Tom hates his mum’s driving because it really embarrasses him.
He and his mum once drove down to the shops and, right outside the main doors of the supermarket, his mum reversed into Kathy’s mum’s car. She was talking too much and not paying attention. That was a bit crap.
But then she drove off without getting out or saying anything which made Tom so ashamed he felt sick and had a cold tingly feeling all the way up his back and behind his ears for at least an hour.
They are in the last stretch leading up to his auntie’s village but the traffic is bad for some reason. Tom wonders whether the traffic jam is another by product of the untie-ing. Tom likes the idea of the traffic jam being caused maybe by a farmer driving his cattle down to the sea to drown them in a fit of ‘end of the world’ madness.
Or maybe there is a huge exodus of people from the area, trying to randomly decipher which bit of coast will end up being the desirable bit before the island even comes to a halt. A mass of them making furious spurious calculations and frantic Google searching, all with a mind to property purchasing.
One effect of the shift was that the weather had turned; literally. Parts of the UK experiencing weather like never before. The gentle rolling hills and beaches of South Devon had never had to face off an North Westerly marauding across the North Sea – and the trees, creatures, wave tops and locals looked all the more surprised for it.
For a while it was chillier in the morning and the days were losing light with almost Nordic efficiency. That was, until we turned left again. rolled around and started heading south again.
Nonetheless, everyone agreed, ‘the sunsets had improved immeasurably’ so said Charlie whatsherface from her lovely, lovely garden on the television at least.
Who knew where they would end up. He knew. No. Tom didn’t know: though he thought that maybe the world would expect him to know, given that he’d untied the country in the first place. As they round the bend on the dual carriage way at an unimpressive 23 miles an hour Tom feels a little disappointed. There are no cattle flailing wildly down the hard shoulder pursued by a foaming-mouthed farmer; just more cars.
There was surprisingly little hysteria to be found anywhere. In fact, you could hardly believe that there was anything unusual going on at all sometimes bar the odd confused goose trying to migrate somethingwards and some unexpectedly long boat trips.
Many had reacted in a very British ‘ah well, best make the most of it, eh! Is that rain I felt just; best get a brolly’ kind of way. Except Kathy of course.
(Careful what you wish for.)
Earlier in the day, Tom had been practicing rolling his hips – part of a ‘walk like a cool bloke’ thing he was trying out – as he walked from Science to Double Maths.
The journey took him around Block 1 (Powder Green & Summer Blue plastic panels set into cream painted steel frames hung in concrete with cantilever windows) towards the back of the school, scuffing over the drive, the grass verge and past the edge of the canteen.
As always Tom had been toeing and kicking the odd item as he went, including a strange ball of material at the kerb.
Luckily for Tom it turned out to be a girl in 4c’s pencil case, edged in purple fur, the name of a band he could not read scratched all over it.
‘Luckily’ because the girl’s boyfriend delayed Tom a short while. The pause was due to the boyfriend gently convincing him to pick up the stuff that he had kicked halfway across the tarmac by applying a small amount of pressure through his knee to the small of Tom’s back while pulling Tom’s chin upwards at the same time.
Task completed and Tom was back on his way. Scuffed but mobile again.
The short delay meant that he walked straight into Kathy as she walks around the side of the canteen.
It had taken Tom five minutes to pick up all of the scattered items. These included: pencils (two HB’s sharpened to half their length, 1 B, 2 3B’s and one 2H heavily chewed – an artist!), pens (three biros, one rainbow multi-head pen and two felt tips), an assortment of pencil top rubber animals shaped like fruit, a tampon and one slightly bent cigarette, partially smoked- five minutes that made the difference between Tom missing Kathy entirely and him bumping into her.
Tom was aware that the front of his trousers were slightly damp from the grass verge he’d been held down on and that a rogue piece of chewy has stuck itself to his crotch like a bright white blobby button. Unlike the old days, Tom did not really care.
Tom smiles at Kathy. The fiery ring in her eyes is especially bright today though he senses that she is a little nervous.
“So looks like we’re all going to drown in the middle of the Atlantic then.”
Tom wasn’t sure why he blurted this. Gallows humour Rob Hughes had called it in Biology class. Rob also said that girls find it enormously attractive.
Kathy bursts into tears.
Tom desperately wants to embrace Kathy in her moment of need. A Feeling shifts inside him, stretched the length of his body now; he feels like he is buzzing as if cloaked in some sort of laser field.
Tom is frozen, stuck; can’t move.
Kathy is inches from his body. Must do something, must do something. Tom reaches out and takes Kathy’s arms, currently unemployed down by her sides, dangling in rhythm to the sobs being transported down her shoulders from the top of her neck.
The feeling inside him turns and warps, has a bright flash and then coils like a rope through his arms and into Kathy’s.
Tom feels nervous. This is it. All he ever wanted was to be extraordinary, just once. Just once to be written about in a book; to hear the newscaster say his name on the news using a very particular intonation; to make Nigel’s mother look at him the way she looks at Sports-car Roger.
If he was extraordinary the girl at Mr. Sharpa’s would want to hang with him, even though he didn’t really fancy her. If he was extraordinary, his stealing would become a small forgettable example of a colourful highwayman past – and West would nod and say ‘nice one’.
If he was extraordinary, boys in trainers more expensive than their houses would know who he was and Kathy would think the world of him: he would become her hero, smiling, the bloke in the movie of her mind; the supreme stuntman who fell to heaven; the man who set everyone free.
But him being all of those things to her relied on Kathy being extraordinary enough to understand all of this – which it seems she is not. Well, Bollocks to extraordinary thinks Tom. The warm pebbles tumble about in his trousers. She falls forwards and hits him like a wave over rocks.
He sees her as if for the first time. And his lips choose to start doing things that the words he is not brave enough to say would do otherwise.
They kiss. But this time he’s ready.
His tongue pops out mimicking how she had kissed him last time. Small problem is, hers stays firmly in place. Kathy recoils. Her eyes seem to hurt. Why do they hurt. Shouldn’t they be kissing? Kathy retreats. A step back. Tom shrugs. Why does he shrug. He isn’t shrugging inside. She looks at the floor and back to him. Her head does a half shake. Then she is gone.
Tom is now firmly moulded into the lower part of the car seat. His mind is so full of the memory of Kathy that he does not notice the tyre screech. He does however notice the bang; and the groan of metal twisting, the distant (and quite pretty) tinkling of shattering glass and the blue car immediately in front of them rising and then falling ever so slightly.
He notices that his eyesight wobbles. He also notices that his head hits the windscreen first before dropping to plant his lip on the dashboard where it promptly splits in a way that is a bit slow motion and probably like a movie.
He notices that he slumps back (not unusual) and to the left hand side (quite specific).
Genius. 22 miles an hour on a straight road in a traffic jam and they have an accident. On today of all days, when he’s late to see Bea, who’s the only one who’ll get it, because the country’s sailing off into the wild blue yonder, and he made it happen, and he can’t tell Kathy, because she’s scared and it’ll be his fault; he’ll be a freak, and she won’t like him, but he’s not sure that he cares any more, and his lip’s bleeding, and it really hurts; and he’s fallen out of the car door now, which has opened somehow, and his face is lying against the tarmac, which is quite cool and comfy, bar one piece of grit, and now he’s standing, and his mum’s crying, and a nice man is sitting him on a low wall by the side of the road, because they’re right next to a warehouse forecourt on an industrial estate by the dual carriageway, and he feels a little sick, and falls backwards, which hurts even more because the wall is higher on the other side than it is on his side, and he smacks his head. And his trousers have pulled down slightly showing his bum. Double Whammy. Double Cheeseburger. Shit.
Bea hears the scrunch of car tyres on the gravel. She is pleased. Viv had called from Out Patients. Tom’s lip was stitched and his head bruised but he was OK. It ‘rattled his ears but not much more’ and given that Viv thought he needed his head read anyway it wasn’t such a bad thing.
It was dark outside. The fat, warm evening had wafted off towards southern (well western-ish) climes leaving a slightly damp, English summer evening. Bea loves dusk now, and bright sunny days; because all of the shadows are in the wrong place. Chuck out your sundial: though if this carries on like this she may have to move her bedroom across the house and the sitting room vice versa. The world feels different and that’s a beautiful thing. And everyone seems to be pulling together to enjoy it, the United state Of We.
Bar the odd riot and outpouring of regional madness (Kent has threatened to move lock, stock and smoking barrels to wherever the South East ends up being, as a matter of principal – being Kentish is obviously only the half of it – a sense of belonging seemingly only verified by its being inextricably rooted in the ‘south east’, wherever that might end up being physically.
This currently looks like being somewhere just north or south of Ullapool.
Having got some whiff of this the Ullapoolians, not keen on the rest of Scotland at the best of times let alone the auld enemy, have been building barricades for the last week or so and have called each other to arms; well, just pints for the minute but arms if needs must.
Bea finds that she is standing in the middle of the kitchen her eyes playing across the Aga and the radio. It seems as if she has stood there for all of the twelve years that have passed. The door creaks open, the small rasp of its bottom against the one upturned floor tile putting a full stop to its opening.
Tom stands in the door. His eyes are bright and wild, like his father’s. She’s told him, thinks Bea. A road accident followed by a life-changing piece of news about whom you really are.
Who needs celebrity BB on rails!
Her sister had never really been very good with sensitive moments – those moments where the outcome where the consequence of life hangs in the balance, with the slightest tweak one way or nudge the other could have cataclysmic effect.
Bea and Viv had agreed that if the moment presents itself, then they shouldn’t hold back – and it seems that the moment had arisen.
The occasion had presented itself at the hospital while Tom was being checked by a nurse. Viv said that she had been fussing around him, teasing him with ‘mum-kiss-it-better’. She said that Tom had reacted badly. The nurse was quite young and quite pretty.
She thought that her fussing around him had made him all self-conscious and he’d barked at her:
“God mum… just leave it!”
She had moved to cuddle him but apparently Tom had pushed her away.
Viv had said that wasn’t surprised: she knew that she wasn’t the most demonstrative of people. And even though she had some sense that the boy standing in front of her had something to do with this extraordinary journey they had all begun, and that perhaps he was quite confused inside, she wasn’t expecting what was to pour out of him
Tom had suddenly puked his heart into the room said Viv. Her voice had audibly trembled as she repeated the phrases. Truth like bullets.
“Why do you have to be so…”
He stumbles for the words. He slips from the trolley bed. He reels across the room. Viv realizes that it is not the right time to mention his hospital robe is untied at the back.
“20 miles an hour mum. I mean blimey.”
Viv watches him closely. She doesn’t really hear the hurtfulness of his words. She is too busy seeing the twitches and tics as he tries to form his feelings into something close to comprehendible and more importantly communicable. It’s is as if he is possessed by a million thoughts all trying to pop out of his skin at once. His eye is twitching badly and he is having trouble shaping words. He starts to speak and then turns and shrugs of the sentence he starts and then tries again.
He realizes that speaking at her directly is the problem. So Tom turns half towards the wall of the room and speaks as if to an invisible self
“Why can’t I have a mum who doesnt crash a car in a traffic jam… a mum who isn’t so… … who doesn’t …doesn’t…”
He gestures off handedly to where her feet are firmly planted (and shoed) on the cracked vinyl floor.
“…why d’you wear your slippers with your work clothes…it’s just weird”
“I dunno I mean you just don’t get it don’t get it…Bea gets it…”
(Careful Tom. Some things can’t be unsaid. Careful what you wish for.)
Tom had apparently circled around the little room, his bottom peeking through the untied gown. And had then just stopped. Viv said that it seemed like he sensed something, all of a sudden. Stopped in his tracks.
Bea looks at the boy.
Does she love him? Really. How could she have given him away so easily? Was that because she loved him so much she knew it would be easier?
Why was Viv in a position to be a young single mother and not her? Precious windswept Bea. Once you got beyond the romance of it all, it was a bit shit really. She remembered Bear’s face when she had told him about Doug and what she needed him to go and tell the boat boy with oceans for eyes.
She could see that Bear was disappointed in her. And that was unbearable. Not because she had fallen pregnant. Not because of the young man she’d chosen to do it with. Not even that she had chosen to do it. Or even that she was passing up the opportunity of a lifetime gto stick it to The Old Man. No. It was for the very opposite. She knew that Bear was disappointed in her because she didn’t pursue it: the oddly shaped mismatched happiness she’d made. He was disappointed that she allowed Viv to bail her out – again. He was disappointed that she was…say it…a coward.
‘Bea gets it.’
Viv’s lips compress.
She had tried to hide the moment but she had sensed that he saw the shift of light move across her face. The tectonic plates of lost emotions and hidden secrets shifting behind her eyes were hard to conceal. He had suddenly looked at her in a way quite different to the way he ever had before.
He had suddenly become, cautious, circumspect: hurt but most importantly crushingly curious at what had passé for what seemed to him like his mum having a fully paid up nervous breakdown disguised as a silent burp.
Viv had no choice. She had told him in the car, in the middle of handing him a boiled sweet.
The truth had just fallen through her lips, softly, quietly.
She had been overwhelmed she told Bea, the sheer weight of the twelve years and all of her fears and doubts about herself, about Bea, about what they had done, the decision they had made and what would happen when it all unraveled.
Is that why she did it? For the boy. Or was it because at that moment beautiful brilliant Bea needed to become flawed, fallible, fractured. Imperfect in a real everyday way, as opposed to some windswept, abstracted off beat cool way.
It all suddenly felt like a bad piece of psycho-babble – that everything must be deconstructed before it can be reconstructed – unstained and free of the labyrinth of feeling, trauma, hurt, collapse, coping and silent endeavor that confected its original.
Perhaps Viv was scared that without the complex cats-cradle of ‘making’ we might all become lesser for it: less rich in our being and more one dimensional in our existence.
Viv sometimes wondered how she ended up with the reputation for ‘still waters’ given that for one, hers were not still, far from it, they were in fact quite patently rough most of the time.
Equally a facility for labyrinthine complexity and machination of an almost medieval degree was utterly absent in her – her one dimensional ‘does what it says on the tin’ approach to life delivering the polar opposite even when a far greater degree of sophistication in thought and action demanded otherwise: well, apart from just once. But to be fair that was almost the death of her.
But now, well now it was payback time.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the process of publishing this story to the blog I am altering the original text of the Kindle Version. The blog published version will be the most up to date edition.