Lynn is in trouble with her father, and later gets some bad news.
Friday night and I noticed Kathy kept checking her watch as we stood waiting to meet Brian at the bus terminus.
"It's quarter past seven, Lynn," she said. "We might as well forget it. He's not coming."
"We can wait a few more minutes, Kathy, if you want."
"No, let's face it, he's not going to turn up. When we spoke to him in your car, he seemed so genuine and I really liked him."
"He might have a good reason."
"Once, twice maybe, but this is the third time. He's having a game with me. How can people be like that? Oh, Lynn, I feel so stupid. I can't face Kings. I think I'll just go home."
"Oh no you're not. I'm not having you sitting at home moping. You're coming with me, sod him. I'll have something to say next time I see him, the bloody cretin." I tried to joke with Kathy on the short drive to The Kings Arms, but I could tell that she was disappointed.
We met Pat in the bar and despite me giving a few subtle kicks under the table, Pat would not stop until she had extracted all the details.
I looked across the room and noticed Mike sitting in his usual pose with his hands locked behind his head flexing each arm muscle alternately. That's odd, I thought, it's Friday. I looked at the blonde girl with him and was amused at the sight of the obvious dark roots creeping into her hair. Mike looked over to me and I looked away.
"Do you know where he drinks?" Pat said. "We could go and confront him."
"He did mention The Ring O'Bells," Kathy replied. "But he could have been lying."
"It's only ten minutes down the road, let's go and see. I like a flipping good slagging match," Pat said enthusiastically.
"I don't know," Kathy said. "What do you think, Lynn?"
"I don't think it's a good idea," I said. I picked up my glass. "I'm going to get another drink. Anybody want one?" The girls had only taken a mouthful from their glasses and declined the offer.
Mike saw me waiting at the bar and walked over. "I'll get that," he said. The barman was a friend of his and walked over straight away to take his order.
"What are you doing in here on a Friday?" I said. "The Big Night at the gym."
"I took a night off to come and see you. I thought you might have reconsidered now that you've had a bit of time on your own."
"Yeah, well why did you bring your mum with you?"
Mike laughed. "You're a cheeky cow; she's not that much older than you. Anyway, I wasn't sure you'd be in tonight, and you know I like to be seen with a blonde on my arm."
"Blonde!" I glanced over at the girl he had been sitting with. "Old chemical head is giving us dirty looks."
"Lynn, you don't have to worry about her. I'll soon get rid of her. Well, what do you think? Shall we give it another go?"
"I don't know. I need to think about that."
"You don't need to think. You know you love me, that's why you're jealous."
"I'm not jealous, Mike."
"Aren't you? What about old chemical head? Why did you call her that?"
"I don't know. It just came out."
"Take another look at her and don't just look at her hair. She's a good-looking girl. She used to have lovely hair, but she ruined it just to get a date with me."
"You're a big headed sod, Mike."
"Yes, I know I am. So what? You want to think about it, well go ahead, but look what you're missing and look at the gym. That will be mine in a few years and you could be part of it, or you could be married to some overweight van driver from the bakery. Don't leave it too long or you'll miss your chance."
I gave a short laugh and looked over at the girl again. The girl was not looking my way and this time I noticed one eye was more heavily made up than the other and appeared slightly swollen. "Have you attacked her?"
"Don't worry about her. She's not like you. She likes it rough."
A chill shot through my arms as I looked into his eyes. The thought of the night he attacked me flashed back to torment me again. His eyes looked evil as they had then, piercing straight to my very soul. "If I were a man, I'd punch you on the nose."
Mike laughed. "If you were a man, you wouldn't have to."
The barman returned with the drinks. I picked up my Cherry B and walked back to the girls, but again finished the drink quickly. "Come on, let's go to The Ring O'Bells then," I said.
Mike was still at the bar chatting to the barman when we got up to leave. I avoided eye contact with him as I left, but I noticed Pat purposely look over at him and poke her tongue out before looking away.
We walked into the Ring O'Bells, bought our drinks and walked into the small room.
"This must be the right room," Pat said. "There's two still alive in here." She walked to the nearest table spilling splashes of beer from her half-pint glass. Kathy and I followed her over.
"Hello girls, I'm Badger and this is my rich friend Adrian," Badger said. "You've come to see me, so why sit over there?"
Pat glanced over at him but looked away before giving a reply. "Badger, yeah I've heard about you. Is that a real streak in your hair or do you dye it?"
"I can only discuss that in my bedroom," Badger replied.
"Oh yeah, like talking to yourself, do you?"
"Oooo got spirit, I like a girl with spirit," Badger said. "You and me could do things together."
"Oooooo. " Pat grinned at him. "Come and see me when you're a grown up and you might get the chance." She got up and walked to the jukebox.
I had made eye contact with Badger, prompting me to ask the question. "We're looking for a lad named Brian Conway. Does he come in here?"
"No," Badger replied. "He usually does that in bed."
Pat turned and glared at him. "You filthy flipping creep," she said.
"Turn it in, Badger. You're going a bit too far now," his friend Adrian said.
"All right, all right I know when I'm beat," Badger said while holding up his hands.
"Well has he been in or not?" Pat said.
"Brian's not been in for a couple of days. He's been hanging around with a girl in Barfield, but I'm available if you like."
"No thanks," Pat said. "I don't flipping do charity work. What record do you want on, Lynn?"
Badger's revelation struck hard at Kathy. I gave Kathy a comforting smile and Kathy smiled back, shrugging her shoulders while turning her palms up, trying to give the impression that she didn't really care.
"Come on, let's pick some records." I got up and walked over to join Pat at the jukebox, but Kathy remained seated.
"Eight B," Badger said. "Put Eight B on." He rushed over to join us at the jukebox and we playfully argued, each of us trying to put our own favourite records on.
I noticed Badger's friend Adrian looking over at Kathy. She smiled back at him and it pleased me when he walked over to her and introduced himself.
I enjoyed the evening with the lads in The Ring O'Bells, but Brian remained on my mind most of the night. When I got home everyone was in bed and the house was in darkness. I was feeling angry because Brian had stood up my friend again and I sat in the kitchen wondering what to do about it. I decided to write him a letter, but the drink and my anger were affecting me and I had not thought the idea through properly. I wrote the letter but then realised that I didn't know where he lived and I was sitting wondering how I could get the letter to him.
"Hello, Princess, you're late."
It startled me and I looked over to my father in panic. "Yeah, I'm, er, I'm just going to bed." I picked up the letter and wobbled a bit as I walked to the door.
"Have you been drinking? Have you been driving like that?"
"I'm all right. Good night."
"Good night, good bloody night. Don't you dare drive in that state again. Do you hear me? Just what the hell do you think you're playing at?"
I hurried to my room without answering.
"I can soon sell that bloody car again," he shouted after me.
Saturday morning, I was dressed and lying on my bed knowing that my mother had prepared breakfast without my help. My mother called up to me that my breakfast was on the table, but I was reluctant to join my family. I read the letter that I had written to Brian. The best thing to do with that, I thought, would be to throw it in the bin. My mother called me again and I knew I had to go down. "Oh well, here goes," I muttered to myself.
It was quiet when I walked into the kitchen and the atmosphere was obvious. My father had a mood on. I looked on the table, scrambled egg on toast, my favourite breakfast when it was hot, but my family were just finishing breakfast and I knew that my breakfast would be almost cold. I sat down, not daring to look at my father. I must not look at him, but I couldn't help myself and I glanced over at him. We made eye contact and straight away he started on me.
"Think you're clever, do you? Do you take me for some kind of, idiot?"
"No," I said, timidly. My father launched into a furious verbal attack, shouting at me about my condition the previous night. I was upset and ashamed because he was still angry with me and my brothers' stirring remarks didn't help. I hurried my breakfast and escaped for a while when I went to the paper shop for him, hoping to calm the situation, but I brought him the wrong newspaper and he started on me again. I remembered the letter and decided to deliver it to Brian's workplace, thinking that it would get me out and away from my father's mood for a while and it would give me a chance to drive my car again.
I drove into town and stopped at a set of traffic lights. I felt boxed in. The drivers in front, to my left, and behind were all men and it made me nervous. I became paranoid and felt as if they were all looking at me, waiting for me to make a mistake. The lights changed, I selected the wrong gear and the car stalled. Although I restarted it quickly, the car behind overtook as I started to pull away, cutting me up. The man stuck two fingers up at me and I panicked and pulled to the left. The driver on my left sounded his horn and we stopped inches away from each other.
The man glared at me. "Bloody wenches in cars," he shouted. "What's the world coming to?" His wheels spun as he sped away. I pulled away slowly, wondering why I was having such a bad day. It took me a while to get my confidence back, I wasn't used to people being so nasty to me.
I arrived at the locomotive depot, parked my car and walked to the entrance. Some upended railway sleepers had been made into a fence beside the long cinder path. It looked a hostile lifeless place with not a nettle or blade of grass showing. I walked along the path, one minute hoping I wouldn't see Brian, the next hoping that I would. I came out in a large open area at the end of the path and looked at the many steam locomotives on the shed tracks, thinking how enormous they looked from the trackside.
To my right, I noticed a young lad sitting outside a large cabin that looked as if it might be the canteen and I went over to speak to him. He directed me to the foreman's office and I had to pass one of the larger locomotives. A jet of steam was hissing loudly as it escaped from a pipe on the engine. It worried me as I timidly walked past and into the office. The foreman was amazed by my sudden appearance, not being accustomed to seeing young girls turning up at his office. He took the letter from me and told me he would pass it on.
I went back out and as I hurried past the engine again, I was shocked to see that a large group of men had assembled outside the cabin, waiting for me. They whistled as I passed and I gave them a brief smile and hurried on my way. I liked to be noticed and whistled at, but the amount of men whistling and jeering made me feel uncomfortable and uneasy. I was glad when I was on the footpath and out of their sight, wishing that I had put my slacks on. Although the path was well used and firmly trodden down, I could feel the crackle of the cinders under my shoes. I heard a noise behind the fence, it startled me, and I began to run. I reached the road and felt foolish as if I were a child running away after knocking at someone's door. I looked back down the path and began to feel bad about the letter; wondering if it had been such a good idea. I thought of going to ask for it back, but the path looked even more sinister and I really didn't want to face the escaping steam or the group of men again. I felt slightly depressed and wasn't pleased with myself as I walked back to the Mini.
I stood looking at my car, something was different, and then I noticed that my spotlights were missing. I looked around. There were people about. In broad daylight, someone had stolen my spotlights and no one had taken any notice. I got in the car and slammed the door thinking that surely the day couldn't get any worse.
I 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 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 big 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. Still 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 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, noticing my concern.
"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. He walked quickly after me and caught me as I left the ward. "Wait lass," he said again. 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 rejoin his wife at Brian's bedside.
Out in the corridor I walked towards the litter bin, but I stopped, and reread 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 and 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 door bell, 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 her 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.