12. Against the wind

In which Matty rallies somewhat, and we find out what’s bothering Dec.

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Matt

I am with Carrie. We are having a picnic in a park, a rug beneath us, food and drink spread out on it. I stand up to go, and she looks at me, bright blue eyes begging me to stay. She takes my hand, pulling me towards her and I fall …

Dec

I lay for a long time, just looking at the ceiling. Concentrating on the bland whiteness. A cure for thinking. Eventually I had to get up. I was hungry and I needed a pee. Hard to believe that ordinary things like that could matter.

I heard my mobile ping in the pocket of yesterday’s discarded trousers. I got out of bed, picked up the phone and took it to the bathroom. Once I had peed, I checked the message.

Nico: =I come this morning, we train together. Gym 10.30.

Really didn’t feel like training. What time was it? Phone said 9.30. Could text back and put him off. Considered it. But this was Nico bloody Tiago.

A couple of years ago I had spent a large part of my teenage savings travelling up to Twickenham to see Nico Tiago play for Argentina against England. When he joined Raiders at the beginning of last season, it was unreal. I had trained beside him under Jay’s coaching, hardly believing my luck. Worthless piece of shit or not, you didn’t text Nico Tiago and make an excuse. Better get moving then.

Made a reasonable stab at organising myself. Toast and tea for breakfast. Showered. Shaved. Dressed appropriately. Remembered to take phone, keys and wallet with me. Kit bag. Set off down the stairs.

Rose was lying in wait; her door opened as I reached the entrance hall.

:It’s good to see you up, love. Just on your way out, are you?

‘I’m going to the gym.’

:Oh that sounds like a grand idea. Blow the cobwebs away.

‘Something like that. Has to be done.’

I fidgeted, wanting to be away, not wanting to be rude.

:Sleep alright?

‘So-so. Lot on my mind. Listen, Rose, I’m meeting someone at the gym, don’t want to be late. Really sorry. I’ll call in when I get back, yeah?’

:Right you are love. You can take the telly back with you.

‘Great, see you later’

The gym was where I thought it was, just down the road from the corner shop. I was a bit early, and Nico was nowhere in sight. I asked at the desk, but they hadn’t seen him. Waited ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Started to think he had been taking the piss. At ten past eleven I was just about to walk back home, when he sauntered in the door. His easy smile faded a bit when he saw the look on my face. He checked his watch.

>Sorry to be late. I am always.

He shrugged with a sheepish grin.

>Come, meet Luke.

We changed quickly in the changing room, and walked onto the gym floor. Nico waved to a tall blond man who was adjusting some weights.

>Lukey! Please come to meet Declan.

The blond man walked over slowly, looking less than thrilled at the prospect.

+Nico. Alright?

>I am good. This is Declan. He is my guest today. Can we talk about a programme for him?

+Could I just have a quick chat with you, Nico?

He looked pointedly at me. I moved away and stood watching from a distance. I had a feeling events of the last few days were about to cause more trouble.

As they talked, Luke looked at me several times. He didn’t look happy. Nico seemed unflustered. I remembered Nico saying that Luke used to be a trainer at Raiders, and began to understand his unhappiness. I walked over. Clearly heard the words:

+… lying little bastard …

And some of Nico’s reply:

>… give a chance …

‘Nico, I think I’m going to head off. No worries. Thanks for inviting me.

>No, Declan, you must stay. Lukey will help us.

Luke didn’t look like he had any intention of helping me, and was clenching his fists intimidatingly.

‘It’s OK, I understand. I wouldn’t want me here either if I was him. Thanks anyway.’

I turned and walked away. Nico’s raised voice echoed behind me.

>If you don’t train him, you don’t train me also. I go.

+Wait. Nico. OK, alright, I’ll give it a go.

>Thank you. Declan, come back. Please.

I turned round. Nico was beaming. Luke scowled, but did not protest when Nico beckoned me back.

Together we went over a programme of weights, treadmill, spin and rowing. Luke asked questions about my programme at the club, and what he suggested for the morning wasn’t that different. Nico and I worked together, not talking much. Luke adjusted speeds and weights and tensions from time to time. It was a good work out, and felt great to do something so physical after my days of inactivity.

We showered and changed quickly afterwards. Then, in the lobby:

>I need to eat. You come for lunch? There is great sushi bar. I fetch the car.

He jogged out of the door before I could reply. I waited. A hand on my shoulder, not gentle.

+A word.

I turned to see Luke, closer and more in my face than felt comfortable.

+I don’t want you in my gym, you little shit. I don’t want you hanging around with Nico either. Piss off now, before he gets back, or you’ll regret it.

He gripped my shoulder again. Squeezed. Very hard. Lost my bottle. Had no fight left. Turned and walked away. I guess sometimes you can be a worthless enough piece of shit that you text Nico Tiago and make an excuse.

I slipped in the front door as quietly as I could, not wanting Rose to hear and come out to chat. I promised myself I would pop down later. My quiet entry worked, and I made it to my flat undetected.

The work-out had energised me, but my encounter with Luke had brought home to me how difficult things were going to be for me now. I was going to meet people with similar feelings to him on a daily basis at the club, in the street, in the supermarket. I was going to have to get used to it.

My mobile rang. Nico. Thought about ignoring it. Didn’t.

‘Nico, hi.’

>I get your text. What happen?

‘Yeah, sorry, I remembered I had an, er, appointment. Had to go. Sorry.’

>Huh. Luke, he say you change your mind and are allergic to fish.

‘Oh.’

>So which is true?

I paused, thrown.

>Or maybe Luke say something to you? This morning, he is a dick.

I took a deep breath, not believing I was about to blow off Nico Tiago.

‘He did make it clear that he didn’t think his gym was right for me. But to be honest I can see his point. I’m nobody’s ideal customer at the moment. I’m a fucking disgrace. Thanks for taking me this morning, but I think it’s best if you just leave me alone.’

>Oh you think is best.

He sounded amused.

>I decide what is best for me. Best for me is to train with you. We find another gym.

‘Nico, I really don’t –’

>Enough. I decide. I let you know when I find somewhere good. Bye.

He hung up.

Stuart Clarke called after lunch, asking me to go in early the next day to go over what he called a plan of action. He had sounded brisk and professional; I couldn’t hear anything else in his voice, no opinions leaking through. Didn’t know him all that well, but so far it felt OK.

Washed up some plates and mugs. Made a cup of tea. Ordinary tasks designed to keep me busy enough not to think. But in the end, in a flat devoid of television, computer or books, thinking was almost all there was.

So I plugged the headphones in my phone, put some music on and took stock. Counted my blessings. There weren’t many, and what there were, were not of my own making. Still, it was easier on the mind than the alternative.

Blessing number one: I was still just about connected to Raiders. Somehow I had managed that. It wouldn’t last, but for now I still had it.

Number two: People had helped me and been nice to me. Without Rose, I couldn’t imagine the state I would have been in yesterday when I finally woke up. Nico had been needlessly kind; he and his wife were friends with Jay and Beth, and I would have expected a different response from him. I didn’t deserve any of it, but they didn’t seem to see that.

Number three: I was fit and healthy, things that people always seemed to count in lists of blessings.

That was pretty much all I could think of. Didn’t take long. The other side of the coin, the messed up last few months of my fucked up, pathetic waste of a life, produced a longer list. Thinking about all the things I needed to sort out, to put right, would never be able to put right, took much longer. My mental list started chronologically.

Matt

I am sleeping. It could be night or it could be day. There are sounds. I do not know what all of them are, but one of them is Jay snoring. The other sounds could be machines – there is a bleep, and a tick, and a rasp, and something with air rushing through it. I thought I was sleeping, dreaming, but now, maybe, I am awake. I open my eyes and it is bright, too bright, and I close them again and I fall …

Dec

It all began when I crashed my car. Jay, Beth and Cal had gone on holiday in the summer. I was looking after the house and the cat while they were gone. The first night they were away, I had been coming home after an evening with the lads. I’d had a beer, only one, as I’d known I was giving Bonksy, Big and Danno a lift home. It was pretty late, the roads were empty.

As I drove along the bypass, on my way home after dropping the lads off, I lost control of my car. I still don’t know what happened, one minute I was driving, the next I was swerving, terrified, all over the road. They did all sorts of tests afterwards, couldn’t find anything on the road, couldn’t find anything wrong with the car, but couldn’t blame it on me.

As the car span out of control and veered off towards the ditch at the side of the road, I saw someone picked out in the headlights. Too late to avoid him, even if I had been able to. The car caught him on its way into the ditch, stopped with a jolt.

I sat there, stunned and shaking. My airbag had inflated, pinning me inside the car. I wasn’t hurt, but for a long time I couldn’t move or think, just sat there, gripping the steering wheel. Once I tried to move, to undo my seatbelt, I realised I was stuck, and I had to manoeuvre my phone out of my pocket to dial 999. They all arrived in a clamour of sirens and blue lights, got me out, found the man under the car, zipped him into a body bag and took him away. I was breathalysed, checked out, questioned, released. My car was taken away. I didn’t get it back.

By the time Jay and Beth came back from holiday, a couple of weeks later, my life had taken on a surreal edge where I couldn’t tell them about it. The police had finished with me, I didn’t claim on my insurance, and I just couldn’t tell them. I was full of guilt about the man who had died. I didn’t know anything about him. Couldn’t stop thinking about him. The crash replayed itself over and over in my head. Everything together was too much to cope with, and reduced me to a robot. I could only exist, anything else was too hard, too much to process.

I was already thinking of moving out when the man’s son came to see me. The inquest had been about a week before, and had been reported in a minor way in the local press. I’d used a police-recommended solicitor, it had all seemed fairly straightforward, and I’d managed to keep my whereabouts for the day from anyone who knew me.

Keeping everything from Beth and Jay was getting harder; Beth in particular always seemed to know when something was up with me, and she kept asking me what was wrong, pushing me to talk. Moving out seemed to be the only way to stop all the questions.

When he knocked on the door, it was the middle of the day. Jay was at the club, Beth was out somewhere with Cal. I had been sitting listlessly on the sofa, watching a movie channel on TV. I nearly didn’t answer the knock, but Beth was waiting for a delivery, so I went to the door. The man was tall and heavily built. He had short brown hair and a scraggy beard. He was wearing a Raiders shirt and baggy jeans. I could not guess at how old he was. Older than me.

|Hello Charlie

I was put instantly on the back foot and on the alert.

‘Sorry, what?’

|You are Charlie Collier, aren’t you?

‘Don’t know what you mean’

|Alright then Declan, if that’s the way you want it. I’d like to talk to you.

He stepped forwards. I blocked his way, held my hands out in front of me

‘Whoa, hold on –’

There was no way he was getting into the house. Lots of Raiders supporters knew where Jay lived, not many made a nuisance of themselves, but I didn’t know this bloke, and he intimidated me more than a little. He raised his voice.

|Well we could talk about it out here, Charlie, where anyone can overhear, but somewhere more private might be best. What do you think?

He moved forwards again. Torn between protecting Jay’s property and worrying about what he might be going to say, I decided to let him in, just to the hallway. Another shameful choice. Me first. I left the front door ajar, stood between him and the door to the lounge. Tried to appear unconcerned. Heart was pounding, wondering how he knew, what he was going to do.

‘What do you want?’

|Well, son, you’ve caused me a bit of trouble.

‘What?’

|You had an accident last month.

‘What do you mean?’

|Stop playing dumb, boy, you know what I mean.

His tone was aggressive and I shrank a bit.

|You drove your car into a ditch on the bypass. Hit an old man on the way. That was my old dad.

I reeled as if I’d been punched. I think I physically stepped backwards to keep my footing.

‘I – don’t know what to say. I didn’t know he had any family.’

|Yeah, well, we haven’t always got on. But recently, now, we got on better. He was right fond of my little girl. Jessie, she’s called.

I shook my head, confused, not sure why he was telling me this.

‘I’m sorry. I really am so sorry about your dad.’

Just saying those words brought back memories of someone saying exactly the same to me – the lorry driver who had killed my parents. It hadn’t helped me at all, and now it made me realise how my accident had affected someone else. The guilt I had begun to bury surfaced again, with extras.

|Well, that’s good of you. But sorry isn’t really enough, see.

‘What do you mean?’

|Well, my little Jessie she’s not well. She’s got cystic fibrosis, might not have long, little mite. My old dad, he wanted to do something for her, was going to give us the money for an extension to the house so’s she can have a nice room, convert the garage, with all the equipment and stuff she needs. Our house is real small, her room is pretty cramped. Well, now he’s dead, his money’s all tied up with solicitors, he didn’t change his will. Me and the missus, we can’t afford it on our own. We’ve promised Jessie, see, picked out colours and everything.

I was struggling to keep up with what he was telling me, and how it was relevant. I just kept nodding.

|So, what I’m coming to is, you say you’re sorry my old dad got in the way of your car, but my Jessie’s the one that suffers. You get to live here in Jay Scott’s posh house, nice and cosy, while my dad’s in the ground and little Jessie has to grow up, if she does grow up, in that dingy little room. I think, Charlie, that you owe us. You need to pay for what you did.

Now I understood. My insides turned to ice water.

‘But I don’t have any money, really. I can’t help you. I’m sorry, so sorry about your dad, and your daughter, but I haven’t got anything.’

|Is that so, Charlie? See, when I saw you at the inquest, it didn’t register at first. You looked familiar, but I couldn’t place you. Then I put two and two together. You looked just like the lad I’d watched playing for Raiders reserves a few months before. The more I looked, the more I thought you didn’t just look like him, you were him. Seen your face around the place, too. Asked around. Found out you lived here. Very nice. Raiders know you’re Charlie Collier? Jay Scott know you’re Australian? Anyone know you killed an old man?

I reeled again. Didn’t answer him.

|Thought not. Would have been all over the press, wouldn’t it. Now, it seems we can help each other out. I need a lot of money to help my little Jessie. You need someone to keep their mouth shut. Job done. Is there any way you could see that we could work this out?

My brain was working overtime.

‘How much do you need?’

A smile.

|Ah, see, we’re working together already. I’ve had a quote for ten grand.

‘What? I can’t get that sort of money. I told you, I haven’t got anything.’

|Maybe you should try. I’ll let you think about it. I’ll be in touch.

And he walked out of the front door and down the drive as I watched him go.

I stayed in my room that night, didn’t eat, didn’t talk to Jay, Beth, or Cal. Told them I had a headache. Thinking, thinking. I had no way of getting the money. Must have fallen asleep.

Woke in the early hours with a plan. The charity money. If I paid it back quickly enough, no one would know. Told myself it was borrowing, not stealing. Maybe if I sold a lot of my stuff, put most of my pay into it, I could do it, pay it back before anyone noticed. It could be worth the risk.

The man’s story had resonated with me. His manner had been intimidating, and he had threatened me, but I had believed him about his daughter. I thought his tone had softened when he talked about her. I did feel I owed him something for the death of his father. If I could do this, and no one found out, I might feel less of the crushing guilt I had been carrying with me since the accident. That was how I convinced myself, how all the real lies started.

He called round a few days later, again when I was alone in the house. He stayed on the doorstep.

|Hello Charlie. Had any thoughts about our talk?

‘I can get your money.’

He smiled briefly.

|That’s my boy.

‘But I can only get you this much. I can’t get you any more’

He put on a hurt expression.

|I don’t know what you’re suggesting, lad, I only need this one favour, that my old dad was going to help me out with. I’ll not come knocking again. When can you get it?

‘Tomorrow.’

|Bring it to The Bell, four o’clock, should be nice and empty. I’ll buy you a pint.

And so it had begun. I emptied the special account, put the cash in an old rucksack and gave my life away.

From there, it had been a downward spiral. I needed to get away from Jay’s house, scared the man would come back when Beth and Cal were around. I couldn’t tell them the reason I wanted to move out. I made up improbable excuses like wanting my independence, outright lies like starting a course to get a qualification for when I’d finished with rugby and needing to be closer to college, things we had discussed in a general way before, but had decided there was no rush. I sold everything I had that was worth anything, and moved into a small furnished flat as soon as I found one cheap enough. I put as much of my pay as I could back into the charity account and kept my fingers crossed that I could keep it quiet until I’d paid it all back.

It was much harder than I’d thought it would be, now I was paying rent on the flat and with all the bills, food and bus fares. I felt the sense of urgency, and I ended up borrowing money from all my friends, their friends and then people they barely knew. I borrowed from the bank, but they weren’t keen to lend me a lot as I had nothing. I told them it was for a new car. I was in a lot of debt, and people were beginning to chase me.

So I had already killed an old man, hidden it, stolen from a charity, lied about my passport, lied about everything else and borrowed more money than I knew how to pay back. Add to this my broken relationships with Jay, Raiders and all my friends, and my small list of blessings retreated to a dot on the horizon.

To top it all, it had all been for nothing. I had given it all away to some con man, in a completely pointless act. Fucking idiot. I couldn’t see a way out. People were beginning to seriously chase me for the money I owed them, I had had another sprinkling of texts reminding me how much I owed and when I had promised it. I was out of ideas, and pinned with inertia.

From beyond the front door, I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I was expecting the ring on the bell, which came shortly afterwards. Rose, I predicted.

:Only me love.

A wry smile on my face, I got up and opened the door. She stood there with a small, old style large-backed portable television in her arms, and a carrier bag bulging with various cables and what looked like a digibox. She was out of breath and red in the face, so I took it all from her and beckoned her in.

‘Thanks for this, it looks great.’

:A bit old fashioned, and the vertical hold goes sometimes, but I think everything’s there that you need. Don’t ask me to set it up for you though. I just unplugged it all, that was complicated enough.

‘Cuppa?’

:If you’re having one, love. Enjoy the gym did you? Didn’t hear you come back.

While she parked herself on the couch, I shouted through from the kitchen, above the noise of the kettle.

‘It was OK. Don’t think they really wanted me there. Trainer is an ex-Raider. Not very friendly.’

:Oh don’t take no notice. People shouldn’t be so judgemental. Don’t know everything, do they.

‘I think he knew enough. Anyway, it was good to have a workout.’

:Sounds like it did you some good, love. Think you’ll go back?

‘Er, not there. Maybe somewhere else.’

:Well I wish I had your energy. I need a whiff just coming up your stairs. Glad I’ve got a ground floor flat, I am.

‘I hate staying still, really. Can’t believe how long I’ve sat around up here feeling sorry for myself.’

:Oh, love, you do sound a bit better.

I walked back to the living room carrying her tea.

‘Dunno about that, but I had a big think this afternoon. I think I’ve moped around long enough. I’m trying to think of ways to put things right. Some things, anyway. Not coming up with much.’

I told her about going through my texts and the increasingly insistent demands for repayment.

:Oh love, I can’t really help you much. I haven’t got any savings to speak of, my husband took it all when he left. And I don’t earn much from my little job – I had to stop her.

‘Rose, Rose, the absolute last thing I’m doing is asking you for money! Fuck no! That’s how I got half way here in the first place. You’ve already helped me out more than enough. Thanks, though, you are bloody great.’

She blushed.

:Well, that’s alright then. But if you need anything else –

‘Yes, I know exactly where you are.’

I made a start on putting the television and digibox together. Even though I wasn’t great with technology either, it wasn’t complicated, and I sorted it fairly quickly. Rose, even though she professed to have no technical know-how, couldn’t resist giving her advice. I flipped the switch, and the screen lit up. The picture was a bit squashed, and the sound was tinny, but we sat and watched a late afternoon quiz show together, drinking tea and eating biscuits, chipping in with the odd answer and congratulating ourselves when we got one right. I hadn’t enjoyed myself so much in ages.

Rose left, eliciting a promise that I would

:Pop in and see me, love, I’d like to hear how you’re getting on.

The afternoon rolled on towards evening, and it passed in a haze of brain-numbing television. Brain-numbing was good: tomorrow was Saturday. Match day. Raiders at home. Tonight, players in the match day squad would be getting an early night, other members of the squad would maybe go out for a meal with wives or girlfriends, some of the younger among us going to a club for a drink and a laugh. Those who needed to be up early for the under elevens training would be regretting it. It was part of my life, and I felt rudderless without it.

Usually there would be a flurry of texts making arrangements, re-making them, organising lifts, generally pissing about. We all had nicknames – mine had been Captain Sensible, as I was usually the one who sorted out taxis, reminded everyone we had training in the morning so should call it a night, gave lifts when I’d still had my car. I had only been peripherally involved in all that for the last few months, and nobody had called me Captain for a long time, but they were still my mates, we shared a bond through Raiders, and I missed them all. I was not looking forward to tomorrow. After more terrible Friday TV, I went to bed.

Dreaming. I am flying. So are Bonksy, Mikey, DivDav, Big and Danno. We all fly together, high above the pitch, throwing the ball to each other, laughing, spinning, looping the loop. Crazy patterns, beautiful lines, we are invincible.

Matt

Then I open my eyes again and it’s darker, easier. The sounds are all there, except Jay snoring, but I don’t think about the noises, as I’m in a strange room. I’m in a room that is all curtains, and I am in bed, although that shouldn’t be so surprising, as I’ve just woken up. Where am I? What’s going on? I was just fetching something wasn’t I?

‘… next time I ask, Cal, just tell me if you need to go, don’t wait until the last minute.’

The curtains are moved aside, and I can’t really see that well because it’s all blurry, but it looks like Beth. Beth stands there, holding the curtains apart so Cal can come in. I can tell it’s Cal because his blond curls are so shiny and bright. Beth hasn’t seen me yet, and I want to shout ‘over here’ but there’s something in my mouth and it’s stopping me talking, and anyway, she soon looks over at me and she gasps, lets go of the curtains – which fall on Cal so he has to fight with them – and rushes over.

‘Matty, oh Matty, sweetheart.’

And it seems like I might have missed something important, but trying to think about it is hard, and so I think I’ll just close my eyes, just for a second. And I fall …

Dec

I woke up near dawn and I was alone.

Couldn’t stand the thought of another day on my own in this flat going over what a mess I’d made of my life. Needed to get out, escape from it all, from my thoughts, my fuck-ups and particularly from Raiders match day. Spent a long time planning my route. Filled a backpack. Caught the early bus out of the city. Got off at a bus stop on a country lane. Walked all day. Didn’t think or feel anything except one foot in front of the other, left, right or straight on for twenty miles or so. Caught the bus home. Grabbed a takeaway. Ate it watching more brain mush. Avoided the news and sports reports. Went to bed. A good day.

No dreams.

Matt

And the next time I woke up, Mum was there too, and they all looked at me when I opened my eyes, but I couldn’t stay awake for long, even though there was a lot I wanted to ask them, which was very frustrating, and I resolved that next time I woke up I really would try hard to stay awake, as Mum would call me a lazybones and that was a laugh, as it was Jay who was the lazy sod, right down to his bones, and the thought made me chuckle.

‘What’s so funny Matty?’

‘Lahzh … bohns.’

Where had that come from? Not out of my mouth, surely. I spoke clearly, loved using words to make a point and take the piss, unless I’d had a few beers, then things sometimes got a bit less clear. But I didn’t remember having beers. Surely that would be the sort of thing you’d remember? It ought to be. Next time I had beer I’d definitely make a note somewhere, so I wouldn’t wake up wondering.

‘Matty? Jesus, did you actually hear me?’

‘Yehh … cohrhs.’

Again with the words. It must have been a hell of a party. Hope I enjoyed it. Hope I gave someone a good time. Oh, no, I wouldn’t have, because I’m with Carrie now, she’s my girl and – oh, no, too, too much, way too much remembering, fuck off all you remembery shit, let me go back to where it was just dark and fuzzy, when I was asleep or dead. Let me be dead again.

‘Matty, oh bloody hell, here.’

I felt something wipe my eyes, and opened them. It was so out of focus, everything was blurred, where the fuck were my glasses, but it looked like Jay, and it felt like he was wiping my eyes with a tissue. What the fuck? Get off Jay, I’m not four years old for fuck’s sake. I tried to move my head away, or grab his hand – it was worse than Mum licking her thumb and wiping dinner from the side of my mouth – but I couldn’t seem to move much at all.

Dec

Wanted to do the same on Sunday, but no buses to speak of. Oblivion was going to be harder to find. Muscles aching from yesterday’s walk. Ran the bath and lay back in the hot water. Watched the steam rising, concentrated on the lazy curls until the water cooled. Still needed to get outside. Walked the streets for a while, still fairly early, not many people about. Walked past a church that was open. Maybe I could do with some quiet contemplation.

Sat inside, watching the light change through the stained glass windows. Peaceful. Helped. People came in, sang, prayed, went away. Allowed my thoughts to wander over the various messes I’d got myself in. Tried to find someone else to blame. Kept coming back to me. Sat there a long time. No divine inspiration. Quite a bit of self-condemnation.

Took my phone out, plugged my headphones in and blocked the world out with music, scrolling through all the pictures I had stored. Reminders of better times – nights out, silly faces, Jay and Beth and Cal, holiday in Ibiza, my car, Cal riding a bike, celebrating a win in the changing room, a birthday cake. I lost myself in memories, living in the past feeling infinitely better than living in the present.

Eventually, a priest came and gently told me he needed to lock up, asking if I needed anything. I shook my head, smiled at him and left. On the way home, the phone pinged with a text.

Nico: =I hear about a gym. We go tomorrow. I check it, is OK for you. I pick you up 5.30. I will be late 😉

I acknowledged his text, then walked home, the winter light fading fast. Once behind my own front door, I thought about eating. Checked my supplies. Rose, in her enthusiasm for cream of chicken soup, had got me little else that I could cook. Potatoes, cabbage, other things that were very healthy, but needed peeling, chopping and otherwise preparing in a manner I could only guess at. I settled for chicken soup tonight. I would need to shop tomorrow.

Sunday night TV even worse than Saturday. Antiques, hymns, local programmes, reality dance shows. All very well when you’re taking the piss out of them with your friends, but no company when you’re on your own. Another early night.

Dreaming. I am flying. Just flying. All night long.

Matt

And after that, everything was real again, albeit in bits and pieces. Jay, Beth, Mum and Cal were here every day. Here was hospital. I’d nearly died. They didn’t tell me that straight off. All I could cope with to start with was they were all here, and here was hospital, and in the beginning they had to tell me that a lot of times, because I was tired, and I felt like shit, and I kept forgetting what they told me.

And I couldn’t bloody well speak. It was like my brain went in one direction, and my mouth went in the other, and I had no breath, so even when I managed to say some piece of unintelligible bollocks, I could only say it one unintelligibly bollocky word at a time, sometimes with pauses in the middle, if the word was a particularly long one, like ‘hello’.

Dec

Woke lying on my front with my arms stretched wide. Felt like I was still in the air for a time. Drifted. Wonderful. Small sounds slowly intruded on my tranquil floating – traffic outside, doors opening and closing in the hallway, voices, a police siren far away. Reality came in piece by piece and shattered it all. Everything came crashing back, one hit after another, knocking me down until I fell from the sky to the world.

My phone bleeped urgently, blasting away all traces of the spell. It was the alarm, telling me to get up, get dressed, get to the club to meet Stuart Clarke and start sorting my life out.

Author: 00dreams00

Human of several decades experience. Full time employment, part-time enjoyment. Searching for the fountain of youth in the sure knowledge that it will be full of beer cans and dog piss. Plan B is the fountain of age, which will be found next to a comfy chair with the TV remote in easy reach.

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