The people in the off-licence are worried about me. It’s nothing new and I can’t say I blame them. The bloke says, ‘How are you getting on with the jobs?’
He’s got a degree in Science from somewhere.
He says, ‘It’s difficult here.’
I say, ‘Not much, it isn’t.’
You think ahead but you don’t know. I’d sit looking at her, imagining her at seventy or so, face thinner, hair white, eyes the same, us still together. Didn’t think that two years later I’d hardly be anybody to her.
When we first got together they just did groceries. When they knocked it through at the back of the shop I said to her, ‘Mace are getting an off-licence. Licence to sell food that’s gone off. Nice to see them going legit after all this time.’
She laughed. Miss that. The feeling I got from making her laugh.
We still used to see each other after. Neither of us was managing. She said she kept the telly on non-stop in her new place. Just to have another face in the room.
Nights were worst for me. I’d go to bed early and lie there listening to the flat creaking and settling. Then I’d pull on some jeans and go and get some cans in.
There were two times in Camden, one right early on and one near the end. The first one, we’d gone in that bit of the market down to the right past the bridge. It was heaving in there. Either I stopped to look at something and she wandered on, or the other way round. Anyhow, we lost each other. And the panic in me, I couldn’t believe. Like a little kid. Like I’d never see her again. Don’t know where all that came from.
We found each other, half an hour later at the Tube. She’d been panicking exactly the same. Exactly the same.
The last time, we were looking at beds on Chalk Farm Road. We were stood in the shop having this real fuck off, between-the-teeth argument. So deep into it we didn’t think anybody else could hear us.
The guy who ran the shop came over and said, ‘Do you need any help, or shall I wait until you’ve finished your row?’
I should’ve slapped the cheeky prick.
We bolted out of the shop. It was like we’d been caught out. We went home separate.
In the offy they asked about her once, after a while. They said, ‘What happened to the nice lady you used to come in with?’
I said, ‘She’s gone now.’
Her staying local dragged it out. We made excuses. With her it was spiders. She’d phone. I’d go round and there’d be an empty yoghurt pot upended in the middle of the carpet. I’d slip a bit of paper underneath and launch it out the back door. Then I’d be there for the evening. The night sometimes.
With me it was the grill. I’d think I’d left it on and give her a ring to nip round and check. Even if she wasn’t still there when I got back, I liked the feeling that she’d been there.
They have the daughter working there in the College holidays. I had this flu thing. Last thing I wanted was to be out of the flat. I went in to get eight Holsten, to last me.
She goes, ‘Do you want all cold ones?’
Cold ones. Fucking nerve. Like I’m going to neck that lot straight off. Fucking nerve.
It was good things, a lot of it.
Saying, ‘I love you,’ and having it said back. All the time. Like we were trying to use all the spare goes we had left over from before.
Kissing her arm where her mum burnt it.
Her dad thought I was solid, could do things.
These days all I do is sleep and drink and wank.
They wanted to search her bag once. There was other people in the shop and everything. Just asked her outright. When she told me, I was fit to be fucking tied. Furious. Furious for her. I wanted to go round there with a brick.
We were terrible for it. Especially early on. Late for work half the time. Or we’d phone in sick.
Now I miss the mornings altogether. The early afternoons most days.
We had this thing on Sundays. We usually got a video out on the Saturday night. Mr Video on the Broadway closed bang on six o’clock Sunday teatime. It was always murder getting out of bed in time to take the tape back. We called it the six o’clock dash. Now all I run for is closing time at Mace.
For a good while after, I was firing off all over the place. This one time, I was in the shop getting some bog paper. She give me one of those toothpaste bags, the red and white striped ones that you can see through. I said, ‘That the only bags you’ve got? I don’t want the whole world knowing I’m off home for a shit, for fuck’s sake.’
I knew I was out of order the second it come out. She backed away a bit. The bloke tossed another bag across the counter and give me this look.
I went in the day after and said sorry.
All I wanted was the keys back. It dragging on like that was doing me in. She went spare; went for the bottle on the fridge.
I never touched her like that before. On top of her like a Jap over the mouth of a tank. Had to. Tried to get her to the entryphone. Thought I could shout out, get someone to help calm her down, stop her hurting herself.
Her brother phoned halfway through it. Right as rain she was. Like that. Second he phoned, right as rain. Like nothing was happening. Then straight back to it.
First it was Stella. Then it was Holsten, then Special Brew, then Skol Super. Never Kestrel yet. I’ve got a way to go still.