The Wedding

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It was dark on the manicured lawn. No lights, other than the shitty disco colours through cracks in the curtains a hundred feet away on the other side of a sand bunker and a small car park. Muffled music ran like thick sludge from the doors to the hole in the grass with a flag in it where I was standing. I was looking up at the stars in my hired three piece suit. The July night was clear and warm but there was an ominous feeling, like I was committing a murder, or had just felt a sudden strong gust of wind on a cliff edge. I didn’t want to go back inside. About a hundred people were sitting looking bored, or had drunk too much and decided to dance. People weren’t talking to each other. Nobody looked interested in anything other than getting the fuck out of there and back home. I was no different. I lay down on the grass, wondering how long it’d take before someone realised the groom had gone. If it mattered?

A friend of mine had driven from Leeds but was sitting in his car smoking weed. I could smell it from the eighteenth green, lush and fragrant, like a last note of many years of fantastic music. There’d be no more of that kind of thing for me. At 27 I was already so deeply into normal life anyhow that whomever I used to be had been kicked to death. And I was having my wedding reception at a Golf Club…..a fucking Golf Club….! The shitty, dull, grind of nothingness was already weighing heavily. What sort of robot had I become? Somehow I’d got with a woman so incompatible that the days lasted forever and the nights couldn’t come soon enough just so I could go to sleep and waste the hours. Inside the Golf Club hall she was sitting talking to her sister, laughing. The wedding dress was cutting into her armpits but she kept it on. It was her day.

I got up and walked slowly back inside. Shitty music now, booming. Alternate blue/green/red light illuminated faces all staring into space or down at the plates of food from the £1,000 evening buffet. I hadn’t eaten any of it. I waited at the bar to be served. Somehow I’d have to get through the honeymoon. How? I couldn’t bear to think about it. I drank the lager quickly and ordered another, which didn’t taste as bad as the first, but couldn’t have lifted the mood even if it had been laudanum.

That night, in the bridal suite, I saw someone had smeared lipstick on the mirror. Some bawdy bullshit about screwing my new bride. There was a penis shaped balloon tied to the bed. We undressed. She folded the wedding dress carefully. I chucked the suit on a chair and climbed into bed. She got in beside me. ‘Did you enjoy the wedding,’ I asked.

‘It was wonderful,’ she replied.

‘I’m very tired.’

‘Shouldn’t we….’

‘Maybe in the morning. That okay with you?’

Silence.

I slept well. Avoided any physical contact in the morning. Ate breakfast. Drove to the airport. We didn’t even have sex on the honeymoon. I managed to dodge it by saying I felt poorly, hungover, sunburned, headache, stomach ache, tired, and spent the week drinking, walking around in a daze, avoiding thinking about marrying the wrong person. Feeling like a rat trapped in a barrel. No chance of escape.

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Nights of panic

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The house was on a new development. Mock Tudor. Hideous. I was only looking at it because my partner thought it was the right thing – the upwardly mobile thing – to do. She was bland. I guess that’s why the blandness of the little street appealed. All I knew was that it was bigger than the house we were living in. And I wouldn’t have to hear the neighbours over the road fucking in the summer with their windows open. Screaming up the hot night while I lay in bed not wanting to do the same with the woman laying next to me. Every time I heard them I imagined the kind of love and lust that was driving those screams and moans. It had never been like that in my life. Fuck those hot summer nights. We would breath heavy. Both of us knowing the other wasn’t asleep. Not touching in bed. Me staring into the gloom praying I wouldn’t feel a hand on me under the thin sheets. Having to make up an excuse.

But the new house was going to be away from all that. The neighbours weren’t going to screw all night and shout each others names into the stinking rotten Epworth air. This was a move upwards. Up Up, into the middle class. Two cars on the drive. Waving to grass-cutting middle-aged car salesmen across the way on Saturday afternoons. Pristine house. Glass of wine with Dinner. Better and better cars and sofas and holidays until the rest of my hair fell out and the pension cheques started dropping on the mat. Climbing up into the apex of fat mediocrity. Tense puckered kisses goodbye in the mornings, the limit of sexual contact. Thankful for it.

The house was owned by a single woman in her mid to late forties. I can’t remember her name but it was something like Crapper, or Merde, or some other shit-based reference. I remember laughing when I first heard it. She had curly brown hair and, possibly, an eating disorder. She was very thin, drawn, and her eyes had sunk right down into their sockets. I was shocked when she opened the door to show us around. And she was timid, really scared-looking. Mousy. Like she was about to run to a safe room and bolt the door behind her. She barely whispered when she talked. Something told me she’d seen something awful and couldn’t wash it away. I thought that’s why she kept the house so clean. The hallway and stairs had a brand new carpet, you could smell the newness. The walls had been painted cream and it looked as though the paint layers were thick and expensive. My partner loved the place, so after we looked round we went back to the estate agents and told them we’d offer near the asking price. I wondered about the new carpets in a new house. I asked what it was all about.

‘You didn’t see the news last year?’ she replied.

‘No..’

‘Her husband attacked her one night in the house with an axe. It was pretty bad. She was trying to leave and he was chopping at her as she was coming down the stairs into the hallway to the front door, trying to run. I heard she curled up into ball by the front door and he just kept on hacking. Someone next door heard the noise and called the police. She nearly died.’

‘Jesus!’

‘He got twenty years in prison.’

‘And that’s why the new carpet and the paint job?’

‘Yeah. You do still want to put an offer in?’

The sales pitch wasn’t the best I’d ever heard. But at least it was honest. Mrs Crapper, or whatever she was called, had only just come out of hospital and wanted rid of the place where she’d almost been chopped to pieces by someone she trusted. She wasn’t even living there any more. She’d moved in to her sister’s. She couldn’t face living alone. Being hacked at with an axe tends to change people.

So we bought the house, violent memories and all, and I set about cleaning the car on Saturdays, waving to the guy across the road. Losing more of me by the second. Disappearing into the middle of my life in a beige haze of nothing out of the ordinary. At least in the summer, with the bedroom windows open, the nights were still. Like they were in the marriage bed.

 

Passionate debate

She was wearing stockings. I could see the tops of them as she crossed her legs up high, drunk. The short dress was skewed from a bad rearrangement following a trip to the toilet. Across her shoulders a small fur stole hung off one side and exposed a black bra strap. Her hair was messy curly and looked like it’d had recently seen the ruffles of an overzealous lover.

He sat the other side of the small pub table and spoke loudly, gesturing his hands like he’d watched too many politicians and was trying really hard to expand his power base purely by hand signals. He was winning. The small party around him listened to his slurred words. She ran a stiletto up and down his leg as her husband watched out of the corner of his eyes from another table.

“We are in control of the country now. Let’s just get the immigrants sorted out and we’ve done it all,” he boomed. She swooned a little under the weight of the booze and the prospect of a fuck with a sense of purpose, from someone who was going places. Her hand moved under the table towards his groin.

Next to them at this post-meeting Conservative pub crawl, four older members watched the foulness in front of them and nodded approval. The immigrants needed stopping. They would lower the tone of the whole fabric of British society if they were given half a chance. Where would family values be when people were having sex in the streets and homes were being invaded by heroin-addicted squatters? Thankfully, they thought, all that was a long way away right now. What we had here was the cream of the crop, spilling gin and tonics and cheap lager on the scrubbed tables of a backwater pub high on a hill – non-white patron count = nil. This was the future.

Her husband finally had enough of watching his wife fondling the local Conservative Party council candidate. He stood up, told her she was a whore, stumbled out of the pub and rapped on the window outside. “You fucking bitch,” he yelled at her, then zigzagged off into the night.

Much was decided locally that evening, including my solemn oath to never enter politics.

Heading for the top

 

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‘No-one would believe this. You can do it. You deserve it.’ That’s what Rick told himself. He was plucking up courage.

It was nine in the evening. Midweek. A typical February in a South Yorkshire shithole. He’d followed the instructions – ‘..go past the welding place, then the row of shops with the kebab place at the end. Wait just past there. I’ll come out.’ The rain wasn’t too heavy, so he left the wipers off and watched the row of terraced houses ahead of him on both sides of the road. As far as he could tell, the grimy bricks stretched on up the hill and into the night forever. He wondered just how many people were behind the dirty front doors and if they’d be watching out for strangers.

‘Man…..what am I doing?’ He tapped the steering wheel. It was his first time. At the start he’d been hesitant but then he’d gotten several offers and, after all, money is money. The equipment was in the back; everything he’d need for any situations, even banana flavoured condoms. His phone beeped.

He read the message. It was from the contact. She’d be there in two minutes.

At home Rick’s wife was making dinner for their three daughters. She’d had a tough day – she was the main breadwinner – and cursed Rick for not being the go-getter he should really be, and for not putting the wine in the fridge. She didn’t care where he was, probably with his friends watching football, but hated the fact he wasn’t there to be instructed anyhow. She was good at instruction. Rick was weak. He was dependable for it, along with his faithfulness, and his clean living. She knew he didn’t do drugs, ever. And hardly any booze. Good old Rick. Good old predictable, stoical, calm, feeble, Rick. You knew where you were with a husband like him. She liked that. It gave her room to wear the pants and wield the real power in the relationship. A marriage was all about the winning, and with him there was no chance of her losing. He was broken good.

Towards the limit of the light of the streetlamp, Rick saw someone walking up towards the row of cars where he’d parked. ‘Red umbrella,’ he’d been told. ‘Beige coat. Blonde hair.’ He squinted through the watery windshield. The car lights were off, though the engine was running. He thought about putting the high beam on but his gut instinct told him to wait. After all, it wouldn’t pay to get this thing wrong. There would be serious repercussions. He was nervous as hell. How would he start this off? Was it just a question of rolling down the window and saying hi?

Her advert had asked for a professional photographer. Rick wasn’t professional, it was just a middle-aged hobby; something to give him a good reason to spend time in the spare room each evening after he’d cooked dinner and washed up. Things had got too far, too quickly. She was a porn star. Not famous, but she looked hot, and she was only in the next county. She’d hired him via a porn site – he could hear the creaky stairs at home well enough to watch porn up there with the volume on mute each evening – and this was now real. It was the most exciting thing he’d ever done. He started to get a hard-on. She got closer…. She was enormous….

‘Holy fuck,’ Rick said out loud. She looked nothing like her pictures. She was at least three times the size of him, maybe four hundred and fifty pounds. Red umbrella, beige coat, blonde…vague resemblance to the woman he thought he’d been communicating with. He started to panic. Could he take the photos? Yeah, of course…just a job…point, click. But he knew that the photos were not the main reason he was there. In the frenzied messages arranging the thing there had been talk of sex – of part payment in kind. She was expecting it. He had been, too.

She drew level with the car, stopping at his door and seeming to fill the world. Rick sat rigid with fear, gripping the steering wheel and looking straight ahead. She tapped at the window. Her face looked like it was bigger than a truck wheel. ‘HEY! Come on, love, it’s pissing it down,’ she bellowed through the wet glass.

For a few weeks afterwards, Rick thought about her whenever his wife shouted at him for a badly mopped floor, or when the Soaps were on TV and he was being told to watch, but his newspaper was being turned too loudly. He could still see her face as he’d jammed the car into gear and screeched up the road, leaving her standing there in the rain waving her fist and kind of jumping in the dirty night. It was a horrible sight. He’d received a couple of abusive emails from her over the next few days but chose not to reply.

Rick went back to the evening masturbations in his spare room. It was just about all the thrill level he could take. ‘After all, why rock something good that you already have,’ he thought. He was prepared to stick things out. Get on with being cocooned away from those dangerous vicarious dreams. Three kids and a dull job was ok by him, after all. He knew he would always be a failure in his wife’s eyes, but breaking free, making something of himself, being who he wanted to be, wasn’t ever going happen. She would make sure of that.

 

I knew Rick as a friend. He was aching to be someone, he just didn’t know who or what. He was a guy who’d talk to everyone in a bar for far too long just in case one person liked him even a little bit. He needed a dream, but was unsure of the contents, or the end. When I had an overdose one time, Rick was the first friend to come round a few days later to my flat and see if I was doing alright. He was a genuine guy. But he had those secrets.. He’d sit and tell me about the life he was on the verge of living; or, as he put it, ‘being my own man, Ben, for once.’

I always thought he’d nudge around on the verges of call girls, covert smokes of weed, and the odd weekend away with the boys and a fumble round the back of a seaside pub. He was never going to ride off into his personal nirvana like he said. It was a pipe dream. His balls were in a vice and his direction was always skewed. At least, that was my opinion. Your dick is not the greatest compass in uncertain terrain. He was never going to work it out.

Rick told me six months later that his wife had left him. The guy was younger, wore sharp suits, snorted coke, was headed for the top. That same night Rick typed out an email – “Hi Tracey. I’m sorry about that time before. Can we arrange something again? I’ll pay. I think I love you.”

He pulled over past the kebab shop on the terraced street a day later. He was going places.