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Authors: Ted Lewis

Tags: #Crime / Fiction

All the Way Home and All the Night Through (3 page)

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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My mother laughed.

“He's a perverse old devil is Arthur.”

We both laughed.

“Well,” my mother said, taking a final draw on her cigarette, “I'm going for a sit-down and a look at the paper.

She took her apron off and hung it behind the cupboard door.

“Are you going out tonight?” she asked. This was the leading question. If I was going out, it meant that I was going to have a drink.

“Yes, I think I'll go out for a walk.”

“I hope you're going to have yourself enough time to get your own work done. Time flies. It's your final year and it's very important.”

“Yes, Mother,” I said, mildly irritated because I knew she was right. “I've plenty of time yet.”

“Well, it's all right, but it'll be over before you know it.”

She opened the door into the hall and paused.

“Well, I'm going through.”

After the necessary admonition, uncomfortable for her to give, she relaxed and dismissed the troublesome train of thought.

“Are you coming?”

“No, I don't think so. I'll take a walk down the garden and have a cig.”

“Right. Leave the back door open to let some air in.”

She closed the door behind her. I suddenly remembered something I had to tell her.

“Mother!” I shouted, getting up from the table. I opened the kitchen door.

“In case I forget, I'm going across the river tomorrow night to play in the band. I'll be catching the twenty-to-six so can you have my tea ready for when I come home from work?”

“Yes, all right.”

“Right, thanks.”

I went out into the garden and wandered through into the orchard.

The evening was beautiful. Sunlight rested quietly on the apple trees. A soft wind stirred deep green areas of leafy shadow. Wire netting shuddered briefly, losing its thin edge of sunshine for a second, then fell back into place as the wind moved on to stir some chicken feathers. Under a pear tree, a cat was dreaming softly, hiding its thoughts in tall grass.

I passed by the barn and threw my cigarette away. I decided to climb up and sit on the roof. Once up there, stretched out on the warm shaky tiles, I could look over the fields which stretched down to the river to see the river itself and the sharply etched details on the opposite side, about two-and-a-half miles away from where I was lying. Sounds from across the river merged together creating a faraway murmuring in the early evening quiet.

I gazed across the river and thought about the future. I finished work for my father at the end of the week. That left me a month in which to do my vacation work. I began thinking out a schedule. If I did so many drawings a day, say two landscapes in the morning, two in the afternoon, and my book illustrations in the evening... I was reassured. I smiled to myself.

“You'll be all right,” I said. I dismissed work from my mind now and thought about my final year from the social viewpoint. The summer was going fine; playing in the band was always exciting. In fact, the only worry was to keep everything going for the duration of my final year.

That shouldn't be too difficult, I thought to myself as I climbed down from the roof.

I went into the house and told my parents I was going out.

The next day the weather was still perfect. All day small, white clouds had hung motionless, high up in the sky. The quarry had been unbearably hot, but now it was a quarter to seven and I was sitting in the long, cool empty bar of the Steam Packet across the river, dressed in crisp, clean sweat-free clothes, halfway through a pint of bitter, calmly anticipating the evening.

We were playing a dance ten miles outside of town. It was being given by some girls' high school, a kind of post end-of-term dance for pupils who had left that summer and for current sixth-formers. The males were to be present by invitation of the girls.

The door into the bar opened and Harry, my best friend, walked in carrying his trombone case and wearing his Ivy-League blazer. His broad, pleasant face assumed a bland grin the moment he saw me.

“ ‘Alloden,” he said.

“ ‘Alloden.”

“What do you want?” I asked.

“I'll have one big pint of bitter, Vicky, please.”

The woman pulled him a pint and put another one in my glass.

After we had taken drinks from our beers and had settled down to wait for the others, I said:

“What do you think it'll be like tonight?”

“I don't know, really. We're getting a couple of quid each and free beer.”

“Why, have they got a bar?”

“No, I don't think so, but Bill handled the booking and stood out for the beer. Anyway, there should be some pretty fair dollies there.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. All richies and all.”

“Sounds nice.”

We laughed.

“Seriously though,” said Harry, “the dollies they get at that school are the fairest of all.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes, the fairest of all.”

“We'll have to see what we can do,” I said.

Eventually the rest of the band arrived, and after we had tied the base on top of the Humber belonging to the trumpet player's father, we drove off to the dance. We stopped for a few on the way and arrived at our destination late but full of pleasant joy.

The dance was being held in the local assembly rooms. We were greeted at the main door by a small group of worried-looking women teachers dressed in their best frocks. It was the first year they had booked a jazz band for their functions, and the faces which were anxiously watching us get the gear out of the car showed that they wouldn't relax until the evening was over. They were very polite to us and helpful, but we were being scrutinized down to the very last detail.

We marched onto the dance floor and carried the instruments across to the stage. Girls and boys were standing awkwardly round the edges of the floor. They viewed our arrival with feigned disinterest. We put on a bit of a show, laughing and making ironic comments on our surroundings as if we couldn't care less. I tinkled on the piano while the others got set up. We felt as awkward as they did.

The first number went well. We were exhilarated by its speed and brashness, but no one got up to dance. Everyone carried on talking as if we weren't there. When we finished, no one applauded. Then we started “Black and Blue” too fast, but it gradually settled down to its normal pace. Still no one danced, but we got a trickle of applause from a group of about seven people at the far end of the floor.

“This is no bloody good,” said Ivan, the drummer, when the number was over.

“I know. They could at least dance,” I said.

Then the door at the end of the hall swung open and three girls and three boys came in, laughing and shouting. All eyes turned on them. The girl in the front of the group looked in our direction, said something to one of the boys and led the other two girls across the floor toward us. She was small and had beautifully fine blonde hair framing a pixie face.

“Hello Harry,” she squealed as she strutted toward us. Harry blew a raspberry on his trombone and the girl carried on a loud conversation with him which embarrassed all of us.

“Play a
fast
one,” she said.

We began to play “Running Wild”. The girl tripped across the floor and selected one of the boys she had come in with. The pair of them began to dance badly but with enthusiasm. By the end of the tune, about half the people in the hall had got up to dance. After that everything was fine.

During the interval, I found myself holding a bottle of beer and talking with Harry and the fair-haired girl. Her name was Josie.

“Are you at Art School, too?” she asked.

“Yes. I take my finals next year.”

“What are you going to be when you finish?”

“Pleased,” I said.

“Why, don't you like it?”

It hadn't been funny anyway.

“Harry,” she said, “come and meet Janet. She's coming to your college next year. You can tell her all about it.”

They moved away. I had a drink of beer and drifted over to where Don, the leader and clarinetist was sitting.

“I think we're playing all right, don't you?”

“Yes, I think everyone's beginning to warm up,” he said.

“Where's Bill and Ivan?”

“Over in the pub. They're saving their beer till later.”

“Shall we go and have one with them?”

“Yes, might as well.”

We walked across the floor to the exit.

“Who's that Harry's talking to?” asked Don.

“Some bird that's coming to college next year,” I said.

“Very pleasing dollie to look at.”

I had a look.

“Not bad. Don't think she's all that much.”

“Looks all right to me.”

We went and joined the others in the pub. Harry came in about five minutes later. He got a drink and sat down next to me.

“What about that then?” he said.

I knew what he was talking about.

“What about what?”

He laughed at me.

“Well, all right, what about her then?” I said.

“Smart dollie, what? She's coming to college next year.”

“I know.”

“Bags of cash. One of the richies.”

I had a drink.

“So what?”

“She's called Janet Walker.”

“Oh, give over.”

“What's wrong with you, then?”

“Well, I told you I didn't think her anything special.”

“No, you didn't.”

“Anyway, I don't, you do. That's all. What difference does it make that she's a richie anyway?”

“None, Victor.”

“Anyway, it's about time we got back.”

After the dance had finished and all the guests were putting their coats on, I said to Harry:

“I'm sorry I was shitty. I don't know why it was.”

“ ‘S all right. I just thought she was all right. You know.”

I began to give Ivan a hand packing up his drum kit. When Harry came near again, I said:

“I think maybe it's got something to do with Hilary. I'm beginning to get a bit choked. I need a change.”

“Never could understand that anyway.”

My pride stopped me from going on truthfully.

“Oh, I think she's all right, you know. It was all right at the beginning. As usual. Still, I'll see the summer out.”

“I wouldn't bother if I was you.”

“Get lost.”

“I'm going to. I'm off to have another word with that Janet.”

I watched him climb down off the stage and walk over to the crowd of late-leavers standing by the exit, where the girl, Janet, was being helped into her coat by a tall fair-haired boy of about seventeen. Her face wore an unsure, worried expression, as though it was hard for her to trust anyone who spoke to her. I turned away before Harry reached her.

“What do you think of that bird Harry's talking to?” I asked the drummer.

He looked up from unscrewing a cymbal.

“What, the one in the red dress?”

“Yes”.

“Looks all right to me. I noticed her earlier on. Reminded me of Audrey Hepburn. Best here tonight, I reckon.”

I didn't say anything.

“What do you think of her?”

“Not much,” I said.

I went over the river to see Hilary on the Saturday.

The weather was dry and sticky and after every cigarette, I felt like drinking a pint of ice-cold milk. Streets were black and yellow with light and shade; people were outlined in the sunlight with white intensity.

The minute I saw her, I knew it was the day to finish it.

I met her off her bus at one thirty. She was wearing a starched, flared summer dress, white and crisp and covered with red roses. She was carrying a rolled umbrella and her hair was too carefully done. Her big straw bag brushed raspingly against the stiffness of her dress. We smiled as she walked toward me.

“Now then,” she said.

“Hello,” I said.

“Isn't it hot?” she said. “It was scorching in the bus. It's made me feel all sticky.”

We walked out of the shade of the bus station and into Victoria Square. Saturday shoppers were beginning to shove uncomfortably about in the heat.

I suggested we went and had a drink of something cold.

“Yes, all right, but can we go in the Picadish? I want to see Gwen. She's had her hair done this morning and I want to see what it's like. She said she was going to have the biggest beehive ever. I must see.”

“Do we have to, really, Sweet?” I said as pleasantly as I could. “I mean, it'll be really crowded and uncomfortable in there with the heat. You know what it's like on a Saturday.”

“Oh, it'll only be for a minute. I won't take long,” she said and laughed and squeezed my hand as I gave in.

The Picadish was a self-service restaurant on the top floor of a big department store across the Square from where we were standing. All the mob met up there on a Saturday, screaming and shouting in a corner of the restaurant, finding out about the parties which were to take place in the evening.

I walked behind Hilary, carrying two glasses of cold milk. We made for a group of about a dozen of the mob who had spread themselves over a couple of tables.

Gwen's beehive was ridiculous. It must have been over a foot tall. Hilary shrieked over to where Gwen was sitting, leaving me holding the milk. There was no one I wanted to talk to so I sat on my own at the end of a nearby table.

I was taking a drink of milk when a little prat called Reggie came over. He was about seventeen, still at school, and dressed in cords with an art college scarf decorating his mucky neck. He used to turn up all over the place. A fund of snide information such as: how your girl ended up in the bedroom at George's party. He considered himself a sharp man.

“Now Vic,” he said as he sat down opposite me. “How's every little thing?”

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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