Sulham Close - ch2
By lisa h
They walked up the stairs and into the car park. Pete stopped by a large, black BMW kept so shiny Mark couldn’t avoid his reflection as he walked up. Reflective tint darkened the windows to a charcoal grey. Like politicians and gangsters drove. He could almost imagine the glass being bulletproof. Pete held out his keys and pressed a button. The car unlocked and blinked its lights simultaneously. Freaky Boy hopped in and slammed the door, the car’s engine started with a roar. Pete waited half a second before triggering the motor on the passenger window. It buzzed down, and Mark leaned over to see inside. Pete had his seat angled way back, too far, so he needed to extend his arm until straight in order to curl his fingers around the top of the leather steering wheel.
“You coming or not?” Freaky Boy asked.
Mark nodded, “Um. I guess. Sure, mate.”
“Then hurry up and dump your gear in the back.” The passenger window slid back into a closed position.
Mark glanced about the car park, still half-expecting to get jumped by Freaky Boy’s friends. The horn blasted, echoing in the confined space. Mark started and without thinking yanked open the rear door. He un-shouldered his rucksack and placed it and his guitar case with care on the seat.
“Don’t worry about the upholstery. Leather’s supposed to get scuffed, don’t you know. Looks better that way.” Pete revved the engine. The noise echoed in the confines of the enclosed car park.
“Thanks,” Mark said, unsure how he should answer Freaky Boy, and climbed in the passenger seat. “Where’s your house?”
“Near Pangbourne,” he replied, and threw the car into reverse.
Pete drove them out of Reading, the BMW streaking past the shops, past crowds of teens smoking and chatting, past mothers, their children held tightly as they walked from bus stops. Mark gripped onto the handle above the window, concentrating on dingy upper floor flats as the car zipped down the road.
“Hey baby.” Pete lowered his window and tooted the horn. Just ahead, a young black woman with an ass shaped like a peach strutted along the pavement. She wore jeans so tight the fabric coated her like a second skin. Her hair had been plaited into long extensions, some streaked blonde, some copper. She turned to smile. Her shapely figure continued to her breasts. Mark never caught sight of her face, as the car roared on.
“Ooo, I’d like a bit of that, eh?” Pete nudged Mark with his elbow. “Bet she gives what for.”
What for? Mark thought. Where does Freaky Boy think he’s from?
“What’s your dad make of all this then?” Mark asked.
“All of what?” Pete tooted his horn at another young woman. “Hey baby, wanna get together tonight?”
The ‘baby’ in question flipped him, her eyes cold and sharp as she stared into the BMW through the open window. She’s memorising our faces, Mark thought. Just in case.
“Guess not, then.” Pete laughed, the sound cold and not at all humorous to Mark.
Mark cleared his throat. “I was meaning bringing my type back to your home an’ all.” Mark paused. “The junkies and drunks.” Mark waited a second. “What does your dad think?”
“I think he’s past caring.”
“Excuse me?” Maybe he’d made a mistake. His stomach rolled with hunger, and emitted a thunderous sound. Soon, the hunger would turn to nausea, and he’d lose most of his first meal to the cramps.
“Forgive me for being obtuse. I shall explain properly. He’s dead. Been dead for years.”
“Sorry to hear that. You must have been a kid or something when he passed on.”
Mark stared at his driver for a moment, as he collected his thoughts. “But you can’t be much older now, how could it be years ago?”
“Ha!” Pete cranked the stereo up, and pounded on the wheel in time to an Eminem track. “Feels like bloody years. The man was a tyrant. Besides, mum died not so long ago. Maybe that’s why it feels like dad’s been dead for years.” Pete drummed the beat. “Anyway, I’m not that young. I’ll be twenty next birthday.”
Mark raised his eyebrows. “You don’t look it.”
“Great. Thanks,” Pete replied, but not in a happy voice. “Cursed with a young face.”
Mark gave Freaky Boy a sideways glance.
“Mate, you’re going a bit fast, ain’t you?” Mark dared to say as they shot across the roundabout at the bottom of Norcot Road.
“What’s it to you?” Freaky Boy didn’t take his eyes from the road, but did slow a little as the shops made way for houses.
“Nothing, mate. Just saying.” Mark grabbed the handle harder, his knuckles whitening with pressure.
Pete didn’t change pace down as he drove the car through Purley and out the other side. They were into the countryside now. The houses had become increasingly infrequent, and fields swept down the valley to the right. Woods climbed the hill to the left.
Mark knew the area from a long time ago. When he’d been young like the freak next to him, he’d hung out with a lad who lived in Pangbourne. Then Jack had cleaned up and trained as a furniture maker, and Mark had gone north on his own quest. Freaky Boy threw on his left indicator, and at the last possible moment, jammed on the brakes, and swept the car into the small lane that led towards Sulham, tires screeching on the tarmac.
Now woods crowded in on both sides of the road. A brook gurgled on the left, the water level low. Pete slowed as he took the car over a tiny humped bridge, and the brook swapped to the right hand side.
The BMW bumped into an unavoidable pothole, and then Pete turned left again, this time onto an almost invisible track. He drove along the edge of a field, and up towards a large wood that sat on the top of the hill.
“Sulham Woods,” Pete said. The track swept away to the left, following the line of the trees. “Not far now.”
Suddenly, he steered the car into the woods, veering towards an almost hidden clearing. Three red brick farm buildings lined the right side of the road. At the end, a tiny cottage and a large house, perhaps a former farmhouse completed the street. Woods surrounded them, with ancient oak and chestnut trees leaning in towards the houses.
“That’s my place,” Pete said, pointing to the end of the close. “Sulham Farm. You’ll be in the cottage next door. It’s only got one bedroom, but the rooms are large.”
“This is beautiful,” Mark said, his voice so quiet the comment was almost made under his breath. “You really want to help me?”
“Thank my mum. This is her legacy.” Pete pulled into a gravel driveway, and stopped in front of Sulham Farm. “Shall I throw all that away?” He indicated at Mark’s rucksack on the backseat.
“All my stuff’s in there,” Mark said. “If you’re worried, you can search through. I’m not a junkie, there’s no drugs tucked away anywhere. And I’ll still need my clothes.”
“I should have said. I guessed your size. The wardrobe’s full.”
Mark stared at Freaky Boy for a few moments, his jaw hung slightly ajar. “This is the real deal, ain’t it?”
One corner of Pete’s mouth curled up into a slight smile, and he nodded. “Real as it gets.”
They climbed out of the car. Mark slung his rucksack over a shoulder and grabbed his guitar case. He followed Pete across the lawn to the cottage. The building looked like it had once been an old milking shed, built in red bricks similar to the other houses on the close, but only one storey high. Red Virginia creeper climbed up the walls and up and over the slate roof. Bushes with tiny electric blue flowers grew all along the front of the building, edging the lawn and only parting for the entrance. Pete slotted a key in the lock, and turned. He let the door swing wide open.
“Welcome to your new abode.” Pete stood aside, and allowed Mark to enter.
Inside, a slight musty smell greeted Mark’s nose. Nothing a few open windows wouldn’t cure. He stepped into a small hallway.
“This is your new living room,” Pete said, sidestepping Mark, and leading him to the left.
The room was large, with a window at both ends, and a fireplace on the wall between. Built with the same red brick used on the exterior, the chimney breast dominated the room. A large nook to the side of the fireplace had been packed tight with cut wood. A flat screen television and a stack of electronic equipment were to the right of the hearth, alongside a tall thin shelved unit stuffed full of CDs and DVDs. Two large sofas filled the rest of the room, their pale blue embossed pattern complementing the yellow paint on the walls.
“Nice,” Mark murmured. He put his guitar and rucksack down, hesitating before leaving his belongings, and followed Pete to the next room. Freaky Boy was in the kitchen filling the kettle under the cold tap.
“You’ll probably want a cup of tea.” He took a mug from the cabinet. “I stocked up. Wasn’t sure what you’d like, so I got a little of a lot. Make me a list when you have a moment.”
“Thanks…” The kitchen was small, not large enough for a table, but fine for two walls of cabinets. The window opened up on a petite garden, walled off from the main lawns and covered in clematis and passionflower vines. Their flowers painted the wall in bright blossoms. Someone had spent a long time planning the colours, the blooms following the shades of the rainbow.
“Here, take these.” Pete handed him a couple of tablets.
“What’re they for?” Mark turned them over in his palm.
“Thiamin and valium. Helps with the alcohol dependency. I’ll trust you to take one of the vitamin pills each day. But I’ll be doling out the valium.” Freaky Boy handed him a glass of water. “Swallow these before the shakes really set in.”
Mark popped the tablets in his mouth and slipped them under his tongue. He took a long drink, waiting for Pete to turn his back.
“Bathroom’s in here,” Pete called out. He’d left, and was in the hallway. Mark spat the pills into his palm and stuffed them in his jeans pocket before following Pete. To the right of the kitchen was the bathroom. The door was swinging shut. Mark took an obligatory peek in and then chased after Pete. Freaky Boy was waiting in the bedroom now, where a large bed had been stacked high with cushions.
“Billy liked all the pillows. Said after sleeping rough for so long, he couldn’t get enough of the softness. If you don’t want all the padding, throw them in the second cupboard. Your new clothes are in this one.” Pete opened one of two slatted doors. A few shirts and t-shirts hung from a rail. Underneath, a chest of drawers had been squeezed in to the space. “There are jeans, underwear and pyjamas. If you decide to stay, I’ll take you shopping for some more next week.”
Mark took a deep breath, tears sprung at his eyes. “Thank you, mate.” He tested the mattress. “Got your place in heaven picked?”
“Ha-ha,” Pete turned to go. “Enjoy your stay in the cottage.” Seconds later the front door slammed shut.
“Blimey.” Mark sat on the edge of the bed, and gazed around the room. Like the living room, it was dual aspect. The sun angled in the window at the western end, lighting a long yellow sliver up on the wall. Mark fetched his rucksack from the living room, and emptied the contents on the bed. He took a few old photos from a side pocket and put them on one of the bedside cabinets. Another compartment contained a worn wallet, his tobacco tin and Zippo. He added those to the pile. Then he emptied the rest of the rucksack onto the bed, shaking the pack until all his clothes fell out.
Mark picked up a worn jacket. Stains covered the fabric dulling the blue colour. One pocket had a rip in the side, the other a hole inside, so the contents fell through. He tossed the jacket in the corner and picked up an old t-shirt. This was stretched out of shape and too big for him anyway. He’d nicked it from a pile of bags outside a charity shop. Slowly he worked his way through a couple more shirts, mangy underwear and holey socks before taking the remains and chucking it all in the corner. He’d find a bin bag later. Maybe Pete would let him burn it all.
The bathroom was long and thin, but functional. Mark put the plug in, and turned on the taps. He tested the temperature to be sure the water ran nice and hot. Along the side of the bath, a high shelf held all sorts of shampoos and soaps. Mark picked through some bottles of bubble bath, opening the caps and sniffing until he found the one he wanted. The scent of lavender filled the small room as he poured the thick liquid into the running water. His fingers trembled slightly as he put the cap back on. Time for a little pick me up, Mark thought. Normally by now he’d be curled up in a doorway, a two litre bottle of cider to keep him company. Or around Cliff’s, scoring whatever he could with what he had left of his takings from the street. Mark shivered, lent forward, and turned the cold tap off. He needed a hot bath to heat his bones, take away the permanent chill. Maybe he’d light the fire later. Spread the remains of his tobacco into two smokes, save them up to take the edge off the night.
As Mark pulled his shirt over his head, he heard the sound of a revving engine. He dropped the t-shirt on the floor, left the bathroom and crossed the hall to the little window. After a moments wait to be sure the car was past the cottage, he twitched the net curtain aside a little. Pete’s black BMW shrieked up the street.
Mark stood there musing for a few moments. Then he returned to the bathroom, picked his shirt off the tiles, and redressed. A sly smile crossed his face as he opened the front door and peered out into the close. Nothing moved. No sounds to be heard other than the birds’ constant twittering. He put the lock on the latch and slowly pulled the door closed. With his hands stuffed in his pockets, he gave a fair impersonation of Pete as he strolled across the lawns and up to the farmhouse. He tried the front door, his face registering surprise as the handle moved smoothly in his grasp. After a quick glance behind him, Mark disappeared inside the house.