YOU WAKE TO A SOUNDLESS HOUSE
And the knowingness that they’re not here anymore seeps slow-creep inwards, that dark weight that makes you blur, yourself falling away from yourself, that shadow-hook tug that pulls from deep. You keep your eyes closed, bringing your knees up to your chest, wrapping your arms around your legs until you’re a tight ball in the womb of your bed... You lie there, your head under the stale-ale fug of bed-sheets, damp from night-sweats of whatever dark dreams took you. And yet, you wish for a return to this sleep, a sleep that takes this waking away... A lurch of lead-heavy gut makes you loose an arm to pull the sheets from your face, and eyes closed tight, you breathe. In. Out. In... And then you can hold it no longer, the daylight a snap and burn as you retch that brown-yellow water onto the green lino below, again, again... feeling that bitter string of saliva hanging from your lip as you see the empty Guinness bottles skittled, that black scuffed shoe by the dirty skirting board, that spatter of black shit in the seat of your crumpled trousers... The room tilts.
In the bathroom you run the News of the World under the bath tap. Bobby Charlton says WE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR FROM THE GERMANS. You bend over, reaching between your legs with the dripping sports page. The clags of dry shit pull from your arse-hair in little crackles, the sound in your ears like corn-stubble burning... You remember walking the burning fields with her... She wore that long blue dress, those little red roses dancing over her breasts, her behind... You had her in the woods by the stream, her eyes catching the sun that glittered through the leaves... You throw the sports page into the toilet. Gordon Banks looks out at you as you pull the chain. His good eye is hidden with shit, and he refuses to go down.
There’s a three-quarters-drunk bottle of Watney’s Pale Ale on the mantelpiece. That light lights itself inside of you. You knock the sour booze back. A salty tang makes your tongue spasm. Piss? In the dusty gold-rimmed mirror is your thin mottled face. You reach for the half-toothed comb from your inside jacket-pocket, then tug it through your oily matted hair. Behind you is the living room you shared with your wife and your children. They left the red settee and the table. They left the cupboard and two yellow plates. They left a picture of a crying clown and a blue teacup. They left a coal bucket and this mirror... You wash your face in cold water from the kitchen tap, and then you piss into the sink. By the sink is a dirty blue teacup. By the dirty blue teacup is a solicitor’s letter saying you can’t go near her, or the kids... You zip yourself up and leave by the backdoor. You don’t lock up.
There is four pounds in your pocket and some coins. You finger the coins as the bus nears town. Through the window you see the Crooked Spire. The lead slates catch the sunlight in a dull glint. A swirl of pigeons twist like backwards smoke over rooftops to your left. A sign outside a paper shop says COME ON ENGLAND! A mother with a shopping basket walks the pavement holding her small daughter’s hand. They are laughing at a joke you will never hear... When Ena and the kids left, they didn’t tell you where they’d gone. When you came back from the pub and read the note, you sat on the red settee and cried. Then you threw the two yellow plates against the wall. No one would tell you where they’d gone. The whole street pretended not to know. Then you went to the council offices pretending you were Ena’s brother just out the army, and that you’d been to her old address and she wasn’t there anymore. And of course the woman from the council told you. She was stupid, like all women are.
The first pub you go to is The Fox’s Vault. You’re not barred from here but the landlord gives you that look as he pours your pint. Behave now, he says. You smile, and say, Of course. The first pint is beautiful. You neck it in three. That light lights itself inside of you. You ask for another. The landlord gives you that look again, says, Last one, Walter. You nod, say Yes, go sit by the jukebox with your drink... You drink, light your first fag of the day. It too, is beautiful. Remember the first fag you ever had? The one Dad gave you? Both of you sat in front of the hearth, the firelight dancing on his face. How old were you? Ten? Eleven? Dad never said much, did he. Unless he was pissed. Mam saying, Don’t Frank, don’t... He broke her wrist once, didn’t he. Her telling you and your brothers and sisters that she fell making the fire. None of you believed her. But then, none of you said anything, did you... You finish your pint and walk out into the sunshine. So bloody what if she’s gone and took the kids with her? So bloody fucking what?
In The Queen’s Head, the landlord says No, so you flick him the jacks and head to the Fleece. You’re not barred from there. You drink three pints of Brampton Bitter, three double Bell’s. You’re on your fourth when Gerry Jones walks in so you sup up unseen in the snug, walk out by the side-door. You owe Gerry money. You already know he’s been looking for you. The Welbeck, you think... As you head out onto Knifesmithgate, a Salvation Army band is playing. A woman in a stupid black hat shakes a collection box in front of you. You tell her, Go sell your fat fuckin tits for pork. She stops shaking her tin and looks at you, her lips parted as though to say something, but she doesn’t. The Co-op clock says two-thirty. Half an hour till closing. You quicken your pace.
When you leave the Welbeck, the town gets in your way. You push the stupid chuffs from out of your path. Somewhere the Salvation Army band is still playing. Onward, you weave your way past the market, and that gobshite fruit and veg bloke has parked his stupid fucking horse and cart by his stupid fucking stall. You slap the horse’s arse with the flat of your hand and it jumps a little, the cart’s wooden wheels crattling across the cobbles. The gobshite fruit and veg bloke stops shouting about apples and says Hey! Hey! What the bloody hell d’yer think you’re doing? his scraggy lad grabbing the reins, Eeeasy Samson, eeeasy. You spin on your heel and point a finger. Shut. Your bleedin. Trap. And off you walk, too much on your plate to be bothered by stupid little chuffs like him, pushing past a stupid long-hair busker on the corner of Clark’s, his guitar clanging against the lamppost, SHIFT PUFFTER, knowing you need space, space from these stupid chuffs and their stupid fucking faces. You head to the Regal Picture House. You don’t care what’s showing. You just need space...
The film is called The Reptile. People are dying of what they think is the plague in a little village on the moors. A darkie with black staring eyes seems to be at the bottom of it. You fall into sleep, and you see her eyes catching the sun, a sun that glitters through leaves, your fingers that move through her soft hair, the cool hush of the stream and the woodpigeon’s lullaby, the warm breath of September soft hustling the trees, and I love you Ena Black with all my heart I do, and I will... And you will wake, and a mansion will be burning, a reptile man-creature screaming in the flames, and you will leave the dark of the picture house, walking back out into the late afternoon sun, through the thinning streets to Woolworth’s, where you will find that long aisle of plates and bowls and cutlery, take that silver ten-inch breadknife from the shelf, leaving with it pocketed and unpaid for, that blade nestled beside your oily half-toothed comb, and that piece of paper, with that house number on it, that street name, that place where they went.