Continued from “Charity Begins Away from Home” from the novel “Wooden Dancers” a work in progress…
Ryan was just getting somewhere with Rachael when a knock on the door woke him up. Blinking angrily at another wasted hard-on, he took a minute to take in these new surroundings, this comfortable double bed in a plush bedroom the likes of which he hadn’t known for years, before realising it was the spare bed of his new friend Chris’ swanky apartment in Manchester.
“Room service!” said the urbane voice from the other side of the door.
“Right,” murmured Ryan, before turning over to kip again, hoping to resume where he and Rachael left off… but the moment was gone.
“Tea and toast only I’m afraid, I’ve no eggs,” said Chris, who was already showered and dressed neatly in slacks, shirt and blazer.
“How did you sleep?”
“It’s a comfortable bed my daughter always says. It was she who chose the decor.”
“She’s right,” Ryan said, already forming a private picture of what his daughter was like and what she was like in bed. The photos on the wall suggested she was pretty fit, attractive. But it would’ve been disrespectful to push the image further on account of her father and his new friend’s hospitality.
“What time are you heading to Abersoch?” he asked.
“Soon,” said Chris, “Change at Crewe.”
“Bet you can’t wait to see her.”
“I miss them dearly, both of my kids,” he said, “I look forward to these trips. Don’t get much chance these days, they’re so busy, then there’s my war wound and my bloody colitis.”
“So?” said Ryan after a bite of toast and sip of tea, “What are my instructions?”
“I told you last night. Come and go as you please, did I give you a key? Yes. Otherwise keep it generally clean and tidy. I should be back in a fortnight but sometimes she likes me to stay a while longer.”
“I can’t believe you’re trusting me like this,” said Ryan.
“Where are we if we don’t have trust?” said Chris, “I didn’t tell you I’m a Christian, did I? Too often we don’t see the good in people. I saw the basic decency in you, ergo I trust you. And I have every confidence you won’t abuse my trust.”
“Absolutely,” said Ryan, the key he’d had cut yesterday burning a hole into his pocket and conscience.
“Anyway,” said Chris, “I have friends.”
“And when you have friends, the world’s a small place.”
When Chris had gone, Ryan made more toast. He wasn’t famished, but decided he was making up for the past few days when he’d eaten very little since the crisps in the pub with Rachael and Abi, then cornflakes the following morning after they’d spent the night spooning. When he thought of that he remembered his dream with a hint of irritation that it’d been savagely interrupted. And then he looked around this apartment, with its neatly sparse furniture, the pictures on the walls of Chris in handsomer days before age and the war wound and the bloody colitis, of Chris with Muhammad Ali who’d bought one of his shirts, of his son and daughter who looked fit and attractive.
“And when you have friends, the world’s a small place.” He recalled Chris’ final words before he left, their meaning clear. “Though I’m a Christian,” they said, “if you abuse my trust I wouldn’t think twice of having the people I know track you down and throwing you in the Manchester Ship Canal with your pockets full of bricks.” After the altruistic moments of the day before, the pints of Guinness, the wine, the noodles and chicken, the comfy bed, the spare key, those words offered a comparatively ominous and pointed message, and Ryan revisited his intention to do as he was asked and look after the place in Chris’ absence. No more abuse of trust.
So once he’d showered, enjoying its rich warmth, he washed the dishes from the night before then looked around again. Though it was clean and tidy, he could see mosaics of dust and hair gathered in the corners of the wood-block floor, so hunted for the Hoover and found it in the airing cupboard in the hallway, where he saw for the first time a book case. Alongside titles such as The Godfather, One was Not Enough, The Moors Murderers, The Krays and Ghost Story Anthology were rows and rows of travel books, indicating Chris had seen the world: China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South Africa, The South Americas, USA and Canada. And on the bottom shelf there were vinyl albums showing equally eclectic travel: Slade, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Stone Roses, Radiohead, Coldplay, Kate Bush, Abba, Cliff Richard, Bach, Elgar, Orff… Ryan pondered these a moment then hunted for a record player which he found in Chris’ bedroom, where he smelled the familiar smell he’d smelled on the man, though was clean and tidy enough. The bed had been made regimentally and the en suite shower reeked of Aramis and bleach. And then he began to Hoover the entire flat, every room, while dancing to the Stone Roses. His life these past few days had been full of unexpected turns, this the latest, weirdest and the most fun of all.
When he’d cleaned the place up he decided to head into town, have a walk down Deansgate to try and find his old mate Michael in the Northern Quarter. Last he heard he was running a business there, selling vintage clothing, probably a spin-off from his Jewish father’s tailoring outfit. It felt odd leaving this swanky block, using a key to lock a door, the first time he’d done so since living with his Aunty Doreen and her wanker of a boyfriend, which was years ago. But it felt good too, like it felt good to speak to an Asian couple, two of Chris’ neighbours, on the stairwell. Chris had given him the code to the front door so he was able to deftly leave the building, as if it was his, as if kipping on the streets was a world away.
It was another warm morning promising a scorching afternoon as he headed under the Deansgate railway bridge, across Whitworth Street then along towards the Beetham Tower which glistened richly in the sun, standing up tall and proud as if to say fuck you impoverished. He gazed over at the Indian restaurant that used to be The Pig and Porcupine where he’d played pool with Michael all those years ago when they were football apprentices. He passed the cafes and bars on his right before crossing the road at Central then further down to the business end of Deansgate, where he’d cut the key that burned a hole into his conscience, and where there were further bars offering pavement culture. He fancied a pint but had no money, and was reminded why he was here in the first place – to sort his life, get a job, stay clean and find his dad. But a drink was the main thing right now, the walk had worked up a thirst along with the familiar resentment of not having money to get so much as half of Guinness.
By the time he reached the Northern Quarter, now alive with shoppers, businesspeople and drop-outs, it was 1pm. He headed for Oldham Street where he believed Michael’s business to be, and after scoring a miss at one or two establishments he eventually found what he was looking for, a small independent tailor’s above a large premises that looked like was once a buzzing factory. Over the door it said Summerbees, and an arrow pointing upwards, now faded. He headed up the stairs and could smell the aroma of material and some sort of chemical, and could hear the whirr of sewing machines and conversation. At the top of the stairs he turned left towards an open door and followed the voices, then saw they belonged to two women sewing feverishly, one telling some sort of joke about the size of her boyfriend’s cock and the other laughing, before stopping to look at Ryan.
“Can I help you?” said one, clearly surprised that someone should darken the door.
“I’m looking for Michael,” he said.
“Yea, Michael Summerbee.”
“He means the bloke that done a runner,” said the second woman.
“Oh. He’s not here love,” said the first.
“Do you know when he’ll be back?” he said.
“Shouldn’t think he’ll be back at all if he’s any sense, “she said, “he hadn’t paid the rent. Place is run by Abdul now. We’re like his seamstresses.”
“Last I heard he was in London or somewhere,” said the other.
“Less he’s been shot,” said the first, and then they both started laughing.
“Right thanks,” said Ryan, and headed disappointed back down into the sun.
Done a runner? Not paid the rent? Less he’s been shot? He didn’t like the thought of that, but wouldn’t put it past a lot of people. But along with his disappointment and concern he felt a selfish frustration; he was hoping for a float from Michael, or even a job, but now that wasn’t likely. So he headed with these thoughts back to Chris’ flat, where at least there was a bit of grub in the fridge but no eggs, and where he’d think again about the next step forward on his plan.
After the fuggy cocktail of down-trodden art deco, dusty streets and weed, the business end of Deansgate offered a marked contrast; more traffic, less litter and fewer spice junkies and beggars. And once again it was here that Ryan wished he could walk in a bar and order a drink like it was some sort of normality; the Living Room, the Moon Under the Water, why couldn’t he just walk in there, and why did he have to feel that though he was dressed in his new jeans he couldn’t go in because he still didn’t have a pot to piss in? And then he was here, approaching a new apartment block that contained the wealth of upwardly-mobile thirty-somethings, using the code Chris had given him, using the key to Apartment 13 as if he were one of those thirty-somethings.
He’d planned on getting something to eat from the fridge then having another kip in that comfy bed, but when he entered he was surprised to hear a voice.
“But where are you?” it said, “What the fuck’s going on?”
Confused, Ryan entered the living room, where confusion turned to shock to see a girl on the settee, in her thirties, on the phone and remonstrating. “Who the hell are you?” she said, startled.
“Dad there’s a bloke here calls himself Ryan.”
Not knowing precisely what to do, Ryan just hovered, listening to what was obviously Chris’ voice muffled on the other end of the phone.
“Right,” she said, “I wish you’d told me. I’ll call you later OK?” And with that, she ended the call and looked at him. “So? You’re here to water the plants?”
“Well, to sort of house-sit,” said Ryan, “I’m a friend of your dad’s.”
“And do you know where he is?” she said, “He wouldn’t tell me.”
“I thought he’d gone to see you,” said Ryan.
“Evidently not,” she said, “He was meant to meet me here. I told him I was coming a week ago.”
“Maybe he forgot.”
“Maybe,” she said, “Maybe it’s the first sign of madness.”
“You must be his daughter then,” said Ryan.
“So he gave you a key is that it? Or are you a squatter?”
“I told you. He asked me to look after the place for him.”
“I don’t get it,” she said, “Like how long have you known him?”
“He’s a fucking weirdo.”
“Look,” said Ryan, “I’ll give you the key if you want, make myself scarce.”
“No you go for it,” she said, “If he wants you to look after it then look after it. I just don’t get how he forgot I was coming here.”
“Have to admit it was a bit weird. We met yesterday down Deansgate. I asked if he knew of anywhere with a pool table. We had a couple of drinks, then he cooked, let me crash.”
“Got pissed on wine by the look of things,” she said, of the two empty bottles on the kitchen counter, “I worry about that man sometimes.”
“So do you want me to do one or not?”
“Sit down,” she said, “If he’s asked you to look after the place, least I can do is find out who you are, if he won’t tell me.”
“My name’s Ryan,” he repeated.
“Yea I recognised you from the pictures.”
With these fundamentals done and an uncomfortable pause, Ryan sat down at the kitchen counter where he and Chris had eaten their chicken and noodles and drank the wine the night before.
“So you don’t know where he is either?” she said.
“No idea. As I said I thought he was going to Abersoch or somewhere.”
“Fucking weird,” she repeated.
“I’m from Liverpool,” he said, “Well, not far away.”
“I guessed,” she said.
“But I came here to find my dad.”
“Likewise. Have you eaten?”
“He did some toast before he left.”
“Nice of him. Bed and breakfast.”
“Well I haven’t eaten and I’m starving after that drive. I was supposed to arrive at one and take him for lunch. Might as well take you instead I guess.”
And so it was that Ryan found himself in one of the bars on Deansgate Locks ordering a pint of lager because there was no Guinness, and a burger – another surprising turn of events.
“So what do you do?” she asked, pouring her wine.
“At the moment nothing,” he said, “I was hoping to crash at a mate’s house, then bumped into your dad.”
“What, are you homeless?”
“No,” he lied, “I live in Formby.”
“But you’re unemployed.”
“I was a footballer.”
“Are you pulling my leg?”
“I’m a bit of a Liverpool fan.”
“That’s your problem,” he said, and they laughed. “So what do you do?”
“When I’m not taking the day off to come and see my stupid father I’m an estate agent,” she said.
“Right,” he said.
“I’ve been on at my dad to flog that apartment of his. They’re losing value all the time, the amount of building they’re doing around here.”
“He said something about that,” said Ryan, “It’s a nice place though.”
“He bought it when he split with my mum, thinking he’d buy himself some city life, man about town and all that shit. They used to live in a really big house in Styal. Always liked to live in Style my dad,” she grinned.
“So how long have you lived in Abersoch?” he asked.
“About five years,” she said, “And I love it there.”
“I’ve never been.”
“I will,” he said, “So what? Have you got family there?
“No just me,” she said, “and my dog. We spend lots of time on the beach, the weather’s been so fantastic.”
“Right,” he said, and after a sip of his lager he really looked at her and thought nicer than on the photos. Tall, slim, short blonde hair, blue eyes and from where he sat he could see a tanned thigh as her short skirt had hitched up, making something go on in his pants.
“So you’ve never been married or anything?”
“Don’t believe in it,” she said, “Dad’s always been on at me about it, I think he wants to be a granddad, poor thing, not much chance of that I’m afraid, not by me anyway. My brother perhaps.”
“You haven’t even got a boyfriend?”
“I’ve had them. Can’t be doing with relationships though. I think we’re not designed to stay with a person for longer than say ten years.”
“So you’ve never settled down?”
“Well, you know.”
“I don’t know, tell me.”
But he was spared from this line of enquiry when the waitress arrived with his burger and her smoked salmon.
“It’s on me don’t forget,” Judy said.
“Thanks,” he said, “I’ll have this then move on.”
“I thought you were supposed to be looking after my dad’s flat?”
“Well now you’re here I thought you might want to stop over, you might want your bed back.”
“Bugger that,” she said, “I was only ever going to stay for the day this time. Very rare I stay over there now. I’m driving back tonight. That’s why this wine will be my last.”
This came as something of a disappointment to Ryan, partly because he quite fancied getting pissed and partly because he quite fancied Judy. She was easy to talk to, good fun in her dry way, a straight-talker, no bullshit, and something about her told him she’d be up for it if she was stopping a bit longer.
So when they finished their meal and he’d thanked her, she announced it was time she thought about heading back, but first she’d go to her dad’s with him because she’d left her tablet there. On the way, they talked some more, about how despite what she said about her dad’s apartment she quite liked Manchester, she went to Uni here and thought about staying on permanent till she met a bloke from Abersoch and fell in love not with him because he turned out to be a tosser, but with the place, and how if she wasn’t so in love with Abersoch she’d find the idea of city living reasonably attractive. And he talked about some of the goals he’d scored for Everton and how his career savagely ended because of his dad walking out on him.
“That’s a shame,” she said, as she let them into the apartment block.
Up in number 13, she found her tablet and said she might as well have a cup of tea before heading off, and he said he’d make it, her dad had shown him where everything was.
“Thanks,” she said, “when Dad’s here it’s me who does all the making.”
And over their cups of tea they chatted some more, before she rose from the settee and said, “So?”
“So what?” he said.
“So are we going to have sex or not?” she said. And with that, she took off her black top and sat astride him, and kissed him, and as the kiss became passionate he lifted her off the chair and carried her to the kitchen counter and pushed her legs apart, still kissing and pushing his body between them.
“In the bedroom,” he said.
“No!” she insisted, “Right here!”
“Have you got anything?”
“For fuck’s sake! It’s a good job I have then,” she said, “You’re fucking big.”
And so they fucked, wildly at first before slowing down, at her command, because she said it seemed like he hadn’t had it for a while and he admitted that was true, the last time he slept with a woman they didn’t do anything because she didn’t want to.
“Well I do,” she said, and so they did.
Afterwards, he asked again if she was staying over, wanting desperately to spend the night with her, just to sleep once again with a fit woman, wake up next day with her in that comfortable bedroom for which she’d chosen the decor, as if for all the world that was normal, that was his normal life. But she repeated the words she’d said earlier, “Bugger that,” and added that she needed to get back for her dog. So very soon after that he was escorting her to the door to say goodbye before she drove back to Abersoch.
“My card,” she said, “Give me a ring if you ever fancy a trip to the seaside.”
“Right,” he said.
“And by the way,” she said, “Don’t forget to water the plants.”
I would like to help a homeless writer