It was a Saturday morning and Mum and Terry were at it again in the kitchen. Nothing had been thrown or broken yet but the voices were getting louder. I was sitting with Jay in the living room, watching him play Destiny on his PS3.
‘What’s it about this time?’ I said to Jay.
He didn’t look at me. ‘The same thing it’s always about,’ he said. ‘Your mum.’
‘It’s not always her fault,’ I said.
‘Yes it is,’ said Jay. ‘You’re twelve years old – what do you know?’
‘He asks for it sometimes,’ I said. ‘He makes it happen.’
Jay turned to me, his eyes glistening. ‘Say that again,’ he said, ‘and I will break your face.’
‘I’m going out,’ I said.
‘Good,’ said Jay.
It was sunny outside but it can be colder than it looks so I went and got my old coat from under the stairs. I put my woolly hat on, too. Then I went out through the back door so Mum and Terry wouldn’t see me leave.
I hadn’t really thought about where I was going until I was halfway down our street. I just didn’t want to be in the house anymore. But I knew some of the kids from school played football in the park on Saturday mornings so I decided to go there. I could watch them play. I might even get myself invited into a game.
I never made it to the park, though, because that was when I met her. She was sitting on a bus shelter bench with her head in her hands, crying. She had a red leather jacket on over a black dress. She was wearing black tights and there was a pair of red high heels lying on their sides by her feet. I was going to walk past her but something made me stop and she must have known I was there because she suddenly took her hands from her face and looked up at me. She had dark brown hair and her eyes were dark, too. Her lips were painted red like the jacket and shoes. There were black streaks down her face where her make-up had run, but even messed up like that I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
‘Who the hell are you?’ she said.
‘Nobody,’ I said.
‘Everybody’s somebody,’ she said. ‘I don’t suppose you have any tissues on you?’
I checked my pockets. ‘No.’
‘I seem to have used all of mine up, what with all this crying,’ she said. ‘Perhaps I’ll stop. It never helps anyway, does it?’ Then she burst into tears again.
I took my woolly hat off and handed it to her. ‘You can use this if you like,’ I said. ‘It’s clean.’
She took it off me and dabbed at her face with it. Then she put it on as if it was hers now. ‘You’re a very kind young man,’ she said. ‘How old are you?’
‘Fourteen,’ I said.
‘Fourteen,’ she said. ‘Imagine that. Now would you like to help me find my car? I seem to have lost it.’
‘How can you lose a car?’ I said.
‘That,’ she said, ‘is very simple. You go to a town you have never been to before, to meet a man you have never met before. You park in some anonymous backstreet. You sit in your car on your own getting very drunk, because you think it makes you wittier and more attractive, then you ask a faceless passer-by to direct you to the bar where you’re meeting the man. You meet the man and you get even more drunk with him and then you go to a club with him and then you go back to his place. He turns out to be an absolute tosser who incidentally claims not to have even heard of the street you parked your car in, you end up at half past four in the morning telling him to go fuck himself because he’s certainly not fucking you, and voila! Excuse my French.’
‘And what was the name of the street you left your car on?’ I asked.
‘I can’t remember now, can I?’ she said. ‘Hope Street?’
‘I’ve never heard of Hope Street,’ I said. ‘I think it probably isn’t that.’
‘I’m sure you’re right,’ she said. ‘What’s your name, anyway?’
‘Stephen,’ I said.
‘Well, Stephen,’ she said, ‘are you going to help me?’
‘If you like,’ I said. ‘Can you remember anything at all about the street? Was there anything near it that I might know?’
‘You mean like a landmark?’ she said. ‘No, it was just a street. It was terraced houses on both sides, though, and I guess it wasn’t far from the town centre.’
‘Were you really that drunk?’ I said.
‘Oh, yes,’ she said, ‘I was very drunk indeed.’ She reached down for the red high heels and then stood up, with the shoes in one hand and her handbag in the other. ‘Lead on, Macduff,’ she said.
‘OK,’ I said, and we started walking.
She had nothing on her feet but her tights and after a while I said, ‘Doesn’t it hurt, walking without shoes?’
She looked at me as though I’d asked her something really personal. Then she said, ‘Yes, it hurts. But it hurts wearing the heels too. And my flat shoes are in the car.’
I thought to myself that maybe the high-heeled shoes were like the drinking – they made her feel more attractive. ‘Perhaps you’ll start to recognise things when we get nearer to the centre of town,’ I said. ‘Do you remember anything from when you drove in?’
She stopped walking then, and she looked at me and said, ‘The truth is, Stephen, I was already drunk. I’d had half a bottle of vodka before I even got into my car. What do you think of that?’
‘It is what it is,’ I said.
‘That’s a very grown up sounding thing to say,’ she said, looking at me harder now. ‘Where have you picked that up from?’
‘It’s something my mum says.’
‘I see,’ she said, and we started walking again.
When we were near the end of the road she started asking me about school. She wanted to know which GCSEs I was doing. I’m not doing any yet but I told her it was just the usual ones, Maths and English and whatever, and she seemed to believe me.
‘I never did very well at school, Stephen,’ she said. ‘I didn’t really try. But I could have done well if I’d wanted to.’
‘So what do you do now?’ I said.
‘When I’m not getting drunk and losing myself in strange towns, you mean?’
‘I’m an actress,’ she said.
‘Have you been in any films?’
‘Probably none that you’ll have seen.’
‘Have you been on the telly?’
‘Sort of,’ she said. ‘Look, Stephen, do you mind if we talk about something else?’
We were at the junction now, opposite the park gates. I could see the kids playing football. ‘Left or right?’ she said.
‘Left,’ I said. ‘Do you recognise anything yet?’
‘Not a thing,’ she said. ‘But at least I’m not crying anymore, am I? That’s got to be good, hasn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ I said. I looked down at her feet. I wondered what she would say if I offered her my trainers. ‘Why were you crying anyway?’
‘Oh, because of everything,’ she said. ‘Because of what my life has come to. You know, I think I’m going to have to put these shoes on after all.’ She stopped walking again and held her handbag out for me to hold. I could tell that her feet were beginning to really hurt her now but I didn’t say anything about my trainers.
She put the heels on and straightened herself up with a strange little smile. It was then that I realised why I hadn’t mentioned my trainers. It was because I wanted to see her in the heels. I passed her handbag back to her and we carried on.
It wasn’t long then before things started to come back to her. First it was a mouthwash advert on the hoardings near the old bus station. She definitely remembered seeing that, she said. Then it was the taxi office on the corner. But she couldn’t remember whether she had seen them when she was driving into town the night before, or later on when she was walking to the bar. ‘Or,’ she said, suddenly looking like she might cry again, ‘it might even have been this morning.’
I was listening to her carefully, trying my best to help, and I led her through the Market Place towards where I thought her car might be. But there were a lot of things I wanted to ask her and I knew my time was running out. Why had she gone to meet that man? What had they fallen out about? Did she know how beautiful she was? If I was older, would I at least have a chance? I didn’t want to ask her about the acting anymore, though. I knew enough about that now.
In the end we found her car halfway down Long Street and I hadn’t asked her anything. The car was an old silver Peugeot, a bit dented here and there but still quite nice really. She unlocked it and opened the front passenger door. Her flat shoes were lying in the footwell, just like she’d said, along with an empty vodka bottle. She lowered herself sideways onto the seat with her legs stretching out onto the pavement and changed her shoes. I could see the pink soles of her feet where her tights had worn through. ‘I still have your hat on, Stephen,’ she said, suddenly.
‘You can keep it if you like,’ I said.
‘In case I start crying again?’
‘Well,’ she said.
I wanted to ask her not to go. Or to take me with her. Or something.
She got up out of the car and passed me my hat. ‘Well,’ she said again. ‘Should I give you a lift back?’
I nearly said yes, because I wanted to be in the car with her. But I knew it was no use. ‘I’ll walk,’ I said.
She closed the passenger door then she gave me a big hug and kissed me on the cheek. I could feel her boobs pressing against my chest. I wanted to put my arms around her but they just hung at my sides. ‘You’re going to remember me, Stephen,’ she said. Then she let me go. Then she got in her car and drove away and I never saw her again.
Except that I do still see her, in my dreams. Because in my dreams I get in the car with her and we go off together. We leave everything and everyone behind us. We leave Mum and Terry and Jay and that man in town and all those men she was an actress with and all the men making the videos. We’re in our own movie now. We’re on a road trip, on the longest road you could ever imagine, just driving and driving. She has one hand on the steering wheel and the other is resting on my leg and we’re in love. Her red high heels are lying by my feet and I know that when we get there she’ll put them on for me. No one understands it except us, but that doesn’t matter. It is what it is.
Gregory Heath asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.