In 2004 John Finch returns to his hometown a few days after Brian Clough's death having been told of an old friend's suicide. He visits his friend's grieving girlfriend, a girl he was himself dating in 1989, someone he hasn't seen in fifteen years.
Another street, another doorbell, the old part of the old town. Terraced houses laid row upon row around the shell of the factory that wasn’t, the factory that died a slow death through his early years, dumping men like his father, skilled men.
Nervous as fuck outside this two up, two down, nervous of how she might respond to finding him on her doorstep.
All these years later.
She came to the threshold in jogging bottoms and a sweatshirt, smoking, the air behind the door thick with the stuff. He coughed. Before he could speak she was on to him.
"I fucking knew you’d turn up,” she said. “Not at the service. I knew you wouldn’t have the guts for that.”
“I was going to come,” he said. “I couldn’t…”
Weak in spite of himself.
He bit down on his bottom lip.
“Do you think I could? Do you think any of us could? But we fucking well did…”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I don’t give a fuck,” she said.
He didn’t move. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t leave either. The smoke found the open doorway, escaped into the evening.
“You’d best come in then,” she said.
Tuesday evening. Coronation Street. Cigarette smoke. Alcohol. A living room distorted by loss, at odds with itself.
She pointed to a half-bottle of vodka on the fireplace. He shook his head. He realised she was older.
“I’m not a drinker,” she said. “Someone left it here after the wake…”
Lost for words.
“What brings you back this way?”
Was she fucking kidding?
“I’m visiting a few people,” he said. “After what happened I thought I should.”
“You should have been here Friday.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. Again.
Just the TV. The sound off. Water shifting in the pipes.
“I didn’t know about you two,” he said.
“Fucking hell,” she said. "Is that what this is about?"
“I’m just saying.”
“If you spoke to your mate you might have found out. Or if you spoke to me…”
“I lost touch," he said. Then he added "With everyone.”
“You cut us off," she said. "You forgot about us."
“I didn’t forget. I remember everything…”
He looked at her. She was staring at the TV. She’d put on weight, become a woman. Of course she had. It was fifteen fucking years.
And she looked tired. She looked strung out.
Who fucking wouldn't?
“He never said anything,” she said. “I didn’t have a fucking clue.”
“It’s not your fault,” he said.
“Five years. Two in this house. Sharing this sofa every night. Getting ready for work. Coming home. Going out. Shopping. Holidays. Visiting parents. Breakfast. Dinner. Tea. Bed -"
"-and I didn’t have a clue. Nobody told me. Nobody fucking told me.”
“Fucking Forest shirt. He was never interested in football. He always let me have my telly on. He never went to games. He never played…”
“It might not have been that.”
Anger welling behind her eyes.
“I’m just saying.”
“Don’t fucking say. Don’t you dare.”
She took a swig of vodka, grimaced, took another.
“I don’t even like this shit,” she said.
“Do you want me to put the kettle on?”
“There’s no milk,” she said. “There’s nothing to go with it. Only this."
She raised the bottle.
“I could get some…”
“You’d like that wouldn’t you? A chance to fuck off again…”
“I’ll come back.”
“I might not want you to come back. I might not want you here. But you’re fucking here aren’t you?”
He got up. She shook her head.
“Don’t you dare fucking go,” she said. "Not until I say so."
He sat back down again. In the almost silence he could hear Coronation Street ending, not in this house, in the house next door, the misery laden soundtrack to a life. For a moment he was eight years old again, away to bed, his dad on nights, his mam settling down with the TV, the sound creeping up the stairs, him trapped in darkness, the clock in the living room chiming. And Winter. Always fucking Winter.
“You’d think someone would have said something. Watch for that. Keep an eye out. You know. His mum. His dad. His mates. Nobody said a fucking thing. So how was I supposed to know? When the police came, when they started asking questions, I felt like a fucking idiot. A fucking Forest shirt? I thought they’d got the wrong bloke. I told them to go and check again. I even thought it might be you…”
“No such fucking luck…”
She coughed into her glass, took another drag of the cigarette.
“He kept it in a suitcase, in the garage. He got up, left me in bed, brought me a cup of tea, went into the garage, put that fucking shirt on and off he went. I heard his van like I always do, thought, that’s him gone for the day, time to get myself up. Except he didn’t go to work. He went to that fucking hut instead. The selfish fucking bastard.”
She threw the glass across the room, started bawling.
He got to his feet, went to hold her. It was all he could think to do with himself.
“Don’t you touch me,” she snarled. “Don’t you fucking touch me.”
But he held her anyway, gripped her tight, hooking his arms around her, shushing her, rocking on his heels, rocking them both until she stopped struggling, stopped fighting, until she was only whimpering in his arms and he held her like that for an age more, refusing to let go, not wanting to let go, feeling fucking useful at last, feeling like a fucking human being for the first time in weeks, since it all kicked off with Kelly about kids and family and the seemingly impossible idea of a future together.
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