I am sitting in the Queen’s pub, holding a pint in my hand, wearing a black leather jacket. It’s not mine and it belongs to someone who has died. It’s not just that they died in the car accident wearing the jacket, and this just recently. I guess I am amazed at the strength of the leather, which feels fairly heavy on me. It has a graze down the side of the left arm, as if someone took a screwdriver and dragged it down the leather to make the four inch long mark. This is where the seatbelt snapped. I watched the barmaid put a lime and an olive in someone’s drink that was fancier than the lager I consumed. I think that I wear it because somehow the leather jacket survived the crash even if he didn’t. I feel like I am wearing something that survived. I remember him wearing it when he was alive, and it didn’t look heavy on him.
I am staying in his room now at his grandmother’s, living there because of complicated circumstances. I needed someplace to stay after the accident. His gran and I had become friends, and she invited me to stay with her. We keep each other company, sitting in the front room, watching Neighbours and Coronation Street, dipping chocolate digestives into cups of tea, in front of the electric fire. I had noticed all along the mantelpiece there were small brass ornaments on the mantelpiece above the fire which were never tarnished. I realized after I was first there, Sunday after church she got the brass polish out and polished them with a small white cloth.
He had called her Gran, as everybody did, and so I did. She would get up from her spot in front of the telly, and look at me and say things that were reassuring, about the times, like “We have nothing to worry about do we?” Or “We can just please ourselves. Isn’t it great? Nobody tells us what to do.” Or she says things like “it’s no fun getting old,” or “Getting old doesn’t do anything for your looks”. She was in her 70’s but she was originally from Ireland.
The other day though, Gran had been to the hairdresser. She returned and it was raining so she had her wellies on and she left her wet umbrella in the front porch after she had closed the outer door. She untied the plastic head scarf from her head and her hair was in angelic silver curls. She tells me about how she was sitting there at the hairdressers, with curlers in her hair, waiting for it to set, and the large woman in the next chair was talking to her hairdresser and then after she finished telling her story, said “Aren’t the Irish thick,” and then cackled away, laughing. Gran said she bit her tongue and didn’t say anything except for giving her the evil eye, but the woman really annoyed her. She said it made her mad enough she could just spit. I wasn’t working yet, and was spending a lot of the day writing poetry. Gran had just lost her husband and her grandson recently, and so she was adjusting to everything the best she could.
I was still getting used to the culture here. The first week I had bought some chips at the chippy and was taking them to where I was staying. I went into the petrol station store to buy some bread. The cashier put the bread in a plastic bag, they call them ‘carrier bags’ here, and saw the chip carton. He asked me if I was making chip butties, and I said yes, but at that stage I didn’t know what he was talking about. I had to go home and ask afterwards.
Gran would cook us dinner, and put on an apron, would usually cook things like potatoes and meat with broccoli and keep the pots warm in the oven. She had a green Carlsberg bar towel on the kitchen counter which she kept the electric kettle on. The plug to the wall curling nearby like a white snake. Only they didn’t call it a counter there, they called it a ‘side’. I was still getting used to how fast the traffic was. How the lorries thundered down the hill and even right through the town centre they didn’t slow down.
In his room, in the closet, was his record collection. I had already seen his records before because he had shown them to me when he was alive. I had looked through it and I had seen some records I had, bands I had seen back in Vancouver.
The record was finished and I got up to take it off the turntable and put it back in the sleeve and into the cover. There was a knock on the bedroom door, which was open. I looked and it was Carol. I had only seen her once since the funeral.
“I wanted to see how you were doing, ” she said, crossing the room and giving me a hug.
I said I was fine, still holding a record in my hand.
I bent down to his records in the bottom of his closet and slid it in between two others. I had spent a lot of time listening to records, the last couple of days, looking out the window at the grey sky and the rain on the A515 leading up to the cemetery. Now the leaves were starting to turn orange.
Carol was 41 and she was seven months pregnant. It was a long time since I had seen a pregnant person close up before. I asked how she was.
She said she had been well. “Don’t wait until you are 41 to get pregnant, whatever you do.” She laughed, and I agreed I wouldn’t. 41 seemed so old to me then.
“When the kid is old enough to go to school, and I am waiting for him in the playground to pick them up, the other kids will be asking why my hands are so wrinkly.” She held up her hands. She just thought it was funny. I didn’t think she looked old at all.
“How are you finding it staying in his room?”
“It’s fine. Sometimes it’s cold at night.
Carol had a government job. She was Gran’s niece.
She grabbed my hand, about to laugh. “Once last year I stayed in the room next door. The central heating and the gas heaters were shut off at night and I stayed over here a couple of times in the winter. I thought I was going to freeze to death. I couldn’t believe it.”
I found I couldn’t sleep with my face under the covers very well (when we did this as a kid, like reading under the cover with a flashlight, I always had to make sure I wasn’t going to suffocate). Which meant if I slept with my chin under the covers, it was so cold I found my face, my cheeks were getting chapped at night, and I needed to pat extra thick moisturizer on before I went to bed. Otherwise, when I looked at the mirror in the morning, my face looked sore in places.
“I know,” I said to Carol. “It’s chapping my face.”
Why doesn’t she turn the heating on at night,” Carol said.
I shrugged. I didn’t know. “That’s okay. I’m glad to be here.” It was a cultural, generational thing. It’s like when Gran was unpacking boxes and she had newspaper all over the floor, the Sun, including the page threes which covered the floor everywhere, when the last thing I wanted to look at was pictures of boobs all over the tiles.
I sat against the far wall of the pub, on the benches. I guess I was pushing my own emotional boundaries too much, I don’t know why I did it. Somebody did ask about the jacket, and the marked sleeve, and so I told them, but I don’t think it registered in their mind. I was finishing my pint and someone put a song on the jukebox from the other room, Come Together by Primal Scream.
My friend I was here with, we had only been in the UK for a couple of weeks before I met him. Him and his best mate, in one of the local pubs. They said they wanted to take us into Manchester to one of the clubs. It was May of 1992.
One thing I thought about was how the stress of the incident jumbled things about, our recollections and the timing. Because the accident happened when we were all in the pub, near where I was sitting now, wondering where he was, but the next day, when we had met up, his best friend said he was worried that I was in the car. In my mind I thought you knew I wasn’t in the car because I was with everybody else at the pub. But I didn’t correct him. He was just trying to make sense of the accident in his head, and he was upset, so his sense of time was getting confused.
I know there were trees in Canada but I hadn’t been getting very close to them lately. The first thing I had noticed when I arrived in England was the tall trees and the fields, walking out into the moors, getting close to the edge of a forest, the trees, pines, and yew trees. Clumps of moss and leaves and decayed trunks and branches and leaves. There was just so much space right outside the town.
I had only just been in my friend’s car, on the way to see a band in Vancouver, listening to all the music of the Manchester scene. There was so much Manchester music in Vancouver before I left, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets and suddenly I was there.
Siting in a car outside the Hacienda in Manchester. It was a small car, a Fiat. It was dark and the other two were in the club. We were talking in the car, parked across the street from the club. He didn’t have a job, and there were no jobs around. We talked about when I was going home, in a month and a half or so, he said he would write to me if I wrote to him. Why don’t you try to find work in Canada for a bit? He asked what kind of work there was. Were there labor jobs? I said there was. After talking, and then when it went quiet, he suggested perhaps we go into the club and find our friends.
The club was crowded and there was some sort of artificial smoke that rose up, I looked up at the high ceiling. I tried to compare it to clubs in Vancouver. I wondered about how many people were on Ecstasy. That’s what we heard about when we first arrived in England. We were here and it was happening. Raves out in the countryside. In fields and hundred year old barns, and people taking E. Some people looked like they might be on E, but then it could just be the way they danced. Then I decided it was probably most people that were, except for us. I had never ever taken it, and I hadn’t been to a rave either.
So we were back in the club. We had just bought a drink, and the music was loud, and after a few minutes we were just watching and listening, but then we started talking or more so, yelling over the music, and that is when he said, “What you said.” He moved nearer to me. “About Vancouver. I think I’ll go with you.” He turned away and I went back to watching the people and the lights and the movement of colours on the pillars between the dancers.
This is a work of creative nonfiction; it contains no composite characters. On occasion names have been changed. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story.