies dropping all over my brain. Last night. The lock in. The tearful walk home. Then a punch in the guts. Wait, what? “Scruff. Mate.” I spoke without really having a follow up sentence. He turned his eyes from Trace down to me. I was holding my cut hand in my good one and mentally spinning the sides of this Rubick’s hangover into something that looked like a side of the same colour. “What?” he hollered at me. OK I thought, start talking, see what you come up with “Scruff. I think you’ve got the wrong end of a very shitty stick here Bud.” Scruff was spitting from his lips as he spoke “How are you going to spin this you fucker? I come in and find my girlfriend and you asleep in each others arms. You. The serial shagger from where she works. You’ve made your way through half her mates and now you’re trying it on with my Girl.” Trace steps in with a timely “You are such a fucking idiot”. I’m not sure if it’s for me or him. I think we both took a little of it on board. I totally understand Scruff’s point of view all of a sudden. Sure. He’s walked in and see us holding each other on his sofa. We’re both dead to the world. “No. This is not that. Dude. We’ve still got our clothes on… we didn’t do, that! We had a bad night. I got some bad news yesterday. We both did. This isn’t me putting the moves on Trace. This is two mates supporting each other through a hard time.”
Scruff seemed to shrink a couple of inches before my eyes. He nodded turning his head to Trace. She was stood there with her arms folded, a School Teacher air of ‘let that sink in’ on her face behind her furrowed brow. “You expect me to believe that?” asked Scruff almost entirely resigned to the fact he probably did believe it. “YES!” we both hollered in unison. “Well, shit!” Trace turned away towards the kitchenette to fetch some paper towel for my hand “And look at the fucking mess you’ve made” Scruff did a double take all around us. Trace threw me a roll of tissue. It hit me in the side of the head.
“Also” I pipped up as it struck me “Serial shagger? You’ve got the wrong man there Mate. Trace and I have been mates for years. All of us have. What. The. Fuck? For fuck sake!” Scruff looked like he was about to say sorry. He didn’t, he looked at Trace instead. She stared back at him. “Don’t look at me!” She snarled. I pushed a wad of tissue into my cut hand and rose to my feet. Still in my boots. It was a dizzying experience. Scruff just stared at me as I wobbled. “Sit down before you fall down Steve” Trace snapped. I returned to the chair I’d drunk my tea in a few hours earlier. The table and rug were a proper fucking mess. Trace walked over to Scruff. “What’s happening to you?” She asked him as if I wasn’t in the room anymore. “What’s happening to us?” was the only reply he gave. “Aren’t you even going to ask what our bad news was?” responded Trace. I suddenly felt like a child forgotten in the corner while the grown ups heatedly discuss the end of a marriage. “The Head is closing down. We’re going to be out of work in a month. Sarah is bankrupt. Steve is heartbroken and I’m worried you’re leaving me. How was YOUR night?” Scruff reached deep for something to say. He looked like a senile old man who’d wandered into the kitchen for something and couldn’t remember where he was. “I didn’t want… This.” he said to Trace reduced to the height of a ten year old boy in all our eyes.
I suddenly felt like the most inappropriate intruder a conversation had ever had. I also felt incredibly queasy. “Guys. I’m not sure it’s a good idea I sit here watching while you two have this conversation. I should give you some privacy.” I rose to my feet. Swimmy? Sure but I had the wherewithal to get the hell out of here. To afford my friends the space they needed. As I stepped past Trace she gave me a quick hug. I put my one good arm around her. “It’ll all be OK.” I turned to Scruff. Still thinking he might see his way clear to an apology. “You need a hand with this mess?” I asked gesturing at his rug, my blood, Trace’s broken coffee table. “I think we’re good.” was his cold response toward me. My good buddy Scruff had written me off as ‘part of the problem’ some how. Whatever the problem was. He had not been himself recently. Scruff had withdrawn himself from our group. We missed him at The Head most nights. Then again, a minute ago he did have the idea I was sleeping with his girlfriend. Give him space my right shoulder angel said. Fuck his shirt up said the left shoulder demon. I put a bloodied hand print on the center of his chest as I passed by and I slipped out of the door of the flat.
It was a little after ten am. I had to open the pub in 45 minutes. Time for some mental gymnastics. If I haul arse across town to my place I can clean up. I can dress this wound and get a fresh set of clothes in half an hour. But it’s twenty minutes to The Head on foot from my place. I’d be late. If I go to work in the clothes I slept in it’ll be obvious I haven’t been home. I could possibly get away with it if I take a promo beer shirt from the rummage but I’m covered in blood and still bleeding, I’m sweating pure booze and I stink. I could get into my place and call a cab to get me there before I wash. But I don’t have any cash on me. This was going to be tight. Straight to the pub looking like a bag of dirt or cleaned up and late. What’s better?
I hit the street running. I’ve never been a graceful athletic type. Penny always said I ran like it was a new idea I was trying out for the first time. She also said that I looked like a child who’d pooed his nappy and was trying to get away from it. Further more she’d also said it looked like I had one false leg but hadn’t been told if it was the right or left one. That I ran the way shopping trolleys would run if they had just that one dodgy wheel. Penny used to have a lot to say about my running in fact, and it was all hilarious. I did about 200 yards and turned the corner on Trace and Scruff’s street when the urge to hurl took me completely by surprise. It was all encompassing. I leaned over a storm drain and let out a gut full of bad booze and whatever the hell ‘that’ was. Oh yeah, Sarah’s chilli. Besides the embarrassment of throwing up like a Town Center Saturday Night Stag on a Friday morning in broad daylight, I felt instantly 15% better. My head cleared slightly and on the scale of rotten corpse to functioning barman I classed myself as a recently deceased human. I’m coming to get you Barbara. Things were looking up. I uncoupled with the gross string of spit hanging from my face and took in my surroundings. There he was. Dan The Van. Laughing at me from the driver seat of the Sherpa on the other side of the road. What a Twat. “You alright Steve?” he hollered across a busy street also populated by a little old lady waiting for a bus and some workmen digging a hole in the road. “Alice, What’s The Matter?”
I dashed across to the van. Running round to the passenger side with one hand in the air like I’m hailing a taxi. Hopping straight into the cab I turned to speak. “Dan. I’m commandeering this vehicle” He rubbed his hands together. “Excellent. What are we doing?” He had a shit eating grin. Why wasn’t the whole world hung over this morning? “I’ve got to open the pub in less than an hour and I’m covered in puke, blood and booze. I need to get to my place get clean and then get to The Head for eleven. Can you help?” The road man nodded. “Steve. No problem.” Dan turned the key in the ignition and we sped away from my deposited innards and towards a brand new day. I was still trying to catch my breath when it dawned on me what a golden nugget of kismet this was. Dan being right where I needed him, not asking me any questions and being obliging enough to assist in this plight. A plight in which, basically one young man is found to be too shambolic to get to bed and clean himself in time for his next working day. How was I going to survive in the world after The Head?
“Mate, what happened to your hand?” Dan could see I was still bleeding. “Are you sure you’re OK?” I explained about the lock in. I explained about the walk home and the falling asleep in Trace and Scruff’s flat. I skipped the part where Trace and I slept for hours holding each other like little drunk children and I made up a story about falling into some glass on my way down their stairs. Dan looked at me sideways and asked if the glass had punched me in the face first? I knew he knew that wasn’t the full story and he knew I knew that ‘Lah deh dah deh dah!’.
“What takes you and the wagon out and about at this hour?” I figured a change of topic was in order. I looked into the back of the van and could see a couple of dozen Silver and black flight cases on a pallet. “A run for Mr Knickerbocker. Gotta get these babies to the lock up across town. We’ve got time though. You still on Cemetery Road?” Dan The Van had been to my place many times. He’d been over for a Barbecue a couple of times. We’d done a Star Wars marathon one time. Oh and there were the the two dozen times he and I, in the employ of Mr Knickerbocker hid gigantic shipments of flight cases just like those in the back of the van right now in the basement ‘until the market settled’. That was back in the days before Loudy had moved in, when it was still me and Penny’s place. Given the shit we’d been through a couple of years ago with this operation I was surprised Dan still drove for Mr Knickerbocker. I was surprised he hadn’t got caught out. I still didn’t know what was in the crates. I didn’t want to. I saw Dan The Van almost every day and we never ever talked about it. Not since (dum dum dum) the incident.
“I am still on Cemetery Road.” That sentence rattled around the half empty van. Suddenly I felt the fear. The overwhelming dread a hangover can bring. I’m still in the house I used to share with my love. Only now she’s gone and a drunken night shift worker has taken residence on my sofa. The small house I used to share with my beautiful wonderful other half is now a place I dart through to get the blood and puke off me before heading back out into the shit. “We all took the news pretty hard yesterday Steve. You though. I felt it hit hardest for you. Possibly as hard as it did for Sarah. Different, but just as bad. Steve Mate. I get it.” Dan pulled around the ring road and made the turn towards the cemetery. I suspected Dan was trying to be nice and nothing but. I could sense a cold dread realised out loud in his words though. I had nothing else good in my life but The Head and my place in it. Without this circle of close friends, without a place where music mattered more than money and the beer flowed every night what the hell even was I?
101 Cemetery Road was once a proud family home. It had all the remaining details of a cherished happy place that you see on terraced houses now converted into student digs or bedsit flats. You still see the nice ornate signage for the house number. The brackets for the hanging baskets or the window boxes. Only now they’re rusted, disused or hanging at funny angles while the renters inside deal with temporary partitions in what used to be kitchen diners or garden furniture replacing dinner tables. In a street of town houses it was one of the only two story buildings. Dwarfed by its neighbours it was shielded from the sun. The front was a purely concrete and brick affair while the long uneven rear garden that tapered off into the streets titular cemetery. The rear became more and more unruly before becoming completely impassible bracken fifty feet from the headstones. Inside the front door was the sitting room. Curled up on the sofa was Loudy. He wasn’t holding a bottle of cider this time but he was unconscious. There was a horror movie playing on the VCR as evidence that he had got up and moved since I last blew through. I dashed up to the bathroom and hurling my clothes into my room from the landing I jumped into the bath behind the shower curtain. The hot water hit me like the hand of God. That fast wet clean feeling fixing all aliments as it beat down on my hungover carcass. Through the opaque shower curtain I saw a figure enter the bathroom while I lathered my hair. Dan The Van called out as he dropped his trousers and sat on the toilet. “Sorry to double up on you but I’m carrying a payload of Dambusters and the Vickers bomb doors are already open.” I pretended not to notice as my rescuer crapped his guts out inches away from my naked and beaten body with only a misty vale of plastic curtain between us. The soap in my cut hand stung in my flesh like amplifier feedback does on the ears.
Credit where it’s due, Dan was efficient. By the time I had all the shampoo out of my hair he’d vacated the room. I dried myself as fast I could on the walk from the bath to my bedroom. I pulled on a clean outfit almost identical to the dirty one I’d taken off less than ten minutes earlier and slid down the stairs to pull my boots back on. Dan gestured to Loudy as we walked through the front room “Is he alright?” I looked at my flatmate. Laid out flat constantly and barely a mate anymore. “Depends what you mean. Is he alive? Probably. Will he Keith Moon on that sofa one day? Probably. Is he drinking his talent and time away because he’s got a broken heart and a monkey on his back? This is not a glass house.” I tapped his feet with my good arm “Loudy you in there Buddy?” He rolled his arms tighter around his own face. “Fummmmer” was the only noise he made. I looked up at Dan The Van with a ‘You see?’ kind of face on. “Ahh he’s fine” concluded Dan and we headed out the door a mere 9 minutes after we came in through it.
Back in the van Dan double checked his cargo was intact and climbed into the drivers seat. I was taping sterile gauze to my hand like some sort of Rocky/Roadie hybrid as we headed off to The Head with minutes to burn. “Did you eat?” Dan asked me as we pulled into the street the pub was on. “Dan you saw me throwing up half an hour ago right?”, “Yeah I guess I did. Wanna Bagel?” Dan The Van. What a fucking guy. You could present him with any problem and he’ll buy it food, talk to it about bowel movements and get it drunk while singing Britpop songs until it’s a problem no more.
I pushed on the unlocked door of The Head ten minutes before opening time with a warm salmon bagel in a paper bag and a fresh new black eye. To my surprise Daisy and Double Steve were on site. They were bushy tailed. They had the chairs down, the glasses in place and the fridges full. They were still in last nights clothes and they seemed to be buzzing with a kind of static about something. I was so relived to see them here and hitting all the right notes. I wondered to myself ‘What did they do so right last night that I got so wrong? “Good morning Campers.”
Double Steve waved as he stacked crates behind the bar “Hey Steve, how you doing?” Sparky’s Dream was jangling out of the speakers in that Teenage Fanclub way. I served Double some bullshit sunny side up “Oh, big night Double, big night.” I gestured to the new scars and I waved the bagel in a paper bag like a fucking trophy. “Liquor in the front, poker in the rear, whiskey in the jar and a black out in the red room” They both laughed. “Is Sarah up?” I asked knowing the answer would be a no. Daisy stepped in “Not yet. I woke up in the Pigeon Club wrapped in lost property and with a cold glass of orange juice and a marlboro laid out for me.” Double Steve gave a salute at the appreciation for his gallantry. “Nice work Double Steve!” I don’t know what came over me but I did the finger guns when I said it. Daisy didn’t miss a beat “Two asprin and a chilli toastie later and I’m good as new”. I looked around this Victorian gin palace. The original fixtures and fittings now plastered with Pollock paint in places, bill stickers in others, mirrors drawn over with chalk pens and pop culture ephemera stuffed into every nook and cranny. This cathedral of tat and kitsch is a work of art. A one of a kind unique mix of cool, crap and defiance. To the opening chords of Echobelly’s King Of The Kerb I wondered… How can they even consider bulldozing this for a multistory car park?