An excerpt from The Morning After
In one sense, Macca was right, the area had changed. Speke park, a green space in the middle of the estate had been built over. A supermarket, library and administration centre now stood in its place. The cynical bastards did keep the name thought Vinny, the whole area was now called ‘Parklands’ They walked down Stapleton avenue.
“Where are we going?” asked Charlie.
“You wanted to know where I lived? I’m showing you.”
“Ok, cool. Who was that guy?”
“Someone no good.”
“Why were you there.”
Yeah right.” Charlie’s tone shifted. “
“What’s wrong with you?”
“’It’s complicated’, means ‘I can’t be bothered telling you’.”
“Okay, sorry I didn’t mean that.”
“See here,” Vinny pointed to their right. ”There used to be a huge church, St Christopher’s. It was knocked down in the nineties, I think. It made your gran really angry. They put up that little round thing.”
“Why?” asked Charlie.
“Because ever since she moved here from Garston, they were collecting to build and pay for it. Every week the priest would come round the house, collecting money.”
“Was nan rich then?”
“No, they did it with everyone, well, all the Catholics anyway, didn’t matter how much you had, they collected.”
“So when they knocked it down, she was angry, the people of Speke paid for it, but got no say in what happened, and didn’t get anything back. Behind it up that road, there was the school I went to. Let me show you something.” Vinny stopped and pulled up his sleeve. He held out his wrist. “Can you see that?” His finger was following a faint line etched into his skin.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“You can’t see the shape now, but can you guess what it is?”
“Let me see again.” Charlie stared at the faded blue lines. “Nah.”
“This sounds stupid, but it was an anchor.”
“Like on a ship?”
“Yeah, I don’t know how old I was, maybe your age. Me and a mate stole a bottle of Indian ink from the teacher’s storeroom, climbed up on that roof there, and gave ourselves tattoos with a needle. It was supposed to be like Popeye or a sailor, you know an anchor.”
“Wow, that is soo stupid.”
Vinny laughed. “I know.” He ruffled Charlie’s hair.
“You wouldn’t get me doing anything that stupid,” Charlie said.
“Imagine what your mum would do if she saw you had a tattoo?” Vinny said.
Charlie made a sign like his head exploding. They both laughed.
“What did your mate do?” Charlie asked.
“I don’t know, can’t remember,” Vinny said.
“You should ask him,” Charlie said.
“Can’t do that now,” Vinny said. “He died last week. Heroin overdose.”
“Wow, the guy you went up on that roof with?”
“I guess things were pretty different then.”
“I guess. But we moved. If we stayed here, things would be the same. Or worse.”
“That’s kinda shit,” said Charlie.
“You know, you’re right it is.”
“What happened? To your mate? Why was he doing smack?” Charlie looked at Vinny, then answered his own question. “I know it’s complicated.” He turned away and began walking. The disappointment in Charlie’s voice was obvious.
“Wait,” Vinny said. Charlie stopped and turned.
“Come on. I want to show you something.”
“Where are we going?”
They were back in the car. In front of them Parklands and Macca’s office.
“Oggy,” Vinny said turning the ignition and moving toward the exit.
“Oglet shore- the yonk.” said Vinny.
“Can you speak English?” Charlie asked.
“I am… it’s old English; Oglet means Oak by the water.”
“Am I supposed to be impressed?” Charlie had his hands open palms up in exasperation.
“Never mind. You’ll soon find out.” Vinny drove through the estate and onto Eastern Avenue. He turned right by what used to be The Dove and Olive and was now a vacant lot, the pub had been demolished, nothing remained of the huge purpose-built structure except a pillar. It had a brick base and then a metal structure. It used to stand in front of the pub, at it’s top it had a large rectangular metal frame for the pub sign. The sign like the pub had gone and the frame swung empty in the breeze.
“Shit, The Dove and Olive has gone,” said Vinny. He took a left and turned into Dungeon Lane. He was able to go a hundred yards in before the lane was blocked by a double fence.
“They’ve closed it off. I can’t believe they’ve closed it. We all used to go down there all the time as kids.”
“It’s no big deal, let’s go home,” said Charlie.
“I wanted to go down to the river. I wanted to show you Oggy shore.”
“Well, it’s closed. It’s John Lennon airport now.”
“When they moved the airport they said all this would be protected.” Vinny did a three-point turn, mumbling all the time.
“Are we going home?” Charlie asked.
“No. I can’t believe they closed it. It’s the only way for people in Speke to get to the river.”
“Is it important?”
Vinny sighed. “I’m going to try.” He turned right and drove a few minutes out of Speke and into Hale Village.
The housing changed immediately, from red brick terraces to large detached bungalows set in gardens behind high walls and hedges.
“There must be a way down here.” He turned right down Bailey’s Lane, they rolled on beyond the housing, the road slimmed down to one lane. On through scrubland, on the right banks of runway lights were visible through chain link fencing. A layered sky opened up before them the bottom half grey and the top blue. The lane came to an end, concrete bollards blocked the path.
“Come on let’s go,” said Vinny.
They got out of the car and followed the overgrown path down, either side weeds and bushes fought to retake the pathway. The bottom opened up into a view over the river. To the left the ICI complex at Runcorn with newly placed wind turbines in the foreground, across the river the chimneys and towers of Stanlowe Oil Refinery were visible.
The path continued down, the grassy bank was waterlogged with recent rain and easily turned to mud. Before them was a clearing, the remains of a stone wall ran along the river’s edge, a clear flat area was visible, to the left concrete pyramid structures bunched together like abandoned kids building blocks.
“It’s getting cleaned up now. When we were kids there was all kinds of shite down here, well not here, along there, “ Vinny pointed off to the right, “In the eighties, it was a favourite place for burning out robbed cars.”
“Did you do that?”
“No, by that time I had settled down a bit. That’s Ellesmere Port over there.” Said Vinny pointing.
“What were you like as a kid?” asked Charlie.
“That’s a weird question,”
“Not really, you are my dad. I should know something about you.”
“I wasn’t as clever as you, you are much smarter than I was.”
“You’re a professor, how much smarter can you get?”
“That’s a different kind of clever. I was always good at talking, you know I could find the words for things. But I wasn’t good at deciding what to do, working things out.”
“I made two big mistakes. No that’s not true, it was one mistake but it had two outcomes and both were bad. I decided to keep quiet about something, and you know I think they were part of the same thing.”
“Let’s go down,” Charlie went ahead and skidded down the incline toward the riverbank, Vinny followed him gingerly down the slope.
“Be careful it’s muddy there.
“I’m ok – don’t worry.”
They stood in the clearing. The river was full and the grey-brown water lapped and slapped the stones at the edge. They stared out across the river.
“The thing I regret most is not being there for you when you were young,” said Vinny.
“It’s ok dad, don’t feel bad, I don’t even remember it.”
“You will though, it’s not what you remember now. I don’t know and neither do you, where it will come out, but you should be aware of it.”
“How do you mean?” asked Charlie. They walked along the riverbank,
“I never knew my dad. I asked my mum and she said he died in the war. It was stupid the dates didn’t work out. I think everyone knew it was stupid, but I went on saying it. My dad was Irish, he wouldn’t even have fought in the second world war. So it wasn’t true. I was living a lie, my mum was living a lie. I didn’t argue or question it, even as I got older. I started studying history but didn’t know my own. Eventually, I guessed that my dad had run off, he didn’t die in the war, he must have left us. For another woman, whatever.”.
“So what happened? Did you find out?”
“Yeah I did eventually, but I want to explain this thing first. I guess I knew it was a lie, the reality was not having a dad. I didn’t know what a dad did, I didn’t talk to, play with, or do anything with him. I had a few vague dreamlike memories of him polishing his shoes, stupid but it was all I had.
I could see what a dad should be from TV and movies, but I didn’t feel what it was to be a dad.
“It’s ok, you don’t need to do this,” said Charlie.
“I do, not just for me, for you too. Things from our childhood, come up and bite us on the arse in later life, and they can drag us down. I want you to be aware of it, ready for it.”
“My mate Sammo who died. Died with regrets, with secrets and lies. He wanted me to try and clear them up, and I will, but first I have to deal with my own. Put my own house in order, and it’s not easy.”
They followed the path in single file along the bank the wind whipping around them. Vinny stopped and continued.
“Our parents look after us, the way they were looked after, they try to improve on it, but the only model they have is what they saw around them. The Irish in us would never talk about pain, the secrets and lies were everywhere, partly because they couldn’t deal with, partly because they would be judged for it.”
“Alright dad, I know you’re a lecturer and stuff, but this is kind of heavy. Did you find out what happened to your dad?”
“Yeah, he did a bunk, because he was in trouble. He beat someone up and he died and your grandfather went back to Ireland.”
“Wow, no shit.”
“Did you go after him, try and find him later?”
“Eventually, but he was already dead,”
“The thing is, I spent my life kind of in the dark, knowing nothing, and in Ireland, he was going crazy because he missed me. That’s kinda what I found out.”
“But in a weird way, losing him and then finding him in Ireland led me back to you.”
“How far are we going?”
“Do you want to go to the lighthouse? You can see it at the end there.” Vinny pointed.
“No, I’m good,” Charlie said. “It’s alright down here but it’s fucking freezing.”
“Hey, language.” Vinny gave Charlie a gentle push.“Come on then let’s turn back.”
They walked along side by side.
“I guess what I want to say is, if you do something wrong, don’t let it eat away at you. We’ve all done stuff we shouldn’t.”
“Speak for yourself. My hands are clean,” said Charlie.
“Well if you do, own it, don’t run away from it,” said Vinny.
“Is that what came down here for? So Popeye could pass on his wisdom?”
“You’re one cheeky bastard, did I tell you that?” said Vinny.
Back in the warmth of the car and out of the wind, Vinny looked at the sky, in the short time they had been by the river the layered sky had gone, a brighter blue had replaced the grey.
“Come on then back home.”
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