Alien Murmuration - Chapter 14 (1991)
By Vincent Burgess
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Mum is screaming at me again. I cover my ears and lay my head on the table.
“You can’t just block it all out! You have to live this life!”
I don’t even get what she is so angry about. I lift my head uneasily and find myself looking at the half-empty wine bottle sitting on the kitchen bench. I try to gather my thoughts, I even take a breath to speak. Enough breath to ask what I’ve done . . . I wanted to talk to her about Katie. I thought she might be excited for me.
“Surely this is living my life, I met a girl mum. She likes me. Can you believe it mum?” No words just the conversation in my head. Daydreaming how this conversation could have gone.
At the end of my daydreamed conversation, I ask what I should do next.
I am woken from my daydream by the front the front door going. Aunty Caroline cheerily breezes in but stops mid-sentence. The breeziness disappears. She smiles at me and then walks over to mum. IN no time they are hugging and then sobbing. Bang goes my thought of Aunty Caroline improving the atmosphere around here. I wonder if this I what I should have done? Is this why mum is so mad at me? All my life she has given me everything and now when its my turn to repay all her patience and kindness I’ve got noting. My guts are churning. I breathe deep and slow, Like I have been taught so many times. I am struggling to break my gaze from them both. My brain feels closed, tight and spikey. I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing . . . but I know I did it wrong.
“He’s going out again, Caz . . . he’s always going out.”
I look down at my feet. I only go out all the time because this is what happens when I am here. I look at Aunty Caroline imploring her to understand.
“He’s a teenager, honey. It's what he is supposed to do. You should be proud . . .”
Mum sobs something I can’t make out as Aunty Caroline leads her upstairs.
“It's not his fault Val, it's not his fault.”
I push my plate of half-eaten spaghetti bolognaise away from me. I can’t wait to get out of here; and that feeling makes me feel even worse.
When Aunty Caroline comes back down she sits opposite me at the table. She looks at me and smiles, then gets up and comes and sits next to me. She is so thoughtful, she always knows what to do. I wish I could learn. We sit quietly for a few moments her hand next to mine. I can feel her there and I can feel her love. I hope she can feel mine. I wish mum could too.
“What should I be doing?” I say softly, evenly without moving or looking up. “And what isn’t my fault?”
I was feeling a bit better but then I think about mum.
“She misses your dad, honey”
I swallow hard and force the molten emotion eruption back down inside me. My eyes feel wide and wild. I cover my face with my hands. Aunty Caroline moves her hand closer to me and I feel tears leaking from my eyes. After a few minutes, I croak weakly.
“I miss him too. . . I wish he . . .”
Instinctively she touches my shoulder. Just as quickly she apologises and puts her hand back on the table.
“It’s okay” I say looking right at her. I reach out and take her hand. I can’t help but smile mischievously because I know this move is making her freak. She moves to speak and then checks herself, she settles simply for.
“You’re a good boy Allen”
I smile back “I upset mum whatever I do.” Tears are rolling down my cheek. “I promised dad I’d . . . “ I look down again.
“You know I’m just a phone call away honey, If you need to or want to, you can come and stay with me. Anytime. Okay? Anytime.”
“I’m okay” I smile weakly at her. Lying. I need her all the time I am here. That is why I hardly ever am. I don’t know how to explain. “I just wish Dad were here’. I think it. I don’t say it. When I say it, it makes everything crazy.
“Your mum said that you were going out tonight? What are you up to?” She smiles and looks at me encouragingly.
“We were going to go and see a band. A friend of a friend.” I speak softly and evenly still. Like any hint of emotion will unleash the eruption inside me
“There is this girl . . .” I pause, not meaning to share this but really wanting to. I can’t stop it coming out. “. . . but I should probably stay home. I don’t think Mum wants me to go.”
Aunty Caroline perks up and smiles at me. I roll my eyes and smile too “A girl? Did you say there’s a girl??”
I look away again, but this time smiling. “Her name is Katie, she’s pretty cool.”
“You go, Al, you can’t leave Katie waiting.” Her smile drops “I’ll take care of your mum. I think she really just needs her sister.”
I smile again. “Really? You think I should?” I look into her kind blue eyes. She looks shocked but holds my gaze.
“You know your dad would be so proud of you.”
I watch a tear escape her eye and roll down her cheek. I smile and wish that Mum was proud too.
“Caroline . . .” I start seriously, wanting to ask what I should do about Katie, what I should do about Mum, what I should do about everything.
He is looking at me kindly, sad but kind.
I break her gaze and look down “Nothing” I say defeated. Not knowing how to get the questions I need to ask out.
She smiles “You go out with Katie and have a good night, sweetheart”.
I smile and stand up. I even take a step towards her to hug her. Then I don’t.
I go. I wait outside in the crisp autumn air. I roll my shoulders, wipe my eyes and get myself ready for a night out. Shaking my head, I start to feel good. Manny and I went shopping a couple of weeks ago and I am wearing my new gear. Deep green Gazelles, dark red baggy jeans, a baggy long sleeve jumper over a deep green and brown striped t-shirt. We got the jumper from Boy London in town. Manny’s mate runs the shop and we hung there for a while. Upstairs has just been taken over by a record shop, Jelly Bean or something like that. Not really my thing. All that doof doof doof hardcore stuff. The guy that runs it is a DJ called Luke Slater. Anyway the thing that struck me was how fucking loud it was. So much bass, no melody, no tune. Just a whole load of drums and bass. Not my scene at all.
I do my new coat right up and wait for Manny.
I blow into my hands and stamp my feet a bit trying to keep warm. What the fuck do I do about mum? - Dad would know - but Dad not being here is the problem. Fuck that depression, fuck misery and fuck all those complicated emotions that I don’t understand. That I don’t understand? Fucking joke, seems to me that no one fucking understands them. Mum can’t afford the psychologist any more so I guess I will be added to the rest who don’t understand. More importantly, though it means that I don’t have anyone to talk to. Aunty Caroline has got enough on her plate without dealing with all my shit too.
Manny bowls around the corner. He looks smart, as usual. White shell toes glistening in the greying evening. His jeans cover most of them but the plasticy grooved toes are shining bright and new.
“Looking good Alien,” he smiles. Holding his arms outside in a gesture that says ‘behold world, this is where we are at’. “You are looking the goods man” He offers me a hand for an enthusiastic high five.
We plan to walk up to Rod’s place and then on to meet Tash and Lizzy at Saint Ann’s Wells. He looks at me smiling and says something about it being a good night. I am not really listening as my head is full of wondering if Katie is going to be there. I take a breath to ask.
“Did you listen to that Ride tape I gave you?” says Manny “Chris and Tom’s band sound a bit like them.”
“That album is insane.” I smile “I listened to it with headphones on, it blew my brains out.
As he shrugs he laughs “You know they call it ‘shoegaze’? There are a few bands doing similar stuff. Tom and Chris played me some. . . it’s cool man”
I look over at him as we walk “Why ‘shoegaze’?”
Manny laughs and throws his hair forward “They’ve all got long hair and fringes - you know? - and they play hunched over their guitars. Gazing at their shoes man.” He laughs again and mimics playing a guitar while swaying and looking at his feet. .”
I laugh and join in as best I can until we get to Rod’s house.
Rod walks out of his house and stops suddenly when he sees us. He snorts and laughs “What the fuck are you two doing?”
“We’re shoegazers.” Manny blurts, with over-the-top sincerity and mock offence.
“Have you listened to that ride album?” I laugh, they are shoegazers, apparently, the band we are going to see tonight are similar.
“These Animal Men?” Rod says looking confused “I thought they were kind of crusty? You know white dreadlocks and skater shorts. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Pop Will Eat It’s Self”
This makes us stop being shoegazers and start jumping about and flicking out imaginary dreadlocks singing.
As we walked down to the park my guts turn over and over. As we walked through the gate they clean disappeared. Like that feeling when you drive fast over a humpback bridge. . . well, when you are sitting in the back anyway. This was no bridge though. All I do is wonder if Katie is going to be with Tash and Lizzy when we meet them. In the end, my head is as empty as my stomach. After thinking over and over what I might say when I saw her next. It turns out that I have nothing left when there is an actual chance that I might see her. It seems like I start mumbling as Manny suddenly asks me.
I shake my head and mumble a bit more.
Rod has bought some soap bar with him so we decide to roll one up while we wait for the girls.
As we wander through the rising dust of dusk I look over and see Lizzy and Tash sitting hunched up to keep warm and laughing. They are always laughing, what on earth was so funny? I keep looking closely but I can’t make out if someone else is with them. My guts go again! Dark and thick now with the mass of disappointment pushing them deep. I have no idea what I would say to her but the relief of not having to solve that problem right now is outweighed by the disappointment of her not being here.
We walk towards them and wave as they wave to us. I feel weird waving as I am never quite sure if I am included in them being pleased to see us. I am doing a sort of half-wave - well maybe a three-quarter wave - just a little too much to deny I was doing it if I really had to. I am putting myself out there you see. Taking a risk, just like Dad told me to.
I feel a touch on my hand, I instinctively pull it back and sort of dodge to the side turning my head to the side to identify my assailant.
“Sorry Al.” A soft voice choruses with kind hazel eyes.
A smile creeps across my face.
“Hi,” I say slowly smiling. Glad that I have at least one word.
She reaches her hand out towards mine again and I hesitantly jerk mine towards it. I know that this is what people do. I just don’t really know why.
After our spliff, we laugh and joke our way down to The Richmond. Katie doesn’t let go of my hand all the way. Weirdly I don’t mind. In fact . . . I like it.
When we arrive, it is dark and pretty cold. Katie pulls herself into me and it makes me feel weird. We file in through the door and then walk up the stairs pushing against the flow of loud guitar music.
The higher we climb the louder it gets. By the time we get to the top and open the door the bass is rattling the stairs.
“Just relax Al” Katie leans over and whispers in my ear. I have been squeezing her hand I think and she kindly squeezes back. She pays for us both, leads me inside and buys me a beer.
We are sitting by the bar. The music is too loud for me to hear what anyone is saying but it doesn’t stop Manny holding court. Everyone is laughing and nodding and I wonder if they have better hearing than me.
Eventually, Manny’s mate’s band come on. They play bass and drums. Tom on drums and Chris on bass I think. They both look about our age, much younger than the guy playing the guitar. They are both skinny with longish hair -standard shoegaze length. Tom is wearing a striped t-shirt and jeans while Chris is wearing a tight-fitting white shirt with large red roses all over it. They look pretty cool, confidently walking on stage. At this moment in time, that is exactly where I want to be.
They begin in a fog of feedback. It hurts my ears and I worry that I am squeezing Katie’s hand too hard. She is smiling at me, looking a little concerned. I try to smile back but don’t do a very good job of it. I start to notice a spikey yet melodic bassline meandering through the fog and hooking onto me. It leads a drum breakthrough and soon they are locked into a tight groove. The drummer is really good and accents everything with tight fills. They really hold my attention and take me somewhere. The songs are interesting and somewhat complex but the singer is way too quiet and although he looks like he is into his singing I can barely make out the melody, let alone the words.
A few songs in we are suddenly dancing in front of the stage. A few others are there too but there is plenty of room to flail around flicking our arms around in time to the music. At one point the singer shows his pleasure at this by jumping off stage - leaving his guitar feeding back on stage - and joining us for a dance. He drinks some of Manny’s beer and gives Tash a kiss before rejoining the band. Chris and Tom don’t bat an eyelid and just keep their grove going, embellishing with some drum fills and bass runs. This obviously happens a lot.
After their set, they get a drink and come over to us. We all shake hands and nod introductions.
Soon we are stepping out into the cold night air to wander over to the greens for a smoke. The girls have stayed in the pub but Manny, Rod and I along with Chris, Tom and a couple of others walk across the road in the cold night air. We find a tree to stand under in order to be a little discrete with our illegal activities. It is funny though because the fella who is actually skinning up is wearing a bright red duffle coat, not exactly inconspicuous as he reflects light across the whole green.
Manny waves me over to say hello properly.
As I walk over he smiles enthusiastically and jumps on the balls of his feet while pointing at me“This guy is a fucking insane guitarist.” I look down, feeling very uncomfortable but Manny continues “ he can sing really well too . . . but . . . well . . . doesn’t”
Chris laughs kindly and smiles “Why not man? I’ve love to be able to sing”
I mutter something that I am not even sure of and wander away to stand on my own and avoid the awkward question. The most awkward question are those that you ask yourself and can’t answer.
“I don’t like singing in front of other people” I look around and see another guy. He’s been out here the whole time but hasn’t said much.
I look over at him but don’t know what to say.
“What did you think of the band?” he smiles “They are so tight man, I think they basically practice every day. Tom and Chris have been playing together for years. They are in sync and have like musical ESP”
I nod and try my best to look interested. This guy seems nice, kind of gentle. Less hectic than Manny. I want to be involved in this conversation, its cool. But I don’t know what to say.
“The songwriting is really good but you can never hear the words. The singing really makes a band, you know?”
“Yeah I know,” I say, looking at the floor. I think about Whitey. He just doesn’t sound like the rest of us.
“So you are in a band with Manny? Are you still doing covers?”
“I am trying to learn to write songs you know” I say and it surprises me as I didn’t really expect to be quite so forthright and honest. “I’ve written so many words, and can do a few chord progressions but . .”
“. . . but you can’t get them to go together? . . . right?”
This confuses me. Mainly because he is totally spot on. Like he read my mind.
He continues “ Yeah, it's a puzzle man . . . and there is usually one part of it that holds people back.” this guy speaks with a kind of certain uncertainty that I am finding quite comforting. “I think that this is why so many people write with others. Morrisey and Marr, Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards . . . the list goes on.”
I nod, it certainly makes sense at this particular moment “ . . . and . . . what puzzle piece holds you back?”
His face beams like he is saying both ‘great question’ and ‘I’m glad you asked me that’. “Lyrics . . well, I can write some but . . . trying to pull them together for a whole song . . . you know?”
Quite suddenly everyone ups- sticks and heads back to the pub. As we walk I swallow hard, ready to put myself out there. I take a deep breath and hold out my hand “I’m . . . erm . . .Alien” I say quietly.
“Good to meet you Alien” he smiles “Wills”
“You want to try writing some songs, Alien?” Wills smiles kindly.
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NED's Atomic Dustbin. Had
NED's Atomic Dustbin. Had completely forgotten about them.
I enjoyed this. You capture the mood and time really well.
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Congrats -- this is our Pick
Congrats -- this is our Pick of the Day, please do give feedback and feel free to share on social.
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I am so glad to see another
I am so glad to see another part of this Vincent, such a sensitive handling in the first part of Allen and his mother's emotions - beautifully done. Very well deserved gold cherries (and the red ones too)
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Yes, totally agree btw. That
Yes, totally agree btw. That first section is done with real sensitivity and skill.
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SO GOOD to read another
SO GOOD to read another episode of this! Utterly involving, and what a high to finish on! Also I think it is helping me understand a bit what my son (who is into sound) is talking about :0)
In this bit, should it be She is looking at me kindly?
"“Caroline . . .” I start seriously, wanting to ask what I should do about Katie, what I should do about Mum, what I should do about everything.
He is looking at me kindly, sad but kind."
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This is our Story of the
This is our Story of the Month - Congratulations!
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