Dad used the light of the living room window to adjust his specs He looked up through the lenses, waving them carefully about in front of the Venetian blinds, as if there was a mark on the lens, or a small planet out there somebody else had missed. Giving up on the light, or the lenses, he looked at the specs with a new eye, as if they were somebody else’s and finally took them off and hooked them on the cushioned arm of his armchair, where they sat looking at me. He adjusted his bum and settled himself down into the armchair, by wiggling his hips like a corkscrew. He waited a second, to see if the chair wanted to dance away from his bulk. Then he did it again. When he was certain that he’d showed it who was boss, he settled down with a sigh and a tutting sound and made hard work of his Sunday paper by rustling it up like a broadsheet and studied the football results again. The newspaper, if it was made of emery, would have been close enough to rub away two black nose hairs perched on the florid bulb of his nose, but with or without specs, that wouldn’t change the result. Never had I been so glad to see Celtic get beaten. It took all the pressure off me being away overnight and scuppered any chance of a working détente between him and my mum over why I’d missed mass. I translated all of his supreme indifference as ‘all that girlfriend stuff; it’s got nothing to do with me’.
‘Eh, what school did this wee lassie go to?’ said dad, looking at me and aiming an immediate broadside at my waterline.
‘I’m not sure,’ I said, trying to sound suitably uncertain, ‘and anyway, she’s not my girlfriend. She’s just a pal’. I was standing in front of the fire, warming the back of my hands in its flames and hiding in plain sight.
‘When am a goin’ to meet your wee girlfriend?’ mum echoed, making dad snort in derision, part of a twin set of parents that hemmed me in. I retreated into the kitchen, which was a tactical mistake.
‘She not my girlfriend,’ I said emphatically.
‘That’s ok,’ said mum, ‘but when am I going to meet her?’ The kitchen table was a square; she followed me round in circles, I gave up and had to retreat to the safety of my room without any dinner. I knew that everything would be better in the morning.
I’d some Stones on my stereo, not loud, but loud enough to keep my stomach from belly aching and going over to the other side, by begging for food. I didn’t want to think about Maureen Hargreaves, but the more I never thought about her, the more she just kept popping into my head. Somehow when I heard the front door chapping I thought it was her.
I turned the music low enough for Mick Jagger to sound like a squeaky Jack in the Box toy, but I didn’t want to turn it off in case my mum thought I was listening. The only other person I could imagine turning up as late, almost ten o’clock on a Sunday night was Bundy. But then when I thought about it some more I knew that she just chapped once and wandered straight in. ‘Chiree,’ she’d say, a made up word that meant, ‘I’m here’. That sometimes pissed me off, but it pissed dad off even more.
‘Maybe you should get another key cut for her,’ dad would say at such times.
But mum wasn’t to be outdone. ‘Maybe I will,’ she’d reply defiantly.
‘And maybe you should get a couple of bunk beds,’ so she’s comfortable at night.
‘Maybe I well,’ mum would say on cue, but she’d add, ‘she’s been through a lot…’.
None of us could argue with that. And deep down we wouldn’t have had mum any other way. If she wanted to sit up all night talking that was fine with us, as long as we didn’t have to.
I heard the squeak of the third stair and sprawled on the bed and waited for mum to come up the stairs and tell me who was at the door, and in the same breath ask, why didn’t I answer it myself? My stock answer was that I hadn’t heard the door. Right on cue mum poked her head around the door and I lay on my elbows, face on neutral and waited for her to go through her usual spiel. I was surprised enough to raise an eyebrow when she pushed into the room, with a gloating smile on her face, but even more so when Gillian Ambrose waltzed in at the back of her. I scrambled up off my bed.
‘Jesus,’ I said, before saying ‘sorry,’ because mum didn’t like that kind of language.
‘I’ll just leave you two young ones together,’ mum said, flinging me another smile, and walking backwards, in case she missed anything as she left.
‘Are all these football trophies yours?’ said Gillian, picking up one of my two bronze football medals as if they were ancient artefacts and strolling about my 12 by 6 foot room as if it was a museum. ‘They’re really cute,’ she added, showing me the wee stick men attempting to kick what looked something like a ball, but might have been the red blur of a Comet attached to their foot for all she cared.
I didn’t have time to explain they weren’t meant to be cute. They were meant to be manly and show my virility at football, but I didn’t have time. ‘What you doing here?’ I hissed through my teeth.
‘I thought you said that you were going to come up and see me,’ she said, continuing her tour, hair curtaining her pocky face and shielding her eyes.
‘I said, I might come up,’ I whispered, as if someone was standing at the other side of my bedroom door. ‘Might,’ I stressed again.
‘You said you would,’ she said, trying on a pout, when that didn’t come off she studied a newspaper clipping of The Small Faces’s, Itchykoo Park c.1967 I’d tacked to the wall because Steve Marriot had the same kind of jacket as me or vice versa. I let her glance slide past me.
‘I was thinking about you,’ she said and her eyes caught mine. ‘And I had to come .’
She turned and crossed the room in two steps and leaned over me. Two buttons were undone from her blouse and the pink flesh of her breasts stood out in bas-relief. She swayed in front of me, hypnotising me with her perfume, a touch of petunia oil and underneath the raw scent of memory, which sent my senses scrambling. She leaned into me and her warm lips touched mine and she whispered in my ear, ‘I’ve got so much I need to tell you’.
I jumped up from the snake pit that was my bed. ‘We cannae have sex here. Not in my house. What if my mum hears us? What if she walks in?’
‘Who said anything about sex? she said, narrowing her eyes.
‘I don’t mean it that way,’ I shrugged trying to work out what I meant.
She let herself be caught and I pulled her towards me. The heat of her body, as she pushed against my loins and wrapped her body around me, fused all other thoughts and made me want to lie down, there and then with her, on the worn beard of matted grey carpet. Half way between the paradise of bed and carpet, she crooned ‘I love you’.
‘Don’t you love me?’ she asked, pulling away from me.
I was dizzy with need and had no ears for such words.
‘Don’t you?’ she said and perversely reinforcing her words by buttoning up her blouse.
‘Jesus,’ I said still red faced from the furnace of her flesh that sang to me. I didn’t have time to think about what I was going to say next. Everything had speeded up and my old life pushed by me and I could not longer hold onto it. And then it seemed that there was only this world and this girl standing in front of me and everything else was gone, receded into the past, and I was standing at the rail of a liner and she was waiting for an answer. ‘Of course I love you,’ I said.
‘Liar,’ she said, slapping me clean across the face. I didn’t know whether to hold my face or check that anybody had heard anything downstairs, or outside. Gillian stormed to my bedroom door and then stopped. I don’t know whether she expected me to run after her, or simply open the door like a chauffer, but when I did neither she made her own way down the stairs. I heard the echo of my mother’s muted voice in the kitchen and then the back door closing. I didn’t think too much about it, but there was something in her eyes that made me think that maybe she was scared of something, or someone. I was too tired to worry about it. All my thoughts turned in, grew heavy, and sank into themselves. I knew I had to be up early for work.