A Place that was Ours. Chapter Five – Criminal Acts

Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

As I look back upon it now, I realise how my childhood ended that evening in June of’86.   A shell of my former self made its way across the bridge towards town, its mind in turmoil, its muscles bunched in helpless fury.   A man who had become a monster in my eyes had the one person I loved in his power.  I had failed Sue, let her father snatch her from me.  In my irrational head Mackenzie Crabtree was beating, torturing, humiliating the only person I loved, while I did nothing to defend her.

I could not go home.  Home would mean an empty house, because my mother was at work, and I could not face the constriction of walls around me.  So, instead, I directed my feet by way of Lower Town Road to the Old Hall, a one-time civic building that was now housed Maisie’s nightclub.  It shared a frontage with a Fish and Chip shop, and an off-licenced general store run by an enterprising little Pakistani character we all called Javid.

I was looking for a youth everyone knew as ‘Lard’.

Around this time of the evening, Lard would be found loitering, usually in the company of a brace of hangers-on, either outside the Golden Chip, one of eight fish and chip emporia in Casterley, or on the steps of the Old Hall entrance.   A lad of maybe twenty-five or twenty-six, Lard was a car salesman by profession.  Really named Richie, his nick-name referred to his thick black hair, which he was in the habit of plastering back from his face using a liberal quantity of hair gel.   He was where I expected to find him, together with a couple of other faces I knew, sitting on the steps eating chips from a plastic tray.

I ferreted through my pockets for the last of my weekly dose of small change.  “Hey Richie, man.  Gerrus a six-pack, yeah?” (I would offend him if I called him Lard to his face.)

Lard looked up at me with a negative expression on his acne-flecked features.  “Nah, can’t.  Ah’m eatin’.”

Danny, whom I knew from football training, was leaning against the wall at the top of the steps, stuffing in some chips of his own.   “Gan on, Richie.  Ah cud use a tin mesen’.  Ah’l look after yer chips, like.”

Lard grunted.  “Aye, awreet.  What’ya want, like?”

Danny said. “Tuborg,”

Lard hauled himself to his feet. “Gi’us yer pennies then.”

If Lard ever had any money for drink, he rarely needed it.  The arrangement was, you gave him money for a six-pack of beer and he visited Javid’s emporium to make the purchase on your behalf, which was how, when you were underage in Casterley, you got your alcoholic beverages.  And when the deal was completed, you got five cans from the six pack, and Lard got one.  It was simple, basic commerce that salved Javid’s conscience, kept Lard (or in this case Danny) supplied with beer, and every lad in my school year who could not pass off as eighteen years old did it.   There were some nasty rumours that girls had other ways of repaying Lard, but it was hard to imagine.  You see, Lard wasn’t exactly personable.  In fact, he was a bit dim, poor lad.

“Now then, Chas.”  Danny descended the steps towards me as Lard disappeared into Javid’s store.

“”Now, Danny.”  I returned the greeting.

“How’r’y’gannin’ like?”  Danny was a fair-haired lad, closer to Lard’s age than mine.  He had a strong face and a wide, genuine smile.  “You don’t look so good, y’na?”

“I’m all right, s’pose.”  I muttered.  “Just had a run-in with Sue Crabtree’s Da.”

“Ah.”  Danny sympathised.  “That’s Mack the plumber, right?  Mean bastard, ‘im.”

“I could bloody slit ‘im!”  I said, with appropriate venom.

“Nah, man, yer couldna’.   Tha’s already got the Chatties after yer hastn’t tha?  Don’ give ‘em reason to nick yer for more.   Take tha’ beer home, man.  Sleep it off, like.”

I spent little time wondering how Danny had learned about the bike incident.  Everybody knew by now.  No  matter how minor the crime, it was hot news in Casterley.   After ‘Lard’ had returned and Danny had split off his tin of Tuborg from my six-pack, I walked away.  I didn’t want to sit and commiserate, I wanted to be alone, to let my anger fester and grow.

Danny called after me.  “You sixteen next month, Chas?”

“Aye.  Who wants to know?”

“Jack Masters was askin’.”

Eleven-thirty that night found me propped up against the old concrete jetty beside the river, my five tins of beer consumed and a very imprecise intention whirling around in my mind.  I was not a drinker by nature; this was only the second time I had availed myself of Lard’s merchant activity, so five beers was a substantial inebriant as far as I was concerned.   My intention, as I had to keep reminding myself somewhat fuzzily, was to pay Mr. Mackenzie Crabtree’s house a nocturnal visit and liberate Sue – my Sue – from his grasp.  I had not worked out the final detail (my concentration kept fading) but it involved the use of the brick I had carefully selected from one of The Felling’s many half-demolished properties and which now lay beneath my hand.

Above and behind me sounds of activity from the town were drifting away into slumbering silence.  Right now the Fish and Chip shops and Kebab shops and Chinese Takeaways would be dispensing their last meals, the final gaggle of weekend drinkers would be meandering home.

Soon it would be my time.  I would move through the sleeping town with feline stealth in pursuit of my revenge.   My problem, though, was persuading my legs to share my sense of mission, an immediate issue which came to a head when I tried to execute a very necessary bodily function and fell over.   Thereafter, although my attempts at emulating a cat were limited, I certainly smelled like one.  Actual progress, with frequent stumbling, needed the support of the jetty and, when that ran out, any wall adjacent to the pavement, or lamp-post, or parked car that offered.

If my sense of equilibrium had faltered, my anger had not.  As it quickly became apparent I would not have the stability to reach my intended goal, I believe (although my recollection is hazy on this point) I began fulminating loudly at Mr. bloody Mack Crabtree and itemising my charges against him at the top of my voice.  Staggering along Front Street, in despair of my failing body I hurled the brick with all my force at the window of the betting shop, which gave me the satisfaction of cracking in three places whilst dealing finally with any remnants of silence, because the shop’s intruder alarm resented my assault, and said so.

Just how aware was I of the car that appeared so suddenly beside me, or of the hands grabbing my shoulders, forcing me into its back seat?  I remember lashing out, convinced the hands belonged to Sue’s father – after that, though, very little.   Vague images of a car interior, maybe, or of strong hands pulling me from the seat once the journey was complete; then nothing.

#

“Oh, you’re awake, are you?”  My mother’s voice, strident and at its falsetto finest.  “You stupid little bastard!”

Where was I?  “Where am I?”

“Where d’you think you are?  Whose bed is this?”

I managed to prop myself on an elbow.  My head hurt.  “Mine.”  I said.  I was in my own bedroom.  Insipid daylight was filtering through the unlined curtains.

“Aye, and lucky you are you’re not in a police cell after last night.  Boozing at your age!  That’s how yer father started, boy!   You won’t remember breaking William Hill’s window, I suppose?”

“I might…”  My head hurt.

“You might.  You Might!  You did, you silly little sod!  How you didn’t get nicked I don’t know.  Thank god Terry, one of the taxi drivers from work saw it were you and had the goodness to put you in his taxi and bring you home.  Otherwise…”

So it was that my attempt at rescuing Sue ended in blackly comical failure.   Nor did Terry’s rescue protect me from its consequences in the end because in selecting William Hill’s window on Front Street I had picked the only location in town where a security camera was fitted.   This time it would be criminal damage and breach of the peace and all sorts of other things they would read out to me down at our friendly local police station.  All that came to light on the Wednesday of the following week.  I was destined to appear at the Juvenile Court after all, and with a record of an official caution like a yoke across my shoulders.

In the meantime, Sue was not at school that Monday, nor was there any sign of Dave, her elder brother.  Dave was in his first ‘A’ Level examination year and one year above mine, so it was possible he was on study leave, but if I had entertained some sort of vain hope Sue would appear and everything would be normal again, of course it wasn’t.   Instead, when I returned home that night I found two people in our front room waiting for me.  One was my mother, the other was Shelley Crabtree.

Shelley?  ‘Shel’ as my Ma liked to call her – had altered greatly since my early years.  My first memories of her in the days when Sue, Dave and I played together as kids were of a tall, slender woman, clothed casually in blue jeans and t-shirt, whose clowning could be relied upon to produce childish laughter.  Her startlingly pale blue eyes were always alight with fun in those days:  I don’t remember when that light went out – perhaps it was after, in the fallow time when my family and the Crabtrees had grown apart.  Anyway, there was no obvious connection between the woman of my memory and the one standing on our worn carpet, her loose white over-blouse spotless, the red dress beneath it quite tight, as it seemed, on her much fuller, almost matronly figure.   Posed beside my Ma’s t-shirt and jeans yet hidden behind dark glasses only her height and the determined set of her jaw gave her away.

“Sit down.”  My Ma’s tone was ominous. “We’ve been talking about you.”

“Hello, Mrs Crabtree.”  It did no harm to be polite.  I decided to make an effort at innocence.  “About me?”

“Yes, you, you dirty little bugger!”  My mother’s verbal assault, I knew well, would start as a snarl, before it rose to a crescendo.  I decided to try and cut her off.

“How is she, Mrs Crabtree?  Is she alright?”

I failed.  My mother pounced upon my intervention and drowned it with a screeching:  “How is she?  How d’ you think, you  little…”  She drew breath.  “It’s a bloody crime, what you’ve done!  It’s bloody criminal!”

So they knew – chapter and verse.

“Mary, don’t upset yourself.”  Shel cut in, putting a restraining hand on my mother’s arm.  “I’m sure Chas understands there have to be consequences for his actions.”  Shelley Crabtree removed her sunglasses, treating me to those eyes which the years had made humourless, lifeless, tired and just a little sad.  “Charles, young man, my husband is very angry with you.  We know that you and my daughter were intimate – Susan has told us…”

The two women were standing, looming.   I was perched on the edge of our old armchair.  Feeling my disadvantage and with my anger rising, I got to my feet. “What did he do, beat it out of her?”

“You  insolent little bugger, sit down!”  My mother shrilled.

“No, Mother!  It looks like you’ve decided to pass sentence on me, on Sue and I, so I’ll stand, all right?”

“Now Chas!”  Shelley soothed.  “Of course we didn’t ‘beat it out’ of Susan’!  Certain things are obvious to parents, and there is simply no point in denying what has happened, you see?”

“So what?”  I was confused.  The verbal assault I had anticipated was coming from my mother, not Sue’s.  By comparison, Shelley seemed almost sympathetic.  “If she’s alright, why wasn’t she at school today?”

“Susan thought it best.  This – this unfortunate thing is something that we can’t ignore, and some action has to be taken.  She sees that, and I’m sure you do too, don’t you?”

Why?  Why did ‘some action’ have to be taken’?  “What ‘thing’?  Why should it change anything?  It’s not like I raped her, Mrs Crabtree!  We wanted to – to be together, that’s all.”

Shelley sighed.   “Chas, you’re both so very, very young, aren’t you?”  She levelled those cold eyes at me.  “Susan has other priorities before she gets into a relationship.  She wants to study, to take her exams and go to University.  I’m sorry, Chas, but you don’t play any part in that.”  She gave an elegant shrug.  “Maybe after…?”

At some point, my arms had begun to shake.  Now I could not control them.  “Why are you doing this?  What are you trying to do – stop us seeing each other, or something?  You can’t!”  I was shouting, knew it, but couldn’t control my voice or the well of fire from which it sprang.

The louder I yelled, the softer, the gentler Shelley’s voice became.  “Oh, we can, Chas.  We can.”

My mother chipped in.  “You would have been leaving school in a month anyways…”

“Three weeks.”  I snapped back.  “What’s that got to do with it?”

“I telephoned your Principal this morning.”  Shelley said, taking command.  “I didn’t tell him absolutely everything, just enough so he would agree to make an exception and release you from attendance earlier, if your Ma allows it. You aren’t taking any exams, apparently;” she smiled bleakly, “so congratulations, Chas, tomorrow will be your last day at school.”

I felt as though a boulder had settled on my chest.  “And Sue? ”  I asked, drily.

“Susan won’t be there tomorrow.  She’s on home study leave until Wednesday.  The Principal’s been very helpful and suggests she should be ready to take her ‘O’ Level exams in November.  After that, for her ‘A’ Levels, she’s going to stay with her aunt in Bedeport.  The college there has a very good examination record.”

“Bedeport!  Why?”

“To get her away from you, young man – to give you both some time to think about what you’ve done.”

“You can’t!   You can’t do this to us!  Sue won’t ever agree to that!”

“She already has,” Shelley said harshly.  “She understands that what you did to her is a criminal act, Chas.  Now, Mackenzie and I don’t want to involve the authorities, and we won’t, as long as you also agree.  We can’t stop you seeing each other, we all live in the same town, and this is 1986, not 1956; however, we can advise you not to do anything foolish.  If you do…”  She smiled; a competent, professional smile.  “So, now.  Do I have your agreement?”

“No.”  I said, mustering all the venom I could.  What could I do?  With my best glare of defiance I turned on my heel, wanting to be away from that room, out of the grasp of those two judgemental women who wielded such power over me.

Shelley caught my arm.  “Chas!   We have to do something, you see?   Susan deserves her chance at life, and you shouldn’t get in her way, should you?  If you feel so strongly about her, and she still feels the same in another five years, then you’ll both be adults, and you can make adult decisions, but now – now is just too soon, Chas.”

“No, I don’t see.”  I told her.  “I don’t see why we can’t go out together?  I can’t see what’s changed.  You, you’re acting like some Victorian woman, or something, yeah?  You’re trying to keep her prisoner, wrap her up…”

“Look around you, Chas!  Look at the girls pushing prams and living off benefits at sixteen or seventeen.  Open your eyes and look at this town.  We don’t want that for Susan, and Susan doesn’t want it, either.”

“Are you sure it was her told you that?”  I swung back to face Shelley, challenging her.  “Are you sure Sue told you she doesn’t want to see me again?  Because it’s you and Mack, isn’t it?  You’re trying to keep her away from me, aren’t you?”

“It’s Mister Crabtree to you, and if I’m honest, yes.”  Shelley’s expression was grim.  “I didn’t want to say this, but since you accuse us, our daughter deserves better than you.  You’re not exactly a prize, are you?  A prize fool, maybe, and with a record on your head, by all accounts.  We’re not going to stand by and watch her waste herself on you.”

My mother caught up at last.   “Now wait a minute, Shel!  Are you sayin’ my lad’s not good enough for your Susan?  You listen here, lass…”

Shelley cut in.  “I’ve said all I’m going to say, Mary!”  She waved a finger at me.  “Now you mind, Chas.  Be sensible, right?”  And she strode briskly out of our front door, leaving my mother to stare after her.

“Stuck-up frigging bitch!”  My mother said.  “Come on, lad, I’ll get you some supper.”

I can’t tell you with what clarity I remember those few days, the ones that altered my life, really, although I didn’t appreciate it at the time.  After a sleepless night I wandered through my school day in a red haze of helpless fury.   ‘Hairy’ Harris, the school Principal, announced my name at assembly and told me to go and see him before any lessons, so I did, of course.  He didn’t say much, just reiterated what I had already been told by Shelley Crabtree and wished me luck for my future, which made me smile, as it seemed unlikely I had much of a future at the time.   Thereafter I drifted through morning lessons; lonely, angry and with no idea what I was going to do, or where I was going.

When the lunch break came I decided to take my leave early.  I made some excuse to my closest friends about feeling ill.   As I packed my few belongings from my locker, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  Dave Crabtree was standing behind me.

“She wanted me to give you this,”  He said, scarcely bothering to hide the hostility in his voice.  “I didn’t want to, but she insisted.”   He pressed a scruffy little piece of paper into my hand.  “If you harm one hair of her head, Chas, I’ll be comin’ for you meself.”  He skulked away, almost ashamed to have spoken to me.   On the paper, in Sue’s handwriting, was scrawled:

‘By the old stone jetty, six o’clock’

At six o’clock I was there.  It was by no means an easy decision.  Nothing would have made me keep the appointment if I had believed all that Shelley Crabtree had said, and I thought about that for a long time, but the note was a tiny spark of hope.   So I walked down that little winding lane through The Fellings to the place by the river which had sheltered my drunken binge two nights since; the same place we had met to play when we were children, my friends and I.  And Sue was waiting for me.

© Frederick Anderson 2017.  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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waste Disposal

amy-3“I think I asked you to put out the trash, didn’t I?”  Amie asked.  “I did, didn’t I?”

“Amie, clearing the refuse isn’t time sensitive.  I’ll do it after I’ve finished.”  Malcolm, frowning with concentration, applied a wing strut to his model of the ‘Wright Flyer’.  It was his sixth attempt.  The glue wouldn’t let the piece sit in position, but kept sliding it to one side.  “Isn’t it amazing people used to fly a thing like this?”

“I don’t care.   I don’t care about your bloody pile of sticks.  I asked you to put the rubbish out.  You haven’t.   Just like I asked you to clean up the living room, and you didn’t.  Or cook for us last night….”

“All right!”   Malcolm sighed in resignation.  “So I don’t do everything you want, the moment you want it.  Look, Amie, I’m entitled to some time of my own, you know?”

“I suppose I have to do it myself!”   Amie grunted.  And it was a tiny, porcine grunt, one of her mannerisms that Malcolm had found so attractive, once.   She stood in the corner of their living space, glaring at the model and its dedicated constructor.   “Must you keep tuning the light to orange?”   She demanded.  “You know I hate it.”

“I told you, it’s a good light for intricate work like this.  I won’t be long.”

“Work?   That isn’t work, Malcolm, that’s a hobby.  You know, like making cathedrals out of matchsticks or little handbags out of string?  I wouldn’t mind if sometimes – just sometimes – you actually did some real work!”

Malcolm treated Amie to one of his paternal, superior looks.  “I work just as hard as you, Amie.”

“Oh, you do!  You mended the cracked tile behind the cooker. Let me see, when was that?  Yesterday – or was it the day before?  That’s just it, Malcolm, you don’t!   You don’t do anything I ask, you don’t help, you don’t…”

“Okay, okay!”  Malcolm was on his feet, blazing back.  “While we’re on the subject of ‘don’ts’…”

“Yes?  While we’re on the subject..?”   Amie strode forward, facing her partner like a pugilist, legs astride, hands on hips, only the table and the model aeroplane upon it separating them from total war:   “What are you going to bring up next?   Come on, let’s have it!”

“Well’ it would help if we…I mean, if you…”

“If I still slept with you?   That’s what you mean, isn’t it?  Same old, same old!”

“Knowing there’s no affection, no love anymore.”

“Oh, right!  No lurrrv!”   Amie breathed deeply. “So the fact that you’ve developed into an overweight, bone idle bore is my fault, is it?  So the sum of your romantic accomplishments would measure up to those of a rampant bull elephant is down to me, yes?”

“Possibly!  Not that it would worry you, and mostly it doesn’t worry me anymore.  It’s just that we still keep nights and days, and right now is the time of night when I miss it most.  But no problem:  any inclinations of a pachydermatous nature have long faded; although I’m surprised you even remember them.  Do you realise we haven’t had sex in ten years?”

“And you’ve been counting, of course…”

“Absolutely I’ve been counting.   And you know that very well.   How many times have we walked through this same argument?  Every month?”

“Every week.”  Emotionally fatigued, Amie drew out a chair to sit across the table from Malcolm.  “Every week.  Look, Malc, I know my role in this relationship.  I haven’t forgotten what we promised, and I will sleep with you again, honestly, when the time feels right.  I simply need a little space, like you.  Me time, you know?”

“Ten years?   You get out of practice, Amie.  People forget.” Malcolm met Amie’s sad look, determined to hear the words he needed, yet dreading his answer, too.

“We’re a couple.  That’s never going to be in doubt, Malc.”

“But you don’t love me.”

“Why must we always confuse sex and love?”  She clasped her hands together, resting them on the table-top.  Her fingers seemed to fascinate her.   She tapped them, each onto its opposing knuckle, making a hollow sound.

“Because without it we get unhinged.  Or maybe that’s just me.”  Malcolm said gently.  “Amie.  You – don’t – love – me.”

Her mouth twisted around her words.  “You’re cornering me.  Don’t do that, Malc.  Perhaps we don’t have the passion we used to share, but…”

“Amie, it’s time to be cornered.  It’s time to be honest.  You don’t love me, do you?”

“I’m not sure I ever did.”  As she spoke them aloud, Amie ruminated upon the power of those words, and the freedom they engendered.   Not to live the lie anymore, to have said the truth she had known for all of their years together.  “Are you sure you want to do this now?”

“I want to have it out so I can look at it, think about it.”  Malcolm’s voice was dangerously quiet.  “Why on Earth…?”

“We were young…”

“Idealistic.”

“I admired you, so much!”

“But you weren’t stupid, surely?”

“Malcolm, you represented hope, for me:  you did!”

“Hope – that’s a poor substitute for love.”

“It was what brought us here.”

“Yes.  And now we’re stuck together, like this bloody model!”  Malcolm rose to his feet.  “I think this might be a good time to put out that rubbish.”   He disappeared in the direction of their kitchen.

Amie called after his retreating back:  “If we’d just met and got to know each other like any normal boy and girl?”  Malcolm did not answer.

Left to herself, Amie allowed a tide of emotion she had contained rigidly within herself for so many years to wash over her.   She wept gently, recalling the dreams she had dreamed, all the joys she had believed she would share – all come to this dark nothingness.  And her thoughts, as they slipped ever closer to the precipice of despair began to fuel a sense of bitter injustice, of inexcusable wrong.   Those linked fingers still rested upon the table; now, though, they grappled, wrestling each other, left hand against right in self-mutilating fury.

Malcolm found her thus, taut with simmering rage, when he returned ten minutes later.  “The rubbish chute’s blocked again.”  He said mechanically.  “I’ll have to clear it from outside.   I won’t be long.”

Amie’s reddened eyes followed him as he went out through the vestibule, closing the door behind him.  ‘We don’t want you to catch a chill from the draught’ – her mind repeated the stale old joke he always made when he closed that door, although this time it remained unsaid.   She watched through the window of the door as he prepared himself to face the conditions outside, then his back and the opening and closing as he finally left, trash bag in hand.

She hated that back!  She hated his smug expressions, his indefatigable humour, the very smell of him!

Inside Amie all the strings were snapping, all the contents of her emotional cauldron bubbling to a boil.   With a deliberately closed fist she smashed the model of the ‘Wright Flyer’, slammed it into the table; then with determined force she raised the table edge to throw it on its side, screaming at the pieces of wood and plastic as they scattered across the floor.   Having achieved her necessary outlet of destruction, an icy calmness overtook her.   She was apart, somewhere outside herself, watching as she walked towards the vestibule, through the door.  At the outside door she stood for a moment, quite still.   Then she reached before her and threw the lock.

“Amie?”  He was outside, no more than four feet away.   He heard the click as the tumblers interlocked.  “Amie, what are you doing?”

Her mind fixed in a grim determination of which she had never thought herself capable, Amie glared through the window in the door as Malcolm turned and headed towards it.   He tried the door handle, shook it vigorously.  “Amie?”

Amie did nothing.  She just smiled.  She smiled at Malcolm, at all the failed years.  She smiled because she could already see the first traces of vapour on his visor; the panic in his eyes.

“Amie?   For God’s sake, Amie!”

She smiled because she knew that for such a simple task he would not have attached his safety line, or bothered to check the bio-systems inside his suit.  Custom and habit had made him careless with the years.  Those systems would fail very soon, and when they did his grip would loosen.  But the last surprise was his.  She saw his eyes – saw the flame within them quieten.  He accepted. He understood.   Perhaps he even wished it.  And he let go.

Amie’s last sight of her life partner was a dwindling white dot in the sparse light of sun star Proxima Centauri. The little craft that had been constructed so carefully to make its interior feel like a warm and comfortable home had already begun to slow down.  Soon, in only a matter of months now, it would navigate itself into orbit around that fertile planet where they had been entrusted to settle, she and Malcolm, and to raise the first children of a new civilisation.  It had always been a vain and tragic hope, this last gesture of a dying race on the burning world they had left behind – two people meticulously chosen for their compatibility, for their patient, sanguine natures, for their mutual respect.

Amie listened for a little longer, until Malcolm’s gasping breaths were lost, out of the range of his communicator, then she switched it off.   She returned to the kitchen to make supper.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Destiny Game

 

” I’d say it has all to do with names.”  Kevin’s eyes were drawn to the window, and a row ofRaindrops beech trees beyond his friend’s water-logged garden.  He was in reflective mood.

“What are you saying now?”  Christian asked.   “Names?  I thought we were talking about relationships?”

Outside, the blackened sky delivered rain like a flagellation, whipped up by a strengthening gale to be hurled against the glass.

“Listen to that!”  Kevin murmured:  “Nature’s baptism, yes?  ‘I name this house’?  Baptism, you see?  Baptism is where the fatal blow is struck. There you are doing your mewling and puking and definitely not in control of the situation, while your future is decided by two well-meaning but deluded parents and a scary old man who throws water on you.  ‘I name this child’.  If I’d been in any condition to know what they were doing, I’d have risen up from the font and severed their heads.  ‘Kevin’!  My god!”

“I’m a strong believer in fate, yet I refuse to believe so much is decided by a name.”

“No, fate has nothing to do with it!  It was some fiendish kink in the curtain of the Grand Plan.  Someone said ‘condemn this one to a life of misery.  Name him Kevin’.  I can hear them laughing even now!  Names strike at the very fabric of a relationship.  I mean, ‘Kevin’, you know?  The hard ‘K’?  Women will never freely date a Kevin.  And it isn’t exactly a superhero’s name, either, is it?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. You’ve got some hard ‘K’s batting for your team.  Consider Clark Kent.”  Christian adjusted position in his armchair, carefully perching his glass of whisky on the arm whilst reaching for a poker from the hearth.  He thrust at the fire that burned brightly there, agitating it into a volcanic profusion of sparks.  “Look at my name.  I’m living a lie.  I’m agnostic at best.  You can’t seriously hope to convince me that your misfortunes are attributable to your parents’ dismissive choice of name!”

Kevin turned away from the window and the depression of greys crowding his view.   “Dismissive.  You don’t know how accurately that describes my parents.  Did you ever meet my father?”

“Once or twice.”

“Which was about as often as my mother met him.  My baptism was probably his last stand.  He stayed long enough to ensure I was irrevocably Kevined then left for the pub and never came back.”

“Please, permit the poor man some justice!  You were mewling and puking all over him, remember.  And he must have been rather more present than you imply, because I remember his being in the house when we played together as children.  Was your mother his third wife?  Not strong on that whole bonding for life thing, was he?”

“Like father like son, is that your inference?”  Kevin shook his head.  “I thought I’d laid that ghost long ago.”

“They say the luck runs.”

“And I don’t believe that. It isn’t luck, it’s design.  Incidentally, it’s a skill you have, and I apparently lack.  After all, we’re much of a muchness, you and I;  I don’t see myself as particularly ill-favoured, or you, forgive me, as particularly handsome.  We’re roughly the same height, the same weight; our personalities are similar; yet here I stand, left in the departure lounge of yet another failed relationship, without the faintest idea where I went wrong.  And here are you, flying business class in this immaculately kept house with Svetlana who is, you have to admit, an exquisite testament to womanhood…”

“Who can be a little – shall we say – eccentric at times.”

“I will stick to exquisite.  After fifteen years she still looks as beautiful as the day you introduced me to her.  And you still dote on her, I can see that.  Fifteen years!  Can I tell you my experiences of those fifteen years?”

Christian chuckled sympathetically.  “There was Melissa.  She was a lovely girl!”

“With some lovely friends.  a whole cohort of lovely friends, mostly male!  Then Claire, and Michelle…”

“Six months later.”

“Alright; that was brief even by my standards.  But Alicia…”

“Ah  Alicia!  She was a shredder, wasn’t she?”

Kevin gave a grim nod.  “Ribbons, literally.  I couldn’t go out, sometimes.  Scar tissue is so unsightly.  And now…”

“Now Sophie.”

“Yes, Sophie.  Absolutely Sophie.”

Kevin sighed, feeling his eyes smart from a revisited sadness.  He crossed to his friend’s sideboard and the whiskey glass that awaited him.  “Teach me, Chris!  Let me share your gift.  And while you’re about it, tell me where in the known universe is there a Svetlana waiting for me?”

Christian’s finger traced an imaginary picture on the arm of his chair as he tried to frame an answer for his friend.  Somehow the picture seemed to resemble Svetlana. “I don’t know, Kev.  I could say there’s someone out there, someone you’ve yet to meet; but that wouldn’t hack, would it?  I think it’s just fate – no more and no less.”

“Fate!  Nonsense, my friend. You have a seduction plan.  It’s time you publicized!  I want answers, before age and bachelorhood place my assets beyond recall.  Come on, give!”

“If I had a plan it would be rather rusty by now, but honestly, I have nothing to impart!  Svetlana and I were one of life’s chance encounters; no more, no less.”

“You met her on the Internet.  She posted on a dating site.  Or, wait – YOU posted on a dating site!”

Christian laughed.  “I did not!”

“I used to believe she was a mail order bride.  For years I was convinced you were holding out on me, in spite of her perfect English.”

“Oh really!  She came to this country when she was ten.  Her father’s a ‘something’ with Debrette Cooper – the bankers?   All right, I never told you how we met, did I? So I will, if only to show you how strong a hand fate plays in these things.  It was pure chance.  I was in the middle of an aisle in the middle of a supermarket in the middle of an evening, trying to decide which size of Cornflakes I should pick and this glorious woman just walked up to me and said: ‘Hi’.

supermarket aisle“Amazing! I shall need details:  haircut, aftershave, manner of dress…”

“Amazed was I!  Was I wearing aftershave?  I don’t remember.  Dress?   Casual, I suppose.  What else?  Anyway, back to lovely lady and ‘Hi’.  What could I do but respond?”

“I suppose you could have hidden behind the Cornflakes.  But obviously you didn’t.  I should point out that details of dress are important, however.  What did you do?”

“I said ‘Hi’ right back at her.  Quite courteously but avoiding one of those leers you do so well.  I wasn’t going to be intimidated, you see.”

“Heavens no, why should you be?  Though that is true – we men do find beauty intimidating.  So there you are, you see – technique stepping in.  Memo to face: ‘avoid leer’.  And?”

“And?”

“Sort of ‘what next’ and.  As in ‘and what next’?”

Ah yes!  She gave me that quirky smile of hers and took a little blue card from her purse.  She came right up close to me, slipped it into my trousers pocket – bold as you please – then just walked away.  But oh, the quick touch of those fingers slipping into my pocket; and what a walk!”

“Stop it, you’re embarrassing yourself!  So let me guess, her ‘phone number was on the card?”

“A soft blue colour, that card.  It was nothing special – I mean, she hadn’t had fifty printed, or anything like that.  I think it was a business card for a hair salon, or something.  You’re right, she’d written her number on the corner.  And her name.”

“So that was how it all began?  Yes, of course it was.  You called, you dated, you lasted.  I shall  want precise dating procedure – details, please?”

“You really are missing the point!  The Fickle Finger of Fate had already played the trump, so to speak.  The date, all the dates, were perfect.  We matched – perfectly.  Over a dinner table, at a bar, walking beside the river, it was as though we read each other’s thoughts and we never really needed to speak.  We were married within a month, we’re still together.  We still love each other.  And I never told her.”

“Never told her what?  Oh, Christian!  Intriguing.  There’s was a secret between you?”

“Hear me out. I couldn’t tell her how I worried about that first encounter: a beautiful woman who freely gave me her number.  Was I so incredibly lucky, or was this an approach she had a habit of making?”

“One hates to coin the term ‘promiscuous’…”

“Yes, one’s choice of word could be kinder, too, couldn’t it?  Anyway, eventually the subject came up in conversation.  Apparently the shopping basket was my Ace of Hearts.  I had no idea that Tuesday night in that particular supermarket was ‘singles night’, or that if you carried a hand basket containing cheese and Cornflakes, on that particular aisle, it said you were seeking a companion.  It was a code.  Svetlana knew, I stumbled into it.  Fate, you see?  She was carrying the same items, if I’d looked.  I didn’t. I didn’t even think about that.  How could I have known?”

Kevin  frowned.  “But that’s not a secret, not now.  Although it’s likely to guide my feet towards the supermarket at issue next Tuesday, it’s information you both share.  What’s the story?  What’s the big, humungous confidence you have kept to yourself for fifteen years?”

“Well, it’s a small thing, I guess….”

“What, then?”

“In that supermarket, all those years ago – which means nothing now, of course…”

“Oh, no!  Of course not.   But something you never told her…”

“I was  shopping with my aunt.  It was her basket I was carrying, while she was checking out the toiletries in the next aisle.  The cheese was hers, the basket was hers.  I wasn’t shopping for myself at all, not in any sense.   You see what I mean?  Fate, Kevin.  Just fate.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  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.