Sleep comes down …
We’d been patient for nearly eighteen months. We didn’t have the patience of saints. Oh no. We had the patience of saints, nuns, priests and every god, deity or idol in existence. We were reaching breaking point, not just professionally, but personally too. The strength of Millie and my partnership kept us together when things were shit, and we shared the highs as well as the lows. Trouble was, we’d lately had considerably more lows than highs.
We would leap to the top of the mountain with a call from a manager of a producer gushing on about how great we were. Then we’d begin the long and slow descent to base camp, uncertain of our future and racked with self-doubt, exasperated by empty promises and broken commitments.
We’d one record deal, three sets of managers and been through umpteen producers. We’d played a sum total of five gigs and had found and lost three drummers, two bassists, a keyboard player and in a mad moment of lunacy, a flautist. But still Millie and I persisted. We argued about the smallest things related to the band, but never doubted each other’s determination, both to our career and to ourselves.
I looked at her sleeping peacefully on the bed. When I was calm, Millie was anxious. When she was apprehensive and agitated, I remained unruffled and assured. We worked perfectly together. She had enthusiasm, a sparkling smile, a dream of a voice to go with my own daydreams. We were on the same wavelength, laughed at the same things, cried at the same things. She sang her words to my music. It was a 50:50 deal.
Her feet, still stuck inside her boots, dangled off the bed. I gently pulled them off and hooked her feet round. I wrapped the duvet over her shoulders and brushed her elegant nose with the tip of my little finger. She briefly stirred and blinked sleepily, giving a half smile before settling down again.
I wandered into the kitchen and filled two glasses of water. Back in the bedroom I placed the glasses on the bedside table, then carefully eased myself on top of the duvet next to Millie. Lying on my back I stared hard at the cracks in the ceiling and then turned to look at the neon glow of Millie’s digital radio alarm clock. 11:45. I heard the front door slam and listened as Edmund Druhan methodically made his way up the two flights of stairs to his flat. He was home uncharacteristically early. I counted the steps he took to his bathroom – five, six, seven, eight. The cistern flushed. Taps ran. More steps – three, four, five. The ceiling heaved as I imagined him lowering himself into bed. No telly tonight, I thought. I hope he’s all right. 11:59. ‘… Pumping like a fugitive, in cover from the night …’. Blondie’s song was like a teenage joy-rider in my head, intent on ram-raiding my eyelids. I turned over and buried my head in the pillow. It was going to be a long, restless night.
To sleep, perchance to dream…
As Millie’s alarm clock blinked over to 3:07 I decided to raid the fridge. My stomach felt hollow and I didn’t want the rumble to waken her. Despite me inconsiderately downing both glasses of water, I had a sandstorm raging in my mouth. It didn’t help that the flat was constantly dusty, thanks to our selfish landlord’s refusal to replace the threadbare carpet. The poor, tatty thing looked as if it had been specially flown in from the Gobi desert, such was the content of sand, grit and dry dirt. No matter how hard we tried to Hoover and brush up the crap, our floor could have easily been mistaken for a cross between Camber Sands and a crash safety pit at Silverstone. The vacuum cleaner our landlord Mr Kuan-Yin begrudgingly provided actually spewed out more dust than it sucked in.
I crept across the floor and made my way into the kitchen. It was bitterly cold, even for February, and my breath formed vapours of mist in the air. For once I was grateful for having gone to bed in my clothes, and I pulled my jacket tight around my middle in an attempt to keep warm. My damp All Stars squeaked on the ancient linoleum tiles, once virgin white and clinically clean; now turgid pale beige, splattered with innumerate stains of dubious origin, and curled up edges like a two-day old sandwich. I knelt down and pulled open the fridge door. It juddered and hummed, then emitted a weak, yellowy light. Inside were the remnants of the milk, a couple of pots of Millie’s favourite low-fat yoghurts, half a tomato, some limp, out-of-date salad leaves, a tub of margarine and a solitary can of John Smith’s. That would do. I reached for the can and slammed the door.
With drink in hand I stood staring out of the kitchen window. The back of our street had previously been a stable block, and only recently converted into luxurious town houses and flats. The cobbled yard was fitted with flush lighting, which smouldered serenely in the dark night. Various cars were parked outside each flat: nearly all top of the range models – a black BMW 3 series, a red Toyota Celica convertible, one of the new design Beetles, in a startling purple finish. Nearly all the lights were out, except for the living room of the group of Japanese students who were renting one of the bigger houses. Even at three in the morning, I could still see one of the male students beavering away on a computer, his long, sleek hair cascading over the keyboard as he typed furiously. The students often kept Millie and I amused with their antics. They were naively and blissfully unaware of the stuffy residents around them, and would often play ball games in and around the precious cars, or excitedly perform antics in front of an audience of gathered friends – singing, dancing and joking. They seemed particularly enamoured with a pastime that involved something on satellite TV, and then participating in doing jerky movements and silly dances. Millie and I couldn’t work it out. We could only imagine it was like watching the Generation Game, and actually participating in the tasks and challenges at home.
On the floor above them, lived a young threesome: two blokes and a girl. We couldn’t fathom their relationship at all. When they first moved in the girl, tall and slender with legs seemingly up to her armpits, mousy brown hair and a penchant for crimson blusher, appeared constantly wrapped around one of the guys. The ‘lucky’ chosen one was lean, muscular and tanned, a look spoilt somewhat by small, piggy eyes, a shaven head and numerous tattoos.
They had access to a roof terrace, and on sunny days the couple regularly climbed a flimsy iron ladder armed with picnic hamper, radio and warm blankets. Then, a few weeks later, the third man, who was short, stocky and obsessed with black clothes began to join them. In a kind of relay, once one bloke had climbed the ladder the other would descend it.
The second suitor had long, greasy hair parted down the middle, like an aging rocker, and he too seemed infatuated with the girl. He was one of those arrogant types you see on the tube or in the street: always talking loudly on a mobile phone while pacing up and down. On warm days, when we had the windows open, you could hear his voice echoing around the courtyard; ‘…buy low … sell high… ciao … later …’ Once he saw me looking at him across the yard and waved. But I didn’t wave back.
And you’ve been working all day, all day, all day …
The rest of the people came and went their daily business without much fuss. Off to work by nine, then home in time for the repeat showing of Neighbours. Again, song lyrics filled my mind, this time Cat Stevens: “…Matthew and Son, the work’s never done, there’s always something new … the files in your hand, you take them to bed, you’re never ever through …” So it paid for the house and the car and the holiday in Venice but it wasn’t what I wanted. Guaranteed, I envied the secluded flats with their brand new furniture and the BMW to take you anywhere. I rented a crappy flat with shitty décor and dirty furnishings, and had to endure smelly and unreliable London transport and all the other lunatic passengers. But I didn’t have to arse lick my way around a Team Leader or a Pensions Manager or a Head of Department to get what I wanted. Oh no. All I had to do was deal with morons like Joe Matthews, spoilt mummy’s boys like Elliott and life-wasters like Simon.
It reminded me that I still had to deal with Elliott, which had been keeping me awake at night for a couple of months. Now Simon was also back in my conscious, I had two problems to resolve. It always seemed to happen like this. We took one step forward, ridding ourselves of Joe and gaining the services of Splash, and then we took two backwards, trying to appease Elliott and sorting out Simon. I slurped at my beer, which was by now flat and unappealing. My tape-reel clock showed 4:32. I tipped the rest of the beer away down the sink and lobbed the can into the waste paper bin, catching my reflection in the kitchen window. My spikey, unkempt hair would have won first prize in a Johnny Rotten competition, and the grey circles under my eyes appeared bigger than ever. I blinked slowly, hoping that the vision would fade, and in its place would materialize the youthful-looking, effervescent boy who first though he could leave Buckton Heath and take on and beat the music industry single-handedly, armed with a battery operated Casio keyboard, a set of pop songs and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Where did it all go?