In the immediate aftermath of Linda and the brief bout of angst and self pity she had triggered, life inevitably rolled on.
It just had to.
Dwelling on it was only making me insane.
At quiet moments when I studied it, in truth she was an amateur compared to some of the other females I knocked around with in the past. There had been far, far worse situations to deal with - she was small-time in the "painful past relationship" league table.
It was just the banal disappointment of what had happened that bit me deep. I'd have sooner had screaming, insults and general abuse than lame, ignorant silence and empty blank stares. A bit of passion would have made it probably a lot easier to forget.
Tick-tock, we don't stop....
Work only got busier and demanded more effort and concentration, bills still had to be settled, the match was still a highlight of most weekends, and laundry had to be washed, dried and ironed.
I busied myself with making slight improvements to my cube, a lick of paint here, a couple of framed prints there, new shower curtains and a stolen laundry basket from the local Liver laundrette being the most notable additions. I didn't have luxuries such as a washing machine or tumble dryer, but Dean down the corridor was always on hand to let me use his gear, and I'd throw him a few cans of lager in return.
With Christmas fast approaching, I was struggling to decide on what to buy for my immediate family. Many fruitless trips into the city centre, both before and after work in the music store, were only making it tougher to settle on gifts. There was almost too much choice, but nothing really struck me as original or memorable to offer to them.
After much deliberation, I eventually bought my brother a steel grey zip-up hooded Bench top from the Westworld store on Bold Street. I figured he wore his branded wear like tattoos, and that it was a fairly fashionable and subtle effort that might - just might - be to his liking.
My parents, however were a different matter. I always tried to get them each something special, that they wouldn't leave in a cupboard or stranded in the spare room of their cozy little flat.
Inspiration came from an unlikely source.
It was a Tuesday.
There was nothing on the personal agenda other than some pasta with spicy Dolmio tomato and herb sauce, pre-cooked chicken and a concerted effort to progress on Final Fantasy 10 on the Playstation. Then sleep if I could manage any, the alarm on my mobile phone rousing me and back to the same old sketch.
I hadn't seen him for weeks - not since he had insisted on lending me that stack of awful z-list action DVDs he had picked up from the Cash Convertors store on London Road. He was loitering in the ground floor corridor, his Nike Cap on his bald dome as always, pacing around with a battered grimy Head backpack hanging from his right shoulder, knocking on flat 1's door with heavy rhythmic regularity as I came in from work.
He practically bear-hugged me as he spotted me coming in the front door, his podgy arms gripping my sides, dropping his backpack to the floor. I could smell extra-strength lager on his breath as he spoke in his peculiarly whining voice.
"Alright there, Eric lad? Just finished work 'ave yer? Put on a bit weight eh lad? Looking well, lad...Spot on"
"Yeah...Good to see you too, Col. Been up to much? Ain't seen you for time, likes..." I responded wearily. Work had been shattering, and god bless Col, I just wasn't able to keep up with his frenetic patter, even though it was strangely endearing. I tried not to show my urge to get to my cube and crash on the couch.
"A'vent seen Dave 'ave yer lad? Been knocking for abaar...20 minutes..."
"Dave?" I replied quizzically.
I only really knew Dean and Col in the block, everyone else was pretty low profile.
Which is pretty much how I liked it, to be fair.
"Yeah, big Dave lad. Spot on lad, he is lad. Does them boss portraits, remember I told yer ages ago?"
Portraits...now there's an angle for you...
"Right, yeah, big Dave...Think I know who you mean....Don't really know him Col, to be honest with you...But is he any good? At the artwork I mean?"
Col puffed up his chest in pride, a sentimental look easing across his chubby perspiring face as he replied.
"UNBELIEVABLE, Lad. Spot on, he is lad. Honest. Does it all in pencils and charcoals and that, good at oils and all that an' all. Should see the ones he's done of famous ones like John Lennon, Paul Weller, Nelson Mandela.......an' the other fella...had a scatty bird...shot himself..."
"What, you mean Kurt Cobian? Out of Nirvana?"
"RIGHT! Spot on, Eric...Kurt Cobain, that's him.. .and loads more. Like photos they are Eric, lad. No messin'"
He nodded sagely, eyes squeezed tightly shut behind his thin glasses, looking almost like a little Buddha with a Nike cap on, dispensing worldly wisdom.
"Right....I may give him a knock sometime, now you mention it, Col...Got a portrait in mind he could maybe have a go at, actually.."
He reached out and patted my left shoulder heartily, almost sending me to the floor with his surprising force.
"Trust us, lad, They're well smart...When yer see them, you'll be knocked out, lad..."
"Yeah...I'll deffo check him out later on, Col.....Listen.....I'm Just gonna head to mine to get some chow and have a lie down, I'm done in mate.."
He released my shoulder and scooped up the battered backpack. I often wondered what he carried around in there.
He would produce massive toilet rolls from the depths of that bag, the huge industrial ones you found in airports and railway stations. He must have figured out how to remove them from the tough plastic containers that were fixed to the cubicle walls. He would then practically force me to take one off him, insisting it would save me loads of money, and it'd last for a month. I would always crack under pressure and accept.
He meant well of course, but his random nature left you scratching your head for days afterwards.
Seeing he was about to leave, I noticed something shiny hanging from the right pocket of his grimy Tracksuit pants. It looked like foil from a sweet wrapper.....It was hanging precariously, just about ready to fall out.
"Say........Something's fallin' out your trackies, there Col..." I said as I pointed towards it.
"I know what yer thinkin', Eric lad...But it's nothin' like that yer know...." He beamed strangely.
"Nah...it's just...I dunno...What's it for then?" I replied dopily.
His shoulders hunched and, and he leaned forwards towards me whispering hesitantly, looking behind himself nervily as though someone was spying on him.
"See...No-one's onto this, but I'll tell yer, cos yer a sound lad, Eric lad..... Eric Lad....But Lemme ask yer...What hand do yer use...I mean...are yer a lefty or a righty, lad...?"
"So...... yer usually....most of the time... put yer mobile in yer right hand pocket then, lad?"
"Erm....Yeah, Col...I suppose I do, like..."
He looked about us again, and leaned even closer, his voice dropping to that of a barely audible level. I strained to follow him as he continued.
"See...No-one's onto this Eric lad....But all mobile phones....They give out radiation....X-rays and that, right?..... And them X-rays make you sterile...give you tumors and that...They even cook yer brain when you use 'em.......And 'cos o' that........all the mobile firms......and the governments..... don't want loads of court cases and millions of people suing 'em......they've kept it all quiet, like.....So here's what yer do Eric, lad.....Just get a load of foil and line yer right pockets on all yer kecks and trackie bottoms....That way, yer town halls will be safe from the x-rays, an yer won't go sterile.....Cos the foil protects yer balls from the radiation......."
I stood in disbelieving silence for maybe a minute, nodding my head with a flimsy smile.
He reached for my hand and gripped it tightly, shaking it up and down slowly.
"Like I said, Eric lad....No-one's onto it....Remember I told yer first.....Follow that bit of advice, y'hear lad....?"
He released my hand and turned away, shooting me another wink, as he made for the door.
"Take it easy, Eric Lad....An' remeber what I told yer, now....An' always look after yer mam, lad....No better mate than yer mam, Eric Lad..."
He then left me alone in the darkened corridor, as the heavy front door slammed roughly shut behind him.
That was just one of many mind-bending experiences with Col. I mean, he was something else, truly. If he didn't really exist (which I seriously pondered over at times), you would never be able to invent him. I used to think he was like a benevolent genie, a friendly ghost or a playful apparition.
I never used to see him on the street or in the pubs or shops around the cubes, only in their gloomy damp halls. He left you mentally and physically drained when you bumped into him, such was his ranting energy and bouncing physical, child-like persona. Yet you always wanted him to come back whenever he left, as he posed so many questions that you only thought of when he was out of sight. It was fascinating and frustrating at the same time.
It was as if he truly believed everything he spouted - however irrational and outlandish it seemed to others, his mind-set was damn-near unbreakable. And he was impossible not to like, there was no badness in him, no sly edge, no deception or lies......
At least he's given you the opportunity to knock for this Dave character, be a bit more sociable since you're over that head-fuck of a bird........
Yes, little demon. You're right...I just gotta dig out that cracking photo of me mam and dad first though.....