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Authors: Ted Lewis

Tags: #Crime / Fiction

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BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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“All right.”

“Are you going to Harry's party tonight?”

“No”.

“Why not?”

“Because I'm going home.”

“Oh, of course. You're not back till Monday, are you?”

“I'd stay if I wanted.”

“What about Hilary? She'll be going. She's been invited.”

“What's it to do with you?”

“Nothing, but I thought you'd both be going, you know.”

“Well, we're not.”

“I only thought, you know. I mean, Hilary's talking to Gwen as if you're going together.”

“We haven't even talked about going yet, so go and get your ears washed out. And when you come back, go and sit somewhere else than with me.”

I got up and went over to where Hilary and Gwen and the rest of the girls were screaming at each other.

“Hiya, Vic,” said Gwen.

“Now then,” I said. Then to Hilary: “Are you ready for off then?”

“I haven't had my milk yet.”

“No. It's over there. Come and get it and then we'll make a move. See you, Gwen.”

Hilary saw something was up, so she followed me over to her glass of milk as soon as she had made her farewells.

“What's the matter with you, then?”

I couldn't tell her there so I put on my nicest face and said:

“Sweet, I'm sorry. Look, it's just the heat and everything. Besides, I haven't seen you for a week and I want you for myself. We only see each other for a short time, you know.”

It pacified her. She drank her milk.

“How about the pictures this afternoon?” I said. I wanted to see “Rio Bravo” and it was the last day of its run.

“Yeah, I don't mind.”

“We'll just about make the beginning of the one at the Regal if we move now.”

We went to the pictures. We sweated the afternoon away necking on the back row. In the interval, when the lights went up, I told her.

“Look,” I said, “It's like this. You see, it's not that I don't feel any the less about you or anything, but well, I've got problems, you know, and I can't tell you what they are because, well, I can't. Anyway, until everything's blown over, sorted itself out, you know, I think it would be simpler if I didn't see you for a while. Only until everything's sorted out. It will be easier for me this way. Try and understand.”

She stared at the seat in front of her.

“What are the problems?”

“Look honestly, I can't tell you. I wish I could. Try and under-stand. I can't tell you, really.”

She looked unhappy.

“You're sure it's not because you've changed or anything because I'd rather know if it was. I know I'm only sixteen, but I'd rather you—”

“Look, honestly Sweet, it isn't that at all. I wish I could explain.”

“I wish you could, too. You can't think very much of me or else you'd tell me what it is.”

The lights began to go down and the advertising came on. In the dark, I told her a pack of lies.

“Well, it's my folks. It's hard for me to tell you, to tell anyone, and I hope you won't talk about this. I know you won't, but anyway. You see, I—it's hard even to say it. You see, they're getting divorced, so...”

“Oh, Victor.”

“Yeah. Well, I know. Apparently it's been going on for some time now. Anyway, I didn't know. Not until they told me the other day. It was awful.”

I piled it on. She believed me. She cried in pity and honest concern showed in her face.

“So you see, it's just that, well, I have to have time to get used to everything.”

“Couldn't I help you?”

I paused to give me time to think of an answer.

“Honestly, Sweet, I just feel that I've got to be alone in this thing. It's not that I feel you couldn't help; I just don't want to involve you.”

Finally, after a long spiel, I convinced her. We left the cinema. It was half-past six and the shoppers had gone away. The sharp blue sky soared quietly over the relaxing streets and squares. Light dust moved in the gutters, stirred softly by the thin early evening breeze. Victoria Square was almost deserted. Its broad perspective stopped short in the deep purple shadow of the North-facing buildings.

We walked slowly along past the station facade and the Station Hotel. We were facing the sunlight. I let its pleasant comfortable warmth soak through my sweater. Hilary was silent. We trailed along for a while until we came to Allenby Road.

“Well,” I said, “I'd better be off. I won't catch my ferry other-wise.”

“Are you going home?”

Her voice was taut with surprise.

“Well, yes, I'd better.”

“But aren't you coming with me to Harry's?”

“Look, Sweet, can't you understand? I've told you how things are. Try and make it easy.”

“But just for tonight, I mean; it's not as though we're finishing. We're going to be together again soon aren't we? We can't just part now, like this.”

She stood there, nearly in tears, the pastel sun shimmering round her summer dress. I brushed some hair out of my eyes with my forefinger. A trolley bus rolled dustily by.

“Look, I've got to go. It would only make things more difficult if I stayed tonight.”

“Please, Vic, please. Don't be mean.”

“I'm not being mean. You won't understand.”

“I don't think it's just because of what you told me. I don't believe it's just that.”

“Don't then.”

“It's not just that, is it? Is it? Tell me, Vic, tell me what's wrong.”

“Nothing's wrong. Just try and understand.”

“Oh, Vic.”

She started to cry. I grabbed hold of her by her forearms.

“Look at me. Listen. There's nothing the bloody matter. It's just that I'm sick and tired of you. You do nothing except get on my nerves all day long. So that's why I'm finishing with you. Permanently. That's the truth. This is it.”

She stood stock still, staring at me in disbelief. I still had hold of her by the arms.

“And now I'm off to get my ferry. See you.”

I let go of her and strode off.

“Victor!”

She came after me.

“Victor. Vic. Don't. Don't go. Say you don't mean it. Come back. Oh please.”

“Get lost.”

She tried to stop me by clutching hold of my shoulder. I shook her hand off and the sharp movement must have thrown her slightly off balance. She lost her grip on her string bag; it tilted too far forward and all its contents fell out onto the pavement. I turned round and looked down. Compacts, biros, gloves, hankies, sunglasses, all these littered the ground. A headscarf began to slide away in the breeze. She looked at the mess on the pavement then at me. She compressed her lips in frustration and misery and began automatically to bend down and pick up her belongings. The movement made her look gawky, and the breeze lifted her skirts and petticoats slightly. She had to squat partially to begin gathering in the clutter. I stood there for a few seconds, watching, and then I found myself backing away from her, into the warm sun. The movement quickened then suddenly I had turned round and was charging away into the sun, flying as fast as I could. The light breeze screamed past my ears, triumphant. I heard a wail coming from far behind me, but I never turned round and I never stopped running.

“You're back,” said my mother, surprised as I came in through the kitchen door. “I thought you were staying at Harry's.”

“I was but I decided to come home.”

“Good. Well, I expect you'd like some food?”

“Yes, please.” I hung my jacket up behind the door.

“By the way, I won't be going out with that Hilary anymore.”

“Oh, what's up?”

“Oh, nothing. You know. Got fed up.”

“I hope you were kind, Victor.”

“Oh, aye.” I darted across and spun my mother round to face me and started dancing with her.

“Oh, Victor, you great thing, give over.” We both laughed.

“What's for tea?” I said.

The tension, the expectation, the apprehension of going back began as soon as I left the house on Monday morning. The door banged behind me at seven thirty. I walked down Greenfield Road with my folder under my arm. I turned down the hill that led to the station. The sun was shining early morning quietness, and the cold blues of rural brick-patterned shadows sent out envoys of tickling breeze. Everything, grass, hedges, trees, was still half awake, poised and still, waiting unsurely for a sign to allow the cycle to begin again. The sky, its pale ghostly blue soundlessly covering the fields, was the very essence of the original morning. I got on the train and the train drew quietly out of the station, and then I was on the ferry and in no time at all I found myself walking up the steps outside college. I pushed open one of the double doors. There was no one about. The entrance hall was deserted. I was, as usual when I travelled across, the first to arrive. I lived in digs in town during term time and went home the occasional weekend when there was nothing doing.

I walked across the hall and put my folder on a stone block which formed a shelf in between two stone columns.

The building was a Victorian hotchpotch of Dutch, Elizabethan and half-understood English Renaissance styles. Useless columns adorned the facade which was topped off by a pseudo-Egyptian mosaic depicting the victory of knowledge over ignorance.

Inside the building, a central horseshoe-shaped well went upward through the two high storeys of the building, the space being bordered by galleries and broad stairways which would clatter stonily under steel- tipped heels. The well soared upward to a huge skylight from which light floated dustily down onto the mosaic patterned floor and steps of the entrance hall.

I walked down the steps into the basement which consisted of the men's cloakroom, the common room, and the boiler room. I went into the gents. Its interior was lit by a ground-level window, imprisoned from the sun by a high brick wall and the backs of high buildings. The feeling at that time in the morning was of being in a cool ice cavern, timeless and untouched by humans. The door swung softly behind me. I stood in front of the mirror and combed my hair. Then, explosively, one of the bogs flushed. Rudge, the caretaker, emerged. He went to a hand basin and turned on a tap.

“Now then,” he said.

I said Hello.

“Ready for back, I expect.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Yes, they're too long really, these holidays. Course, I'm here all the time. That's my job.”

“Yes.”

“Still, it's a nice day to come back on.” He dried his hands on a paper towel.

He threw the crumpled towel into the wire wastebasket and went out. I turned and looked at myself in the mirror. I leant on the shelf just below the mirror and took a closer look. Then I left the gents and trotted up into the entrance hall.

The doors burst inward and a group of about a dozen students loped noisily in, folders and bags flapping awkwardly against themselves and each other. They were from the seaside town of Horncastle, and just off the train.

“Hello, Vic,” said Kathryn, a girl I was friendly with.

“Hiya, Kath.”

Faces were roseate, genuinely pleased and excited by the return. Eyes flickered in anticipation. Everyone talked too noisily. New students grasped verbally at people they already knew, for fear of being left out. Others quietly, nervously watched. Established students posed urbanely, cruelly disconcerting the new arrivals with their
panache
, their insideness. People who were now second year were glad to have someone to look down on and posed even more excitedly and awkwardly than their seniors. Some of the seniors pretended to be unaffected by it all and therefore pretended all the more. Members of staff cast cynical amused eyes across the turmoil as they passed from the entrance to the staff room.

Harry arrived. He put his folder down on the ledge and unbuttoned his Ivy League jacket.

“Christ, you're early,” I said.

“Yeah,”

He looked round him.

“Looks as though college has opened again,” he said.

“Do you think so? You could be right.”

“One or two nice dollies abroad already, then.”

“Yes. They abound in an abundance of bums. I've had three away already.”

“So soon! I wish I was as lucky as other boys. It's my stubby hairy fingers what puts them off.”

A new girl in dark glasses with legs to match sidled by, sucking in her cheeks like Mylene Demongeot.

“There's some art students about,” I said.

“Yeah. Some students of life, too.”

He pointed to a corduroy jacket with a copy of
The Catcher in the Rye
poking out.

I looked at the clock. Ten past nine. Five minutes to class time.

“Shall we go up?” I said.

“Yeah, all right.”

We walked slowly up stairs to the first floor and entered the main studio. It housed all the still-life paraphernalia. Some objects had already been sorted into groups, ready for the term's work. Keen painting students were setting up their easels, and one of them had already begun painting.

Our lockers ran along one wall of the studio. Harry's and mine were side by side, and for a few minutes we busied ourselves by sorting out our gear. Then Harry said:

“Hey, I've just realized. General meeting in the Main Hall. Welcoming all students and all. We better go.”

“Yes, let's get welcomed.”

We made our way down into the Entrance Hall. People were in the process of filing into the Main Lecture Hall. We tagged on to the end of the queue.

“Hiya, Vic,” said a girl's voice.

I turned round to see a girl called Angela standing behind me. This term she was using a blue rinse on her hair. Her black dress stretched screamingly across her hips, the hem one-and-a-half inches above her sexual knees. She was a second year student, studying dress design. She came from Park Bridge, down near the docks and was the nearest thing the college had to a Ted girl. I had slept with her once, but she hadn't let me touch her. Harry and she and I used to knock round together during lunch hours and we had a lot of laughs, although she and I very often fell out and would annoy each other almost beyond endurance. I'd never quite got over her not letting me touch her, and I would sometimes be very nasty to her.

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
7.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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