14. Help me hold on

In which Dec gets an invitation, and we hear more snippets from Matty and Cal.

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Dec

It was only just over a week since I was here last, joining in the same banter and conversation as everyone else; it felt like a million years ago. I slipped in through the open door and found a spot in the corner. Nobody seemed to notice, there wasn’t a sudden hush as I walked in. But there wasn’t a chorus of greetings either.

I changed next to Alex Bidworth – Bids – one of the older members of the academy. We nodded at each other but did not exchange any words. One by one we all made our way to the training pitch. I followed Bids. The person behind me, who I didn’t see or turn around to acknowledge, spent the short walk kicking the backs of my heels. Decided that ignorance was, if not bliss, then at least the best policy.

The training session consisted of rucks and mauls, trying different patterns, practising distribution, banging heads and most other parts with each other. A lot. I came in for a lot of punishment. I was kneed in the back, kicked on the elbow, slapped, poked, head-butted, strong-armed, you name it. I took some fairly massive hits, which left me reeling. I took it all without comment. I would have a lot of bruises tomorrow, but if that’s how the players chose to express their feelings with me, I had no right to complain. I was, after all, the worthless piece of shit who would be screwing up their season if Raiders lost out on a top four league position. It hurt, physically and emotionally, but I deserved it.

It was a fairly brutal session. The academy and senior players trained together, and some of the senior forwards packed a meaty punch. It was always punishing, but today I got extras.

Finally, near the end of the morning, I was on the end of a massive no arms tackle from Miles Abrahams, nineteen stone tight-head prop. I literally saw stars. Dropped, felled, to the ground.

The world disintegrated into a confused whirl of darkness, light and noise for a few seconds. I tried to get to my feet, but couldn’t get my limbs to work together. The medics, who always sat on the side-lines for training, were above me administering cold packs and icy water to various areas in an attempt to revive me a bit.

^Okay, let’s stop there for a minute.

Stuart called the players to him. I made an effort to sit up, then get up. I was pushed back down, more cold stuff applied. Fingers waved in front of my eyes. Asked to count. Managed that. Shook my head a few times to try and get rid of the fuzziness. Faces peered in my eyes. Hands helped me to my feet. Stood, swaying. Couldn’t quite remember how to walk. Stuart looked over at the medics and raised his eyebrows in a question. They nodded.

^Declan go and get changed.

‘I’m OK.’

^Just go.

I turned slowly and made my way dazedly towards the changing room. As I left I heard Stuart’s voice:

^Right, I think you’ve all made your point. That’s enough. Someone is going to get seriously hurt. It stops now …

The club doctor followed me, asked me to do a few more concussion tests, let me go.

I stood under the hot shower in the changing room, feeling lucidity and coordination return. Assessed the damage. There weren’t many parts of my body that weren’t reddening in preparation for bruises. I felt as if I had been run over by a fleet of trucks, each one adding it’s own slap to the ear or poke in the ribs. My neck and back were going to be particularly sore in the near future, but I was going to have to get used to it. I stayed in the shower until I heard everyone return, then changed while they showered.

My clothes were still damp from the morning rain; I should try and remember to bring spare clothes tomorrow. When I was going to have to do this all again. The banter and chat from the shower excluded me, and I left quickly, feeling the pain from that as much as the physical punishment.

The bus ride home stiffened me up. By the time I got back to my flat, I could barely walk up the stairs. I ran a bath, climbed laboriously over the side, and sat there for about an hour, topping up the hot water. I was so exhausted and battered I couldn’t think. This was good, even if the pain wasn’t. Floated along on steam and nothingness until I felt I could rouse myself enough to make it back over the side of the bath.

Started to get hungry; nothing like a bit of physical exertion to stimulate the appetite. Phone pinged. Several messages, a couple from people I could face getting messages from.

Nico: =Hope you OK. Tough session.

Big:

(I was a bit apprehensive about this one, I hadn’t been contacted by any of my mates for several days. Checked it anyway. He had a right to a say.)

=Guys out of order today. Stuey bollocking shld sort. Cu 2moro.

I was really, overwhelmingly touched. It felt like a major olive branch. I texted back my thanks.

DivDav: =Same again tomorrow, wanker.

No olive branch there. Fair enough. A voicemail message from Stuart:

^Well done this morning, tough one. I’ve had a word, but don’t expect an easy ride. Same time tomorrow.

The afternoon drifted by in a haze of avoidance. Didn’t want to sit for too long; muscles would stiffen, brain would work overtime. I wandered around the local shops, hood pulled up, avoiding eye contact, looking like a shoplifter. Ambled to the park, sat on a bench watching leaves blowing around. As I was about to get up, my phone rang. Nico.

>Declan, how you do?

‘Hurting.’

>Huh. No surprise. This morning is hard on you. Is serious?

‘I don’t think so.’

>Is good. Listen, my friend, there is something I want to ask you. Can you come to us tonight, we talk, I ask? Lis will cook. She make chicken balti. She cook very good.

Unexpected. Welcome. Undeserved. This attention from Nico was something I would have dreamed about a year ago. Now I felt like I was – what? A sponger? A free-loader? Something like that. Still, an invitation from a hero was what it was, even if accepting it made me a selfish worthless piece of shit.

‘I’d love to.’

>You know our house?

He gave directions. Easy bus ride. Arranged a time. Hung up. Started to walk out of the park. The phone rang again. The screen announced Amy Wright. I was puzzled.

Amy was DivDav’s girlfriend. I knew her pretty well, we’d all hung out together a lot. Dav and I had both fancied Amy, but he had made a determined play for her and got his woman, and I’d backed off. I hadn’t spoken to any of the girls in our group since everything had started to go wrong. Apart from the texts a week or so ago, there had been nothing. This was going to be another of those unpredictable calls. I hesitated, then answered.

‘Amy?’

)Hi Dec. I just wanted to find out how you are. David told me what went on in training this morning. It sounded really mean. Are you OK?

I was surprised and humbled.

‘Yeah, I’m OK thanks. Great to hear from you.’

)Yeah, well, I’ve told David it’s completely not on, and I’m going to tell the others as well. They’ve got to give you a chance. I’m sure there were reasons for everything. They should just talk to you, sort it out, instead of all this macho boy stuff.

Didn’t need this sympathy. Needed to hear the same condemnation I was giving myself.

‘Really, Amy, it’s OK. It wasn’t too bad. Nothing I didn’t have coming. Just a couple of bruises.’

Huge body covering bruises.

‘Thanks so much for ringing, but I’m OK.’

)Oh, well, alright then. Just wanted to make sure. You’ll be alright?

‘I’m fine.’

)OK then. See you around.

Tears sprang to my eyes. It was almost harder to face understanding and sympathy than rage and exclusion. But both were pretty hard.

Wiped my eyes, and continued walking back to the local shops. Picked up some wine to take with me to Nico’s. Still couldn’t quite believe I was going to have dinner with Nico Tiago and his new wife. I put thoughts of what he wanted to ask me to the back of my mind, and concentrated, as I walked home, on what I was going to wear. Not much choice; I had sold all my good stuff, and only really had a couple of t-shirts, hoodies and a pair of jeans left. They could all do with a wash, but they would have to do. Knocked on Rose’s door. Thought I heard the TV through the door, but there was no reply.

Showered, changed and made my way to the bus stop, walking more slowly than usual on account of my aching body. Had to wait in the rain for a bus, and then make my way in more rain for the short walk to Nico’s house. Rang the doorbell. Nico answered, smiling. I handed over the wine and stepped over the threshold, unwilling to go further as I was dripping water onto the carpet.

>You are on time – is good. Oh, but you are very wet.

‘It’s pissing down out there. I came by bus.’

Nico called out behind him as he beckoned me inside.

>Lis, baby, Declan is very wet.

~Well get him a towel or something, and some spare clothes if he needs them.

Lisa came out to meet me. We had met before, she was a good friend of Beth’s, and she had been to the house many times when I was there.

~Hi Dec. Great you could come. Oh, look at you, you’re soaking. Nico will get you some dry stuff and put your things in the dryer, yeah? ‘Scuse me, got to get back to the chicken.

Nico went upstairs, leaving me trickling slowly in the hallway. He reappeared shortly with an armful of items and a big towel. He seemed quite amused.

>Ha! I don’t know if this is OK. You are tall, I am not. You have no choice though. You will scare Lis to sit in your skin. You can change in here.

He showed me into the downstairs loo. I dried off and changed, leaving my socks and trainers next to the radiator. Nico’s clothes were too short, and a bit tight. I had already been feeling a little awkward, and this compounded the feeling. I bundled up my wet things and opened the door. Nico laughed and pointed at my bare ankles.

>Ha! You look like your cat die.

‘What?’

>Your flags are half down – up – what is it?

‘Half mast?’

I had no idea what Nico was talking about, but he seemed pleased with himself.

>Ha, yes! This is English words, yes? Is not a good look for you. I take these to the drier.

He picked up my clothes and disappeared with them into the kitchen. From beyond the door, I heard him.

>How I work the dryer?

~You’ll have to spin them first, they’ll never dry if you put them in like that.

>Huh. How I spin?

~Oh give them here. Watch this for a minute. Don’t let it boil.

>If it boil, what I do?

~Oh for God’s sake, Nico, you really are hopeless. I know you do it on purpose. Go and see to Dec, yeah? I bet you just left him standing in the hall, didn’t you. No, here, I’ll do it.

Nico reappeared, smiling.

>She love me really, I think! Come in here, sit down. I open this.

He gestured to the wine bottle in his hand. I followed him into the spacious lounge, and sat down.

>You want?

He held up the bottle.

‘Er, no I’d better not. Don was pretty clear about no alcohol. And my last experience wasn’t too positive. Better do as I’m told, I think.

>Huh – oh I remember you say hangover. Big one?

‘Fucking enormous. Lots of vodka. Lost two days. Scared myself a bit.’

>You look better now. You look horrible on that day.

‘I was pretty horrible. It all seems like a bit of a bad dream. Learned my lesson though. That one, at any rate.’

>Well, I have wine. Ha, Don don’t tell me not, so is OK.

He opened the bottle and poured a glass.

>I see you have good bruises from the morning already.

He gestured to my face, where my cheek and chin had taken some obvious hits. I shrugged.

‘It was a tough session.’

>I think people are too tough. I say to them. They can hurt you.

‘I think that was the intention. Fair enough. I expected it. Nico, thanks, really, but, fuck, you don’t have to stick up for me. You’ll get yourself dragged into all this, you’re really better off out of it.’

>Hey, I already tell you I decide what is better for me. I think tomorrow is not so hard for you.

I had no answer to that. Didn’t want to think too much about tomorrow.

>I check on chicken. We are late – big surprise, huh?

Nico sprang up and left the room. I heard his and Lisa’s voices as they had an indistinct conversation in the kitchen. I looked around. The room was large and subtly decorated. There wasn’t much in the way of ornaments or pictures, but a framed Argentina shirt was hung over the fireplace. I went over to have a look. It had been signed by members of both teams. There was a small metal plaque with an inscription – ‘England v Argentina – Twickenham’ – and the date, which was just over two years ago. It was the game I’d been to .

The lounge door opened.

>We are ready soon.

‘I was at this match.’

>You were? It is special for me, to play against England, and it is my fiftieth cap. You were there?

‘I saved up for weeks.’

I could still remember my excitement, I talked about it for days before and even longer afterwards.

‘You were great. I can still remember your try. Right by where I was sitting. It was fucking awesome. Amazing take, brilliant run, fantastic dive.’

>You make me blush. To score that try was increible. I don’t believe it that you were there! I have a DVD here …

The door opened again.

~It’s on the table, come and get it – oh sorry, I’ve interrupted rugby talk. Well, all the more reason to come and eat now, yeah? It’ll go cold if I let you two get started.

We followed Lisa into the kitchen, where there was a large table. The balti smelt good, and there were plates of naan bread, a large bowl of rice, poppadoms and a dish of mango chutney.

‘This looks amazing.’

~Thanks. Sit down, help yourself. Nico, did you open that bottle? Oh, you’ve got yourself a glass, and mine is ..?

Chuckling, Nico went back into the lounge to retrieve the bottle.

~Your clothes should be dry soon. Sorry Nico’s don’t really fit you, you’re a lot taller than him. Haven’t you got a coat?

It had been a good one, and I’d sold it on eBay for thirty quid.

‘No, I lost it.’

~Bad luck!

Nico came back, filled a wine glass for Lisa, and we sat down to the meal. It was delicious; Lisa was a really good cook. Conversation was fairly standard, the weather, the buses, the chicken balti and various recipes for cooking it (which Lisa insisted on giving me and I had no intention of ever using), and their wedding, which had only been a few months ago.

There were quite a lot of wedding photos around. It had been a big occasion, some of the players had gone to the main event, the whole squad had all been invited to the evening party, but I had been too self-absorbed to attend.

Nico and Lisa had met at a club function, shortly after Nico arrived at Raiders. Lisa owned a sports equipment business that had sponsored some of the Raiders players in the past. Her company was looking to expand its media profile, and when Nico arrived they made a deal and fell in love. That, at least, was their potted version of their history.

I wondered when Nico was going to ask me what he had brought me there to ask. Eventually a look was exchanged between them, and Nico took a deep breath.

>Declan, we talk, Lis and me. I know yesterday I tell you I forget, but I can’t. I ask people at the club. You borrow a lot. People, they are against you for this. We want to lend you money to pay them back.

I looked down at my plate. My appetite had fled and I felt shame burn my cheeks. Without looking up:

‘No.’

>Why not?

‘Because I’m in the fucking mess I’m in because of borrowing money. If I borrow more, it just makes it all so much worse. I have to do this, sort it out, myself.’

>Huh. How about you think of it as those adverts, those what is it ‘consolidate your debts’ on TV. Then you don’t piss off lots of people, you only have one to worry about. That one is me. You don’t piss off me, or Lis will be mad. Your friends they like you again and things they are easier for you.

He made it sound very tempting, too easy. It should be hard. It had to be hard. Shook my head.

‘No.’

~Dec, how are you managing paying back all the money you owe?

‘Getting there.’

~Getting there as in you’ve nearly done it, or as in you’ve made a start and now you don’t know how you’re going to finish it?

I was silent. She’d pretty much nailed it.

~Can I just ask, you said the mess you are in is because of borrowing money, yeah? I know a bit about what’s been going on with you. Could it also be that you didn’t ask for help when you needed it, and that has been a big part of it too? All we’re saying is we’d like to help, and we’d like you to not be too bloody-minded to think about saying yes. Have a think about it, yeah?

I was humbled. Could not believe that there were such good people. Could not believe that such good people would waste their time, effort and money on me. They needed to know the truth about me, what a worthless piece of shit I was. I looked up.

‘Lisa, do you really know what’s been going on? Why I’ve borrowed so much money? What I did?’

Lisa gave me an appraising look.

~We got some edited highlights from Jay. It all seems like a bit of a nightmare.

>I know Jaime is mad, I see him yell at you in his car. Maybe he not very fair to you.

I tried to remember what Jay knew and what he might not. His version wouldn’t do me any favours, but then I didn’t really deserve any.

‘Why do you still want to help me? I …’

It was hard to say it.

‘… stole charity money. A lot of money.’

>We know this. Jaime, he is angry, we think maybe he not tell us all, about why you do it. You are not a bad person, we know this.

~You don’t have to tell us why you did it. But we know enough to think you didn’t do it for yourself or to hurt anyone. It doesn’t make any difference to us offering. We know how much it was. We want to help you make things better, yeah?

I looked at both of them in amazement.

~Really, Dec, don’t say no through some sense of pride or shame or stubbornness. You know, sometimes people do stupid things when they’re desperate. We want to make sure you don’t go to a loan shark or start dealing drugs or selling your body or something.

‘What the …’

~I’m kidding! Well, about selling your body anyway. You’re too scrawny to get much for it. Declan, if it can help at all … well, please just think about it, yeah?

I looked down at my plate again, unable to meet their eyes. It was true I was getting more desperate, and my methods of solving my financial problems had so far not been either logical or successful. Thinking about it wasn’t agreeing, and it bought me some time to work out how to turn them down without offending them.

‘OK. I’ll think about it.’

Thinking also didn’t cost anybody anything, and it would stop them going on about it. A big smile from Nico. Lisa took my hand and gave it a squeeze.

>Good decision. You let me know when you say yes!

From the hall, I heard the phone ring. Lisa started to get up.

>Let the machine pick up. What is dessert?

~You were supposed to get dessert.

>Huh. Sorry, baby, I forget. What else we have?

~Nico …

While they bickered back and forwards my attention was caught by the answering machine. With a lurch to my gut, I recognised the voice. It was Beth.

_Hi Lis, just got your message. We’re fine, staying with Carol till we find somewhere. It’s a bit of a squeeze. Cal loves it, she spoils him all day. Matty’s very poorly, James is in a bit of a state. Call me later.

Lisa must have realised too late that I had heard the message. She put her hand to her mouth and looked at me, concern creasing her brow. The blood had drained from my face. It was hard to hear Beth’s voice again. I swallowed. My mouth felt dry, and my heart was racing.

Sitting on my own all day, I could push things to the back of my mind. I was suddenly confronted with exactly what I had thrown away. It opened a hurt place in me that I had begun to close off. Jay and Beth would have been the very people I would have turned to for help, in any other situation than the one I’d got myself into. I’d chucked it away. My hands were trembling.

>You look horrible. Here, have some water.

Nico poured some into a glass.

~Sorry, Declan. That was harsh for you.

>You don’t speak to them before they leave?

I shook my head, remembering what they’d both said the last time either of them spoke to me.

~Declan, Beth is my friend. I know how much you’ve meant to her and I think I can see how much they mean to you. This has been hard on you all, yeah? Maybe if you give them time.

I shook my head.

‘I’ve fucked too much up, I don’t think there’s any coming back from it. They both want me to stay away from them. Jay and I are done. He said so.’

~Well people say all sorts of things, yeah? You never know. They are both very hurt at the moment. They’ve got a lot on their minds.

‘Mm.’

>Hey, you know Lis used to go out with Jaime?

I looked up, surprised. And, despite myself, interested.

~Nico, I don’t think –

>Yeah, long time ago. He is much older than her, he is still a player here. She work in the office. She dump him though. She know she will find a much, much better man. Much more handsome and charming. And more young.

He sat back, smugly. Lisa batted him on the arm.

~Big head. It’s true, though, from my dim and distant past. Jay and Beth have been great friends. Don’t give up on them, yeah?

Easy enough to say. It wasn’t down to me. Too much had happened, too much said, or rather unsaid. Couldn’t see a road back.

There was a clatter at the back door. A small tabby cat pushed its way through the cat flap, sniffed the air and made straight for me, twining itself round my legs and mewing. I glanced down, then looked more closely.

‘Is this Tabitha?’

Beth’s elderly cat. She had ignored me for most of the time I lived with Jay and Beth, except when it was up to me to feed her.

~Yes! We’re looking after her until they get settled. I forgot you’d know her. Looks like she remembers you.

The cat jumped on my lap and head-butted my nose. She reminded me again of things I’d had, and lost.

‘Probably remembering all the good times at her food bowl.’

~She does like a feed. She’s on a diet though – got a bit podgy in her old age.

‘Poor Tabs, I don’t expect a diet’s going down very well.’

~She’d be a bit more annoyed, and a bit thinner, if Nico didn’t keep giving her leftovers. I keep telling him she’s not a dog, and she needs to lose weight. He’s just a sucker for a pretty face.

>Is true. Is why you so fat.

~Right, you’re washing up, mister.

Seeing Tabitha, along with hearing Beth’s voice, had brought back lots of memories. I couldn’t stop them crowding in. I was overwhelmed with sadness, and I suddenly needed to know about them.

‘Where have they gone? I don’t even know where the fuck they are.’

A look passed between Nico and Lisa.

~Dec, I’m sorry, this is really difficult. Jay and Beth, well they were very clear, they don’t want you to know any details about anything, and they don’t want you to contact them. We can’t really tell you anything without breaking promises, I hope you understand. They’ve gone … away. They’re not local. That’s all I can say, sorry.

It was another blow, coming hot on the heels of the flood of memories. I felt a million miles away from them all in my head, but hadn’t really thought about them literally being somewhere else. I felt my cheeks begin to burn, and tears begin to prickle at the corner of my eyes. Frantically tried to blink them away.

‘It’s OK. Sorry, unfair of me.’

A short, awkward pause.

>Hey, I know, why don’t we watch the DVD of my amazing try, while Lis gets dessert?

It was as good a diversion as any. Lisa tutted and rolled her eyes.

~So this means I get dessert, and clear up, and fill the dishwasher, while you sit on your arses and watch rugby, yeah?

>Of course not, baby. You can fill the dishwasher tomorrow.

Nico got a clout for that one.

‘I’ll help.’

~Don’t be daft, go and watch your game. Your clothes should be dry, I’ll bring them through.

‘Thanks, Lisa. Great meal.’

We passed the rest of the evening watching the game, replaying Nico’s try several times so he could bask in adulation. We tried to spot me in the crowd, but it was impossible.

I walked home, having missed the last bus, but not wanting to tell Nico, who wanted to drive me. The rain had stopped, but it had turned cold, and my socks and trainers were still damp. It was fairly late by the time I got back. I listened at Rose’s door for signs of life, but couldn’t hear anything; I’d have to call on her tomorrow.

Back in my flat, I got undressed and flopped, tired, into bed. My bangs and scrapes were going to hurt tomorrow, but for now I was ready to sleep deeply.

Dreaming. Flying. High above the city. Looking down at a group of people in the park. Everyone is there – Mikey, Bonksy, DivDav, Big, Danno and the girls, Amy, Sarah, Katie, and Cara. They are sitting on the grass, having a laugh. I circle round, then fly down lower. I wave at them. They all wave back, and beckon me down. As my feet touch the ground, they all run away, laughing. I give chase – I can fly faster than them. I get in front of them, they all gather round, smiling, laughing, pleased to see me, taking my hand, taking me with them.

Cal

I suppose I should say a bit about Mum and Dad, they were fairly influential in my early years. Mum gets some bad press from Matty, although I know she knows he loved her really, and I suppose she can be a bit full on when she’s worried about you, which is most of the time, for most of us, but she’s this wonderfully big-hearted person, and she genuinely cares about everyone she meets. Maybe she has the urge to help too much for her own good, and could do with reining in the need to visit old ladies she meets at the bus stop with casseroles and stuff, and to realise she can’t fix all the problems in the world single-handedly, but I doubt it will ever happen, and she’ll carry on trying to make things better one person at a time.

Anyway, when I was little, before Iz came along, it was just me, Mum and Dad, or mostly Mum, because Dad would be at work. Who can really remember their parents at that age? I’d love to say we had a great time, and I’m sure we did, Christmases were awesome, there was always lots of food, lots of laughter, we did things together. I turned out alright, I think, so it must have been fine. Sorry, Mum, that doesn’t seem like much of a compliment – you are amazing, and I wish I could be more specific about your amazingness. I think maybe I’ll remember more when I get to the next bit.

The same is true of Dad. Obviously, I now know that Jay Scott is forever linked with England and Raiders (I saw the Scott Suite at the big hotel before they redecorated – Jesus, Dad, how did your head not get too big to get out of the door?), and I have been asked so many times, by journalists, supporters, even other players, ‘what was it like growing up with Jay Scott?’, and I have a bit of a chuckle to myself before I say ‘oh, you know, he was my role model’, because he really was my role model, but not in the way they want to think. My dad always got away with doing as little as possible at home, by using his charm and the twinkle in his eye to get round Mum, or by pretending to be asleep.

That’s not to say he was a lazy bastard who never lifted a finger, although he was a lazy bastard who never lifted a finger, but we’d do things as a family, he’d play with me endlessly, do all the Dad things you expect dads to do. Neither he nor Mum ever raised their voice when it wasn’t deserved, as far as I can remember, and when I think about being a kid, it feels like I was safe and loved.

Dad liked being outdoors and being active rather than being indoors and being productive, so we’d often go to the park and kick a ball around when it looked like Mum might be about to find a job for him to do, and I hate to admit that I have inherited the same dislike for housework and handy-manning, much to Chrissie’s disgust. Sorry babe.

Matt

And the next mystery – the ever-present Jay, Beth and Cal. Every day, one or all of them would be there with Mum. Why were they up here and not down in Devon being all busy with rugby as per?

It took a while longer to get to the reasons for this one, mainly because they were so evasive, and when you’re bloody exhausted and saying two words together feels like climbing a mountain, evasiveness works, so it wasn’t until I was quite a lot better that I found out that Jay had given up his job. For me. To come up here and look after me for the foreseeable. Well, that filled me with pride and gratitude and love and shit, but it also filled me with guilt, that Jay had given up the job he’d loved for me, that finally there was something more important than his bloody rugby, and it turns out it’s me. I’d never have asked that of him, I didn’t think I’d ever have done that for him, but I suppose who knows.

But now he was here, and he’d got this big house with a downstairs bedroom so I could go and live with them while I got better (although no one actually said what would happen if I didn’t get better), and they’d got Cal in a new school, and so it was all going to be lovely, and that should make everything alright. But they didn’t say what had happened to the golden-boy rugby protégé, where he was in all this, and they didn’t say why they weren’t talking about me going home, to my flat. I had to wait until a lot later, until I actually got out of there, before they told me either of those little nuggets.

So I stayed in hospital and got stronger, although not strong, and I was a bit easier to understand, although not easy. Cal was best at understanding me; he seemed to have some kind of universal translator in his head that picked up any of the unintelligible bollocky shit my mouth was trying to come out with and reworked it into proper words in two seconds flat. Maybe he was closer in age to a time when unintelligible bollocks was all that he could say as well, but the best conversations I had were when Cal was around. There’s a lot to be said for being six, can’t recommend it highly enough.

And although I got better bit by bit, it was slow bit by slow bit, because my body had the bastard MS coursing through it, and it had joined forces with its new chum pneumonia, and between them they were frolicking hand in hand through my energy levels, my concentration and my strength, gleefully kicking the shit out of all of it as they went.

And there were days when I didn’t want any of it, when having them there, reminding me what they’d given up for me, was too much, days when I remembered too much of my life before, with Carrie, and what she’d ripped from me with a scrap of paper and a few words. And on those days I wouldn’t even look at them; I’d turn away from them, close my eyes, tell them to leave me the fuck alone, even if Cal was there to hear the ‘fuck’, and although on the outside I was blank, on the inside I was screaming at the unfairness of it all and wishing I’d died when I had the chance.

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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