I twisted around in my bed, sat up and stared out of
the window, it was still dark and the man alongside was sleeping the deep
sleep that his vigour fully deserved. I thought back to a curiously,
abstracted night. Oh he wasn’t distracted, just the opposite. But I had this
feeling, all through the thundery early evening, something, some crisis was
approaching. We made love accompanied by lightning flashes darting across
the leaded glass of the bedroom window. Followed by the heavy, sombre
rumbles of thunder. It’s a neat example of how preoccupied I felt, counting
the seconds between an arcing lightning flash and then waiting for the
grumbling, complaining window rattle of thunder. I counted as my lover moved
inside me… he didn’t seem to notice my troubled state.
No rain though, that was another sign, although I couldn’t think what it
meant. I slid out of bed, the feeling of encroaching doom wrapping its
unwelcome cape around my shoulders. Something dreadful was trying to trip me
up, something so outrageously shocking was heading my way and I listened to
its thunderous warning coming through the open window. Perhaps my already
unstable life was turning into some sort of gothic nightmare, or perhaps it
was just another of my grotesque hallucinations? Everything critical, every
crisis in my life happened in the summer months, usually during hot spells
and this was the middle of a long dry spell. I stared down at the man, took
a deep breath and silently threw some clothes on.
I waved him a cheery farewell and walked out onto an
already humid August morning.I glanced towards the east, heavy cloud gave no
clue of the sunrise and the gates of the Parks were never opened before
then. No one else alive in the world, just the way I liked it, too early for
joggers and dog-walkers, even the University staff had yet to make an
appearance. I was waiting by the park gates for a few minutes, before the
security guard finally arrived puffing away. He unlocked the gate, sniffed
the air – did he smell the sex on me? I hoped so, he ushered me through and
I entered another silent, early morning world. I strolled in an
anti-clockwise arc around the Parks, stopping by the footbridge I’d crossed
with Stuart all of those years ago. I considered going over, but I hadn’t
crossed it since that one time with him and to do now seemed a desecration
somehow. I followed the Cherwell’s river edge and walked on, the sound of a
cheerful blackbird failed to lift the gloom that had enveloped me.
I pulled up quickly when I saw the man. I was sure
that he was dead, curled up on a park bench in the recovery position, a
heavy parka wrapped around him – well he never needed that I thought. The
temperature had barely dropped below twenty degrees all night. The park
gates shut at sundown; he must have been on the bench all night. I walked
closer, so many empty cans of Special Brew under the bench. I was surprised
for a couple of reasons, finding a dead body for a start, that was a first
and the drunks and deadbeats didn’t end up in this part of town, this was
the exclusive preserve of the privileged undergraduate. I stared at his
face, my gaze fixing on the habitual stubble on his chin and the wispy grey
hair that he scrapped over his head.
I whispered to myself, ‘why do they always look the
same.’ The arm of the park bench stored the habitual deadbeat’s survival
kit. As if to confirm this, I whispered, ‘a packet of rolling tobacco, a
packet of cigarette papers and a box of Swan Vesta matches. Where’s the
hypodermic big boy?’
I turned my gaze back to the man’s face, still
convinced that he was indeed dead, it looked as if all of the signs from my
fearful, doom-laden night were proving me right. I edged closer, barely a
few inches from him, I was about to poke him in the chest, when the right
eye opened and it stared unfocused off into space. I jumped back. Despite
this shock, I was still convinced that he was dead. I mean you hear of dead
people’s eyes opening well after they die. I was struggling to breathe when
the other eye opened and seconds later, his mouth swung open like an empty
I spoke softly, ‘are you ok?’
He tried to sit up, but fighting too much beer and
lungs that barely functioned had turned this into some sort of monumental
struggle. Hardly King Sisyphus rolling a huge boulder up a steep hill, but
the analogy worked well enough, the drunk fought gamely against his weak
constitution and gravity, until finally, he managed to sit upright. Then
something startled him, his eyes widened just like those of a tethered goat
that suddenly spots a prowling tiger, his eyebrows raised and he stared at
me. It was so obvious that he recognised me. I felt my own mouth hang open,
he looked familiar.
The voice, roughened by years of tobacco croaked just
two words, ‘Helen Mably.’
I stepped back.
‘Helen Mably... what do you want?’
I shook my head and whispered, ‘no.’
‘It wasn’t me.’
I hadn’t seen this man since the summer of love and
yet I recognised him twenty three years later. I pushed the heel of each
hand into my temples and rubbed hard, but still couldn’t remember his name.
‘Helen,’ he spoke my name like I was a long lost
friend. ‘It wasn’t my idea.’
I blinked at him, ‘what?’
‘You and that bastard father of yours, both as bad as
His voice had become just a hoarse whisper, I leaned
closer, ‘what about my father?’
‘He fucked me up completely.’
That’s funny I thought, he did the same to me. ‘What
are you talking about?’
‘He stuck the knife into me, hung me out to dry good
and proper. And as for you, you’re just a cock teasing bitch.’
I struggled to breath, it felt like something heavy
was bearing down on my chest. I spat the words at him, ‘I’ll never forget
what you did to me.’
More irony in that brief statement of mine, I
couldn’t remember what he’d done.
‘It wasn’t my idea.’
What little colour he had left in his cheeks drained
away and he turned, leant over the wooden arm of the bench and threw up in
one smooth movement. I’d seen drunks perform this enough times, usually to
make room for more strong lager. He wiped his mouth in the voluminous sleeve
of his coat and stared up at me. I took a step closer, repelled enough by
the thought of sour beer, stale tobacco and fresh vomit drifting up into my
face, I held my breath. I looked deep into his black rimmed, bloodshot eyes
and brought my arm back. He just stared up as if he knew what was coming; I
slapped his cheek as hard as I could, turned and rushed away. His voice
followed me as I walked away, wrapping itself around my shoulders like the
filthy parka he was wearing, ‘you deserved it.’
I hurried on for twenty yards or so, with my heart
pummelling against my rib cage, I pulled up suddenly and looked back.
Perhaps I had killed him, but he was still gazing at me and rolling a
cigarette at the same time. My thoughts scrambling around in my head, what
happened back then? I remembered confronting three men and got that
spectacularly wrong. From the first minute they set eyes upon me, I got it
so wrong when they were provoking me. Just as they got it wrong, it became a
dazzling delusion empty of any insight. A high farce of confusion, I go over
it time and again and never find the same answer. Any common sense that may
have been ingrained within me, had become overrun by the circulation of
sexual clichés throbbing away inside my body. The instant ignition of sex,
the noise of sex, the misery of missing out on sex.
The three men leered away at me. Unperturbed, I
pulled a stool up by the bar and sat. A high stool and a short skirt made
for a less than graceful manoeuvre. Their eyes never left my thighs, which I
was comfortable enough with. The filth that started to come my way suddenly
made me think that I should leave. “She takes it up the arse, likes to be
bitten, wants you to swear at her, just a wriggling little whore”. It’s
possible that I wasn’t the wriggling little whore in question, but then they
laughed and pointed at me. I knew for sure that it was me and I wanted to
walk away, that would have been the prudent thing to do. Walk away, but that
would have only made them even more euphoric. For that’s what they were,
higher than three soaring vultures, circling around me, not descending yet.
Just watching at the moment.
I blinked and stared at the deadbeat. He lit his
cigarette, took a wheezing, shallow inhalation and shouted, ‘why did you do
that? I’m bleeding you fucking bitch.’
What was his name and how did he know my father?
I screamed. This caused more chaos within, did I
scream because I couldn’t recall his name? Or was it because I couldn’t
remember what he did to me? But it brought into sharp focus how my father
behaved, everything else was so blurred, apart from that one thing.
My father betrayed me that night.
I took one look back and my old antagonist was
opening a can of beer. No longer was I his sole focus, he had more pressing
things to consider.
I dragged myself away, was this the trigger I needed?
Had my moment finally arrived?
‘Helen Mably,’ I whispered, ‘it’s all down to you
Despite being enveloped by the heavy, early morning
humidity, I shivered.