Unspoken Rules

The final ever issue of the magnificent PUSH is currently available from joe.england64@gmail.com – please buy it. Ironically, the first & last issues are the only ones I didn’t appear in. Here’s a story I had in issue #22…..

m65_looking_to_colne

Davey couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment when he realised any chance of a proper family life had passed him by. It was more a case of an aching acceptance that the emptiness of his heart was replicated by the hollowness of his soul. He got sad every time he looked at his work van; DAVEY’S DECORATORING SERVICES painted on the side.  Third van he’d owned with the exact same slogan. The childish alliteration shamed him, as did the tacit acceptance he’d never have cause to change the wording to anything mature or dynastic, like CAMPBELL & SON DECORATORS. His given name, isolated, alone, was enough to make him burst out crying at the lack of ambiguity in the phrase that taunted him from the driveway, morning and night.  A bachelor in his mid-40s weeping silently over the semantic differences denoted by a singular and plural possessive apostrophe.

The silences Davey specialised in, those untaken opportunities, brought him back and then kept him at home for good.  Mildly itchy had feet sent him on a short odyssey as the low-rent love generation 1990s introduced themselves. Just turned 20, head full of Balearic beats and proper Doves following his first lads’ holiday (prior to that he’d always gone to the caravan with his parents and sister), and a time-served painter and decorator, he’d sat in the bait cabin on a rainy Tuesday in September listening to Chris, another former apprentice, talk about hoying his notice in with the council, then getting away on a year’s tourist visa Down Under.  Offering Davey the chance to come away with him. Escape all this mundane shite. It was the post rave comedown. Davey knew he was going nowhere. Chris called his bluff; packed his bags. On the day Davey froze watching a 0-0 draw with Barnsley; Chris took a flight to where everything was different.

Sydney. Bar work in The Cross. A bird from New Zealand. Auckland Angie. Shacked up almost straight away. Drinking and fucking. Sometimes fighting. Visa expired, called home, said he’d be away a while longer. Him and Angie hit the north island. Easy money for easy graft. Long-handled rollers and emulsion in schools and offices. Boring work. Boring place.  Angie reverted to Angela. Took a desk job. Bed by 10. Two years and he couldn’t take any more. Saw an advert in the paper. Emptied his account. Bought a plane ticket to LA. Started working construction for the World Cup.  Stencilling the logo all over the shop. Permanent backshift. Great money. Headfuck city. Palled up with this sparky from Catford. Introduced him to some ex-pat set around Santa Monica. Millionaires row.  They looked after their own. Saw him as a kindred Brit. Found him a cushy job. Interior design. Swanky pad. No Green Card worries. Idyllic few years. Took up golf. Met Brigitte at a wedding. French Canadian film student. Friends at first. Then flatmates. No strings. No attachments. No regrets when he bailed out mid-decade. Three countries. Half a world away. Saved a good wedge. One million memories and adventures.  Endlessly looped them in his head, then came home to recalibrate.  Where next when you reach the quarter century?

Serendipitously Davey’s dad checked out about the same time. The family sat in the lounge of The Greyhound, flanked by trays of sandwiches , in dull mourning for a man Davey’d had nothing in common with bar a surname, while Chris embellished the shaky narrative of his infrequent postcards, blotchy aerogrammes and pissed phone calls at daft o’clock in the morning. Drinking shit lager, comparing notes and experiences on a freezing Friday. Good job Chris could talk as Davey had nowt to say. Still grafting for the council, still at home with his mam, still by himself; all he’d achieved in the meantime was to pass his driving test. Hadn’t even been abroad with the lads again, as the rest were settling down to mortgages and bairns.  Everyone else’s horizons were expanding while his parameters contracted.  Even his sister, with her stupid degree and boring job in the library, had bought herself a house and half moved out. Davey wound the wake up and they went on the lash; Chris taking a bottle of something imported and expensive with a double Brandy chaser at each round.

It might have still been his town, but Davey, incongruous funeral suit and all, didn’t recognise the places Chris took him to; gay bars, student pubs, hippy dens reeking of tac. Deafened by hard house, wired by euphoric indie and rattled by dub reggae, Chris took Davey up and then back down on booze, pills, powder and puff. Didn’t even stop for a kebab on the way home. A final moonlit spliff was an indulgence too many. Davey crashed out in the back garden. Waking alone with the sun overhead, covered in ants and leaves, he found the house deserted. His mam had left a curt “gone shopping” note on the kitchen table. No response when he called for his sister. A shower and a brew later, he was out the door; Saturday was football. Blackburn at home; the Champions. Five years before him and Chris had been in a transit full of head cases blasting Manc baggy all the way to Ewood Park and back. Won 1-0 with a goal in injury time. That was the day Chris showed him the confirmation notice for the flight to Australia.  Pilled off his swede, hands-free pissing across the hard shoulder of the M65, Chris regaling the towns of Nelson and Colne at dusk, word perfect on Wrote for Luck pounding out the transit’s stereo. Memories. Pointless. Chris hadn’t been interested in the game, then or now. If the Mags hadn’t won, maybe he’d have gone with him then, or now. Fuck it, thought Davey; he was used to his own company.  He shut the door. Thought he heard a small laugh.

Davey tried hard that autumn to reconnect, but Chris was different; a thirsty, nocturnal hedonist with a full wallet and a sneer for mundanity. Only grafted when the mood took him. Lugging boxes for a removal firm. His sister used them when she moved out.  Four silent humans became two disconnected people, sharing a space when him and his mam barely acknowledged each other’s existence. At least Davey escaped the box room, aged 26. Morestorage space in his sister’s old room to hoard the designer clothes he didn’t have a reason to wear, CDs he never listened to and books that remained unread.  Stayed up there most nights, ignorant and ignored, looking at his useless belongings. Set of weights and an exercise bike filled the gap where life and love should have been.

Never much noticed when Chris went away travelling again after Christmas and his sister announced in the New Year she was up the stick. He couldn’t believe she’d found someone to impregnate her; maybe she was having a test tube baby. None of his business, but easy to understand why the father wasn’t on the scene.  In the end, she had a boy. Called him Julian.  First couple of years like all babies; immobile, noisy and dull, but once the little fella learned to walk, Davey thought he might take to him and tried the funny uncle bit. Day trips to the Coast. Kicking a ball around in the garden. Always seemed as if the bairn was the one indulging him though. Julian was a decent kid, but not a real lad. Preferred drawing, designing, colouring in. Never seen without a bunch of crayons in his mitt. Back in the day the young’un would have got started on just for having that name, never mind fucking about with poster paints rather than a football, but the world was changing. Nobody seemed worried the bairn didn’t have a father figure in his life. Davey left the sister and his mam to it after a while. Bought himself a computer and a modem; immersed himself in the World Wide Web. Caught up with Chris via email.

Despite hitting 30, it was clear he wasn’t for settling down. Photo attachments of him in bars. Round, red face, bleached crew cut with a widow’s peak and a spreading pot, like a bowling ball in his vest. When Chris mentioned he fancied Sydney for the Millennium and then a job there for the Olympics, disapproval flooded Davey. Wasn’t it time he grew up? Got a proper job. A home of his own. A family. Kids.  All those things Davey didn’t have either. Shamed. Shocked. Silent. Davey reassessed his options.  The last summer of the Twentieth Century. The last summer of his twenties. Time for action.

Made some excuses at work; holidays and unpaid leave of absence. Kept his plans a secret. Bought a van. Threw a mattress in the back.  Packed stuff in a holdall. Headed South West early morning. Two day road trip. Reached Lizard Point for the Solar Eclipse on August 11th. Saw it from the observation point on Goonhilly Downs. Still shy as fuck, he went crimson when Kim from Nottingham started gassing on to him. Plaited dreads. Cheeky grin. Nearly ten years his junior. Khaki shorts and DMs. Ostentatiously unattached. Invited him to a party at Praa Sands. Drove her back down. Shared spliffs on the way. Hadn’t toked since Chris was last about. Giggles and a glance. Parked up in a lay-by on the A394. Straight in the back for a superb shag. First time in years he’d not paid for it.

They were an item from that moment on. Lit orange by bonfire flames, the bass pounded into their chests and the liquid MDMA she introduced him to kept them going. Sunday 15th, Davey and Kim headed back up country. She’d work in the morning.  Trainee bookshop manageress. Graduate programme. Multinational in dungarees. Arrived at her deserted house in Lenton as night fell. Six bedrooms and five of them empty. Housemates took their degrees and ran. Three weeks until the lease was up and she hadn’t a clue what happened now. Toured letting agencies next morning, found somewhere. Urgent phone call to the bank for the deposit. Kept it a surprise all week, pretending he’d got graft through an agency, while he went in and blitzed the place.

Sunday, her first day off. Lie in. Shag. Shower together. Shag again. Dressed and out the door. Leisurely walk down Clifton Boulevard and along the river. She’s thinking of lunch in the TBI, but Davey has a surprise. Dangle a set of keys. Race up a flight of stairs behind a parade of shops. Open the door. Spotless clean. Freshly painted. Cut flowers in a vase. She dives into his arms and they christen the bed. Post coital cuddle and snooze, then they hit the bar for a skinful. Taxi home with a take out. Heaven on earth. Wednesday she’s back at work, so Davey shifts her stuff singlehanded, then grabs a few days back home for clothes. Snide digs from the two pronged matriarchy as he stuffed CDs in a rucksack. Julian gave his Uncle Davey a painting he’d done of the eclipse over the Tyne Bridge. Vivid colours. Bold strokes.

Back to Nottingham. Plans formed on the A1 and M1. New life. A rake of cash from his savings buys brushes and ladders.  DAVEY’S DECORATING SERVICES. Business cards ready to be printed. Advert in the paper. Decorate the van while waiting for the jobs to roll in. Play the house husband role with aplomb. Spotless flat. Tea on the table. Telly, pub or gig; whatever the lady wants. Mellow, fruitful months. She’s keeping him young.

And then first Monday in November, Davey’s key scrapes open the lock and the hallway’s cold. Everywhere’s in darkness. Grope to find a switch and discover the note she’s left on the back of a gas bill. Look I’m sorry, but it’s all gone too fast and I’m not ready for this. Sorry if I… he didn’t read the rest. Scrunched it up, then left foot volleyed it into the kitchen bin. Some things just weren’t meant to be.  Collected his shit. Dropped the key through the letting agency door. Floored it back north. Home; where the heartache is. Say nothing. Stamp upstairs. Shut the bedroom door. Silent tears.

He couldn’t face graft. Quit by fax message. Tried not to mope though. Relocated the business he’d imagined was going to be his life in Nottingham. Changed a few post codes and phone numbers, but the leaflet designs were the same. Work’s a trickle at first, then it’s a torrent. He gets a good reputation. Six days a week minimum. Davey never turns down a job. Reliable, quick and competitively priced. The money he’s making is amazing. Can’t spend it as he’s nothing to spend it on.  An accountant sorts the tax and that. Within a year he’s telling Davey to shift some cash out the bank.  Get into property. Talk to mam and sister. Venture a suggestion. Make them both an offer. It’s accepted. Cash transaction. The sister’s place now his. Best scenario for everyone. Bossy spinster single mother fussing over decaying widow and distant young son. Davey’s well out of it.  Being by yourself in your 30s isn’t so bad after all. There’s a 2 bedroomed Victorian terrace for Davey to stack full of his still-wrapped shirts and unheard sounds.

Then, nothing happens for ages.  A decade or more filled with emptiness. The noughties are the non-eventies. Lives his life on the internet. Gets in from work and it’s green screen, blue screen; digital downloads of music, movies and porn. Friday, a few cans at home and a delivered curry or pizza, depending on the Just Eat weekly email. Sky Sports on a widescreen telly 24/7. He still makes it to the home games of course. Talking about football is easy when there’s nothing else in common with the lads you meet for a pint. Round of golf or a bike ride fill vacant Sundays. Wasted midweek evenings struggling for conversation at the sister’s. Serves him a bland, tiny tea. Useless after a hard day’s graft and a full-on cardio session in the gym. Julian’s always busy creating things and Mam’s in the human departure lounge. Everyone’s older.  Quieter.

There’s the monthly Skype with Chris, now finally settled, so he reckons. Mr Success in a villa up the coast from Phuket. A gaffer not a grafter, hiring and firing on new build condos for sex tourists. Head like a beef tomato and permanently slurred voice. Stubble scalp. Purple tennis ball head.  Yellow teeth makes him seem like a human Barca away shirt. Chris bragging about the latest young thing he’s nailing.  Obsequious locals and passing Euro trustafarians. No preference. Different name every time. Perhaps glossing skirting boards 37 hours a week wasn’t so bad a life after all. Chris talks and boasts. Davey smiles and hardly bothers listening.

Suddenly he’s in the up-market Italian bistro that used to be The Greyhound, paying for the four of them to celebrate Julian’s A Levels. Lad’s aced them all. Got a place at Preston to do Art & Design. Undecided between sculpture and photography for his future. Tells the lad he’ll win the Turner Prize in five years. Julian winks. Slaps Davey on the back. Orders up a pair of Morettis. Clinks glasses, says I’ll get these.  Davey’s forced to pretend he’s got a bit dust in his eye.

The sister’s droning on about how Davey’s 43rd birthday is on the horizon, so his mind’s already on answerphone mode by the time she’s reached her third syllable. Prime numbers are good. Nobody ever celebrates those, so you don’t even wonder who to invite. Phone rings. Number withheld. Ordinarily he’s swerve such calls, offering solar panels or recorded messagesabout PPI, but he needs an excuse.

It’s the coppers. Bad news. Chris. Dead. Three days back. One too many sessions on the drink and Charlie probably. Maybe a heart attack. Maybe he choked on his own puke. Cop is non-committal. Distant. Doing the basics. The minimum. They won’t even fly his body back. No insurance. Cremation has happened and there’s a pack of ashes coming by air mail. Chris’s parents are long gone and there’s a brother up in Stirling, but there’s no definite address. Anyway, they couldn’t stand the sight of each other.  Process of elimination meant the one UK number Chris had was Davey’s. Poliss explains this means Davey gets the gig of spreading the ashes.  Where? Tough question. Recounts the news to the assembly. Mam has no idea who he’s talking about. The sister off to the bogs in predictable AmDram hysterics. Julian goes very quiet. Silent as Davey. It’s a blow, but not a hard one.

Second Friday in September. Davey’s off work. Emptied the van of all his clutter first thing, then filled it with Julian’s shite. Driving him down to Uni.  Twenty five fucking years to the day since the trip to Blackburn and he’s a ticket for the Mags at Ewood Park the next day. Almost the same route: A1(M), A61, A59, M65. Only difference is you stay on the motorway that bit longer. Chris is here with them as well. A shoebox of his ashes nestled in the gap between driver and passenger seat. Davey’s not found anywhere to sling them yet, so he’s taken to carting them around, talking to them to fill in time on hisway to work.

Journey’s going well. Davey and Julian fall into easy conversation. Soundtrack is Julian’s iPhone playing an eclectic mix of all that’s been good over Davey’s lifetime. Years. Bands. Genres. Collisions and departures. Obscure b-sides and chart toppers. It’s great stuff. They stick to gassing about music and Julian’s plans as sport’s not his thing, despite the athletic build. Wiry limbs, bulked up by creative labours, he’s growing up someone to be proud of. Davey’s no good at that sort of thing, but he issues a few compliments. Tells Julian how he feels; wishes he could have told him this years ago. Julian’s wise. He knows how Davey feels. Knows he’s not much of a talker either.

Better than being a gobshite like my Mam or the idiot I never called my Dad, says Julian as he gives the shoebox between them a glancing thump. Davey’s baffled. The sister always kept her counsel on who’d given her the bairn. As time went on, Davey lost interest; just accepted Julian for who he was. The lad tells him what he’d found out over the years, piecemeal. Turns out that Saturday morning after the old man’s funeral, when Davey had woken in the garden, was the starting point. Chris must have sneaked in the house and taken the opportunity to nail the sister. It continued off and on that Autumn until she’d announced she was up the stick, result being that Chris fucked off and Julian came along. Crazy fucking world. They drove in silence. Drinking it all in.

The sun was going down, just North West of Ilkley, the iPhone coughed out Bummed by the Happy Mondays.  On they went until they came to a lay-by and parked up. Davey nodded to himself. This was the place. Shall we? The two of them climbed out the van, Julian carrying the shoebox. As Wrote For Luck built to a climax, the young fella sprinkled the useless powdered remains of his old man’s useless life down the valley in the general direction of Nelson and Colne, before crushing the box and volleying it left-footed into a litter bin. They watched the dust move in the wind, before the young lad and his uncle both took a long piss down the side of the hard shoulder, then drove off towards the future and the past.

 

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