The Linnet's Wings Blackbird Dock - Page 62

athletics meetings; next term, he was going to move back into the university as a senior student so he could easily use all the sports facilities. I was going home for the summer, to do the summer café part-time work I’d done before to pay for myself, as well as using the peace of home to study in preparation for the crucial year. It was Mel who wanted the night out the most, and maybe it was because poor Mel wasn’t coming back to university, at least not ours. They’d chucked him out. He hadn’t done enough work, and what he had done was deemed inadequate. Mel thought he was being original and throwing different lights on things, when he actually got round to doing the work, that is; the uni didn’t agree, either about the quality or the quantity of it, and they had their precious pass percentages to look after. Mel was one of the reasons – not the only one, by any means, but one of them - why the flat share had come apart. It was also because sharing a place had more ruthlessly revealed our respective naiveties and inadequacies. Out of the first year halls of residence, we had to feed and look after ourselves, which meant endless arguments about cooking, shopping, cleaning etc.. We were all studying English; we had that in common, but not much else. All the same, we George Terrace boys had been in the flat together for three terms, and we all thought that something needed to happen to mark the end of it. Our campus was only a few miles away from the coast, and we decided to go to a posh sort of pub on the coast, one we went to occasionally but not often because it was relatively expensive. We were bussing in and cabbing back. It ran to a bit of money by our standards, but we’d all been doing bits and pieces of work during the year and had accumulated enough for a good night out or two and at least the first few weeks of the summer. But by half past nine, the night was not going well. I knew the time, because I was bored and fiddling with my watch; a lull, a sense of anti-climax, had settled on the night. We were not as easy with each other as we used to be. Cal was flipping a beer mat up and down, his dark eyes flickering between us and the floor, his long, lean body perched up on a stool. Pete, the boy next door, shorter haired and smarter than any of us, was looking at his phone and grinning at something. I glanced to my right, some subconscious alert, perhaps, and saw Mel Whittingham’s face on the edge of tears. This didn’t fit the night or the place, but then that was part of Mel’s trouble; he rarely did fit, anywhere. He was clever, articulate and honest in his own way, but he seemed to live on a kind of emotional roller-coaster, and which Mel you found yourself dealing with at any one time could only be guesswork. With that so naked face, the long gaunt cheeks and the childish eyes, he did not have the same camouflage as most people; he wrote anguished, over-elaborate poems which he still insisted on showing me occasionally, and as some of them referred to his current relationship with an equally unfathomable girl called Alysia, or Ally as he called her most of the time, it could be awkward to find anything appropriate to say without wounding him. Both Pete and Cal had reached the point where they refused point blank to look at his poems or have intimate conversations with him, which hadn’t, of course, helped the atmosphere in the house. I realised he’d said something to me. ‘What?’ I said, gently; he still looked near to tears. ‘It’s over with Ally, Mark. Can you believe it? ‘It won’t work when we’re not at the same place, Mel’, she says, as if a relationship is mostly geographical. I thought we were soul mates; I thought it was for the duration, you know? Permanent, inseparable – ‘ His head bent and it seemed that he actually was crying. Cal, with that emotional maturity with which he was so justly infamous, tutted and turned away. Cal’s ideas of the appropriate roles and behaviours of men and women was about twenty years out of date, and he knew that’s what I thought because I’d told him so, which again, hadn’t helped the house harmony. Pete just gazed open-mouthed, at such a sight on such a night. For Pete, you behaved according to the occasion; happy, sad, determined or what he called ‘smoky’, as is anything to do with sex, either directly or indirectly. Mel was just out of kilter with the occasion, and therefore there wasn’t much to be done until he got back in again. Mel’s thin voice scratched on over his sobs, and I touched his arm. I suppose he had become, for me, a 62