‘Listen, listen to me’.
There was urgency to her voice and it wasn’t lost on Tom. She knew the truth now; she’d figured it all out. There were no more secrets.
‘You can’t just leave her out there’.
Tom sighed and crossed the red tiles to the door. He unbolted and opened it. Sarah rushed in, her face red and sweaty, her long blonde hair sticking to her clammy forehead.
‘What the fuck dude, you can’t just leave me out there, you think I’m some kind of dog?’
Tom shrugged and sat down in the rocking chair by the aga. Susan barked back at the indignant youth, her sharp fingers pointing, dagger-like at her daughter.
‘You sit down and shut the hell up. Stop yelling at your father, he might be a useless bastard but at least he’s been fighting your corner’.
Tom, in his rocking chair, shrugged once more and lit a Sterling. He didn’t care, he’d given up caring and he didn’t even care enough to pretend that he cared any more. He’d said his piece and now his two women, his two lionesses, his two banshees would shriek and scream until one got their way and the other slammed every door in their converted barn. It had played out hundreds of times, their little melodrama. He would choose a side, usually the opposite one to that he had backed the previous time. Neither his wife nor daughter had decoded the intricacies of his partisan system, each too invested in their own position to doubt Tom’s sincerity.
Volley after volley flew from the women’s pursed and fiercely drawn lips. Tom settled Greg the whippet as he whined and hurried over, a victim caught in the crossfire.
‘You can’t do this; it’s nothing to do with you!’
‘You’re not fucking going and that’s final’.
‘It’s my life, I’m going’.
‘You wish it was your life young lady, until you’re sixteen your butt is mine. You’re not going to some rock festival. Tell her Tom’.
Tom petted Greg, stroking the smooth copper fur on the back of his neck.
‘Dad was in a fucking band’.
Tom was relieved, he’d evaded the question.
‘Yeah, so he knows what those festivals are like. Don’t you?’ his wife levelled her gaze at him. The pressure was back on. Greg trembled and gave his human a sympathetic gaze, a signal of male empathy.
‘Look, who wants a tea?’
The two women relaxed at the thought of hot leafy water and sat at the rough pine table. As Tom crossed the kitchen and handed them their mugs, nearly tripping over Greg who was still cowering by his master’s shins, their glares became glances. Tom took the teapot from the aga and poured gently into the earthenware mugs. He sat back down in the rocking chair, though only after moving it a metre or so closer to the table. He lit up his last Sterling, gripped it with his lips and began to roll a fag.
‘I’m just not comfortable with it; you’re still my little girl. Who’s taking you?’ Susan spoke calmly.
Little girl. Tom’s eyes fixed on his daughter, she was still a little girl but wholly indistinguishable from the one who, just a few years ago, would’ve put her arms round his waist in embrace upon entering and leaving any room. Could this be the same girl who not so long ago kissed him on the cheek before retiring to bed every night? Beneath the thick eye-liner and foundation this Jezebel was still his Sar-bear.
‘Craig’s driving us’
A tactical blunder thought Tom, Susan would never go for that. Craig was seventeen and had already garnered a chequered reputation for his driving. He’d also been the one Sarah had attributed the sweet sickly odour of cannabis in her bedroom to. Tom knew that was a lie. She should at least have said Mark was driving. Mark was older and Susan liked him, so did Tom, Mark didn’t want to get into his daughter’s pants.
‘That useless tool isn’t taking you anywhere’ came back the predictable response. Sarah grimaced and her body visibly tensed at this, a little tea escaped her contorted lips and ran down to her chin, leaving a trail of clear flesh through her caked foundation. Susan’s chipped nail’s dug into the table.
Tom thought fast.
‘I’ll ring Clare, she’s not busy this week’
Tom rung his sister, she was younger, laid back and, despite being carved from the same block as him, somehow far cooler in his daughter’s eyes. Clare agreed. Sarah looked hopefully at her mum. Susan yielded.
‘Just stay with her all night and don’t piss her off alright? Aunt Clare has better things to do than babysit you’.
Clare didn’t. She was unemployed and adored her niece, being ten years younger than Tom meant that she loved spending time with someone who looked up to her with reverence. She could relate better to the girl than to her older brother who had been out chasing women whilst she had been playing with dolls.
It had been decided, Cinderella would go to the ball.
‘Who’s playing the gig anyway?’ Tom casually asked his daughter.
Sarah was bearing a victory grin which she made no effort to suppress. In an almost sing-song tone her words danced back to her father.
‘Well Alesana are headlining with Blessthefall and This is Colour supporting. Then for some reason they’ve got these old guys opening.’ She laughed and grinned ‘they must be like their dads or something, Shadowstream’.
Tom flinched at this name but neither woman noticed. Susan was occupied with the face-saving task of adjusting, cleaning and dusting innocuous kitchen appliances, seemingly at random. Sarah was rapidly texting one or several people with equal dexterity, her phone bleeped every few seconds.
That night, with his daughter out at the gig and his wife asleep, Tom sat in the outhouse. With Greg by his feet and Bernard, the ironically named St Bernard, languidly sprawled out by the stereo. Reaching under the tattered armchair with his left hand he grasped at a small cigarette tin. As he ground up the buds and stalks Tom hit play on the stereo remote. As he leaned back in the big, battered chair and smoked, the warm familiarity of his bass guitar washed over him. The old demo sessions, muted and fuzzy yet comforting in their amateur sonic quality. He remembered being young, playing gigs to varying success and travelling from town to town in a rusty Ford Transit. He remembered touring with Shadowstream, maybe seventeen years ago. There was nothing particularly notable about them then and Tom recalled a few instances where their bassist had paid him the loose praise of concealed admiration.
Tom remembered a young man with a dozen piercings, in a pin striped suit, offering them a deal after a gig as they were packing up. A young man, he thought, yet he knew that the music agent had probably been the same age as Tom was now. Tom felt old, from the weariness in his muscles to the ennui in his mind. Life never let up. Life never gave reprieves. He felt as though he had experienced everything that there was to experience, lived every moment, every feeling, countless times. Then he remembered the excitement he felt, the freshness and the clarity of his youthful aspirations. He remembered the hours he spent in his room working on his bass lines in anticipation of recording the album. In his mind he ran through every scale, every slide and every slap of his part. He even pulled a wry grin as he thought of the sweet picking and hammer tapping he’d written into the fourth song, parts that were lacking from the demo and that he’d only really written in order to highlight his extraordinary talents.
He took a long toke of the joint. The wry grin fell from his face. The memory shattered into thin shards, the pleasant reminiscence trickled away into languor. He remembered sitting with a frightened blonde girl, holding her in his arms as she cried. Music didn’t pay. It was the life of the solitary man, one without responsibilities or cares. Capitalism never cared much for musicians. By the stereo Bernard snored and spluttered before rolling over. This complacency, this mediocrity was fine for dogs. They didn’t know any more of life. Bernard and Greg would be happy and content enough with existence even if they never left the smallholding. It wasn’t enough for a man, it wasn’t enough for Tom. Back then with his terrified sweetheart looking up at him with a reverence she had not shown before or since, he made his decision. Music didn’t pay, at least, not enough to take care of a new arrival. Tom gave up the music and followed his father into the family restaurant. He inherited the barn house after the third stroke killed off his old man. Shadowstream were touring Europe. Tom was working 60 hour weeks watching the same situations, the same orders, the same staff, the same customers. They were all the same. Only the names changed. The people and places around him were as remarkable for their consistency as their mediocrity. His daughter was cold to him; his wife was never the love of his life. One ripped condom was all it had taken to put out the fire in a young man’s heart. Tom drew heavily from the joint.
It struck him, it hit him. All in one crystalising moment. The whole of his life stood before him, thirty-one years lay behind him. Thomas Henry Green left the house the next morning and left a short note in his wake, outlining who was to take over the business, that he was gone but was safe and that he would understand if Susan divorced him. His Cheshire cat smile is reflected on the faces of the crowd, his bass guitar growls out into the night. He is reborn.