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Authors: Martyn Waites

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BOOK: Born Under Punches
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Louise felt herself redden. ‘He's writing a piece on Coldwell.'

Another hard snort of laughter. ‘Well, he won't be short of material. They're all on the dole there.'

Louise took a deep breath, blinked rapidly. Her chest was suddenly fluttering. ‘He'd just been to see someone about it.'

‘Some other moaning liberal, no doubt.'

Louise swallowed. ‘Tony Woodhouse.'

A sudden fear appeared in Keith's eyes. He stopped chewing, his fork and knife limp in his grasp.

‘Yes,' said Louise calmly, a small triumphant smile pulling at the corners of her lips. ‘Tony Woodhouse.' Her voice became louder, more confident. ‘And Stephen's going to be spending quite some time with him, so I wouldn't be surprised if we see him again.'

Ben, looking from one to the other, pulled his head right back into his tortoise shell, trying to make himself invisible.

Keith's eyes dropped to his plate, his breath quickening. ‘Not in this house, we won't.'

‘Yes, we will.'

When Keith spoke there was anger rising in his voice. ‘He's not welcome in this house.'

Louise stared at him. ‘He'll be welcome as long as I live here, Keith.'

Keith tried to hold her stare, but his eyes flashed with fear, his weak mouth dropped. ‘Well, I'll make sure I'm out, then,' he mumbled.

‘Fine.'

They lapsed into silence. Louise ate, her dinner tasting of bitter, petty victory. Keith's hands and mouth were idle. Ben, head down, looked in fascination at the way his knife cut, his fork transported food to his mouth.

‘Finish your dinner,' said Louise.

Keith jumped, began to obey the command, automatically forking food into his mouth, staring at Louise, eyes like witch-hunt torches.

Suddenly, cutting through the silence, from the front street came the noise of a car being sonically pulverized, sound system blaring out garage. In response, a door upstairs slammed, followed by feet running downstairs.

‘Suzanne,' called Louise, ‘your dinner's getting cold.'

Suzanne put her head round the dining room door. She was dressed and made up well beyond her years. ‘I'm going out,' she said.

‘Well, eat first,' said Louise. ‘And where are you going, looking like that, anyway?'

But she was speaking to thin air. Suzanne was already on her way to the front door. ‘Got to go. Bye.'

The door slammed, followed by the car door, then the decreasing thump as the mobile sound system receded into the distance. It left the silence in the family dining room even louder and heavier than before.

Louise sighed. ‘That girl,' she said, almost unaware she was thinking aloud. ‘I don't know what to do with her.'

Another hard snort from the other side of the table. Louise looked across. Keith was chewing his lips, eyes shining in malicious triumph. He waited until he had her full attention before he spoke.

‘Well, Louise,' he said. ‘She is your daughter.'

He sat back, pleased to have had the last word.

Louise picked up her glass of red wine, knuckles clenched and white around the stem, lifted it to her mouth and, hand trembling, drained it. She quickly refilled it, drained it again, then spoke.

‘Are you finished?'

Keith sat back, nodded.

‘Then I'll fetch the pudding.'

She got up, gathered the plates together and went into the kitchen. Once alone inside, she put the dishes down, pushed her back hard against the units and, her breathing ragged and trembling, willed the tears that were gathering at the corners of her eyes not to fall.

‘Oh, God, oh, God,' she whispered to herself, a plea and a prayer. For her life, her loss, her love.

‘Oh, God.'

With an effort she willed the tears away, the turbulence from her heart. She picked up the pudding dish and walked back into the dining room wishing, not for the first time, that her husband was dead.

Davva and Skegs were bored. The chocolate was long gone, they had smoked as much as they could without throwing up, the Bacardi bottle was empty. Even the can of gas they had saved until last as a treat was used up. They had relived their dash through Coldwell in minute comic and heroic detail, but now the moment could be postponed no longer: they had nothing to do.

Dusk was settling, what workers there were returning home. Davva and Skegs stared at them as they poured from the buses, walking past in their suits and working clothes, tired and unemotional. Some cast glances down at the two boys as they sat by the wall with the debris of their day around them, and the boys returned the looks with hard, flinty ones of their-own; a two-way passage of non-comprehension and fear of others. But not hatred as such. Not specifically.

Heads fogged and stomachs swimming from what they had consumed, they listed the possibilities for the night ahead. They could go home. For various reasons, neither wanted to do that. They could wander around, try to score some weed or speed, twoc a car. Maybe later. They could go to Davva's sister Tanya's flat.

‘I'm starvin',' Skegs said. The booze, fags and chocolate had given him an appetite.

‘We'll go round our Tanya's then,' Davva replied. He stood up, reeled and steadied himself. The matter was settled.

As they walked off, Davva picked up the empty Bacardi bottle and threw it as hard as he could at a lamppost. It connected and shattered, showering the now-empty pavement and road with small, glistening shards that caught the streetlight and, glinting like tiny prisms, fell into the gutter, tinkling gently as they went. In the boys' fogged minds, the whole thing was in blurred, cinematic slo-mo. Beautiful, like diamonds. Streetlight like gold. Skegs smiled, Davva wanted to but wouldn't allow himself. They turned and walked away.

Past the red-brick council semis and three-storey blocks of flats lay the T. Dan Smith Estate. Entry was marked by the Magpie pub and the strip of shops with the gunmetal siege fronts. Police, ambulances or pizza deliverers rarely ventured there. Cut off, it was starving, dying.

When Tanya had discovered she was pregnant, her mother wanted nothing more to do with her. Her name was not even to be mentioned in the house. Alone and unsupported, she had gone to the council and found herself housed with amazing speed. Once in her new flat, she found out why. Wyn Davies House was a concrete-plated high-rise. The block was damp and mouldering, the lift stank of piss, the stairs of shit, the walkways crunched with underfoot hypodermics. It was no place for a seventeen-year-old, with or without a baby. Tanya was on the sixth floor. At first she hated it deeply. After a while she accepted it. Now she didn't even notice. Sometimes she even contributed.

Tanya was sitting on the second-hand settee watching
Coronation Street
, Carly asleep in her cot, when there was a knock at the door. She jumped up, eager to answer it. She knew who it would be. She had been waiting for him.

She opened the door. There stood her little brother Davva and his weird mate Skegs. She tried not to let her disappointment show.

‘What the fuck d'yays want?'

‘Howay, Tanya, let wuh in, man.'

She sighed, took her hand off the door and walked back to the sitting room. Davva and Skegs walked in, Skegs closing the door after him. She flopped back on to the settee, trying to look interested as Ken and Deirdre went tiredly around the houses again. Davva and Skegs stood.

‘Have yuh got owt to eat?'

‘There's a chip shop down the bottom. Gan there.' Tanya tried not to smile at her own wit.

‘Howay, man, Tanya, we're starvin'.'

Tanya turned to look at the two boys, their vacant, blurred expressions. ‘Are yous two on somethin'?'

‘Aye, we're pissed,' said Skegs with his irritating giggle.

‘Aye,' said Davva, puffing himself up, ‘we raided the Paki shop. Gorrway wi' loads, didn' wuh?'

Skegs nodded. Davva reached into his pocket, pulled out twenty Silk Cut, tossed them on the settee. ‘Got you these.'

Tanya looked at the cigarettes and smiled. ‘You're not a bad lad, are you, Davva?'

‘So, can we have somethin' to eat now?' Davva asked.

‘There's some beans in the kitchen. Help yerself.' Tanya ripped the cellophane from the cigarettes, opened them, lit up. Suddenly, there came another knock at the door, different from the last one, sharp, businesslike. Tanya jumped up to answer. This was the one.

She opened the door and there he stood. Tall, good-looking, clothes all street and rightly labelled, flashes of gold, wearing arrogance as aftershave.

‘Hello, Karl,' Tanya said. ‘Come in.'

Karl had already swept past her. He walked into the room, stopped dead when he saw the two wasted boys standing there, spooning cold beans out of a tin.

‘Who's this?' he asked.

‘Me brother and his mate. Don't worry about them.' She started to walk towards the bedroom. ‘Come on in here. It's private.' Karl followed her in. The bedroom smelled of mildew, sweat, dirt and guilty, unsatisfying sex. In the corner the baby, Carly, slept in her cot. Tanya walked over to the dressing table, opened a drawer, took out a roll of notes and counted them out. She handed them to Karl. He checked and pocketed them.

Karl sat on the edge of the bed, looking at his watch. ‘Come on, I'm in a hurry.'

She took a last, long draw on the cigarette, stubbed it out in an ashtray on the dresser. She sat next to him, unzipped his trousers, reached inside and began squeezing his cock to erection. Once it was at a workable size, she dropped to her knees in front of him, placed it between her lips and began to pump it into her mouth.

It wasn't long before he came, Tanya holding on, pulling the last drops from him, fighting the bile rising in her throat, swallowing down hard. She looked up at him, smiled. He returned the smile, his own cruel and cocky.

He fastened himself up, got to his feet. He reached inside his jacket, brought out a plastic wrap, handed it to her. Tanya took it, wanting it there and then.

‘This might be the last time I'm around here for a while,' he said.

‘Why?' asked Tanya, a sudden, stabbing sound.

Karl shrugged. ‘Getting too dangerous to come in here.'

Tanya spoke as if her lover was leaving her. ‘But you can't stop coming here. What'll I do?'

The baby stirred, moaned in her sleep. Karl ignored it. ‘Find someone else.'

She rushed over to him, grabbed his jacket. ‘Please, Karl, you can't stop comin'. Get someone else to do it if you don't want to come here any more.'

‘Who?' he asked.

Suddenly there came the sound of arguing from the front room. Davva and Skegs were apparently fighting over who was going to have the last of the baked beans.

‘What about them?' asked Tanya.

Karl smiled.

‘Come on, Karl, they'll do it. They're good lads.'

Karl looked thoughtful, then walked back to the living room.

Davva and Skegs stopped their tug of war when he entered.

‘Hey, lads,' Karl said, reaching into his jacket, ‘got a present in here for you. And if you like it, got a job for you too. What d'you say?'

Tanya stood behind him, eagerness, relief and amusement all over her face.

Suzy waited. The car was freezing, and he said he'd only be a minute. Over twenty of them had passed and she was still here, really pissed off. Suddenly she saw him emerge from the tower block and make his way over to the car. He got in, shut the door.

‘You took your time,' she said huffily.

‘Business, pet. Took longer than I expected.' He put the key in the ignition. ‘One more stop, then we can go and have some fun.'

‘What kind of fun?' Suzy asked, tongue teasing out between her smiling lips.

He flashed his special smile, the one she could never stay mad with for too long. ‘Anything you like,' he said.

He started the car up and they drove off, garage blaring as they went.

It was nearly one o'clock when Louise heard the noise. Like a hand grenade tossed up the quiet close, the car drummed 'n' bassed its way up the street and stopped to disgorge its passenger in front of Louise's house.

She was awake. She had tried to sleep, but couldn't.

The front door opened and closed quietly, the footsteps light on the stairs. Suzanne wasn't doing that out of consideration for the rest of the household, Louise knew from bitter experience; she was trying to avoid a fight.

Louise heard the car pull away, the soft click of Suzanne's bedroom door, then silence. She lay in the dark, flat on her back, staring at the ceiling. Beside her, Keith was snoring lightly, his back to her.

Something would have to be done, she thought. Things can't go on like this.

Louise sighed, kept staring at the ceiling. It was going to be another long night.

5. Then

because, make no mistake, this is not just a labour dispute. What we are witnessing in the mining towns and villages around the country is the premeditated, systematic destruction of working-class communities and the deliberate silencing of the right to any legitimate voice of dissent or protest. This is being done by a cruel and oppressive government who only seek to plunder the country and line the pockets of themselves and their cronies, led by a dictatorial dominatrix who will use all the powers of government to destroy opposition, from changing or ignoring laws to removing rights and civil liberties as it suits her.

The typewriter clacked, the argument grew: thoughts to fingers to keys to ribbon to letters to words to sentences to paragraphs. Larkin wrote speedily: fingers punching, mouth forming and following words, forehead creased, eyes slitted behind National Health tortoiseshells. Energy fizzed, focused down his arms. Fingers fed the machine. Black Uhuru on the stereo: ‘What Is Life?'. This is life, thought Larkin. Life like it should be. Like it shouldn't be. Like it is.

Thatcher and her boot boys are trying to change today into tomorrow using hatred and fear. And we have to fight back. Or we'll lose more than a strike.

BOOK: Born Under Punches
5.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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