Eight minutes since yesterday and this was all that’s left of fifteen years, thought Kat. The silence, the stillness of the air that had greeted her as she had let herself into her house, confirmed that he had gone. She had managed to lock the door behind her before letting out a cry of joy.
Kat slumped her videocam case and bag in the lounge, then began a tour of the house. The lounge was as she’d left it, her sleeping bag on the sofa. The back room of her two-bedroomed terrace had been stripped bare: the armchairs, TV, DVD player and DVDs, stereo, CDs and coffee table had gone. The fridge still had food and he’d left them two plates, two mugs, a saucepan, cutlery and some utensils. Upstairs one bedroom was empty: the bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers and lamp had been taken. Lucy’s room hadn’t been touched. Her bed was hastily made, clothes littered the floor, an eleventh birthday card sat on the windowsill, violin case on her table and her music stand still had on it the piece she’d been practising. Kat stared at Lucy’s bedside table for a few seconds, trying to remember what was missing.
That was it: Lucy’s lucky toy rabbit that she would have taken to her friend’s sleepover, even though it would remain stuffed in the bottom of her bag as she’d be too embarrassed to admit to it.
If there had been champagne in the house, Kat wouldn’t have touched a drop. Tomorrow there were plans to make: the video she’d taken of the band had to be edited, Lucy had to be picked up and there were two empty rooms to redecorate (finally). Kat had curled in her bag to sleep.
Kat slipped along the corridor of classrooms behind the school hall, videocam in hand. She heard the shushed chatter over instruments being tuned and some warm-up practice scales being played.
‘Mum,’ was stage-whispered urgently as she passed a room.
Kat stopped and turned.
‘Mum.’ Lucy was sitting on a desk on her own in a classroom. Her violin case open on the desk beside her. Kat noticed the bow strings were taut so Lucy had already tuned up.
Kat smiled and shut the classroom door behind her. ‘How are you?’ She hoped she sounded reassuring.
‘He’s not here, is he?’
‘No, he’s not.’
Lucy gave a deep sigh.
‘You told me not to tell him, so I didn’t.’
‘Remember my first concert?’
Kat nodded, ‘You mean the year before last, when you were first violin?’
‘He had to sit in the front row. Mr Johnson stopped the junior choir to tell him to put his cigarette out because of Poppy’s asthma. I could have died.’
‘You did very well, though.’
‘No thanks to him. I came on stage and I could smell whisky. He had that small pocket bottle, didn’t he? I knew it was him. Had to be. Sat there hoping no one else would smell it, but he stank. Then afterwards he went on and on at Mr Johnson about how I should have had a solo. Urgh.’ Lucy finished with a sound imitating retching.
‘He thought you deserved a solo. It was his way of showing he thought you’d played really well.’
‘You always stick up for him. He’s not here tonight, is he?’
‘No, definitely not. He doesn’t know about it. When I left, he’d settled in for the night.’
‘Do you understand what he says?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘When he just talks about “you know” and “what’s her name” and I don’t know what he’s on about. You used to give him the names.’
Kat sighed. ‘I did when I could, but I don’t understand him anymore either.’
‘How much longer will he stay?’
‘At the end of the month I’m seeing a solicitor and starting legal action to force him to leave. It could take months. Let’s hope he leaves soon.’
Lucy nodded. ‘Mr Johnson reckons I’m almost ready to put in for Grade Six.’
‘Can we do it?’
‘Of course. Darling, if you feel ready for it, go for it.’
‘But, well, it has to be paid for, doesn’t it?’
Kat tapped the videocam. ‘I’ll have to find more gigs. You put the practice in, I’ll find the money: it’s what mother’s do.’
‘You’re the best!’ Lucy hugged Kat.
‘What do you think?’ Lucy span on the spot while looking in the changing room mirror.
‘It’s you.’ Kat tried to hide her pride at the way the long, green, velvet dress suited her daughter. Lucy had turned out like her. ‘Hold your arms up.’
Lucy pulled a ‘my mother is deliberately making me look stupid’ face. ‘Do I have to?’
‘I just want to be sure the dress isn’t too tight and allows you to play, that’s all.’
‘You’re fussing again.’ Lucy held an air violin and played a sweeping, full movement, finishing with a brief piece of pizzicato.
‘You’re going to video it, aren’t you?’
‘Yep. The conditions still stand: you get full editing rights. The finished video goes in the family archive. It’s not shown to anyone without you being present and your full permission. It’s not about embarrassing you. It’s what I’m good at.’
‘Even if I edit the tape to blank.’
‘OK,’ agreed Kat, knowing full well that wouldn’t happen. ‘But Mr Johnson might be disappointed as he’s paying me to create an official school video to sell to parents to stop them spoiling the concert with flash bulbs going off every other minute and parents distracting you all with smartphones.’
Kat wandered into the back room. She’d woken and felt thirsty. The room was lit by the TV and Kat glanced at the screen to see what he was watching.
‘Seems like yesterday,’ he said.
Kat bit her lip: the gig the video was showing took place twelve years ago in the back room of a local pub that had since closed down. She remembered her excitement: her first take of a band playing live, how careful she’d been getting the focus right, getting the guitarist during his favourite solo, even climbing on a speaker stack at one point as the crowd surged and she was in danger of being pushed out. She looked at the screen. The filming had stood the test of time. The band hadn’t.
She looked at him again, lost in his reverie.
Kat went to the kitchen. There were four empty cider bottles on the draining board: he didn’t even try to hide them anymore. She walked past him and into the lounge, curling herself into the sleeping bag.
A sudden burst of music filled the house. Kat could feel the floor vibrate. She swallowed her scream, then wondered why she didn’t just scream aloud as it wouldn’t’ be heard over the music. Vainly, she hoped Lucy was still asleep. Kat screwed her hand into a fist and hit her cushion. Lucy’s music exam was tomorrow.
The music stopped. She heard him go up to his bedroom. When he’d shut his bedroom door, Kat got up. She turned off the stereo, checked the TV was off and checked the stubs in the ashtray weren’t burning.
She’d dreamt of him falling asleep in his armchair with a lit cigarette in his hand.
He reached his hand out before he remembered she wasn’t there anymore. He’d thought this sleeping on the sofa business would be over by now. The clock showed 14:00. He pulled on the tee shirt and jeans he’d left on the floor and staggered downstairs, poured himself a drink and lit a cigarette. When he’d worked, he couldn’t manage without four cups of coffee in the morning. Now he couldn’t image drinking coffee.
He flicked the TV and DVD on and watched. It was good then, the band. They’d got bookings for gigs. She’d got her videocam: that looked good, looked like they were going places.
But then he lost his job. Skipped rehearsals. The band started nagging him, told him he was drinking too much: he wasn’t drinking enough. Lucy was toddling, grabbing. Couldn’t have a joint near a three-year-old. She’d been a beautiful baby, but now she was all scrawny, like Kat.
Well, he’d tried with the job. Wasn’t his fault they’d sacked him for hacking into their wages system. They should have made their system more secure. Didn’t have her knack for holding down jobs. Now she wanted him out the house.
Lucy clung to Kat’s knee for support as she pulled herself up to stand. He held his arms out and Kat encouraged Lucy to walk towards her father. Lucy took one step, then another and another until she staggered into his arms. He held her above his head, grinning. Kat smiled. Lucy shrieked.
Then she wriggled. He put her down, supporting her as she stood.
She pointed at his hand, ‘Daddy no smoke.’
‘I’m giving up,’ he said.
Lucy turned to Kat, ‘No smoke.’
Kat smiled, ‘No smoke, today.’
She wobbled the three steps back to Kat’s knee. Kat picked her up and held her close. She looked back at her husband, seeing the man who could be a rockstar.
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