“And Father started giggling,” Castle continued. “He couldn’t stop. He walked out into the night with his flashlight. He was still giggling. He was making the flashlight beam dance over all the dead people stacked outside. He put his hand on my head and do you know what that marvellous man said to me?” asked Castle.
“’Son,’ my father said to me, ‘someday this will all be yours.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (1963)
Ever since I had my first crush (on Jude Law in Spielberg’s A.I.) at the tender age of 9, I’ve had this tradition of falling for someone in spring and crashing come autumn. In ‘o4 it had been a boy named Tariq, in ’05 it had been Colin, ’06 had been Jonas’s year, and the summer of ‘o7 had belonged to Hendrik. But like in so many things, ’08 would change the pattern.
Neither Tim nor Charley or Ponyboy were destined to be the true heartaches of that year, that would be Sim and Alex. But Charley and Ponyboy in many ways foreshadowed the two boys that would both transfigure my soul in the coming months, first into ice, and then into fire.
The sales rep that had given me a lift out of Leeds got me as far as a few kilometres past Durham. I had fallen asleep in the stuffy warmth of his Volvo, the constant drone of his voice merged smoothly with the purr of the engine. After what must have been an hour – though it felt like 5 minutes tops – he shook me awake.
“You’re bleeding, boy.”
Indeed, there was blood dripping from my hand onto my lap and the upholstery of the passenger seat. I pushed the jacket from my shoulder and rolled up the soaking wet sleeve of my T. The bandages had come lose and more blood was trickling down my arm.
The sales rep brought the Volvo to a skidding stop at the side of the motorway.
“Out,” he snarled.
I looked at him somewhat shocked. I mean, I was sorry for the stains on his seat cover, but I hadn’t expected this reaction.
“I cannot explain why I had you in my car,” was all of the cryptic answer I got to my puzzled look. “Get out. Now.”
I grabbed my satchel and left the car. He pulled the door close from within and roared off, leaving me by the side of the M1.
I treated the wound. My next attempt to keep it under wraps and pressure wasn’t much better, but I’d had enough experience with cuts to the arms to know that it wasn’t all that easy to bleed yourself dry even if you tried. I would live.
I made it to Newcastle that night, and appropriated enough money to stay at another hostel. This time nobody wanted papers or a story why I had none. The next day I hitched a ride with a lady driving a bloody big Japanese SUV, and who made me listen to saccharine soft pop and her own sob story all the way to Edinburgh. She told me that story in that wonderful melodious Scottish sing-song that I would come cherish like few other sounds in the world.
Her name had been Cherry or Sheryl or something Valance. She was moving back to her aging rents in Aberdeen after she had been fired from a job as some sort of psychologist. She’d been accused of fudging some research numbers.
“The thing is, I haedna cheated. Not the way they said I did anywae. I had gotten the numbers wrong, that much is correct. But it musta been subconsciously. My boyfriend had just deserted me when I wrote the paper, and what I wrote sorta proved an argument we’d had. At least it would have, if I’d been right. That is to say, if I cheated on anyone it was mostly on him.”
I don’t know what I thought when she said that, but she must have read something on my face. She grimaced and said: “Yer right. I only cheated myself.”
And after a brief, uncomfortable pause: “So, that is my sorry tale. Want ta tell me yer oon?”
I eyed her wearily. She laughed.
“That’s okay, laddie. Ye don’t haffta. I can tell that it’s not a happy one. No noodle salad there either, huh?”
“Never mind. Things are tough all over, huh?”
On the stereo Paula Cole asked us where had all the cowboy’s gone, but neither of us knew the answer.