The final story in my Portrush Quartet. This was published in Pulp Faction’s anthology “Girl Boy” in September 1999.
Just before Easter, Maria started telling everyone that she’d finally kicked me out. Of course I denied it and said I’d left her, even though no-one believed me. Least of all Chris, who’d loaned me his sofa for a couple of nights and still had me hanging around a month later. The daft thing was everybody else had known we were going to split but us. Arguments in bars, the bedroom window going through at three in the morning, that sort of thing. People aren’t stupid. When she finally gave me my marching orders after one slanging match too many, all I took were a suitcase full of clothes and half a dozen albums. My favourites:Velvet Underground And Nico, Kind Of Blue, the sort of stuff she hated.
Without Maria, I was forever at a loose end. I couldn’t hang around Chris’s flat every night. Sometimes I made us a meal and we got loaded together, but mostly I went down Paul’s Bar, got pissed and acted miserable .Word got round that Maria was drinking in The Anchor over in Portstewart and seeing someone else. Terry, a big guy from the country who drove a bread lorry and shipped tack to Kilrea and Cookstown. I hadn’t the heart to go over there and cause a scene so I concentrated on the pints instead.
One Thursday night a few of us went to The Derry to see some band .They were shit: all cover versions and broken strings, so we grabbed a table in the back room away from the noise .About half twelve, Maria came in with a couple of the girls she’d always hung out with, but not big Terry. Of course she darted back to the main bit once she saw me. I played it calm, sat still, didn’t race over offering to eat her shit off a spoon, but two drinks later and a mile more miserable, I was ready to have it out with her. I’d intended asking when I could get my stuff back, then quitting the conversation whilst I was ahead. I could always turn on the sob story when I got round there.
Trouble was, everything I said came out wrong, like I was spoiling for an argument. It ended up as a screaming match that drowned out the band. The whole place was watching us, anticipating a fight. So we had one.
She called me a loser and I called her a whore and then she stubbed a fag out on my right cheek. Fuck me, it hurt. I never realised a burn could sting so much. It was just a reflex when, seconds later, I floored Maria with a left hook flush on the chin. The place exploded, girls showered me with drinks and spit, scrabbling at my face with their nails. Two bouncers hauled me outside. They didn’t give me a kicking or anything, just told me to fuck off. Her mates stood round the entrance threatening to have me lifted or shot. It was round about then I accepted that me and Maria were probably history. Maybe if that last fight in the flat had been a proper battle and she’d thrown all my stuff on to Causeway Street, I’d have got things sorted in my head a bit quicker.
I went to Paul’s Bar and bought a carry-out, then sat by the harbour, waiting for the cops. No-one turned up, so I finished the cans and decided to turn myself in the next day. That way I’d avoid Terry and live. It was a beautiful April night and I walked home along the train line, watching the moon’s reflection in the receding Atlantic. I knew I’d never ice skate, drunk, at three in the morning, on Strand Road with Maria ever again.
Spring was cold that year. Frost whitened the pavements; exhaled breath was a vapour during Holy Week. Barry’s Fun Fair, opened for the holidays, was deserted. Me and Chris called up for free ice cream from Roisin, who shivered in the refreshment stand with only her Silk Cut for company. The cornets she gave us wouldn’t melt and my teeth ached in the biting wind.
For months I had wanted to leave this freezing paradise. The bother with Maria had bruised my spirit. I’d still be with her if Mam hadn’t stuck her fucking oar in. Chris had been good, putting me up, but his landlord was a bastard. He’d given me one last month on his settee and after that I’d be homeless. Just in time for summer, when the students leave and the holiday makers arrive. Fuck that. I’d spent ten years lying around, drinking beer, smoking tack and arguing with Maria, punctuated only by the odd spell working in Liam’s record shop. A change had to come.
On Good Friday a load of us sat late in Paul’s Bar. Migrants home for the weekend, all bringing London with them and a crowd of local layabouts. The talk was of twelve-inch dance records and designer gear, of coke and opiated black that was cheaper than the home-grown grass we survived on. At closing time a few of us went back to Roisin’s with some cans. I listened intently to John’s stories of regular work and English women. He had money, smart clothes, a flat. His accent had changed, now much softer than before.
By the end of the night the usual drunken offers of spare rooms and jobs were flying around. There were beds in Belsize Park, Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill .Small enclaves of the capital that would be forever Portrush.
Around four o’clock I left; the last guest Chris and Roisin had gone to bed hours ago and John was crashed out on the floor, still cuddling a llitre of screw-top red. The streets were deserted as I walked back, facefuls of wind checking my progress. I changed a whimper into a cough as I felt tears cluster round my eyelids. In the flat I lay out on the settee, drinking the dregs of my carry out and listening to Rum, Sodomy and the Lash twice, straight through.
On Saturday I stayed in. Scared that if I got pissed I’d take John up on his offer of somewhere to crash and find myself signing on in Westbourne Park next week. I weighed up the options over endless black coffees- and half an ounce-of Drum.
Late Sunday morning I met John on Lansdowne Crescent. He looked rough, eyes shot to shit. He’d been on the rip the day before and had ended up.at some party out past the golf club. I was heading up to my mother’s for dinner, so I invited him along. I knew she’d welcome another mouth to feed. John never even thought about turning me down. You just didn’t pass up offers like that.
As it turned out, there were only the two of us to keep Mam company. Every Easter Sunday she cooked a big turkey and the family let her down. My sister had stayed home with her kids and my brother was in Holland. Me and John had to stuff ourselves. It would have been rude to be picky. Afterwards, I dozed in front of the TV while John got the third degree, Mam wanting to know why ·.he lived over there, telling him what an awful place London was. The same shit I’d heard for years. It always got me down, made me feel guilty for staying; John started to get uncomfortable, shooting me tense glances.
When we left Mam followed us to the door, asking when I’d be round with my washing or if I’d seen her. She still wouldn’t use Maria’s name, or accept she’d been wrong. Half way down the garden path I turned; “I’m off to London tomorrow. John’s got a spare bed. They reckon work’s easy to get.” Right then I’d decided to go. I half expected her to cry, or start giving out, but she just looked blank. Her voice, when it came, sounded wooden. “Please yourself.” I thought about giving her a hug or even a kiss, but couldn’t. Not in front of John. I only smiled after she’d closed the door.
Me and John hit Paul’s Bar around half seven. We were in for the night, drinking Guinness with brandy chasers. John was paying. It felt like Christmas. A few others came in, fixing up lifts to Lame or checking on trains to Antrim for the airport .Every.one was going .back to England. Including me this time.
A guy from Dervock I hardly even knew promised he’d try and get me a start painting and decorating .At last orders, I blew the-rest of my giro on pints and spirits for everyone. Someone proposed a toast to The Paul’s Bar Diaspora and we all got to our feet and knocked back Tequilas in one.
I didn’t take long to pack next morning. One suitcase. Mainly clothes topped up with favourite tapes and some books I’’d not got round to reading. I left the key and a note for Chris, promising to. Send him afew quid when I got straight. Opening the door, I noticed an envelope wedged in the letterbox; a card from Mam. I’ll miss you. Phone when you‘ve a minute. She’d stuck in a hundred quid as well. Fresh notes; straight out the machine.
I shut the door behind me and stood looking up past Barry’s and on to the rest of the town. It was raining heavy. I turned my collar up and hurried for the train.