John Fish B.Sc.Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)
ROWSE LITERARY AGENCY WHATEVER HAPPENED TO JOE GLITZ by Lynda Nash
ROWSE LITERARY AGENCY
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO JOE GLITZ
e-mail: Lynda Nash
Synopsis Whatever Happened To Joe Glitz [word count 79,000] has three narrative strands: Joe and Liz set in 2001, and 1976/1977. *** Joe used to be the singer in punk band True Grit. Twenty years on, he lives in South Wales with his house-proud wife, Marianne – who no longer resembles the groupie he impregnated at the back of a tour bus – and three daughters. When his mother-in-law fractures her foot and comes to stay with the family, Joe feels hemmed in. He decides to make his own space in the attic and there he discovers his old punk gear, which he thought Marianne had thrown away years before. Joe works in a factory with ex-band member Phil. They don’t talk about the old days because it brings back painful memories – especially the death of their drummer, Dogg, which they believe was an accident. Dogg’s death affected Joe deeply and was the reason he gave up music. After finding his old records Joe becomes nostalgic and decides to reform the band much to the disapproval of Marianne. Knowing that he cannot please his wife whatever he does, Joe goes ahead with the reformation of True Grit. He and Phil enlist a new drummer and guitarist. Meanwhile, at home, there is much unrest. Gayle (12) and her sister Sophie (16) argue constantly, and Gayle begins playing truant. During a heated argument Marianne slaps the Gayle; she then tells Joe she’s leaving him. On his own with three girls, Joe finds it hard to manage. He doesn’t understand why Marianne left, why Phil’s wife Enya implies that Marianne has been hiding something, and if that something is to do with the death of Dogg. After yet another argument with her sister, Gayle, who thinks she isn’t a wanted child, runs away. She knows there are travellers staying on a farm a few miles away and, because she has nowhere else to go, she heads there. This event, and the subsequent police search, almost brings Liz and Joe into contact with each other. *** In 1976 Liz becomes a punk rocker. Her church-going father does not approve and Liz is forced to sneak out to clubs. She has a keen interest in photography and always carries a camera. Her school friend, Steve Weird, starts a band and gets on the punk circuit. They become followers of True Grit. Three years later, Liz and Joe have become friends and a tryst with him the night before the band depart for their European tour leaves her hopeful. Liz’s best friend Marianne joins the band on tour, but Liz decides to stay at University. It isn’t easy to keep in touch while the band moves around and Marianne does nothing to help matters. She later finds out that Marianne is carrying Joe’s child. Years pass and Liz becomes a successful photographer and is about to publish a book. She is let down by her boss – that and the fact that she has never gotten over Joe and her depression escalates. She tries to kill herself by driving into a wall and lies in a coma for a month. *** It’s 2001 and Liz lives as a recluse in an old farm cottage. A small group of New Age travellers move their vehicles into one of her fields. Residents of the village believer the travellers are causing all the trouble and want them evicted but this can’t happen without Liz’s consent. One night, during a raging storm, a female traveller brings her small sick child to the farm house and Liz gets to know the people – kids – who have been living on her property; they come to represent freedom and a connection to the outside world. When Gayle turns up at the farm she has dyed her hair black and is spinning a story about how her parents don’t want her. With so many people coming and going from the cottage, Liz finds it hard to cope and has an anxiety attack. It isn’t long before Gayle rings her father and asks him to please come and get her because there’s ‘a mad woman under the table’ and she’s scared. Joe and Marianne (who he has managed to track down) arrive to collect their daughter and are confronted by Liz’s sister, Janet, who has a few things to say about their treatment of Liz in the past. *** Sometime later and Joe is renting a flat. The truth about Dogg’s death has been revealed and he and Marianne have yet to decide their future. The travellers – all four of them – live with Liz permanently. The reformed True Grit are doing charity gigs and workman’s clubs – they perform at the 30th anniversary of the Sex pistols gig in Caerphilly. Liz doesn’t attend. *** A bit about me … I'm from Caerphilly and I teach English and Creative Writing and have three publications under my belt – a short story collection, a poetry collection, and a picture book for young children. Visit my website The Write Place Sample Chapter
Whatever Happened To Joe Glitz [word count 79,000] has three narrative strands: Joe and Liz set in 2001, and 1976/1977.
Joe used to be the singer in punk band True Grit. Twenty years on, he lives in South Wales with his house-proud wife, Marianne – who no longer resembles the groupie he impregnated at the back of a tour bus – and three daughters. When his mother-in-law fractures her foot and comes to stay with the family, Joe feels hemmed in. He decides to make his own space in the attic and there he discovers his old punk gear, which he thought Marianne had thrown away years before.
Joe works in a factory with ex-band member Phil. They don’t talk about the old days because it brings back painful memories – especially the death of their drummer, Dogg, which they believe was an accident. Dogg’s death affected Joe deeply and was the reason he gave up music. After finding his old records Joe becomes nostalgic and decides to reform the band much to the disapproval of Marianne.
Knowing that he cannot please his wife whatever he does, Joe goes ahead with the reformation of True Grit. He and Phil enlist a new drummer and guitarist. Meanwhile, at home, there is much unrest. Gayle (12) and her sister Sophie (16) argue constantly, and Gayle begins playing truant. During a heated argument Marianne slaps the Gayle; she then tells Joe she’s leaving him.
On his own with three girls, Joe finds it hard to manage. He doesn’t understand why Marianne left, why Phil’s wife Enya implies that Marianne has been hiding something, and if that something is to do with the death of Dogg.
After yet another argument with her sister, Gayle, who thinks she isn’t a wanted child, runs away. She knows there are travellers staying on a farm a few miles away and, because she has nowhere else to go, she heads there. This event, and the subsequent police search, almost brings Liz and Joe into contact with each other.
In 1976 Liz becomes a punk rocker. Her church-going father does not approve and Liz is forced to sneak out to clubs. She has a keen interest in photography and always carries a camera. Her school friend, Steve Weird, starts a band and gets on the punk circuit. They become followers of True Grit.
Three years later, Liz and Joe have become friends and a tryst with him the night before the band depart for their European tour leaves her hopeful. Liz’s best friend Marianne joins the band on tour, but Liz decides to stay at University. It isn’t easy to keep in touch while the band moves around and Marianne does nothing to help matters. She later finds out that Marianne is carrying Joe’s child.
Years pass and Liz becomes a successful photographer and is about to publish a book. She is let down by her boss – that and the fact that she has never gotten over Joe and her depression escalates. She tries to kill herself by driving into a wall and lies in a coma for a month.
It’s 2001 and Liz lives as a recluse in an old farm cottage. A small group of New Age travellers move their vehicles into one of her fields. Residents of the village believer the travellers are causing all the trouble and want them evicted but this can’t happen without Liz’s consent. One night, during a raging storm, a female traveller brings her small sick child
to the farm house and Liz gets to know the people – kids – who have been living on her property; they come to represent freedom and a connection to the outside world.
When Gayle turns up at the farm she has dyed her hair black and is spinning a story about how her parents don’t want her. With so many people coming and going from the cottage, Liz finds it hard to cope and has an anxiety attack. It isn’t long before Gayle rings her father and asks him to please come and get her because there’s ‘a mad woman under the table’ and she’s scared.
Joe and Marianne (who he has managed to track down) arrive to collect their daughter and are confronted by Liz’s sister, Janet, who has a few things to say about their treatment of Liz in the past.
Sometime later and Joe is renting a flat. The truth about Dogg’s death has been revealed and he and Marianne have yet to decide their future. The travellers – all four of them – live with Liz permanently. The reformed True Grit are doing charity gigs and workman’s clubs – they perform at the 30th anniversary of the Sex pistols gig in Caerphilly. Liz doesn’t attend.
A bit about me … I'm from Caerphilly and I teach English and Creative Writing and have three publications under my belt – a short story collection, a poetry collection, and a picture book for young children. Visit my website The Write Place
‘You’ll feel a little prick…’
Why was he shaking? For Christ’s sake, he was giving a blood sample, not donating a kidney. The needle felt like a sword in the crook of his arm. He gripped the seat with his free hand.
‘Lovely weather. You going away this year?’
How could she be so casual? His blood was pumping into a tube and she was asking about holidays as if he was getting a haircut.
‘For a week?’
‘Lovely. And all done.’ The nurse – a petite redhead young enough to be his granddaughter – pressed a cotton wool ball to the puncture, asked Joe to hold it with his thumb, and undid the strap. ‘Results will be through in ten days.’
Joe’s stood and knees buckled.
‘Sit back down, Mr Gillespie. Put your head between your legs.’
Joe walked crab-like to his car. Four-thirty. He’d finished work at two – what excuse should he give for being late home? Marianne was sure to ask where he’d been. I was held up at the factory, he’d say. Marvin, the clown, wanted me to supervise an incoming order, avert a crisis in the loading bay, stop thieves from making off with pallets of sheet metal. Of course, he could always tell the truth – no shame in seeing a doctor – but she’d only fuss and whine, change his diet and probably nag him to give up beer. Best wait and see what the tests revealed before bothering anyone else. A worry shared is a worry doubled, his mother used to say. Why inflict your woes on everyone else?
Joe peeled the plaster and cotton wool from his arm. Good, no bruising. On this week’s list of things he hadn’t told his wife, seeing the doctor was number four – below ‘went to the pub after work instead of the DIY store and said B and Q were out of glue guns’; below ‘said I was driving and couldn’t answer my mobile’; below ‘I’m completely cheesed off. Being cheesed off had a sub list, which loosely broken down amounted to: cheesed off with work, cheesed off with home, cheesed off with life in general.
He heard the chatter before he got to the back door.
The sound of the suburbs.
Through the open window he caught the words: curtains, lettuce, cinema. He saw Gayle, the pink heart on the back of her t-shirt undulating as she waved her fork like a flag; he saw Sophie in her dungarees – circa Dexy’s Midnight Runners 1982 – making the smarmy smug face that wound even him up, and Marianne in her cardigan, virgin-white and buttoned to the neck (never mind that it was nineteen degrees in the shade) shaking her head and still trying to discuss ‘soft furnishings’. He knew this scenario and how it played out. It would end with shouting, swearing, snivelling, and stomping upstairs – then he’d be sent to smooth it over. They hadn’t seen him: he should make a run for it. He faltered, for a second too long. Gayle looked up from her salad, saw him and beamed. ‘Daddy!’ Then all three of them were staring at him, probably wondering how long he’d been standing there watching them and why?
Joe took a deep breath. Pasted on a smile, grit his teeth and entered the den of she-lions; into a world that got more alien every day.
Marianne said, ‘Joe, your dinner’s in the fridge.’
He didn’t feel like rabbit food.
‘Has anyone seen my black shorts?’ Petra appeared wearing a crop-top and lacy knickers that left nothing to the imagination. She stood at the sink and poured a glass of squash. Joe said, ‘Please get dressed.’
His oldest daughter – twenty-three going on thirty-three – looked down at herself and said, ‘I am.’
Marianne told him to sit and eat but before Joe could make an excuse, the phone rang. He picked up. ‘Marianne?’ said a raspy voice. ‘Marianne, Is that you?’
The harridan speaketh. Joe held the phone at arm’s length. ‘It’s your mother.’
The journey to Treharran took twenty minutes. If Marianne could have reached the accelerator, they would have halved that. They found Iris lying on the garden step, surrounded by balloon knickers, vests and tent-dresses, clutching a peg bag and her mobile phone. She looked like a walrus in a dress.
Joe levered his mother-in-law into a sitting position, then, taking an arm each, he and Marianne managed to manoeuvre her into the kitchen and onto a chair.
Marianne said, ‘Mum, I told you, I’ll do your washing. You shouldn’t be lifting and stretching.’
‘I wanted to make the most of the sun.’
‘Joe, we’ve got to get her x-rayed. She might have broken something.’
Getting a walrus in the car would have been easier – Iris wouldn’t bend her legs and had to be slotted in sideways like a piece of lumber.
At Accident and Emergency Joe parked in the ambulance bay. He and Marianne helped Iris hobble to the entrance. ‘What you been doing, darling,’ said the porter who brought a wheelchair. ‘Falling down drunk?’
‘I’m lucky to be alive,’ Iris told him. ‘I could have got heatstroke. Good job it’s not winter or I could have died of hypothermia.’
Joe left them to it, moved the car and found a parking space. He should have given Marianne the keys – on a hot, humid evening like this he should be in a beer garden with a tequila and a bowl of chilli nuts. Joe stuck The Eagles in the tape player, wound down the window and watched people coming and going with holdalls or kids, and drivers looking for space to park. He hated fucking hospitals. Blood, bones and bereavement. Even maternity wards had a misery about them, a cloud cover of exaggerated jollity, as if once inside normal rules didn’t apply, you slapped on a smile and talked about nappies and feeding and weight gain. He hadn’t been ready for fatherhood. Petra was a gift, his mother had said. A precious gift that you won’t want to return.
‘Joe!’ Marianne reached through the passenger window and turned the off the music. ‘No wonder you can’t hear your phone.’
Iris, in the wheelchair, with another porter behind her, said, ‘They offered me crutches but I told them, no thank you, give them to someone who needs them. I know how short of equipment the NHS is.’ She was wearing a pink plaster cast. ‘They had to cut my tights off,’ she said. ‘And I’ve got to stay off my feet.’
Joe and the porter helped Iris back into the car.
Marianne got in after her. ‘You’ll have to stay with us,’ she said.
‘But I don’t want to put you out,’ Iris said, weakly.
‘Oh, Mum, it’s no bother, honestly. You can’t stay on your own, you won’t manage the stairs or the bath. You can have Gayle’s room. She won’t mind.’
Joe felt like a cab driver listening to the conversation of passengers who thought he was deaf and probably wouldn’t tip him.
It transpired that Iris had a broken ankle, would be in plaster for at least six weeks, and would be unable to do even basic things like make a cup of tea or walk upstairs to the toilet. What about their long weekend of sand, sea and sex? Marianne said they’d have to cancel.
‘Can’t she stay with your brother?’
‘What are you saying, Joe? That you don’t want my mother here?’
‘No, don’t be daft.’ Is that what he was saying? Yes. There would be arguments, he could see it now – Iris like the Berlin Wall and him on the wrong side.
Marianne set a small tea pot, milk pot, sugar bowl and a China mug on a tray. ‘Take this to Mum, please?’ She left the room and Joe heard her walking upstairs. He ignored the tray and made himself tea. A few minutes later Marianne returned with Gayle at her heels looking wild-eyed and ready to explode.
‘I. Am. Not. Sleeping. With. Sophie!’ Gayle wailed. ‘I’d rather eat horse poo! Why do I have to give up my room? I love Nan but can’t she sleep somewhere else? In Petra’s. Or Sophie’s.’
‘Sophie’s room is a mess,’ Marian said.
‘But you’re making me sleep in there with her. Can’t I go in with Petra?’ She looked to Joe for an answer. He didn’t have one. This was a Catch 22 situation – Marianne should have taken Iris back to her own house and stayed there with her.
Joe sighed. ‘I’ve got a question for you,’ he said.
Gayle eyed him cautiously.
‘Do you still want a party for your birthday?’
‘Can I have one?’
‘As long as your mother agrees.’
Marianne glared at Joe. ‘Well, I don’t... I’ll see.’
‘See I knew she wouldn’t let me! She never lets me do anything.’
That was true. ‘Now, you know that’s not true.’ Joe reached for Gayle’s arm but she sidestepped.
‘Anyway, I don’t even want a party,’ Gayle said as she stomped out. ‘I want a dog.’
Marianne said, ‘You must be joking. It’ll get hair on everything.’
That’s not how it happened. He’d had a heart attack, yes, but he didn’t die in the flat or on the way to hospital, and it was a house not a flat, and they didn’t take the boys into custody – well, not straight away. After it happened, Joe went in the ambulance and Phil and Phlegm followed in the van. The police only got involved because there might be drugs. The press had their facts wrong. They’d even spelt his name wrong – it should be Dogg with two Gs. And it wasn’t fair that they singled out Joe – what about the others who were there that night – the roadies, the groupies, the hangers on? What about Steve Weird and Louie and Marianne? What about me?
Liz reread the newspaper article, scrutinising every word like she’d done a hundred times. Reading between the lines and trying to remember, exactly, where everyone was: Was Marianne singing Love Me Do or talking to Phlegm? Was Louie standing by the speaker while Joe played drums? Was Steve playing bass or had he gone for more beer? Like trying to remember a long gone Chess game – the pieces were present but their positions on the board were vague and foggy. But she’d keep trying to figure it out, to keep moving them around until she remembered, because that night was important. That night everything changed.
Getting animals to pose wasn’t as simple as the pet-fashion expert on This Morning had made it seem – especially when the animals were a miserable tabby and a pug with no finesse. Liz had just managed to get the pair to sit together without hissing or snarling, she aimed, finger on the button, ready to shoot when she heard a bare-knuckle rap on the front door. Victor ran to the mat and sat on his haunches, waiting for his chance to escape. Liz said, ‘Tell whoever-the-hell it is that I’m not available and won’t be available for the foreseeable future.’ She curled in an armchair and pulled her dressing gown over her knees. The sun might be shining but it hadn’t penetrated the cottage. She’d have to light the fire. Or get Janet to do it. Janet lit better fires. The wood took ages to catch and Liz couldn’t be bothered to wait. The rapping became insistent.
Liz opened the window a fraction and warm air hit her face. Outside, a uniformed policeman with his hat in his hand, stared at the withered azalea as if searching for clues. ‘Elizabeth Bevan?’ he said.
Liz said, ‘Depends who’s asking.’
‘Police constable Stone.’ He thrust his badge forward. ‘Bit heavy today. Rain by the weekend, they reckon.’
‘If it’s about the travellers, I’ve nothing to say.’
Stone wanted to come in and talk. Liz wasn’t in the mood for male company – any company – and he looked the type of fella who’d make himself at home, ask for a cup of tea and chat about his mother. It was going to be one of those days. Liz lifted Victor onto her hip and unlocked the door. Stone poked his head in as if unsure what he might find. ‘What do you want?’ she asked.
‘A thousand pounds worth of stock, including cigarettes, was taken from Osborne’s last night.’
‘Well, I didn’t do it.’
‘I wasn’t suggesting...’ Stone sneezed. ‘A bit erm… allergic,’ he said, taking out a handkerchief. ‘The travellers, what do you know about their...activities? Were they here last night?’
‘I told you, I’ve nothing to say. I’m not their minder. I don’t know where they go or what they do. They don’t interfere with my life and I don’t interfere with theirs.’
Stone blew his nose. ‘But they’re on your property. Do you actually know how many there are?’
‘Two ? Three? Ten?’
‘Do you mind if I take a look outside?’
In a non-threatening voice, Stone threatened to get a warrant. Liz told him what he could do with it. He asked her to contact the station if she saw suspicious activity. She told him not to hold his breath.
‘Miss Bevan,’ he said, stuffing his handy back in his pocket, ‘if you’d cooperate we’d have this problem solved in no time.’
Liz didn’t think there was a problem. She didn’t care if the land was crawling with rabid monkeys, she had no use for it. ‘Why not buy a small terraced house with a little garden?’ Janet had said when Liz was looking to buy. Why not? Because terraced houses had neighbours. She’d bought the farm for peace and quiet but there seemed getting to be less and less of that.
Halfway through the mid-morning film the phone rang.
‘Oh my god, Lizzy,’ squealed Sheila, ‘Osborne’s got robbed last night. They think those gypsies did it. You’ll probably get a visit from the police.’
‘You’re a bit late. Geoff’s just left.’ It was the first name that came into Liz’s head.
‘You’re on first name terms already?’
Sheila liked to be the first to know everything. Shelia was a nose-bag. She hadn’t really called to talk about policemen – she wanted something. Liz waited. Hugo jumped onto the table, sprawled among the cups and plates and washed his leg.
Sheila cleared her throat. ‘Lizzy, I need your help.’
Yes, here it was, the ‘I want a favour and only you can do it’ routine.
‘The school’s desperate for funding. We need new gym equipment, new changing rooms, a new fence. And the budget won’t stretch to pay for it.’
‘Well I can’t.’
‘ I know… look… we’re having a Western-themed day. I want you to take pictures of the pupils. We can sell them to raise funds.’
Liz brushed bread crumbs from Hugo’s back. Anyone with a digital camera could take pictures. This was just another of Sheila’s ploys to get her out of the house. ‘I’ll think about it,’ she said. She had no intention of thinking about anything to do with school kids, fund raising, or the outside world.
‘Fabulous,’ Sheila said. ‘I’ll get posters made so people know you’re coming.’
The film was one of those made for TV love stories where you can see the end coming a mile off. Liz had lost the plot. She switched on her computer and was about to log into MSN when the back door opened and Janet’s voice floated in like thick fog. ‘Sheila told me that police have been here again.’
Liz pretended to type.
‘So what are you going to do about them?’
‘What can I do? The police are a law unto themselves.’
‘Don’t be facetious. You know very well what I mean.’ Janet launched into a diatribe about those vagrants, those…degenerates, those thieves that Liz allowed to destroy the countryside.
Liz found a hairbrush among the debris next to the keyboard, knelt on the rug and brushed Victor’s fur.
‘That dog needs a bath,’ Janet said. ‘You can smell him when you walk in. Have you had one lately?’
‘Is that the truth?’
‘Yes.’ It wasn’t.
Liz unravelled fur from the brush and tossed it onto the hearth. Janet’s complaints were as regular as Sheila’s attempts to get her involved in the community and could be ignored just as easily.
Janet stepped over the photographic magazines stacked next to the sofa and stood in the window, framed like an aging Mona Lisa. Moaner Lisa. ‘Anyway, it’s gone on long enough. You should have nipped it in the bud and chucked them out before they had time to settle in. Have you seen the state of the field? It’s like a scrap yard. If you don’t do something about it I will.’
‘Go ahead, take over like you always do.’
‘Please Liz, just take a look. Tell them to leave. They’re ruining the land and causing trouble. We’ll go and see them now. Together.’
Liz began to hum, a random tune that had no melody.
‘You are so unreasonable. Go on, sit there and sing. Who cares if there’s a real world out there that needs you. You’re becoming one of them. Look at your hair! I’d like to take a scissors to knots. And the state of this place…’
‘You don’t have to come here, you know. Why don’t you leave? Go and don’t come back again. Ever!’
Janet walked out. Victor whined. Liz went through the box of groceries her good sister had left on the kitchen table. Bread, milk, nut roast, potatoes, carrots, cabbage – what was she supposed to do with a cabbage? One bottle of red wine. Only one. What good was only one bottle of red wine?
Liz was one tug away from ripping the phone from its socket. She’d had enough of Sheila ringing and asking her to take photographs. ‘I’ll come and shoot children,’ she said. ‘I’ll bring my bloody shotgun. That’ll get your school some publicity.’ Liz didn’t own a gun.
‘If that’s how you’re going to be,’ Sheila said. ‘I’m sorry I rang.’
It had been a rough night of restless legs, throbbing head and little sleep – Liz wanted to lock all the doors, switch off all communication devices and be on her own. So why didn’t she? Why didn’t she disconnect the internet, unplug the phone and bolt the back door so Janet couldn’t use her key? It wasn’t worth analysing.
The phone rang again. Liz grabbed the receiver and was about to throw it at the wall when she heard: ‘Do you know what year it is?’ The staccato voice sprang down the telephone line like a flame on a fuse wire. Liz was the bomb. Of all the people who called, and all the people she half expected to hear from and didn’t, Deena Porter wasn’t one. An ocean of water had run under that particular bridge. After a string of expletives that ended in ‘bastard bollocks’ Liz and Porter Prints had parted company. No way was Liz going to work for an editor with her head so far up her own arse that she could talk out of her neck.
‘I believe it was 2001 when I last looked,’ Liz said.
‘Twenty-five years this year,’ Deena announced.
'And that is relevant because...?
‘The birth of punk. Twenty-five years since.’
Surely Deena hadn’t phoned to reminisce? Liz sat on the sofa next to Hugo and put her feet on a chair. Then she stood again – this wasn’t going to be a long conversation. ‘What is it you want, Deena?’
‘You, dear. Your pictures, anyway. Exhibitions, books, talks on the radio. TV coverage. We need to get in on this.’
Deena wasn’t listening. ‘Rock in Retrospect,’ she said. ‘I’ll get Anderson Walters to do the text.’
‘Bloody hell, I thought he’d be six foot under by now or at least living in New York with a younger version of himself.’ She had no patience with journalists.
‘So what do you say?’ Deena asked.
‘Bugger off.’ Liz hung up.
Time for a drink. Why did Janet insist on buying wine in corked bottles? Liz had told her enough times to get screw caps. The phone rang again. ‘I’m going to get this bloody thing disconnected,’ she said to Victor.
‘Take my number, dear. It’s changed.’
Liz placed the receiver in an empty mug. Rock-in-bloody-Retrospect.
During 1976 and 1979 Liz had taken reels and reels of photographs. The pictures were in the outhouse and had probably developed a nice black mould by now. Janet had threatened more than once to toss them on one of the traveller’s bonfires. Liz wouldn’t have minded sitting with the travellers, listening to their music, smoking their grass, but she wanted to keep her past intact – what she chose to remember of it. She’d blotted Deena, from necessity and now she had resurfaced like a bad dream. Deena could jump for her retrospective.
When Janet arrived with a week’s supply of fruit and vegetables she asked, ‘Why are you sitting in the dark?’ She opened the curtains and the sun streamed in. A line of dust particles stretched from the window to the sideboard. ‘Have you been crying?’
‘No I bloody haven’t.’ Liz didn’t cry. She’d done enough in the past to last a life time. Her tear ducts were probably exhausted.
‘Let’s clean up a little,’ Janet suggested, as if that would entice Liz to uncurl from the chair and jump for joy.
‘I don’t want to clean. I like things the way they are. What does it matter any way – no one comes here.’
‘Have you ever thought that perhaps they might if it wasn’t so dirty?’ Janet rubbed her finger across the TV screen and left a long clear streak. ‘I’m surprised you can see the picture.’
‘You always were a fanatic. Miss Goody-two-shoes.’ Liz picked at a lose thread on the chair cover. ‘I used to borrow your shoes. You didn’t know that did you?’
Janet removed a mug from the windowsill and put it with the others on the table. ‘Why are you telling me this now? If you’re trying to make me angry you’ll fail. I wasn’t daft. I knew when you took my things.’
‘But you didn’t know about the shoes.’
‘I don’t care about the shoes.’ Janet flicked a dead spider from the mantelpiece. ‘I know what this is about,’ she said, almost to herself. ‘You’ve been thinking about him, haven’t you? How long’s it been? Twenty-odd, nearly thirty years and you’re still carrying a torch. You need to pull yourself together. Do you think he’s sitting at home moping about you?’
Liz had no energy to yell ‘get out!’. She hugged her legs and rested her head on her knees.
Janet gathered the mugs and plates and took them to the kitchen. Liz heard her shooing Victor and Hugo outside. Pipes grumbled, there was the sound of running water and the clatter of cutlery and crockery.
Liz awoke to a pot of herbal tea and a packet of digestive biscuits on the coffee table and the room smelling of furniture polish. Janet was upstairs, Liz could hear her shoes on the bare floorboards. She was probably changing the bedclothes – what business of hers was it to barge in and start changing anything? And why today? Liz had stopped doing ‘proper housework’ in 1993 so it wasn’t as if the mess was new. It wasn’t as if there were going to be visitors. The tea was still warm. Liz poured half a cup. Is this how an invalid felt? Dishes washed, tea made, bed stripped. Had her life been invalidated now she was no longer an active member of society? Was the next step a nursemaid, adult nappies and spoon feeding? Fuck, she was forty-seven not eighty-seven.
‘I’ll put this in the machine.’ Janet appeared carrying sheets and towels.
‘Leave it. I’ll do it,’ Liz said. ‘I know how to do my own washing.’
‘You rest. It won’t take me long.’
‘Oh, thank you, Janet. Thank you so much. I don’t know what I’d do without you.’
Liz sat on the window sill. The net curtains gave a dirty-cream sheen to the weeds in the front garden, making them almost look pretty. Oh God,’ she thought. Mrs Fox.
Mrs Fox had grey hair that hung over her shoulders like a cape, and a neck that hung in folds under her jaw line and sat in her window, every day, staring at nothing in particular. Liz and Marianne called her Mrs Biscuit. They used to swing on the railing and make faces at her but Mrs Biscuit didn’t flinch. They wondered if she was dead but she didn’t seem to be decomposing, she always looked the same, even her clothes – though Marianne swore that one day she saw her wearing a red dressing gown. ‘She’s an independent soul,’ Liz’s father said. Was the woman lonely? Had she married? Had she ever been in love? In love with a handsome, kind, funny, sincere man. Was Mrs Biscuit nursing a broken heart?
As they got older Liz and Marianne forgot about Mrs Biscuit, then, before long, she wasn’t in the window anymore. What had happened to her? Had she passed away or simply vanished – disintegrated into a pile of dust on the seat cushion?
A cloud must have covered the sun, the room window darkened. Was she a Mrs Biscuit? Did people in the village talk about the ‘old woman who lives on the farm’? Did they think she was a witch? Did kids think she would come and get them while they slept? Liz left the sill and switched on her computer.
‘It’s gone. I just don’t believe it.’ Janet stood behind the sofa like a vicar behind a pulpit. ‘The washing's gone. Actually, I do believe it.’
Liz had to think for a moment what her sister was actually talking about. The washing.
‘Did you bring it in?’
‘What do you think?
‘Then someone’s pinched it.’
‘A few tatty sheets and some old knickers – who’d want them?’
‘Somebody’s had them.’
‘Good luck to them. Perhaps their need is greater than mine.’
‘Have you been on that thing all day?’
Liz said, no, but she had been. Time ceased to exist when she was searching for information, looking at pictures or chatting with other agoraphobics on MSN.
Janet hovered over the computer like a sparrow hawk. ‘What’s that you’re reading?’
‘You should see the geraniums and chrysanths outside the church. Absolutely beautiful. I love the Flower Festival.’
‘Before you ask, no I don’t want to take photographs,’ Liz snapped. ‘And you don’t have to come here so often, you know. Colin must think you’re having an affair.’
‘He’ll think you’re shagging one of your students. Or Vicar Priestly or whatever his fucking name is.’
‘You have a warped imagination.’
‘Ah, but I do have an imagination.’
‘Why are you intent on arguing today?’ Janet asked. ‘I come here because you’re my sister and I worry about you.’
Janet thought she couldn’t manage – how would she if she didn’t set foot outside the door? Well she could manage perfectly, thank you. Food could be ordered online, the newsagents would deliver, bills got paid through the bank. And she wouldn’t see another human being for days on end.
‘Wouldn’t worry me if you didn’t.’
Liz’s throat became thick. Her eyes burned. She slumped on the sofa.
‘Perhaps it’s time to see a doctor again,’ Janet said softly. She sat on the arm and held Liz’s hand.
Liz closed her eyes. ‘I loved him.’
‘I know you did.’
‘He used to sing to me. And sometimes he’d tell me things about his family. About his mother. He loved his mother. And he wanted to be as famous as John Lennon or Elvis. Do you think he missed me? Do you think he waited? Just a little while?’
‘Yes,’ Janet said. ‘Yes, he did.’
Punk. It wasn’t just about the music. It was about the clothes, the makeup, the hair, the mind-set. It was about identity. Behind the dustbins in a back lane in Treharran, Liz Bevan and Marianne Jones unrolled black plastic bags, cut out head and arm holes and slipped them over their school blouses. They squashed their feet into borrowed stilettos and threw their flat brown lace-ups over the garden wall. Linking arms for support, they tottered along the pitted tarmac to a car parked on the corner of Thomas Street, peered in the wing mirror and outlined their eyes and lips with black Khol pencil. Both girls wore a string of safety pins so long they could skip with them. Upstairs on the back seat of the Ponty bus they back-combed each other’s hair and sprayed it liberally with Super Soft hairspray. Other passengers coughed and tut-tutted.
'We need new names,' Liz suggested, and they tried out some variations on their own: Lizzy Loose and Marianne Mayhem; Liz Lipstick and Marianne Music; Lizzy Lastic and Marianne Mess.
Unsure if they’d get served in the pub, Liz Vain and Marianne Vinyl walked in with backs straight, heads up and chests out, trying to look like nineteen-year-old shop workers and not sixth form students.
The Llanfair Arms, with its wood-chipped walls and greasy furniture, stank of sweat and cigarettes and was lit up like a station waiting room. It seemed to have more bar staff than customers. In one corner were a couple of old men in Dai caps, and in the other were three boys they recognised from the upper sixth; kids they thought were into disco music. A few more lads came in; long-haired rockers in dirty jeans. A couple of girls followed in hippy dresses and beads. Liz and Marianne were the only ones in punk gear. Confronted by gawping mouths, instinct told them to scarper, but Marianne held Liz back. ‘Let’s get pissed,’ she said.
They clubbed together and bought two halves of lager and lime. Liz was scared they’d get done; she imagined the frown lines on her father’s forehead becoming trenches when his daughter came home in a police car.
Set up near the fire place were guitars, amplifiers, drums and a microphone – no sign of musicians. The girls read the song titles on the jukebox while they waited. Their drinks were down to the dregs by the time the band picked up their instruments. Liz and Marianne held in their excitement and waited for punk rock to bellow through the speakers. The lead singer’s attire – check shirt, jewel-studded waistcoat and cowboy hat – might have been a warning: he strummed a few jangly cords and, in a gravelly voice, began to sing Rhinestone Cowboy.
The girls’ faces fell. Marianne said, ‘I’m not staying to listen to this.’
‘We’ve got the wrong place,’ said Liz, turning puce. ‘Let’s get out of here.’
Before Marianne could say yes, no or maybe, they heard an ear-drum-piercing shriek.
‘We are True Grit!’ the singer announced. He threw his waistcoat to the floor and tore the sleeves off his shirt. He skimmed the cowboy hat across the pub, knocking a pint glass off a table – it smashed and everyone cheered. ‘This is for the new breed!’ He thrashed his guitar.
Liz was sold.
Fast and loud and rough round the edges – Rob Stewart and Abba could go jump in the Taff because this was the music of the future. Liz took out her camera – a Kodak Instamatic her sister had bought her – and stuck on a flash cube. This was her first punk gig and it needed documenting.
Liz’s father had set a curfew of nine-thirty on a school night. She couldn’t argue with him – it wasn’t worth it. She’d told him she was studying at Marianne’s house. Marianne had told her mother nothing because her mother never asked. So come nine o’clock, with the band in full swing, Liz had to leave. Marianne didn’t want to stay on her own so followed Liz outside. ‘I’m glad in a way that my mother isn’t a dictator,’ she’d said.
‘You’re lucky,’ Liz said, but she believed that Marianne wouldn’t have minded some rules. Rules showed that parents cared. Didn’t they?
On the way back to the terminus the girls passed a gang of youths hanging about smoking and drinking outside the cafe. Liz’s heart thumped in her chest. These weren’t like the gangs that hung around Treharran, they had a dark air about them and looked hard in their cropped jeans and Doc Marten boots. Marianne whispered, ‘Skinheads.’
The girls knew they were being followed; they could hear the pounding of leather on the pavement and the sharp draws on cigarettes. It was impossible to run in stiletto heels so they kicked off their shoes. Liz bent to pick them up but Marianne said, ‘Leave them.’ and started running.
Marianne was at the top of the street when the gang surrounded Liz. The skinhead girls shredded Liz’s bin liner and guffawed when they saw the school uniform underneath. One girl grabbed Liz’s hair and caught her cheek with her nails. They spun Liz around and around and around then let her go. She fell in a heap at their feet. The boys sniggered. One spat in her face. Then they walked away, hands in pockets, shoulders swaying as if they’d done a good deed.
Marianne ran back and helped Liz to her feet. They gathered the shoes and hobbled to the bus.
‘That was fucking scary,’ Liz said. ‘I couldn’t scream. Or cry, I couldn’t do anything. I thought they were going to beat me up.’
Marianne held Liz’s arm. ‘It’s ’cause we look different. We should have wore coats.’
‘But why should we?’ Liz said. ‘They’re morons. Sheep. It’s not our fault they’ve got no individuality.’
‘Now I know what a chicken feels like,’ Liz said, flapping the bin liner to let air circulate.
The July heat-wave had reached its peak but instead of going to the outdoor swimming pool like most of their school mates, she and Marianne hung around the park.
‘People pee in the water, anyway,’ Marianne said.
They sat on the swings and practiced blowing smoke rings and talking while exhaling. Sometimes they’d lean on the roundabout and discuss bands they’d never seen and music they’d never heard because no radio station would play it. The Sex Pistols are coming, the newspapers said. When they arrived they’d find the girls waiting.
Occasionally they’d talk about family – how Liz’s father was coping since her mother had gone, how Marianne’s mother was coping now her father had gone and if they could ever get the two to pair-up. Occasionally, they talked about school and their A levels – they were almost into their second year. Liz had chosen to do Art and Design, English and Religious Education (one of the easier subjects) and Marianne was doing English and Sociology.
Sometimes other would-be punks joined the girls, but the condensation inside the bin bags, the irritation of nylon tights on hot legs, and the talk of over-turning James Callaghan’s government drove them back to their Rod Stewart records and their bikinis. Real punks didn’t sunbathe.
In the evenings, when the temperature had dropped, Liz Vain and Marianne Vinyl wandered around the village. They passed the bus stop where the kids from the council estate drank cider and snogged. Each time the girls walked by they’d hear, ‘Look out, here come the Sex Pistols.’
‘We should start our own band,’ suggested Marianne one day on the steps of the slide. ‘Call it Marianne and the Vinyls.’
‘Liz and the Veins.’
‘Vinyl Vains. Vain Vinyl. The Vains. I could play lead and sing and you could play base.’ Marianne jumped down the ladder, leapt onto the roundabout, and played air guitar.
‘Why can’t I sing?’ complained Liz.
‘Because you sound like a strangled cat.’
‘I’ll do backing vocals then.’ Liz held an invisible microphone to her mouth. ‘We’ll need a drummer.’
‘We’ll hold auditions.’
‘We could go on tour.’
‘And play The Llanfair Arms.’
They composed their first lyrics in black magic marker on the door of the football team’s changing rooms:
‘Your daddy disowned you.
Your mammy disowned you.
You made a fuckin’ fool of me.
Now you only have your music,
rock ‘n’ roll will set you free.’
Saturday morning and Joe wished he was in work. The whir of machines was preferable to the whir of his mother-in-law’s mouth. Through the bay window he watched a sparrow hop from tree to fence to bird table, and drink, checking over its wing as if it expected trouble.
Iris fanned herself with a newspaper. ‘It’s like nineteen-seventy-six all over again,’ she whined ‘’cept severty-six was hotter, drier, heavier...’
‘So it isn’t really like seventy-six,’ said Joe without facing her.
‘Mark my words,’ she said. ‘The water will be off by Tuesday.’
Joe imagined the fight to fill buckets at a standpipe. Saving the water in the bath. Immersing Iris’s head in it. How would Marianne have reacted if it had been his mother that needed putting up? Lovely Lucia had died from a convulsion a month before Petra was born and his father had gone shortly after – some said, from a broken heart. Would he die broken-hearted if Marianne popped her clogs before him? If he went first would she? And what about Iris? He didn’t think she’d be broken-hearted so much as pleased-as-punch to wave off Marianne’s father, who, as far as anyone knew, was alive and kicking somewhere in Ireland. Probably in the bar with the cheapest booze.
Six weeks to heal a broken bone. It was the end of May now and Iris would surely be gone by July. Who was he trying to fool? She’d made herself comfortable in the armchair nearest the television – with no bills to pay, no cleaning to do and Marianne waiting on her like a maid, she’d still be here at Christmas.
It’s wasn’t that he didn’t get on with his mother-in-law – they got along fine now Joe had a method: say as little as possible, try to nod in the right places, smile occasionally and let her keep the remote control. Even so, he resented the loss of privacy, of personal space, and Marianne forever asking, ‘Help me get Mum to the bathroom.’ ‘Help me get Mum to bed.’ ‘Make sure she always has a drink near.’ ‘Take her out to the garden for some fresh air.’
‘The news is on,’ he said, hoping Iris would take a hint and switch channels.
‘It’ll be repeated.’
Marianne came in with yet more tea and biscuits. ‘Want a cup, Joe?’
No, he didn’t want tea. He was sick of tea. How much tea could one human being drink? Surely it wasn’t good for you. He wanted to watch proper TV but Iris had on some American chat show. He could have gone upstairs to watch if Marianne hadn’t banned TV from the bedroom after reading Feng shui for Life. The girls’ rooms were out of bounds. He needed his own room – ha! now he knew how Gayle felt.
‘Joe, I asked, if you want tea?’
‘No thanks,’ he said, staring at the street. ‘I’ve got things to do.’
‘He wants to fix that drip in the bathroom while he’s at it.’ Iris folded her arms. ‘No wonder there’s a water shortage.’
Joe left Iris talking to herself. He sat cross-legged on the lawn, with his chin in his hands, thinking. Options – did he have any? Moving wasn’t one… but improving might be... If he extended the kitchen by six foot and built upward he could add an extra bedroom. If he got Phil to help, it wouldn’t take long. He was kidding himself.
The sun hit his bald patch like a laser that would pierce his skull and lobotomise his brain. He considered digging a basement and visualised embedding Iris in concrete. Impractical to go down, could cause instability. He picked a dandelion and blew the white wisps upwards. They fluttered towards the lawn. What goes up must come down. What can’t go down must go up.
The heat hit him when he opened the attic. He flicked the light switch. Toys, clothes, books, sleeping bags, cases, wallpaper, electrical goods: twenty-five years of married life covered in dust. He trod lightly on uneven boards, trying to avoid old wine glasses, ancient ornaments and trinkets that Marianne had once loved, brought back from holidays he’d once enjoyed. Could he really throw this stuff away? How would Sophie feel if the garage she’d had for her third birthday waited outside for the bin-men? How would Petra feel if her Barbie dolls were in the recycling bag? And Marianne – would she have a fit if she found he’d given the girl’s baby clothes to charity? He couldn’t let this bother him, after all, this junk had been here so long they must have forgotten it by now.
Joe began throwing things onto the landing – a sandwich taster, a cordless hairdryer, The Guinness book Of Records 1984. If he eliminated the less personal items first that might knock a hole in the pile.
‘What on earth are you doing?’ Marianne was at the bottom of the ladder with her arms folded, looking puzzled.
‘I’m clearing out. You said, ‘clutter affects your Shui…’
‘Clutter interrupts the flow of Chi,’ she corrected.
‘Well I’m sorting it.’
‘You are ridiculous...’
Joe took off his shirt, wiped his forehead. He wondered if Marianne’s wedding dress was gathering dust like the rest of the junk or had she put it away safely – his suit was still hanging in the wardrobe. He wasn’t sure it would fit him now. He’d been whippet-thin in those days – the photographs weren’t pleasant viewing. ‘I look like I married a prisoner of war,’ Marianne told people. ‘That’s why I don’t have pictures of us on the wall.’
Then at the back besides a box of vacuum cleaner parts, he found it.
Not his present life but his real one. All tied up in a black bin bag were his sixteen-hole Dr Marten boots, torn black denim shirt, his army surplus overcoat and the combat trousers with zips and chains he’d worn the trousers at the Nelson Mandela Benefit Concert in Hyde Park – they still had a blood stain on the knee. In a box next to his clothes were his 45 inch singles he’d trawled record fairs and second-hand shops up and down London for, still in their original sleeves. He called Marianne. A minute or so later, she came. Joe held up the trousers. ‘Look,’ he said.
Her eyes narrowed. ‘Is that all you called me up here for?’
‘No.’ He dangled a boot out of the hatch. ‘Like new,’ he said. ‘And look, remember this?’ He held up the shirt. ‘No,’ she said.
‘What about this?’ he showed her the coat. Joe remembered that when he wore it she called him ‘GI Joe’. They had a good time underneath it on the back of the tour bus.
‘That old thing? It made you look like a tramp.’
Marianne told him to shift the stuff off the landing before someone tripped. She called him for lunch. She called him for dinner. She yelled that it was suppertime and he hadn’t eaten all day – he should watch his sugar level. And what would people say about the rubbish outside? He should dispose of it before the neighbours complained.
Joe ate a steak and mushroom pie with black hands – when along the way had he abandoned his ethics and, why, after the campaign against livestock farming that lasted from 1976 to 1977 was now eating cow? Who was this person that looked at him in the bathroom mirror every morning? ‘Finally he’s finished crashing bashing,’ Iris said, as if she’d been waiting for hours to go to bed.
Joe picked up his plate.
‘Where you going?’ Marianne asked.
‘To watch TV.’
‘No. You’ll get pastry everywhere!’
It was as if he’d awoken from a coma and found himself in another era. He felt out of place and now he’d found his old gear he knew why.
That was all Joe needed on a Monday morning – a junior apprentice. Luke, a kid with a long fringe and crooked teeth – the type Sophie would go for. Joe ran through the procedures as he’d done with many other trainees who failed to make the grade or to find the enthusiasm for a life on the factory floor.
‘Feed the metal onto the belt – making sure it’s parallel to the indictor markers ‘cause if you don’t it’ll come out skewed and it’ll block the end and holdup the line. Then you press the green button. When the cutter’s done what it needs to do, the machine will stop automatically and wait until you tell it what to do next. Then you press the yellow button and that turns the table. Then you press the green button again.’
The boy didn’t look that enthralled by the procedure. He’d been taken on to cover holiday absences. ‘Right,’ Joe said. ‘When it comes out the other side Phil takes it and puts it into his machine and you start again with a new sheet.’
‘Where do I get the sheets?’
Joe pointed to the container under the unit. He'd only told the boy five minutes ago. This Muppet wouldn’t last five minutes if he didn’t wake up. ‘Get another one.’
The boy looked at Joe wide-eyed. ‘It’s empty. I did ask you where you get them.’
Joe pointed across the factory floor. ‘Green crate.’
The boy struggled to carry as many as he could. The machine started again. A monkey could do this job. Joe wondered why he hadn’t been replaced by a robot long ago. Outside the office Gary ‘Marvin’ Davies, the foreman-from-hell, and Chemical Al the cleaner were having a heated exchange. Marvin waved his arms and Al waved his hand-brush toward the exit. Whatever was wrong appeared to be on the other side of that door. Freedom was also on the other side and Joe hoped that whatever Al hadn’t cleaned wasn’t blocking his escape route. Not that he would escape – if he was going to flee he’d have gone by now. Too late once you’ve got daughters and a wife who needed keeping in tights and lipstick – even Sophie had her girlie moments; funny how she and Petra were earning but never had any money. ‘You should see your shop steward,’ Joe had said. ‘What’s a shop steward?’ they’d asked.
Joe heard laughter. Phil and the boy were leaning on the machine staring at him.
‘Thought we’d lost you,’ Phil said. ‘Thought you’d slipped into some alternate reality never to return.’ He cackled like Vincent Price in the Thriller video. ‘See, he was dreaming about that blonde that works the lathe. She’s got curls down to there.’ He touched his shoulder. ‘Only that’s no woman... that’s Henry Rock and he needs an ‘aircut.’
The boy laughed again. Cheeky bugger – at seventeen, Joe wouldn’t have looked the wrong way at anyone older than himself. Respect had gone right out the window along with unions and community spirit. No longer safety in numbers.
Back at his own machine Joe tried to ignore the same whirring clicking clunk that he’d heard five days a week since 1995. ‘You should be grateful you have a job,’ the newspapers told him.
At least on the six till two shift he still had half a day left to do whatever he liked.
‘Coming for a pint after?’ Phil asked.
Tempting, but Joe had other plans: first the laundrette and then the builder’s merchants. Marianne didn’t believe he would go ahead with the loft conversion let alone complete it. She also couldn’t believe he’d take those ‘rotten, smelly rags’ to the dry cleaners. ‘Chuck them in the washing machine or, preferably, chuck them out,’ she’d said. When she could see he wasn’t going to, she added, ‘don’t take them to The Clean ‘n’ Fresh or I’ll never be able to show my face again.’
Joe took them to the supermarket. The girl on the counter didn’t bat an eyelid – and why should she? They were combat trousers and a denim shirt not royal regalia. ‘I used to be in a punk band,’ he said. ‘We toured... France, Germany... we made a record too.’
‘Really? Was it in the charts?’
‘It wasn’t released. The record label collapsed and before we could look for another one the band split.’ He was boring her, he could tell.
‘You checked the pockets?’ she said.
Joe headed for the exit via the flower stall. Chrysanthemums, carnations, roses... He chose red tulips – a small bunch or Marianne would think he felt guilty. He held them under his nose; they smelled artificial. He put them back in the bucket. No good giving Marianne flowers with Iris around – if Marianne didn’t think he’d done something wrong, Iris would make sure she did.
At R. H. Hughes Builder’s Yard Joe told the assistant, ‘I’m converting my attic and need flooring.’
‘You'll need walk boards,’ said the assistant. ‘Good and solid. Won’t come crashing through the ceiling, these beauties will last longer than you.’
Joe bought as many as he could fit in the car.
His last port-of-call was the health Centre. The doctor, a woman this time, said, ‘You’ll be pleased to know, Mr Gillespie, that your bloods came back clear.’
he waited for her to say more but she didn’t. ‘So what’s wrong with me?’ he asked.
‘Nothing seems to be wrong. Looking at your symptoms here… I’d say they were stress related. Are you under a lot of stress?’
‘No,’ he said.
‘No stress at work? At home?’
‘Any physical anomalies?’
‘I’m not sure what you mean.’
‘Changes in your bodily functions? Such as impotence?’
she wore an unwavering expectant expression to a question that might well have been ‘do you like salt on your chips?’
‘I’m all right,’ he said. But it’s my wife you should examine.
‘Okay… see how things go and if they don’t improve come back and see us again.’
Joe felt cheated. Symptoms have causes. He had symptoms – that morning he’d got up from the airbed feeling as if he’d drunk ten pints. A hangover without the fun.
‘Aint a lotta space,’ Phil said. ‘Basements, that’s what houses should have. Dig down underground.’
Joe ran through his plans for the attic. ‘Floor the centre and the side with the tank, block off that part, cupboard space there, another cupboard there.’
‘Sod that,’ said Phil. ‘Just floor the whole lot, stick a couple of skylights in, a sofa and a telly and you got yourself a den.’
They sawed, tacked and screwed. Phil had brought masks and coveralls from the factory but they were uncomfortable to wear in such an airless space. Before long they were stripped to the waist. Without gloves the fibre glass lagging made their hands itch. Being in the attic with Phil meant that Marianne was less likely to bother Joe. Phil was married to Enya, an Albanian they'd met in Poland. ‘I like much your musique,' she'd said. Marianne had taken to Enya straightaway but over the years what used to be a fun foursome had become a couple of disconnected twosomes. When the children were young they’d have beach days and park days – then everything changed and for no reason Joe could see other than they’d moved to this house.
‘Hey, easy with that hammer.’ Phil clasped Joe’s arm. ‘Whose head you pounding?’
Joe sagged onto a stack of floor panels. ‘Ever wonder what could have been?’
‘You mean if we’d made different choices?’
‘I mean if we’d kept going...you know... kept playing the gigs.’
‘Yeah, but, well...’
Phil opened his tool box and threw Joe a can. ‘Good hiding place eh? Didn’t think I’d get past security with a carrier bag fulla beer. Didn’t think Marianne’d be happy having two pissed middle-aged blokes above her head with power tools.’
Is that what people thought? That Marianne was a guard whose permission they needed to could get to him? Was she the goal keeper to his life?
Phil kneeled on an old sleeping bag. ‘Remember that bloody cell in Bruges,’ he said. ‘Fuck me, it was cold. And I was dying with some bladder infection and you had the mange.’
The infected tattoo. Joe had forgotten how much trouble that had given him. Grit he’d had it done in Germany – all that pain and it was now a rose, a very distorted rose. It’s impossible to get rid of it without surgery the tattooist in town had said just before Joe and Marianne got married. ‘I don’t understand why you wanted to spoil your skin,’ she’d said. ‘No worse than pierced ears,’ he’d told her. Now the holes had closed and were almost invisible but the tattoo stood out like a red and black scar.
‘I’ve still got our demo tape somewhere,’ Phil said.
Joe rummaged underneath a deflated paddling pool and found boxes of LPs, his collection of John Wayne videos, several paperback books – mostly westerns and a bag of cassette tapes – there was more of him in this small space than the rest of the house. If anyone came round looking for a male presence they’d think only women lived here.
‘What you looking for?’ Phil asked.
‘Don’t matter, can’t find it.’
He’d been looking for a pocket-sized photo album.
Marianne poked her head through the hatch. Phil shoved his can under his arm. Iris apparently needed a nap. Joe climbed down the ladder and left Phil to pack up.
The walrus was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, like a spectre. ‘You stink of beer,’ she said.
‘Couldn’t you postpone the conversion?’ Marianne asked. ‘Wait till Mum’s well enough to go home. It’s not as if we need the space.’
Eleven o’clock and they were already in bed. Like two old age pensioners, propped up by pillows, Marianne reading a woman’s novel and Joe scanning the sports pages in the Echo. Both wearing glasses on the ends of their noses.
‘How do you manage when I’m at work?’
‘What’d you mean?’
‘With your mother. How do you get her upstairs? Or does she pee in a bucket?’
‘Don’t be so crude.'
Joe folded the paper, took off his specs, dropped them on the floor and slid down in the bed. He took off Marianne’s and threw them onto the bedside chair. He removed the book from her hands – careful to mark her page. Then he gently pulled her level with him. ‘Remember when we were at the back of the tour bus and your earring got caught in my chain?’
Marianne kept very still, barely breathing. In the soft glow from the lamps she looked younger, blonder – more like the Marianne he’d used to know.
‘Remember you panicked and we couldn’t shout for help ‘cause you didn’t want people asking questions. They already knew what we were doing...’ Joe slid his hand between her thighs. It felt moist – whatever lotion or potion she’d rubbed on hadn’t yet dried. If he got on top of her would he slide back off? He let his fingers wander.
She rubbed her temples. ‘I’ve got a headache.’
‘Take an aspirin.’
More excuses followed: ‘The girls are still awake.’ ‘Mum’s next door.’ ‘It’s nearly twelve o’clock.’
Joe cupped Marianne’s chin and kissed her. If Marianne was going to respond she didn’t have chance – a shriek from Gayle made them both jump. ‘You bitch! I hate you!’
Sophie shouted, ‘You’re just a stupid kid.’
Marianne said, ‘Sort them out, Joe.’
He lay on his back – the girls would stop on their own when they’ve run out of insults. Something made of glass or pottery smashed. Iris called: ‘Marianne. Marianne.’
‘Fucking hell.’ The ceiling wallpaper swirled. Joe closed his eyes. Marianne nudged him.
In Sophie’s room, Joe snatched the trainer from Gayle’s hand. ‘What the hell, you two playing at?’
‘I want my room back!’ Gayle yelled.
‘Shh, your grandmother’s awake.’
‘I don’t care! I won’t stay in here with puke-face anymore.’
Sophie lay in her bed, smiling. Gayle picked up another trainer and aimed. It hit the duvet. ‘Dad, I don’t want to be near her.’
‘We’ll talk about this tomorrow,’ he said to Sophie. By tomorrow he hoped the whole thing would have blown over and he wouldn’t have to. Gayle clung to his arm. ‘Let me tuck you in,' he said.
‘No Daddy, I'm not sleeping in here.’
‘No Daddy, I’m not sleeping in here,’ mimicked Sophie.
Gayle kicked the lump that might have been her sister’s knees.
Only one thing Joe could do. ‘Come on.’ He took Gayle into his room and tucked her in next to Marianne. Joe found an old quilt in the airing cupboard and settled on the sofa. Marianne’s voice rang in his head: It’s not as if we need the space.
‘Punk Night at the Stowaway Club in Newport.’ the poster on the electricity box outside the school announced. Steve Weird – a fifth former with attitude – said he’d get Liz and Marianne past the bouncers. He’d dyed his hair black and sprayed a gold streak along his fringe. He wore tartan trousers with a chain that hung between his legs, and a Ramones T-shirt he’d bought for £20 in London. The girls couldn’t afford designer gear so they cut the sleeves off old P.E. shirts and decorated them with paper clips and studs that pricked their skin as they walked. Marianne’s blonde hair was now Cherry Red. Liz’s father said dyed hair was a mark of the sinful, so she ripped holes in her tights in protest. As usual, they changed their clothes in the back lane. Liz told her father she’d gone back to school to rehearse for the Gamanfa Ganu.
This was their first night in a proper club – the place reeked of warm leather and piss, it was dark, airless and loud and a world away from discos in the chapel annex. A band called The Exiles were playing. To keep away from the boys pogo-ing, the girls stood at the edge of the dance floor with the other punkettes. Steve star-jumped from the stage and surfed the crowd. He rejoined them with his fringe dangling, wet, in his eyes and his T-shirt in shreds. ‘Want a drink? They always serve me in here.’ He held out his hand for money. Liz gave him thirty pence and hoped it was enough.
Steve took a while. Eventually, he returned carrying three half pint glasses. The girls took a sip of lager: Marianne didn’t seem to mind the taste but Liz shuddered.
‘Ask me who I just saw,’ shouted Steve over the music.
‘Who did you just see?’
‘Him from True Grit.’ He pointed to a group of guys talking to two bee-hived blondes in drainpipes. Behind them Liz spotted spiked black hair but couldn’t see a face. ‘Can’t be him,’ she said. ‘He wouldn’t be out here, he’d be back stage.’
‘The only thing back stage is the toilets,’ Steve said. ‘I fyou don’t believe me, go and have a look.’ With both hands on her back, he began shoving her towards the bar. Liz whacked him with her bag.
It was him. It was the lead singer. Liz took out her camera.
Four flash bulbs later and she still hadn’t captured him. ‘People keep moving, I’m wasting film. It’d be easier to just ask him.’ She didn’t have the nerve. ‘I really, really want a picture You go ask him, Mar,’ she said. ‘I’d sleep on a bed of nails to have one. I’d walk on broken glass. I’d write out your English notes...’
Marianne had enough and marched off. A moment later she was back, all smiles, with the singer in tow. Liz almost become a puddle on the floor.
He put his hands against the wall and looked over his shoulder. On the back of his leather jacket, written in studs, was ‘anarchy rules’. ‘Take me,’ he said. So Liz did. He then grabbed the camera, gave it to Marianne and put his arm across Liz’s shoulders. Marianne snapped. Then Marianne gave the camera to Steve and he snapped. Then Steve wanted his photo taken, and that used up the last flash. The singer went back to the bar and Liz cadged a fag off a girl with a black Mohican. ‘What’s the front man’s name?’ Liz asked.
The Mohican screwed up her face. ‘What front man?’
‘From True Grit.’
‘Glitz,’ she said.