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Authors: Ted Lewis

Tags: #Crime / Fiction

All the Way Home and All the Night Through (2 page)

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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I was alone except for the steward, who was clearing out the ashtrays. I had almost finished my drink.

“Give us a small one, please. I think I've just got time before the train goes.”

“You'll have to look sharp,” he said. He poured the beer into my glass. I could hear the cars driving off the ferry. One of the engineers from down below came in with grease and sweat all over his vest and collected two large bottles of beer from behind the bar. He went out again and held the door open for the steward who was carrying out a box full of rubbish. I had the bar to myself.

The sound of wind moodily blowing round the ferry made the bar seem cosy and warm. The drink had made me high enough to rather enjoy the sad proddings of memory. But every so often the real edge of the whole business would assert its hard reality by drawing its blade across tender fibres in my chest.

“It'll work out,” I said out loud. I remembered her face then. I looked at a wall seat and remembered sitting on it with her, one time. The image was so vivid that it sent a convulsion right through me. The skin tightened round my eyes, and I stood perfectly still and silent for a moment. Then I drank my beer down in one go and went out of the bar, out into the wind, the rain, and the fitfully lit darkness, walked across the shiny boards of the car deck, onto the slippery pontoon, up the gangway which led to the railway platform, round a gusty corner onto the platform itself, and got into the diesel train. It started to move off almost as soon as I sat down.

The carriage was lit too brightly and the heaters were turned full on. I unbuttoned my coat. After a minute of movement, the train pulled in at the station proper, down at the other end of the pier. One of two people got on, and after a few minutes of still silence, the train drew out of the station, leaving it wet and empty.

The journey to my home took just over five minutes. The railway track (there was only one) ran parallel with the river, and the town where I lived was at the end of the line. There was one stop before, a haven off the river, consisting of a few houses huddled together near a small brickyard, and the very basic requirements for a train stop.

When we drew in at this stop, I lit a cigarette and looked out of the window to see the reeds in the brickpit caught swaying in the lights from the train. During the silence while the train was stationary, I could hear the guard talking to the girl who looked after the stop. The wind whipped their conversation to and fro outside of the train, and the reeds whispered and shuddered together. I looked out of the opposite carriage windows, across the river toward the city. A long line of orange street lights identified North End Road, one of the main roads out of the city. Her bus would have taken her along it after she had left me. The lights flickered back noncommittally.

The guard got back into the guard's van and the train started moving again. I closed my eyes and sank down in the seat and pressed my knees against the seat back in front. I hummed the tune of “Here Comes Summer” to myself. Halfway through the second chorus I stopped because I realized how often I'd heard the song when I'd been with her, and singing it singled out images of times with her which were too good to bear thinking about. So I continued sitting in the same position with my eyes closed, not singing to myself, trying not to think, until the train drew into my hometown at the end of the line.

I gave my ticket in and walked across the broad station yard. It was bordered by a curve of low railings, separating the yard from the road which led down to the waterside. I saw that the moon was rising over the “White Swan”.

Only a few people were about in the street leading from the station toward the main part of the town. A news agent was shutting up his business. I began walking up the slight hill.

I turned into the road where our house was. When I reached the gate, I saw that William, our cat, was sitting in the middle of the path, looking at a wall. I walked up to him and squatted down.

“Hello, William,” I said. William looked at me.

“Hello, Billy Boy,” I said, and stroked the back of his neck. “You're all right, aren't you. You're all right, William. You've nothing to worry about, have you?”

He turned his head slightly away from me. That meant that he was fed up with being stroked and that I should go away. I got up and went in. My parents were in the dining room, sitting on either side of the fire. My father, his arms folded across his chest, his feet resting on a foot-stool, was stretched out in his easy chair next to the radiogram. My mother, perched on the edge of her easy chair, her hands on her knees, was wearing her Saturday evening suit, her hair done and set. The fire flickered comfortably in the grate. The little clock on the mantlepiece ticked quietly to itself.

“Hello,” I said.

They both looked at me. I knew they could tell I'd been drinking, but they didn't mention it.

“Now then,” said my mother.

“Hello, Vic,” said my father.

I sat down on the settee at the back of the room and looked at the fire. My mother smiled at me in her worried way. No one said anything. My father straightened the cushions at the back of his head.

“It's cold out,” I said.

“It's bitter,” my mother said with an underlining shudder, “Bitter.”

My father turned toward me and grinned. He pointed in an exaggerated manner at the fire. “Best place on a night like this.” It was a private joke, involving our two personalities. I smiled, still looking at the fire.

“Have you had a good day?” my mother asked.

“Not bad,” I replied.

“Seen Janet?” my father said. He was still grinning, his private grin from father to son. They didn't know and I didn't know how to tell them.

“Yes, I saw Janet,” I said, and smiled back at him.

“How was she? All right?” my mother asked.

“Oh yes, she was all right. You know.”

“She's a lovely girl, you know, Victor,” she said.

“I know, Mother,” I said rather testily. “I wouldn't got out with her is she wasn't.” My mother turned and looked into the fire, her eyes focused on some private thought of hers.

“Did you give her my regards?” asked my father, rubbing imaginary waxed mustaches.

“Oh, aye. She sent hers to both of you.”

It was becoming too much. I got up from the settee and took my coat off.

“What would you like to eat?” my mother asked me as I hung my coat in the cupboard.

“Nothing, thanks. I'm not really hungry.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I had something on the boat.”

I walked over to the door. “See you later,” I said, closed the door and went into the big room where my grandmother was watching TV. I went in and sat down on the studio couch. My grandmother was sitting in her chair, a shawl wrapped round her bulky figure. She was watching a variety show.

“Hello, Victor,” she said as she turned her broad face toward me.

I loved my grandmother. She was a good person.

“Had a nice day?”

“Not bad.”

“Seen Janet?”

“Yes. Saw her all day.”

“That's good. How's she keeping herself?”

“Oh, very well thanks. She asked after you.”

“Mm. What did you do, go t' the pictures?”

“Yes.”

“Good picture?”

“Yes, not bad.”

“Mm.” She looked at me for a minute, smiling. I smiled back. “You're a rum lad, our Victor.”

I laughed. She turned to look at the television. A comedian came on and told some stories and pranced about.

“He's a fool is that feller,” said my grandmother and was amused by an expression that he was wearing. Eventually I dozed off to sleep. My mother woke me when she came in with a tray carrying my grandmother's supper.

“There's some sandwiches for you here, Vic. You'll feel hungry after, and I don't want to be messing about later on.”

“Thanks, Mother.”

She went out. I ate some of the sandwiches and watched television. Halfway through the third one, everything welled up inside me. I just sat there on the studio couch, my mouth full of sandwich, my body heaving and tears streaming down my face.

My grandmother put her hand to her mouth and said:

“What's up, Victor? What's up love?”

“It's Janet,” I said, still chewing the sandwich. “It's all over.”

“Oh, Victor. Oh dear. Oh, Victor, I am sorry.”

I carried on weeping.

In between chewing and sniffing, I kept telling her that it was all finished.

She was very upset for me.

That's how it ended between us. That's the way it was more or less. Other things happened after that, more spectacular things were to happen to us, but it really finished on that day.

A day near Christmas, and my small hometown looked nice with all the shop windows dressed up and the homes of friends done out with Christmas trimmings and flocks of birds flying across beautiful ice blue four o'clock tea-time skies, but it was the worst Christmas I ever spent in my life.

The town where my home is lies on the banks of a wide river.

It's a small town, about six thousand souls all told. It slopes up from the flat marshland next to the river to the top of the healthy wolds. The plan of the town hasn't changed much since feudal times. There is a Westfield Road, an Eastfield Road, a West Acridge, and an East Acridge. Old names abound: Castle-dyke, Fleetgate and Holydyke, Barrow Road and Finkle Lane. The way of life is easy. Everybody has their problems, people there worry as much as people anywhere else, but the surface effect is one of easiness. The youth of the town protests its dissatisfaction with the confining effect of small town life, but hardly anyone ever leaves the place. The boys work on the land or for builders or in light engineering workshops. Or they work alongside their fathers at the brickyards or at the steelworks fourteen miles away, travelling to the latter on shift buses. Some get office jobs with firms in the nearby cities and study accountancy in the evenings, travelling to work on the train or on the ferry or on both. Some, only a few, stay on at school in the sixth form and then go on to University or Trailing College. Some sail the barges up and down the river. Others go to sea but still return home. The town seems to have that kind of an effect on people.

The girls take jobs in the local shops or at the rope factory or at the stocking factory, or they become typists in offices across the river. Or they come to their coveted goal quicker than they expected and they get married, work a job, having only served as a thin seam between school and womanhood.

The scale of the town is in keeping with its surrounding coun-tryside. Small hills, caused by the downward, riverward sweep of the wolds, penetrate into the streets of the town, creating slight, unspectacular but pleasant changes of level and viewpoint. Rows of houses, streets, hedges, trees and fields, skylines and horizons are just right in their relationship to each other.

Outlying parts of the town hold mystical, romantic qualities for me, stemming from youth-based experiences, memories of which persist with a clarity of line which is at times disturbing. I used to go regularly to these places with my friends when I was at school.

The disused cement works on the river bank, overgrown and decaying, plaster peeling from the brickwork, the bricks themselves working loose and tumbling down, create miniature screes round the rootless shells of buildings.

The remains of a small disused pier rotting quietly through the seasons.

The cliff. Two huge worked-out chalk pits. Mysterious with thick foliage and tall, dark silent woodland.

The Bore Wood. A terrible, haunted collection of trees and bottomless pools isolated in the centre of marshy pasture land close by the river.

The Rabbit Pit. A bowl of low silence in the centre of a ploughed field.

These were holy places to the friends I loved and to myself. They belonged to us. They served as a weekly escape from the long suffocating days at the Grammar School. These places formed a private world for us to which we withdrew and then, once there, we became public to each other.

This was my home, the place where I started from. A town of huge March skies full of clean light and enthusiasm, a town of cosy winters chimney-smoking up into the blue and pink of Christmas mornings. A town remembered in perpetual Kodachrome.

It was seven o'clock. Outside a summer breeze dawdled round the garden. We lived in a big house, a house that had true atmosphere. Attics and cellars, garden and orchard, combined to create the feeling of a place which was good to live in.

I had just finished my tea. My mother was washing up at the sink. My father was through in the dining room enjoying his quiet-hour nap.

I poured myself another cup of tea and leant back in the kitchen chair so that it balanced on its back legs.

It was my last summer holiday from art school. This time next year I would be an ex-student.

“That was good, Mother. I enjoyed it very much.”

“Good,” said my mother. “I'm glad.”

I had a drink of tea. I put the cup down and securing myself by putting my toes under the spindles of a chair on the opposite side of the table, I stretched my arms above my head as far as I could. My mother put the last of the pots away and taking up a position in front of the kitchen range, drew a packet of cigarettes from her apron pocket and lit up.

“Have you got any?” she said, looking at me, half putting her hand in her apron pocket in case I wanted one of her cigarettes.

“No thanks, Mum. I've got some.”

“Phew, I'm done. I feel ready for a sit-down.”

“I'm tired, too,” I said. “I don't think I've ever worked so hard in my life as I do in that quarry.”

“It'll do you good. You look better for it.”

“Yes, I must say, I'm quite enjoying it. My father gets my back up sometimes, you know, when he comes and stands behind me, waits till I've finished and then points out a flint I've missed. But afterward, I can see the fanny side of it.”

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
7.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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