Martha-The Rewrite Chapter Twenty Five
Six months after Keith died, I went to live with my nan for a while. She was my mum’s mum and she lived just outside Margate. I’d been there a couple of times before when I was about 12. Me and mum traipsed along the seafront and her face never changed from her usual ‘get me the fuck out of here’ expression. Keith would make an excuse and no doubt slide into some shitty backstreet boozer, not to be seen again until it was time to leave. I had always wanted to go back without having to carry her sadness with me. In the months after Keith died, mum blamed me for everything bad that had ever happened in her life. It was me that drove dad away, it was me that meant she was poor, it was me that showed her what Keith really was, it was me that ruined her tits. Of course, she never directly said any of these things. I knew though, I knew how she resented me even being alive.My nan was a distant woman and she was not the beacon of unconditional love that a grandparent was meant to be. It wasn’t like I was going to be much better off in some ways. I only meant to go and stay with her for the summer. The thought of going back to be trapped with mum and all her bitterness was unbearable though. I’d rather be bored out of my head near Margate where at least I was unknown. There were upsides to living with nan. She always had plenty of booze in the house and didn’t seem to notice or care if I drank a load of it, she had a lovely garden and the beaches along there were amazing. I would take the bus round to Botany Bay and pretend I was in the caribbean on an expensive holiday. The cliffs and the sand there were like another world, a world away from home and even a world away from Margate. I met boys whilst swimming in the sea and we would fuck in coves, with the threat of being cut off by the tide. It really was risky sex. Looking back, every single day was a holiday. I’m sure it rained and I’m sure I felt lonely and shitty some days but I’m fucked if I remember any of that. I still had my episodes but they were so easy to deal with when you had already got used to them and you had fuck all responsibilities. I doubt nan even noticed that there was anything different when I was having one.
Mum would phone once a week and speak to nan. Towards the end of the conversation, the receiver would be passed to me and I was expected to say a few words. Mum would bristle with resentment as soon as she heard my voice. We would keep it short and I would put the phone down clumsily. Then I’d go to my room and play my Suzanne Vega album at full volume. As the months went by, my conversations with mum became less tense. I realised that she was lonely and that perhaps I was too. I didn’t have loads of friends back home but pretty much none in Margate. The novelty of being somewhere else had lost some of its shininess. We agreed that I would go back for Christmas and see how it went. The first week or so was very strange. It was like we had met for the first time. We crept around each other and were overly polite when we talked. But we did talk, a bit at least. Christmas didn’t feel as fragile as usual. We got drunk together one night but it was a silent drunkenness, one where we were both too scared to speak in case we upset the gentle equilibrium. When we went to bed though, she held me like a child for the first time in years. I went up to my room, staggering up the final few steps and lay staring at the ceiling. I could still feel her warmth against me. Other than the wet, sandy bodies of teenage lads briefly pressed against me, I don’t think I had properly touched someone for, well, I dunno how long. I went to sleep pissed and almost content.
Gradually things started to revert back. Mum was gentler than before but the gulf between us widened as the weeks went by. I got myself a job in Woolworths for the summer and decided to go to college the following September. I gave mum half my wages each week, even though she didn’t ask me to. She would take the notes and fold them up neatly into her purse without any outward expression. I knew it meant something to her though. She started cooking proper meals and there was a lightness about her that flickered into view now and then. She showed me how to make lasagne, even that bastard bechamel, which to her was the ultimate luxury food that existed at that time. It was fleeting though, these little pieces of vague contentment within her. Overall, she still hated most aspects of her life and still blamed me for most of them. There was no one else left to blame. Dad was in his shitty caravan or actually fucking anywhere by now, Keith was buried in the ground with his rotten colon. It was just me and her. I mainly kept out of her way. I would go to a local pub and find a bloke who didn’t look too scuzzy, one with a place of his own and use him as an escape route for the weekend. There are only so many blokes in any one place who fitted that criteria so I had to swap patches every few months. There were a few I quite liked and I would allow myself to think about what it would be like to have them as my fella. But I never did take up with anybody. I would return to my favourite ones now and then, like re-reading a book you enjoyed. Mum didn’t give a shit where I was and frankly, nor did I.