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All The Lonely People

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Chapter I: ELEANOR RIGBY
In which we are introduced to “Eleanor” and “Father McKenzie”, here two Americans in a foreign country.

 

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice at the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream

 

Jon is sat in his bedroom, totally engrossed in his book. The radio is playing elsewhere in his apartment block, or block of “flats” as these stupid British people call them (what the hell is flat about an apartment? His is on the seventh floor!). He looks at his own, broken, radio, sitting beside the bed – the small, old portable model he’s customised with Beatles stickers he bought from a record store around the corner and nail lacquer, Yellow Submarine stuck over a thin, peeling coat of greens and pinks, the colours clashing. Jon likes colours; looking at something bright and pretty alleviates the boredom a little. The bitten stubs on the ends of his fingers are painted every shade of the rainbow, as are his toenails; he walks around barefoot so that he can admire them.

He sings along as he catches the strains of a familiar song, something by the Beatles, melancholy strings and Paul McCartney’s gentle voice rising and falling and mixing with the violins and cellos and violas. Jon recognises every instrument’s singular voice from having listened to classical music for almost as long as he can remember. He’d love to see a real orchestra someday so that he can hear the French horns and the piccolos and the timpani in person; music is a conversation to him, because nobody else ever wants to talk to him. He’s alone in his flat with his books, his music, and his paint. That’s the way he likes it.

He needs to eat soon, because his stomach is rumbling. But he doesn’t have any money, and his cupboards are almost empty; his allowance has run out for the week, because he had to buy more paint. The wall behind him isn’t finished yet, there’s still green showing faintly beneath the four coats of white he’s put on, and then he needs to strip it down again and start from the beginning. He does that every day; he doesn’t like a colourless flat, and he has to repaint the kitchen windows and revarnish the floor. His flat always smells like solvents and pasta and overripe pears, which is all he eats.

He stumbles into the kitchen – the solvent fumes often make him dizzy, but he doesn’t like having the windows open because bugs fly in and go straight for his pears, and he doesn’t like to share – and opens the cupboards, looking forlornly at the one almost-empty bag of pasta and the dirty saucepan in his sink. He never eats from plates unless he has visitors, and he never has visitors, so he has no plates. He washes the pasta pan up carefully, drying it on a clean section of his tshirt, and fills it with water which he boils on the stove (also customised – drawings in various colours of permanent marker, guitars and drumkits and a small, mop-haired quartet of men Jon thinks was supposed to be the Beatles and would’ve been recognisable as such, if he was better at art). When it’s bubbling, he dumps the pasta in – hardly enough to feed a toddler, let alone a thirty-year-old man – and stirs it, watching the pasta relax and soften in the water.

He decides that the pasta can be left alone for a moment whilst he fetches his book from the bedroom. The Cambridge Companion to the Orchestra. He’s currently working his way through the Strings chapter, soon to progress through to Brass and Percussion before ending up at the Famous Orchestral Works section of the book. He knows which composers will be hiding there: Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Pärt, Glass. The pasta bubbles and sputters beside him as he loses himself in the history of the cello, summarised by Colin Lawson. He had to pay £54 in the Cambridge book store for this particular book – two whole months’ allowance, plus the small change from last month’s – but as far as he’s concerned, it was worth it. Everything is covered, from orchestral history to the most modern methods of composition, and when he isn’t painting he curls up with his book and his bowl of pasta on the orange chair in his bedroom and reads, for hours and hours on end, the paint fumes sharp and dizzying in his nostrils.

 

Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

 

The pasta is almost bubbling over, so he takes the saucepan off the hob and puts the pasta through the colander to drain the water off it. Dumping the still very much al dente pasta on his paper plate, he crosses the room to his window seat – which is painted royal blue to contrast the cadmium yellow walls – and sits down to eat, watching the people beetle past below him. Leeds outside is dull and grey, the same as his block of flats, which was erected in the 60s from the same ugly grey concrete as the rest of the estates around him. There’s a girl he’s probably supposed to think is pretty in a purple coat coming towards his building; he wonders idly if she dyes her hair that colour or whether that fierce copper-red colour comes from good genes – perhaps Irish – the way her figure (which again, others would say was nice) must. He wouldn’t dare ask, of course; not because it’s rude, but because opening his mouth always gets him into trouble at some point or another.

Still watching the girl, a young man walks out to meet her, a young man with long shaggy-cut dark hair and a wide, dimpled smile that shouldn’t belong to any man of (and he’s judging just by the height and the generally world-weary appearance) around Jon’s own age. Jon shrugs and watches them go inside together, hearing a deep, pleasing voice – like a cello, like a bass guitar, like music – on the stairs, complemented by the twinkling notes of an ocarina. He listens to the muffled buzz of their conversation in something like bliss; music comes from everywhere when you’re looking for it, and Jon doesn’t need to hear their words to enjoy the song their voices create. They even accompany themselves with percussion – timpani of big feet stomping up the stairs, and the tight rap of a snare – the girl’s high heels.

When there is the thunder of a door closing, Jon goes back to his pasta, which is growing cold on its soggy plate, and returns his attention to the window, noting how grubby the glass is getting. He’s tempted, one of these days, to get rid of all the plain, boring glass in the brightly-painted frames to replace it with a stained-glass window or cellophane or something. One of his friends from college – when he was still at college – had decorated her flat with wrapping paper and sweet wrappers as wallpaper, and he had loved the effect of colours and texture stuck to her walls with PVC glue. Of course, he didn’t have many friends – or any friends at all – because friends always wanted something back in return, a conversation that wasn’t about the orchestras or bassoons. But Jon has never understood the laws of socialisation – people are always saying things they don’t mean, or things that don’t make sense, or things that are supposed to be funny but he can’t work out why – so he tends to avoid other people altogether, purely to make his own existence easier. He stays at home in his flat with his books, his music, and his paint, because that’s the way he likes it.

 

Father McKenzie, writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near

 

Richie has company again this evening, a petite Scottish girl with tits like watermelons and long wavy red hair, her dark eyes glittering wickedly as she pulls her dress over her head and walks teasingly towards his bedroom, clad only in little lacy panties, an equally lacy bra and her suspenders. She obviously knows what he likes, despite this being their first date since they met in the record store around the corner where Richie used to work. She knows her way around Leeds, and why a girl like her ever agreed to meet him in his mangy little “flat” (and really, what kind of a word is flat for an apartment? Because his is most certainly not flat. The carpet is wrinkled, which is a death trap on a good day and an assassin on a bad one, and to make matters worse it’s on the eighth floor, right at the top. The penthouse suite, Richie snorts self-deprecatingly, King Sambora in his penthouse suite, address 11B Gipton Estate, Leeds, England, Back Arse of Nowhere, Hellhole, the Universe.), he will never know.

They do the usual – fuck, drink wine in the kitchen, smoke cigarettes, fuck again, sleep for a couple of hours, and then the girl – Rachel – leaves – before Richie sits down at the paltry excuse for a desk in his front room and attempts to work on his CV. Again. Grades from an American high school that average 2.3 at best are not satisfactory in the English job market; why he came to this godforsaken country in the first place is beyond him, because it never fucking stops raining and everything is shitty and horrible and run down, because he’s not even in the capital, he’s in some crappy little city in the North where everyone talks like they gargle with whiskey every morning and the accent is... well, it ain’t the Queen’s English, put it that way.

He came here because he wanted to be British, like all of the greats – Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Stones, Cream, the fucking Beatles, for God’s sake – but nobody great ever came from Yorkshire. He’s been trying to get into the music business here in Britain for years, since he came over in 1978 when his mom died (his dad having left them when Richie was a baby), and there’s practically nothing in his cupboards to eat, and if he wants a smoke he has to bum it from whichever young lady is sharing his bed that evening, which always makes them look pityingly at him as though he’s a little lost puppy or something who’s fallen on hard times. He throws his pen across the room in frustration and gets up to fetch his guitar from the bedroom, putting the Beatles’ White Album on the turntable and picking out the melody to Dear Prudence, singing along mournfully.

He doesn’t want to be stuck in this shithole flat for his entire life. He’s pretty sure he’s developed tuberculosis from the mould dripping down his walls – another hazard of top-floor life in a council estate block of flats – and  he has no fucking job, because his asshole manager Joel seemed to think he was stealing from the cash register (he was right, but a guy’s gotta live somehow. Council rent isn’t as cheap as it used to be, especially if you’re not a British citizen), so he’s stuck smoking stolen cigarettes out of the window, getting rained on and glowering at the street far below him. He’s never socialised with his neighbours all that much, because there’s nobody very interesting (who’s not the kind of person who would stab you to get the equivalent of grade school lunch money from you) in his apartment block. Nevertheless, being alone all day gets extremely lonely, and he doesn’t value his female companions for their conversation.

 

Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

 

A baby cries somewhere in the building, a thin whimper like a tortured kitten, and he takes a long, angry drag on his cigarette, only to burn right down to the filter, singeing his fingers. “Fuck!” he curses, spitting the stubby cigarette out and watching it fall down to the street below, landing in the gutter where it’s carried by a stream of filthy water down to the drain. His hair is dripping in the downpour, so he retreats back inside and slams the window closed so hard that the glass breaks. Richie can’t even bring himself to be angry; he just sighs resignedly and adds that to the expenses of getting his toilet unclogged (not his fault) and his tap fixed (okay, that was his fault), which comes in at approximately £35 more than his income is at the moment, which is nada. Not even social security – what does this ridiculous country call them? Benefits? Benefits my ass, he thinks sourly – which is a deeply dire state of affairs. Miserable, one might say.

The Beatles are still playing on his turntable, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which is fitting, because he’s miserable. He would love to drink his angers away, but there’s not a lot he can do on that front with absolutely no money, so he goes downstairs, hoping one of his neighbours (the non-stabby ones) will take pity on him, and comes back with a quart of Jack Daniel’s and a litre of very cheap vodka. He swallows the Jack’s immediately and chugs the vodka until he passes out, dreaming about Rachel’s breasts, which whilst being very pretty, were thoroughly disappointing – it so turns out that the impressive cleavage he was so enamoured of whilst it was clothed turned out to be due to a push-up bra and several enhancements – chicken fillets? – which, sans vêtements, amounted to barely a B-cup.

He comes round with a pounding headache and an equally painful pounding at the door, probably the council landlord coming to bully him into giving him the rent he doesn’t have or his liver, which wouldn’t do the guy much good, because the alcohol in his bloodstream has probably murdered it entirely by now. If his daily routine – wake up with a shot of vodka, go to bed with whatever booze he can find until he blacks out – didn’t constitute alcoholism before, it probably does now. He can still taste the vodka in his puke when he throws up.

 

He throws a shoe at the door and tells whoever’s outside to piss off.

Chapter Text

Chapter II: NOWHERE MAN
In which we follow a young man through the exploits of searching for a job, a girlfriend, and company, in that order

 

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land

 

Richie’s visitor was indeed the council issuing him with a thirty-day eviction notice. Just when everything in his life is going to shit, the council are going to throw him out of his fucking flat as well. Bloody excellent. Jesus, he’s even beginning to curse like a Brit – he’d better put some Springsteen on the radio before he completely forgets about his roots (well, about New Jersey; technically, his roots are Polish) and develops a taste for sherry and starts wearing tweed and a monocle, galloping around on a horse in hunting pinks and guffawing “What ho!” at poor, unsuspecting members of the public. He takes the notice off his door, tears it into tiny pieces, and posts it through the gap in the shattered glass of his window just to watch it float down to street level and be trampled by a couple of drowned-rat schoolkids running home to get high in the basement of their block.

He debates doing the same thing with his CV, but he needs to get a job and it would only mean writing the damn thing out again, and given the state of the cramp in his wrist already, doing that must be avoided at all costs. Instead he sighs heavily, crossing the room to the record player, and swapping the Beatles for Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. It’s taken him years to be able to listen to Bruce’s thick homely accent without feeling the pull at his heartstrings, missing New Jersey and his parents (who would probably roll in their graves if they knew he’d stooped to stealing out of his boss’ cash register before he was fired in a desperate attempt to be able to pay the rent) horribly. Now, it’s a lot easier. Now he has resigned himself to never being able to go back to America unless, by some insane stroke of luck, he wins the Lottery or something. He sings along to a couple of songs before deciding that he needed to get out of his flat for a while – recharge the batteries outside of the depressing dump that had become his prison – and grabbing his coat to try his luck at one of the nightclubs in town.

He has to walk – not even enough for bus fare in his pockets – and despite the fact that it was only 5pm when he left his flat, he doesn’t arrive on the actual city outskirts until 6:30, and it’s another hour before he finds anywhere decent to loiter until opening hours. Several attractive but tired-looking girls approach him, but soon back off when they realise he can’t pay them the expected fees for their services unless they’ve started giving head for thirty pence. Nevertheless, he manages to engage one girl, Sophie, in conversation, and finds out that she lives near him, two blocks away, on Coldcotes Circus; she’s wiry, white and has three mixed-race kids of preschool age by a wife-beater alcoholic ex-boyfriend currently serving jail time for aggravated assault. She’s surprisingly upfront about these details, and doesn’t seem to mind airing her dirty laundry for him; he admits that by comparison, he has it pretty good, and she laughs.

“It ain’t hard to ’ave it better than me, sweet’art.”

He agrees sheepishly and tries to engage her further, but she shoots him an apologetic gaze and blows him a kiss as a slimy middle-aged guy pulls up in a shiny Porsche and asks her how much she charges for her services. Without batting an eyelid, she runs through her repertoire – a tenner for a blowjob; high class, she is not – and climbs in beside him. Richie watches the guy driving away, fearing for her safety – he might engage with hookers himself, but he’s not interested in paying them for anything other than company (in the innocent sense of the word!), and at least he’s a gentleman about his intentions. Whilst Sophie can clearly handle herself, carrying the latest Paco Rabanne around with her like a personal supply of Mace, she is still a woman and the guy she’s just gone off with could be any kind of maniac. One of the other girls comes up to him, a rough Barnsley accent in her honeyed tones, and whispers “Don’t worry, sweet’art. We all know him.”

That does nothing to soothe Richie’s anxiety.

 

Making all his nowhere plans
For nobody

 

He manages to stumble home four hours later, alone, without even Sophie’s number to console him. He curls up on the floor – he can’t afford a bed – beside his radio and selects his favourite station, pulling a ragged patchwork sofa throw he bought at a charity shop for £3 which he uses as a duvet over himself, listening to the DJ’s warm northern tones wash over him as he introduced the next song, the Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. Richie snorts and tries to get comfortable on the cold floorboards. He feels like Cinderella, except he doesn’t even have chores to occupy himself during the day but is still forced to sleep amongst the ashes at night. He hums along miserably, tapping along to the drum track with his fingernails on the floor, as he falls asleep to My Generation.

The radio is still playing when he wakes up, a Guns N’ Roses song that goes on and on and on for what seems like hours; as much as Richie has to admire the guitarist’s skill and the melody, he can’t stand the singer’s voice – all that screechy, whiny angst – so he turns it off and fetches his CVs from the desk, ready to sign on at the dole office and go searching for work in whichever stores will have him. He exits the flat still dressed in last night’s leather pants (which fitted him perfectly in Jersey and now, thanks to all the weight he’s lost by pretty much living on the edge of starvation, are hanging off him, baggy at the ass and thighs) and a KISS tshirt he found on Camden Market the day he arrived in London eleven years ago. He locks the door behind him and stomps down the stairs, not looking forward to another day of traipsing around Leeds, going into every shop with a “vacancies” sign in the window and begging for work.

The walk into the city centre is cold, with wet winds bringing rain from across the Pennines slap into Richie’s face, his cheeks buffed and whipped by the cold. He jams his hands into his pockets and mutters about “fucking horrible” English weather, kicking bad-temperedly at stones and chips of broken glass in the streets, trying not to look too eager when he spots a pound coin on the pavement and picks it up. He might be able to eat this evening if he can find one of those “everything’s a pound” stores; he thinks there’s one not far from Coldcuts Circle, the road Gipton estate sprouts from like a poisonous mushroom. He resolves to have a look on his way home, still keeping his eyes surreptitiously open for any other loose change jangling around in gutters. He’s not even humiliated by the fact that he has to rely on strangers having dropped their lunch money within his line of vision to be able to eat; he sees it as begging without the public humiliation of actually sitting on the pavement asking for the coppers from strangers’ pockets.

Over the course of the day, he goes everywhere from Boots the Chemist to Woolworths to the tobacconist’s on East Parade. They thank him for his interest in the posts politely – or as politely as gruff Yorkshire shopkeepers can be – and he goes on his way, posting more and more copies as he walks through the city centre towards the city hall, where he has to plead his case again as a poor hard-working American who has lost out on the job market so far. He’s not sure how far their sympathy will extend after they find out the reason for his dismissal from his last job, but all he has is hope, so he has to stick with that.

Chapter Text

Chapter III: FIXING A HOLE

In which “Eleanor” receives a phone call from her mother

 

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering

 

The phone is ringing, which means it’s four o’clock on a Thursday, and that it’s his mother. His parents always call once a week, at 4pm on Thursdays, to tell him that his bills have been paid and that the new week’s allowance has been deposited into his bank account, and to remind him to be nice to Maria when she comes over and to allow her to do her job. And then he usually gets shouted at for breaking the rules, so at some point after the talk about Maria he usually puts the phone down, because otherwise his mother’s yelling gives him earache and he has to spend the rest of the day in bed with the radio tuned to between stations so that all he can hear is white noise and he can shut his brain off for a couple of hours. When he looks out of the window there’s two silver cars parked outside, which automatically tells him that the conversation isn’t going to go well, because silver is never good news, ever.

 “John!” He receives the customary sharp, angry greeting. He gives the customary reply, a heavy sigh and a shifting of his bottom on his window seat to get comfy. This is going to take a while. “Why is Maria telling me that your cupboards are empty AGAIN?”

Jon knows that this is what Maria calls a rhetorical question, meaning that his mother doesn’t expect an answer. But that seems pointless, because the only reason she wouldn’t need an answer would be because she already knows the answer, in which case what was the point in asking? People do this a lot, and it’s one of the things that makes them so confusing, which is one of the reasons why he avoids the majority of human contact and keeps himself holed up in his flat and only talks to Maria. “Because they are empty.”

“I know they’re empty! Why are they empty?! Do you want to die? Are you trying to starve yourself?” More rhetorical questions. Jon debates whether he should just refuse to answer at all and put the phone down, but his mother sounds like the bee he trapped in a glass once when he was a kid and shook it, and the bee buzzed furiously and threw itself against the walls of the glass until it died. But his mother doesn’t sound dead. Just angry. He decides this time it might be safe to answer.

“They’re empty because there’s no food in them because I had no money. No, I don’t want to die. No, I’m not trying to starve myself.” His father would’ve gotten angry at this point, like he was deliberately being cheeky – he called it “answering back” – but Jon doesn’t understand that because his mother asked him some questions and it’s only polite to answer them, and he was always taught that manners cost nothing and being polite was very important. He looks up whilst his mother yells at him a bit more, reminding him of all the rules he has to obey if he wants to live by himself – buy his groceries at the start of every week, be in every Thursday at four o’clock so that he can take their phone calls, and be nice to Maria and allow her to do her job – and notices that the ceiling is leaking above him and that there’s a small puddle forming on the floor just by his left foot – toenails painted sky blue, rose pink, lemon yellow, bottle green, and midnight purple – and that he should probably get his landlord in to have a look at it and get it fixed for him, since if he’s quite honest all he knows how to do on a telephone is press the green button to take a call.

 

I’m painting my room in the colourful way
And when my mind is wandering

 

“John, what the hell are you doing over there, because you’re clearly not listening to me!” his mother asks grumpily, her tone snappish. He jolts a little, not realising his attention had drifted, and answers her. “Painting.”

“Again? Painting what? Because it’s never pictures, unless you’re drawing all over your stove or your radio or your bloody walls.” He knows “bloody” isn’t meant to describe the actual walls themselves, because his walls are spotless, painted white at the moment so that he can paint them azulean blue in the morning. They’re not even red, let alone blood red. “Painting my nails,” he answers truthfully, still looking up at the ceiling whilst waiting for the tangerine nail lacquer on his left pointer finger to dry. He has ten bottles of nail polish beside him in an array of colours, and all five of his right hand’s nails are already finished and drying in the solvent-scented air of his flat, which means that after this finger he has three more bottles to go. Emerald, navy and crimson. His mother tuts, signifying another lecture coming on.

“Jon, how many times have I told you –” why won’t she quit with the rhetorical questions? They’re making his head spin – “that boys don’t paint their nails? That’s something only girls do, and you’re not a girl!”

“But it looks pretty when I paint my nails,” Jon answers, pouting a little and blowing on his middle finger to dry the paint faster, “I like all the different colours.” A droplet of ceiling-water lands on his big toe and he squeals; it’s ice-cold, like it’s an icicle that’s only melted enough to turn liquid before it hits his foot. He looks up at the dripping ceiling, which is showing a crack in the plaster. He wonders what on earth the person upstairs – he thinks it’s the dimpled, shaggy-haircutted man with the timpani feet and the cello voice – has been doing to split the ceiling like that, but resolves to find his landlord and tell him about it when he’s done talking to his mother.

He also considers what she meant by “that’s something only girls do” – Jon knows several men in the Lower Briggate area who paint their nails, and even their faces, with all sorts of bright, beautiful colours; they look like rare exotic birds, covered in decorative feathers and sequins like rippling human rainbows. His mother always tells him that he shouldn’t hang around men like that, that they were dangerous and evil and that they’d corrupt him and drag him down to Hell where he belongs, but he can’t see what harm they’re doing him by putting their beautiful glittery eyeshadows and thick liquid liner around his eyes; last week he practically begged Jerôme to let Jon try his new pink shadow on himself. He came home with a thick line of kohl around his upper and lower eyelids, with purple blended into the corners and the delicate, shimmery pink in the centre, thanks to the cooperative efforts of Jerôme himself and his boyfriend Kaleb. Jon had looked so beautiful that he didn’t wash his face for days until Maria came over and made him take it off because she said his mother would be ashamed if she found out that her son had been hanging around with queers and had let them cover him in “all that shit”. Jon secretly didn’t like Maria much, but he had to let her into his flat to clean and tidy and tell him what to do because otherwise his mother would bring him back to Jersey.

“JOHN!” Carol hollers, and he jumps a mile in the air and paints a glorious thick streak of navy nail lacquer all over his hand. “LISTEN TO ME! I said, you’re not hanging around with those queers again, are you?”

He’s pretty sure she means Jerôme and Kaleb, so he shakes his head and answers in the negative. He hasn’t seen Jerôme or Kaleb for weeks, because Jerôme got sick and Sam said that Kaleb had taken him to the hospital, which is where sick people went to get better. Jon had snapped that he knew what a hospital was, although he actually wasn’t very sure where Kaleb had said, because Kaleb had a strange accent and he could have been saying something else, because his voice was all choked up and his mascara was looking a bit runny. It’s not a lie, and he’s not being “economical with the truth”, which is another way of saying telling a lie, because he really hasn’t been hanging out with the “queers” his mother means. “No, Mom, I haven’t seen Jerôme and Kaleb for six weeks and four days and eight hours.” She grunts on the other end of the phone, which he takes to mean “good.”

“It’s a shame,” he continues, trying to paint his ring fingernail without slopping the polish all over his hand again, “because they were my friends, and Maria says I need all the friends I can get.” He’s not entirely sure what that actually means, because he doesn’t really need anyone, but he knows it wasn’t very nice of her to say because he asked Roman, the man who lives downstairs with all the cats, and he tutted and said “What a bitch,” before feeding Theodore some of the cat food in Jon’s favourite blue and green tins. His mother, however, seems to agree with Maria. “That’s true, Jon, but you don’t need friends like... like them. They’re sick, like you, but different. You’re sick in the head, they’re sick in the soul.”

 

I’m taking the time for a number of things
That weren’t important yesterday

 

Jon’s father was always fond of explaining to him that he was sick in the head, but he never said how or why, so Jon immediately jumps at the chance for clarification. He loves to learn new things, so he asks his mother: “I’m sick in the head? How come?”

“I don’t know, Jon,” his mother sighs heavily, “it was how God wanted you to be, I suppose.”

“But you said God makes everybody perfect. Why would he make me sick in the head?” he asks curiously. He wonders if being sick in the head means that his brain is green, like his face goes when he feels queasy and he throws up. He smiles; a green brain would be beautiful, like an emerald hiding inside his skull so that when he died and his body rotted away and all that was left was a skeleton, you could look through his eye sockets and see a jewel.

His mother laughs at him, the way people do in films if they’re mocking the person they’re laughing at, and replies: “Because you were born on Sunday, and it’s his day off on Sunday. The devil made you instead.” That struck Jon as a mean thing to say to somebody, because it was the kind of thing that Maria always said to him despite saying that he should never say that to anybody else, so he tossed his mother a grumpy “Goodbye!” and put the phone down to sulk. It’s too quiet in his flat, so he fetches his radio back from the bedroom to his front room and sits cross-legged on the floor, listening to the ‘Golden Oldies’ station which always plays his favourite Beatles songs, including the one about all the lonely people with the violins and cellos and violas.

He needs a cigarette, but he’s left his packet of Marlboros by the sink in the kitchen, so he gets up and crosses over to the kitchen unit section to pick them and his lighter up. One of the windows is open, which means that Maria has been in whilst he was asleep earlier; she always opens the windows, because she says the smell of paint makes her sick. Jon slams it shut again, liking the smell of his paint in his nose, and sparks up, smoking three cigarettes whilst lying on his back on the floor and thinking about why Kaleb’s mascara was runny before deciding to get out of his flat for a couple of hours. He takes his cigarettes and lighter with him in case when he gets to the park or the market or the art museum, which is his favourite place in Leeds because there are so many colourful paintings inside, he needs a cigarette.

Chapter Text

Chapter IV: NORWEGIAN WOOD
In which our two eponymous Lonely People meet for the first time, and discover a mutual love for British bands of the 1960s

 

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me
She showed me her room, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?

 

Richie is getting tired of hanging around his useless flat like a bad smell with nothing better to do, so he soon decides to go out. There’s a clunk of the door of the flat below his closing a few feet below him on the stairwell, and he peers over the railings in surprise to see a slim blonde who is absolutely covered – head to foot – in paint, her ass cupped in tight-fitting jeans and her long, lean back in a tight shirt. Deciding that he’s evidently struck some kind of hook-up gold, he stumbles downstairs, where she’s locked her flat door and is lighting up a cigarette, her face partly hidden by her hair. All he can see is elaborately- and brightly made-up blue eyes beneath a silky fringe of wheat-sheaf blonde. She looks up and he abruptly realises that she is a he.

He stumbles even more over his next words, the blond narrowing his beautiful eyes with their emerald-green rims and ocean-blue lids as he draws on the Marlboro held between pouting lips. “Um. H-hi.”

Jon regards the shaggy-haircutted man from upstairs with suspicious interest. He looks much nicer than Maria – a lot like Jerôme’s boyfriend Kaleb, actually – with deep amber-brown eyes and dimples in his cheeks as he smiles nervously, a cowboy hat pulled low over his face so that his eyes glitter warmly from the shadows covering the top half of his face. He’s extremely handsome, which Jon knows he’s not supposed to think because his mother says it’s wrong for a man to find another man handsome, but Jon wants to know what that golden skin feels like against his own (gold isn’t like silver; gold is always good) and he wants to put his lips against the other man’s as well because they look like cherries, red and shiny from being licked as nervously as they’re curved into a smile, and he wants to know whether they taste like cherries too. He doesn’t answer, but takes a long drag on his cigarette, noticing that the navy polish on his fingernail is already chipped.

“Can I borrow a fag?” the man asks, using the British slang despite the American accent which, Jon notices with a jolt in his stomach, belongs to his own home state of New Jersey. As his father would say, “Small world.” Despite the fact that it confuses him because the world is huge, not small, Jon actually understands the meaning behind that phrase – that it’s sometimes surprisingly easy to find people in foreign places who come from the same place as you do, as though the world was much smaller, everything much closer together, than it really is. His mouth is answering before his brain can tell it what he wants it to say, and what comes out of his mouth is a sharp, angry “No!” He nevertheless holds out a cigarette as asked, a little squashed and crumpled, but a cigarette nonetheless, because Roman says it’s a good way of making friends. The man’s mouth curves upwards again but it doesn’t reach his eyes properly, which makes it very hard for Jon to work out what he’s feeling and thinking. They keep an awkward silence for a moment before the other man speaks again.

“I’m Richie. You live here, right? The flat below mine.” Richie gestures up the stairs towards his own living quarters, and the blond nods mechanically, eyes fixed a little unnervingly on Richie’s lips, eyes narrowed like he’s thinking hard. Richie feels like a bug pinned under the microscope, squirming uncomfortably, but the blond’s gaze doesn’t let up, and he coughs awkwardly before asking, “What’s your name?”

“John Francis Bongiovi, Jr.,” comes the immediate reply, “which is what my mother and my father and Maria call me. Jerôme and Kaleb call me Jon.” He’s getting bored of this small talk, because this is what people always do to stall or delay him when he wants to go somewhere like the park or the market or the art museum, but Richie looks nice and he’s pretty and very colourful – his pants are purple with gold fringes on the knees, and he’s wearing battered cowboy boots with a yellow handkerchief knotted to the buckles, and his tshirt is bright yellow and dips to his navel and has a road sign design with Slippery When Wet on it – so Jon decides that maybe he can stay around a little longer, as long as the conversation moves in a direction that’s interesting. “Do you like music? I hear a lot of music. And sometimes it comes from the flat above mine, which is leaking through my ceiling.”

“Shit, there’s a leak?” Richie asks, panicking. “Oh fuck, my rent–”

The blond keeps talking. “Do you like music? I love music. My favourite music is the Beatles, because they sing songs about lonely people and painting rooms in colourful ways and making plans for nobody, which are my favourite things.” Richie perks up at the mention of the Beatles, and his handsome face – Jon will continue to think of it as handsome, because he doesn’t have to listen to his mother and Maria if he doesn’t want to – splits into a wide grin, which makes the dimples in his cheeks deeper. Jon wants to push his finger into the little crevices to see what they feel like; he said the same thing about Jerôme’s dimples once which made him laugh and say that a lot of other pretty young men like Jon wanted to do that too, but he said it and laughed in a strange tone of voice which made Jon think that he was talking about something entirely different. He smiles back brightly, pushing his hair out of his face, and offers Richie a light for the cigarette still hanging limply between the other man’s fingers.

“Yeah, I love the Beatles. So you like Eleanor Rigby, huh?” Richie asks, gratefully accepting the flame Jon is offering him, and takes a drag off the cigarette, closing his eyes in bliss as the nicotine rushes through his system. He feels something poke his cheek and opens his eyes again in surprise to see Jon looking intently at him, his finger still pressed against Richie’s skin. “Smile,” he orders, and Richie obeys, a little confused. Jon moves his finger, pushes a little harder, says “Oh,” and withdraws his hand, nodding as though he’s discovered the secret of the universe hiding in Richie’s face.

“Um... what were you doing?”

“I wanted to know what they felt like,” Jon mumbles, pointing to the little hollows in Richie’s still-bunched cheeks. Richie laughs and shrugs, “Okay, buddy, whatever rocks your boat,” and invites Jon upstairs. Jon surprises them both by accepting, and eagerly babbles about the violas and cellos and violins in his favourite Beatles song as they make their way up the stairs.

 

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere
I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair

 

When Richie has unlocked his flat, Jon peers inside eagerly to see whether it’s colourful like his own, and is somewhat disappointed to discover a threadbare mattress, a turntable (complete with waist-high stack of albums), a cassette stereo (around which over a hundred cassettes and their cases were scattered) and a large flat oblong black case comprising the man’s entire catalogue of belongings. At least the throw covering the mattress was colourful; it was made from patches of different materials, and Jon eagerly ran his fingers over each in turn to learn what they felt like. Richie shrugs a touch apologetically. “It ain’t much.”

“No, it isn’t,” Jon tells him truthfully, “and it’s so boring.”

“Oh, thanks.” Richie bristles, stung, and glowers at his guest, who turns around in surprise, his eyes widening as he catches Richie’s angry tone. He looks confused, which in turn confuses Richie; it’s as though the guy understands that what he said was rude, but the reason why it was rude eludes him. As though the “what not to say and when not to say it” filter is missing from his brain. He shrugs and apologises. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you.”

“Did... was that a rhetorical thing that you said earlier? “It’s not much”? Wasn’t I meant to answer?” Jon panics. He doesn’t want Richie to throw him out of the flat, or to think that he’s rude and horrible and not to want to talk to him any more, because he still doesn’t know what that smooth chest feels like against his body and he hasn’t tasted his lips yet and he wants to run his fingers through Richie’s hair, none of which will happen if he gets thrown out of the flat now. Richie looks at him a little incredulously, but answers in a suitably calm tone. “Um, no, you weren’t really. At least, you weren’t supposed to agree with me.”

“Okay,” Jon nods, relaxing. “I’m sorry.”

“Are you for real?” Richie asks, “I mean... didn’t your parents teach you not to say stuff like that?”

“My parents taught me a lot of things, but there’s so much to remember that I get confused sometimes, so I say or do the wrong thing. Like I’m not allowed to say that men are pretty, or to touch my penis in public even though it feels nice because it makes people angry and disgusted with me, and I’m not supposed to hang out with Jerôme or Kaleb because they’re sick like me, but they’re sick in the soul, not in the head.” Jon shrugs. “My mother says that I’m sick in the head because that’s how God wanted me to be, but I was born on Sunday and that’s his day off so the devil had to make me instead which is why I’m not perfect like the way God made everyone else.”

Richie stares at him.

“...Am I not meant to say that, either?” Jon asks nervously.

“Uh... I’m actually kind of trying to get my head around you,” Richie admits. “You’re... different. And I don’t know whether it’s good different or bad different.” He tries to explain it in ways that Jon might understand; there’s obviously something that’s not quite as it should be, regarding his mental abilities, but if he’s brutally honest, as weird as Jon is, he’s also strangely endearing, like a child trapped in a man’s body. However, the blond is now regarding with an expression close to panic on his face, as he begs: “Please don’t decide it’s bad different. Please don’t throw me out of the flat,” his eyes filling with tears. He’s acting as though everything hinges on Richie allowing him to stay, and Richie – soft-hearted as he is – can’t bear to see him get upset, so he nods and reassures him that “Don’t worry, I’m not going to throw you out.”

“Are you mad at me?” comes the same weak, frightened little voice. The tears are looking close to spilling over, and Richie has absolutely no idea how to deal with this, a nearly-sobbing adult man in his flat who can’t keep his thoughts to himself and who is clearly very different, to use a kinder term than the one that’s running through his head, which is retarded.

“No,” he sighs, “No, I’m not. Just confused.”

“So am I,” Jon confesses, “can we talk about music again? Music doesn’t confuse me.”

Richie fights a laugh and instead smiles gently, nodding. “Yeah, we can talk about music. You like the Beatles, right? You were singing Eleanor Rigby earlier,” and he hums a few bars so that Jon knows what he’s talking about. The blond’s eyes light up and he joins in singing, making Richie’s jaw drop as a beautiful voice suddenly flows from between his equally beautiful lips. Richie is open to the fact that he swings both ways, and by the sounds of it – “I’m not supposed to say men are pretty” – Jon is the same; he sits down beside the other man on the mattress and smiles at him, pulling out various records from the stack beside his record player. “You wanna hear some more of theirs? I’ve got Sergeant Pepper’s, Revolver, Rubber Soul, Yellow Submarine –”

Jon immediately reaches for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Yellow Submarine, marvelling at the myriad of coloured figures on the front covers, and seems destroyed by the choice of having to pick one over the other to listen to first. Whilst he decides, Richie puts Rubber Soul on to play. They sit in companionable silence, listening to the record, Jon still agonising over the two albums, before abruptly dropping them (unknowing of their value to his newfound friend, who catches them swiftly with a pained expression on his face, checking that his babies were alright before sliding them back into their covers) as he catches the twangy sitar melody of Norwegian Wood.

 

I sat on her rug, biding her time, drinking her wine
We talked until two, and then she said, “It’s time for bed!”

 

“What’s that?” he asks, his voice awed, staring at Richie with wide eyes. He realises that since he’s been around Richie, the “Noo Joisey” twang in his own voice has become more pronounced (which is good, he thinks, because he’d worried about losing it and developing an awful Northern-English accent instead), and Richie smiles at him. “It’s Norwegian Wood, and it’s a small world, huh, cowboy? Ain’t you a Jersey boy too?”, except it sounded like “Ain’t you a Joisey boy too?” and it sounded like home and it’s almost enough to make tears come to Jon’s eyes, and he nods dumbly and swallows hard. “I like it.”

“I like it too,” Richie says gently. “Do you miss it? Home? I miss Jersey like hell, but there ain’t nothing there for me any more, and I don’t got enough money to go back, so for the moment I’m stuck here.”

“You can have mine,” Jon instantly offers. “We can go back together. I miss New Jersey a lot sometimes, when it’s night time and I can see the stars out of the window, because it reminds me of when I was little and I could lie on my back on the bed and look out of the skylight and see the same stars, just from a different place.” The honesty in this confession pulls at Richie’s heartstrings, the expression of homesickness and sadness on Jon’s face too much for him to bear, and he nods hollowly. “I know, I miss it too.” Then the first half of what Jon had said hits him and his eyes widen as he gapes at Jon for the second time that evening. “I – what? I can’t have your money, what the hell is wrong with you?”

“Yes, you can,” Jon says, confused, “really. I don’t mind. I only need eight pounds and forty pence a week, because then I can buy pasta and pears and lube and that’s all I need. And I have tons more than that in my bank account, so you can have the rest.”

“You’re mental, you know that?” Richie says, shaking his head in disbelief. He doesn’t want to know why Jon mentioned the lube – probably because his what-not-to-say-and-when-not-to-say-it filter is missing, like he said before – because his brain is both enjoying and so not appreciating those images. “I can’t – you can’t just –”

“What?”

“Offer me money like that – I mean – don’t you get it, it’s your money, you’re not supposed to – I don’t know –”

“But I want to,” Jon says, his voice innocent as a child, “because you want to go home to Jersey, and I don’t need it. You have it. Look, you can have my bank card –” He hands Richie a rectangle of thin black plastic. Richie whimpers, “Oh my God,” and shoves it back at him. “No. I mean, thanks, man, but no. I can’t accept that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’d be fraud if I used your bank card, because you’re insane, because it’d just be wrong –”

“I’m not insane,” Jon mumbles, deeply hurt, and Richie immediately apologises. “No, no, of course you’re not, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that. But there are rules about this kind of thing, rules that nobody has to actually say because you’re just supposed to understand them, but – no. I can’t take your money. Thank you, but no.”

“Oh,” Jon says sadly. “But what if I bought you the plane tickets? As a present? Friends buy each other presents, right?” Richie just stares at him, completely astounded. Jon doesn’t even seem to be listening to him, but he’s obviously completely serious, which is just insane

“You’d... do that?”

“Uh huh,” Jon nods, eyes wide, so innocent it hurts to look at him. “You’re my friend, and you miss your home, and you don’t have enough money to go home but I do, so doesn’t it make sense that I buy the ticket for you?”

Richie just looks at him before smiling and shaking his head. “You’re something else, Jon. You’re really something else.” He changed the album just for something to do, putting Abbey Road on to play by dropping the needle onto a random place on the record, and the strains of Golden Slumbers began to scritch and scratch under the needle’s point.

Once there was a way
To get back homeward
Once there was a way
To get back home

Chapter Text

Chapter V: Carry That Weight/The End
In which a story reaches its resolution, and two lonely people are lonely no more

 

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

 

Jon freaks out when he gets back to his flat that evening, throwing his paint cans at the walls and screaming. He had always revelled in his own company, but now – thanks to Richie downstairs – he no longer knows what to do with himself; everything has changed, because he was stupid enough to go upstairs and talk to somebody who wasn’t Maria or his mother, and now every careful rule he’d set up for himself has vanished and he’s completely at sea. The paint makes splashes of colour against the white walls, flowering like massive bloody chrysanthemums, scarlet and gold and deep cobalt blue. It’s an effect, Jon decides, that he quite likes; he keeps throwing the cans at the walls, watching the paint splatter and stain the pristine white until he’s repainted the room, albeit in a somewhat unorthodox manner.

Richie soon comes downstairs, attracted by the banging and clattering of metal paint tins against the thin walls of their flats, and knocks on the door.
“Jon, no offence, but what the blue fuck are you doing?”

The blond answers the door with a wide, happy, childlike smile – covered head to toe in paint, as usual – and answers, “I’m painting my flat. You can help, if you like,” he offers shyly, scuffing one toe against the floor, and Richie looks down to see his toenails delicately painted five different shades of pink. He grins and accepts, and Jon lets him into the flat and hands him an open can – “Here, like this!” – teaching him how to throw it properly to get the bloom-like flowers of paint onto the wall. Richie stares at him for a moment, trying to work out if he’s serious, watching Jon scrunch his nose up in concentration before hurling another can at the free walls of his kitchen, clapping like a child on Christmas Day when the can explodes in a shower of violet. He turns towards Richie, eyes shining, and encourages him to join in yet again, before Richie takes the lid off the paint carton and dips his fingers in, flicking it at Jon with a wicked smile.

Jon squeals, pulling his tshirt off and grabbing a canister of his own, levering the top off with his trusty nail file before retaliating and throwing a handful of scarlet at Richie. The paint fight continues for hours, waking several of the neighbours up in the process as they run around Jon’s flat like primary school children, hiding behind furniture to ambush each other; it ends with Jon victoriously tipping a whole litre can of Delhi Bazaar yellow over Richie’s head, grinning like a demon. Richie stands, dripping, on the dust sheets, looking as though a giant chef has cracked an egg over his head, and blows a painty raspberry, trying to get the taste of the paint out of his mouth. Jon giggles, chewing one fingernail, and hides in the bathroom.

“COME OUT, YOU CHICKEN!” Richie laughs, holding his payback in one hand, “COME OUT AND FACE ME LIKE A MAN!”

“You just said I’m a chicken!” Jon giggles, “I can’t come out and face you like a man if I’m a chicken!” Nevertheless, he opens the door a little and, judging the coast to be clear, attempts to dart across the room to safety before Richie catches him and empties the slit pillow over his head. Jon squawks and tries to run away as Richie almost collapses to the floor in paroxysms of laughter, his friend actually looking like a bird now, what with the thin layer of downy feathers coating every inch of his painted skin; the two of them flop to the floor, side by side, to catch their breath.

 

And in the middle of the celebrations
I break down

 

“I don’t think I’ll paint my room again tomorrow,” Jon says pensively, plucking a feather out of his hair, “I like it like this.”

“Why would you paint it again tomorrow?” Richie asks incredulously, “you’ve only just repainted it today!”

“I know,” Jon says, “but there are so many different colours of paint, how will I know which I like best if I don’t try them all?” He points to the legions of empty cans lining the back wall. “It gets expensive after a while, but I don’t mind. I live on eight pounds forty pence a week, remember?” He points to his kitchen. “Pears and pasta. That’s all I eat. And then I need lube, but that’s not for eating. It doesn’t taste good, I tried it once.”

“You ate lube?” Richie snorts like a schoolboy, even louder when Jon – to whom embarrassment is an incomprehensible emotion – replies, “Well, yeah. It was supposed to be flavoured like strawberries, but it wasn’t. It tasted like plastic.”

“The boy eats lube,” Richie says, shaking his head in amusement, “whatever next?”

“I ate a worm once,” Jon says, instantly trying to beat the record, “it was a dare from my brother Tony.”

“You never told me you had any brothers.” Richie sits up, his curiosity piqued. “Just your parents and your – girlfriend, was it? – Maria.”

“Maria isn’t my girlfriend,” Jon squeals, disgusted by the very idea, “she’s a spy! My parents sent her from New Jersey to look after me because my mom doesn’t trust me to look after myself. She calls me every Thursday at 4pm and yells at me because Maria’s told her all my food cupboards are empty again.”

“Your mom’d have a field day with me,” Richie tells him, trying to at least soothe him a little, “I never have any food in my cupboards. I think even the mice in my flat starve.”

“You have mice?” Jon asks, crinkling his nose up. “I don’t like mice – their claws clatter on the floorboards and they eat all my pears.” He pouts petulantly, chipping at the polish on his left thumb before sticking it in his mouth and biting the nail. It was a habit he’d tried for years to break, Maria even going so far as to paint his nails with a disgusting-tasting clear polish, but he’d taken it off with nail polish remover when she left and continued to chew them anyway. “But yeah, Maria is a spy my parents hired as a nanny for me even though I’m thirty-one and only babies have nannies.”

“Do you like her? Maria, I mean?” Richie asks softly, trying to get to grips with the situation. Jon shakes his head violently. “No! She’s horrible – she hates me and she makes up lies about stupid things I’ve done and tells my mom so I get into trouble – like she said I’d been fucking queers, but that’s not right. I’ve never had sex with Jerôme or Sam or even Kaleb. Kaleb looks a lot like you, actually. He has brown hair and brown eyes too, except you’re prettier.”

Richie, inexplicably, blushes.

 

Love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you

 

“Oops,” Jon mumbles nervously, “did I embarrass you? My mom says I’m an endless embarrassment to her – when she talks about me to my dad she calls me The Disappointment, which I think is a bit mean, but Maria always tells me I deserve it and Mom says Maria’s always right, so I suppose it’s true.”

“No, it’s not,” Richie says angrily, “don’t ever believe bullshit like that. I mean, you’re a bit weird,” he admits, the blush intensifying, “but you’re a nice guy.”

Jon looks as though he’s contemplating this remark for several moments before he grasps a gluey yellow lock of Richie’s hair and starts to peel the strands apart, not noticing when it makes Richie wince and glower at him as he tugs. They sit in silence for several moments before Jon says quietly, “What about you? You always have girls coming into your flat. I hear them on the stairs, like ocarinas and snare drums.”

“What?”

“Like the girl with the orange hair in the purple raincoat with the pink lipstick. You were with her on Wednesday. When she came up the stairs she had a voice like an ocarina–” he fetches his book and opens it at the Wind Instruments section on page 340 to display an image of an ocarina – “and her high heels were like snare drums.” He imitates a rapping sound on the floor with his bitten nails, rat-a-tat-tat. “And before her there was the girl with cream hair and a white coat – she looked like an angel – and she sounded like a flute, and before her there was the girl with brown hair and a purple top that was so low cut I could see her bra – it was green–”

“Now who’s the spy?” Richie laughs, elbowing him gently in the ribs, “you pay more attention to my girlfriends than I do!”

“What was the angel called? She was very pretty, how come you never saw her again?”

“She was a bitch,” Richie tells him, “and I don’t want to go into it. Her name was Elizabeth.”

“Go into what?” Jon asks curiously. “A box?”

“...Sure, buddy, a box,” Richie snorts, ruffling Jon’s hair. He looks like a disgruntled puppy, his fringe hanging into his eyes and the short mussed strands on the top of his head sticking up all over the place. But Richie’s grin is infectious, and Jon is soon smiling too, poking his cheek where the dimples appear happily. “What is it with you and my dimples?”

“I like them.”

 

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make

 

“Yeah, I got that. How come you like them so much?”

“They’re cute.” Jon blushes.

“Oh,” Richie grins flirtatiously, “cute, am I?”

“Yes. Very.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes.”

“...You gonna kiss me yet, or do I gotta ask?”

 

END