Uncle Nick [end]
I’d never have been able to talk about this if I hadn’t found Him. Not unless I’d been on the bottle, and then all you’d get was tears and lame excuses. It’s funny. People seem to think they’ve lost you when you finally see the light. They don’t stop to think how you might feel about it. How maybe you’ve found a way to ease the pain. The secret ache you thought would never leave you. Because that’s exactly how I felt when it happened. Lying there in my cabin, sick to the stomach from another session. The throwing up, the shakes, the total hopelessness. Then that amazing moment.
It’s not like being schizophrenic, where you think you’re hearing voices. You only hear the one voice, and it’s beautiful. Like a warm soft blanket wrapped around you. And you don’t think. You know. The most certain you’ve ever felt about anything in your life. I left that rig feeling stronger and calmer than ever before. But I’m bending your ear now. You want to hear about Bobby. About what happened next.
While I was doing the course, I stayed with him and Julie. I kept out of their hair as much as possible. He was really wrapped up in her. For some reason I didn’t understand, she was cold towards me. But it didn’t bother me too much. I was doing fourteen-hour days at the dive school, and when I got back each night, I just got my head down. Then, about halfway through, Bobby got a call from Abu Dhabi. They needed him on an urgent job. Wanted him on a flight that evening. I remember feeling gutted, because I needed his help to revise for an exam.
And that was when Julie started acting differently. Dropped the coldness and started being really nice. Making me sandwiches, running me a bath, buying wine for the evenings. Looking back now, it was all so obvious. For my part, I suppose I was just grateful that she’d decided she liked me. Grateful for the attention. When someone is cruel to you, it can sometimes make you like them more. Obviously, I didn’t know that then. I was nineteen, and she was thirty-seven. What began as nice became the skimpy dressing gown. The bedroom door wide open. The hand on my arm when we were talking. Then one night, it happened. I went to bed swaying, and when I woke up, she was straddling me. Ten seconds later, I’d pulled her pants to one side and I was in her. Which is about as much as I remember.
Of course it wasn’t worth it. Half drunk in the dark, like wild animals. Nothing like the fantasy. With all the build up, maybe I’d imagined something more erotic. Something special. After all, she had a body to die for. Blue eyes, blonde hair, the works. But when I woke up next to her in the morning light, she seemed old and ugly. Her skin was like a chamois leather, and her hair was flat and greasy. The feeling I had reminded me of when I was little. We’d gone to the seaside, and I was staring through a shop window at the ships in bottles. They amazed me. I wondered how such a thing was possible. Then our Alec told me how they do it with string, and the magic was gone forever.
Ten days later, I finished the course, and by that time Bobby was back. I was terrified that he’d find out. That he’d look in my eyes and see the lie there as plain as day. But nothing was said, and Julie was acting cold as usual. I decided it was time to get going. I told Bobby I was off the next morning, and I’d pay him back asap. He said he’d try to rig me up with something, and gave me a list of numbers. That night, staring at the ceiling, I could hear them arguing. But I couldn’t make out the words through the thick stone walls. I got up at the crack of dawn and took a shower. When I came out of the bathroom, Bobby put a rifle to my forehead.
* * * * *
I love public transport. This is probably because my father hates it. Every time we were in the car, I’d get his social commentary. The traffic system, other drivers, public transport, road tax. I started to wise up as I got older, but God knows how much of it I absorbed unconsciously. I expect ideas I take for my own originally come from him. For instance, I’m despicably racist without any valid reason.
Mum didn’t have the financial clout to fight a custody battle [besides, she had other concerns by that point]. Unbeknown to me at the time, the family had counselled her on the situation. She rolled over and said I could go and live with him. I was delighted. I would go to a private school and dwell in paradise. My arrival at said paradise, however, coincided with the start of his second marriage. Yvette was half his age, half his IQ, and half-undressed most of the time. It wasn’t long before she was impregnated. Then my father did something you just can’t give a name to. He packed me off to boarding school. Put my Mum through hell to take possession of me, then threw me in the oubliette. Even now, I can only wonder at his motives.
Don’t get me wrong. Boarding school wasn’t the homoerotic hell that people like to imagine. I did okay there. My results were good, I was fair at sport, and I had no difficulty finding friends. I also had no difficulty finding trouble. A series of events introduced me to weed. And with true entrepreneurial spirit, I started selling it. I guess my father was hoping for a future captain of industry. What he got, in fact, was something rather different. At the age of fourteen, I was rumbled, interrogated, and consequently ‘asked to leave’.
Horrified, my father kicked me around a deserted car park. I was confined to his flat, while Yvette spat obscenities at me. I’d never known her so articulate. Unnerved, I waited for nightfall, then jumped from the bedroom window. I phoned my Mum from a nearby cottage, and she came with my aunt to fetch me. The family’s counselling was right on the money. He’d revealed himself without my Mum having to say a single word. I haven’t seen him since.
That was sixteen years ago. Last year I tracked down my Uncle Alec [under duress from Celine, I must add]. He began to fill me in on the family history. It was an exciting process, finding out about a family I’d never known. But we lost touch. He moved, and left no number and no forwarding address. I was left with the impression that the Harper men were some sort of special asshole. The sort who make empty promises. The sort who lead you on. Maybe my father did the right thing in shutting them out. In refusing to discuss them. Which brings me back to my declaration of love for public transport. It did have a point, I assure you. I was going to say I was on the night train, heading down to Cornwall. I’d decided to go to the hospital and have the final word.
* * * * *
In my mind [and in his] Bobby had already killed me. Only, the bullet was defective, and the rifle didn’t go off. I ran then, faster than I’d ever run before. It was only my age and my energy that got me out of there in one piece. I didn’t know where to turn. Didn’t know where our John was. Didn’t know our Alec’s phone number. Mum didn’t even have a phone. So I borrowed some money from a friend in Plymouth, and I got the train up country. Nina would know what to do.
But when I got out of the taxi from the station, Bobby’s car was there. It was freezing cold, and raining hard. I must have hid for hours, which looking back was pretty stupid. For all I knew, he was going to stay there overnight. But in the end, he didn’t. Not long after it got dark, the front door flew open, and Bobby stormed out to his car and screeched away. John watched him leave from the yellow doorway.
I cried in his arms for what felt like forever. Until my eyes were burning and my nose was running all over the place. Mum kissed the top of my head and called me a silly bugger. I loved her so much then. And I hated myself so much for what I’d brought upon her. Bobby had tried to call her bluff. To make her choose between us. Not understanding Mum, he’d gone away empty-handed. Or maybe empty-hearted. I don’t know which. What I do know is, that was the last time she ever saw him.
After that, he tried to run me out of the industry. And he almost managed. He had so many contacts. None of the big firms would hire me, so I had to take the iffy jobs. Firms with lower pay and dodgy safety records. He’d told everybody I’d stolen money from him. That I’d helped myself to his savings while he was working abroad. And it was only because I was his brother that he hadn’t involved the police.
I was way too young to deal with it. Started getting drunk all the time. Fighting anyone and everyone. I got arrested one time for upturning a street full of cars in Brighton. John and Alec did their best, but I tried their patience. Then Mum died. I hoped that Bobby would come to the funeral. But he didn’t. It was the lowest point of my life. I constantly tried to get in touch, but he didn’t want to know.
All I want is for him to hear me out. To see how sorry I am for everything. No excuses. Just to tell him how much I love him. Tell him all I want is to be his little brother again. Feel his arm around my shoulder. And now he’s in the hospital, and maybe he’s finally calmed down enough to listen. I know he’s so unhappy, and I know I can change that. It’s time this nightmare was over.
* * * * *
‘You’re too late,’ said Alec, looking nothing like my father.
My nonchalance evaporated.
‘You can see him in the morgue, I suppose. But if I were you, I’d wait till they’ve dolled him up a bit.’
‘Fuck me - you don’t mince your words, do you?’
He rubbed a hand over his red-rimmed eyes, and stretched his jowls down. ‘Sorry lad. It’s been one hell of a night.’
‘You could have phoned me,’ I said, approaching tears. ‘You could have …’
‘Could you have possibly got here any quicker?’
I realised I was being stupid, and tried to catch my breath. After a moment, I asked him what had happened. It was pretty straightforward. Another, bigger arrest, and there was no way back. Alec suggested we go for coffee. I suggested a cigarette. We took vending machine cups to the smoking shelter. The more I looked at him, the more I could see the family resemblance. Not so much the face, but the posture. The big legs, the shoulders, the jutting stomach.
‘You the only one here?’ I asked.
‘Nina and John didn’t want to know,’ he sighed. ‘Not after what happened with your Uncle Nick.’
And then he put his cigarette out, lit another, and fixed me in the eye. His body seemed to sag as he told the story. An entire family torn apart. It was bloody awful.
‘So where’s Nick then?’
‘Died years ago. They found him in his cabin, choked to death on his own vomit.’
‘I never knew a man could carry so much sadness in his heart.’
‘Who? Dad or Nick?’
‘Both of them, come to think of it,’ he said, looking skyward. ‘Let’s hope they’re up there now laying it all to rest.’
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