I remember the room, it was mostly yellow walls, the woodwork was all a deep blue, and the floor was in its natural state, you could see the grain of the hard wood. There was a red oriental style rug and a variety of cushions. There was low coffee table the legs had been sawn off to bring it almost to floor level. The coffee table was filled with ash trays, tea cups, candles and an incense burner. There was cheese and fruit on a willow pattern plate that matched the cups. The room was a bedsit on the third floor of a terrace of house with a view of Phythian Park.
The road begins somewhere as Liverpool Rd, along the way it becomes Prescot rd and then Kensington, or the A57, if you go the other way it ends as Manchester Rd. I suppose if you are technical. Five names for one road.
She smiled as she inhaled on her cigarette, red lips black hair and oh so pale skin as she leaned one hand on her forehead peering through her fringe . We had known each other since primary school and still just met. Her hands were stained with paint and her clothes a black cotton boiler suit had red blue and yellow paint smears all over as well as clumps of clay drying. Her Docs leaned against each other in the corner woolen socks poking out, she stretched her toes out as the music played as if to enjoy the freedom.
It was dark outside and raining and if you looked out the window you would see the No. 10 bus pass eventually and if the window was open smell the chips, kebabs and other fried food drifting up from street level. The traffic lights, illuminated signs and brake lights shone on the tarmac streets. There was a buzz. You went one way and you were in town, the other end of the road lay Manchester.
We had met by chance on Kensington in a dingy used record store I have forgotten the name of now. It was an accidental meeting. I had got off the bus and was going to walk into town, stop at as many record stores as I could and get a drink and ride the bus or train home. It would have been a long walk, but I couldn’t then and if given the same chance today now imagine a better afternoon.
I saw her leafing through the albums and I instantly recognized her, we had walked home from school almost every day together buying sherbet at Harry’s and laughing. Then we had each gone to different schools and life had moved on. I stood still not really knowing what to do.
At one point we had pledged undying love as only 10 year olds can, I think it was after the Easter assembly when we all had to dress up, me in my black slacks white shirt and tie, she in a cacophony of frills and white lace. We held hands through mass and walked to the dining hall together. She was skilled with her knife and fork, I was less so, food spilling off the plate as I ate and slurping custard. She was indulgent of my lack of manners as I went for seconds, encouraging me to use a napkin at least, then doing it for me when I didn’t.
As I stood in the doorway she looked up and smiled and waved and mumbled my name. Stained black boiler suit docs, donkey jacket and black hair clutching two records. She cocked her head and beckoned to me, a wave, hesitant would I remember?
Tea? It’s a question really, it spoke paragraphs.
For a moment my eyes were drawn from her green eyes to the albums in her hand, I am a shallow sort and at that time judged people by their music choice much more than I do now, well I like to think that’s true. I couldn’t tell, some sort of white album and what looked like a topographic map.
Sure why not tea?
We talked it had been 9 years maybe 8. A lot to catch up, schools and O’ Levels and A’ Levels and not going to college and going to college, loneliness heartache gigs and so much. We discovered we had been in the same circles almost, at the same gigs, shows, festivals and theaters and pubs. We had no friends in common.
Eventually as these things do we ended up in the pub. Surrounded by middle aged men fresh from work with their wives and girlfriends and friends, no music just conversation. Shouting about football and politics. Frosted glass on the windows, the room filled with smoke, the sweet smell of brown ale and bitter beer and the occasional whiskey or gin. The lighting was that mid 80’s nicotine yellow, we stood in the bar and she was known by the locals, they waved and smiled and asked what she was working on? She smiled and laughed and said “oh nothing of importance.” They called her lazy and layabout and bought her drinks.
At some point we fell out of the door into the rain. It was early, in those days last orders being 10:30pm. Arm in arm we staggered along Kensington, laughing in the rain. The busses occasionally pushed water from the gutter onto the pavement so even the sober had a bit of zig and zag going on. There was the glow of alcohol and friendship and a past half remembered.
We climbed the stairs, me pushing her up, she pulling me along, who knew really who was in the lead.
At the top of the stairs there was tea, biscuits, cheese and more laughter and conversation. She had a cheese knife and a board and a little glass cover for the cheese. The fruit was sliced and the bottle of red wine opened and left unattended.
Then the records came out. She had not heard them but liked the covers, she knew Roxy Music but had never heard Eno. I had heard Eno but not these two.
In the street glow we danced to St Elmo’s Fire and swayed. During I’ll Come Running she punched me and laughed and stared into my eyes. “Let’s make a promise? Friends!” and she held up her pinky and we pinky swore: friends.
Later we lay on the floor and listened to Ambient 2. staying still, feeling the music. Holding hands and comforted by each others presence in the moment.
For the next 6 or 7 years we talked every week. I would turn up on her door when things got different in my life. She would call for me to go over when she was struggling with a project. I would admire the strange shit she made, the paintings and ceramics and the reconstituted artifacts. She made a living making jewelry and occasionally sold her art. Other times she worked in the chip shop, once she was in a band as the dancer but couldn’t stand the attention.
I asked her about all the big decisions in life, should I learn to drive. should I drop out of college, is social work real work, does god exist, should I get married and would she meet the woman in question? She never judged and she never really gave an opinion about any of those things apart from the social work one and she met the woman I loved and intended to marry and I got the seal of approval.
Then I moved to the USA, we stay in touch, it’s not a sad story.
She still does her art, she now writes poetry, she still lives in the same general area. Some days I wish I could knock on her door when things get too much. She usually calls Michelle more than me these days, although I am allowed to take part. Every time we go home we knock on her door. We still have no friends in common and thats a choice.
I played them both today and this is what came to mind.
It’s hard to find a friend that means it.