A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine, and no one, damn them, is giving me any money for this. The story borrows bits from the The Bill (which is not mine either, ergo no money) and the rest is made up.
Category: Some gore, a healthy amount of swearing (in the good way) and a smattering of tasteful filth.
WINNER OF BEST COMPLETED SERIES SO33 AWARDS 2004
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly: what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Little Prince.
The first time I met Craig, I just assumed he was straight.
It was the last Sunday in March, 2001. A group of us were having brunch at some café – a café I believe has since closed down – in Islington. Can I bring a friend, Richard had asked, a friend who’s just come down from Manchester? Bring who you like, I said. Go nuts. Then I forgot all about him.
There were nine of us, couples, singles, gays and straights. All friends or partners, with occasional free time and enough disposable income to allow us to while a couple of hours over brioche, fresh fruit and Colombian coffee served on plain white china.
I felt sorry for him, stranger amongst a group of friends, sitting at the end of the table. He was smiling politely, his face dipped down a little, listening intently to the conversation closest to him but saying nothing.
“I’m Sean,” I said to him as I sat down in the last empty chair opposite him. He had eight names to remember, so I wasn’t expecting anything.
“Craig,” he said, and smiled shyly back at me.
He left it up to me. Shy or lazy or scared of poofs, I couldn’t yet tell.
“You’re Richard’s friend, from Manchester?” I tried.
He nodded. “I’ve just been transferred.” Ah, businessman, I thought, thinking I could find some common ground for him. I was still at the Bank of London then.
“What do you do?” I said pleasantly.
“Police Sergeant. I’ve transferred to the Met.” He seemed really proud of this.
My heart sunk. I’m being nice to a straight white male copper, one of the great enemies of gay men everywhere.
“Well, I hope you enjoy it here,” I said, and turned to talk to Stephanie next to me. I hadn’t seen her for ages.
I was halfway though eggs hollandaise when he spoke to me again.
“Are you from London, Sean?” he asked.
“Maidstone,” I said briefly, not wanting to encourage him. Cute, though. Nice eyes, nice body, nice pale blue shirt.
“And you live in London now?” He was cutting through bacon, neatly spearing pieces with small chunks of Roma tomato.
“Do you have a partner?”
There’s only one thing worse than the straight white male cop, and that’s the straight white male cop who has done the cultural sensitivity courses.
I shook my head. “I’m gay,” I said, in case there was any doubt and he started going on about finding single women in London.
He nodded at me as if I’d told him I was male. Just nodded, as if he already knew. Well, it’s no secret.
Stephanie saved me with some interesting tidbit about a party she had been to in Dublin last week.
I had to drop in to the office on my way home, so I left about 1.30.
“Bye,” I said to him off handedly, certain I’d never be stuck across a table from him again.
He seemed surprised, almost a bit disappointed, that I was going. “Nice to meet you,” he said, his eyes getting even more intense.
Nice to meet me? Whatever. I nodded, and then realised they must teach them those kinds of courtesies in the Be Nice To Poofs course at Hendon.
Then I forgot all about him again.
Stephanie called me the following Tuesday. “Dinner at my place, this Saturday?” she said. “All of us?”
“Sounds good,” I told her. I love Steph’s dinners. Well, loved them.
“Craig’s coming,” she said.
“Craig, the guy you sat next too at brunch on Sunday. Richard’s friend.”
Oh. Craig. White single male copper. Nemesis of gay men everywhere.
“Well, that’s good,” I said.
“I think he likes you,” she said waggishly.
That’s the thing, you can be totally oblivious to someone and then moment you find out they like you, they become one of the clearest things in your vicinity.
“He’s straight,” I said, though no longer as convinced as I had been.
“No he’s not,” she said, “He’s a bigger poof than you. I spoke to him for a half an hour after you left. He’s really nice.”
Gay? Him? I tried to remember something about him, some clue as to his poofness. All I could remember with the eyes, the dark intense eyes and the hair that seemed to change shape of its own accord.
“He’s a copper,” I said. “And if he is a poof, he’s waaaaaaaaaay out of my league.” The big dark eyed brooding ones always bag the young blonde Adonises. It’s almost a rule.
Anyway, I had finished a pretty awful relationship about four months ago. I was taking a year off from relationships, and Steph knew this. Well, she should, we workshopped it together for three hours. Took us two bottles of red and the final celebratory vodka martinis.
“He asked about you,” she went on.
“That’s his problem,” I said finally. “Twelve months, remember?”
“Sean, he’s really nice. He wanted to know where you worked, what you liked.”
“Oh great, you gave my personal details to a psycho cop.”
She gave me an exasperated little whine. “He’s not a psycho,” she protested. “He’s really, really nice. Completely non-scene, really, you know, grown up. We were talking about settling down, and he said, ‘I’d love to find a nice husband.’ I mean, how rare is that?”
Well, it’s pretty common, actually, but it wasn’t the point. Craig the psycho was maybe growing on me.
“Oh, okay, so he’s nice. They’re all nice when you first meet them. Who amongst us falls for a person we think is a jerk?”
“He’s coming on Saturday night,” she said, and I could see her cute little curly smile. “He didn’t say yes until I told him you’d be there.”
“When did you ask him?”
“I rang him at work yesterday, at Sun Hill Police Station,” she said casually, as if she invited coppers to dinner parties all the time.
I thought about it all week. Yes, he was cute, and yes, someone looking to settle down was an attractive proposition, but I’d had such a bad time with Paul – the ex – I really wasn’t ready for anyone. They're tiring, relationships. Meeting someone. Working out if you like them, working out if they like you, working out – sooner or later – that one of you likes the other more – and then the hideous break up. I was sick of it. Sometimes I felt I wouldn’t care if I never had another relationship again, but instead could just snack on a lifetime of temporary liaisons with men who never told me their surnames and were great in bed.
Other times, though, I wondered why it was so hard to find someone normal. A nice normal man who didn’t think it was a waste time to lie around canoodling on the couch for a couple of hours. A nice normal man who could clean up after himself, who maintained a decent level of personal hygiene, who didn’t sleep with every available man with a sixty mile radius while still swearing allegiance to you.
And anyway, I thought, why would someone like Craig be interested in me? He’s gorgeous. He could have any man he wanted. I wondered if maybe he didn’t think I was some pathetic desperate queen, someone who could keep his bed warm for a few weeks while he settled into the big city, someone he could toss out when he found the motherlode of blonde Adonises he was supposed to go out with. (I believe they’re all in Chelsea.) Yeah, I know it contradicts what I just said, but I want to be the one doing the choosing and discarding.
Sometimes, if you think about things really hard, and you really want something, you can make it happen. I thought really hard about not wanting my heart broken by some strapping piece of police strudel with fabulous eyes and a nice voice. I thought really hard about not wanting to sit with him at dinner, discouraging him.
And on Friday at two pm, the entire system at work collapsed completely. The money machines packed it in, the on-line banking – which we were still fine tuning – dropped dead and the international trading froze. There were twenty two of us working with sweat streaming down out faces, frantically clacking at our keyboards, trying to find out what had gone wrong where, while journalists from the Guardian were tying up the phone lines, hoping the entire British financial sector had collapsed. They didn’t know how close they were.
“I can’t come,” I told Steph at 8am on Saturday morning. I still hadn’t been to bed. “The system collapsed!”
“Oh! Was that your fault?”
“No it was not my bloody fault,” I snapped. We had been putting the entire system back together piece by piece all night; my head felt as if it had pieces of barbed wire crocheted through it. “I have to stay here until everything’s working,” I told her.
“Craig’ll be disappointed,” she said quietly. “He’ll think I’ve lured him here on false pretences.”
“Look, about Craig,” I started.
“Yes?” Her voice glittered with hope.
“I’m really not interested. No, really,” I jumped in, before she could start on the public relations exercise, “I’m really NOT interested.”
“Why not?” She sounded a bit angry.
“He’s not my type. I’m just not interested.”
She was quiet for a second, and gave in.
“Okay. But, tonight, might you be able to come later?”
“Maybe. Depends on what happens. It won’t be before ten,” I warned.
“Well, try and come if you can. I’ll save you some risotto, just in case.”
As it turned out, we had the system back together by five that afternoon, but I stayed and went through it all over again, just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. So I got to Steph’s at 10.30.
And there he was, Mr Strong Silent Type, looking straight at me when I walked into Steph’s dining room. I was so tired I could barely muster a smile, and went and sat down the other end of the table with Julia and Alan, who I knew would give me a lift home. They had a six month old daughter, so I knew they’d leave soon.
New parents. You can set your watch by them.
So I sat and chatted with them, and learnt more than I ever hoped to about colic and nappy changing. I mean, really. Still, a lift home’s a lift home, and as far as I was concerned it was worth hearing about the contents of Jessie’s nappy for fifty-five minutes.
I didn’t even look at Craig when I left.
And I probably wouldn’t have ever thought of him again had he not called me the following afternoon.
“Have I got you at a good time?” he asked.
I looked around the flat, quiet, still, everything in its place, the rain creeping silently down the window.
“Yeah, fine.” My heart was in my mouth. I hated confrontation. I hated that he’d probably rung to ask me out and I was going to have to tell him to piss off. Suddenly I hated him for putting me in that position. I was tired and not in the mood for some big cop (albeit one with lovely eyes, and, I saw out of the corner of my eye last night, a beautiful laugh) planning to break my heart.
“So…is everything okay for you at work now?”
“Yeah, thanks, all back to normal.” Well, there was no point trying to explain it to him.
“You must have been tired last night, Steph said that you didn’t go home on Friday night.”
“Yeah, we had to stay there until we got everything up and running.”
“Right. Well, I hope you got some sleep last night,” he said concerned.
“I slept for fourteen hours.” And I laughed, because just remembering it made me feel better.
“Well, you deserved that.” Clearly small talk was not one Craig’s greater talents.
Then the silence. Is he socially inept or shy?
“Look, I was wondering if maybe you might want to have to dinner with me?”
Now there are two answers to this question whereby you can make your feelings known to the invitee without a bald yes or no. There’s, ‘I’d love to!’, said in a slightly high pitched voice, or there’s the response I gave Craig.
“Well, Monday night?” He sounded a bit hesitant.
“No, Monday night won’t work for me,” I lied. “I’ll be in the office until at least nine.”
I couldn’t face going through the whole week with him.
“Look, why don’t I give you a call later in the week? I’ll have a better idea of what I’m doing, you know, with the system, and maybe we could catch up then.”
“Okay,” he said. I couldn’t quite tell if he understood I was giving him the brush off.
When he started giving me a list of telephone numbers - work, home, mobile, other work number and his bloody email – I knew he hadn’t quite got it.
“Speak with you later in the week then?” he said hopefully.
What is his problem? I couldn’t work it out, why this big handsome man with a nice voice, nice laugh, good job and at least four telephone numbers was interested in me.
It made me tired just thinking about it, so I went and ran a bath.
While I soaked in the scented water I made a mental note to keep my voice mail on all week. And thank God he didn’t have my work number. Which of course led me to the bleeding obvious. How did he get my home number?
“Well, he asked me,” Stephanie squeaked when I called her later. “He was really disappointed that he never got to speak with you.”
I had the sickening feeling that maybe he thought I went last night to see him.
“So when are you seeing him?”
“I’m going to call him later this week,” I lied. Well, it easier than telling her I was going to ignore him.
By Tuesday I forgot about him again.
So when he rang me at work on Thursday he caught me completely unawares. I was talking on-line to a colleague in New York who is my Banana Republic middleman. I go through their catalogue on-line, order stuff, have it sent to Mitch, and he puts it in the overnight dispatch bag to me. I celebrate globalisation.
“Sean? It’s Craig Gilmore. Have I got you at a good time?” (I don’t know what he thought I actually did, but he always sounded as if he assumed I was in the middle of saving the free world.)
“Oh, Craig, hi.” Oh, Craig, great.
“I hope you don’t mind me calling you at work.”
“No, that’s fine.” I could hear general office noise around him too.
“Are you at work?”
“Yeah.” A brief pause. “I’m doing the crime stats.”
“Well, that would be interesting.”
“No, definitely not,” he answered.
And then another one of his silences. Boring and shy, I thought.
“Hmm, so we were going to talk about dinner?” he said, tactfully overlooking the fact that I hadn’t called him.
“Oh right, yeah.”
“We could meet up tonight if you want,” he said, a little uncertain.
“No, I have a systems meeting until eight, and a meeting at eight tomorrow morning.” Well, it was half true. I did have a meeting tomorrow morning.
“Tomorrow night?” he sounded hopeful again.
“Sorry, work drinks,” I lied again.
“Oh,” was all he said, and I realised how horrible I was being. It obviously wasn’t easy for him, and I wasn’t helping, skirting the fact that I simply wanted to avoid another disastrous relationship.
“Saturday night?” I said, half-heartedly.
“Yeah! Great!” The cheer in his voice made me feel a thousand times worse. Maybe he was just very lonely.
When I look back now, and think of what he was like before I could see his heart, I’m ashamed I could have ever misinterpreted his honesty and guile for malice and lust.
We arranged to go some Italian place in Kensington. Not too far from me, and at that stage I had no idea where he lived. I assumed he lived close to centre, like we all did.
Craig did everything – booked the table, set the time, bought the wine, got there first. He was so happy to see me, running only seven minutes late, that I thought at first he mistook me for someone else.
“Sorry I’m late – tube,” I said, a little breathless, a little nervous of him. He was a lot better looking than I remembered, and he seemed to be smiling more. For the first and only time in the three years I knew him his hair was sitting down all over, and he was wearing his good shirt. He’d made a real effort, as if this - some cheap dish of pasta in a passable ristorante on the Kensington High Street - was a special occasion.
I’d been dreading this meal, having to sit and make conversation with someone I was trying not to be interested in. It’s funny how things turn out. (Well, more on that later.) But it was a great night. Craig was funny, curious about me, candid about himself, flirting moderately, surprisingly knowledgable about wine and by the end of the night I found myself wishing that I had never met him, because falling in love with him seemed unavoidable.
“I’d really like to see you again,” he said when he drove me home. We were sitting in his car out the front of my place while I silently assessed whether or not I should invite him up. Con: Getting my heart put through the blender and fed to the chickens. Pro: he was drop dead gorgeous and I hadn’t had any for five weeks.
“That’d be good,” I smiled at him, wondering if he was as a good lover as he was dinner company. That mouth alone would be worth finding out, so I took a deep breath. “Do you want to come up for coffee?”
“Look, I’d really love to, but I have to be at work tomorrow at five.” He didn’t offer any explanation or platitudes. That was it with Craig - the job, then everything else. But of course I hadn’t learnt that then.
I felt ridiculous and confused. In my fairly vast experience the only reason that another gay man doesn’t come up for coffee is that frankly, he finds you completely unattractive.
“Oh, okay,” I said calmly. Am I ugly or dull or both? I thought we got on really well.
Still, it could be salvaged. If he kisses me…
“Well, I call you,” he promised, his lovely eyes smiling at me. He didn’t budge, didn’t even lean towards me.
So I figured that was my dismissal notice.
“Great. Look forward to hearing from you,” I replied sourly, and got out of his car.
By the time I had locked the door on my flat I was ropable. He chased me, he wanted dinner, he flirted with me, now I get a complete freeze out and the oldest if not most insulting line in the book: “I’ll call you.”
I ran a bath, tossed in some lavender oil and poured myself the tallest glass of red wine I could manage not to slop. If you’re going to berate yourself for your stupidity, you may as well do it in comfort.
The next morning I sat at my table, slurping coffee, sulking.
Stupid Welsh git, I thought to myself. And he’s a cop.
(I rather enjoyed harbouring hurts like this. I wasted months of my life obsessing and complaining about men who I believed had treated me badly. )
Later, as I showered, it occurred to me that if I was ugly and dull as Craig seemed to think I was, then I should go shopping.
I felt good, that day. It began to dawn on me that actually I got off pretty lightly, just a bit of nicked pride. I mean, no one likes to hear “I’ll call you” after a date, especially from someone as attractive as Craig.
But “I’ll call you,” was fairly inconsequential when I laid it alongside some of the horrible things Paul did. Anyway, I never had to see Craig again. I keep my dealings with the police to a complete minimum – I had never even spoken to one until I met Craig – and I’ll just avoid Steph and Richard until I’m certain I won’t run into him.
A bit of power over your own life and your own heart. That’s all you need.
I bought some books and cds, some new breakfast cups, two new oils from Culpeppers, a plain shirt from Gap and a pair of jeans. When I came home, less ugly and less dull, there were three messages winking at me from the phone.
Steph, wanting an autopsy report from last night.
Tom, from work, wanting to discuss an article he read in the Observer.
Craig, thanking me for last night, and asking if I could call him back. “I had a great time, and really want to see you again,” he said.
Oh yeah? So great you couldn’t even bring yourself to kiss me?
I deleted the three of them immediately.
I was bundled up in my bed with the first of my new books and a more modest glass of red by nine that night. By ten I was fast asleep, completely cured of he who ailed me.
Stupid Welsh git.
A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine, and no one, damn them, is giving me any money for this. The story borrows bits from the The Bill (which is not mine either, ergo no money) and the rest is made up.
Category: Some gore, a healthy amount of swearing (in the good way) and a smattering of tasteful filth.
Later, after Craig left me, I thought a lot about the first few times we met. I was so determined not to get involved with him, and he was so determined, in his quiet dogged way, to get involved with me.
That was the thing, we were so different. He’s so calm, so focused, and I was neither.
I miss a lot of things now, but strangely enough, I find myself missing my little workspace at the Bank of London a lot lately.
I sat in an open plan office, but had the luxury of a corner desk, so I could sit with my back to the entire floor and pretend I was alone in the world when I needed to.
My desk was patterned between Lisa the Lez and Eddie the Het. (There are no prizes for guessing I was Sean the poof.) They were my work friends. I miss them both, and I know they still miss me.
We were the three programmers. We sat fairly close, and had a discreet and flexible level of tolerance to the amount of personal life that spilled out into our professional lives everyday.
Eddie was always involved with some dangerous woman – often somebody’s wife – who was on the verge of suicide or mass murder. Lisa was always involved with some intense older woman who had difficult children and a penchant for gardening. I was always getting dumped.
We thought eachother’s lives were interesting, but we none of us wanted to go there.
I hadn’t told Eddie the Het or Lisa the Lez about Craig. I was grateful that I had managed to salvage that little bit of dignity, glad they didn’t know that I was on the reject pile once more.
I was answering my emails on Wednesday morning when Craig caught me unawares again. I’d forgotten about him once more.
“Hey? How you been?” he said with a sweet voice when I answered my phone.
My chest felt tight. I hate having to lie on the run.
“Good, really good,” was all I said.
“Did you get my message?”
“No, sorry, did you leave one?” (See? I need a couple of seconds.)
“Yeah, I rang on Sunday.”
“Oh, sorry, voice mail thingy has been playing up. Sorry about that.”
“No worry, I thought it must have been something like that. Anyway, I thought we could catch up for a movie later this week if you’ve got time?”
A movie? What the hell was he playing at?
“Maybe we could go to dinner afterwards, if you like, if you haven’t got an early morning meeting?”
I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say do you think I’m ugly or dull or both, but I was not built to be that brave.
“Are you there?” he said after a bit.
“Yeah, sorry, I’m here.” I had raised my eyebrows so high I realised they would not go any higher, even when I tried.
“What? Are you able to talk?”
“Yeah, sure, sorry.” I tried to get my eyebrows up a bit further, but they were stuck mid brow. Dinner afterwards?
He was being his patient, gentle self. “Is that a problem?” he said after a few seconds.
“No,” I said, totally confused. “I just didn’t expect to hear from you again.”
“Why not?” he asked quickly.
It seemed a bit silly now. “Well, you know, when you left on Saturday, after dinner, I just figured you didn’t want to see me again.”
“Why? I said I wanted to see you again.” Now he sounded confused.
“Yeah, but, I don’t know, I just got the impression that that was it.” It was embarrassing have to detail it, particularly since he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.
“Why?” he said, sounding a little heated, “Because I didn’t jump straight into bed with you?”
Well, that was pretty much it.
“Yeah, I suppose.” I felt ridiculous. Why was he doing this to me? Why couldn’t he find a blonde boy and leave me alone?
“I really like you,” he said quietly. And that was it, his whole explanation.
“Well, a kiss wouldn’t have killed you then,” I said quickly, and then straight away wished I hadn’t.
I expected him to hang up, but instead he laughed. “Well, I wanted to, but I chickened out,” he said.
So that’s when I actually started falling for him.
I fell for him harder him later in the day.
“Sean, I’ve got a Sergeant Gilmore down here to see you,” Mohinder the security guy said to me over the phone a few hours later.
Sergeant Gilmore was in uniform, with his hat, when I got down to the foyer. He looked fabulous; one of those men made to be in uniform.
“I thought we could get a quick cup of coffee,” he said, smiling.
We went down to Nero’s, just down the street. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He looked beautiful.
I don’t remember how many people were in the café that afternoon. I can’t even remember if I had coffee or tea. I’ve tried so many times to remember the ancillary details, but all I remember is how warm his hand was when he laid it over the top of mine. I remember that he didn’t look around to see if any one was looking or not. I remember learning then that he made no apologies to anyone for who he was or what he did, that he took full responsibility for himself.
And we didn’t even talk about anything important. It was the gesture itself that he came to deliver – that he took time away from the office to drive half way across London to sit with me for twenty minutes so I knew how he felt.
And that’s when I finally got him, got what he was about. There were no ulterior motives, no tricks, no smoke, no mirrors, no false bottoms. No innuendos. He was simply completely honest. Everything black or white, no grey blurs in between anything. He liked me, he wanted to court me, he wanted me to know that he respected me. When I didn’t grasp that, he came in person to tell me.
When it was time to go, I walked him back to his car, which he’d parked in one of the countless bulky little alleys in EC1. He kissed me for the first time here, hat in one hand, the fingers of his other lightly passing over mine. It was nothing intense or prolonged, but wet and warm enough to make his intentions perfectly clear (and it confirmed I had been right about that mouth).
I was glowing when I got back to desk. No man had ever been so sweet to me.
He has a beautiful heart, I thought as I sat beaming at my terminal.
A really beautiful heart.
A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine, and no one, damn them, is giving me any money for this. The story borrows bits from the The Bill (which is not mine either, ergo no money) and the rest is made up.
Category: Some gore, a healthy amount of swearing (in the good way) and a smattering of tasteful filth.
Ah, the first few months.
We had great fun then, once I worked him out. He was definitely ripe for the picking, making no secret of the fact that he wanted to settle down.
His idea of settling down was a little different to mine. He lived down in Sun Hill – a long way from my stamping ground – and he had his home all ready. He really did want a husband – not a boyfriend – and he wanted settled exclusive commitment. I never quite worked out why he thought I fitted the bill for his husband. I was gregarious, a bit loopy, certainly not as serious, and nowhere near as conservative.
And, I have to be honest, gorgeous as he was, he wasn’t the kind of man I thought I’d settle down with. In fact, I wasn’t convinced I wanted to settle down at all. When I met him I thought maybe I did, but as the months went on, I became less certain.
“Move in with me,” he said, eyes closed, lying against my chest in my bed, six weeks after we met. Not a suggestion, but a gentle demand.
My heart leapt a little – it’s a great thing, when someone wants to commit to you – but even then he was showing signs that rung tiny alarm bells for me. I must have been ringing the same kinds of alarms for him, but he either didn’t hear them or chose to ignore them.
Well, he was possessive. That can be really nice in some ways, but Craig was completely rigid about it. Not that he stalked me or tried to brand me with his initials or anything like that, but as far as he was concerned it was a closed commitment.
A lot of gay men have open relationships, in that casual sex with strangers is no big deal. It was no big deal to me – I can see clearly how you can have emotional commitment to one person, and still enjoy a bit of anonymous frolicking on the side. I think it’s healthy.
Craig hated the thought, absolutely hated it.
“If I wanted casual sex I wouldn’t be in a relationship,” he told me sternly as we sat amongst boxes of stuff, carefully packed and sealed. It was the weekend I moved in with him; we were spending the last night at my flat.
“Does it bother you that much?”
“Yep,” he said resolutely. “Why? Do you want to see other people?”
“No, but I think it’s unrealistic to negate the idea of ever being attracted to anyone else,” I replied, hesitant.
He shrugged, taking me up close to him, under his chin. “I think it’s unrealistic to have a relationship with more than one person.”
“Casual sex isn’t a relationship,” I continued. “I don’t think it affects a relationship at all. It can be a good thing, if we’re honest about it.”
He was silent for moment, stroking my back with his fingertips.
“Well?” I was waiting.
“I just hate the idea of sharing you with anyone,” he said.
“I’m not a possession.”
He kissed my temple lightly, almost in passing.
“I know that. I don’t think of you as my property. But the relationship between us is. It’s really private to me, really precious.” He stopped while he thought for a moment, lightly brushing his face against my forehead. “I just think that when two people are committed to each other, and respect each other, they don’t need to supplement the relationship with outsiders.”
I thought this was unrealistic and told him so. “Anyway, it’s such a straight myth,” I concluded, “that two people are stuck with each other forever.”
“Well, I think the idea that screwing around is a great thing is a myth too, you know, that you’re entitled to fuck anything you want as a passing fancy.” He sucked his bottom lip slightly, gathering his thoughts. “ And I don’t see myself as stuck with you. I want to be here.”
“It’s just sex,” I said. I thought he was taking it way too seriously.
“Sex isn’t just sex, not if you’re in a committed relationship,” he told me softly. “It’s really important. It’s…” But he couldn’t explain what it was, or maybe he wasn’t prepared to.
In any case, Craig and I never resolved it, because we could never agree on it. And don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to screw around haphazardly, but I didn’t want to think that I wasn’t allowed to either.
So it hardly bears mentioning that when I did, it caused us big problems.
But in the first few months, we were very happy. He was protective, affectionate, gentle, a little territorial, utterly uninterested in partying or wild life. He liked to have friends over to dinner, he liked visiting friends for dinner, he liked theatre and movies, he liked sitting around talking, provided all the housework was done.
There was nothing impulsive about him – everything was planned and undertaken carefully. I used to try to get him to break out a little, to come out, play around, but he simply didn’t have that kind of spontaneity.
He was an interesting man to live with. Not a bad cook, clean and tidy, surprisingly handy with a hammer and nail. Practical. He spoke with his family a lot, and seemed enviably close to his mum and dad. (My father, at best, was indifferent to me; I’m not sure my stepmother even knew my name.)
But I’m telling you about Craig. He read just about all my books, and he liked talking about them afterwards. He’d read pretty widely before he met me, but he seemed to lack a bit of confidence in his taste and opinions, at least in that respect. I’d never met a man like that, interested in learning more about books. I’m proud to say that I introduced him to lots of good books and writers. He became something of a W.H Auden fan, and read just about all my Graham Greenes.
One of his is absolute utter passions was running. He used to get up at the most ungodly hours, in all kinds of hideous weather, and go running for an hour. He’d come back slimy with sweat, his hair at its most uncontrollable, invariably horny, nudging me awake with hot kisses, insistent and a little aggressive. (It was very attractive in the early days, then it became a bit annoying, and towards the end he used to come back from his run and just get straight in the shower.)
Relationships rarely fall apart for one single reason, and rarely do they fall apart in seconds. Cracks and torments appear in the foundations slowly, leaving it ill prepared for larger blows that might sneak up later.
Our cracks started after about six months. It started to grate on me, his absolute unshakeable dedication to his job. I mean, I worked hard too, and bloody long hours a lot of the time, but I was more social, more gregarious. I wanted to go out more, mix more often. He was tired and wanted to stay home, sit around and talk.
And in true Gilmore style, he wouldn’t talk about it. Anytime I’d bring it up he’d clam shut. “It’s my job. I have to put in long hours.” And that was it. Implacable, rigid Craig. The less he spoke, the more I’d yell.
Then we’d try to patch it up, gentle and tender, hating the way we hurt each other, and we’d be okay for a couple of days. Then it would start again - him never home, me the police widow. It was really stressful.
I started going out occasionally without him – nowhere special – drinking with Steph and Richard maybe, dancing with some old friends.
He didn’t seem to mind.
Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t inattentive. I’d get cute little e-mails from him during the day, he often called just to see how my day was going, and if I was having a crisis at work (and I had lots of crises) he’d be supportive and concerned.
But in some ways he just wasn’t there, if you see what I mean. He was tired most nights, sometimes he worked night shift and we’d barely see each other for a week or more. Our sex life, which had been pretty damned amazing in the first few months, started to wane pretty quickly. And again, he wouldn’t talk about it. I don’t know now whether it would have made any difference.
Anyway, I think both of us, in our own very different ways, realised as the months passed that in one way or another that we weren’t as compatible as maybe we thought.
It was Craig who summed it up, months later when I ran into him at the hospital. “We loved each other, but we weren’t in love.” And he was absolutely right. We liked a lot of things about each other; physically we had some fantastic moments. But we weren’t alike, and we weren’t in tune.
That’s not to say we weren’t happy – frequently we were – but no hearts and rockets.
“I think people are really unrealistic about love,” he said to me once when we were washing up, talking about a friend of mine who was getting married. “I don’t believe in that grand passion crap, and I don’t believe in love at first sight.”
He stacked some plates away and threaded his arms around me. “I think what we have is much more real,” he told me as he kissed my forehead.
Well, I’ve had the hearts and rockets, and I think they’re great. Poor Craig, at that stage, never had. They fell way outside his plans and strategies.
No wonder they wounded him so badly when they blasted all over him the way they did.
We’d been living together for eleven months when things started to fall apart. Like I told you, the cracks were already there, but it was me who hammered in the first crippling blow.
I had to go to Dublin for a conference; Craig was working the 2 – 10pm shift. We had both been really busy for the past couple of weeks, and planned to spend the following weekend together after I came back. Steph and Richard were meeting us for lunch in Islington on Saturday, then we were going to buy some paint. That kind of weekend.
It’s horrible to go into the gruesome details, so I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version: Boy goes to conference – meets boy from IT faculty at Trinity College at conference – exchanges mobile numbers on pretext of networking and exchanging ideas - Irish boy texts London boy that night – meet for drinks – ends up in my room - only gets about two hours sleep.
It’s no big deal, I told myself afterwards. I didn’t even get his surname. And he lived in Dublin; Craig would never find out. He didn’t even know that there was a Craig.
Craig was waiting for me at Stanstead on the Friday afternoon to take me home. He was so happy to see me; I felt a slight flicker of guilt when I saw his lovely face.
“I’ve missed you!” he said, leaning over to kiss me as I climbed into the car.
“Missed you too,” I assured him.
He had to go back to work, but when he came home late that night I cooked a great dinner and we had the perfect evening, talking and nuzzling and laughing, and then great sex. He really had missed me.
“Steph’s going to text me the name of the place we’re going to.” I told Craig the next morning as I was stepping the shower. “Check my mobile if you hear it beep.”
So that’s how Craig found out about Irish Boy, who texted me while I was in the shower:
Great fuck, great time! Im in London nxt wkd want to meet up?
The worst thing was not how angry Craig was, but how angry he wasn’t. He was hurt, really hurt and confused. He could barely speak to me as he tossed the mobile at me.
“It was just a casual thing, for Christ sakes,’ I said, following him into the bedroom.
“He doesn’t think so,” he said quietly. He was so calm, soulless even.
“It was nothing, just sex,” I told him.
“The why do it, if it’s nothing? And if it’s nothing, why not tell me?” He continued to talk quietly, which just made me more hysterical.
“Would you honestly want me to tell you?”
“I’d rather hear it from you than your mobile,” he said bitterly.
“Look, come here,” I was trying to put my arms around him, “We have to talk about it.” He took the embrace reluctantly, not moving.
“You know what?” he said suddenly, pulling away, “I really don’t. I really don’t want to talk to you at all at the moment, and I really don’t want to go to lunch.” He turned away and took a navy blue fleece out of his top drawer, silently pulling it over the top of his head.
“Where are you going?”
“Work. I’ve got a ton of stuff to do.” And he just walked out, closing the door quietly behind him.
I met up with Richard and Steph myself. Richard left early, so I took that opportunity to debrief with Steph. We’d been friends for years, and she was well versed in the art of casual sex, which made her response all the more surprising.
“You bloody fool,” she said. And when I stared at her, astonished, she went on. “Well, what do you want from someone? I mean, what else could anyone ask for in a partner? Craig is so nice, and he adores you. I don’t blame him for not speaking to you.”
So that’s when Steph and I stopped talking.
Now I don’t want you to think that I felt blameless here, or badly done by. I lied to him, and I shouldn’t have. But it honestly didn’t seem like a big deal to me. That’s what I was thinking in the dark, lying on the couch with a bottle of red, when Craig came home that night. He didn’t turn any lights on, just walked over to me, helping himself to a taste from my glass.
He sat down on the floor and leant his head back on my stomach. I lightly scratched his head, waiting to hear what he was going to say.
He didn’t say anything. Instead, he gently and slowly clambered on top of me and then tore into me, wilful and still hurt, but passionate and intense, almost as if he thought he could take the taste of the other man out of my mouth.
We were on the floor when we finished, our clothes all over the place in the dark, and he was streaked with sweat.
“Do you still love me?” I asked him as we lay there.
“Yes,” was all he said. But he never said the phrase itself, simply agreed to it.
He forgave me – I know he did – but he never forgot it. And I know he never trusted me again.
Which is why I was so angry, so absolutely furiously bloody angry, when he was dishonest with me.
We’d been together for nearly eighteen months when Craig came home one Monday night, covered in the scars of hearts and rockets. It was July, early July.
I was in bed, reading How To Be Alone when he came in with a look I didn’t recognise.
“Hi,” I said, wondering why he hadn’t made himself anything to eat.
“Hi,” he answered quickly, climbing over the top of me, his face soft, bumping at mine, his mouth wet and seeking. He hadn’t been like this for ages, certainly not on a weeknight after fourteen hours at work. He was hot, really excited, like he’d been thinking of it all day.
Well, he had.
All mouth and fingers, he couldn’t get his fill quickly enough. His eyes closed, moaning at every touch, his hands on me a different way, almost as if he was touching a different person. Which, in his mind, he was. Hearts and rockets.
That night of great sex was really the beginning of the end for us. I’d been in enough relationships to know when your partner is thinking of someone else.
I tried to raise it with him gently, and he’d get defensive and hostile. I’d get heated, he’d clam up tighter. This made me worse, more hysterical.
“Tell me who it is!” I roared at him a couple of weeks later for the twentieth time. “Just fucking tell me!”
And again he just looked away. “No one,” he answered irritably. “There isn’t anyone.”
The fights got worse. He refused to discuss it so I grew more hysterical, pleading with him to tell me who it was. He’d just say it over and over - no one, there isn’t any one, but one day, he just didn’t say anything. That was the worst thing, I think, that final confirmation. There was someone.
“Who?” I asked, almost in tears.
He shook his head, but he couldn’t answer me.
“Someone at work? Another fucking cop?”
Silence again. And, true to form, I got hysterical again.
It got to the stage where we could barely exchange a civil word. He moved into the spare room; a couple of times I just didn’t bother coming home.
Then I came home from work one Monday night and saw he had already moved half his stuff into another place. I was murderous. We stood and roared at each other for maybe fifteen minutes before I stormed out. I never came home that night either. The next day I called in sick, went home and chucked the rest of Craig’s things in boxes. Everything I could find, everything I’d given him, everything he’d given me.
Then I didn’t know what to. I stood in the lounge staring at the bits and pieces, hating him. Wanting to hurt him in the worse way possible, which, of course, is through his precious job. So I took the lot and dumped it all at Sun Hill Police Station.
I wish I could say that was it, but I did other things to him after he moved out. The toaster and the orchid. Damn, I regret that, kicking his door down. At the time though, I was so happy to see the police from his own nick turn up.
And that young copper, cute little twink that he was, who came and fetched the orchid for me. If only I’d known. I remember watching Twinkie in the rear view mirror when he drove me home; his handsome young face grave and nervous, shooting me disapproving glances.
The hearts and rockets boy and I didn’t even know it.
The toaster was Craig’s, but the orchid was definitely mine. I actually can’t remember who owned the photo frame. Not that mattered in the end.
Then, a couple of days later, I cleaned out the joint account, took every last cent that we’d saved together, nearly fifteen hundred quid. And you know, he never said a word.
But of course those kinds of measures only bring temporary relief. When I thought about it later, I couldn’t work out why I was so vindictive towards Craig. He didn’t do anything, just fell in love properly for the first time in his life. I don’t know. Maybe I was angry with myself for sabotaging the relationship; maybe I was angry that I’d fooled myself about the relationship.
Maybe I was angry that what should have been the perfect relationship simply wasn’t.
The things you do, the ways you hurt people. The sheer bloody pointlessness of it all.
A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
I don’t talk with my family much. My father doesn’t much approve of “my lifestyle”, as he calls it, and my stepmother doesn’t approve of anything much except herself. (My real mother, whom I still adore, died when I was eight.)
Come to think of it, I don’t much approve of my father or his lifestyle either. He works in real estate, and to say he is wealthy is an understatement. He’s rolling in it. Which, in a roundabout way of telling the story, is why I did my degrees in computer science and economics, not Art History, which is what I wanted to do. My father told me that I would forfeit my inheritance unless I found my career in business, and so I did.
But that spineless compliance allowed me a bit leeway. After Craig left, I found myself in a rather expensive two bedroom flat that I didn’t really like and would eventually be unable to afford. Because I kept “my lifestyle” out of my father’s judgemental gaze, and because I had done his bidding and eschewed the arts as a career, I was able to ask him if I could move in to one of his flats for a few months until I was back on my feet.
He gave me the keys to a small but rather tasteful one-bedroom place in Bromley. Not my number one choice of location, but certainly enough until I sorted myself out.
“You’ll probably inherit it one day anyway,” Father said off-handedly as he gave me the keys. I hate it when he says things like that.
So there I was, sleeping around haphazardly, missing Craig in theory more than in practice and spending the joint account like there was no tomorrow. I stopped seeing our old friends, and hardly gave anyone my new phone number. I spent most of my free times with strangers, haphazard strangers.
I had no idea what happened to Craig in that time. After I got my orchid back I never went near him, and he made no attempt to contact me. I thought about contacting him in December, to wish him a Merry Christmas. Maybe I missed him in practice a bit.
Anyway, it never happened because I started to get sick around then. First I found it hard to keep food down, so I went and saw a naturopath who recommended cutting out dairy and wheat products. Then my appetite started fading, which was probably a blessing in disguise because wheat and dairy free foods are extremely boring.
For a while there I was terrified that I had HIV. To my relief my test came back clear, so I decided I just had a bad stomach virus, maybe from stress. The naturopath thought it was stress-related too, and recommended I take some time off work. I didn’t want to, but by late January I had no choice. I got sicker, and my weight loss became apparent.
Finally I caved in and went to my doctor who thought at first it was ulcers, and then she thought it was growths.
“This will take a couple of days,” she said, writing the referral letters. She was sending me to hospital for a series of fairly disgusting tests.
So the next time I saw Craig was the following February.
I actually saw Craig’s file before I saw him. That was the funny thing, they hung our files side by side on the big rack outside the nurses’ station. Seemed like too greater a coincidence, that Gilmore, Craig could be the same one, but I went looking along my floor anyway, stopping at each ward to see if I could find him.
It was a horrible shock, not just that he was so battered and cut up, but seeing him so utterly defeated, lying there staring at nothing, completely uninterested in everything.
“Craig,” I said gently, wondering whether it was a good idea to speak with him or not.
He turned his head slowly, the effort clearly causing him great discomfort. He looked at me with sad heavy eyes – I wasn’t entirely sure that he recognised me until he half smiled, and moved his left hand slightly.
“Hello stranger,” he answered, his eyes lighting up a little.
I wonder, if we’d both been healthy and in getting on in normal everyday life, whether we would have bothered to acknowledge each other. But now, broken and vulnerable as we both were, there was something curiously comforting about being able to talk together.
He lasted about twenty-five minutes with me that day. I learnt enough to know that he’d been badly beaten, including a very bad injury to his knee that was really worrying him. Apparently the creep who beat him stomped twice on his knee, cracking the actual cap and squashing the surrounding cartilage and joint. The surgeons had already operated on it once, and it seemed they were getting ready to have a second attempt. Anyone else was would have been worried about the pain or the rehabilitation, but not my Gilmore.
“I’m terrified it won’t heal, and they’ll pension me out,” he said with real despair.
The job. Always the bloody job.
And he asked about me, his eyes worried, his bruised punctured hand gently easing over mine.
“What do they think it is?” he asked in a hoarse voice.
“Dunno,” I told him truthfully. “Growths, probably.” And that’s all I was prepared to believe it was, just growths.
He drifted off a little while later, but I sat with him a bit longer, stroking his hand.
They discharged me a couple of days later with a muddied prognosis. The gastroenterologists thought it might be tumours, but it didn’t look bad, they thought. It was likely that they’d have to cut them out, but they wanted to do more tests in three weeks time, to see if the growths were, well, growing, and whether they really needed to come out.
I had an excellent insurance plan, and plenty of leave, so I didn’t have to worry about work yet. After they discharged me I still had ten days leave, so I went back to the hospital everyday, always expecting that that Craig would get a bit brighter. It never happened. I know now that even though his body was healing slowly, his beautiful heart had had the life thumped out of it, and that it wouldn’t restore itself for a long while.
He didn’t seem to have any other visitors. He’d had his phone stolen (he thought maybe the person who attacked him stole it; I reckon it was on of those lowlife who makes their living stealing things from hospital patients) so he wasn’t able to call friends.
“I don’t want to talk to anyone,” he said with a weary voice when I suggested getting him another phone.
Not long before Craig was discharged – a week maybe – I arrived with some clean pyjamas and some shaving cream just as his father was leaving. I had met Craig’s family several times, and I thought I was pretty good terms with them. So it was a shock when his father just walked straight past me without so much as a nod.
“Family feud?” I asked the patient, who looked more miserable and more defeated.
“That’s putting it mildly,” Craig answered. He turned his head away and sighed.
I knew him well enough to recognise the warning signs of clamming up, so I put his pyjamas away in the bureau and changed the subject.
“So? Any news on your knee?” They’d operated again about four days ago, and Craig, understandably, was hanging out to find out when he could go back to work.
He sighed again.
“They say it’ll be six to eight weeks before they know for sure.”
My heart went out to him when I saw the look on his face, but at that stage I only knew a third of the story.
By the time he was discharged we were great mates. No romance – we were both too far gone for that by that stage – but we both knew that we desperately needed a crutch, and we were familiar enough to find comfort in the crutch we could offer each other.
And Craig had real crutches too; for the first couple of weeks that was the only way he could get around. I can honestly say of all the things that I’ve seen annoy Craig, nothing comes close to those crutches.
He didn’t seem to want to go home to his own place, and was a little frustrated at his lack of choices of where to go.
“Stay at my place,” I said to him the day before he was discharged. I really wanted with company, and I was genuinely worried for him. I didn’t think he could look after himself.
He was so grateful I thought he’d start crying.
“Don’t you cry on me, you big queen,” I warned him playfully. (We used to camp it up like this a lot in the early days. It would to make us both laugh, especially him. I can’t remember when we stopped playing with each other like that.)
He laughed a little, and squeezed my hand. “Thanks,” he said. “I can’t face my own place.”
“Expecting visitors?” I said waggishly.
“No,” he said with a little smile. “That’s precisely why I don’t want to be there.”
So he settled in with me, hopping around the house and cursing his crutches, cooking with me from time to time, sleeping on the sofa.
“You worried I’m going make a lunge for your throbbing manhood while you sleep? Is that why you won’t share the bed with me?” I joked with him over breakfast one morning.
“No,” he laughed. “I’m worried you’re going to find out that my manhood has stopped throbbing.”
I laughed with him. Well, you had to laugh. It was so depressing otherwise.
It was nice, that first month before they finally hit on what I actually had. We were gentle with each other, and truly grateful for the company. And then, as I got sicker, and he started to get better, we started to depend on each other in different ways.
We’d sneak back to his place in the late nights to collect his mail and some clothes from time to time. He had an almost pathological aversion to being there, as if he was terrified of having to speak to anyone.
“You’ve got messages on your answering machine,” I told him one cold snowy night, getting in the car and tossing him his mail. He still couldn’t drive yet, and at that stage I still could.
“They’ll keep,” he said, not caring.
He got letters from the Met all the time. They were paying his rent and his sickness pension, cold comfort that it was. He wanted to go back to work, but the orthopaedic surgeon was hedging his bets, refusing to commit to a straightforward yes or no.
Craig remained optimistic. He never once thought that he wouldn’t get back to work, planning for the time when he could walk properly again and get back into uniform.
A couple of times I wondered if I should try and get him making alternative plans, but he steadfastly refused to counter the idea.
“It’s just taking longer to heal than I thought. It’ll be alright, it just takes time,” he told me. And he believed it. “I’m a copper. I couldn’t do anything else,” he told me resolutely. “What else could I do?”
I’d planned to go back to work in early March; my supervisor said that I could work three-day weeks if I wanted. I was still having trouble eating, and the appetite stimulants they gave me made me jumpy and restless.
I had another biopsy in the last week of February, and that was supposed to reveal all. Everything was supposed to go back to normal – plain diagnosis, straightforward treatment, normal life again.
And then – well, the best laid plans of mice of men.
Spreading adenocarcinoma. How’s that for a death sentence.
It’s cancer, a less common and incredibly aggressive kind that zips over the lining of your organs like a grass fire. Because it is a film, rather than growths, it is difficult to detect. And it is occurs mostly amongst specific ethnic groups – Jewish and Japanese, for example. Had they asked my heritage, they might have worked it out quicker, for my lovely mother was Jewish.
The specialist said that they could remove the affected parts of my stomach and spleen, and then try some chemotherapy, but after careful questioning it became apparent that it was not a cancer that people recover from. It was a nasty, fast acting killer cancer. It was killing me as I sat there, talking to her.
Craig held my hand the whole time we were with the doctor. When I drove us home he looked out the window but kept his hand on my leg, respectful and kind.
He stayed next to me when we got home, taking my hand again when I slumped down on the couch, up against the neat folded pile of blankets and pillows that he slept on every night.
I didn’t really say anything at first, and then, when we started to talk about it, sitting there as the flat grew darker and colder, it suddenly hit me properly. There was no real point to anything. I was going to die, and fairly soon.
“I’m going to die,” I said to Craig, lying against him in the dark. It is the strangest thing to hear yourself say - you wouldn’t say something like that unless it was true, yet you can barely believe it when you say it.
He was still holding my hand in that way he had, laying his hand over the top of mine, linking in fingers in amongst my own. He squeezed a little, and then drew me a little closer. I was thinking then how hard it must be to answer someone when they tell you that.
“I’m not going to leave you,” he said quietly. And then I started to cry for the first of many times in those last months.
I cried all night, and, true to his word as always, Craig sat with me, squeezing my hand and wiping my face.
As soon you’re diagnosed with something like this, the first thing you lose – before your body starts packing it in piece by piece – is the ability to make choices about what you want to do. I no longer was able to plan to go to New York next year, or find a flat closer to the City, or think about what I might like to be doing in five years time. It isn’t about your life, any more, but what you might do with the bit of life you have left.
And you have to change it, what life you have left. I had to quit my job, cash in my insurance, and I had to work out what I wanted for the last few months.
Craig talked about it with me for hours, ever patient, ever sensible, and although we must have gone through every possible permutation of what you could do in three months, I never decided anything. In the end I thought I just wanted to live day by day. Nothing else seemed to matter much any more.
When we first found out, Craig (who was walking with a stick now) would take me for a walk every day.
“I hate walking by myself,” he’d say, “Come and keep me company.” I knew that was a lie, but I knew what he was trying to do.
We’d go down to the gardens in the park, down along the river, or just around the streets, looking at other people’s ordinary lives, watching them walk past pushing prams, holding hands, walking alone or in groups.
It was funny, we spent more time together then than we ever had as a couple. We got to know a few people on our walks – you know, old people doing their gardening, a couple of the people who worked in the local fruit shop, a married Sudanese couple who lived in my building. We both liked the Sudanese couple. They were a beautiful, arresting pair – both had deep-dark skin, eminently cheerful and polite. She was pregnant, and he was so excited about being a father.
We never mentioned it to each other, but we both saw the irony – the lovely Sudanese-English baby would be born around the same time that I would die.
So Craig and I walked the streets and parks of Bromley, talking about nothing in particular; the conversation only marked by the fact that everything was in the present. We hadn’t got to the stage where it was worthwhile looking back, and there certainly wasn’t any point looking towards the future. When one of us inadvertently did, I’d invariably start crying.
It’s horrible, knowing how finite you really are.
Then, as the hideous stain spread through me, walking became harder. It was funny, really, the harder it became for me the easier it became for Craig. He still limped, and his knee still ached, but he could walk good distances and had long since discarded the stick. He was going to take it back to the hospital but I started using it, which made us both laugh.
“I think it looked better on me,” he told me dryly as I hobbled out for breakfast one morning.
Then they started hacking pieces of the stained organs away - first a portion of my stomach, then my spleen, then a bit of my liver. Then I had the chemo, which was, I think, the worst of all the things they did me, filling me with radiation, trying to fry the cancerous cells in their tracks. My hair fell out in a matter of days, my skin went grey and it was all I could do to keep a swallow of water without throwing it back up.
As it spread through me further, I ended up in hospital more frequently. I had two series of chemo, and both times the cells beat the uranium.
Finally, though, there was simply no point trying to keep up with it. The poisonous cells started linking hands all the way to my kidneys.
Every time I was in hospital, Gilmore visited twice a day, gentle, concerned, comforting. I think I would have died a lot quicker if it weren’t for him.
Then came the day we both heard our death knolls.
“There’s nothing else we can do for you, Sean,” the specialist told me. She was lovely, very kind, recommending counselling services and all kinds of palliative care support, but it was not really what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear that someone had made a shocking mistake and that in a couple of days I was going to be fine and start living again after all.
Craig was with me, holding my hand so hard it hurt. He said nothing, just squeezed.
Earlier that morning, although he didn’t tell me for a couple of days, Craig had been to see his specialist too.
“Your knee is not going to get any better,” the surgeon finally admitted. “The limp is permanent, and the strength of the actual joint is only fair. You don’t meet the fitness requirements to serve in the Police Force any longer, I’m afraid.”
At least I was expecting my news.
A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
We were laying on the bed, me bald and skinny wearing Craig’s pyjamas, him in on of my cotton sweaters and a pair of his old rugby shorts. Craig was holding his termination papers, which had arrived in the post a few hours earlier.
“Why didn’t you tell me the day you heard?” I asked him, holding his hand for a change.
He looked at me, half smiling, and didn’t say anything.
“Oh, that’s right,” I said in a poofy voice, “I’ve got a terminal disease.”
He laughed, liked I hoped he would, but when I looked at him, I could see he was teary.
Oh, it’s not the end of the world, I was going to say (and Christ knows I’d be the one to comment on that) but for him, it actually was.
And then he told me the whole story – hearts and rockets and his dad.
“So the young cop – the Twink who came when I kicked your door in?”
Craig just nodded, his mouth tight and hard, his tongue pushing against his bottom lip inside.
“What – you walked up to him in the gym and tried to kiss him?” It was the most unbelievable thing I’d ever heard. “What’d he do?”
“He tried to bitch slap me!” Gilmore said in his camp voice, and we both laughed.
“I just can’t imagine you doing that,” I said when we calmed down. “I mean, it’s just so not you.”
“You’re right,” he answered. “I just – I don’t know, I just couldn’t stand it a minute longer.”
‘Well, he was cute,” I offered, but Craig just snorted a bit.
“He just kept doing things for me, things that showed he really did care, and I’d think, he’s coming around, he’s working it out, and if I took one step towards him he’d take a hundred back,” he said bitterly. “It was driving me insane.”
Craig was taking me through the whole Luke story. It was nice, lying there together, talking like this. It kept Craig’s mind off his job, at least for a while, and it was very interesting for me. A whole side of Gilmore I never knew about.
“So did he enjoy it?” I asked, when Craig told me about the night they spent together.
Craig was silent for a few seconds, considering this then he shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, I thought he did. If he didn’t enjoy it then he should consider a job in movies because he’s a great actor,” he said sourly.
“Did he - you know –
reciprocate? Did he put out?”
Craig nodded. “I was really surprised. I thought he’d just want to mess around a bit, but he was pretty enthusiastic.”
“Oh, a gentleman never kisses and tells,” I said in my camp voice. “So what’d you do?”
And he blushed. He’s thirty-three for God’s sake, and he must have been to bed with twenty men if he’s been to bed with one – including me, I might add – and he blushes.
“Come on Taffy! Tell me what you did!” I was teasing him, and he knew this. I leant over and whispered to him. “Did he give you a mouthful?”
Craig laughed, embarrassed. “He asked me to.”
“And did he reciprocate?”
“I wouldn’t let him.”
WHAT?” I said that so emphatically my stomach hurt, and I had to double over.
“You okay?” Craig said, getting up, trying to lift me up in the sitting position. It took a few seconds for the pain to go down.
“I’m fine,” I gasped at him when the ache subsided. “Now tell me WHY you wouldn’t let him go down on you or I’ll have another attack.”
Craig shook his head. “I don’t know. I didn’t want him to think that’s all I wanted. I didn’t want it to be some sordid thing, me taking advantage of him. I wanted it to be nice for him,” he said, his voice getting quieter. “It was his first time. I wanted..,” and he stopped all of a sudden, bleak and getting ready to clam up.
I took his hand for a change and stroked it a little. It was really starting to upset him, but he steeled himself and went on.
“It wasn’t about the sex, not for me anyway. It was about him realising what he is, and I wanted him to realise that without thinking he had to prove something to me.”
“It’s hardly the point,” I told him as he settled back down next to me.
He just shrugged. “It was his first time. He’d been drinking…I don’t know. It was the right thing at the time.”
“But you must have been up for it.”
He looked at me with a pretend-exasperated look, trying not to smile. “I can look after myself,” he said coyly. It made me laugh, the way he said it.
“Well, did he give you a hand?” I was doing this to tease him, but also because I knew he wanted to tell me.
“He assisted, yes,” he said in his best Sergeant’s voice, blushing more.
“Oh, what d’you want?” he said, pretending to be annoyed. “Polaroids?”
“Do you have any?” I said in my camp voice, and we both laughed.
“It was just really nice,” he said after a few seconds. “No pressure, no nerves, it was just really nice. I thought…well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. I was obviously wrong.”
“Tell me anyway,” I said.
“I thought he’d stay. I mean, I didn’t expect him to get up the morning and declare his undying love for me, but I thought.. I mean, it was genuine, he acted as if he really liked me, like he really did care. I thought he’d call the wedding the off. It – well, I thought he realised what he wanted.”
“You thought he realised he was a poof!” I used my camp voice again.
Gilmore smiled bitterly. “Well, it seemed bloody obvious to me. I couldn’t believe it when he just walked off the next morning.”
And then he told me what happened the next morning. I thought he’d start spitting fire when he talked about Gina. She made him nearly as angry as the crutches.
“So – let me get this straight – he takes you to bed with him, lets you go down on him, has his filthy way with you too – and then just walks off the next day and gets married?”
“And the blushing bride?”
“Hasn’t got a clue.”
“Well, she will soon enough. Have you seen him since?”
And then he told me about the hospital, Gina making him lie for the bride.
“Why didn’t you tell them all that Luke’s a poof, Kerry’s a blonde, Gina’s an interfering bitch and fuck off the lot of you?” I couldn’t believe it.
“He was terrified. He didn’t want to be outed. And it’s not my job to out him.”
“It’s not your job to take the blame for his bloody inability to face up to himself either,” I said. I was so angry anyone could treat Craig like this. “How do you feel about him now?”
He just shrugged. I assumed then that he was over the worse of it, because he wouldn’t answer. In any case, I couldn’t see how you could still like anyone who’d do that to you.
“Then dad found out,” Craig sighed.
Now that I just didn’t understand, the parents. I always envied Craig’s relationship with his parents. I knew they weren’t one hundred per cent comfortable with him being gay, but they were supportive, and certainly mollified by his choice of career.
“How’d he find out?”
Craig laughed bitterly. “I told him.”
“You told him?”
“Well, he saw Luke late in the afternoon, when they were x-raying my knee. Luke kept hanging around, and Dad spoke to him a bit. Then when Luke had gone, Dad was asking about my transfer, which Luke must have told him about. I didn’t say anything, but he kept bringing it up every time he came back. He knew I was keeping something from him, and I just got sick of lying about it. I mean, I’d been lying about it for six months. So eventually I just told him I’d been involved with one of my relief and had to get away from him. I just couldn’t be bothered making something up. Besides, I’d lost track of what had really happening and what hadn’t.”
His face changed from bitter to angry.
“I mean, why did I have to keep lying about it? He’s my father for Christ’s sake. I thought he’d be a bit more sympathetic.”
“What’d he say?”
“He went barmy,” was Craig’s succinct description. “He blew it all out of proportion, like I’d been harassing Luke or whatever, and he told me I was a fool, compromising myself like that with another copper. Interfering was his word. Like I’d bloody molested him or something.”
He looked over at me and sighed.
“So I told him to mind his own bloody business and leave me alone,” Craig explained. “That just made him worse really, ‘cause I had never spoken to him like that and he was very pissed off.”
“What did he say?”
“He just kept going on about how he expected more from me, that he couldn’t believe I’d be so stupid.” Craig looked over at me, picking up his letter again, grey around the gills and damp eyed. “Then he said he felt like he didn’t know me any more, and I said he’d never really known me at all, because if he did he wouldn’t be speaking to me like that.” Craig looked down, crushing his lips together, his face regretful and drawn. “Bad thing to say,” he sighed. “Anyway, the day you ran into him was the last time I saw him or mum.”
“So what, they’re just not talking to you?”
“Well, not as far as I can tell.” He looked at the letter again then tossed it aside. “Fuck the lot of them,” he said finally. “Fuck the Met, fuck Luke, fuck the lot of them.”
I notice he didn’t say fuck the family. Despite his misery he’d never speak so disrespectfully about his family. Their opinion of him was important to him, although he’d never say as much. And I know he adored his parents.
So there we were, me with my cancerous insides, him with his cancerous life, both falling apart in different ways on the bed. It was as if the universe was conspiring to take everything he loved away from him in an orderly methodical fashion. Luke, his job, his parents.
Craig sighed and squeezed my hand.
“You have to eat something,” he said, signifying the subject was well and truly changed.
“You should talk about this more,” I told him. Well, I had nothing to lose.
“Nothing to say, really,” he said after a bit.
“What about Luke?”
“He’s married,” Craig laughed bitterly. “Married with a kid on the way. Let’s hope he’s a more understanding father than mine.”
About six weeks before I died, Craig went on the rounds to gather my friends, tell them what had been happening, and get them over the bloody goodbyes. Steph came around soon after, weepy and distraught. I’m glad we made up; I just wish it could have been in nicer circumstances.
And then Craig went to see my horrible family, my stepmother, my father, my sisters.
“They have to know,” he said reasonably, helping me drink some juice. He used to hold the glass for me – my hands were so weak I couldn’t get a grip anymore – and he got into the habit of carrying small hand towels around with him, to wipe my face whenever I ate something, or threw up.
“Yeah, they should know,” I agreed, “But they won’t care.”
He took the glass from me and placed it by the table.
“When it’s over for you, they have to claim you. Legally they’ll be entitled to toss me out of here and take over everything,” he said, quiet and holding my gaze steadily.
I didn’t want to hear about this, but he went on, holding my hand in both of his, tugging it a little to get my full attention.
“We have to sort this out,” he said finally. “I want you to have the kind of send off that you want. I have to sort out what I’m going to do when … we have to make some arrangements, my love. I’m sorry, but we have to.” He moved his hand up and held the side of my face for moment, stroking my cheek with his thumb. It felt strange – his hand was so warm and dry, so comforting.
My love. I’d never heard him say that before.
The last weeks, you won’t be surprised to learn, were hideous. The pain was unbelievable, and about as much as they could do was keep increasing the doses of morphine. Craig spent most of his waking hours cleaning me, giving me hot pads to ease the constant pain, trying to get me to drink, fixing the jack in my arm with little shots of morphine.
He moved one of the lounge chairs in next to the bed, and sometimes spent the whole night in there with me, sponging me down, giving me a little morphine, or sometimes just talking to me until I went back under. I never felt like I slept in that time, it was more like passing out, submerging in to some drug induced tide.
My father came to visit twice, concerned, polite, dismissive of Craig.
“I’ll get you a proper nurse,” he said the second time he came, watching as Craig sat me up on the pillows. I mean, he said that in front of him. Craig said nothing; I would have spat at him if I’d had the energy.
“I’ve got a proper nurse,” is all I said. Anyway, now you know why I don’t get along with my father.
“Sorry about that,” I said to Craig after my father had left.
He laughed. “Didn’t bother me,” he said. “Don’t let it bother you either. You know what he’s like. He didn’t mean to sound rude. He meant well.”
We were finishing dinner, if you could call it that – I was having more bloody rice and milk, Craig was having toasted sandwiches. He spent more time feeding me than himself.
“No he didn’t,” I panted. I was in pain, and I blame my father that particular bout.
Craig leant over me with one of towels. “Calm down,” he said, gently. “I’ve just spent ten minutes getting that rice into you, and I don’t want to see it again.”
Almost on cue I threw the lot of it up.
“You are such a contrary queen”, he smiled at me, cleaning me up once more.
Occasionally Craig went to see his doctor. He never spoke about it, whether he was still in pain, if his knee might go back to normal. I asked a couple of times, but he’d clam right up. He had no intention of discussing it with me.
“I’m fine,” is all he’d say.
As for work, what he was going to do, well, I wouldn’t find out until later. But he knew – he was already being considered for another job.
One morning, only days before I died, he was giving me a sponge bath, wiping my face with a damp warm cloth, and I noticed how tired and drawn he was. He’d lost a lot of weight.
“Sorry,” I said, barely able to get the word out.
“You don’t have to be. I want to be here.”
“No, I don’t mean that – I mean I’m sorry about the break up and what happened.”
He lightly sponged my arms, and then gently drew the cloth across my scarred and sore chest.
“Don’t be. I’m over it.”
“I can’t die unless I know you forgive me,” I said in my camp voice. He laughed, still sponging me down, thinking how he’d say it.
“You know, it’s funny, there’s no word for it, is there, when a person asks for forgiveness and you never didn’t forgive them,” he said.
“What?” I had no idea what he meant.
“Well, you ask if I forgive you, but you didn’t do anything that meant you were in need of my forgiveness. I understood, and in any case I behaved just as badly. I should have told you about Luke when you asked. I really regret that I wasn’t more honest with you.”
Beautiful heart. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I was really curious.
Craig laughed gently again. “I thought you’d go around to the station and confront him.”
“Well, I would have, little bastard, moving in on my territory. I would have scratched his eyes out.” And we both laughed. I watched him gently cleaning me up, unfolding clean pyjamas then stopping to take my hand.
“I had a great time with you. Some of the happiest times of my life. And I won’t forget them, and I won’t forget you, either.”
I had to look away or I would have started crying again. But I had to say it, I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t grateful for staying with me. I had to tell him. I took a painful breath and squeezed his hand best I could.
“And I’m sorry you have to do this too. And I’m sorry I won’t ever be able to show you how much I appreciate it.”
He stopped and looked at me with a grave, tender face if you can imagine that. “I want to be here. It means a lot to me to be here with you.” Then his face lightened a little. “Anyway, you know what a control freak I am. I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it properly.”
I laughed a little, then realised that I was laughing for one of the last times in my life. I was going to die soon.
“I’m frightened,” I told him as he reached for the dry towel.
“Frightened of what, my love?” he said, stopping for minute, holding my wet arm out towards him.
“Frightened of dying,” I said, tears in my voice. And I was, utterly terrified. He looked at me with so much understanding in his face. That beautiful heart.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said softly, dabbing the dampness from my skin. “Might be great! You know, good restaurants, lots of gorgeous men, summer all the time – you might like being dead better than being alive!”
But I was still terrified. “What if it isn’t? What if I don’t know anyone? Or worse still, what if there’s nothing?”
He leant me forward to button the pyjama shirt around me, gently and confidentially, knowing that sharp movement or even touch could trigger excruciating pain.
“What if you don’t know anyone?” He smiled at me, holding the fabric away from my skin as he fastened it. “Well, you’re one of the most outgoing men I ever met. If you don’t know anyone you soon will. And if there’s nothing, well, what are worried about?”
I looked at him, tired and sad, still smiling at me, patient till the end.
“You think I’m outgoing?”
“Yeah!” he said, settling me down against the wall of pillows he made for me to lean on. “That’s the second thing that attracted to me to you when I met you that day at lunch.” And he waited for the inevitable question, smoothing my scraps of hair back, fixing the collar on the shirt.
“Okay - what was the first?”
“I thought you were gorgeous.” He said it so sincerely it made me miss him already, and the tears came again.
“You and your bloody hand towels,” I cursed as he wiped my face. He must have carried half a dozen with him all the time.
Then he fixed my dose, and settled the covers over me.
“I have to go out,” he told me a bit later. “I’ll only be a couple of hours, Steph said she’d drop in on her way to work, sit with you until I come back. She’s only a few minutes away. Okay?”
I knew where he was going, and I knew how hard it was for him.
“Craig?” I croaked at him.
He took a couple of steps towards the bed, face inclined to me. “Yeah?”
“Can I have a pink coffin?”
He laughed, but didn’t answer.
By the last days I was actually looking forward to dying. I pretty much think that people with terminal illnesses end up dying from exhaustion as much as anything, it’s so hard. The pain, worrying about the uncertainty of death itself.
I was in hospital again; no one had said anything but I think they were just waiting for me to die there.
Craig, as he said he would, waited with me. He simply didn’t go home.
“I hate it here,” I told him late one afternoon. I had thirty eight hours to go.
“I know it’s hard for you,” he said softly.
“No, no, that’s not what I mean.” It was exhausting, these days, even speaking. “I don’t want to die here. Not in a hospital. I want to die at home, in my own bed.”
He held my hand up to his face for a while, and then I guess I must have gone back under the drugs again, because when I woke up, I was being wheeled into my flat.
Back home for the last time.
Craig spoke with the ambulance officers for a few minutes – it sounded to me as if he knew one of them – and then he came and sat next to me on the big chair.
I had thirty four hours left.
I’d like to say that in that time I had some fabulous realisation of the meaning of life, or Craig and I worked out all the solutions to his problems, but the truth is far more depressing. I was in agony, and spent most of the time thrashing around, waiting to die. Death throes, real ones.
It was a Wednesday morning, early July. One of the last things I saw with my eyes was the sunny day outside, and Craig lying in the chair, dishevelled, unshaven and wide awake, looking at me.
“Morning,” he said to me in a husky voice. I could barely hear or see him, but I could feel his hand on mine, and, funny thing, I was aware of the size of him, right alongside me. He must have had the chair pushed up close.
“I’m tired,” I whispered to him.
He nodded, keeping his distance because I was agitated, aching and sore, but he never left my side. For some reason it made me think of the time he came to have coffee with me at work, just to let me know he was serious.
“Remember the coffee, when you came to work and we went to Neros?” I said as clearly as I could.
He smiled and nodded, and leaned his head a touch towards me. “I had it so bad for you,” he said wistfully.
“We had some fun, didn’t we,” I barely said.
He nodded, and I couldn’t see it yet, but he had tears on his face.
And then I went under again, but this time it felt faster, heavier, as if I was literally losing my grip on my body and my flat and everything I knew and loved. I tried to hold on to it, the way you grab for something when you fall, but this seemed to make me fall faster.
Then it all started whizzing past me in an incredible charge of colours and temperatures and lights and darkness and sounds and scents, countless faces and voices I’d known and heard, Craig, countless men I’d had, the offices I had worked in, my parents, my beautiful mother, my sisters, my first bike, a hamster I had as a kid, the dormitory at school, coloured pencils in my school bag, my clothes, the beach, the countryside – everything I’d loved in my life in a huge blurred palette that spun way past me until all the colours mixed together to become a blinding white light that burst with me in the centre and then I was free, I was laughing and free and standing at the window of my bedroom staring out on to the world that is so magnificent, so incredibly colourful and detailed and glorious.
That was it. No pain, no fear, nothing but a fantastic roller coaster right through my whole life and then the wonderful realisation that I hadn’t died at all – I was still here, large as life – only my body had died.
And from the window I could see people, living people walking in the streets. The postman, some schoolkids, a mother with a baby, and, to my amazement, all of them had these huge shining lights in the top left side of their chests. The children had little pink lights, the mother had a deep emerald light, the postman had a more purple light. The baby had a tiny bright silver star, like a fairy light. The lights were all so clear, so bright.
Craig, I said loud and healthy, Craig you have to see this, come and see these people’s hearts, and I turned around to see him sitting hunched over next to my shell, holding my hand and sobbing, then wearily slumping back in the chair with an arm over his face. He waited for a few minutes, and then stood up, leaning over to pull the covers up over my face.
That’s when I saw the glorious deep cherry coloured light in his chest, dazzling and pure, filled with images of a coastline, his family, his police uniform, the sun; all kinds of bits of pieces, some people I knew, some I didn’t, even a hazy image of Luke: all the things he loves, all suspended in the most intrinsic goodness.
It was just like I said all along. He really does have the most beautiful heart.
A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
Well, you’d think it would be awful, being dead, but I’m here to tell you that it is very damned interesting indeed.
Forget everything you’ve heard about heaven and hell and angel’s wings – you don’t budge, for three weeks. You hang around here, free to go where you please. You can watch people in the shower, you can see movies, you can take a flight to Bermuda – whatever you want.
Most people hang around where they know. You can’t see us, but we can see you.
But you only have three weeks. That’s the first thing I learnt. Three weeks.
You learn lots of things when you die. Seeing people’s heart is the first amazing revelation. We’ve all got one, not just the thick wad of muscle in our chest that oversees circulation, but the very essence of what we love and who we are and what we do. It lights us up, and it holds everything.
And we get the opportunity to do a few favours. Not major ones, mind, so don’t go thinking that Auntie Pam’s going to lead you to a stash of hidden rubies when she pops her clogs. But we can do small things that will actually change the path of your life. We can only do them for the better, too, so you don’t have to worry about someone taking revenge on you.
But we can only do those favours for things you want. And we can tell what you want when we look into your heart.
And everything, every tiny piece of the world, looks a thousand times better. You can see the world as it actually is -the magnificent tiny details that are invisible when you are busy being alive. You see the edge of each petal of each flower on a tiny scrappy plant growing from under a half worm-eaten fence. You see the thousands of shades of white and cream and pink and green in that tiny plant. You can see the dozens of tiny insects milling around it, their wings, their wisps of legs. You see the hives of activity in the small patch of soil, the pale tendrils of roots. You can smell the oxygen oozing from the pores of the leaves of the plant, you can smell the countless minerals in the soil.
If a dead person walks through your kitchen when you’re cooking they can smell every ingredient, every scrap of yeast, every grain of salt, every drop of water, every granule of sugar, all mixing and combining in a complex symphony of flavours.
As I stood by my bedroom window I could smell Craig, the scent from his cotton shirt, the peculiar heady scent of his thick hair, the rich musky oil from the thousands of tiny glands in his arm that is still flung over his head. I can smell my old shell, an offensive cocktail of opiates, white soap, sweat and freshly decaying flesh.
Oh, go have a shower, Taffy, I say to Craig, and to my great surprise he gets up, slowly and deliberately, not turning to look at my body, and walks to the bathroom.
That’s the best thing about being dead - we have the power of suggestion. All we have to do is speak to your heart and we can get you thinking. (You might want to remember that next time an unexpected thought pops into your head. You never know who’s around.)
Craig stands under the water for a long time, his head hanging as he tries to wash the grief and sadness away. His heart is so full. Craig’s heart was the first I saw clearly, and I still think it was the loveliest of all the hearts I saw. (Maybe I’m biased.)
Anyway, I’m standing in the bathroom, looking into that deep cherry coloured glow in his chest.
It’s difficult to say what is the most important thing there. His parents are very clearly defined – I can see now that his fight with them caused him far more grief than he let on. His police uniform is clear and pulsing, really hurting him, he can’t let that go. Luke’s there too, but he seems sort of hazy, I can’t really see him clearly, and he’s tucked up the back of the big heart, so it appears Craig is getting over Twinkie.
Around the periphery of the lovely Gilmore heart are all kinds of little pleasures he has, little things he loves and enjoys. It’s a like a car boot sale in there, all these varied unrelated objects scattered everywhere. There are seahorses, (can you imagine! Seahorses!) running shoes, a rugby ball and jersey, spy novels, roast lamb, bottles of wine, a coast line, the scents of fresh flowers, trees, trifle (that cracked me up – he really does love trifle) bottles of scented oils, all kinds of men (bloody tart!) freshly washed clothing, babies (I had no idea), some people I don’t know, the daily paper, Dime bars (I didn’t know about them either!), a generic looking house (he always wanted to buy a house), Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks (he used to play it all the time – drove me mad), sunshine, pots of tea, pints of beer, hot baths, butterflies, (poof!) hot scones, an old woman who I guess is his grandmother (I think they’re both dead), streets in Paris and the bay down in Swansea. (He used to play there when he was growing up; he spoke about it often.)
And I can see what occupies him at the moment. His heart is heavy with me as he is remembers the first time he met me, how shy he was of me, how badly he wanted to talk and engage me, and how scared he was to do that.
I understand then, as I watch him stepping sodden out of the shower with his heart glowing, that he’s as frail as any of us.
After he’s dressed, he calls the doctor and the undertaker. He sits with my shell holding my cool hand until they arrive, his eyes damp and pitifully sad. He’s resigned and formal when they arrive, wordlessly signing some forms and watching as they carry the tatty old coat I lived in away.
I watch him make a dozen telephone calls, all calm and perfectly courteous, first my father, then my sisters, then my friends, then the paper to lodge my funeral notice.
After he’s spoken to all these people he wanders the flat, seemingly lost. I decide to try that power of suggestion thing again.
How about a cup of coffee, Gilmore? I say to him. And to my delight he wanders into the kitchen and makes one! (Mental note: Before the three weeks is up, take him shopping for some new shirts.)
He sits at the table, his legs stretched out before him, staring at his sore knee. It starts to fill his heart; I see his police uniform again, and his Sergeant’s stripes, and everything else in heart goes grey.
Come on, I say to him, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. What are your plans for today?
His face grows serious, and I see lots of vague images pop up around the police uniform – groceries, some woman at a desk, signing forms, and a strange empty flat.
Then he drains his coffee, stands up slowly and reminds me how truly organised and methodical he really is.
Craig’s sorted it all out, what he’d do when I die. He’s already got himself a new flat – he put the bond down two weeks ago – and I’m with him while he signs the lease.
The real estate is a troubled, overworked woman called Ros. I see in her heart (a mauve coloured heart, has Ros) that she has three children and still misses her husband, who appears to have married someone else. She also rides horses.
Flirt with her, Taffy, I tell him, her self-esteem is really low. Craig doesn’t go that far – I don’t think he could flirt with a woman if his life depended on it – but he does praise her effusively for all her hard work in finding him the right flat. Her heart seems to puff up when he thanks her, and we leave her beaming at her desk.
Then Craig goes to Scotland Yard, and meets with a stern thickset woman who runs human resources. (I look in her copper-coloured heart and see she has two beagles at home, and she really enjoys protein shakes. She also plays the piano.)
Apparently she has met with Craig a couple of times before. She is charged with the responsibility of finding him a new job. She seems to have found him one, and Craig, resigned and monosyllabic, has already accepted it. He’s just here signing the final papers. He gets a pension, and a fairly generous payout. It makes no difference to him; his heart goes a sour crimson colour. I can see the police uniform once more throbbing in amongst the things he loves. But they don’t discuss the actual job, so I’m still in the dark about where Gilmore will be working. She said she’d be in contact.
Then on the way home he stops and gets some groceries, and he takes them around to his new flat, about a mile from where we were living. It’s rather nice – it has a little garden! He drops the groceries there, and stares at his new kitchen, cluttered with boxes and half wrapped china.
This is really lovely, I tell him. You’ll be so happy here. And he smiles wanly to himself, thinking about what he might do to get the place looking more cheerful.
Flowers help, I tell him helpfully. I look at his heart and see big bunches of poppies. Gilmore, I say, you’re a hopeless bloody poof, and he smiles for the first time in ages. He’s thinking of the times we used to muck around together, talking in our camp voices.
Stop living in the past, Taffy, I chide. Get moving.
He goes back to our place, and takes his car and drives to his old flat. Mr Methodical has packed up some stuff already and he puts this in his car, along the rest of his clothes from his wardrobe, and the rest of his shoes, and his cds.
He makes several of these little trips over the next few days. By the time I’ve been cremated Craig is ensconced in his new flat, and my horrible family are picking over the bones of my belongings in my flat like the vultures they are.
I am surprised and delighted to learn that he has been organising himself like this for weeks without me knowing. Planning his own life but keeping it from me because I had so little life left.
One of the last things Craig takes from his flat is his phone. He listens to the voice mail – there are twenty two messages – but doesn’t take any messages down. He just listens to them – his mother called six times, increasingly worried for him, a little apologetic, his brother called twice, the Police Union people called a few times, the surgeon called once, a few people from work called and left messages hoping he’d be okay and back soon, and there were two calls from the bank.
And there were three from Gina. The first one was about March, and just asked Craig to call her.
The second one was April, a little more insistent, saying she wanted to talk to him about Luke. Craig’s heart flashed with pale green.
The third message from her was long. Craig played it three times, a whole palette of colours swirling through his heart. It was dated about three weeks ago, and gave brief details of Luke – the lost baby, the spoiled marriage, the shooting incidence. She almost begs Craig to call her.
He deleted all the messages, unplugged the phone and threw it in the car with everything else.
On the way to his new flat he dropped off the keys to the old place at the real estate agent, and they gave him his bond back in cash. A beggar stopped him down as he walked back to his car, and Craig gave him twenty quid without a word.
My funeral wasn’t a bad one; Craig did a nice job with that. My father was sad, my sisters were wistful, my stepmother was completely bored. Steph and Richard and Lisa the Lez and Eddie the Het all wept openly, a few men I hadn’t seen in years turned up and they wept too.
I spent a bit of time watching my father, looking closely at his heart. For a while it was full of work details – computers and large buildings and meetings – then all of a sudden I can see him, very young, holding a baby. I can see myself in my father’s arms, and my beautiful mother next to him, smiling. The whole image is shrouded with dark blue. My father finally misses me.
I hate that I had to wait until I died to see that.
Craig sat on the friends’ side, near Richard, and just stared at my coffin the whole time. Craig misses me, I can see it in his heart, stark and bleak faced, not listening to the vicar (who, I’m surprised to see, has a fuschia coloured heart, filled with stamps and stamp collecting albums).
And I miss Craig.
But I’m not far, and I’m not going anywhere yet. So I’m going to spend my next three weeks with him.
Gilmore, I decide at my funeral, is going to be my project.
Well, it was a nice theory, thinking that I might be able to ease Gilmore into the next phase of his life.
I’m sitting at the table with him in his new flat, running out of ideas to keep him in the land of the living. He hasn’t been out for three days, choosing instead to potter (or limp) around the house, unpacking his stuff and eating little more than toast and apples.
Good thing I don’t need any sleep, because it’s a full time job, keeping Gilmore too busy to be sad.
So far I’ve had him planting shrubs, sorting out all his belongings, chucking stuff out (not Astral Weeks – I tried but he wouldn’t hear me), and I’ve tried to get him to call people. I thought it might be good if he caught up with some friends, got out a bit more. He thought about it, but he hasn’t even plugged his phone in yet, nor has he replaced his stolen mobile.
I helped him set up his computer (read the manual, Taffy), and got him looking on the net for new phones. Then I tried again to get him to throw out Astral Weeks, but instead he laid on his couch and played it three times in a row.
I went next door and watched his neighbour’s fish until he’d finished.
I’ve kept him busy, but he’s not settling. He’s depressed, something is weighing him down, yet I can’t see it in his heart, only a massive gap that started on the night of my funeral. At first it was small, a little space that I thought just meant he was missing me, but it just keeps growing. It is pitch black.
Oh, what’s the matter, I say to him now as he idly dunks his spoon in his coffee cup. What grieves you, Taffy?
His puts his spoon down and looks across the table, and as he thinks I can see that growing space is turning olive–grey, the colour of loneliness. A huge horrible pang of loneliness is ailing my ex who wants nothing more than to share this big crimson heart with someone. There’s so much love in there, and it’s all displaced.
If I don’t think of something soon it will turn sour and bitter and ruin him for life.
And I’ve only got about fifteen days left.
Come on Taffy, I say to him over the table. Let’s go for a walk. Let’s go and mingle. Let’s see if we can’t find you a nice boy to plug the gap until the love of your life comes along.
He sighs, and wearily stands up, trying to stretch his sore leg. You’ll feel better when you’re walking, I promise him, but he doesn’t look convinced.
We’re walking down to the High Street together. I’m trying to get him interested in things but I keep getting distracted by all the glorious things around us, and then have to chase him up.
Look Craig, look at that little dog! I point to a puppy for him, and for a moment he half smiles at a baby Pomeranian skipping along on a leash, its tiny little nails clipping along the footpath. That minuscule sound is so beautiful, and when I listen, I can gradually hear the sound of tiny little dogs all over England skipping down hallways and paths and meadows, the music of their little feet hitting the ground. So many little dogs making their way somewhere.
And when I look up, Craig’s gone again, miles ahead of me.
Look, I say, stopping at a delicatessen, food! You love food. You love cooking. And he stops for a minute, looking at French cheeses and imported spices stacked in the window, but the thought of cooking reminds him of me, and he grows sadder and lonelier. I’m reeling as the hundreds of extraordinary scents hit me – the milk still souring in the cheeses, the salts in the cured meats, the yeast in the breads – so it takes me a few seconds to remember what I’m trying to do.
Craig. Make Craig happy. Right.
Okay, I tell him, enough of the food. Let’s keep walking.
We stop at a shoe shop, and I see trainers. Remember how you loved running, I tell him, remember how happy it made you? You can still do that, you know. That exhilaration and pleasure is waiting all around you, waiting for you to catch it. He stares at the runners for a long time and then in his heart I see his crushed knee, then I can see the physical pain it brings him still. He’d love to go for a run, he’d even make do with a jog, but it won’t for months yet, if ever. The thought makes him sadder, and reminds him that he’ll never be a copper again.
This is not working.
Then we walk past a café, and I see a cook (with a beautiful bright cobalt heart, full of fruits and vegetables and doughnuts) is the kitchen making a humming bird cake. The aromas of cooking cinnamon and honey, coupled with the butter and sugar, are staggering.
Craig, I say excitedly. In here! Come get a cup of coffee! Come and sit down and eat cake!
He stops outside and looks in the window. He can smell the cake too, his face lifts as he tries to discern what kind of cake he can smell. It’s enough to entice him; he walks in, picks up a copy of the local gay paper and starts reading in the corner.
Bugger the bloody local poof news, I tell him, go to the personals. I know you love reading the personals. (He really does. I used to tease him about this a lot; he used to act in indignant but he never denied it. Secretly I always thought he liked the ads because he was so well behaved himself - it was a bit of relief for him to read of the kinds of depraved mischief others invite in to their lives.)
Anyway, his heart grows lighter, quite literally, when he reads the pleading ads from young men seeking older straight acting men, GSOH, your place or mine. He reads them all, interested, his mind ticking over.
Why don’t you call, Craig, I ask him. Give one those eager young bucks a call. A little of warmth and comfort until your prince comes along could be just what the doctor ordered.
He thinks about this, his eyebrows knitting, lines across his straight clear forehead. He’s curious, but he won’t do it.
Well, let’s try it another way, Taffy. Why don’t you place you own ad? Think about it, what kind of boy would you advertise for? Who’s your perfect man?
And suddenly, in his heart, I see dozens of images of Luke, as if they were there all the time but hidden in the dark parts, hidden underneath all the other the other things, shoved away. Those great big dark gaps in his heart are Luke, dozens of memories Craig has of him: Luke smiling at him, Luke angry with him, Luke gasping at him in a motel room.
I had no idea he loved that boy so much.
Luke’s been in his heart for months and Craig’s been ignoring it. But that’s what he wants - Luke’s the reason all that love and loneliness is stewing in that beautiful heart.
Well, Taffy, if that’s who you want, we may as well start trying to get it. He can’t be far, you just have to go and find him. As I say this to him his sad face softens a little and the gap in his heart starts to turn the colour of hope (which, incidentally, is a lovely shimmering pale green). I can see him thinking that maybe Luke still is a possibility.
Where does Luke live? I ask him. Where can we find him? Give me a clue and I’ll go looking for him for you. If you love him, Craig, you may as well try and find him. If he means this much to you, you may as well try one last time. He thinks about this, my Gilmore, and a sort of determination comes over his face as he realises that Luke is who he really wants, and that he has nothing to lose in trying one more time.
After all, a lot can happen in six months.
A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
Having left the morose Gilmore dreaming of Luke and picking at hummingbird cake in a café, I’ve wandered down to Sun Hill Police station to find Luke’s ex- wife. I figure it will be easy - all I’ll have to do is find the right blonde and have a quick peek at her heart to see where Luke might be. Then I’ll grab Twinkie and haul him over to Gilmore.
The WPC’s locker room seemed as good as place to start as any. It’s a large room, filled with a never ending parade of female police officers conducting serious conversations in their underwear, squirting themselves with powdery deodorants and bitching about other women who have just left the room. I’m overwhelmed by a crushing need to run around, waving my arms above my head, screeching GIRL GERMS as loud as I want.
It is very tempting.
No sign of Mrs Ashton. Thus far I’ve had one brunette, a red head, a bottle blonde with an Indian man clearly marked in her heart, one black woman and - for a quick second – Gina sticking her head in asking for Kerry. Girl germs, I squeal at the Inspector as she peers in, but it doesn’t seem to affect her.
The shift is ending, a number of women are now wondering in and out. The air grows heavy with the unfamiliar alkaline scent of women: the aldehydes of their perfumes souring on their skins, the odour of their sweat and oil trapped in their polyester-cotton blend shirts. They strip off their uniforms, pull their chequered neck ties, uncoil their tightly wound hair with complete abandon, chattering like a flock of budgies as I look at the mosaic of coloured hearts around me. They’re filled with recent work incidents, tempered by bags of knitting, pets, families, cars, men, books, time sheets, babies and exhaustion. One of them has a canary; another seems to have a sick father.
Still no Mrs Ashton. I’m considering the possible merits of hanging around the PCs locker room when a page three bombshell walks in, tugging pins from her bright hair, smiling at a couple of others as they greet her by name. Kerry. A skinny, bright-eyed little thing not unlike a dormouse, who is wearing a slightly different uniform, follows her. The others call her Robbie.
As Kerry opens her locker I try to track Luke in her heart, but am temporarily distracted. Why, I ask her, does anyone who’s not a lap dancer need to keep pink frosted nail polish in her locker?
I’m pondering this mystery of women when the black WPC comes back and tells Kerry that Gina wants to see her. Kerry’s heart, which is a sort of deep crème brulee colour, covers with little itchy pits of irritation. It makes me shudder.
Just as Kerry is about to close the locker she looks at the nail polish and tosses it in her bag.
“Don’t know why I keep that here,” she says to the dormouse with a self-deprecating smile. “I never use it.”
Kerry’s creamy heart is an interesting one. It is dominated by a rather mean looking man with all the warmth and humour of a wrought iron gate, a beady eyed git with cruel straight eyebrows. Around him there are pink dresses, body lotions, apples, another nicer looking older man who I guess to be her father, her police uniform, fruit & nut chocolate, cocktails, hockey sticks, the gym, and, quite clearly in one corner, a rather dated image of a nice looking woman who is edged with black. I wonder briefly, as I follow Kerry out of the locker room, if she has also lost her mother.
The thing that surprises me most about her heart is not what is in there, but who isn’t. I couldn’t see Luke at all.
“You wanted to see me, Ma’am?” Kerry asks stiffly as she taps her knuckle against Gina’s door.
The Inspector looks up and briskly motions Kerry to come in side.
Girl germs! I squeal at Gina again, but still nothing happens.
Gina is clearly not a big one for formalities. “I wanted to ask how Luke’s going on,” she asks straight away.
Kerry shrugs her brown shoulders. “He’s pretty quiet,” she says, and finally I can see a few small images of Luke in her heart. He’s in uniform.
“Has he moved out yet?” Gina is staring at her hard.
“He’s at his mother’s place,” Kerry says shortly. Her heart prickles again; it appears she wasn’t keen to tell Gina this.
Gina nods. “Give me her address, will you?”
Kerry’s creme brulee heart flashes with scarlet, but there’s icy white – the shade of fear – around the edge. She’s scared of Gina.
“Seventeen Abbots Gardens,” she tells her reluctantly.
Gina writes this down. She looks up at Kerry, assessing whether to draw her into further conversation, but can see straight away that there’s no point.
“Thank you constable,” she says sharply, and Kerry turns on her heel and leaves, only saying, “Ma’am” as she walks out the door. Her heart now has streaks of ochre, the feeling of stupidity. Clearly Gina reminds her of things she’s rather not remember.
I think I’ve had my fill of the former Mrs Ashton for this lifetime, so I hang around Gina for a bit, checking to see what she might do next. I could get a lift if she’s going to drop in on Twinkie.
But no, she goes back to her paper work, her face grim with determination. Her heart is pale pink, the colour of japonica camellias. It is the first heart I’ve seen that has the dominant images at the back – there’s a tall older black man up there in a uniform, some kids who I guess are his, and her inspector’s badge is there too. Around the front is an ashtray, bottles of whisky, various coppers, tapestry cushions, Nancy Mitford books, bunches of flowers, her kitchen, old woollen blankets, the Elgin Marbles and other things in the British Museum, an old sandy coloured dog and Wedgwood jasper ware.
She is concentrating on her work, so I decide to get her thinking about Craig. She could use the diversion.
“Gilmore’s pretty damned upset with you,” I tell her, “and I don’t blame him. You treated him very badly. You were supposed to be his friend. ” I’m about to go on, but an image of Craig flashes strongly in her heart and she throws her pen down, squeezing her eyes shut. Her heart immediately streaks with shades of avocado green, the colour of remorse. She looks up at the ceiling, and I feel true pity for her when I see the contrition on her face.
But there’s not much I can do at the moment – I have to get to Twinkie’s. Maybe later.
But before I go, I have one more try.
Girl germs! I squeal at Gina again, and this time she shudders from the feeling of someone walking on her grave.
So now you know. Next time you feel like someone has walked on your grave, it’s just one of us, having a laugh.
I’m sitting on the foot of Luke Ashton’s bed. He’s been lying there for days in a pair of fetid track suit pants, staring at the ceiling. He hasn’t shaved or eaten anything apart from a small triangle of ageing rockmelon he found in the fridge at lunchtime yesterday.
Luke’s heart. What a mess. It should be a marvellous salmon-orange colour, almost like coral, but at the moment it has a horrible undercurrent of grey that is getting murkier by the minute.
There are lots of curious things in the Ashton heart. Occasionally I see these large crowds of Africans - refugees, troubled people, all clamouring for his attention, noisy and angry. Kerry’s there, staring at him with large watery eyes and heavy lips, but she seems to fade even as I watch.
There are some friends, some other coppers, his mother, a few odd bits and pieces like bicycles, cds, flamingoes (go figure), a grandmother looking type, lasagne, the gym (glad to see he had at least one thing in common with his wife), a hamster (Gilmore would love that – a lover with a pet hamster) and a strange mix of a London landscape and rusty coloured African plains.
But these things are scattered around the ragged edges. It is the centre of it that interests (and surprises) me the most, the parts where I can see Craig clearly. These images are sharp, but are mixed with Luke’s police uniform, all spattered in blood. The blood splatters recur like raindrops and from time to time they seem to rise to the surface, as if he can’t control the thought. When this happen he winces and grimaces, as if in physical pain.
No doubt about it, it’s growing, the Craig component of his heart - as Kerry fades, Craig becomes more and more defined. But the more Craig fills his heart, the deeper and faster the blood splashes become.
Every now and then a person who I guess is Luke’s mother comes to his bedroom door. She is very worried about him, but totally unsure what she should do. She wishes he would eat something.
Come on Twinkie, I say to him, you’re upsetting your mother. What would you like to eat? What foods do you like?
Unfortunately, the thought of food seems to make him queasy. Okay, I say nicely, we don’t have to eat. What would make you get up? Think hard, Twinkie, I say to his heart, would you make you get up?
And, not surprisingly, the images of Craig become vivid and bright. For a few seconds Twinkie looks like he’s going to smile, but instead his dull hazel eyes brim and seep.
Well, I’m going to have to be more proactive here.
Luke, I say, Craig still loves you. You know that. You know in your heart he does. You know that. Go and find him. Go and find him.
Ashton’s face grows stern with concentration. Suddenly his heart is literally jammed with Craig, and I can see the grey pools there lightening to that hopeful shimmering green.
Well, Twinkie, sitting around here isn’t going to help anyone. Get off your bloody bed and go and see him! I say as loudly as I can. Honestly, I’d shake him if I were still alive. Move, Twinkie! It’s not going to happen if you lie here staring at the light bulb! Get up! GET UP AND GO FIND HIM!
And – alle-bloody-lujah – Twinkie starts to move. He sits up, dishevelled and curiously attractive, scratching that rather excellent tummy, wondering where his shoes are. Do I have to dress you? I say impatiently.
Twinkie’s not going to make the cover of GQ in the clothes he chooses, but it will do to get him from here to Craig. He leaves the house in a hurry, stopping only to kiss his bewildered mother goodbye, and he literally pounds down the stairs. I run along beside him to keep his spirits up. He has a fair distance to cover, but he’s healthy and strong and I don’t think he even notices how fast he is running.
We’re having a great time, Twinkie and I, rushing through Sun Hill, across the highway, over through the park, through to the cul-de-sac – and then I remember.
Damn. This is not going to be as easy I hoped.
Twinkie is steaming ahead, literally flying up to Craig’s old place, and then he stops dead in his tracks when he sees the house is obviously unoccupied, and has been for a while. I see Twinkie’s face drop and the green lights in his heart sag to a miserable grey again.
No, no, Luke, it’s fine, don’t worry, I say, he’s just moved. He hasn’t left the town. He’s not far away.
And that’s all I can do. Twinkie’s no psychic, so I can’t actually give him Craig’s address. I can’t do anything except assure him that the big crimson Gilmore heart is still waiting for him.
But this time, Luke doesn’t hear me. His heart is heavy with images of Craig. The grey is patched with indigo, the colour of longing and loss, and the splashes of blood become heavier.
He walks home defeated and bleak.
Needless to say, Twinkie is heading back to his bed to reassess his ceiling. His mother has made him lasagne and chips – a very dish usually held in high regard in Twinkie’s heart – but not tonight. Twinkie dabs the chips in the sauce of the lasagne half-heartedly, and manages to squeeze down five chips and two forkfuls of the pasta before he gives up.
Oh, come on, I say gently, you can do better than that. It’s not working though; Twinkie waits until his mother isn’t looking and scrapes his plate into the bin. He then sneaks back into his bedroom, tears streaming down his face.
Cheer up Luke, I say brightly, I’ll get Gilmore to come to you. Luke rolls around and faces the wall, his shoulders heaving.
I leave Twinkie miserable on his unmade bed and go back to see Gilmore.
I’ll be back soon Luke, I promise.
Luke’s over at his mum’s, I tell Gilmore when I get back, but Taffy’s no psychic either and all that happens is images of Luke flicker in his heart. He’s worried about Twinkie, replaying the bits of Gina’s last phone message in his mind.
I note, as I move next to him on the couch, that Taffy’s wearing his planning face, wondering how he’ll contact Luke. He is going through people in his mind, and I see them come up in his heart one by one but I don’t recognise many of them. They’re all wearing police uniforms.
Craig, I say clearly, when you find this boy and settle down, I want you to stop thinking about work all the time and get some hobbies. Then I look into his heart and see what happens, and the bloody seahorses swim across the surface.
If he’s going to start breeding seahorses I’m taking the first plane to New York.
All right, forget the hobbies, let’s find Luke. Who can help you, I ask. Who would have a contact for Luke?
He starts with Gina, thinks about her for a long time, and ends up getting angry. I’ve seen Craig angry – it’s very interesting: he’s controlled, exacting but really aggressive. His anger at Gina is turning his heart scarlet, flecked with bits of brown. (Betrayal is brown.)
So I don’t think Gina will be helping us.
Concentrate, Taffy, I tell him. Find Luke.
Gina fades, and some constables come up. Craig goes through a number of them. There’s a young dark eyed one, who can’t be more than twenty, but Craig thinks he’s a bit thick, so he flicks through to a big beefy bloke with sandy neatly combed hair, a man in his forties perhaps. Craig ponders him for a while, but dismisses the thought all of a sudden. Then the ex-wife comes up. His heart swirls with different colours, confusion, regret, remorse, jealousy, pity, sorrow.
He’s trying to work out if Kerry’s still in love with Twinkie.
You would have heard people say. “I knew it in my heart,” right? Well, don’t disregard that. When you know it in your heart, you’re probably more correct than you realise. Craig knows in his heart that any love the Twinkies had was brittle at best, although he hasn’t convinced himself yet.
You’re right, Taffy, I tell him. The Twinkies are history. Luke’s missing you like you wouldn’t believe. Hurry up. Find someone to track him down. And Craig starts going through some more people who might be able to help him: a shaved head angry man with a surprisingly sensual mouth who makes Craig’s heart scarlet again, and then a gentle looking older man with a head of thick dark hair slicked back with what must be a bucketload of Brylcream. Craig thinks about the Brylcream man for a bit with a kind of respectful tenderness. It’s growing on him. Brylcream bloke looks like he’s the one.
It’s rather fascinating to hear Craig talk to Brylcream man, who I learn is called Reg. There’s a phenomenal trust going both ways over the phone line, and I can sense, even here, that Reg is acting with the very best intentions. He seems to give Craig a thesis of the recent Twinkie history, and a kaleidoscope of the colours of sadness and empathy flit through Craig’s heart.
After the call is finished, Craig flops down against the couch and ponders Twinkie more carefully. I think he has some understanding of Twinkie’s unhappiness, but not much. He starts thinking about their stag night, remembering some things Luke whispered to him in the dark. For the first time in months, Craig smiles widely, his eyes crinkled and warm, biting his bottom lip.
His heart literally ripples with shimmering green.
And he knows now that Twinkie is at his mother’s house. What Gilmore doesn’t know is that Twinkie is in a very bad way, and at this stage neither of us realise that we don’t have much time.
Right now Gilmore is remembering that he is very hungry indeed.
Well, you haven’t really eaten properly for weeks, I say to him. You can fetch Twinkie when you’ve eaten. Eat! Make yourself some food! Make a trifle! And the images of a trifle flashes in his heart, but it reminds him of the times I used to make trifles, and he gets sad.
(I used to make them when he least expected them. It was a running private joke we had in those lovely early days – I’d make one, he’d be appreciative and glutinous for hours, and I’d put the leftovers in the fridge. Day by day the tide in the trifle bowl would subside, but I never caught him once. Not once. I have no idea when he’d eat it, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the bowl would gradually grow empty, you’d have no idea he’d even touched it. I tried all kinds of ways to trap him – I’d slightly wrinkle the clingfilm. I’d place the bowl carefully in a specific part of the fridge, but it never worked. And when I say, “Who’s eating the trifle?” he’d pull this cute face and shrug his shoulders. It was so sweet.
But I digress.)
Craig is in the kitchen, heating a skillet, slicing onions, running a decisive eye over the spice rack. Steak.
Eat up, Taffy, I say approvingly.
Once I’ve got Gilmore settled, I go back to Twinkie, only to find him on the bed still, his clothes scattered on the floor, and the duvet pulled over his head. It’s July, for God’s sake, a lovely balmy night outside.
Mother Twinkie comes in again, sitting on his bed, trying to talk to him. He’s telling her that he’s okay, but I can see in her heart (which is a nice bright yellow, like lemon curd) that she is frantic for him. She is trying desperately to find out what is draining her son. In her heart I see flickering images of the wedding, the Twinkie wife, Luke coming home white as a sheet and soaked in someone’s else’s blood, but she can’t quite get it.
And in Twinkie’s heart, there’s Craig, miserable in a towelling robe, a pleading look in his eyes, and Craig in a suit, bitter and black, walking away from Twinkie, and Craig in hospital as I saw him, battered and sore and exhausted.
Tell your mum about Craig, Twinkie. Tell your Mum, I say over and over. She’s a nice woman, and I could do with her help.
But it’s not working. Twinkie can’t hear me. Is that what happens, when real clinical depression sets in, I wonder? Do you cease to hear your own heart?
I sit with Luke most of the evening. It’s starting to really worry me, because his heart just grows cloudier and cloudier, marked only by the recurring images of bloodstains and Craig, looking at him sad and wounded.
The more I try to talk to Luke, the less he appears to hear. I try anyway, telling him that it isn’t easy for any of us, coming to terms with who we are, and that he doesn’t have to get used to it overnight. Take your time with it, I tell Twinkie gently. You’ve got plenty of time.
When this doesn’t work, I try to talk to him about Craig. He’s as patient as a herd of cows, I tell Twinkie. He’ll give you all the time and the space you need, and cook for you while he’s waiting. What’s more he won’t count the time as a loss either, Twinkie.
But nothing happens. Twinkie dozes on and off, occasionally waking with a start at the large red droplets scatter across his heart again. In his dreams he sees Craig being shot, Craig’s blood all over his face and collar.
Once I’m certain that he’s sleeping soundly, I leave Twinkie and walk back in the glorious warm night to see what Gilmore’s doing.
He’s asleep, stretched across his bed, snoring into one of his four pillows. (How many pillows does a man need, I ask you?)
Craig, I say gently, you have to go and see Luke soon. Real soon, sooner than you think. He’s trying to find you and he can’t. He thinks you hate him, and that’s the last thing he needs because he pretty much loathes himself enough for everybody.
Gilmore stirs as I talk to him, his deep crimson heart flickering in the dark. I see images of Luke in there, wrapped up in his arms.
I really can’t tell if this is working or not. Can he hear me while he sleeps?
Tomorrow, I tell Craig. You have to go and see Luke tomorrow. I watch closely, and, in his sleep, my big softhearted ex pushes himself closer into a pillow and secures it to his heart with both arms.
A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
The following morning I’m sitting at kitchen window, watching the sun rise, waiting for Gilmore to wake up.
I keep myself entertained by watching the never ending palette of hearts in people walking around the suburb - I estimate I can see the colours of hearts up to about a mile away. Before it grows light, it seems stars move around the streets.
They come in so many colours, our hearts. Every one is different; some shades are luminous, some are deep and rich (like Taffy’s), some are bright and sparkly (like Luke’s).
I haven’t seen a black heart yet. I’m idly wondering if there is such a thing when Gilmore surfaces not long after seven o’clock, his injured leg a little stiff, his face in desperate need of a shave.
Make yourself some breakfast, Taffy, I tell him. You need to get your strength back up if we’re going to get you involved with the volatile Ashton.
You should see his heart spark when he looks in his fridge and remembers he has eggs. I know what’s going to happen now.
There is not a person on earth who enjoys poaching eggs like Gilmore. He’s made it in to a kind of science.
Craig, I say to him as he studies the eggs cooking in the shallow water, we have to get you over to Ashton. You have to go today, it’s really important. Right on cue, images of Luke illuminate his heart.
But first, you stubborn Welsh git, I say in my fiercest voice, YOU HAVE TO CALL YOUR PARENTS. And don’t scowl because you know how worried they are. You’ve made your point. Ring your mum, Taffy.
Gilmore’s twisting his pretty mouth as he carefully catches his toast from the toaster. Hang on, that’s MY toaster!
The toaster. Remember when I kicked your door down for that?
(I only wanted it because he loved it. It’s an old one, and it has some kind of atomic spring action that sends the toast flying once it’s been cooked. Craig loves catching the toast.)
He smiles sadly as he thinks of me vandalising his front door, but I rein him back in.
Your mother, Craig. Call your mother. And his heart fills with visions of his home in Swansea, his mother’s smile, his father’s approval. The colour is enhanced by his enormous enjoyment of the eggs.
Darling, I say to Gilmore as he grinds a touch more black pepper over the runny yolks, I’m going over to check on Luke, so I need you to get ready to go and see him. You both need to talk.
Little flecks of green shimmer in his heart again.
Don’t get too hopeful, I tell him. You’ve got a lot of work to do with him. Poor Twinkie’s on the fast track to the mental ward, so you’re going to have to be patient.
And I’m serious about your parents, Taffy. Call your parents.
I don’t even have to look into his heart to see how keenly he misses them. His face is stained with it.
It’s a fabulous thing, to walk the streets during the day when you’re dead. I can hear everything – kittens purring, mothers humming to babies, vacuum cleaner nozzles hitting the furniture as someone hoovers the carpet, toddlers drawing on walls, water slopping in the sink as dishes are watched, clothes tangling amongst themselves as they slosh in the washing machine – all these mundane sounds from ordinary houses where people conduct ordinary lives. It has a musical quality to it.
And every now and then I run into someone whose body has also died.
“Isn’t it great?” an old man says to me as I stop and look at a healthy thick jasmine vine that meanders over an ordinary white fence. The plant literally glitters with vitality, I can see the delicious scent hovering in clouds over the milky blossoms, sparked by tiny insects.
“The scent,” I agree with him. We are both overpowered byt the pure scent of jasmine, and while we stop and notice it, the scent of every single jasmine flower in every single place around England engulfs us. It is glorious, and for a few moments neither of us can believe how lucky we are.
“Poison?” he says to me when we’ve both had our fill of England’s jasmine.
I don’t know what he means.
“You died of poison?” he asks again.
“No, cancer – why?”
“I can see the colour spreading through you. See?” he says and points a bright red mass in his belly. “Tumour.”
I hadn’t noticed this. You carry your death around with you.
“We’ve all got it,” he says casually. “Except the suicides.”
“What do they have?”
“Broken hearts,” he says briefly. I want more details but suddenly he’s gone, across the road, up the street. (We can move through your world very quickly.)
I think about following him, but I have to get to Twinkie’s before I lose him in the bedclothes forever.
Craig and Luke don’t actually live so far from eachother, I ealize as I walk leisurely back to the Twinkie household. Maybe, if I’m clever, I can get them to meet half way. But when I get to Luke’s bed, I see this is going to be difficult.
Luke’s still lying in bed, under his duvet on this very warm July morning, still watching the ceiling. His heart, though, seems to be disappearing. It’s a shapeless gelatinous mess of grey and splashes of blood; the images of Craig are distorted and vague. The blood splashes all over it continuously now – when he winces it eases for a few seconds, and then it starts all over again.
Whatever’s consuming Twinkie has nearly eaten him alive in the few hours since I saw him. I can’t quite work it out. His eyes are now completely dull, his skin is pale – the person who lives in Twinkie’s body has literally been obliterated by depression.
What’s the matter? I ask him over and over, but there’s no response. What are you thinking?
Oh God, no. Twinkie slowly takes his arms out of the covers and starts staring at his wrists. He examines them closely, and then gently traces the long blue of his vein with his index finger.
Oh, no, Luke, I say loud and clear, don’t even think about it. No, Luke, there’s no solution in that.
But he just doesn’t hear. His heart, what’s left of it, is completely closed. I have to get Craig here quickly.
Before I go back to get Gilmore moving, I check that Mother Twinkie is in. To my relief I find her chatting on the phone, talking to someone – her sister, maybe? – about her bad back.
Mrs Ashton, I say politely (funny how courteous and respectful mothers make you, even when you’re haunting them), you can’t leave the house at all today. Luke’s going bonkers and he’s planning on hurting himself. Be a love – stay here and look after him until I can get the Sarge around to sort him out.
She looks across at Luke’s room, a little alarmed. I hate to frighten her, but I’m scared myself. He needs help.
“No,” Mrs Ashton says down the phone, “Luke’s still home, so I think I’ll stay in today. I want to rest to my back up before I leave next week, and besides, it’s too hot to go anywhere.”
Well, that’s one less thing I have to worry about for the time being. Twinkie’s hardly going to try any self harm techniques while mum’s around.
I walk through the High Street on the way back, just for the pleasure of smelling the foods from the green grocers and bakeries.
As I linger around the summer fruits, reeling from the scent of raspberries, an old couple, nattering as they choose potatoes, catch my attention.
They would both be well into their seventies, possibly even their eighties. There’s nothing exceptional about them, not to other live people.
But their hearts.
His is a sort of pacific blue, hers is a firetruck red, but when they move slowly across the store together I can see that every few seconds their hearts meld and both become purple. Their hearts literally mix, fill eachother with their own colours.
I think seriously about following them home when a mealy-mouthed champagne coloured poodle comes tapping into the shop on a leash, leading a very attractive woman in a beautiful silk dress that hides a sagging dull corn-coloured heart. It’s full of clothes and money and possessions; despite the substantial rings she sports on her wedding finger there are no people in her heart.
Her snappy little pooch stops short in front of me, growling.
What’s your problem, puffball, I tease him as walk past, trying to follow the purple heart couple, and to my astonishment the little fleabag starts yapping like there’s no tomorrow.
He can see me.
Gilmore’s stretched out on his couch, talking on the phone. You’d better be talking to your mother, Taffy, I say sternly when I walk back into his flat.
But I don’t even have to wait for him to absorb my suggestion – I can see his heart is coated in a beautiful sheer mauve, the colour of motherly love. (You might want to look out for that when you die – it is very special.)
“Well, it sounds okay,” Taffy is telling her as he wedges a cushion under his sore knee, “But I don’t have much choice, so I’ll guess I’ll just have to make the most of it.”
Make the most of what, precious? I have no idea what he’s talking about.
“No, I have to work in the City. At Scotland Yard.”
Oh, do you now? Nuts. I’ve missed him talking about his job. I still don’t know what he’s doing.
“Well, not a suit,” he tells Mam, who is clearly asking if he is still in uniform, “but office clothes. I don’t know,” he smiles ruefully. “I’ve never had to wear office clothes before.”
Office clothes? We have to go shirt shopping.
“Not for another couple of weeks. I’ve got to go back in next week to meet with some of the people in the Department, but they gave me seven months’ leave in all, just in case something went wrong with my knee.”
Great! We’re going in to the office next week. Maybe I’ll find out then.
Gilmore’s listening to Mam intently, thinking carefully before he answers her.
“It’s okay. It hurts a lot in the morning, but it’s okay if I keep exercising it. No, I can walk on it fine, and it’ll get stronger, but I probably won’t ever be able to run on it like I could.” He looks away, pressing his mouth tight as Mam continues.
“Is he okay?” Taffy’s face becomes a little more reserved, and images of his father appear in his heart.
“I know he was upset.” Craig flexes his left fist as he speaks. “But I was sick. And it wasn’t as though I’d done anything wrong.”
It appears Mam agrees with him. His face becomes calmer, his hand relaxes; the mauve covers his heart again.
“I haven’t seen him since I was in hospital,” Craig says quietly. “I do know he split up with his wife.” Luke Ashton again. Is there anyone in London not talking about him?
“Had nothing to do with me,” Craig says, somewhat defensive. His mouth grows tight again, and he shifts to sit up. “Look, I’ll talk to you about it when I see you.”
Mam rather likes the idea of this. (Craig’s mother is a bit of a fan of a good natter.) She says something that makes him smile and the rich landscapes of the hill and coasts of Wales colour the centre of his heart blue and green.
“Well,” he says, casual, though his heart is vibrant, “I could come home this weekend.”
Lovely! I’d love to haunt Wales for a couple of days.
But, I say crossly to Gilmore who now has the brightest eyes in London, you’re not going anywhere until you buy some new shirts and rescue Luke from his duvet.
Isn’t extraordinary, how one simple conversation can make such a marked difference on your life?
Gilmore is a changed man, cheerful and bright. It seems the things he thought he’d lost are not lost after all. Well, not all of them.
It’s made a marked impression on his appetite. He’s peering in the fridge again.
Enough with the poached eggs already, I tell him. Come on, if you’re going to win the heart of Mr Ashton and startle your new workmates we’ve got to get you in to some nice shirts.
There are men who hate shopping, and there are men who love shopping, and there is a very small proportion of men who are completely indifferent to shopping.
Gilmore is one of the indifferent.
I used to love it, and (I like to believe) I was extremely good at it. Craig would shop with me occasionally, not enthused, not hostile, and if I told him he needed new shirts or new jeans he’d take my advice and buy them.
I can’t remember him ever going shopping on his own. He certainly owned clothes when I met him, and I’ve no doubt he bought them, but I honestly can’t imagine how.
So our trip to the nicer menswear shops on this glorious summer day is going to be an exercise for both of us.
He’s standing at a rack of shirts, idly flicking through the hangers, wondering what size he is. He was never certain.
Sixteen, I remind him, but it doesn’t appear to rise in his heart.
He pulls a shirt off the rack and looks at it.
NO CHECKS, I tell him, put it back. He’s not listening; I think he actually likes checked shirts. Darling, I say, scanning the shop, how about some plain pale blue?
Meanwhile I’m looking around for an assistant to talk some sense into him.
Taffy’s next choice is a nice blue, but he checks the label and hangs it back on the rack. (He is completely and absolutely rigid about one hundred percent cotton. His police shirts were poly-cotton mix, and he hated them. Taffy said you could never get them completely clean. Whatever.)
We could be here all day, so I find an earnest, blue eyed, hard working boy who calls himself Tod (who incidentally has a matching earnest powder blue heart) and have a quick word.
That poor git over at the shirt rack hasn’t a got clue, I tell Tod. Go and help him.
Tod scuttles over to Gilmore in an instant, the thought of making a sale lighting up his heart.
“Can I help you?” Tod asks him nicely.
Craig stares at him for a few seconds. “I want to buy some shirts,” is all he says.
Well, Tod’s a natural at this. He gets Gilmore into the changing room quicker than he can blink and before Taffy knows what’s hit him he’s trying on blue shirts, green shirts, ivory shirts, checked shirts, shirts with tiny subtle embossed patterns, black shirts, lemon shirts –
“How about this?” Tod asks enthusiastically, holding up a checked pale pink shirt.
“No,” we both say definitely.
“Do you want to try these on too? They’ve just come in from Italy.” Having exhausted the possibilities of shirts, Tod’s started hauling in the trousers.
You’ll need nice trousers if you have to work in an office, Taffy.
Craig remains flexible, secretly pleased, I suspect, to have someone doing his shopping for him.
Black looks nice, I tell him. He’s looking at himself side ways in the mirror, and the pants suit him well.
He’s not sure.
“How are they?” Tod asks respectfully from outside the fitting room.
“Okay,” Gilmore replies, but he really hasn’t the foggiest idea how they look. As far as he’s concerned they look like trousers.
“Do they fit?” I suspect Tod wants to inspect the trousers so he can wax lyrical and con Gilmore in to buying them.
Taffy shrugs his shoulders. Vanity is not his strong point, so I help a bit more. Yes, darling, they fit beautifully. You’ve lost a fair bit of weight there, haven’t you? Gilmore puts his hand over his belly as he registers this suggestion and smiles ever so slightly.
“Do you want me to check?” Tod asks a little uncertainly.
That makes Taffy smirk. He straightens his face before he opens the door.
“They’re good,” Tod says as he casts a professional eye over the Gilmore flank.
“Okay,” he says, I’ll take them in black, and navy if you’ve got them.” He thinks for a minute. “Two pairs of each.”
Wild man! I say, delighted.
Tod’s also delighted. Six shirts and four pairs of trousers. Gilmore, too, is rather happy – he won’t have to bother about clothes for at least eighteen months, and hopefully then Luke will do it for him.
“New girlfriend?” Tod asks happily as he rings up the purchases.
My staid, honest Taffy shakes his head.
“I’m single,” Craig says nicely. Silvery images of Luke pop up in his heart.
“Well, these should put paid to that!” Tod wraps up the garments very carefully, and Gilmore fishes his credit card out of his wallet.
Okay, we’ve got you kitted out for work, you’ve kissed and made up with Mam – now you have to go and see Luke.
Gilmore’s sitting on the edge of his bed, getting cold feet.
Craig, I say clearly, Luke has been hiding in his bed for weeks. He’s depressed, misses you terrible, and yesterday went charging over to your place like a colt thinking he could see you again. He looked like the world had ended when you weren’t there.
Craig, you have got to go and see him
Gilmore is looking at his hands, apprehensive, prevaricating.
I wonder if I should let him know how worried I am for Luke. I don’t want to scare him, but I don’t want Luke to get so far gone he tries something stupid. Maybe I could try a different approach.
Hey Taffy, what did Luke whisper to you on your stag that made you smile?
Craig rubs his hands together and his eyes start to grow warm.
Come on, put on one of those nice new shirts and go get Luke.
And he gets up, gathers the six fresh new shirts and - I could kick him here – puts them all in the washing machine.
(This used to drive me mad. Every time I bought new sheets or towels or anything made of fabric Craig would whack them straight in the washing machine. He hates the smell of new things.)
Please tell me you’re wearing a plain shirt, I plead with him as he walks off to the shower.
The blue checks. Sigh.
Well, he had a shower, he always looks good in jeans, and he’s walking over to the Twinkie ancestral seat, so he’ll be pink and flushed when he gets there.
He’s so nervous, so worried and so excited at the prospect of seeing Luke again. Relax, I tell him. You look gorgeous, and Luke is going to be so happy to see you. And be prepared. He’s not well. You’re going to have to be very gentle with him for a while.
We’ve just turned in to Abbots Garden and Gilmore stops dead in his tracks.
What? I say. Why have we stopped? What? WHAT???
He’s staring straight down the street, his eyes frigid with loathing.
I look up when I hear a car door slam. Inspector Girl Germs!
Of all the mental cases in all the world, she has to visit Gilmore’s.
Come on, Craig, don’t let her stand in your way. Come on, I say to his heart sweetly and firmly, you’ve come this far, just push her out of the way and go and haul Luke over your shoulders.
I babble every encouragement and solution I can think of in a matter of seconds but I know before I start that he won’t go near her. His heart floods with brown, and he turns on his heels. I’m still standing on the corner, cursing Gina, when I realise Gilmore is halfway home.
A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
I’m sitting in the Ashton lounge room with Gina, Luke’s mother and poor frail Luke. Gilmore is probably walking to Wales in his blistering fury; I’ll look him after him as soon as I get rid of Gina.
Luke doesn’t appear to have heard the Inspector’s greeting. He’s pale, drawn and curiously lacklustre. His skin is a little dry and dull; I don’t think he’s eating at all.
Worst of all, his heart seems to be disappearing. There is a faint image of Craig but I can barely make it out for the blood, which now drips continuously.
“Luke?” his mother says nicely.
He looks up, smiling with just his mouth.
“How have you been?” Gina asks him. There’s my vote for this year’s most stupid question.
“Fine,” Luke says pleasantly enough, fooling no one.
Gina and Mother exchange brief glances. I can see in Mother Twinkie’s heart that she’s a little intimidated by Gina, but very grateful to have her here.
“Have you been to the police counsellor?” Gina asks him.
Luke looks down and shakes his head. “Not yet.”
“You know I can organise for him for them to come here.”
The thought barely registers with Luke, who continues to look down.
Gina, shrewd and practical, tries again.
“You’ve been through so much,” she says with compassion. “No one expects you to just bounce back in to real life, but you’ve got to start making – you got to start thinking about recovery,” she tells him.
Luke nods, but doesn’t say anything.
“Witnessing a shooting like that is enough to throw anyone off balance,” Gina continues.
Luke looks up at her sharply, almost as if he is surprised to be reminded of the shooting.
That’s only half your problem, isn’t it Twinkie, I say.
I turn to Gina, since Luke can’t hear me anymore. Ask him about Craig, I tell her. She considers this – I can see Craig starting to materialise in her heart - but apparently Gina has blind spots of her own.
“Do you want to talk to Kerry?” his mother tries.
Luke almost sneers, “No.”
I feel so sorry for him, sitting here under the scrutiny of two women whose approval he seeks in two very different ways. He looks like if he’s about to start sobbing.
“Are you eating?” Gina tries. (That’s my vote for the second most stupid question. Twinkie looks like death warmed up.)
“He hardly eats a thing,” Mother says quietly. Her heart is flashing shades of orange, worry and alarm.
Gina’s weighing her options. Ask him about Craig, I say again loudly. To my complete delight she shudders a little.
“Have you seen Craig?” Gina asks at last.
Luke casts a furtive glance at his mother.
“Who’s Craig?” Mother asks.
Gina realises that Luke hasn’t told his mother much at all. “Sergeant Gilmore,” she explains carefully. “Luke worked with him at Sun Hill. You were good friends, weren’t you?”
The anguish that spreads over Luke face is pitiful. He just nods.
“Have you seen him?”
Luke looks up at Gina. “No, have you?”
“Where did he transfer to?” This is the most complex thought Twinkie’s communicated in days; his mother looks at him, uncertain.
Gina shakes her head sadly. “He didn’t transfer.” She looks plainly at Luke, and even in his confused state he can see the concern in her eyes.
For a second minuscule specks of hope flash over Luke’s blackening heart. “Where is he?”
Well, I say loudly, a few minutes ago he was down the street coming to save you before the Empress Dowager here turned up and ruined everything.
“He was pensioned out because of the knee injury,” Gina tells him, and the green specks in Luke’s heart vanish. “I don’t know where he’s gone. He’s moved from that place in Formosa Gardens, but I don’t know where. Adam signed a couple of his termination papers a few weeks ago, but there was no mention of where he was going.” Gina sighs. “I thought you might have seen him.”
Luke’s eyes go red. “I don’t think he’d be comin’ near me in a hurry,” he says sourly.
Gina looks at him, concerned. “I’ve left him a few messages, but he hasn’t got back to me.”
Do you blame him? I shriek at her.
“I tried calling his mobile but I think he’s changed the number,” Luke adds. This surprises all of us. “Or he just didn’t want to speak to me.”
No, Twinkie, I say, his phone was stolen. He would have loved have spoken with you.
Meanwhile Mother is little confused. She’s not sure about this Craig fellow, and she can’t work out why the mention of him is the only thing that has animated Luke in weeks.
“Was he a good friend?” she asks her son cautiously.
Luke looks up at her, gazing at her steadily, sadly. All kinds of colours are rushing through her heart, but I think she’s getting the picture. The hasty engagement. The rushed wedding. The brief marriage.
Her miserable son, slowly starving himself as he suffers under the weight of the two hearts he broke.
This is all your fault, I say to Gina. (I know that’s not strictly true, but it makes me feel better.)
“Do you want me to send the counsellor around here?” Gina asks.
Luke looks around him, completely unconcerned.
“No,” he says after a while. “I’ll go and see him see him myself next week.”
HE’S LYING! I tell them both, but no one seems to take any notice.
“Maybe you can go when I go to see Patty,” Mother suggests.
Patty? Who the hell is Patty?
Gina’s wondering the same thing.
“I’m going to stay with my sister for a couple of days next week in Whitby,” Mother explains to Gina. “I’ve asked Luke to come – thought the break might do him good – but he’d rather stay here.”
Gina looks at Luke carefully. “Well, I might drop in and see you again then, next week.”
Don’t bother, Girl Germs, I say to Gina haughtily. He’ll be safe in Gilmore’s arms by then.
When I get home I find Gilmore in one of his patented black moods, packing his big black duffle bag.
And where might you be going, Mister? I ask him.
Not that I need any clues. As soon as I see the Cardiff rugby jersey being folded in the bag I know where he’s going. He’s taking off early to see Mam and Dad.
Oh, Craig, don’ t be such a sulky puss, I whine at him. Go back and see Luke. Gina’s been around there threatening him with the police counsellor, and she made it worse when she told him that no one knows where you’ve gone. Poor Luke got all teary. Then his mother tried to make him go to Whitby to see someone called Patty, and all Luke wants is to see you.
Gilmore is counting out pairs of underpants.
And then, I continue, Gina scared him by telling him she’s going to come and see him again.
Craig’s packing t-shirts, still fuming at having his visit with Luke thwarted by the Inspector. No use trying to talk sense into him while he’s like this. Maybe, when he calms down, I can get him to drop in on Luke before he leaves. Maybe he could take Luke to Wales with him! (That’d show Dad.)
Pack the white one, handsome, I tell him as he folds the t-shirts into his bag. He stops for a seconds, and then takes the white t-shirt from his drawer.
Good boy, I say sweetly.
Gilmore stands and looks at his bag, all neatly packed, snugly zipped. His face grows darker and darker, his wonderful heart swells with heavy coats of brown and images of Gina standing at his hospital bed, Luke and Kerry staring at each other over Craig’s beaten body.
“FUCKING INTERFERING BITCH!” he yells suddenly, throwing his bag to the floor and storming out of the bedroom as hard as his cracked knee will allow.
That’s right, I say soothingly, following him to the couch. Express your anger. It’s very healthy.
He’s lounging on the couch, his sore leg stretched out in front of him, eating strawberries and reading the local afternoon paper.
Do a bit of comfort shopping on the way home from Luke’s, did we? I tease. Nice for some.
He’s still angry – there are patches of scarlet all over his heart – but they seem to be dissolving with every strawberry.
He’s reading an article about a missing child, a pretty little curly haired tot whose picture smiles out from the front page. “WHERE IS SHE?” the headline bleats, and Gilmore’s face is intense. I sit next to him to read it too, but to my astonishment I don’t recognise half the words. They look unfamiliar, the way they do when you first start first to read.
That’s odd, I think briefly. I was always a great reader. Then I forgot all about it.
Now you ARE going to drop in on Luke before we go, aren’t you? I say to Gilmore, who’s tossing his duffle bag in the boot and getting ready to take off.
Craig, sweetie, listen to me, I say as he stamps around to get into his car, are you going to see Luke?
He kicks the ignition over and releases the handbrake. Wales is bright and colourful in his heart. My ex is heading straight home.
I’ll see you there, I call after him as he drives down the street.
I figure British rail couldn’t be much worse even if you’re dead.
Luke, I call out to him, it is 29 degrees outside.
Twinkie has slunk under the bedclothes completely. I’m perched up on the end of his bed, looking at the sad mound he forms under the duvet.
It’s starting to smell a little musty in here, Twinkie – you need to have a shower, and you need to get these bedclothes washed.
The mound is still.
Luke, you’ll feel much better if you have a wash. We all will. Get up.
The mound is still.
Luke, you’re a grown man. You can’t hide in your bed smelling like a farming exhibit forever.
The mound is still.
Right, that’s it. I’m telling your mother.
Mrs Ashton is sitting in the lounge, watching telly, crocheting. She’s very good.
Mrs Ashton, I hate to be a snitch but Luke needs to have a shower, and he needs to wash those bedclothes. It smells like a sweatshop in there.
She knots the yarn around her hook, pictures of Luke in her heart.
At least open a window, I plead with her.
While I stand there pouting, she turns her worried face around towards the door of Luke’s room. The colours fly in her heart again; she doesn’t know what to do.
Just get him in the shower quickly, I advise.
She puts down her crocheting (looks to me like it might be a bedspread) and walks over to Luke’s room, gently pushing the door open.
The mound moves when it hears the noise.
He peers over the duvet, his face more pale, his heart still a dark ill-defined sludge. Mrs Ashton sits down on the bed and puts her hand on what she guesses to be his shoulder. She looks at him, concerned, perhaps a little tearful, shaking her head slightly.
“I wish you’d tell me what’s wrong,” she says softly.
“I’m okay,” he says hoarsely. “I ‘m fine, I’m just tired.”
“You’re not okay. I’ve never seen you like this. Is it the shooting?”
The blood drops flare up on his heart.
“Yeah, I suppose,” Luke says after a bit.
Mother thinks harder, patting his arm as she tries to finds words for it.
“Was it that Craig? Did he give you a hard time?”
Well, that does it for Twinkie. His face crumples and tears rush down his cheeks.
They glitter, tears, they glitter with the colours of your heart. The more tears Luke sheds, the more clearly I can see his grief oozing down his face. While I watch them, mesmerised by their pretty facets, I slowly become aware of the agony and sadness in every tear that is being shed across the country, coupled with an awful comprehension that there is no limit to the amount of pain people can carry. It makes me feel very insignificant.
“Oh, Luke!” his mother says, her heart dove grey with helplessness. She fishes a dainty little women’s hankie from the cute pocket of her floral sun shift and tries to wipe his face. Twinkie needs something closer to a ship’s sail at the rate he’s crying, but it’s a start.
“What did he do to you?” she asks, trying to wipe the heavy rivulets streaming from his nose and eyes.
“Nothing,” he says, sniffing, a little indistinct. “Nothing.”
She wants to hug him but she’s not sure how. In her heart I see her holding him as a toddler, pushed up close against her small breasts. She has that feeling now, the same wish to hold him close.
Just grab him and squeeze, I say.
“What did he do to you?” she asks again, her voice streaked with concern. “Did he give you a hard time?”
Luke shakes his head, trying to wipe his eyes but it seems to make him cry harder.
“He was great to me,” he gurgles through his tears. “He was great.” He tries to sit up, but the sobs overtake him, and he slumps down as if an invisible hand of misery and guilt pushes him back onto the pillows.
The small shots of clarity Mother was getting this afternoon are getting a little bigger.
Ask him more, I tell mother. Ask him more about Craig.
She wants to, but she’s frightened anything she’s says will make Luke more distressed. Instead she lightly strokes his closely cropped head, a few fingers down the right side of his scalp, over and over. The gentle touch has two astonishing results – first, Luke’s sobs grow softer, and second, small distinct pools of mauve sparkle on his poor distorted heart for a few seconds.
“Do you miss him?” she asks. Her heart strains at this; she simply can’t think of any other way to phrase it.
Luke holds himself still for a few seconds, as if he’s trying to fight it one last time, and then goes down in complete defeat. He nods, his face crushed in an agonised grimace, his heart simply a daub of brittle charcoal. He turns onto his belly and cries as if the world has ended and there’s no left but him.
The tears are varicoloured – sparkling coral shots, dull grey-khaki, some speckled with fresh blood.
We sit with Luke for a long time, Mrs Ashton and I, waiting for him to calm down, thinking that maybe this is the worst of it and he’ll start to get better now that he’s cried his heart out.
She leaves the room when he starts dozing, looking over her shoulder twice, checking that he’s safe.
I’ll watch him for you, I tell her, just get the tub ready.
Luke, I say loudly, don’t fall asleep yet. We’re going to give you a wash. Work with me here, Twinkie, stay awake.
His long straight lashes flutter a little, somewhere between awake and asleep. He is vaguely aware of the sound of running water.
“I’ve drawn you a nice hot bath,” Mother Ashton says when she returns. He stares at her, almost as if he can’t see her.
Come on, I say, have a bath before we all pass out.
“I’ll have one tomorrow,” he says, dull and uninvolved.
Mother leans over him, smiling sweetly.
“You have to have one now. Even your best friends won’t tell you, but I will,” she smiles. “You smell pretty bad.”
And this actually makes him smile. He starts to move, and to the great relief of mother and me, he rolls himself out of bed and makes his laboured way to the bathroom.
He soaks in the steamy mist, still in the hot water. Meanwhile I’m staring at the soap, wondering what I could say that would make him actually use it. It sits wet and pink on a small soap dish that’s fixed to the tiled wall.
Then, as if by magic, it just slides of the dish and plops into the water, right into Twinkie’s lap.
I didn’t know I could do that.
Luke’s as surprised as I am. His eyes grow wide and he stares at the soap as if it might come to life any minute.
It’s a sign, Luke, I tell him gravely. God wants you to wash yourself. Don’t disappoint him.
Twinkie lathers up within an inch of his life.
Mother changes his sheets, so when he gets back to his bed, fresh and sweet, he has the pleasure of climbing into lovely cotton sheets. (She’s used her best ones, bless her, pink floral with matching pillowcases. Poof! I laugh at Twinkie, and though he doesn’t hear me I know he thinks his mother’s used the pink ones on purpose.)
“Do you want me to get you anything to eat?” She asks him gently.
“No, I’m fine,” he tells her again. He sees the concern on her face and touches her arm with his hand. “No, really,” he says with a faded smile, “I’m fine.”
She waits until he’s under the covers and kisses his forehead.
“Do you know where Craig is?” She asks tentatively.
Luke looks ashamed and shakes his head.
She wants to press for more information, but she can see how embarrassed he is.
“Get some rest. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”
I’ll wait here with him until the sun comes up, I tell Mother. Then I’ll nip down to Wales and grab Craig.
Craig’ll fix him.
I leave Twinkie very early, just as the sun is coming up, but not before I drop in on Mrs Ashton, who is wearing a surprisingly pretty nightgown and sleeping under a thin cotton blanket. It’s all pink – bedclothes, nightie, even the lamp besides her bed. I can see a Jayne Mansfield thing happening here.
I talk to her while she sleeps. You stay here and watch him, I warn. He’s a lot worse than he looks, believe me. Make sure you stay here all day. I’ll be back soon, and I’m bringin’ Gilmore with me.
That should do it.
Swansea’s not so far by train and I can get to Victoria station easily from Luke’s place. It’s a pleasant walk to the tube. I’m thinking of mothers, motherly love – Taffy’s mother, Twinkie’s mother, the endless elastic love these women have for their sons. Craig and Luke are so lucky to know that love.
The park is beautiful in the early morning light. Dew flashes from every plant, birds exchange information with each other, and not far in the distance I can see a soft powdery cloud settled on the grass. I can’t make it out, it seems to be moving, and it seems to chirp.
When I get closer hundreds of tiny little phantom heads turn and look at me slowly, then, in unison, hundreds of tiny wings part and fly away as I walk through the ghosts of London’s lost sparrows.
While I’m contemplating mothers and the ghosts of birds as I walk down a secluded path near the river, a gorgeous little girl suddenly stands before me, pointing behind her.
“I dwowned,” she tells me nervously.
I’m not much good with kids – I’ve had so little to do with them – but there’s no one else around and she seems worried. She is very pretty, pink and gold like little girls are; the space on her chest where her lungs would be is bright blue.
“What’s the matter?” I ask, kneeling down in front of her.
“I dwowned,” she says again, still pointing at the river, “and Mummy doesn’t know where I am.”
I’ve got no idea what she’s talking about.
“Show me,” I say. She takes my hand and we walk down through the slimy morning grass to the bank of the river. Hidden in between the garbage and the brown reeds is the body of a little girl, stiff in the shallow ledge of the water.
I look at her and realise then who she is. The little girl in the paper that Craig was reading.
“I dwowned,” she tells me again.
I have no idea what to say or how to help her.
“Come on,” I say cheerfully, taking her hand. “Let’s find someone to tell Mummy.”
“Can you tell her?” she asks.
I shake my head. “I don’t think so,” I say, friendly as I can so as not to frighten her. “Let’s go and sit in the park to see if anyone can help us.”
“Okay!” she says, trusting and cheerful. “What’s your name called?”
“Sean,” I tell her. “What’s your name?”
“That’s a pretty name.”
“I’ve got two birds! One’s blue.”
She nods, thinking as we sit down on a bench. “Do you know my Mummy?”
“No, I don’t, but maybe these people can find Mummy.” I’ve spotted an older couple in tracksuits walking towards us. They are followed by three energetic spaniels. “But they can’t see us so I have to try something. Want to help me?”
“Yeah!” Melly says, excited.
I’m not sure if this is going to work, but it’s worth a shot. “We have to tell the puppy dogs where you are. Can you do that?”
“Uh-huh.” Melly sounds a little doubtful.
“Well, come on,” I say, taking her hand. “Let’s go!” And I run off with Melly, straight for the dogs who start yapping at us, frenzied and confused. We jump around them and then down off the path as the couple yell out to them.
“Down here!” I say to the dogs, who charge over the slippery grass to the sad spot near the river. As I hoped, the owners, confused as the dogs, follow and try to gather them up. When they reach the animals they can see them milling around the poor little body.
“Oh my God,” the woman cries, and bursts into tears. Her husband freezes, torn between running to the child and comforting his wife.
“Police,” I say to him quietly, and he reaches into his pocket for his mobile.
“Come on,” I say to Melly, “we’d better wait up here.”
We sit and talk about the dogs, about the park, about all the things we can see.
“Mummy’s very sad,” Melly keeps telling me.
“I know,” is the best I can answer.
“I think she might be a bit cross.” Melly doesn’t look at me; she watches the couple, distraught and restless, waving to the first police officers who arrive.
“She’s not cross,” I say. I wish I were better at this.
“Will they tell Mummy?” Melly asks me as we watch the swelling crowd of police and ambulance officers. One of the coppers leads the distraught woman away. The dogs are now on their leads, barking at the police.
“Yes, they will.” I can’t think of much to add. “Maybe you could go to see Mummy with one of them.”
“I live just down there,” she says, pointing to street adjacent to the park.
I think of Melly seeing her mother’s reaction when the police tell her the news. I think of leaving her here alone. I think about getting to Wales to get Gilmore to save Luke.
I don’t know what to do.
“Hello Melly,” a woman says out of the blue. She’s older, maybe in her fifties, her chest stained with a vivid yellow. It’s as bright as sunlight, and, impolite as it is, I can’t stop staring.
“Breast cancer,” she whispers to me.
“Nancy!” Melly says brightly. They seem to know each other. “I dwowned!”
The woman smiles gently. “Did you darling? Are you okay now?”
“The doggies found me!” Melly tells her.
“That was lucky,” Nancy says nicely.
Melly nods, looking at one of the police officers patting one of the dogs.
“I’m Sean,” I tell her. “Are you a relative?”
She shakes her head. “I used to work in the chemist. I’ve known Melly since she was a baby.” Nancy looks at my stain of death. “Cancer?”
I nod. “Spreading adenocarcinoma.”
“Sounds impressive,” she says, interested.
I shake my head. “It wasn’t.”
“When did you go?” Nancy asks.
It occurs to me that I can’t remember. “On a Wednesday,” I say doubtfully.
“It’s Saturday,’ she tells me. “Last week?”
“You’ve got a week and half left.”
I smile. “Do you know what happens then?”
“No,” she says, serious. “All I’ve heard is that you have to find your mother.”
“Mine’s dead,” I answer. (My beautiful mother. Where is she?)
“No,” Nancy explains, “your next mother.” And before I can ask her for more details, she looks at me sadly and adds, “I don’t get it either. Apparently it gets clearer as you get closer.”
Mothers. Luke, Gilmore. I’ll worry about mothers when I’m on the train – I have things to do.
“Can I ask a favour of you, Nancy?”
She sits down with us and I tell her all about Gilmore, all about Luke and all about Wales.
“You’ve been busy,” she says, impressed.
“I’m not finished. I have to get the train down to Wales, but I don’t want to leave Melly alone.”
“You go. I’ll look after her.”
“Melly,” I say to the little one, “I have to go and see my friend in Wales. Can you wait here with Nancy?”
Melly looks up at me and nods, her pretty little face clear and calm.
“You look after yourself,” I say. “And thanks, Nancy.”
“My pleasure.” She looks at me with an amused face. “Watch out for the anoraks on the train.”
I nod politely, only because I want to get going. Anoraks?
“Bye Sean!” Melly calls out as I head off.
I turn to wave and see their lovely transparencies glowing amongst the sombre group of police, while in the distance two miserable ambulance officers struggle up the bank of the river carrying a tiny covered shape on a stretcher.
A Crack in the Teacup
Fandom: The Bill
All the way to the station, among the throngs already gathered at Victoria, through the sour smelling train – all I can think of is Melly.
Not surprisingly, her memory follows me like the ghost she is.
Well, first the good news: British Rail is just as bad when you’re dead.
And the bad news?
Well, as I boarded the train, I thought this could be my chance to fulfil one of the great dreams of my childhood, the dream of every unwanted little boy stuck in boarding school by a busy father and uninterested stepmother, the kids who travelled home alone on the train at the end of each term.
The dream of riding in the front carriage with the driver.
This lovely thought occurred to me as I pushed my through the crowds at Victoria: I don’t have to sit in the cheap seats – I’m a ghost! I can sit with the train man!
And the bad news? Well, guess what trainspotters do when they die.
Hint: they don’t save the objects of their exes’ affections. They don’t sit and comfort lost children. They don’t hang around people’s front yards smelling summer flowers.
They do crowd into the front carriage with the driver. Nancy’s warning was right. Anoraks!
There were eight of them up there when I slipped through the door of the driver’s compartment and – I’m serious here (deadly serious!) – they were ALL wearing anoraks.
I travel to Swansea in the first class compartment and think about Melly the whole time.
And, to be honest, British Rail isn’t that bad when you’re dead.
Well, well, well, I say to Craig when I finally get to Gilmore Manor that afternoon, who’s mother’s favourite?
It’s stinking hot, Gilmore is in the kitchen in his ratty old rugby shorts and a tshirt, and his mother is swatting him with a teatowel, laughing as he teases her about something. His brother Dylan is there too, laughing, leaning over the kitchen bench, part of the conversation. He’s trying to stop himself looking at the interesting scars on his big brother’s knee. They’re red-purple and deep, the mark of each stitch clearly defined, like little train tracks.
Dylan’s heart is a large green one, green like cooking apples. I note with interest that it is about the same size as Craig’s and the same kind of deep true colour. He’s an interesting specimen, Dylan, in that he looks like Craig in some ways – same dark eyes, very similar sounding voice, same skin tone – but he is about four inches shorter and a bit wider in the shoulders.
They have a friendly relationship, cordial and respectful, but I wouldn’t have said they were wildly close. Which is why, as I stare in Dylan’s heart, I’m amazed to see the reverence in which he holds Craig. His heart is filled with him, and he is clearly enjoying hanging out with him this afternoon, teasing their mother, who is still swatting Gilmore major with the teatowel. They’re playing, all of them, and they’re having a wonderful time together.
I haven’t seen Taffy laughing in months.
She’s tiny, Ida - well, tiny next to Craig. She has the most beautiful colouring, dark hair and very creamy skin, very delicate. You can see a sliver of resemblance between her and her two boys – shape of the jaw, her nose, but when Father Gilmore walks in there is no doubt as to their patronage. His heart, like Dylan’s, belongs to Craig at the moment and he also shoots quick, concerned glances at the deep scars on his son’s knee.
Funny, I would never have thought Huw to be sentimental, but the images of Craig in his large pearly grey heart are very touching. Taffy in uniform, Taffy in his rugby kit. No wonder Craig’s so hung up about his uniform.
And Ida’s heart – well, I’m relieved to see that Dylan and Craig pretty much get equal billing. It’s a very feminine heart, a pretty buttercup yellow, a bit more pale than Mrs Ashton’s heart. There’s a sewing machine in there as well, lots of people who are probably family, jaffa cakes, Agatha Christie books, lots of images of Huw and, down in the corner, a tiny little fair haired baby. No idea who that is.
The Gilmores are about as functional as a family gets, and they really seem to be enjoying each other’s company. Pity I have to haul Taffy back up to London so quickly.
Ida’s rinsing the teapot, Huw’s grumbling in the fridge looking for the beer, Gilmore major is talking to his little brother about his work. Dylan’s a social worker, and if memory serves correct there have been some rather polemic views on the treatment of repeat offenders in the past.
Dylan’s allegorical heart is a bit of a bleeder.
Well, this is lovely, all this family bonding, I say to my Taffy, but Luke’s going spare, I’ve just finished counselling a drowned child and pushing my way through a trainload of dead anoraks and-
No one’s listening. Ida’s swatting Dylan with the tea towel now, and the terrifying Huw is announcing that the Rugby’s on. The male Gilmores leave en masse, and Ida sits down at the kitchen table with a pot of tea and a book of sewing patterns. Talk about the house of excitement.
I’m going for a walk.
Swansea harbour is just lovely this time of year. I entertain myself teasing perceptive little dogs that can see me as I swish around the crowds of coloured hearts out enjoying the sun.
When I get back much later that night all of the Gilmores are tucked up in bed; Dylan’s old room is now Ida’s sewing room so he’s ended up on the couch. I could go and haunt Ida, and get her to talk to Craig for me, get him back to London, but Dylan’s closer, and is more likely to understand what I tell him.
The general mood around the table the next morning is one of restraint – not only because Australia beat Wales very decisively in the test they watched yesterday afternoon.
They are all discussing the front page of the Sunday paper. It’s Melly, this time a smaller picture of her, and another picture of her poor mother, clearly distraught down near the river where they found her.
“Poor little angel,” Huw says in his terrifying gruff voice.
It’s interesting the perspective his sons have on this; the social worker thinks of the mother, the copper thinks of the child and what might have been done to save her.
Ida is quiet. The image of that fair-haired baby is a little clearer for a few seconds.
After breakfast (which, I’m delighted to say, Taffy cooked) (drove Ida nuts, I might add) Taffy and Dylan are washing up, and Dylan is delicately
finding his way around the topic of Luke.
“Sorry I couldn’t get down to see you at the hospital,” he starts.
“No matter,” Craig says. “I wasn’t much in the mood for visitors anyway.”
“You’ve had a hard year, what with Sean and all.”
They must have been discussing me before I arrived. I’m touched!
“But it was good to be with him,” he says briefly, and Dylan nods sympathetically.
“Dad said you were in a pretty bad way in the hospital.”
“Yeah, the leg was pretty damaged,” Taffy answers as he washes cups.
“He was really pissed off when he came home.”
“We had a fight.”
“Hmmm. He mentioned that.”
Taffy’s scrubbing at the pan in which he cooked bacon. “What’d he say?”
“Oh, you know. Stuff-all really.”
And they both laugh.
“No, he mentioned something about a copper you’d been involved with.”
“Well, I – Dad got the wrong end of the stick.”
“You still see him? The copper?” Dylan’s been drying the same cup for three minutes.
Craig shakes his head. “It’s complicated,” is all he’ll say.
“He got married, didn’t he?” Dylan’s being very gentle.
“He got separated a few weeks later too,” Craig says a little sourly.
Dylan thinks about this, plotting what to say next.
“Is he gay?” he asks his big brother.
“I think he is. I think he thinks so too.”
Dylan makes a rather animated surprised face. “Bit out of your usual range.”
Craig shrugs. He’s rather relieved to be talking about it, I can see, and I realise at that moment that since I’ve left he hasn’t been able to discuss it with anyone.
“He was young, yeah, but…” Taffy trails off.
“Old enough to make up his own mind,” Dylan confirms. “You seen him since the break up?”
Craig shakes his head. He then tells his brother about Girl Germs, what he knows of the shooting and his reticence about going to see Luke. He is restrained about his feelings for young Twinkie; Dylan, meanwhile, is being very sensitive.
“None of my business, but it sounds like you really like him.”
Taffy gets a bit embarrassed here, and Dylan steps in quickly.
“I see a lot of it at work, young blokes who want to get involved with older, out blokes, and the things that hold them back. It’s a bloody shame, the things some these young blokes get told.”
Craig nods. He’s listening very closely.
“Your bloke seeing a counsellor?”
“Don’t know,” Taffy says, fishing about in the hot soapy water. He thinks about Luke being counselled, this hasn’t occurred to him before now. “Probably. They’re pretty big on trauma counselling in the force after shootings and the like.”
“I hope he is. But he should be seeing a counsellor, shooting or not. Tell you something, whatever he’s doing he’d want to talk to someone he trusts. You should go and see him when you get back.”
Well done, Taffy minor! I say happily.
Craig looks quickly at his brother. “Why?”
“Well, he seems to have sought you out before, and without even realising it he was probably using you as a bit of role model. Now that he’s out it would be good for him to talk to you as an equal. And anyway, I bet he wants to apologise.”
“Do you think?” Craig is genuinely curious about this. “I don’t know about that.”
You know nothing, I say to Taffy major.
“Yeah, I do, I think he would,” Dylan says. Oh for Christ’s sake that cup is dry, I say to him. Put it down and start on the plates.
Dylan puts the cup down and picks amongst the dripping crockery for a plate. “You know, they’re amongst the highest risk for suicide and self harm, young gay men.”
Taffy does know this, but he hasn’t put Twinkie in that category.
“I don’t think Luke’s seriously suicidal,” Taffy says, little speckles of doubt in his voice. Images of Luke crowd his heart in an instant.
“He probably isn’t,” Dylan says quickly, reassuringly. “But if I were you I’d go and check just the same. Be horrible if he was and you found out too late.”
Ice patches spring up all over the big crimson heart. Fear, great big crusts of it.
Dylan, if I were alive and if I found you as attractive as your brother, I’d kiss you, I tell him. Now finish the wiping up and help your brother pack.
“I wish you’d stay a bit longer,” Ida says as Craig dumps his bag back in the boot that afternoon.
“I can’t,” he says, calm and pleasant, but his heart full of Luke. “I’ll come back in a month or so when the job’s settled down.”
“When do you start?”
“The week after next, but I have to go in to the office on Wednesday morning.”
“Well, call me and tell me how it goes.”
Huw’s hanging around Craig’s car, looking at the bonnet. In his heart I can see thousands of images of Craig, and I know he wants to hug him.
They’re an odd bunch, the Gilmores. They really love each other, and like I said they are as functional as a family unit gets, but they are very embarrassed about showing affection. They pat eachother occasionally, and I once saw Ida kiss Craig on his birthday. That’s about it.
Go on Huw, I whisper. Grab him and give him a big kiss.
Ida’s patting Craig goodbye, and he’s about to get into the car.
Go on Huw, imagine if it were Craig who got sick and died. Huw’s heart flares up, and he walks tentatively over to Craig.
“Good luck in the job,” he says gruffly, and puts his hand on Craig’s shoulder. “And I’m sorry about Sean. He was a nice fella. You were a good friend to him.” (They have been talking about me! And I missed it! Hate that.)
Taffy looks at him surprised – Huw probably hasn’t touched him since he was a baby - and he responds by briefly touching his father’s arm. I wait to see if they do anything else, but they slowly move apart. That’ll probably do them for a couple of decades.
Okay, I say, the love-in’s over. I’ve only got nine days left and Craig’s got to save Luke.
Craig thinks about his father and that wild display of affection all the way to the English border.
Craig and I once had a hilarious trip home from Wales, looking at those roadside diners, those atrocious restaurants on motorways attached to huge petrol stations. We started joking about taking a franchise on ourselves, serving atrocious food, being rude to the customers, wearing horrible white aprons – everything you associate with those places - and it got so ridiculous, and made us laugh so hard, I actually had to pull the car over to the side of the road. We sat and laughed together for five minutes. We were going to take turns at cooking, that was the thought that really set us off. We laughed until we ached.
You had to be there, but you know what I mean.
Anyway, Craig’s hungry, and he’s smiling to himself when he pulls up at one of those dreadful places for his dinner. I don’t know what possessed him – curiousity because I don’t think he’s ever been in one, missing me a little, or just hungry and couldn’t be arsed in getting off the motorway and finding somewhere safe to eat.
Very nice, I say as I follow him. You can’t be serious, Taffy.
I can smell all kinds of rancid heated fats, mixed with the scent of slightly stale breads and pastries, layering on scents of burnt coffee and some kind of cleaning agent. But the smells were nothing compared to the food.
Craig stands at the counter and looks at the variety of hot foods, miserable in pints of oil in the bain-marie. He can’t see it, but I can, the swarms of neon coloured bacteria swarming through the food. Each dish looks as if is filled with millions of animated Christmas lights.
Oh Taffy, I say as he looks at the flaccid meats and vegetables, don’t do it. The curried lamb has caught his eye.
“I’ll have the lamb, thanks, with rice,” he asks the woman behind the counter.
They could have boiled that rice until Easter and still not killed the germs.
“Anything to drink?” the weary woman. Her heart is full of children and a dirty, weary man.
“Just white coffee, thanks.”
She slaps the plate on the counter; I’m about to run out of the place screaming.
Taffy, no, I say, as he sits down to start eating. No no and no, Craig, don’t eat it. He’s not listening; the voracious Gilmore appetite is overtaking any of my pleas.
He seems fine as he drives home; he listens to Astral Weeks twice on the way back in to London. He’s fine when he gets home, fine when he settles down into bed, then at two in the morning he wakes up damp and I can see that gaily coloured garland of little bugs milling in his belly. Saliva pools in his mouth; he makes it just in time to the bathroom, throws up in the bath, slumps to the floor in a sweating shaking heap and throws up twice more.
I did warn you, I say, noting that from the corner of my eye that even stomach acids and vomiting haven’t killed the indestructible little bugs that still glitter amongst the half digested food as he runs the hot tap over the bath. I did warn you.
So that’s why Taffy doesn’t go to see Luke until Tuesday. I did warn him.
Taffy sleeps most of Monday. That afternoon, when I’m satisfied he’s evicted the bulk of the brightly coloured bugs from his belly (it takes several more heaving trips to the bathroom) I make my way over to see Ashton.
It is so hot, this bright Monday. People are walking around in sleeveless clothes, sweaty sandals sticking to their feet making tiny sucking noises on their skin, their faces are moist from the listless close air. The fruit is wilting in the grocers, I can smell their fermenting gases through the thousands of different perspirations in the air around me.
I can see Luke in a DIY store, hovering around a rack of tiles.
I leave you alone for two days and you go domestic on me, Twinkie, I say to him. What are you doing in here? I look at the rack he’s perusing and it frightens me so much I make a rack of paintbrushes tremor.
Luke, no, put it back, no.
His choice confirms once and for all that Luke isn’t just depressed, or even vaguely suicidal. I know he has stepped right over that line and is making his plans.
I’m knocking things over as I try to catch his attention, following him to the counter, desperate. Nothing works. I appeal to the young acne-pocked man with the pumpkin coloured heart who taps at the cash register. Don’t sell it to him, he’s going to hurt himself with it please, I’m begging you, no.
Young pumpkin heart looks at Luke for a minute, almost hesitates, and then places the purchase in a small paper bag.
Luke’s face is completely devoid of emotion. He’s hot – his face is starry with sweat – but his heart is now black and crumbly as charcoal. There’s simply nothing there, it’s like a shadow.
I follow him silently as he walks out of the store with his brand new stanley knife safe in his pocket.
I’m so scared for him.
“Nice walk?” his sweet mother says when he gets home.
“Yeah,” he says, almost brightly. “All packed for tomorrow?”
She nods. “You sure you don’t want to come?”
He laughs slightly. “I’m sure. I’m not really in the mood for Patty at the moment.”
He’s going to top himself while you’re gone, I say to her urgently. Don’t go.
“I’m really worried for you,” she says quickly, her voice catching on her breath.
“I’m fine,” Luke says. I can feel the weariness in his every syllable, the weight of his ashen heart dragging him down.
He goes back in to the bedroom, takes the dull grey knife from his pocket and slips it carefully, neatly, into his top drawer. There is a great deal of order and care to his movements now, as if he is focused on something.
He looks briefly over a haphazard stack of cds in his room, a couple of paperbacks, but nothing interests him. And then he just stands there, distracted, perhaps thinking of something, I can’t tell. He looks so young, so worn out and young.
I wish I could help you, I say to him. I wish I could get you to hear me, I really want to help you. He shudders, as if a chill just swept through the room, but if registers in his heart you could never tell.
Before he flops down on his bed, he has another look in the drawer at his fat little knife. It makes him smile for a second.
And now, for the first time, I simply don’t know what do.
Early the next morning I sit and wait for the sunrise in the park where I met Melly. She’s nowhere to be seen, but the bank of the river is covered with bunches of flowers. Nice to see how people remember you when you’re gone. I can’t remember if anyone bought me flowers. Probably. Craig would have got some. Orchids. Cymbidiums.
But it’s not funny, not any more. I thought it was, this being dead thing, the nice little dogs, seeing Craig get on with his life, the scent of summer flowers, watching the colours of people hearts, waiting for whatever happens to me next. Everything seemed so wonderful.
Now I’m starting to wonder if I’ve approached it all wrong.
Perhaps I’m being punished? Maybe my handout is to watch poor Gilmore when Luke dies?
Maybe I shouldn’t have interfered, should never have encouraged Craig to see Luke one more time. Maybe I should have done more, tried to get him there sooner.
I don’t know where to go. I spend my night wandering between one and the other, watching Craig, his heart full of Luke as he curls up to his pillow and sleeps off the last of his coloured bugs; I watch poor Luke, restless, slick with sweat this hot Summer night, counting his last hours.
All around me the clear July sky twinkles like eternity itself.
I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to do.