The festival season is just around the corner, so here’s a fitting piece of fiction to capture the anticipation, the shared thrills and the bitter sweet memories of youth…
We are waiting. Mickey elbows Dylan and stumbles to his feet, mumbling something incoherent. I glance at Shona, who is wearing her habitual expression of puppy dog longing. ‘Take me!’ it says.
Dylan shrugs before shambling off after Mickey. He calls over his shoulder, ‘I’ll bring us back some chips’, then he’s gone, plunged into the throng that’s gathered for this year’s headliners ‘Continuum’, whose gear is just being set up.
Shona looks at me pink faced. She leans forward and grips my arm. ‘Maz-has Dylan said anything about Mickey and me?’
I don’t want this. I don’t want another ‘does Mickey care about me?’ discussion.
On stage, the roadies are threading cables around the platform and repositioning parts of drum kit. I take a bottle of sun lotion from my bag and unscrew the top, squirt a little on to my finger, inhaling the coconut smell as I spread it over my forearms. I offer the bottle to her. ‘You should cover up, Shona,’ I warn her, ‘the sun is stronger than you think.’
With her fair skin and white blond hair she could burn in a rainstorm, but she shakes her head. ‘Tell me’, she pleads. ‘What’s Mickey said about me?’
I’m scanning the surrounding crowd now for Dylan’s large, reassuring bulk to reappear with the chips and it’s getting tricky keeping this space with standing, jostling fans closing in around us. How will Dylan and Mickey find us? The ‘Metallica’ T-shirt they tied to Shona’s umbrella as a marker is submerged and in a moment I’m going to surrender to claustrophobia so I get to my feet like everyone else. I lean down to her.
‘Can we talk about this later, Shona? We need to pick our stuff up and get ready for Continuum. If we hold up the umbrella the boys will see it.’
Shona didn’t come for Continuum. On the train she’d played no part in the argument about which of their two albums was better or whether the new bass player was any good. She hadn’t joined in with any of the songs and had admitted to not owning any of the band’s music. Shona is here because of Mickey. Mickey is barely aware of her existence.
She is up at last and I can pull the rug up, roll it and stuff it in my bag. I turn to her. ‘Look!’ I shout, ‘the announcer is on stage. They must be ready to come on! Where have those boys got to?’ I squeeze the T-shirt clad umbrella under my arm and stand on tiptoes, straining to see above the mass of bodies.
‘Maz’ she persists. ‘What do you think I should do?’
I want to swat her like an irritating fly now and I’m mad at Mickey for leaving her with me. ‘What do you mean, ‘do’? Just enjoy the band, Shona, like everyone else. It’s what we came for.’
But she is not to be distracted. ‘You and Dylan,’ she says, her voice raised to a plaintive squeak above the burgeoning excitement of the fans, ‘You’re so good together. I want that for Mickey and me. I want us to be a proper couple like you are.’
I turn on her. ‘Shona, Dylan and I aren’t a ‘couple’. We’re just mates hanging out until we go to uni. We get on ok, that’s all.’
She stumbles a bit, jostled by fans behind her and turns to throw them a furious look. ‘All I want is Mickey. I want him to marry me.’
I stare at her. How can she be so deluded?
There is a roar and as I stretch to see over the heads in front I spot Jacob Rimmer, the band’s vocalist and frontman running on to the stage. He takes the mike from its stand and bounces to the front. ‘Hello Wilchester!’ he calls and is met with a deafening din from the hoards below. I’m grinning with the infection of the thrill as the remainder of them run on to take their places. ‘Are you ready for Continuum?’ he hectors and the response is an ear-splitting bellow.
At this moment Dylan reappears, pushing through, head and shoulders above most of them. He’s cradling three polystyrene boxes like babies in his arms and my relief is about more than chips. He hands us a box each as the first, pulsing drum beats herald the first number, prompting us to grin at each other like idiots then we’re nodding, stamping and hollering along with everyone else in between hot, greasy mouthfuls. I love this. I love the shared adulation, the belonging, the elation of knowing all the songs and joining in companionable singalong. It is all at an end too soon, even with two encores.
As the crowd begins to thin I realise I’d forgotten about Shona but she’s still there, behind us, looking kind of droopy, as if she won a holiday and it was to Skegness. Dylan reaches out and grasps her round the neck, pulling her to him in a clinch. ‘What did you think of THAT then, Shona-lona?’ he bawls, ignoring the woodenness of her response and the tears that are making their way down wet channels on her face.
‘Where’s Mickey?’ Shona hiccups, slumping against Dylan, who has a way of pulling in his chin and frowning when he’s flummoxed, which makes me laugh. Releasing her from the bear hug he shakes his shaggy head. ‘Haven’t seen him.’
‘We’ll give him twenty minutes then we’ll need to get the train,’ I tell them, ignoring the girl’s stricken expression. ‘You can wait, Shona if you want but I’m not missing the train home because of him.’
We’re picking up the chip boxes and collecting our belongings when he reappears, loping towards us, an inane grin hovering around his lips. As he reaches us he folds his gangly frame down on to the ground and motions us to do the same. He stretches out his long legs and leans back on his hands, revealing a ribbon of smooth, tanned stomach in the gap of his between his T-shirt and jeans. His head rolls back and he sighs. ‘Man…’ he slurs, ‘man…. Shona has knelt on the grass beside him but Dylan and I stare down, rucksacks on our backs and still holding the chip boxes.
Mickey’s unfocused eyes fix on Shona. ‘That was some fantastic shit, man’ and as she kisses him he rolls backwards on to the grass pulling her to him. She’s smiling like she won the lottery.
‘Come on, let’s go’ I say to Dylan. He gestures towards Mickey, who is uttering senseless chuckles where he lies with Shona draped over him like an exotic quilt.
‘We can’t leave him like this, Maz.’
‘He’s got Shona to look after him. I don’t want to miss the train!’
Dylan hands me his chip box, stoops and grabs Mickey by an elbow, dragging him up, shouting, ‘What did you take, Mick?’ He’s a big guy, Dylan, as tall as Mickey but with a beefy frame. He puts an arm around Mickey’s waist. Shona’s hanging off the other side as if she’s welded to him.
We make slow progress towards the station, surrounded by thousands of homeward bound fans which makes me wonder if we’ll even get on a train let alone get home but Dylan manages to drag Mickey all the way to the station, up the stairs, on to the platform and at last on to the train where we sink down in a heap by the exit doors.
It’s nearly Christmas. From my seat on the coach I’m gazing out at the drab towns as it travels southwards. I’m wondering if my choice of St Andrews was a deliberate ploy to get as much distance as possible between my home town and uni. This is my first visit home since I left in September and I’m hoping to help the time to slip away by catching up with friends but my messages and texts to Dylan have not been answered so I suppose he’s been as caught up in university life as I have. I don’t call my parents as often as I should, although the few times I’ve spoken to Mum she’s had no news of any of them-Dylan, Mickey or Shona. The Continuum gig seems a lifetime ago now.
I’ve left it late to do any Christmas shopping so I struggle up on my first morning at home and walk down into town, where the familiar streets look smaller to me and a little tired; some of the High Street businesses have disappeared or been replaced by charity shops but at least it’s warmer here than in Scotland.
I’m browsing in the fair trade shop when I think I see Shona. I say ‘think’ because to begin with it’s just the back of her, the signature white hair hanging down like a waterfall but when she turns I get a shock. Her shape has transformed and she has the substantial swell of pregnancy. Before I’ve time to move she’s spotted me and she’s making her way around the display to reach me.
‘Maz! It’s great to see you!’ As she leans forward to air-kiss me I’ve an uncomfortable sense of the proximity of her bump, as yet unmentioned. ‘You’re looking,’ I hesitate ‘-well’. She steps back and circles her protruding stomach with her forearms, her eyes dancing with excitement.
‘I’m having a baby in March.’
‘Congratulations’, I murmur, ‘Is it…?’
She breaks in. ‘It’s Mickey’s.’
I’m nodding but I can’t look her in the eye. ‘And are you and Mickey…?’
She laughs. ‘No, Maz I’m not with Mickey any more. But my baby will have a dad. We’re living with my Mum at the moment but we’re going to get a flat as soon as we’ve got enough money for a deposit.’
I’m struggling to understand. This is Mickey’s baby but he won’t be the father.
‘You met someone when you were pregnant?’ She shakes her head, chuckling.
‘No-no one new. I’m with Dylan, Maz. He wants to take on me and the baby, too. He doesn’t care that it’s Mickey’s. He got a job at the DIY store and they might be making him a department manager. You must come round and say hello!’
Back home in my bedroom I put on my headphones and listen to ‘Every Life’, my favourite Continuum album. Sitting on the edge of my bed, listening to Jacob Rimmer screaming out the lyrics the tears stream down my face. Dylan. Big hearted Dylan. No wonder he didn’t reply to my messages and texts. All this term I’d thought he was at uni and he never even started. I’ve lost him and with him my old life, my home life, my formative life.
Christmas comes and goes. I go through the motions with my family, the traditional, familiar routines a soothing background to the mourning I feel. Much as I love my family I realise I’m looking forward to getting back to St Andrews now, to throwing myself into the new term.
At last I’m on the coach, pulling northwards, the January skies leaden and a fitting backdrop for the grey cities we pass and the dreary mood I need to leave behind. I listen to music, read a course book and at some point I sleep. It is late when we pull into the bus station. I stand to pull my rucksack from the rack, shuffle down the aisle to the front and down the steps into Scotland. There is a fine drizzle falling so I lift my face and let the soft mist bathe it, tasting the wet smoky air and I’m smiling. Soon I’ll be back in halls. There’ll be news, gossip, coffee, doors open, laughter, music blaring. This is my new life and I love it.
Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [https://www.amazon.co.uk/Conways-at-Earthsend-Jane-Deans-ebook/dp/B08VNQT5YC/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2ZHXO7687MYXE&keywords=the+conways+at+earthsend&qid=1673350649&sprefix=the+conways+at+earthsend%2Caps%2C79&sr=8-1 and The Year of Familiar Strangers [https://www.amazon.co.uk/Year-Familiar-Strangers-Jane-Deans-ebook/dp/B00EWNXIFA/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2EQHJGCF8DSSL&keywords=The+year+of+familiar+strangers&qid=1673350789&sprefix=the+year+of+familiar+strangers%2Caps%2C82&sr=8-1 Visit my writer Facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=jane%20deans%2C%20novellist%2C%20short%20fiction%20and%20blog or my website: https://www.janedeans.com/
Loved that story, a real evocation of the gulf that opens between those who stay and those who go.