Read The Summer We All Ran Away Online
Authors: Cassandra Parkin
The summer we all ran away
Legend Press Ltd, 2 London Wall Buildings, London EC2M 5UU
Contents Â© Cassandra Parkin 2013
The right of the above author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available.
Print ISBN 978-1-9093953-1-2
Ebook ISBN 978-1-9093953-2-9
Set in Times
Printed by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
Cover design by Gudrun Jobst
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
grew up in Hull, and now lives in East Yorkshire. Her short story collection,
New World Fairy Tales
(Salt Publishing, 2011), won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories. Her work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies.
The Summer We All Ran Away
is Cassandra's debut novel.
Visit Cassandra at
or on Twitter
First, a huge thank you to my editor Lauren Parsons, as well as to everyone else in the team at Legend Press - for choosing my book, and for everything you do to support new writers.
Secondly, thank you to my family members past and present, who gave me the glorious summers and haunting stories that inspired so much of this book. Especially big thanks go to my grandfather Ken, who â against the odds â managed
to drive the car down Quay Hill, off Custom House Quay and into the harbour.
And finally, to my husband Tony and my children Becky and Ben - thank you, thank you, thank you, for believing in my writing, for being thrilled (but also completely unsurprised) when my novel found a home, and for always being on my side.
For Tony, Becky and Ben
chapter one (now)
This Thursday, in the middle of August, had been the most terrible, apocalyptic day of Davey's nineteen years on earth. Getting drunk seemed the only possible response.
Slouched hopelessly on the grey-white steps of Trafalgar Square, his rucksack between his knees, he forced the vodka down his throat. Was it supposed to taste like this? Or were his mother and stepfather storing oven-cleaner in the drinks cabinet for secret reasons of their own? He imagined it burning through his stomach and intestines, fizzing gently, creating thick yellow fumes. Stubbornly, he took another swill, and wondered if he might go blind.
Of course, if he did, then maybe he wouldn't have to -
“Alright there, mate?” said a companionable voice.
Davey squinted up through dust and sunshine to the policeman who stood, sweating amiably, by the steps.
“Bit early to be drinking, isn't it? Not even lunchtime yet.”
Years of public school training smoothed over his terror.
“Er yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” His words slightly blurred by alcohol.
The policeman nodded wisely.
“Good.” His gaze took in the clean hands, the good jeans, the bottle of Stoli. The rucksack. The dark hair capping the young, weary face. The bloom of fresh bruises, one on the jawline, one high on the cheekbone. The crust of blood at the hairline. “You've been in the wars.”
Davey flushed. The policeman sat down beside him.
“Need any help? Got trouble with them at home?”
Davey wondered what incarnation of
the policeman was picturing. An alcoholic mother. An unemployed father with a drug habit. A violent girlfriend.
“I'm f-fine,” he said. His stammer peeking out from beneath its stone. Would the policeman read anything into it? “But, erm th-thanks.”
The policeman looked thoughtfully at the rucksack.
“Running away's bloody hard, you know. You might think it solves everything, but it mostly makes it worse.”
“I'm n-n-n-not erm - ” Davey suddenly discovered he was a terrible liar, even to strangers. “How - ”
The policeman gave him a penetrating stare.
“Look, you're not causing any aggro, so I'll leave you alone if you want. But you'd do better to sort it. If you're getting hit, we'll help, but you have to ask. Alright?”
Horrified, Davey stood up. The ground rocked treacherously beneath his feet.
“Where are you going?” The policeman had hold of his elbow, his grip firm and impersonal.
“Train station,” said Davey, indistinctly.
“Yeah? Where you headed?”
Over the policeman's shoulder, a paper bag danced in the breeze. West Cornwall Pasty Company.
“Cornwall,” said Davey, after a slight pause. “I'm g-g-going to visit my Aunt.”
“Your Aunt in Cornwall? What's her name?”
“Dorothy,” said Davey, desperate. “My Aunt Dorothy. I'm g-g-going to stay with her for a bit. G-g-get my head together.
“You've got money for the ticket?”
Just let me go
“Yes, yes, plenty.” Davey showed his wallet. “See?”
“You sure there isn't anything you want to tell me? 'Cos they'll do it again, you know. They always do.”
“Not if I'm n-n-not there,” said Davey, and grabbed his rucksack.
“Alright, son,” said the policeman, resigned. “Off you go. Good luck.”
A blink, and he was on the tube. How had he got here? He remembered a barrier, a platform, a ticket machine, a handful of change, but couldn't string them together into a coherent narrative. But he was going to Cornwall. Guided by a paper bag. Well, why not? He had to go somewhere. His contempt for himself had his stepfather's voice.
Only cowards run away, real men stick around and sort it out
. He drowned it with vodka, and felt a giant wave of collective disapproval break over his head.
Above his head, the adverts were moving. A girl on a poster winked at him. She was pretty and confident, and had saved up to one hundred and fifty pounds on her car insurance because she was a lady driver. Davey's stepfather had tried to force him into driving lessons, but so far he'd managed to resist. Two panels down, a man dressed as Nelson had also saved money on his car insurance. Was that because he was an Admiral? The parrot's gaze was knowing and sly.
The lines of the tube map made him feel sick. Lying on the floor was a newspaper, open to the showbiz pages. An iconic British actress had walked off a film set because her husband was sleeping with the actress playing her daughter; a battered California starlet had wrecked her car and checked into rehab. Their faces stared accusingly up at him, as if these events were his fault. Regurgitated vodka crept up his throat. Was he going to be sick? He picked up the newspaper in anticipation. The woman next to him edged away.
Another blink, and he stood at the foot of an escalator. The platform swayed beneath his feet. If he was on a ship, would the ground feel stable? Was this why sailors drank? The handrail's speed was treacherously slower than the escalator and he had to keep letting go and grabbing on again, convinced each time that he would fall backwards into the chaos below.
Staggering off the top step, he fell into a man in a suit.
“Jesus Christ, just
, will you?” he snarled. Davey clung to the man's shoulder, trying to re-orient himself. “Let go of me or I'll fucking deck you.” His expensive aftershave was like a scented cloud. “Are you drunk? Police, police, I've got a lunatic here, police!” A privileged voice, used to be being obeyed.
“No, I'm sorry, I'm
- ” Davey let go and stumbled away. The crowd parted, then refused to re-form around him, leaving him for the policemen to find. He began to run, realised how stupid this was, forced himself to stop again. High-vis jackets over black uniforms appeared at the bottom of the escalator. The crowd rustled with excitement.
“I haven't got fucking time for this,” said the man in the suit, and gave Davey a spiteful shove. “Piss off, you disgusting little shit.” He straightened his jacket and marched away.
As if his departure proved that Davey was not, after all, a lunatic or a terrorist, everyone returned to their business. The police arrived, looked around, saw nothing, swore, began to ask questions. A woman with henna-red hair pointed them in the direction of the man who had called them.
Reprieved, Davey crept along the wall of the tunnel. His forehead was dewy with sweat. Was it against the law to throw up at a tube station? He began following a woman with a large suitcase, hoping she would lead him to the railway.
They crossed a huge white concourse, Davey's stomach clenching, the woman's sensible low heels clicking. Would more vodka settle his nausea? The phrase
hair of the dog
floated across his mind, but the thought of hairy dogs â stinking and drooling and wet â made him gag. The woman with the suitcase was climbing some steps now. Where was she going?
Clinging to the rail for support, he broke through the surface to open air.
Another blink, the smell of diesel, everyone with suitcases,
whistles shrieking like birds. Was this the train station? A giant board filled with letters and numbers. Just when he'd got a fix on them, the display refreshed and he had to start all over again. Fast food smells coiled around his nostrils. Gulping desperately, he found the Gents, scrabbling in his pocket for change to get through the turnstile.
The steel toilet bowl looked dirtier than ceramic, even though it was probably more hygienic. The vodka tasted even worse coming back up than it had done going down.
By the basins, he took another deep swig from the bottle to cleanse his palate, aware of the basic stupidity of the action, but reluctant to disobey the stern signs over the taps: NOT DRINKING WATER.
“Where are you travelling to?”
A ticket-selling woman behind a glass screen, her voice coming to him via an intercom. There was a slight delay between the movements of her mouth and the arrival of the words.
Buy ticket. Get on train. Run
“Cornwall,” said Davey.
“W-w-w - ” His stammer loving the vodka. Was this why he'd never really liked to drink? “Which ones are there?”
“Information centre's over there,” she said wearily. “Come back when you've chosen.”
Davey found a touch-screen kiosk, but you could only operate it if you already knew where you wanted to go. Behind him, a woman sighed and said loudly, “You can't work it because you're
- ” and Davey, ashamed, slunk away to a row of chairs. The carpet's pattern looked like germs swarming. He wondered if he was going to be sick again.
After a few minutes, the man next to him left. On his chair was a tourist leaflet.
A spreading ripple of movement and rearrangement, everyone
sitting up, paying attention. Davey opened his eyes. Strangers opposite him; stranger beside him. Wide glass windows. The sensation of speed. He was on a train. Which train? A huge ogre squeezing his way towards him.
“Tickets, please.” The guard was enormously tall and fat, barely able to fit between the seats. Why had he chosen a job he was so obviously not designed for? Or had he been thin when he got it, then gradually grown into his present size?
“Ticket,” repeated the ogre, holding out his hand. Davey groped desperately back through the blankness of sleep. Did he have a ticket? Could he have got on the train without one? He remembered the ticket office, he remembered queueing, he remembered not knowing where he wanted to go. He found his wallet; there was a lot less money in it than he remembered. The other passengers watched with interest.
Panicking now, Davey began to rummage through his rucksack. On the very top was a bottle of Glenfiddich whiskey, half-empty. Had he drunk that? He remembered vodka, not whiskey. Then something flickered in his brain, just a couple of neurons mindlessly firing up, and he reached into his jacket pocket and found a rectangle of cardboard.
Together, they inspected it dubiously.
“Railcard,” said the guard at last.
Davey rummaged some more, found a holder with a laminated card. He held it out and waited miserably for the guard to pronounce his fate. The guard looked at it for a long time.
“So you're old enough to be drinking,” he said. “I was going to confiscate that bottle, son. If you give me any trouble, I'll have you put off the train.”
“Okay,” Davey agreed meekly.
The guard was looking at the bruises.
“Change at Truro.”
The carriage contained nothing but staring eyes. Davey slumped down into his jacket. Outside, the world unspooled like a roll of film.
“Where are you headed?”
The woman next to him was speaking. Davey, head reeling from the inch of Glenfiddich he'd gulped down in the toilet, tried to focus on his ticket. Where
he going? Was this still the train with the fat guard? Alcohol had turned his memory into a swamp; no clues on the surface, hideous monsters lurking below.
You've made a complete mess of your life
It's for your own good
I'm trying to help you
He shivered, and stared downwards. The letters on his ticket flickered and danced and refused to turn into words.
“Can I see?” She took his ticket from him. “You need to change at the next station.”
He studied her in shy glimpses. She reminded him of Giles' mother. Small and soft, fair wispy hair. The train was slowing.
“Okay,” she said briskly. “This is me. And you. Up you get.” She chivvied him out of his seat, handed him his ticket, saw him off the train.
“Thanks,” he mumbled again, not daring to meet her eyes. He was terrified of needing help or asking for anything. Since he was three years old,
getting in the way
had been the unforgiveable crime.
“I've got a son your age,” she said vaguely, and he stared at her in astonishment.
“Are you Giles' mum?” he called out as she disappeared across the platform; but she was already gone.
A sudden jerking stop, a sign right outside the window. Another platform to negotiate. His rucksack caught in the closing doors. The stillness of the ground was too much, and he was painfully, shamefully sick in a bin. He could hear the sound of judgement being passed, and blood singing in his ears. As he straightened up, he heard seagulls.
He stood in a steep street, a finger of tarmac leading straight down to the quayside. There were no barriers. How good would it feel to ride a skateboard down, down, down and off into the oily water? Did he have a skateboard?
He rummaged hopefully in the rucksack, but was distracted by the Glenfiddich. His mouth tasted like a drained pond. As he unscrewed the cap, he suddenly remembered the terror of stealing it, less than twelve hours ago.
On the other side of the harbour, a rose-coloured house stood by itself. In a high window, a tiny light hung like a red star.
A worm of memory wriggled at the back of his sodden brain.
“Steady there,” said a man, helping Davey aboard the boat. Dazed and mystified, whiskey swimming in his blood, Davey sat down on an iron park bench screwed tight to the wooden deck.
Where was he going now? On the quay was a shelter with walls of cool, cream-coloured concrete. He would have liked to rest his hot cheek against the wall and close his eyes, but instead he was on a rickety ferry that smelled of diesel fumes and sweaty humanity, going - somewhere. No-one else shared his bench. Did he now look so wild and unkempt that nobody dared sit next to him?
He realised he was starving, and looked in his rucksack again. Why on earth had he ignored the contents of the fridge and cupboards, but packed six pairs of black socks, a battered photograph album, a stolen newspaper and
Alice in Wonderland
? How could that have seemed like a good idea?