Then Dad nearly broke Dec. We were throwing the rugby ball to each other, even though I didn’t like throwing it that much because it was a funny shape. After a lot of throws, Dad threw the ball to Dec, who held on to it and started to run down the pitch. Dad started to run after him and then, to my astonishment, jumped at Dec, and pulled him down on to the ground. Dec shouted really loud, like Dad had really hurt him. I stood where I was, wondering what was going to happen. I’d never seen Dad hurt anyone before, and I wondered if it was because he was cross with Dec.
‘Aah. Fuck. Fucking hell, Jay. Aagh. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck it.’
This was a lot of swears, even for Dec, so it must have hurt him quite a bit. Dad didn’t look cross, he looked worried.
‘Jesus, Dec, I’m so sorry, I got carried away.’
So he hadn’t meant to hurt Dec. Why had he pulled him over then? Dad knelt next to Dec while I stood behind him, trying to see where Dec was hurt, in case there was any blood.
I lay on the ground, breathing hard, holding my arm, trying to assess the damage. Jay knelt beside me, concern on his face. Cal hovered just behind his shoulder, eyes wide.
łStay there for a minute, see what still hurts in a bit. Fuck it, I’m so sorry. I completely forgot about your arm.
I lay on the ground for a few more seconds, getting my breath back, but it was uncomfortably damp and I sat up.
‘It’s wet down here.’
łShit, course, sorry. Stand up then, carefully. Can you put any weight through it?
‘Don’t think I’m going to try. Help me up?’
I held out my left hand, and Jay gripped it and pulled. I pulled back, and he toppled over, landing face first. He sat up, spitting grass and mud, wiping his face.
łYou bastard. It’s not that bad, then?
‘Just tingling a bit now. I don’t think it’s serious.’
łJesus, Dec, you absolute bastard. I thought I’d broken you again. I was imagining having to call Don and tell him. You bloody bastard.
‘What were you thinking? You could have done me some serious damage.’
łI know, mate, I got carried away. You sprinting off, set off a reflex. I really miss playing sometimes. Didn’t think. Sorry.
I was really confused. Dec didn’t seem like he was hurting now, although he had to start with, and now Dad seemed annoyed and not sorry.
‘Daddy did you hurt Dec?’
‘He didn’t really hurt me, Cal, I was just pretending. In the end. I’m OK. Look.’
Dec waggled his arm and fingers at me, and I knew he wasn’t hurting, so that was all clear. But there was still more I wanted to understand.
‘Why did you fight Dec, Daddy?’
‘I wasn’t fighting, we were playing rugby. You’ve seen rugby on telly, haven’t you. I was tackling Dec, trying to get the ball off him.’
Oh. I often forgot that Dec played rugby and Dad was a rugby coach and used to play rugby. I didn’t really pay much attention to it, because football was so much better. But they used some of the same words for different things, and it was confusing sometimes.
‘It’s not a tackle. A tackle is when you bang your legs with the other man, and you kick the ball away.’
‘That’s in football, Cal. A rugby tackle is different – you’re allowed to pull someone onto the ground if they’ve got the ball.’
‘I think football tackles are best. You would get very muddy if you did tackles from rugby, Mummy would be cross.’
‘Well that’s told me, might explain a lot. OK, I think we’ve finished here for today, how about going home for some lunch?’
On the way home, I talked to Jay about where he was working now. I had spent a lot of time wondering what he had left Raiders for. Now I knew it was to look after Matt, but he must be doing something to earn a living.
łI’m doing some coaching for a local team, nothing formal, just on a sessional basis. They’re a National League Two side, mid-table. Also doing a bit of consultancy stuff, and, you’ll laugh at this, I’ve been asked to write a column in The Rugby Paper.
‘No way! Scotty’s Gritty Gossip?’
łI don’t think so, I’m too far removed from the top end of things at the moment for that. No, it’s opinion stuff. Beth’s going to help with my grammar.
‘Bloody hell, people paying good money to read your half-arsed opinions. Who’d have thought?’
łPiss off. It’s a living. Other possibilities in the pipeline, but nothing definite.
‘Do you miss it?’
Jay ran a hand through his hair.
łYeah, if I’m honest. This was totally the right thing to do, I wouldn’t be anywhere else than with Matty right now. But yeah, I do wake up sometimes and wish I was out on a rainy training pitch yelling at some academy lout who needs his arse kicked. I played for Raiders for seven years, and I coached for three, so it’s a big chunk of my life. Just takes a bit of getting used to.
‘When I thought I’d lost all that, it was the hardest, really bad time. I can’t imagine life without them. That place just gets inside you. It’s like it’s alive.’
łIt is tough, and even tougher to leave the place you started out, but sometimes you just have to move on. Who knows what your future might bring? You’ve got dual reg with Trojans now, haven’t you? They’ve got a great set up, and if you recover well and get some game time with them, you’ll really benefit. Don’t put all your hopes and dreams in one place, Dec. Stay open to different things.
\daddy race you home.
Jay sped off with Cal, leaving me to walk the rest of the way with my thoughts for company. The phone in my pocket started to ring. I’d forgotten it was still there, and I was lucky it hadn’t got broken when Jay tackled me. I pulled it out and looked at the screen. Lis.
~Dec, how are you?
‘Good, thanks. Really good.’
We compared Christmas Days and I told her the plan to go and watch Raiders.
~Well, maybe see you Sunday? I’ll be there too.
~Dec, you sound like you’re having a good time up there. I’m so pleased.
‘Thanks, Lis, couldn’t have done it without you. Oh, and thanks so much to you and Nico for the computer. At the risk of getting a telling off –’
~Don’t even go there Declan Summers. You’re welcome. It was totally selfish – I just want someone to play Words with Friends with. Nico’s useless, although he tells me he’s amazing in Spanish.
‘Am I at least allowed to say thanks very very much?’
~Course you are. See you soon, yeah?
Dad and Dec talked on the way back, until I got bored and asked Dad to race me home. When we got there, Mum stopped us before we even got through the door and told us to take our muddy things off. She said ‘honestly James’ a lot, but because of the mud, not because of the swears, because Dad didn’t tell her about those. He didn’t tell her about nearly breaking Dec, either, but Dec did when he got back.
I put the phone back in my pocket just as I reached the front door. There was a pile of muddy shoes and boots just inside, so I took mine off and slung them on top. I took off my coat, wondering where to put it as it was also covered in mud. As were my jeans. Beth opened the hall door.
_I had a feeling you’d be in the same state. Give me your coat, sweetheart, I’ll hang it up to dry, we can brush most of it off later. Ugh, your trousers are nearly as bad as James’s. Take them off.
_I don’t want you trailing mud through the house. I’ll go and fetch you some more. What on earth were you thinking?
‘I was just running, Jay decided to tackle me. I thought he’d broken my arm again for a minute.’
_God, that man.
She smiled fondly.
_He’s so competitive, he probably couldn’t bear to see you go past him. You’re not hurt though?
‘No, but no thanks to Jay. He’s still surprisingly quick.’
_Don’t tell him that, we’d never hear the last of it. Trousers, please.
As Beth went off to fetch my spare jeans, I took the muddy ones off, managing to smear mud up my legs, and stood self-consciously in the hall. Beth reappeared a few minutes later with a clean pair, checked the pockets of the dirty pair and handed me my phone. I put the clean jeans on and padded through to the utility room, where Beth was loading the washing machine.
‘Beth, I could really use a shower. I’m covered in mud, it’s all in my hair. Do you think there’s any way I can have one, with my dressings?’
She thought about it for a moment.
_Do you know what, everything looked so close to being healed last time, I think you could take the dressings off, have the shower, let it all dry and put more on. We didn’t use all the stuff up before, did we?
‘Should all be in the bag.’
_OK, give me a minute, I just need to sort out all these muddy things, and I’ll be with you. Living room OK?
‘Thanks, that’d be great.’
I sat and waited in the living room. My duvet and pillow had been cleared away. There were still piles of toys waiting for Cal to bring them to life with his imagination, but with the wrapping paper gone, the room looked less bright in its post-Christmas state.
I could hear Carol talking in Matt’s room, and Cal’s car noises told me he was there too. From upstairs I could hear the faint hiss of the water from Jay’s shower. I’d missed this – having a house full of people, whose noises filled your days and helped you make sense of who you were and where you belonged. I’d been on my own too long.
Before I could ponder too much, Beth came in, holding the bag containing the equipment for my dressings.
_OK, lets see what we’ve got here. Take your hoody off, and your shirt actually, I forgot about your collar bone.
She undid the bandages and peeled back the dressings. The stitches had almost disappeared. The scars were pink, but not swollen or weeping. Beth prodded each scar – there was one on my collar bone, one on my forearm, and one on my upper arm.
_Tell me if it hurts.
‘No, it’s tender, but nothing bad.’
_Can you bend your arm, twist it, wiggle your fingers, whole range of movement stuff?
I did as I was asked. There were a few twinges, but it was feeling OK.
_That looks great, Dec. I’m no expert, but it’s looking really good. I think you’re good to go with the shower. Your last few stitches might not last, but we’ll do you back up afterwards, and you’ll be good as new. I think Jay’s up there at the moment, but he’ll be out soon.
‘Thanks, Beth. I haven’t had a shower since before I was in hospital. I must stink.’
_We’d been wondering what it was. Thought it was the drains.
She flashed me a smile, picked up the old bandages and dressings and took them out of the room with her. I put my t-shirt back on, leaving my forearms bare – it felt good to have the air on them. A few moments later, Jay wandered in, hair damp and tousled, and plonked himself down on the sofa.
łHey, look at you all unwrapped. Did Beth just do that?
‘Yeah, I really need a shower, thanks to you. She had a look and thought it’d be OK.’
łAre you sure your arm’s OK now?
‘Yeah, it’s fine, I just jarred it when I landed on it.’
Jay had a closer look at the scars from the operation.
łLooks neat. The bruising’s really going down too, and from your face as well. You’re almost back to normal, apart from those tramlines. Every time I look at those, it makes me shudder. You were pretty close to losing an eye.
łStill, interesting story for the ladies. They like a bit of a scar here and there.
‘That’s what Rose said. Don’t see it myself.’
łMate, you’ve got a lot to learn. Bit of vulnerability goes a long way. Use it to your advantage.
‘I’ll bear it in mind.’
łWell, bathroom’s free, if you want it.
I stood under the hot running water, luxuriating in the sensation. I could feel myself relaxing, and the mud ran off me. I used the shower gel Rose had given me, soaped my hair and watched the water run first brown and then clear. I scrubbed the mud off my legs, and soaped myself all over, feeling the shower refresh me. Eventually I felt clean and relaxed enough, so I turned the water off and wrapped myself in Rose’s huge towel. I sat on the edge of the bath, wrapped in the fluffy warm cosiness, enjoying being properly clean for the first time in ages and looked at my arm. It didn’t seem to have suffered any ill-effects, no extra redness, the remaining stitches were still mostly intact. I dried myself, pulled some clean clothes on and went in search of Beth, to re-apply the dressings.
Later on, having rested but not slept, which was pretty major, Beth was in my room, drinking coffee with me. Cal was playing on the floor. I was holding my coffee myself and not spilling any. I was Mr Incredible.
Dec wandered in, hair damp, cheeks rosy, looking scrubbed, and Beth looked at him enquiringly.
‘Did your arm stand up to it OK?’
‘As far as I can tell.’
‘Let’s have a look. Sit on the edge of the bed. OK to slip your shirt off?’
Hey, this was still my room, not some examination clinic.
‘Stehdy on, pehpl trying tuh not vohmit.’
‘Sorry, mate, nurse’s orders. If you think you might faint at the sight of my muscular torso, close your eyes.’
‘Ha ha, mohr lihkly die laughing.’
As Dec took his shirt off, I goggled at all the bruises and scarring. The scars from the operation on his arm were neat and short, but the other ones, especially on his back, were long and jagged and had been done by someone who really didn’t like him very much. I had seen my fair share of faces bruised and battered from fights in various nightclubs, but the sheer scale of the damage inflicted on Dec’s body – someone had meant him serious harm. Had caused it, actually. When Beth went to get some bandages, I commented.
‘Yuh goh done ohver prehty good.’
‘They used a bottle, as well as fists and feet. Nice people.’
Holy shit. I hadn’t realised.
‘Fuck. Dihnt noh. Bahstrds.’
Beth came back swinging a bag in her hand.
‘Here we are, then, Dec. Let’s get you all bandaged up. I expect the docs at the club will just take this lot off again when you see them.’
Dec put his shirt back on, covering up the evidence of his recent hard times.
‘That’s not till the sixth. I can’t wait that long to have another shower!’
‘Won’t you be able to see them on Sunday? They’ll probably just say take it all off. ‘
Well they were talking about it in my room, I felt it was my place to join in.
‘Yeah, going home.’
I hadn’t thought about Dec going home. Once he had got here, I’d thought he would just be here like he always had been. I didn’t like to think about him going away again, and then it going back to how it was before he came for Christmas. I think Uncle Matty might have felt the same, because when he found out, he went all quiet and sad like he did sometimes, and Mum made us all go out of the room, and shut the door, and Uncle Matty didn’t even want the speaker on so we could hear if he was coughing or poorly.
I’d forgotten last night’s crying episode and the reason for it, and suddenly realised that I was going to be losing an ally.
‘Oh yeh. Fohgot.’
And he was going back to his normal life, now he was getting better. It would be full of normal things like walking, running, talking, drinking. I bet he had girls coming out of his ears too. How long was it going to be before I had any of that? Any of it?
I felt myself plummet into a deep pit of hopelessness. I’d been here before. It was where I reminded myself of everything I’d had but didn’t have any longer. It was where I reminded myself of what my future looked like, despite the positive spin I put on ridiculous achievements like standing up by myself and drinking a cup of tea out of a child’s cup without spilling any. It was where Carrie waited for me.
‘We’re going to the Raiders game, I guess I could see some of the medical staff, could have a chat.’
Dec was talking to me but I no longer had any interest in why he was going home, or what he might do when he was there.
Matt’s mood had seemed to suddenly change.
‘Jus fuck ohf hohm.’
I wanted to make it about me. I was going nowhere, didn’t even have a home to go to if I could get further than across the hallway under my own steam. Didn’t see why other people should get to go home, get on with their lives.
As usual, Beth seemed to understand what was going on, even though I was confused about what Matt meant.
_Oh Matty, you won’t be stuck here forever.
Really Beth? Try seeing what it looks like from my side of things.
She tried the chivvying thing, but I was a master at this.
‘Look how much you’ve done in the last few days, you’re so much better. You played football today.’
Oh just fuck off with your cripple-patronising.
I turned my face away from both of them and looked out of the window. Dec took his lead from Beth and tried his own brand of cheeriness.
Beth’s brightness didn’t seem to be getting through to Matt. He turned away from us, refusing to talk or even look in our direction.
‘This time next year mate, best seats in the house for my full debut and first try in the Christmas game.’
Why should I care about his bloody rugby? I’d never even seen Jay play, why should I care about some little upstart who thought he knew what would cheer me up?
I wasn’t having much luck either. Maybe if I reminded him of something we’d talked about?
‘Don’t forget, choose your battles, one day at a time.’
It was time to get rid of them, so I could just sink down into it, let it fold me up, let me just be there, in the darkness, where I belonged.
‘Mm. ‘Nough pep tahk, thahks.’
Beth finally got it, that she wasn’t going to win.
‘You look tired, sweetheart. Shall we leave you to it?’
Fuck off the lot of you. Couldn’t raise the energy to say it.
Matt stared blankly out of the window, his jaw clenched.
_Come on Cal, you can set your road up in the living room.
\oh, but I want to –
_Cal, do it now.
Cal looked at me, as I was usually the one who said ‘oh let him stay’, but although I hated myself, I ignored him. I didn’t want Cal there, I didn’t want anyone there. Just wanted to be left the fuck alone.
‘Do you want the door open?’
Beth moved towards the monitor.
‘Noh, lehv ih.’
If I was going to die, so be it. If I was going to cry, I didn’t want the whole lot of them hearing me. Where I was going, I could easily do one or the other or both, and I wanted to be there completely on my own. When I’d done, if I was ever done, I was going to have to put up with Beth trying to persuade me, once again, to talk to a doctor about being depressed. But for now I was sinking into the dark fog, letting it swallow me.
Beth sighed and continued into the kitchen. I followed her. Cal took his toys into the living room, where the TV was on and Jay and Carol were sitting watching it.
I lay there, in my black pit of misery, for a long time. I cried a bit. I raged a bit, although it was fairly impotent raging as I couldn’t exactly throw stuff, and if I shouted they’d all hear me. I examined every single aspect of the waste of space that was Matt Scott.
What had I achieved in my thirty years? I’d got a degree. I’d wasted it by working in Stafford for the last eight years. Eight years I’d lived in this dump, when I could have got out. Oh, but no, I couldn’t, because of Mum. I was never going to escape. Strike one.
I’d had a lot of women. Yeah, that was pretty empty too, because really, what I’d really been looking for was that one woman, and I’d found her, and where had that got me? Heart pulverised, all my stuff gone, hatred. Jagged, raw, red hatred, where there had been love. Strike two.
What else? Oh yeah, needed more help with eating, walking, washing and wiping my arse than a two year old. Strike three, and I’m out.
This was how it went, round and round my head, wishing things were different but knowing nothing was going to change.
I lay there for a long time, watching the light fade outside, feeling the darkness gather inside me. I could hear the TV on in the living room, the occasional snatch of conversation, but I tried to ignore it. It wasn’t part of the black landscape I was painting for myself.
I settled down for a long stint of being on my own, because I always managed to chase them away. They wouldn’t be back tonight, I might have to do some more sullen fending off tomorrow morning, then I might get the rest of tomorrow to myself too.
‘What was that all about?’
_He gets like this sometimes, especially when he’s tired. I can understand it. He feels like life is passing him by. It’s very frustrating for him.
‘But he had a great time this morning.’
_Sometimes that just makes it worse. He sees a glimpse of normality, then pays for it by being wiped out. I was half expecting it to be honest.
‘Shouldn’t he have someone with him?’
_He doesn’t want anyone, just wants to be left alone. You won’t get anything out of him for the rest of the day, he won’t even want Cal in with him. He won’t eat anything. It might last a couple of days – it happened a couple of times when he was in hospital and soon after he got here.
‘Sounds pretty miserable.’
_He’s feeling pretty miserable. Most of the time, actually. Most of his bluster is just an act. As well as everything else, he’s still getting over Carrie – did you know Carrie?
‘I can’t remember, might have met her once.’
_She visited us a couple of times with Matty. Anyway, they’d been living together for a few months when he was diagnosed with MS. She left him for an ex-boyfriend just when things started to get really hard for him. He was absolutely devastated. He got pneumonia not long after. She hasn’t been in touch, although we tried to let her know how poorly he was. She cleaned out their flat while he was in hospital, took the computer, his phone, TV, all the CDs, all the furniture worth taking. None of their friends have been in touch with him, we don’t know what she’s told them, but it’s pretty heartbreaking. Matty’s best friend from school, who he’s known for years and used to talk to about everything, moved abroad with his family. He emails occasionally, but apart from that he’s only got us.
‘Fucking hell, Beth. That’s terrible. I had no idea.’
_He doesn’t really talk about it, even to us. So on top of MS and recovering from pneumonia, he’s depressed. He won’t see the doctor about it, so we just have to cope with it the best we can. Letting him stew isn’t ideal, but he won’t talk while he’s like this. Leaving him on his own, when he asks for it, is about as much as we can do. Anyway, I’m going to do some lunch. Turkey sandwiches?
I helped Beth with the sandwiches, having worked out that mayonnaise was easier than butter. It felt good to be properly helpful, after being pretty useless for so long. We piled the sandwiches high and took them into the living room.
łAh, turkey butties, the best part of Boxing Day. Thanks, Beth.
_It was a joint effort, Dec buttered the bread. Or rather, mayoed it.
łAnd the bread survived it, good job. Have you taken some in to Matty?
_No, he’s gone into one of his moods, wants the door shut, probably best to leave him for a bit.
łWhat set that off?
_I don’t know, he probably overdid it a bit this morning.
łDamn, he’s been on really good form the last few days. When he came out this morning, I thought he’d really turned a corner.
‘Sometimes things ambush you just when you start feeling better. Hits you twice as hard.’
Beth gave me a penetrating look.
_That sounds like the voice of experience.
I shrugged and ate another sandwich.
We spent the afternoon watching and not watching the Sound of Music on TV. I didn’t manage to stay awake for all of it, and played with Cal and his cars for a bit while it was on, but it was a really long film, the sort of thing nobody really had to concentrate on if they had other things to do like dozing, playing with Christmas presents or chatting. Beth, Jay, Carol and I all fell asleep for various lengths of time at various intervals. It eventually grew dark, and Jay put the lights on.
łWhat’s for tea?
_Don’t know James, what do you fancy making?
łCome on, Beth, you’ve always got a plan.
_My plan today is letting you come up with something.
łDon’t do this to me, I have no cooking skills whatsoever, you know that.
_How about your world famous Christmas leftover curry?
łYeah, well, OK, apart from that. Damn, I forgot. I do make a good one, don’t I.
_You do. Come on, James, so I can put my feet up?
Jay slumped, defeated.
łOK, you win. You can only use this baby thing for nine more months, though. Eight if I’m lucky. Then I go back to being grouchy lazy husband.
_Oh, had you stopped? I hadn’t noticed.
łCareful, lady, or no curry for you.
Jay ambled off to the kitchen, where he could be heard banging cupboard doors and crashing saucepans.
\mummy I don’t want leftover curry.
_No, sweetheart, I didn’t think you would. Daddy will do you something else. Do you want chicken nuggets?
_Go and ask him, then.
Cal wandered off with his order. I thought about offering to help Jay, but decided he could cope without me. I was feeling bad for Matt, and kept thinking about him lying on his own being miserable, by now in the dark. Thought about how we’d both lost a lot, how it had felt for me, what I’d wanted, what I’d needed, what I’d asked for and what had helped.
When Jay announced that dinner was ready, I followed Beth, Cal and Carol into the kitchen. I put some on a plate for me, then loaded another plate and started to leave the kitchen.
łWhere are you going with that?
‘Just thought I’d see if Matt fancies some.’
łLeave it, Dec, he won’t want any, not when he’s like this.
‘He can tell me if he’s not hungry.’
łHe will, in no uncertain terms.
‘No worries. Smells delicious, by the way.’
I couldn’t believe it when the door opened, and the bloody teenager came in. He was carrying two plates of curry, which he put down on the table by the bed, before he turned a lamp on. What did he think he was he doing? Surely Beth had explained to him what happened when I got like this?
‘Brought you some dinner. Jay’s legendary Christmas curry. If it tastes as good as I remember, you’re in for a treat. I think there are extra sprouts in yours.’
No, I wasn’t doing the banter thing. I was doing the pit of darkness thing.
‘Pihs ohf, Dec. Wana beh on my ohn.’
‘Well that’s your bad luck, really, because I want to eat my dinner in here. Yours is on the table there, I’m happy to help if needed, but there is a fork for your use should you require it.’
What was he up to? I wanted him to go.
What? It wasn’t a request.
I started eating the curry, which was extremely tasty. Jay had mixed up all the left over vegetables, turkey and stuffing and combined them with a curry sauce. He did it every year, and it was always worth the wait.
Matt carried on looking at the ceiling.
‘Good view up there, is it?’
No reply. I ate, wishing I’d brought a drink in, because the curry was quite hot, and it was making me thirsty.
Once Dec had gone in to Uncle Matty’s room, he didn’t come out, and Mum, Dad and Granny talked about what might be happening.
‘You don’t think they’re talking, do you?’
‘Unlikely, Beth. You know how he gets. Dec can be as stubborn, though, so they’re probably having a silence-off.’
‘Do you think it’s good for him, dear? Don’t you think we should just give him the peace and quiet he’s asked for?’
‘I don’t know, Mum. Let’s just see what happens.’
I resumed my contemplation of the ceiling. Maybe if I just ignored him he’d get the message. If I ignored him, I could get on with what I was doing, and he’d get bored and go away.
‘This is really good. You should try it before it gets cold.’
Ignoring you, you dick. Fuck off .
I finished eating and put my plate on the table. Sat down. Took my phone out, texted Nico and Rose. Got up, looked at the books on the shelf by Matt’s bed. There were several story books, a dinosaur book, a bird spotting guide and a few crime novels. Not the widest choice, but it would keep me going for now. I plumped for the dinosaur book; it never hurt to be clued up on dinosaurs with Cal around. I sat down and started flicking through the book.
My ignoring strategy didn’t seem to be having the desired results, as he was apparently trying the same method. Maybe if I found out what he was playing at, I could convince him none of it would work, and that I really just wanted him to leave me the fuck alone.
‘Wha ahr yuh trying tuh achieve?’
‘Nothing. Just sitting here reading a book.’
It was time for some directness.
‘Dohn wan yuh hehr.’
‘I know. Not your choice, unless you feel up to wrestling for it.’
It bloody well was my choice. Who did he think he was, coming in my room and just sitting there, making disparaging remarks about my ability to wrestle?
‘Fuck yuh. Lehv meh alohn.’
Then at least tell me what you’re fucking well doing.
‘Because when you’re feeling as shit as you are, you shouldn’t be on your own, whether you want to be or not.’
What was that supposed to mean? He had no idea how shit I was feeling, what I wanted, or what I needed.
Dec carried on leafing through the book.
Maybe if I asked nicely.
‘Plehs jus pihs ohf.’
Or half nicely.
There, I’d asked completely nicely.
This was beyond frustrating. What was I going to have to do to make him fuck off? I couldn’t fight him, although if I’d had any strength I would have added to his bruises. No, no, don’t fucking cry Matt, oh for fuck’s sake. I tried to sniff back the tears. Dec looked up from the book.
‘Want a tissue?’
Oh you bastard.
‘Noh. Wahn yuh tuh fuck ohf.’
He put the box of tissues within my reach, although surely he realised there was no way I was going to touch them, and he went back to the book.
Hard as I tried to get back into my black sea of despair and misery, I couldn’t while he was sitting here with the light on, as the tantalising smell of curry drifted over from the plate on the table. Without meaning to, I turned my head and looked at it.
Shit. I turned my head back so I was looking at the ceiling again, but I was hungry. And now I couldn’t think about anything but eating that sodding curry.
‘Yeh. Fuck yuh.’
‘It’ll be cold by now. I’ll go and microwave it.’
He picked up the plate and took it out. Brainwave. Get him to do stuff for me, that got me some time to myself. I moved the bed into a sitting position and waited for him to come back. Maybe eating something would get me enough brownie points to be left to my own devices.
I picked up the plate and took it into the kitchen, where Beth and Carol were still sitting at the table.
_You’ve been in there a long time.
‘Yeah, we’ve been having a cosy little chat.’
I carried on microwaving the curry.
#How is he?
‘Pretty pissed off with me.’
#Maybe you should leave him be, dear?
‘He shouldn’t be alone when he’s like this, it just makes it all worse. He said he was hungry though, I’m heating this up for him.’
I grabbed the plate when the microwave beeped, as Jay, Beth and Carol all looked at each other, surprised. I took the curry back to Matt, who had moved the bed into a sitting position, and handed him the plate and the fork.
Let’s test out my theory.
‘If I eaht this, wihl yuh fuck ohf?’
I snorted with exasperation, but started eating the curry. It was bloody tasty, and I managed about half of it, then put the fork down and sank back against my pillows. I deliberately left the plate on the side of the bed, against my leg, and then moved so it started to slide off the duvet, hopefully spilling curry and rice onto the bed and the floor, so Dec would have to clear it up, and get an ear-bashing from Beth at the same time. Dec almost didn’t notice, but at the last minute, he jumped up and grabbed the plate as the fork clattered to the floor.
‘Thanks for that. I’ll just put the plate on the table in case you want the rest later, shall I? And just so you know, if that had splattered on the floor, it wouldn’t be me that was clearing it up. I’m staying put.’
Fuck it, he’d sussed that one out too. I took the remote control for the bed and lowered myself back into a semi-lying position, from where I continued to stare at the ceiling.
Dec put the dinosaur book down, and made a start on a novel, rhythmically turning the pages over. The steady rustling was lulling me to sleep. I didn’t want to sleep, I wanted to rage in the darkness, but it was no good, I was on the slide down, and then my eyes closed, and that was it.
Matt’s eyelids started to droop, and the next time I looked up from the book, his eyes were closed. I looked at the time on my phone; seven forty. I turned it to silent.
Beth came in with a cup of tea for both of us. She fussed around a bit, tidying up, pulling the curtains.
_How long are you planning to stay in here?
_James is making you a bed up in his office, he’s put your bag in there, hope that’s OK?
‘Yeah, course. Thanks.’
_He’s asleep now, Dec, why don’t you come out for a bit?
I wasn’t sure Matt was really asleep, and if he wasn’t I wanted him to know I wasn’t going anywhere.
I woke up a couple of times, when people came in. Beth tried to persuade Dec to come out, as I was asleep.
‘Cal wants his bedtime story.’
‘I can do that in here.’
Oh, why not just invite the whole street in, it’s not like it’s my bedroom or anything.
‘You’re very stubborn.’
Yeah, well, we’ll see who wins Stubbornfest, shall we?
_Hope you know what you’re doing, sweetheart.
‘So do I.’
Oh great, so he really didn’t have any idea. I was getting seriously pissed off with him.
At the very least I hoped I was annoying Matt enough that he stopped focussing on his misery. I was running the risk of pissing him off so much he’d be glad to see the back of me when I left, and that would be something else I’d managed to fuck up, but I hoped that something would get through to him.
Cal came in a short while later. I got him to choose one of the story books from the shelf, and I read him a couple of stories. He sat on my lap and looked at the pictures while I read.
Cal sat on Dec’s lap while he had his bedtime story. Despite myself, I was impressed at how well they got on together, and how Dec didn’t just read a story, but involved Cal in thinking about the pictures, possible plot developments and how characters might be feeling. But I wasn’t supposed to be being impressed, I was supposed to be wallowing, and asleep.
‘OK, Cal, time for bed now.’
\can I say goodnight to Uncle Matty?
‘Course you can, but he’s asleep, he might not hear you.’
\’night Uncle Matty.
Before I could stop him, he climbed onto the bed and gave Matt a hug, then jumped off and ran out of the room.
Because I was prepared for him, I managed not to open my eyes when Cal climbed onto the bed and gave me a hug, then jumped off and ran out of the room.
I couldn’t work out if Matt had woken up or not. His eyes were still closed, and his noisy breathing was still regular.
Because Mum let me go and have my story with Dec, in Uncle Matty’s room, I got to see what was going on, which wasn’t much. Uncle Matty looked asleep, and Dec was sitting in the chair. After Dec read me some stories from the books in Uncle Matty’s room, I went upstairs with Mum.
Mum wanted to talk to me.
‘Cal, you know you asked me about Daddy and me being cross with Dec?’
I did remember. It seemed like a long time ago now, before Dec came back.
‘Do you still want to talk about it?’
‘OK. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, ever since Dec got here – well, before that too. Daddy and I aren’t cross with Dec, not any more He did some things which made us cross at the time, but there were other things we didn’t know about, and if we had, we would have helped him, rather than being cross with him.’
‘Oh, well, some of them are from a long time ago. Dec’s Mummy and Daddy died when he was a boy, so he hasn’t had a Mummy or a Daddy for a long time. And that’s made him sad, sadder than we knew about. And when we were in Portugal, Dec crashed his car, and it worried him so much that he wasn’t thinking properly about things. That’s when he stole the money he told you about, and lied to us about lots of things. Dec’s not a bad man, he’s a good man who did some bad things that he didn’t really mean to do. He’s paid the money back now, and we’re trying to help him not to feel so sad.’
‘But he doesn’t look sad.’
‘No, I know, sweetheart. Sometimes people don’t look how they’re feeling. And I think being here with us has made him feel a lot happier. We’ve decided he is part of our family.’
‘So he is my brother.’
‘Well, I don’t know if we’d call him that, we’re a bit young to be his Mummy and Daddy, he’s just part of the family. We hope it will help him not to feel so sad.’
‘But will I still have a brother?’
‘Or a sister. I hope so. I’m having a baby, Cal, it’s growing in my tummy.’
Well that was news to me. Daniel Glover had got it all wrong.
‘How did it get there?’
And Mum, who has always been the plain talking nurse, told me how babies came to be, and it was astounding, and I had lots of questions, not just then, but later, at all sorts of times, that she always answered.
But the main thing was that they weren’t cross with Dec any more, and Dec wasn’t a bad man, and he was part of our family, like he always had been, so it was OK for me to love him.
I tried some more of the novel, but it was hard going, and I felt myself doze off a couple of times. Nico and Rose replied to my texts. Jay came in later with more tea.
łWe’re off to bed soon, are you planning to stay here all night?
łWhat exactly are you doing?
Oh, so that was the big plan? Being here? I bet I could be here longer than he could. He was going home the day after tomorrow. I was still going to be here. I win then, day after tomorrow.
‘OK, if you say so. Head case. ‘Night then. ‘Night Matty.’
I wasn’t prepared this time, and when Jay brushed my forehead with his hand, I almost opened my eyes. Dec slurped his tea noisily.
‘There’s a cuppa here for you if you want it. Whether you want it or not, actually. I’m really thirsty after that curry.’
Yeah, I was really thirsty too, but I wasn’t letting him trick me again like he had with the curry. No more eating, no more drinking, just lying here either staring at the ceiling or eyes closed. It would send him away eventually, like it sent them all away.
No reply. I wasn’t sure what I was doing was going to work, but I knew that when I had been feeling like the world was ending, having Rose and Nico there helped. So I was going to be there for Matt until I knew I didn’t have to be any more I felt my eyes start to close. I rested my head against the back of the chair, and fell asleep.
Dreaming. I am chasing the faceless man with brown boots. He has something of mine and I want it back, but he is always ahead of me and I can never fly fast enough to catch him. He runs through crowded streets. I fly up so I can see him from the air, but I lose him. I fly back down and run along the pavement, trying to find some trace of him. I turn into an alley, knowing he has come this way. Suddenly, he is behind me and there is no way out. He knocks me to the floor and stands over me. I am helpless. He draws back his leg, and I see his boot hurtle towards my face.