Lynn gets some bad news.
I left the locomotive depot and set off for home and was just approaching The Ring O'Bells when I saw Kenny about to go into a house. It cheered me up. I tooted at him, stopped the car and got out smiling.
"Hello, beautiful," Kenny said. "Passed your test then?"
I told him about how my father had bought the car for me. I remembered seeing Kenny near the house one day when I was learning to drive but I had no idea he lived there. "I didn't know you'd moved. Is that why we haven't seen you?"
"Yeah, I don't get up your way much nowadays. Come on, I'll make you a brew and you can tell me all your news." I walked out to the small back room in Kenny's house and sat at a table by the window. I looked out into the yard and saw a galvanised bath hanging on the wall. What a task it must be just to have a bath I thought. I looked at the remains of a coal fire in the hearth and imagined a roaring fire. I grinned as I thought of Kenny sitting in the bath, in front of the fire, scrubbing himself with a long-handled brush.
Kenny walked in from the tiny back kitchen with two mugs of tea. "I could have done with you earlier. You could have run me up the hospital."
"Why, what's the matter?" I said, looking concerned.
"I went to visit a friend of mine. They wouldn't let me in at first but I made out I had to go to London this afternoon so they let me have a few minutes. He's in a bit of a state. Got battered Thursday night by three lads outside Minstrels. His face has swollen up like a balloon. He's got stitches in his mouth, probably a broken nose, and his eyes, one's completely closed up and he can just about see through the other. He's lucky he hasn't got any cracked ribs. There's a massive bruise on his chest. Still, at least he hasn't lost any teeth. He might have a few loose ones, but I think they can do something with them."
"Why do they do it?" I said. "They get a lot of trouble up there."
"Yeah, and they'll be getting a lot more before I'm finished. Anyway, how's the family?" We talked for a while about my father. He had been Kenny's trainer when he ran the boxing club. My father had high hopes for him, but as Kenny got older he started to spend time in the local bars and drifted away from the boxing.
"So, have you just been having a ride about in your new car?" he said.
"No, I've just delivered a letter to a rat at the railway depot," I replied.
"He's upset you then I take it."
"No, I'm not that bothered really. It's my friend, he keeps letting her down, keeps making dates with her and then not turning up. I just told him what I think of him."
"Shouldn't she be doing that?"
"I don't mind doing it for her. She's pretty down as it is without him messing her around. She's just lost her Mum."
"Oh, you mean Kathy. Yes, I heard about her Mum." They both sat silent for a few moments before Kenny continued. "Well, I can't fault you for that then, Lynn. You give him some stick, it's all he deserves."
"Funny you living across from The Ring O'Bells. He drinks in there sometimes and we were in there last night looking for him."
"In The Ringers," Kenny said. "I must know him then, what's his name?"
"Brian Conway," I replied, as if I were unconcerned.
Kenny remained quiet, but the look he gave told me that he recognised the name.
"You know him then?"
"Oh, yeah, and I know why he didn't turn up on the date. He's the lad I went to see in hospital."
"What!" I jumped up from the chair. Disbelief flowed through my mind followed by despair. "Oh, no, don't say that, Ken, please don't say that." I began to panic about the letter. "I've got to go and get that letter back. I've got to go, Ken." I was becoming close to tears and Kenny put his arm around my shoulder. "Oh, Kenny," I said. "I've been so stupid and I've done a terrible thing."
Kenny shook his head. "Come on now. Calm yourself down. Where's that tough little McLean girl?"
"I'm sorry," I said.
"You've nothing to be sorry for and you weren't to know that he was in hospital, were you?"
My eyes were full of tears and it felt as if they were about to start rolling down my cheeks.
"Don't you start crying on me now," Kenny said, "or you'll start me off."
I gave a short laugh at the ridiculous thought and wiped my eyes.
"That's better, now let's go and see if we can get that letter back."
I drove Kenny to the railway depot and he walked down to the foreman's office to get the letter for me but Brian's father had called in with Brian's sick-note and had taken the letter away with him. Kenny offered to go to the hospital with me but I wanted to go on my own. I had calmed down and said it was the shock that had upset me and I could prepare myself to see him. I dropped Kenny home and before I set off to the hospital I made him promise to keep our earlier conversation to himself.
I walked briskly down the ward. There were visitors at the other beds but there was no one at Brian's and he was asleep. I quietly moved the chair from the end of his bed. I had forgotten about the letter. I just sat by his side looking at him as he slept. I had seen my father's face after his fights, swollen and sometimes cut, but never as bad as Brian's. I wanted to hold him, to comfort him, but I felt helpless.
"Hello!" The word startled me and I looked round to see a middle-aged couple standing at the end of the bed. "We're Brian's parents. He dropped off to sleep so we went for a cup of tea."
I stood up and walked over to them. "I'm Lynn, a friend of..." I stopped mid-sentence as I saw a change in the man's face. I remembered the letter and realised he might have opened it. "Did you give him the letter? Has he read it?"
"He asked me to read it to him," Brian's father replied.
"I'm sorry, but he was supposed to meet us and I thought…" I paused for a moment. "I didn't know he'd been hurt. I'm so sorry." I turned and hurried away.
"Wait, lass," he said, but I continued walking.
I could hear him hurrying after me and he caught up with me as I left the ward. "Wait, lass," he said again and I stopped and turned around. "Please don't upset yourself. I told him it was a get-well message from the lads at the shed. His mother hasn't read it either." He passed the letter to me. "Just forget about it."
"I didn't mean it, Mister Conway. I was upset, but I didn't mean it."
"I can see that, lass, and don't you worry too much about him. It's not as bad as it looks. He's a tough lad. They only kept him in to keep an eye on him and they said he could come home tomorrow. There's no permanent damage and you'll hardly notice in a few days." I felt comforted by his words and gave a smile. "That's better," he said. "You look wonderful when you smile. Why don't you come back in? We can wake Brian and I bet he'll be pleased to see you."
"No, no I can't. I've got to go."
"Well, I'm very pleased that you called in to see him and it's a great relief to me because I thought that the letter was from Brian's attackers as some kind of sick joke." He gave me a reassuring hug as we exchanged goodbyes and he walked back to re-join his wife at Brian's bedside.
Out in the corridor I walked towards the litter bin but I stopped and re-read the letter.
I don't know what you're playing at but I suppose you will be happy to learn that you have really hurt Kathy this time. If you knew what that girl has had to cope with you would be ashamed of yourself, and I only hope that someone will hurt you and cause you more pain than you have caused her. You are a stinking wicked bastard and I wouldn't go out with you if you were the only man on earth.
Don't you ever speak to me again you pig. Lynn.
I ripped the letter up and threw it into the bin wondering what a man would think of a girl who could write a letter like that to his son? As I was leaving the hospital I thought I had better go to see Kathy to break the bad news about the accident. I hoped the news wouldn't upset her too much.
When Kathy's mother was alive I often walked around to the back, gave a quick knock and walked into the kitchen. But now I always rang the front doorbell and if Kathy or her sister didn't invite me in it meant that their father was at home. I told Kathy the news at her door and felt surprised because Kathy was not as upset as I expected her to be. I didn’t stay long and as I left I noticed my brother Carl walking up the road with Jackie. Carl stopped when he saw me and sat on a garden wall waiting for me to drive away. I pretended that I had not seen him and smiled to myself as I got into my car and set off home.
A little later Carl walked into the kitchen and I could detect the distinctive fragrance of Kathy's borrowed perfume on his clothes.
"And who have you been kissing?" I said. "As if I didn't know."
"I haven't been kissing anyone."
"I wonder who it could be. Oh, I saw Jackie this morning. It's funny really. Said she had a date. Said she was going to the matinee at the pictures with a rammy young smoothie."
"There's something wrong with you." He looked at our mother. "Tell her, Mum."
"Leave him alone, Lynn. He's been a bit poorly lately."
"He's all right. He's just lovesick."
"There's nothing wrong with that," our mother said. "Jackie's a nice girl. I wouldn't mind her as a daughter-in-law."
"I've had enough of this. I'm going up to my room," Carl said loudly. "And I'm not coming down again."
"Do you want to take up some sandwiches then?" our mother asked.
My mother and I grinned as he stormed out of the room. We sat down at the table as my youngest brother, Philip, returned from the boxing club.
"Carl's in trouble," he said as he walked into the kitchen. "Our trainer went mad 'cause he never turned up again and he's got a fight soon."
"Well, don't tell me," our mother said. "I don't want to know. Tell your father."
"Make a drink, Sis."
"You cheeky little sod," I said.
"Go on, how many times have I made you a drink when you've been busy smooching with Mike? And I'll let you come on the rides with me when we go to the Belle View fair."
I got up to make the tea. "I don't know if I'll go this year. It won't be the same without Kathy."
"You'll have to let me know," my mother said. "We have to book the seats."
"You can book my seat. I'll pay for it and if I don't go then maybe Jackie would like to go in my place."
"Oh great. That's all I need," Philip said. "The two of them staring dewy-eyed at each other all day."
I made four cups of tea and took one of them upstairs to Carl.
"I don't want that," he said.
"Oh come on, Carl. I was only joking. Can't you take a joke?"
"You promised you wouldn't say anything."
"Everyone on the estate knows you're seeing Jackie. She's a really nice girl, Carl. You should be proud that you're going out with her instead of denying it." I put the cup down next to his bed. "Now are you gonna come back downstairs?"
"Yeah, I'll be down in a minute."
"Good, now give us a cuddle."
"Oh, go away," he said.
I laughed as I left the room.