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A Place that was Ours. Chapter Twelve – Knights In Manilla 1989

 

I knew.  Oh, yes, I knew what I was doing.

My friend John Hargreave coined the phrase that perfectly described my situation.

“You’re painting yourself into a corner, Chas.”

He was right.  I was.

It all began well enough – Angie and I caught up in the novelty of living together, building a home at 15 The Avenue. In so many ways a home I never had, growing up; free of censorious neighbors, intrusive social workers, the frequent attention of the ‘chatties’ – the police.  I had moved from a street where such things were expected to a road where they would be deplored.  I had moved away from my mother and a whole web of emotional ties, into the bright sun of Angie’s unconditional love.

And that felt a lot like being free.

Angie waxed transcendent. She exulted in a circle of close friends and a large, devoted family.   Her conviviality drew aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, and ‘just lads she knew’ like moths to a flame, all ready to sit around our living room bathing in the wash of her exuberant charm.   Among the host, I watched the ‘lads she knew’ with some amusement because they were drawn to her for ignoble reasons.  Be they visually pleasing, erudite, brash or diffident, their cause was hopeless; whoever Angie wanted Angie would choose, and for the moment, at least, that choice was me.

For myself, I trained harder and harder; spending long hours pounding pavements with my Walkman filling my ears.  My goal-scoring rate was consistent, but more importantly my message of confidence fed through to the rest of the team, and Casterley Town’s fortunes improved steadily.  As January gave way to February we were third in our league.

If you had joined me on one of my training runs, or spoken to my heart through the conversations of our socially brimming living room and suggested I was lonely, I would have laughed at you: lonely?  My life was full, I never stopped.  I was building my career, I was priming myself for success, wasn’t I?  But behind my dreams there were empty spaces; great caverns my thoughts dared not enter, for if they did they would find all of my past waiting for me there. And they would find Susan.

I was on our home pitch warming up for the first fixture of the month before I realised our perimeter boards were featuring ‘Crabtree Electrical Contractors’, and I did not play well that afternoon because wherever I turned I was faced with the Crabtree name.  Then, a week later, the club issued us with new shirts that featured a Crabtree logo, and suddenly I was wearing the totem of my most sworn enemy every time I ran onto the pitch.

Angie was philosophical.  “Well, ah thought you’d have been pleased to tak’ e’s money, like?  Divvent worry about it, Chas.  It’s not something you can change.”

Martin Berry, Casterly Town’s largest shareholder, sent for me the Monday after that.  He greeted me in his office.

“Well, now, if it isn’t Roy of the Rovers!  Sit down, lad.  D’you want a coffee or owt?”

I refused politely and we went through the motions – how was business, was Jackie (Jacqueline, his wife) well, was he pleased with his team’s progress?

“Pleased?  Aye, you could say I’m pleased.  I made a good choice when Jack Masters picked you out.  We were watching you from right before you left school, did you know that?  Jack said he had a real diamond and he wasn’t wrong, was he?  You’ve brought money into the club, Chas.”

“Money?  Are we talking about Mack Crabtree?”

“We are.”  Berry nodded.  “Sorry Chas, I know you and Mack don’t exactly get on, but you should realise he made you a condition of his investment.  He would only sign on the dotted line if you were in the side.  Does that make you think differently?”

“Not really.  If he was so interested, why wasn’t he present when you announced my signing?”

“Would you have signed if you saw him there?”  Berry chuckled.  “No, I thought not.  I asked him to stay away, and he didn’t take much persuading.  Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about that contract of yours.  You went to Ranton.  No blame!  Good move on your part, everyone needs representation.  But Ranton tied us to a one-year, one season period Chas, and that’s not enough for me.  I’m greedy, lad; I want you with us for two, three, four years.  You, me, yes, and Mack, we can do big things with Casterley Town.  For the first time since I can remember we’ve got three or four new local sponsors interested in us.  If we can get ourselves promoted this season, and it’s a real possibility, who knows where we can go from there, eh?

“Chas, there’s an envelope for you on Sandra’s desk.  Collect it on the way out.  I know you’ll have to go back to Ranton, but I want you to read the contents of that envelope first, and if there are any problems ‘phone me.  We can sort them out.   I might be wrong, y’see, but I think you’re happy here.  It’s your choice, Chas – don’t let anyone make your decision for you, alright?  Now, I’ll get one of the lads to drive you back.”

So Jack Masters, my erstwhile teacher and football coach, he who testified for me at Magistrate’s Court, had first brought me to Berry’s attention when I was in his class at school!   What was more, when it would have been easy for him to conspire with Berry and tie me into a cheap long-term deal he had provided the link to Allen Ranton, so I could be properly represented. The more I reflected on events, the more I saw how big a part Jack had played in getting me into the Casterley Town side, and how deserving he was of my thanks.

But then what should I make of Mack Crabtree’s involvement?  Surely his stipulation that I join the ‘Town’ as a condition of his sponsorship had been made on purely commercial grounds?  In his relentless drive for local recognition sponsorship of the football club could only help him if the club was successful.  No less than Martin Berry, he saw me as part of the key to that success; which would have been very flattering, if the sponsor had been anyone other than Mackenzie Crabtree.  Was it the full story, though?  My past dealings with Mackenzie were telling me he had other motives.

Angie was at work when I returned to our apartment on The Avenue.  I threw the large buff envelope Berry’s personal assistant had given me down on the coffee table and I looked at it for a half-an-hour before I tore it open.

Our telephone had been connected only two days before.

Ranton’s booming voice was on speaker.   “Chas!  Hello, lad!  So what’s he offering you?”

“How did you know there was an offer?”

“I’ve been expecting it.  Actually, he’s left it quite late.  How long does he want the contract to run?”

“Five years.”

Never!   He’s got some balls, you’ve got to give him that.  Feed me a few of the bottom lines, will you?  What does the money look like?”

I reeled off the figures that had taken my breath away just a few minutes before, and I relayed the substance of my conversation with Berry.   Ranton listened, quietly, until I was done.

“Well, aside from the five-year term, it’s not bad.  He certainly wants to keep you.  Thing is, Chas, you’ve got to consider if Casterley goes up to Third Division, how much more money this Crabtree character and Martin Berry are prepared to put in.”

“He says he’s got other sponsors interested.”

“I hope he has.  He’ll need ‘em.  That team wants renewing, lad, starting with the manager and working down.  You can’t do it all by yourself.  What if I told you Carlton Park have been watching you?”

“Carlton Park?  No!  They’re Second Division!”

“Not just Second Division – their new manager Merchison’s got a pedigree, Chas.  He’s a First Division man through and through and a good spotter; you can take my word, if he wants you he’s got a role for you, a good role in a good team.  He’s putting something really interesting together up there.

“There are some very big changes happening in football at the moment.  TV money’s feeding into the top of the game and the rich boys want a new, smaller First Division.  If it happens, the lower division clubs will get cut out of much of the action, and most of the money.  Likely you’ll know about Newport County, yes?  They won’t be the only Fourth Division or Conference side to go out of business, you mark my words.  Get on that ladder and start climbing, Chas; you’ve got the gifts.  For you it should be easy.

We wound up the conversation.  “It’s up to you.  I’ll negotiate a better Casterley contract for you if you want to stay.  I’ll get you better terms, and I’ll certainly make sure they don’t tie you up for more than two years, but it’ll be nothing like what Carlton’ll offer. If Carlton Park comes after you, you can pretty much treble those figures, and still be in the market for a sponsorship or two.

“No rush, lad.  In fact, stall.  I’ll come back to you when I’ve got something firmer from Merchison, then you can let me know what you decide.”

“Carlton Park Athletic!  Carlton’s like, an ‘undred mile away, man!”  Angie rarely protested with such vehemence.  “An’ it’s a big city!  It’s bigger than Bedeport!”

“More like sixty miles.”  I corrected her carefully,  “And it’s a town, not a city.  Look, hon, it hasn’t happened yet.  It might not happen, but if it does, we’ll find a way.”

“We?  AhI’d have to gi’ up my job, an’ everythin’.”

“I know.  I know.”  I hugged her.  “I also know you’re clever enough to recreate everything you’ve done here and more – but only if you wanted to.  It’d be up to you, love.””

She nodded solemnly.  “Ah’ll think about it.”  She said.

In the lea of that conversation I saw how presumptuous I had been.  It had never even occurred to me that if I moved on I might have to leave Angie behind!  Now, suddenly, the choices were not so clear. Angie’s strong connections with Casterley had to bear upon my decision.  The town was home to both of us, but her roots probed so much deeper than mine.  I can’t deny that her intimacy with her large family had come as a surprise to me, because when I troubled to count, I had just as many relatives in or around the place as she, yet most of mine were such strangers that if I passed them on the street I might not know them.   Was this merely because Angie was gregarious when I was not, or had my father’s reputation contributed to our household’s isolation in my growing years?

I could not doubt the soundness of Allen Ranton’s judgement.  Even I could see that Casterley Town’s football club was in a precarious state.  Petty feuding among the playing staff, a management (Martin Berry aside) either disinterested or inadequate, non-existent marketing – the list could go on and on.  Although the dressing room atmosphere had cleared somewhat from my early days, I had no sense that I was playing for a strong team.  Guy Harrison rarely got off the bench during matches now, so I could understand his reason for disliking me, but sniping from others in the side was continual, and it puzzled me sometimes.  Gary Webb, with whom I had struck up some sort of a playing relationship on the field which meant we both took a share of the goals, did not restrain his jibes:

“How’s yer Mam, Chas?  Still doin’ the taxis, like?”

“She still answers the ‘phones, yes.”

Typically, Herbie Volkes, goalkeeper, would join in.  “D’yer use them taxis then, Gary?”

“Na!  Too expensive fer what yer get, man.  Anyways, I got me own car at ‘ome, haven’t ah?”

These exchanges were liberally interspersed with sniggers from other occupants of the dressing room, and there was something definitely unpleasant about that laughter.  The truth was right in front of me, of course, if I had been wise enough to see.

A couple of teams in our league were so far away as to be unreachable in anything less than a day, so an away fixture with them, such as our first game in March, meant a hotel stay overnight.  It was Sunday afternoon before I was able to return to the apartment.   Angie was out.

A note on a scrap of paper by the telephone said:  ‘Gone to my Mums’.

With hours of claustrophobic ‘rest’ in a coach seat behind me, waiting in the apartment for my girlfriend’s return was an unattractive prospect so I decided to go out, which was how, a half-hour later, I found myself wandering with no particular destination in mind, through Casterley’s Victoria Park.  It was raining – nothing unusual because, of course, March in the north of England is necessarily a wet month.  I did not mind the rain.  Rain kept the pavements free of people, a rare blessing for someone whose work involved constant exposure to crowds.

The first buds of spring were all around me, birds anticipating summer had begun some diligent nest building, and the stately trees that lined the paths set up a solemn rhythm of drips as backbeat to a comfortable, noisy silence.

A silence stirred by a sound of distant footsteps.

I resisted turning around for quite some time. It developed into a game, one in which I turned from path to path, sometimes in circles, once even cutting across the wet grass; never looking back.  The tread was always behind me, neither closer nor further away, not menacing, not pressing, until at last my curiosity overcame me.  I swung on my heel.  My stalker was at the far end of the path I was about to leave.  He stopped as I stopped; quickly turning away as if afraid I might see his face.  Of course I couldn’t, over so great a distance.  I suppose I might have chased him down; after all, he had been following me, but he posed no threat, and I was in no mood for confrontation.  I reasoned he must have recognised me at some point, as I had become quite well-known in the town, and elected to follow me because, like me, he had nothing better to do with his Sunday afternoon.  Fans could behave oddly.  I continued my walk through the park, checking behind me a number of times, but I did not see him again.

Yet – and yet – what is the clever little knob the mind can turn that switches on a doubt, or amplifies a suspicion so indelibly that no conscious effort of will can switch it off again?  How could it happen, that every time I left our apartment after that I had to look over my shoulder to persuade myself my stalker in the park was not behind me still, tracking my every move?  Although he was nowhere to be seen I sensed his presence.  I found myself glancing back at every corner, listening for that same faint and far-off fall of foot that might betray him.

The month of March passed quickly, the busier because I expressed my gratitude to Jack Masters by helping him coach the Juniors.  Following our Carlton Park discussion Angie was more sparing of her time at home.  She became less frivolous, given less to the spontaneous laughter that endeared her to me.  There were changes in her, so subtle that only one who knew her as well as I might notice them, but notice I did, and I could feel her unhappiness.

It was on the last Friday afternoon in March.  I had just arrived home after training and Angie was still at work when the telephone rang.  Ranton sounded tired.

“There’s a nice big brown envelope in the post, Chas.  I sent it recorded delivery, lad, because if you want what Carlton are offering you have to act fast.  Windows like these don’t stay open long.  Read through it as soon as you can and get back to me.    See here, Chas, the choice is yours but frankly, lad, I think you’d be mad to turn this down.  You could be a First Division player in a couple of years!  Call me as soon as you can, right?

I said nothing to Angie, fearing the storm that was about to break and praying she wouldn’t be home when the letter came, so I could read it first, and think – think very hard about my future.  First Division!  I could be a First Division footballer!

We played at home on the Saturday, so on Sunday I took Angie to a gig in Bedeport to hear a new band she liked called the Happy Mondays.  We were on the late ‘bus home when a storm blew in from a different quarter.  There had been a tension in the air all evening, as if Angie was working herself up to say something that she knew I wouldn’t want to hear.  She picked the quiet top deck of the Casterley ‘bus to say it.

“Chas, you remember a couple o’ Sundays ago when ah went over me Mam’s?”

“Aye.  I went for a walk in the park and got soaked.”

“Well, there was something ah had to talk to somebody about, yeah?  Even though ah wasn’t sure ah should.  Ah wasn’t sure….”

“Right.”  I put an arm around her, immediately feeling her shoulders stiffen.  “What weren’t you sure about, hon?”

“See, you were away the Sat’day night, y’kna?  And Terry com’d over t’see us.  Terry – you know Terry?”

“Yes.” Terry was ‘just a lad she knew’ – one of her more determined suitors. I felt a lead weight dropping through my chest.  He would have known I had an away match and used my absence to make a move.  “I know Terry.”  I bit my lip.  “What happened, Angie?”

“He’d had a bevvy or two, ah think.  He started comin’ on to us, y’kna?  I had to slap ‘im down and ah was a bit mean, prob’ly.   Anyways, he turned nasty,   He said sommat.  He told me something ah should’ve known but ah didn’t.  He caught me out.  Oh, Chas!”

“You did right.”  I squeezed her shoulder.  “What was it he said?”

Angie turned her head away from me, staring miserably into the moving darkness beyond the window.

“You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to.”  I said gently.

“No.  No, Ah want to tell you.  AhI know ah’ve gotta tell you.”  She still avoided my gaze.  “It’s jus’ so hard.  Thing is, ah told me Mam because ah had to share it wi’ someone an’ you weren’t there, y’kna?  An’ ah’m not sure ah should have told her because you might be mad; but Terry said ever’body knows, an’ it seems with me finding out you’re the only one who don’t.  Chas, love, it’s about yer Mam…

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Place that was Ours. Chapter Eleven – A New Page

It was a reflex action.  The naked man standing opposite me in the corridor of my home was Mackenzie Crabtree – no stranger to me – a man I had every reason to hate.  My fury took over.   I half-pushed, half shoulder-charged him, thrusting my full weight against his chest and sending him staggering backwards, off balance, into my mother’s room in what should only have been a beginning.  I would have finished him, then.  I would have followed him, crashing over the furniture to get to him.  I would have flayed him, pounded him until no sense remained in that arrogant head, but my intended follow-up never happened because my mother’s bedroom door, rebounding from some obstruction as it was thrust wide, sprang shut with the ferocity of a man trap.   Sounds of furniture splintering and my mother wailing in distress came from within, but as I made to throw the door open once more a hand gripped my arm, pulling me back.

“Coom away, man!”  Angie’s hand it was, restraining me.  Surprisingly strong, she interposed herself between me and the door.   “Chas!  Chas, pet!  Coom away, man,  Coom on!”

She pushed me back into my room, closing the door behind us.  She stood in front of me, neither of us wearing a stitch of clothing, with her hands clamped over her mouth and her whole body shaking.  “Oh, bloody ‘ell!”  She fluffed the words through her fingers:  she gasped the words through a gale of laughter.  And my anger left me.

She was convulsing, helpless.  “Man, you’ve no idea how bloody’ hilarious that were!  It were like a French farce or something!  That’s no way to treat yer guests!”

“What’s he doing with my mother?”

“Why, does that deserve an answer?”  Angie turned to pick up her clothes.  She threw my trousers at me.  “Here, get yerself covered.  I think wor might be interrupted soon.”

“You’re best out of this,”  I told her.  “I’ll take you home”

“Are you kiddin’?  Act two’s just startin’ hon.   I wouldn’t miss this for the world!”

She was right.  I was still zipping up and Angie was at the knickers and bra stage when my mother burst into the room.  She was wearing a slip, a flimsy thing trimmed with lace which put me in mind of a garment I had seen her wear some years before; in lilac then, in green satin now.

“I can’t wake him, Chas!  Friggin’ help me, will yer?  He hit he’s head on the dressing table as he fell.  I canna wake ‘im, Chas!  Ah think ye’ve killed ‘im!”

Mackenzie lay on his back with his head still resting on the top of the ruined dressing table, which had passed through the assembled part of its history and rediscovered its status as a flat-pack.  In a transient fit of propriety my mother had draped a towel over his nether regions.  His legs were already starting to kick around, as if anxious to prove he wasn’t dead.

“He’ll be brain damaged!”

“He won’t, Mam.  He knocked hisself out, that’s all.”  I gave Mack’s face a couple of slaps that may have been harder than they needed to be.  His eyes opened, glaring at me.  “There you are.  Give him some water, then get him out of here.  I’m guessin’ you’ve finished with him for tonight?”

“There’s no need for that, Chas!”

Had my mother been a woman blessed by the hand of wisdom she would have hustled Mackenzie Crabtree from the house then, as I advised.  I wish she had.  After Angie and I had returned to my room to finish dressing I heard the pair of them arguing, although the words were indistinct, and following that the sounds of footsteps on the stairs.  When we descended, though, Mack was slumped in the easy chair by the fire.  My mother was tending his head with a cold flannel.  His face was tinted a none-too-delicate shade of vermillion and he was clearly displeased.

“I want a word with you!”  He snarled.

“Gladly,”  I said; “But not tonight.  Frig off home, Mack!”

“He can’t drive.  He’s confused!”  My mother shrilled.  “You’ve bliddy ‘urt him, yer fool. An’ ‘e’s done nothing wrong, has he, like?”

“Nothing wrong!   He tried to get me put away that was wrong.  He’s in my house, that’s wrong.  He’s banging you when he’s married to Shelley, and god knows I don’t like her any more than him, but it’s still wrong!  Now get ‘im out, before I really hurt him!”

Mack launched himself at me, half-stumbling.  “You listen ‘ere, yer little frigger.  If you… ”

I stood my ground.  “If I what, Mack?  What will you do, eh?  What could you do, that you haven’t done already?  I’m not afraid of you, not no more.  There’s the door, man!”

He pushed his face close to mine.  His breath was a gale so foul I could almost taste it.  “Afraid of me?  You should be, lad.  You should be.  You don’t say a word about this, y’hear?  If you ever do, you’ll be the one who’s hurt, understand?  And that goes for you too, young lass.  Not a word.  Just keep quiet, both of you.   Mary…”  He turned to my mother, “talk some sense into him, right?”

Mackenzie Crabtree swung on his heel and stormed out of the door.

I summoned up a shaky smile for Angie, who had been standing at the foot of the stairs all this time with her mouth agape.   “Carlo’s still open.  Fancy a pizza?”

We sat in the storeroom-come-office at the back of Emporio Da Pizza and discussed my fate in lowered tones while Carlo and his son Darren dispatched their last orders of the night.  I no longer worked for Carlo, of course, but I still counted him as a friend, and he was happy to give us somewhere warm to sit and consume the best his oven could produce.

Angie was concerned.  “I never met ‘im before.  He’s a bad man, isn’t he?”

“He’s a frightened man, and when someone like Mack is frightened, he’s dangerous,” I told her.  “He’s a Councilor, and now he wants to be a Member of Parliament.  If word gets out he’s cheating on his wife…”

“What will you do?  You shouldn’t go back there, Chas; not tonight, like.”

I agreed I could do with some space.  “It’s my home, Ange.  Where else am I to go?”

“Just for tonight, yer could come to mine.”

“Oh, aye!  I can imagine your Da’ welcoming me with open arms!”

“He won’t mind, man!  They know we’ve slept together, yeah?”

“You’ve told them!”

“Why, nor’ever’body’s as old-fashioned as Mack, yer kna’?  No, I haven’t told ‘em, but they know.  Anyways, there’s a spare room.  You can sleep in there – least, you can start in there…”  She giggled.  “We’ll sort things out once they’re asleep.  If they’re not asleep already, like.”

Angie was right.  Her parents were broad-minded and besides, I think they saw me as an ideal soulmate for their daughter.   Malcolm, her dad, was a Casterley supporter, Debbie, her mother, shared his generous spirit.  I liked them a lot.

Darren wandered through, on his way to the alley with the first of the takeaway’s waste bins.  “Glad that one’s over!”  He said cheerfully.  “T’scooter’s a bugger in this weather.  Ah reckon ye’ knackered it, Chas!”

“It were knackered already,”  I told him. Then, to Angie: “Tomorrow I’ll look for my own place.  Can’t live back home, not now.”

Early the next morning I found my mother in our kitchen, sorting laundry.  Dressing gowned and bleary-eyed, she blinked at me.   “Where’ve you been?”

“I slept over Angie’s.”  I had left home after confronting Mack with only the clothes I stood up in.  This morning I was compelled to go back to get my training gear.  “I’m getting myself a place,” I said.

“Oh man, why?  You movin’ in with Angie?”

“No.  I’m movin’ out of here.  I can’t stay here, Mam.”

My mother’s face began to crumple.  “Chas, man, don’t blame me.  You don’t have to leave me, do yer?  Wharama ganna do wi’out yer?”

“You’ll manage.  Get Mack to take care of you.  You’ll have the house all to yourselves, and I’m sure he’ll be pleased to make you a little allowance, like – especially if it’s the price for keeping me quiet.”

“He already does.”

“What?”

My mother had begun punching laundry into the washing machine as though her clothing was the cause of all her misfortunes.  “Look around yer, Chas!  D’yer remember when we was short of money last?  D’yer remember when you’s was always persterin’ wor for presents wor couldn’t afford?  Don’t us live a little better na?  Did y’think the Benefit was payin’ for all this?”

I stood justly accused.  I had been so set upon my own career, so occupied with my own concerns I hadn’t seen the little changes my mother had wrought within our home.  The kitchen with better units now, new covers on the chairs, curtains replaced, a new carpet in the front room.   Had I really believed her evening job with the taxi firm had paid for it all?  Or was it just convenient to avoid asking the difficult questions?

“You and Mack.  How long have you been…”

“When yer brought the Social down on us, an’ I thought I was goin’ ter lose me job. He came then.”

“That’s two years.  Two years!?  He’s been givin’ you money for two years?”  The full weight of revulsion struck me.  “He’s been coming here for two years!  And I’ve not known?”

“Nah, Chas, not all the time.  Jus’ now and then, when I needed the cash, y’kna’?   Not when he were takin’ yer to court – not then, Chas.   I wouldn’t do that ter yer, man!”

“Oh, sure!  But the week before, and the week after….”

“No!  It weren’t offen.  Mebbees a half dozen times, that’s all.”  She grabbed my arms.  “Chas, we was friends from way back.  You kna’ that – remember the times yer used to go visiting wi’ David and Susan?  When Mack heard yer Da’ left me, an’ ah was down on my luck?  He helped out, y’see?”

“I do see.  A true friend!  It’s so hard to put an hourly rate on generosity, isn’t it, Ma?”

“It isn’t the way you think it is, son.  Really not.”  My mother paused to sort the strong colours from the bottom of her basket of clothes.  “Looka, whatever yer think of me, stay here, man!  As long as you don’t say nothing, Mack won’t harm yer.  I made ‘im promise he wouldn’t harm yer, Chas.”

“Oh aye, like he always keeps his promises?  No, Mam, I won’t hide from him, but staying here makes me just a little too easy to find.”

There was a tangle of blues and yellows that she put to one side.  There was the green satin slip she had worn last night, there was…thin and flimsy…one garment more.  She held it up briefly to fold and then, as though she suddenly realized what she was doing, slipped it quickly from sight at the bottom of the pile.  It was too late.  I had recognized the red dress.

Speechless, I picked up my training kit bag.  I clutched it to my chest as if it were a child.  I turned away.  I walked out of the door.

You can, and do, walk away from many things in life, but you can’t walk away from the questions, the memories, the host of images from your past that need no camera to engrave their likeness on your mind, no album to keep them fresh.  They meet you at every street corner, they admit themselves unbidden in every idle moment, they find you as you lay your head to sleep.  Wherever you sleep.  If – ever – you sleep.

In wakefulness now, I can see myself on that morning, knowing.  Because I did know, even then, even as it happened, that its message would relay itself to me again and again down the years.  It was a seminal moment I would never forget, the step from that door and the closing behind me that locked away all of my childhood and all of my growing forever.

I attended training, accepting all of Joe Pascoe’s carps and snarls, barely noticing as the hours passed.  Some sort of desperation drove me, a pressure not to pause, not to think.  As soon as I was released I headed for the largest of Casterley’s two letting agents to begin the process of finding  myself an apartment – not difficult, you’d think, for Casterley Town’s new star striker, and not difficult in any town where the supply of accommodation far outstripped demand, especially on a cold day in January.   I had reckoned without the agents’ reluctance to leave a warm office, which put much of the day behind me, idly kicking at intransigence, unable to control, unable to dictate.  It was already dark when I got to view a first floor flat in a townhouse that was no more than ten minutes’ walk from the town, and I liked it well enough, for all that there is no chill like the chill of empty, unfurnished rooms in an empty house.

“The bottom flat’s available too, for a slightly higher rent – the garden goes with that one.   The owners of the house have moved to Dubai.  We’d have to get you approved, of course.”

She was a nice enough girl, just doing her job to the worst of her ability.  She was cold and showed it. “How quickly can you get me in?”  I asked her.

“Oh, within a week I should think.”

“Tomorrow?”

I was not without a roof.  Angie’s mother had already set her seal of approval on her daughter’s guest and I could manage that week if I wanted, but I was driven.  One door had closed, I wanted the portal to my new life to be opened – I wanted to step through.

“I’ll see what I can do.  When I tell them who it is…”

I took the garden apartment, on the mistaken premise that because it was a little more expensive the deal might be done more quickly.  In the event it took three days, during which the agents stripped my bank account with ruthless efficiency.

“They wanted a grand for a deposit,” I told Malcolm, Angie’s Da’, over tea.  “And then the rent on top of that.  It won’t leave me enough for furniture.   I’ll be sleeping on the floor.”

Malcolm was a tower of a man with receding hair and many chins that concertinaed when he looked down at his hands, something he often did when he was deep in thought.  He worked for the local council and his network of friends and acquaintances was endless.  Everyone liked Malc, as he was commonly known.   “A bugger ‘tis, that.”  He agreed.  “When’s’a get the keys?”

“It would be Saturday.  The team’s away to Calhampton this week though, so I won’t be back ‘til about twelve.  Is it all right to shack up here one more night?  I’ll pay you back, I promise.”

“Nay, you’ll pay me nowt, lad!  Lissen, can you set it up so our Ange collects the keys for yer?  You’ll be able to get over there on Sunday and get stuck in, then, won’t yer?”

“Thanks, Malc.  Good idea.  I’ll meet her for lunch tomorrow and we’ll drop in at the agents.”

“What’s the prospects then, wi’ Calhampton?   Are wor goin’ ter win, d’y’think?”

“Win?  We’ll have to.  I need the bonus!”

Calhampton was third in our league, and a three hundred mile tortuous journey in our team coach, which meant any vehicle the local tour company had to offer that week, after they had fulfilled their other obligations.  This particular week’s choice did at least promise a safe arrival, something that had not always been a given in the past, but I hated the long journeys.  Atmosphere between myself and the rest of the lads had thawed somewhat, so there was room for a certain amount of cut and thrust, but most of the time it was stultifying.   I read books, I listened to tapes, I slept.  Even the prospect of a match in a seaside town offered little solace.  Hours of those unwanted memories and acres of fresh regret awaited me and I was powerless to keep them at bay.  Had I wronged my mother?  Was she genuinely in love with Mack?  What if the red dress was just that and no more?  What if those legs had belonged to some other unknown woman and I had jumped to conclusions once again?

Worst of all, it seemed to me that Sue’s voice was reaching out to me in the silence, sympathizing, telling me she understood my hurting, but insistent.  “She is your mother, Chas.  If there’s one person in the whole world who deserves your forgiveness, it’s her.  She raised you.  You can’t turn your back on her.”

The Calhampton game was an exhausting affair, one from which I could claim little glory because the home side had a valiant left back who stuck to me like glue.  Patrick Boyle and I would become close friends later in our respective careers, but I was still learning how to deal with the better class of defender that afternoon, and he kept me subdued so thoroughly that I failed to score – the first time that had happened to me since Pascoe had allowed me to wear the number nine.

people-men-grass-sport“Thanks,”  I said heavily, as we left the field together.

Patrick grinned at me.  “Not at all.  I hope I get you next time!”

We still faced our return journey after playing the match to a draw, a result that seemed to please Pascoe.  Whether as a consequence of the emotional upheaval of the last few days, or of the match itself, I slept for most of the eight hours we spent on the coach.

It was nearly one-thirty before I finally arrived at the Carey household to find Angie waiting up for me, with cocoa and secret smiles, full of the news she had picked up my keys; then gone to look at the apartment herself ‘just to be sure they were the right ones’.

“It’s a fabulous place, Chas.  It’s just great!  Can I come over with you tomorrow?”

I poured myself into bed to sleep, fitfully, for another six hours.

Sunday morning was born bright and dazzling; sun on snow.  Angie and I rattled in an empty house as we ate breakfast.

“Where’re your parents?”  I asked.

“Oh, they’ve gone to church, I ‘spect.”

“They’re not religious, are they?”

“Sometimes.”  Angie was bubbling with eager energy.

“What are you going to do in the flat?”  She asked as she bounded beside me on our walk towards the town.

“I don’t know yet.  I’ll have to get a bed from somewhere, I guess.  Hey, slow down will you, antsy?”

We should accept, I suppose, that whenever we close a door, finish a chapter in our lives, those who care about us will be anxious to help us journey to the new page; so I should not have been surprised to see Malcolm’s van parked in The Avenue, outside the townhouse at number fifteen.  Nor could I find it in my heart to express anything but delight when I entered my new front door to discover Angie’s paint-spattered parents standing proudly, brushes in hand, amidst freshly painted walls.

“We’re just about finished, lad.”  Malcolm declared.  “Debbie’s still doing the little kitchen ‘cause it needs a bit o’cleaning, whiles you and me can get the furniture in, awreet?”

What furniture?  A van loaded with furniture, and another load waiting at the Council Store.  Carpets, a double bed, a table, chairs, sofa, television, washing machine – the resource, it seemed, was inexhaustible.  As I supported my end of the heavier items, Angie ran in and out of the flat with crockery, ornaments, even a couple of paintings.

“Malc, I’ll never be able to afford all this!”  I protested, from my end of a wardrobe.

“Nay, lad, there’s nowt to afford.  Awreet, some o’ it costs a bit, but yer can pay me back whenever.  See, most o’ this is stuff the Council disposes of, anyways.  There’s nowt wrong wi’ it, don’t misunderstand me, but they nivver bother to auction it off.  It’s furniture and effects from council properties that get abandoned.  It happens all the time, the tenant does a runner, or maybe gets took into hospital and doesn’t come out.  Sad to see it go to waste.  I’ve a mate in house clearances, so we’re doin’ ‘im a bit of a favour, actual, like.”

It was a full day of toil in which the whole Carey family acquitted themselves amazingly, and they could never have known just how grateful I was. At the end of it, when the sun had long since departed, I tried to insist upon buying everyone dinner, which of course they refused.  Malcolm and Debbie left, Angie did not.

“I just wanted to have a minute with you.”

She was nervous, expectant, maybe a little scared.  We looked around my new place together, already a home with furniture, not all of which might have been my choice, but I had no complaint.  She fussed, making little adjustments here and there, tidied some small things, straightened others – until at last we faced each other in the living room with nowhere else to go.

“We was lucky t’get the keys early so wor could finish most of the painting yesterday,”  She said, speaking too quickly.  “A’had to scrub mesen’ raw when I got home to clean it all off.  If I’d smelt of paint it would have spoiled the surprise!”

“It was a brilliant surprise!”  I said.

“Do you like it?”

“I do, very much.”

“I should be getting home.”

Was I corralled into it?  Was I cornered?  The significance of the double bed was not lost on me.  Throughout the day, Debbie and Malcolm had been careful to avoid saying anything about my relationship with their daughter.  Throughout the same day, Angie had been held in thrall by my new adventure.  No, I did not feel trapped, or obligated; rather, I felt glad I would not be starting my new page alone.

I found the unspoken question in Angie’s eyes.  “Can you stay?” I asked.

“Tonight?  I don’t know if I should, like.  Ma’ and Da’ll be expecting…”

“Not just tonight.”

At those times when I could make her happy, Angie had a smile that was like the breaking of a summer dawn.  “Why, ah don’t know!  That’s a very big thing to ask, Chas Haggerty!”  Then, as she tried to turn away because she felt embarrassed by her tears, I held her so she would rest her head on my shoulder instead.

And Angie stayed.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

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A Place that was Ours.  Chapter Ten – Secrets

Photo by Michael Aleo on Unsplash

 

I don’t really recall what my expectations were when I left Rossiter’s Hotel that July evening, coaxing Carlo’s elderly scooter back into town with a large folder protruding from under my jacket.  All at once the game I had supposed could never be more than an absorbing pastime threatened to consume my whole life.  Yes, I had dreamed of being a professional footballer, but now the dream was about to become reality, I probably felt terrified.

Nel Kershaw frowned at me over her spectacles.   She reminded me curtly that she specialized in criminal, not civil law, however…

“However this seems all right.”  She leafed through the pages of Allen Ranton’s contract a fourth time, scanning the solid-looking paragraphs.  “His credentials are certainly good.  Frankly, I doubt if you’ll do better, so the question is, do you want to be tied to one agent for five years, Charles? There is a get-out clause but you would incur a penalty if you used it.”

Other than Nel, I told no-one of my good fortune.  Ranton had suggested I say nothing until he ‘closed the deal’, as he put it.   “It’s important, Chas.  Don’t even tell your mother, all right?”

For reasons I didn’t understand then (I do now), Ranton wanted to handle any press himself.  Needing a reason for my barely contained agitation I told my mother Trevor Bull was picking on me again.  I hoped she would swallow it without pursuing our Trev and beating my lie out of him.

By the time I next met Angela I felt calm, sure that I had my emotions under control.

“What’s the matter, Chas?”

“Matter?”

“Yeah.  You’re quivering, man!”  Angela grinned.  “I’m not saying it isn’t sexy, like!”

“I’ll tell you everything soon.  In a few days.  I promise.”

She gave me a sly look.  “I think I know.”  She said.

“Oh, right!  What is it then?”

“Don’t worry, man, I’ll not tell.”  She drew close and whispered in my ear.  “Do you think you’ll get the number nine shirt?”

Once again, Angela had surprised me.  When I demanded to know how she found out, she simply said:  “You’s.  You’re on fire tonight and only your bloody football can do that to you. You give yoursen’ away, Chas Haggerty!”

Carlo voiced his suspicions.

“So, who’s this Ranton fella, then, Chas?  Why’d he want to keep the’?  He didn’t start getting fresh or owt, did he?”

Jack Masters knew, of course.  He stood outside the loop, ready to see my signature on the contract.  When I delivered it to him at our midweek practice session he simply said “Well done.” Then he told me to get on with training.

“Start doing a bit of running, lad.  A couple of miles each morning, to begin.  You need to sharpen up.”

That Wednesday, I planned to visit John Hargreave.  Carlo gave me two evenings’ release from pizza delivery duty each week to provide some part-time employment for his son, so, with Angie occupied ‘washing her hair’, and my friend desperately in need of an opponent to play his new Nintendo game I downed a sausage with batter and chips from ‘The Golden Chip’, before making my way to his house.   John lived a mile from the town, in one of those little satellite villages huddling around a blocked shaft that had been a coal mine, once.

John’s home was of a lesser vintage than the smoky red brick terraced houses, many of whose doors shielded retired miners, a silent community that harboured pneumoconiosis, industrial deafness and diminished hope.   A thin drape of smoke hung overhead and lurked in the breathing air.  I could never quite get used to walking amid the stultifying silence of that strange street; to one side the cramped hovels of two-up-two-down brick, with their belching chimneys, their expressionless windows, their urgency as they strove to break the narrow chain of pavement and be free; to the other a green acre, a benignly patronizing rank of four bedroomed detached new builds rising from immaculate grass.  Dividing them, the road might as well have been an ocean in depth, a battlefront in hostility.

Once in argument with John I had pointed out his own street as a metaphor for the implacable class war, evidenced by a complete absence of social interaction between those who lived on the left side of the street and those on the right.  He admitted it was true.

“I agree, but I don’t think of it as a line of battle.  I don’t know anyone from the other side but I do know you, and you live in a house a lot like those.  And if it’s symbolism you’re after, come up on a Sunday.  You’ll find our green and pleasant acre being used by kids from the other side, playing football.”

“Yeah, is that why every lamp post has a ‘No Ball Games’ sign on it?”

“They ignore it, much to my Dad’s annoyance.  But kids from our side of the road could join in if they wanted.”

“Nah.  They’d just want to play rugby.”

At so early an evening hour the street was quiet, which must have been the reason I noticed a midnight blue BMW purring toward me.  It was travelling fast, giving me little time to catch a view of its driver, – a man in his thirties, with a close haircut and a sharp aquiline nose. He was not alone.  A woman in a short red dress reclined in the passenger seat, one foot on the dashboard, her legs carelessly displayed.  It was no more than a split second glimpse of someone whose face was hidden, yet it froze in my mind because – because of what?  Could I know a person like that?   If so, how; when, where?

John joked about it when I told him.  “You’ve seen those legs before!  Or was it the position that’s niggling at you?  Think now, and if you remember, give me her address, man.  She sounds perfect to me!”

“I know her from somewhere.  Daft, I’m sure, but I do.  I wish I could have seen more of her…”

“Doesn’t sound like there was much more to see.”

“I mean her face, yeah?  Never mind.”  I was anxious to change the subject.  “What’s ‘Super Mario’ like?”

“Special, very special.  Man, you should try it!”

The game was addictive.  We played long into the evening, and it was dark before I made my way home.  My mother had told me she would be at work, so I used my latchkey, took a Coke from the fridge, and went straight to bed.  Hours of screen watching had taken their toll on my eyes.  I slept like a bear in winter.

Ranton’s letter confirming Casterley Town’s interest came through our door a week later.  There was to be an official signing at Rossiter’s, it told me.  ‘This time you needn’t bring a pizza’.   Our meeting was set for 3:00pm on a Thursday.  For me, that was the day the world stood still – the space between the starter’s warning cry of ‘set’ and the snap of the gun.

As such meetings go the gathering at Rossiter’s would probably have looked unimpressive to those experienced in such things; to me it was immense.  Allen Ranton greeted me in the hotel foyer, prepared me with a few brief comments, then propelled me through a heavy door into a room that proclaimed itself the ‘Dickens Lounge’.  My feet were instantly silenced by deep pile.  There were comfortable chairs upholstered in dark red leather, a huge marble fireplace in which burned a small, apologetic and completely unnecessary log fire, and a faux antique table, where rested an array of coffee pots, milk jugs and cups.  These had already been extensively pillaged.

Of the figures who gathered around me there were one or two I recognized, many more I did not.  Martin Berry cut a familiar figure in the crowd at Casterley’s home fixtures, if only because he owned the club.  A compact powerhouse of a man, his highly pitched voice lent a descant to the baritone song of male conversation which paused only briefly when I entered.  The source of his wealth was undetermined, although subject to a number of unflattering rumours among the fans.  His ear was clearly being bent by a voice I knew emanating from a face I knew; that of Joe Pascoe, Casterley team manager, a squat warthog figure with a paucity of teeth.  Of the few whose heads turned when I entered, Pascoe’s remained fixed in my direction the longest, long enough for me to detect a dark lake of hostility splashing the shores behind his grey eyes.

My encounter with these people lasted all of thirty minutes.   I floated through it on my own happy cloud, because I had daydreamed about it for so long, oblivious to a reality that was quite squalid. My participation comprised a five-minute sideshow in a quagmire of networking, the substance of which had no meaning to me.  I might as well have attended in my underpants for all the notice I attracted.  Ranton, though, he navigated our way through the process with all the skill of a practised helmsman.

“The paperwork’s done, Chas.  All you have to do is sign it.  It’s for twelve months, okay?  Don’t let anyone suggest a voluntary extension.  They’re paying you a bit more than they normally pay at £15000 plus bonuses, so don’t discuss money with anyone.  I’ll just get us through the pictures and the questions, then the rest is up to you.”

There were a couple of press reporters present.  I was photographed next to a Casterley shirt, which Pascoe, wearing his best plastic smile, held up beside me.     The cameraman asked:  “What’s the number on the shirt, Joe?” Pascoe refused to display the back of the garment.  “Is it true Chas is replacing Guy Harrison at number nine?”

“Guy’s position in the team is secure.”  Pascoe rasped, still smiling.

“What position are you playin’ then, Chas?”

Ranton cut in.  “Chas’s position hasn’t been finalized yet.”

“Can’t he answer for himself?”

The room fell silent.  All eyes turned to me.  I could feel my colour rising.

“Yeah, that’s right.”  I muttered.  “Like Allen says.”

I shook hands with Martin Berry and one or two other people I had never met before and was unlikely to meet again.  Joe Pascoe manoeuvred his way to my side.

“I hope you’re worth what they’re investing in you, you little bastard.  I want you down the ground Friday, eight o’clock.  Gottit?”

Then, suddenly, it was all over.  The contents of the ‘Dickens Lounge’ drifted out of its door like snow on a breeze, leaving Allen and me among the cups of half-finished coffee.

“I wonder if they want us to clear up,”  Allen remarked.  He took me by the shoulders.  “See here, Chas, the next season is going to be tough, d’you understand?   When a club’s in as bad a position as this one, results-wise and everything else wise, there are always reasons why.”

“Pascoe?”  I volunteered.

“Maybe.  That’s what the crowd thinks.  You’ll find out as you go along and a lot depends on how you deal with it.  I’ll only say, be positive, right?  And in your darkest moments, lad, and there will be some, just keep in mind this is the worst club you’ll ever play for, alright?”

The worst club – the club I had followed and adored since I first learned to walk!  Somewhere in the back of my head, I distinctly heard the crack of the starter’s gun.

#

“Took me a while to find this place.”  Matthew Poultney says, “Should I take my shoes off, or something?”

“We don’t advertise it.”  I tell him.  “Keep them on, it’s no problem.”

“What made you choose the rural idyll?”  The journalist’s eyes take in his surroundings, walls in warm colours, bright windows inviting the sun.  “I always had you down as a city boy, myself.”

“Our training ground’s two miles along the road.  The airport’s ten miles more, and I’ve a boat on the river.  I like it here, well enough.  Do you still drink whiskey?  I’ve a nice peat-cured malt I think you’d like.”

He nods.  “Never refuse.   I don’t think I’ve ever smelt this much leather.  You’ve come a long way, Chas.”

“Feet of clay,”  I tell him, setting his eyes instantly alight.

“Do I smell an exclusive?  Something cooking in the transfer window?”

“Nothing definite.  As I said, I like it here.”  I pass him a glass.

He holds it up to the afternoon sun, casting an amber reflection through the fluid.   “Good colour.  So why did you want to see me – I mean, it’s always nice to catch up, but…”

“You remember our first meeting?”

“Do I!  You were green as the grass then.  Just signed with Casterley of all places…”

“Accident of birth…”

“And you were all for diving in, a happy little coffee bean eager for the blender!”

I nod.  “Consider me duly blended, yeah?  I had no idea what I was up against.  Pascoe, the manager, clearly hated me for reasons I didn’t understand, and that number nine, Harrison – bloody Harrison tried to injure me in training!  They ignored me in the dressing room and they ignored me on the pitch.  I was on the bench match after match, waiting for Pascoe to bring me on in the last ten minutes if he felt like it.  By that time we’d be two, maybe three goals down and I couldn’t get a pass from anyone.  No-one would feed me – they just froze me out.  We were knocked out of The Cup in the first round, the team kept losing and the supporters started picking on me.  It was as bad as Allen predicted and worse.  Were you following us then?”

“Not match for match.  I followed the scores, of course, I always do, but apart from The Cup the nationals only want copy on superstars.  It was Ranton pushed me to do our interview.  He was a good agent, was Allen.  Retired though, last I heard.”

“He passed away last year,”  I tell him.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”  Poultney walks closer to the window.  “It’s a grand view of the river from here.  What changed it for you?”

“It was Pops – Tommy Travers, the groundsman.  He opened my eyes to it all.   I was sitting on the terraces one day, and I’ll be honest, I was already contemplating giving up football when Tommy sat down beside me, and that was major for him because his bones were that stiff he couldn’t get back up again sometimes.  He explained how neither the manager nor the team wanted me there because I threatened their little apple cart.  They were old players and part-timers with some unofficial stuff on the side, doing just enough to stay in the league.  The last thing most of them wanted was a goal-scorer who might bring more money into the club.”

“More money would mean fresh legs, stale legs being forced out.  It’s an old story.”  He nods.  “I take it this Pops character was of a different opinion?”

“He wanted his new pitch, didn’t he?  He was astute enough to see that mud baths like the Casterley ground had had their day.  It needed a new surface – better drainage, part artificial turf, and so on.   There wasn’t money in the pot to do it or any investment in the offing and he was afraid if Casterley dropped out of the League, there’d be nothing left for anyone.  He told me to go over Pascoe’s head and talk to Martin.”

“The owner?  Martin Berry?”

“What a memory!  Although you’ll have done some homework on the way over here, won’t you?  I forget these things.  Anyway, He’s a nice bloke, is Martin.  I took an instant liking to that guy.  I went to see him and I found him on the floor of his warehouse with his sleeves rolled up, shifting crates into a panel van.  I told him my problem, and he said he left the team selections to his manager, soI said maybe he shouldn’t.  I also suggested he should get the team to work with me a little.  He listened, but said that bit was up to me.  I remember the way he put it:  ‘Be Roy of the Rovers for a game.  I know you can, I’ve seen you do it’.  So I did.

“The very next fixture Pascoe came in spitting fire, and a lot less than pleased, but he started me at centre-forward against Parnington.    He gave the captain’s band to Walters at centre-half and tried to put me upfield where I’d be starved of the ball, but I kept myself close to the halfway line.  I picked out the first decent ball and ran with it.  It wasn’t copybook, it was scrappy because there was no understanding between us, but we pulled out a result for the first time in the season.  Four – one.  The fans liked me better after that.”

“I remember that first goal of yours.  It was a fantastic solo effort.”

“One of three that afternoon.  My first league hat-trick.  You were there?”

“I saw the footage.”  He cocks an eyebrow at me and tosses his whiskey down his throat.  “When are you going to tell me why I’m here?”

I pick up the whiskey bottle.  “Have another?”  I say.

#

Wait!  Let’s go back a bit.  I’ve told you the story of how my career began that afternoon in Rossiter’s Hotel.  Without disguising anything, I’ve told you how hard it was for me to survive in those first weeks as a professional footballer, but I haven’t said anything about the effect my turn of fortune had on my friends or my home life, and I shouldn’t let that slip by.

Casterley began climbing up the league table, I hit goal-scoring form, and friends and enemies gravitated to me in equal measure; not the kind of friends I could count upon to guide me through a crisis, though, nor the kind of enemies who could see any further than their last drink.  I liked pubs; I am tempted to suggest that at eighteen-nineteen years old most males of my species like pubs, yet I found it wiser to avoid them.  After a good game my back could be exposed to slaps of appreciation from the moment I entered a bar, followed inevitably by an expectation that I would buy everybody a ‘round’.  Following a bad game a week later I could enter the same booze palace under a thundercloud of muted criticism, knowing that someone would voice their disappointment out loud, complete with obscenities, before the evening ended.

Abstinence then:  not a difficult choice for me.  I was assiduous in my training and an evening beer didn’t help a morning run.  But my real friends liked to go out drinking, they liked the pubs in our little town and trouble tended to erupt when I came along, so I was not always welcome.   Jonna ceased to feel comfortable with me the day I started playing for the juniors, but we found some common ground for a season.   When he learned I had a contract with the senior team his jealousy turned from green to black.  He and Sarah very soon came to prefer each other’s company to mine.

By and large, I didn’t mind.  I lamented it a little perhaps, but I accepted.  The wedge between us was driven deeper with every match I played.  Meanwhile,  John Hargreave – Greavesie – who did not drink, had replaced Jonna as my staunchest ally, while I was spending more and more of my free time with Angela, who was not fond of drinking either.  She made a disgraceful drunk when she tried to conform, obliging me to end many a date keeping her long hair out of the way as she wretched.

Angie and I were in our own world that winter; if not truly lovers then at least close friends, living in each other’s pockets, reading each other’s minds, generally setting about biblical issues according to the best teenage traditions.

There was a night in the depths of winter in that very special year when snow was falling,  and we sought shelter as we often did in the warmth of my home.   The house was silent, as it would usually be when my mother was at work, so we undressed each other and slipped into my bed, confident in the knowledge that she would be working for hours yet.  Sex with Angie was a thing of secrets, of laughter that was muffled and filled with mystery, words whispered that could not be said aloud.   Oneness might be minutes or an hour, a reverie ruptured by a raucous joke, or protracted in warm union for a dangerous time.  Such it was that night; we were together in the bed’s embrace, and a cold wind against the window bade us stay.

At last I disentangled myself because I must, and made naked for the bathroom, leaving Angie half asleep.  I opened the door onto the landing, groping for the light.  I switched it on, at which precise moment the door to my mother’s bedroom also swung open.  Framed within it, wearing as little or as much as I, stood a large male figure.

Mackenzie Crabtree’s face froze in horror, then he emitted the nearest thing I have ever heard to a male scream.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.