Handstands In The Dark: A True Story of Growing Up and Survival (30 page)

BOOK: Handstands In The Dark: A True Story of Growing Up and Survival
12.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

He pulled me by the shoulder and dragged me from the bar to the back shop, holding the neck of my jumper so tight with his fist that it started to choke me.

‘Sean,’ I stammered, ‘I cannae I cannae b-breathe …’

He stopped, dropped his hands, said nothing and walked out the room.

I realised Sammy had been standing quietly in the corner watching us.

‘I huv had enough, Sammy,’ I said. ‘I cannae do this any more. He’s just a big bastard!’ I cried as I ran out of the door and upstairs. Ashley was sleeping peacefully. I sat on her bed and stroked her wee head.

When Sean came upstairs that night, he just gave me a dirty look as he came to bed. Next morning, as he slept, I packed a bag and lifted Ashley up quietly, got her dressed, grabbed her folded buggy and left the house as silently as possible. This time I had decided to leave for real and had prepared everything – I had clothes, credit cards and cash. As I pushed her quickly towards the railway station, Ashley swung her legs happily in the buggy: ‘Where are we going, Mummy?’

‘Don’t really know, baby,’ I said, more to myself than to her, ‘but I am really gonna go this time.’

The station was busy. I bought Ashley a doll to play with on the journey and we jumped on the first train I saw. It was bound for Stranraer, a town on the south-west coast of Scotland that was the sailing point for ferries to Northern Ireland. Ashley was dressing and undressing her doll as the train rumbled along. ‘Why are we going without Daddy?’ she asked, looking confused.

‘I don’t want us to go back to Daddy, Ashley. I want us to go away for a while and we can see him again maybe in a few weeks. I need to be away from him and I need you to be a big girl about this.’ I tried to explain as best I could. She suddenly stopped playing with the doll, looked up at me and started screaming.

‘I want my daddy!’ she howled.

People started looking over at us.

‘This is not my mummy!’ Ashley screamed hysterically. ‘Somebody take me to my daddy! This is not my mummy! My home is the Weavers Inn pub in Glasgow! Help me! I am being taken away!’

I had to get her off the train at the next stop, trying to shut her up and confused about which town we were in: it turned out we actually were in Stranraer.

‘Ashley, stop it,’ I pleaded as I dragged her off with the buggy behind me. ‘It’s OK. I promise I will take you home tomorrow. I promise, now stop that noise. Ashley, stop shouting!’

She was inconsolable and sat crying on a bench in the station. She wouldn’t get off that bench.

‘Mummy, please, I want my Daddy!’ she cried over and over. ‘Mummy, please, I want my Daddy! Mummy, please, I want my Daddy! Mummy, please, please, I want my Daddy!’

I decided to stay in Stranraer overnight. I was tired and needed to think a bit. We checked into a wee hotel near the station where the owner had a blue, red and green parrot called Sugar sitting on a perch behind the bar. This seemed to take Ashley’s mind off things for a while. She started to chat-chat-chat to the parrot in the lounge while I had a cup of tea and decided to call Sean and let him know we were OK.

‘Janey, where are ye?’ he asked as soon as he heard my voice. He sounded frantic. ‘I woke up an’ ye were both gone. Is Ashley OK?’

‘We are fine,’ I said flatly. ‘I’m just fucking fed up with you an’ the shit ye put me through. I’m gonna stay here tonight an’ we’ll both be home in the morning.’

‘Will ye come home just now?’ he pleaded. ‘I am sorry; please come home.’

‘Ah cannae. I’m in Stranraer. We got on a—’

‘Whit the fuck are ye doing in Stranraer?’ he interrupted.

‘Sean, I just jumped on a train. Listen, I will be home. The wee wean cannae live without ye. I will come home tomorrow. I am fucking tired oot an’ she has been crying fur ye.’ As soon as I said it, I regretted saying that last bit as I knew it would wound him to know she was upset.

‘Put her on, please,’ he asked. It sounded as if he was crying.

‘Hello, Daddy, I miss you lots and Mummy said you were not nice today and I have made friends with a parrot called Sugar …’ She felt she had to give out every piece of information she could in one sentence. ‘I am coming home in the morning time and I love you too. Here’s Mummy to talk to you and be nice to her then she will come back, Daddy. Say you are sorry to her and she will come back.’ She held her hand over the mouthpiece and said to me: ‘Daddy says he is sorry he was angry and please go home in the morning.’ Her wee face looked up at me with Sean’s soft brown eyes staring into mine. Ashley had Sean’s eyes
they were reassuring but, in her eyes, I had never seen anger, madness and death. Sean could look at me and make me feel I was safe, but he could also turn his head slightly and look at me with eyes I knew had seen things that frightened me. Ashley held the phone out to me. As she stood behind me, I heard her whispering to herself: ‘He is sorry; he is sorry; he is sorry.’

My heart felt like it would crumble.

‘Janey,’ Sean spoke between tears. ‘Please, I am sorry. Tell me you will be home, eh?’

‘Yes, Sean, tomorrow, I promise.’ I hung up while he was still talking.

Ashley slept badly that night; she woke up about three times asking for Sean and falling back asleep in a sweat. That was when I knew that, whatever happened, I could never take her away from him and knew I could never live without her. I sat up in that damp, floral-wallpapered hotel room in Stranraer, watching the daylight slowly creep between a gap in the floral curtains and realised this was going to be my life until Ashley was at least 16.
Only another twelve years to go
. I smiled sadly to myself as I made another pot of musty tea and ate damp shortbread from the hospitality tray on the bedside table. Ashley would be going to school next year and I needed to get myself together.

Ashley’s education

local state schools, but Sean was adamant Ashley would be privately educated. We left it to the family lawyer, Mr Bovey, to investigate which school would suit her, as neither Sean nor I knew anything about private education at all. Mr Bovey was a Lithuanian with glassy blue eyes who dressed in a fine black woollen suit, carried a thin wooden cane with an L-shaped gold handle at the top and wore a black bowler hat. He was like someone from a Dickensian novel. You only noticed his Lithuanian accent when he swore, which was rare. He was very smart and I had always found him to be very intense and a bit stand-offish, but Ashley was fond of him: she would hug him and sit on his knee. She even called her toy panda bear after him – Mr Bovey the Bear.

He was a bit pompous and overblown for my taste, so I could never get my head round how this very prim, proper, formal man with a bowler hat and a cane got on so well with this little girl who kept hugging him. ‘Mr Bovey! Up! Up! Up!’ she’d command and he’d lift her up on his knee and they’d chat away. She just loved him and he chatted away to her oblivious of everyone else.

One morning, the phone rang and Mr Bovey was on the other end. ‘I have found the perfect school for Ashley, Mrs Storrie,’ he said in his clipped, fast-talking tone. ‘Laurel Bank all-girls school in the West End of Glasgow. I know the headmistress and can vouch for Ashley myself and be her sponsor. We will set up a meet-and-greet with the school to let you see all the facilities.’

‘OK then, Mr Bovey,’ I mumbled. ‘You know best.’ I was annoyed. I suppose what bothered me was that I never looked for a school myself. But, on the other hand, the West End was posh and not the normal drug-fucked, alcoholic, crazy, single-parent, piss-poor place. It had higher property prices and was quite middle class and what the hell did I know about private education?

‘Other private schools,’ he told me, ‘just turn out girls who are good wives. Laurel Bank actually educates them.’

But Ashley was growing up among other types of girls. Our customers had enjoyed a whole year of late-night ‘City of Culture’ drinking and, by this time, we had a regular late-night crowd of five ‘masseuses’ – all ‘working girls’. Sammy’s girlfriend Sarah introduced them to us. They would arrive just as we were closing at 3.00 in the morning, the Year of Culture having increased their sex trade, and Sean would grant them a lock-in. It was strictly no customers, just ‘The Girls’. Sean would put on the back kitchen grill and make them a fry-up: sausage, bacon, eggs, potato scones and black puddings. I would watch them slowly wipe off their make-up, kick off their high heels and drag long and hard on cigarettes while they figuratively and literally let their hair down, bitched, drank and laughed away the day’s hard work.

Chantalle was a beauty. She stood about six feet tall, her long black hair decorated with small crystal hair clips, draped down to her bum. Her make-up bag contained all the big designer names – Dior, Chanel, Helena Rubenstein. Sometimes I used to let her make me up. I would sit there as she painted bright luminous colours on my lips, swept rainbows of exotic palettes over my eyelids, and she would finish by clipping up my hair into pony-tails or a French plait. By then, it would be 4.00 in the morning; I looked ready for a night on the town and the girls would clap as I paraded around in my new look, maybe fantasising about being on the game myself, because Sean had been my first boyfriend so I’d never had consensual sex with another man. I’d ask them: ‘What’s that like … What’s this like … What’s the other like?’

All of the girls had pseudonyms to hide their real names. One called herself Joy. She was tall and enviably slender. She had beautiful blonde hair cropped into a short spiky affair and a gamine face with cheek-bones which drew you straight to enormous lashes, framing almond-brown eyes and sitting on her cheeks when she looked down. I envied her feminine looks; I felt small and dumpy in comparison. Joy was also very funny: she loved to impersonate all the other girls. After a few vodkas, she would get up and ‘act’ like Chantalle, all prissy and stroppy at the same time.

‘Darling, you do not touch my make-up! You have no idea who you are dealing with here! Dior is best! I get fucked for cash, so I only buy the best! Look at your cheap Boots lip gloss! You are so bloody common!’ She had Chantalle down to a tee … and, when Joy was well pissed, she loved to regale me with ‘sex talk’ from her long ten- or twelve-hour day: ‘Five fucking blow jobs, three hand jobs and one tit-feel from a nervous dentist,’ she would giggle.

One day, with all the other girls sitting round, I asked her: ‘Huv ye ever had anyone famous in?’

‘Oh, please! Please! Don’t start me!’ she said, waving her perfectly manicured hand as she slugged back her vodka in one big gulp. ‘I mean, my dear, I have sucked off half the Rangers football team and not a few big fucking gangsters, honey!’

‘Really? No fucking way!’ I squealed.

‘Yes I have. Yes indeed! And, get this …’ She stood up and reached down to the hem of her black leather skirt, her blood-red fingernails clutching the material, and she suddenly hitched the skirt up to expose her bare thighs. There, hanging between her legs, was a penis.

‘Fucking hell!’ I screamed, laughing in shock. ‘Fucking hell, Joy!’

I had no idea. All the other girls were looking at me and were pissing themselves laughing. They clapped and cheered as Joy strutted up and down in front of the bar with the black leather skirt pulled up to ‘her’ slender waist with ‘her’ flaccid penis slapping about from side to side against ‘her’ thigh. Then she started singing at the top of her voice:

I ammmm what I aaaaaahhhhhm!

Shirley Bassey never sang it that well or looked that feminine.

Sean came out of the kitchen holding two plates of – I swear to God – sausage and eggs.

‘No! No!’ Joy screamed as she held her penis in her fist. ‘No sausage for me, Big Boy!’

Sean laughed, then turned away and served the food.

‘Did you know about this?’ I shouted, barely able to speak from laughing.

‘Yeah,’ said Sean. ‘I did. He told me before.’

‘He wanted to fuck me,’ Joy giggled and cuddled up to Sean’s back as he put plates on the table. ‘But I said “You can’t – I have a cock!”’

‘You wish …’ Sean laughed as he delicately prised Joy’s hands from around his waist.

‘I am joking, Janey,’ Joy reassured me, ‘but he did ask
a couple of weeks ago if I was a man. I was shocked – nobody ever guesses!’

Sean just smiled, looked over at me and said, ‘I knew a woman could never be that beautiful.’

All the girls started shouting obscenities at Sean and Joy started dancing, kicking her legs up, singing to Sean, ‘The most beautiful girl in the world!’

‘Leave me alone,’ pleaded Sean. ‘I was taking the piss! I was only joking! You are
beautiful but …’ He pointed at Joy. ‘He has the biggest cock in the room!’

We all laughed and Joy was off twirling around dancing in her own wee world.

I never called her ‘him’ as long as I knew her.

Diamonds and pearls and death

one of the best we had had yet.

Just after midnight on Christmas Eve, Sean surprised me with a beautiful solitaire diamond ring to replace the wee engagement ring he had bought me when he was 16. I was absolutely gobsmacked, especially as he also got me a string of pearls. He thought I had asked him to buy me diamonds and pearls. In fact, I had actually asked him for
Diamonds and Pearls
, Prince’s new CD.

‘Where’s my CD, ye fuckin’ speccy idiot?’ I shouted at him, then put the old and new rings together on the wedding finger of my left hand and cherished the love we had. I liked to believe it would all be fine.

The next morning, Sean and I watched Ashley open her presents. There was a doll’s house, a toy fairground with tiny characters, a resplendent Playmobil caravan with tiny seats, windowboxes, flowers and a roof you could pull off and she got figurine characters from her favourite Disney movie
The Little Mermaid
. She also got loads of gifts from various family members. We relished her happiness as she sat among the heaps of toys and boxes all around her legs.

BOOK: Handstands In The Dark: A True Story of Growing Up and Survival
12.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Suzanne Robinson by Lord of the Dragon
Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn
Steadfast by Claudia Gray
Substitute by Rey, Isobel
The Ladies by Doris Grumbach
June Calvin by The Jilting of Baron Pelham