David Gillespie sits in his living room. It would be hard to say he was in good mood, hard to say that the future was looking rosy, that the past was something he looked back on with anything but a general remorse.
He was drifting along nicely there wasn’t he, in a way, sitting in the house his grandfather left them, doing a bit of work here and there when it came up, pursuing his interests such as they might be, and now Alex Hargreaves has turned up out of the blue and shaken things up a bit.
He should probably open the curtains. It is two in the afternoon and looks to be a nice day out there. Instead he rolls himself a cigarette. Conflict. IRL. Probably this is good for him, break him out of his inertia. He wonders what Alex Hargreaves thought of him, what he saw when he looked at him.
Now let’s not get into all that. Oh to see yourself as others see you. He doubted Alex Hargreaves was asking himself the same question, what kind of impression he may have made on David Gillespie. Don’t do it to yourself David! Don’t get into all that, you are on a hiding to nothing.
Ash drops onto the carpet as he sits forward scanning the coffee table for the ashtray and he grinds it in with his foot. Well Alex Hargreaves had taken him by surprise. He hadn't meant to be so quite so hostile but it was a bad start, turning up like that, got him jumpy. No one apart from David Gillespie has set foot in the hours for eight years, the entire time, in fact, that he has lived there. To say that the place was a mess would be an understatement. For the first year or so he made an effort but after a while he began to wonder what the point was. Same with going upstairs to go to bed when there was a perfectly comfortable sofa and sleeping bag right there and it only meant heating one room. Fire, tv, laptop, kettle all in one room. The ambit of his world has shrunk, hasn't it, reduced down to lying on the sofa and squinting at screens. He’s not unhappy, he doesn't feel or hasn’t felt in many ways, that he was at a loss, lacking in anything. and then along comes Alex Hargreaves.
Then, on the other hand at least it is just about Vernon. First thing he thought when the door went yesterday was that the debt collectors had come for him, then that it was the police, the Authorities, looking into his Internet habits, his browsing and posting activities. He should be careful. He hasn’t done, looked at anything strictly illegal, but his own fear and guilt then when someone started knocking on his door told him something: be careful. What are you sliding into David? Perhaps you have been alone with your thoughts too long, perhaps you have been alone too long, too few checks on where you can let your mind roam., too much accessible, previously taboo material just sitting there waiting to be discovered.
His internet connection is slow as fuck, the most basic package anyway, but eventually he has his gmail account up and as he waits for the first of the selected emails to open he decides to make a cup of instant coffee, and is greatly displeased to find the kettle empty, meaning he has to go all the way to the fucking kitchen to fill it. Once a week he fills up a five litre plastic bottle of water that he uses to make coffee and tea with, rehydrate the value pot noodles, moisten the bags of value muesli that he more or less subsists on these days, except for the occasional bit of toast. He dragged the fridge into the living room a couple of winters ago too.
It isn’t an especially big room, but even so, some days the distance from the sofa to the fridge seems immense, partly because the pain in his leg has flared up again, partly just because his sense of scale is diminishing. The kitchen is an ordeal away, upstairs an Everest, the front bedroom a distant country and yet the whole of time and the whole of space are within easy reach, all there on the computer screen a foot away.
He goes and fills the kettle, stands with it in one hand, the water running, gazing out of the window at the wildly overgrown garden and the dust and pollen rolling over it in the sunlight. There’s a last teabag in the box, meaning later he will have to go to the shop. He still owes them twenty quid for the tobacco he got on tick a month ago. Ah, now then. You have been asleep, haven’t you? You thought that emailed Fuck Off would be the end of it, but this Alex Hargreaves is a tenacious wee fucker, is he not?
He will have to go upstairs. That upstairs bathroom though, eh? He won’t be able to resist popping his head round the door for a peak at that will he? See how the mould on the shower wall has been coming along.
“I don’t wanna fucking think about the dead”, he says out loud. “Not the fucking dead.”
Those cunts. He sits down on the floor, back against the empty fridge.
Vernon especially. Not that he has ever stopped thinking about him, really, but he doesn’t want him foregrounded again. He doesn’t want that whole period of his life brought back into focus. Not because it was bad but because of the loss, the losses.
He’d get drunk if he had any money. Good job he is skint. Smart move that.
The kettle boils, he pours, he stirs to try to blend the floating granules in, sniffs the milk then pours some, breaks through the light crust and adds two heaped teaspoons of sugar from the sticky bag, sips at it, rinses it round his gums. Perfection. Winces his way back to the living room. The email has finally opened.
He responds to Alex Hargreaves. Should he use his name? Nah. Stay distant, Don’t look desperate.
“I don't know how successful you are going to be in this search around for Vernon’s work. But you're not going to find it without help or information are you? And I have that. So we need to cut some kind of deal.”
Sing off with his name? Nah. He knows who its from.
So, upstairs. He stands up again and his left leg throbs, his knee a bit wobbly a sharp point in his groin like someone trying to poke a crochet hook between the muscles. The front bedroom is an assault course of broken and unwanted furniture, boxes of crap, bags of clothes, his old bike, piles of records, magazines, tapes. He remembers chartering a van and getting it all down from Castleford, all this crap he can’t throw away. He was certainly dissolute enough with his other meagre possessions, his energy, his body, his mind, but things, objects, scraps and tatters, totems and tokens of his life, he has clung onto. He hasn’t taken care of them, or filed them away, merely dumped them in ever increasing mounds from one place to the next. And if he has to leave here? If his sister decides they need to sell the place. Will he take all this with him again to the next place wherever that might be? A bedsit? He’ll be up to his neck in it all, like that old dear in Happy Days.
He should bin it all, burn it all, but in through the doorway and taking in a lungful of damp musty air, out of breath from climbing a single flight of stairs he feels the past overwhelm him, all rich and heady spiced with rot, the damp and dust of ages. He longs for the grave, for old stone and moss, the patient work of water on brick and bone. Don’t get distracted, he tells himself, knowing familiar things will loom out to take hold of him, how easily he could sit going through piles of yellowed clippings or old journals, reading the tracklists on old cassettes as the day disappears.
The box he wants is in the wardrobe and he battles manfully forward through the siren song of the half-forgotten. Here it is, a shoebox. He pulls out carrier bags and assorted flotsam and ephemera and sticks it down on a patch of empty floor space behind him, lifts the lid. pulls out the brown A4 envelope. VC96 1-6 6 written on the front in black felt tip. There's any number of other fascinating, heartbreaking, memory stirring odds and ends in there too, all set to provoke, doubtless, an intense and overwhelming concatenation of atomistically interlinked, sublime, ineffable reverie.
Walk away, David. Walk away son. He does, more or less, half bolting for the bedroom door, turning so quickly he almost stumbles on the bags hes just put down behind him, sending a long, thin filament of pain down the inside of his leg and into his toes, ah fuck, he cries out and hobbles angrily to the landing. The pain peaks and subsides to a dull ache. He should go to the doctor and get some more painkillers, stronger ones. He is officially on them for his back but any problems with that seems to have been supplanted by this leg thing now. He puts pressure on it and feels the ball in his groin balloon and chafe at his hip bone.
It takes him ten minutes to get back to the living room, where he lies back on the sofa, duvet bunched up behind his head, massaging his thigh. His laptop pings. A new message from Alex Hargreaves. Hi. Glad you got back in touch. I certainly could use some help. What kind of deal did you have in mind? Alex.
Very good. Something falls over in the room upstairs with a bang and the vibrations run down the stairs, soak through the floor, make the window glass tremble slightly in the frame, the letterbox creak expectantly. He jumps and then takes a while to settle down. He’s on edge alright. He sits listening for more. Vengeful spirits. Nothing. A car starts up a few streets away.
That reminds him. He should talk to Andy.