Ten Years Gone (continued)
The poems kept coming and they were getting better and better.
As a ruler, she was merciless. Even though I had paid nearly all the bills for most of the years we'd lived there, it was only her name on the mortgage. I was broke but I wasn't in debt, and with the seventy grand in equity she now had on the flat in London, plus the ten grand she thought I didn't know about that she had stashed away in a savings account, she had no immediate reasons to worry about money. Yet time and again she forced me to pack a bag with some of my old things - CDs, books, ornaments, gadgets, even old bits of clothing - to sell at the second-hand shop in Notting Hill Gate. I always hated going there. The place was run by disgruntled middle-aged graduates who couldn't get proper jobs as teachers, and they always gave you the worst fucking prices. I once took a pair of handmade, calfskin Chelsea boots in there that I had bought back in the eighties for £275. The guy behind the counter, a young Ken Barlow in need of a shave and a good kicking, picked them up and held them at arm's length like an exterminator inspecting rat-droppings.
“Three quid,” he said.
“Three quid?” I said. “But they cost three hundred when I bought them and I've never even worn them!” It was true, I had hardy touched them. I had bought them drunk one afternoon in Covent Garden but as soon as I'd tried them on sober they were cripplingly tight and I never went near them again. They were beautiful, though. It was the actual hide of a calf; you could run your fingers up and down the tiny black-and-white hairs.
“Three quid,” he said. “Take it or leave it.”
I took it and have never stopped regretting it since. Not because I would want those obscene artefacts now, but because I should never have let it happen. She should never have let it happen. Humiliated and robbed by some bored sadist with a PhD in diddling himself in front of the mirror. I never forgave her for that. When I had been the one with the fat wallet and she was the one at a crossroads, I may not always have been kind or even right, but she'd never had to sell anything, least of all her soul.
What the fuck, let it all go. Just another reason why I wasn't sad not to be with her anymore. Really, it was myself I was saying goodbye to as I sat there on the couch, going through those old photos, sobbing my guilty heart out. The whole ten years were there: the holidays; the Christmases; the parties; the gigs… Some weird ones of me on my old Sky TV show, standing in a cheesy pretend graveyard, with some rock band… Then all the stuff from LA… me with Stash's snake round my neck, her with Bozzo and Karen… Then a gap before all the ones of the dog begin… the ones of me in my glasses after I'd decided I couldn't be bothered with contact lenses anymore… the ones of her in Paris, sitting at a table bored and restless, on our last, sexless holiday together…
It was appalling how different I looked in the early shots; thin and tanned and much hair. She didn't seem to have changed at all. She was like the female Dorian Gray. I wondered vaguely where she kept the hideous portrait. She was a little heavier now perhaps, but then she was my age, even though she was lying about it to the new boyfriend, for whom she intended to remain a perpetual 29. She actually told me that. Now it was my turn to laugh. Had she always been this much of a fucking witch, I wondered, or had I just made her that way? I looked at her insane eyes and realised that, no, she had always had this within her. Ten years with me had just helped bring it foaming to the surface.
Even after I'd taken all the pictures I wanted and packed them away into a box, I couldn't stop crying. It was like I was cradling this thing, its blood all over me as it lay convulsing and dying in my arms. It was for the best, I knew that, but I had never felt so bad, the pain quivering in my guts like a knife.
Finally, after three days and nights of continuous, strenuous rain, I found myself standing there at the door to the flat, the last box at my feet, ready to walk down the stairs for the very last time. I glanced at the empty white bookshelves in the lounge. Almost all the books that had once lived there had been mine, I realised posthumously. She had more records than books but even then she only had a few compared to the dozens of boxes of CDs, records and tapes I had carried out the door over the last couple of days.
That was the only noticeable difference, though. Everything else - the contents of the kitchen, the bathroom and, in particular, the bedroom - were entirely hers. She had actually padlocked shut one of the wardrobes in the bedroom. What she had in there that she thought I might be interested in was a mystery. I just put it down to her general miserliness. But at that final moment my lack of curiosity suddenly turned to contempt and I decided to find out.
I may have been many things but I was never a thief. Even when friends urged me to seek the advice of a solicitor in order to get a fairer deal - I had been her common-law husband for nearly a decade, paying for everything, surely a small slice of that equity must be mine, they argued - I couldn't bring myself to do it. The flat was hers. If she didn't want me to have any of it that was fine by me. I had no intention of trying to squeeze some dough out of her. For me, the stakes were much higher than that and I desperately didn't want to make any wrong moves. One more of those and I was finished, I felt sure…
So what was she hiding in there? What was it she didn't want me to see? I got a pair of pliers and snapped the chain. I opened the doors and looked inside, then stood back astonished. It was full of little things of mine, stuff she rightly thought I had forgotten about, like the Young Ones video my brother had given me as a present one Christmas, or the old-fashioned, reel-to-reel tape-recorder I had used for demos in the early days. I knew she wasn't interested in these things; she just wanted to sell them. For someone who thought so highly of her own taste, she had no class at all.
I grabbed my stuff and got the hell out of there. I was beginning to think she really was mad. I imagined her walking in, seeing me peering inside her secret wardrobe, coming at me from behind with the scissors…
I closed the door and double-locked it, then got down the stairs and into the car before any more calamities could befall me. The weather was worse than ever. I got drenched just walking from the back of the car to the front. I got in and fastened my seatbelt and turned the wet key. She started first time for a change and I breathed out again. The rain was running down my wrists and the tears had started to fall down my face again. I turned on the windscreen wipers and lit a cigarette. I had done it, the worst was over. That's what I told myself as I let out the handbrake and allowed the car to roll down the driveway into the street.
I turned left and put her into second, then flicked on the radio. It was playing 10cc's 'I'm Not In Love'. Now somebody up there really was taking the piss. What next? 'Leader Of The Pack' and a collision in the rain with a two-ton lorry? I decided that might not be so bad. There were worse endings, as I'd already discovered.
I switched the radio over to Jazz FM. It was the Dinner Jazz hour and they were playing something I recognised by Art Pepper. A forlorn ballad about a broken-down man. It was sad and beautiful and didn't help at all. I turned it off again.
The rain still lashing down my face, I got her up to third. You couldn't go any faster because of the new speed bumps. Then the car got to the end of the dark road and I slowed her down again, ready to make the next turn…
© Mick Wall 2006-2009 | All rights reserved | Contact Mick Wall at firstname.lastname@example.org