… Continued from “Thank Heavens for Kane” an unedited extract from the novel “Up the Wooden Dancers,” a work in progress.
When he drifted into The Grapes to watch the England game, Ryan hadn’t expected to be later squeezed into the back of a cab between Rachael and Abi, nor had he expected to be darkening the door of their semi in Formby a stone’s throw from the beach.
“It’s OK,” Rachael said, noting his awkwardness as she allowed him over the threshold.
“I’m going to bed,” said Abi, “Early train to Manchester tomorrow.”
“Where her girlfriend lives,” said Rachael.
“Right,” said Ryan.
“Go through, I’ll put the kettle on,” said Rachael.
Ryan found himself in a large, cosy and carpeted room with plush furniture and welcoming hearth. The teal-coloured walls boasted arty pieces, many of them depicting travel: Cuba, Nassau, Sydney and the ubiquitous New York, places he’d never been or ever felt likely to.
“Nice,” he said, when Rachael returned with a smile. In this light she was not attractive but beautiful, he thought, not daring to ask himself how long it was since he’d fucked a woman, not that he was sure that would happen.
“Sit down,” she said, “Tea or coffee?”
With a nod she disappeared again into the kitchen. Ryan chose an armchair and sat down, sinking deep, relishing the natural warmth of an unheated house for the first time in God knows, waiting and wondering, exploring the world on the walls, hearing the tinkling tea-making noises off.
“Have you been all these places?” he asked by way of polite conversation and all he could think of as she returned with two steaming mugs.
“God no,” she said, placing the mugs on the coffee table, its glass top shielding compartments containing nick-nacks and further trinkets of travel.
“Thanks,” he said, knowing he shouldn’t say that.
“I did get to Cuba year before last,” she said. “The table’s from Ikea.”
“Is that the capital?” he joked, and she laughed and said one day she’d travel the world.
“Strange,” he said, amid a long pause while they sipped, “Me being here.”
“Where have you been sleeping?” she asked, “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“By the station. There’s a rough bit of ground behind the pub, with an outbuilding. There’s two of us there.”
“Is that where your stuff is?”
“I haven’t got much. Just some clothes and things.”
“Don’t worry we’ll find you something, till morning” she said.
Self-conscious now it was clear he was here for the night, Ryan sought refuge in his drink.
“You must be starving,” she said.
“Not really, full of crisps,” he answered, and she laughed again, that wonderful sound of a woman laughing, that unbelievable sight of her slender throat tightening as she swished her hair back in mirth.
“Listen,” she said, in all seriousness, “you’re not sleeping rough tonight, you’re staying here.”
“No, I want you to.”
“I’ll be away tomorrow,” he said.
With that she rose and left the room, returning soon after with a dressing gown which she dropped on his lap. “I bought it for my dad when he went into hospital,” she said, “he never got chance to wear it.”
“Abi’s running you a bath.”
“You saying I’m dirty?” he quipped, and she laughed again, breaking the sombre moment.
“Not at all.”
“I do wash you know,” he said, “Service stations, they have showers, facilities.”
“Well tonight you can use ours,” she said, firmly.
On the landing, whose thick carpet trod pleasantly towards the sound of running water, he hung back as Abi slipped out of the bathroom.
“Night,” she said, unsmilingly.
Without knowing why, automatically he supposed, Ryan locked the bathroom door behind him before stripping naked. Stepping into the bath was sheer luxury, something he hadn’t experienced since, he recalled, living with his Auntie Doreen and her wanker of a boyfriend. He sank into its depths and looked around the bathroom, clad entirely in tile, nothing on the walls but shelving containing various creams, soaps, scented candles and incense. The only adornment was a postcard stuck to the back of the door: FEMINISM: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” – REBECCA WEST. Ryan read this over about four times, trying to memorise it and for some inexplicable reason assuming it’d been stuck there by Abi not Rachael. Thinking back, he got the impression she wasn’t happy about him being here – she’d said hardly a word in the cab and when Rachael left the living room earlier he’d heard muffled voices that didn’t altogether sound agreeable.
Whatever, he was here now, having a hot bath, feeling the cleanest he’d felt for ages and, he couldn’t help noticing, the hardest, his member periscoping out of the depths and staring him in the eye as if to say “Hello? What have we here?”
He thought about that – what indeed had he here? Abi didn’t seem too enamoured, but what about Rachael? Why was she taking him in like this? She hardly knew him, bar offering him a tissue in church on Christmas Eve. He’d been in weird and surprising situations before, nobody living on the streets for years hadn’t; he’d given a bloke a hand job behind Home Bargains for twenty quid, he’d been taken for a ride by a homeless girl in Tranmere who he thought was going to shag him but was only after his gear, he’d been invited to move in with a bloke with one leg who had a fetish for licking toes… But this? What did we have here? Was it sex? Some weird fetish? Rachael seemed ok, but you never know, looks deceive and you don’t live on the street without cross-referencing, watching your back. Because what would a beautiful, tall, slim brunette want with a no-mark like him? He’d still got his looks, but… He towelled himself dry and put on the dressing gown she’d given him. “Dead man’s dressing gown,” he thought, and left the room.
When he padded downstairs, somehow wishing his cock would behave and somehow wishing it wouldn’t, he found Rachael leaving the kitchen having taken the mugs away.
“Feel better?” she asked.
“Obviously,” she said, with a look. “Shall we go up?”
“You sure?” he said.
“Look I won’t be cruel,” she said, “We’re not going to fuck, I just want you in with me. If that’s a problem there’s a spare room.”
“It’s not a problem,” he said, thinking otherwise, and she led the way, saying they’d have to be quiet because of Abi and her early start.
Rachael’s bedroom was tastefully-furnished, like every other room he’d been in. The walls were neutral and this time pictureless but family photographs stood neat and smiling on every available surface. “Get into bed,” she whispered, “while I do my teeth.”
As she left the room, Ryan did as he was told, loving the cool touch of the duvet, the first time he’d seen a duvet in God knew how long. After a few moments Rachael returned, switched off the light and crept over to the bed, which bounced as she sat to remove her earrings. He heard them clatter onto the bedside cabinet, then felt her slip into the bed beside him.
“You sure you’re alright with this?” she said.
“Sure,” he said.
“Spoon me,” she said, turning foetal.
Ryan did as he was told, knowing his cock would be twitching and knowing she’d be feeling it.
“Let’s just talk,” she said.
And so they did. He told her more about how he finished up on the streets, his dad leaving home and his mum hitting the bottle and getting run over, and him losing his way with Everton Football Club and going to live with his auntie and it not working out because he hated her wanker of a boyfriend Tyrone, and how one day he hoped to see his dad again. She told him about her job and her plans to travel, and her plans to one day be on the property ladder in her own right, and how her mum was in a nursing home and she sees her regularly but she only knows her sometimes, other times she’s away with the fairies, and how her dad died three months ago and it broke her heart. She asked if he’d ever had a girlfriend and he said he was once in love but she fucked his best mate just after they left school and there’d been nobody serious since. He asked if she’d ever had a boyfriend and she said several but most of them were tossers. She hoped one day she’d get married and have kids but it doesn’t look likely, Abi was right. And he said all he wanted was to see his dad again.
“Why don’t you look for him?” she asked.
“I think I will,” he said.
“Have you any idea where he might be?”
“I’ve always wondered if he went back to Ireland,” he said.
He began to talk about childhood memories; his first pair of football boots, how they’d go to the park and his dad would show him tricks, how to do keepy-uppies and how to bend the ball with the inside or outside of his foot, how to hit through the ball – “Put your laces through it!” How his dad would come and watch him play for the school, and how he’d take him to Goodison or sometimes Anfield though he’d always be a Toffee it was in his blood. And then when he got into the Academy his dad gave him £500 as a present but that was the last time he saw him…
He realised Rachael was asleep – he could hear the changing of her breath – but he stayed like that, spooning her and holding her, feeling the rise and fall of her breast and hearing the gentle snore.
In the morning he woke alone, blinking at the day and wondering for a minute where the fuck was he? But soon the door opened and Rachael entered, fully-dressed and fetching with her a cup of tea and sweet smell of perfume.
“Wakey wakey,” she said, “I’ve brought you a drink.”
“Thanks,” he said, struggling up, trying to make some sense of things.
He watched as she sat at her dressing table, tied up her hair and looked in the mirror to do her lipstick and said, “Lovely story by the way.”
“About your dad. You must miss him terribly. I miss mine.”
“I thought you were asleep.”
“I still heard,” she said, “So what are you going to do today?”
“Dunno,” he said, “What about you?” he added, as if for all the world this was the norm when usually he’d be wondering where was the next meal.
“Work I’m afraid,” she said, “but don’t feel you have to get up. Abi’s already left.”
“But what should I do when you’ve gone?”
“Have breakfast first you must be starving,” she said, “then if you go out just close the door behind you it’ll be OK.”
Still trying to take all this in, Ryan paused, before saying “I can’t believe you trust me. Nobody trusts people like me.”
“Well I do,” she said. “Look, I know last night was weird, and you won’t be here when I get back. I just want you to know I needed this too. Right?”
“Right,” he said, as she put the finishing touches to herself before grabbing her handbag and keys.
“That’s me,” she said, “Now have something to eat and take care.”
With that, she gave him a peck on the cheek and was gone.
From the dimly daylit bedroom, Ryan heard the front door close and soon after a car engine start up as he sipped his tea. Then, he got up, shook off the dead man’s dressing gown before fishing his clothes from the bathroom. Downstairs he helped himself to breakfast, just a bowl of cornflakes, before heading for the front door. But just as he was about to leave, he spotted a note on the hall table, atop a pile of money:
Take this, it said, Buy some food and clothes, find your dad. Good luck, Rachael ps. we don’t say thanks but anyway thanks x
Hardly able to believe it and smiling, Ryan counted the notes, five hundred pounds, before closing the door behind him.