The Boy from Castlebay Down
A Little Space
Abruptly becoming aware of the tinny sound of my beat up radio alarm clock I opened my eyes. On my left was Winston, the slightly obese black family cat, my right, Leah, the girl that had found her way into my bed some two years ago now.
I formed a fist and brought it down on the noisy waking instrument of death, and at the same time pushed the cat off of the bed in mild frustration.
I wanted space!
"Hmmm, why do you always set that thing so early, it's Saturday?" My girlfriend wined, still half asleep. She attempted to place her arm over my chest as if to keep me in bed I imagined, but the avenue she chose was cut off as I tossed my legs out and let them hang over the side.
"I have snooker practise today, and then I'm going to art class," I stated, rubbing my eyes free of that crusty stuff you get.
"But I thought we were spending the day together," she replied, angling herself on to her elbows.
"Oh, didn't I tell you?"
"No Corbin, you never tell me anything these days!"
With that comment she threw herself onto her side and turned away from me. My reaction, like so many other times the last few months was to roll my eyes and sigh. I got up from the bed and wandered over to my wardrobe and pulled out a bath robe before leaving my room containing a sulking girl and headed for the bathroom. I looked in the mirror and shook my head. "Happy fucking morning!" I said to my reflection before pulling my bottom eyelids down, revealing the whites of my eyes.
Sitting on the toilet after casting my robe onto the floor I waited for the morning evacuation to filter through whilst thinking about the girl in my room. Two years of my life I had given her and for what? Why suddenly, did everything she say seem to grate on me? I tried to think about the good times that didn't seem that far in the past wondering what and when things had started going downhill. The worst thing about it? She just pretended everything was ok between us and that seemed to rile me even more.
I completed a quick flashback in my mind through our relationship from start to present, managing a smile as I thought back to when we first met. She was… and I know it sounds corny… the girl I'd always had in my mind. After all everyone had that person they liked. That person they thought about when they went to bed, showered, watched TV, or relaxed. At fifteen years old, on the way back from a school field trip I thought I'd really found that girl.
We'd exchanged glances a few times on the coach, a few more while walking in our groups and then I'd been rewarded with a peck on the lips when I gave her my coat after she got hers saturated in a muddy pond.
At the time I wondered why she liked me, after all I was nothing special. The only thing I ever perceived to give me an advantage at school to maybe stop any potential bullying was my height. At 6'2, it gave me an advantage that most guys dream of at fifteen. My thick muscular legs and toned stomach were not perfect, but I thought they were pretty decent for my age group, at least from what I'd seen in the PE changing rooms on Wednesdays and Fridays.
So from what I just said there you might be thinking I was popular at school? Well no, sadly not. I was the average guy, the guy in the middle of the school culture nightmare, neither popular nor despised. But in those final two years of school I did let myself down in one area and that was failing to force myself to like popular school sports. I dunno if you can relate to this but not liking, or being very good at most sports meant you were a magnet to the bullies. So to counter that I tried to strike a balance. Sure, football, hockey and rugby were out, but I did try my best at basketball, swimming and tennis.
Another thing that probably held back the cretins at school was the fact I had a girlfriend now… yeah me, a girlfriend. Someone to hold hands with, someone to watch me PLAY my sports and of course someone to show off! Because, and lets be fucking honest here, if we gathered up all the fifteen year old boys in a line at school to rate the looks and body department, let's just say I would not be in the top ten for my age, so I did really think I'd pulled that jackpot lever when she'd said yes to me asking her out. But that was all two years ago and now, at 17 I suddenly came back to reality with the sound of hammering on the door.
"Corbin, is that you in that fucking bathroom again, can you get out here I need to get ready!"
It was my dad, late for work as usual. Not that I expected him to care though since both him and mum were jacking in their "careers" as small time fishmongers to thinking they could make tons more money catching the fish themselves.
"I'll be out in a minute."
"You got ten seconds boy, or I'm gonna-"
"I'm out! I said, flinging the door open and walking past him in a huff. I walked into my room hearing him slam the bathroom door as I closed my own.
"Did he hurt you?" Leah asked, as I sat on the edge of my bed.
"No, he's just on one of his morning rants, I can handle him ok?"
"Well if he if hurts you again you gotta-"
"Fucking hell Leah, just leave it ok!"
My girlfriend threw back the sheets in anger and got out of bed. Wearing a pair of skimpy white knickers she started to pull on her clothes that she's tossed down by the side when we retired last night. In the past there had been times when I wouldn't be able to resist rushing up behind her and pulling her soft flesh into my arms before spontaneously making out with her. But now? Now all I wanted her to do was get dressed as quickly as possible and go.
What the fuck was wrong with me?
In the kitchen I sat chewing a rather unappetising bowl of soggy cornflakes while mum methodically made her way through the ironing pile watching some chat show on our small TV in the corner of the room.
"I need you to open the shop with me today, Corbin. Your dad is off to see if we can get the sale through."
I glanced up, not believing she had just uttered those words. "But mum, I said I was going to snooker practise last night and then I am going to art class, you knew this."
"Yes I did, and if you remember I said that you might need to go in a little later. All I need is an hour or so to get the fish displayed and then you can go."
I heard my dad plodding into the kitchen trying unsuccessfully to put on a tie as he moved through the house.
"Is that boy arguing with you again Karen?"
"Just a miscommunication, Don, nothing for you to get angry about," mum replied, glancing over at me as she glided the iron in between the buttons of one of his fat shirts.
I looked over at him with disdain while his back was to me. He slurped on a cup of tea mum had made for him before letting out one of his vile morning farts in front of us. God knows how she could still love such a fat, unpleasant and cantankerous old bastard. It was beyond me! 'How, how HOW!' My mind screamed in that moment. I didn't even know if she did love him come to think of it. In fact over the years I've slowly started to realise that she probably stays with him out of fear of being alone and financial security and just sees his asshole ways as a price worth paying for those two things.
"Make sure you get that shithole of a room cleared by Thursday while I remember. Anything that is not ready to go on the truck is being burned, you hear me?"
"I think I can manage that," I replied, keeping my eyes fixed on my bowl.
"Best you do… and get rid of those stupid paintings in your room as well."
"What do you mean get rid of them?" I asked, his demand grabbing my attention.
"I mean, banish them to somewhere. Either sell them, burn them or chuck them in the bin. I don't want them cluttering up the new house, you got it?"
"Oh Donny, leave Corbin alone, and anyway those paintings might be worth money in a few years."
Dad reeled his neck in at her comment, before frowning. "I don't know why he doesn't put his energy into getting a real job instead of being a sissy painter flicking his wrist with a brush."
"Painting is not my job; I work at Harleys if you remember. Painting is my hobby, and mum is right, they might be worth something one day and then I can retire to my island thousands of miles away from you."
Dad rushed over to me and raised his hand up. I closed my eyes but this time there was no sharp pain on my ear or face or head like so many times before. I opened them to find both of mum's hands clinging on to his one with all her might.
"Donny, why don't you go and get this sale done, yeah?" She asked nervously. He growled something before storming out, slamming the front door behind him.
I swallowed hard before pushing back my seat and taking my bowel to the sink. "You know, you shouldn't antagonise him, one day I might not be there to stop him."
Her words made me suddenly angry and I threw my bowel into the sink causing it to break into three pieces. "You shouldn't have to stop him. If he was a normal father you wouldn't have to stop him from doing anything because he wouldn't be doing it in the first place."
"He's just uptight because of the sale, we really do need this sale to happen or we'll lose the business we're buying."
"Don't defend him… fucking hell mum DO NOT defend him!" I bellowed before rushing up to her, putting my face right close to hers. My next words took on a sinister tone as my blood began to boil thinking about that fat fucker. "You do know that pretty soon one of two things will happen, you will either find me gone or you'll wake up without a husband. Because that beast is a waste of planetary resources and I'll either cut my losses so I don't have to look at his flabby five chins anymore, or I will put a knife through his overburdened heart so YOU, and I, don't have to put up with his bullying anymore. YOU CHOOSE!"
With that I walked out of the kitchen and went to get my sneakers, letting her think about my words for a little while. I found them at the bottom of the stairs and proceeded to sit on the bottom step while pulling them on.
"Hmm, hooky dooky, I smell a morning argument has been brewing. Let me guess, it is the will of the round man trying to force his dominance on the young halfwit who can't keep his mouth shut. Do I sense I am somewhat close?"
I looked up seeing Zoe, my fourteen year old sister prancing around on some imaginary horse at the top of the stairs. She was dressed in her favourite nineteen fifties style nighty and smiling at me affectionately.
"Your hair looks nice," I said, noticing how he had braided it herself. Zoe's hair was a thing to admire. She took after my mum in that respect, long blond perfectly straight hair that she always had done in such simple yet elegant styles.
"Why thank you my sibling protector. Tell me, where is our mother?"
"Ironing, what are you doing today?"
"My prince is calling to me, I will visit him."
I smiled at my sister after completing the act of tying my laces. Her prince as she called him was Diamond, her six year old horse who she idolised almost as much as me. Zoe was a unique girl in the sense of how she viewed the world and all things in it. She was a virulent pacifist and the ultimate peacemaker. She also had a way of taming and calming overweight antagonistic primeval men such as my father. She seemed to live her life in a sort of dreamy fairy-tale world that would make King Ludwig the second jump for joy. I loved her more than life itself and we were as close as magnets.
"Say hello to him will you?"
"Of course big brother, I will see to it you are mentioned in his presence. I know he will respond with affection. I must go now and polish my teeth and make my face sparkle."
"See you later sis." I walked away from the stairs and into the kitchen where mum was just switching off the iron. She picked up the full basket and placed it in the utility room just next to the back door while I pulled some orange juice from the fridge and took four healthy gulps.
"Ready when you are," I announced, feeling calmer since interacting with Zoe. Mum nodded and pulled her car keys from the hook.
Driving down to the end of our street mum clicked on the radio and turned down the volume. I saw it as her way to break the silence that had been there since we entered the car.
"I'm sorry I got angry and broke that bowl, it's not you, you know that right?"
Mum turned left on to the main road and sighed. "I really wish there was a way you and your father could get along."
"The problem is mum, he is everything I don't want to be, and I am everything he thinks I shouldn't be. The result is the relationship we have, what can I do?"
"Until we get the business off the ground he'll be trawling himself. Maybe you could both go out on a catch together, no?"
"Mum, we've been through this. I can't stand fish and I can't stand dad, so I really can't see anything I would rather NOT do."
"Have you handed in your notice at Harleys yet?"
"Yeah, Thursday, it's gonna be sad to leave. I know I only did a few hours in the evening but I actually liked the people there a lot and Mr Harley has been a great boss."
"He's a good man. I remember when he first took over that diner, god it was a grease pit. I think it had even been in the local paper once when the food inspectors found cockroaches in the burger buns."
"Not when he owned it surely?"
Mum laughed. "Oh no, this was before. I think that's why the old owner sold it to him so cheap. Reynolds his name was. It was him and his mistress who had that. I think it was a new concept to have a diner in those days, you only saw them on TV in America. But if I remember Reynolds, he was too busy womanising his staff to care what the place was run like. I wonder what he's doing now?" she asked, more to herself than me.
Mum pulled up at a set of traffic lights and tore off the strip to a new pack of chewing gum. "Want one?"
"No thanks… so next week, how long does it take to get to this place?"
"It's about a four hour drive last time your father and I went down. Quaint little place, only about ten or so houses by the small harbour. I remember there being a fish and chip shop-"
"Naturally," I interrupted.
"There is also a post office which has a little food bit inside, oh, and there is a small pub that sits up the hill a little."
"You're not really selling this very well mum. What am I supposed to do?"
"What you do best, paint. Get good at it, refine it, believe in it and then become famous," she chuckled.
"I paint for relaxation. If it were to become a job I think it would get boring."
"True. I think Zoe is going to like it down there. You mark my words. There are plenty of fields and we have already asked about renting a stable for her."
"What about me?" Mum asked, driving on to the next junction.
"Well, I mean, this was hardly your idea was it."
"It's a gamble, but then we took a gamble when we took on the fishmongers and gave up our jobs in the city. In some ways I think that was a bigger gamble because you and Zoe were very young and we didn't know whether it was going to work or not."
"I always thought you would leave him, you know." I said, causing a look of shock to appear on her face.
"Corbin, whatever you may think of him he is your father and I know I couldn't have brought you two kids up on my own, and he is the reason you are both here you know."
"Sometimes I look at him and don't even know who he is." I said, turning my head and staring out of my window. Mum soon got to the last set of lights that led into the road where their shop was and I was already unbuckling my seat belt.
Setting up the fish in the window of mum and dad's shop had only taken 40 minutes and the time had flown I noticed as I kissed her goodbye and glanced at the clock on the way through to the customer area. Outside appeared to feel warm against the backdrop of that fridge of a place I'd been in just moments ago and I made my way down towards the train station feeling pretty happy.
Peace at last!
Walking along I eyed all the shops to my side that were just getting ready to open. A few workers stood outside here and there, with some waiting for their deliveries and some having a morning smoke with their colleagues. It was a typical Saturday morning around these parts and I for one was glad to be away from College AND my father.
I took a sharp left into Upper Crust and picked out a nice pasty and donut to eat along the way feeling the cornflakes I'd had a while ago no longer curbing my growing hunger. I watched an older woman, new here I think, pulling some piping hot sausage rolls from the oven before she turned round and greeted me with a smile.
"Yes love, what can I get you?"
"Uh, one of those Cornish pasties and a jam donut please," I replied, pointing though the glass display which was nice and warm to the touch. The woman smiled again before grabbing a pair of tongs from the counter and picking out what I'd asked for.
I glanced left and saw a few pensioners sitting and having morning tea wondering if this was life after a certain age. Some were on their own and I wondered if it was actually the highlight of the day… the only people they would see before bed again later on this evening.
"Here you are dear, anything else?" The lady asked, bringing me out of my thoughts. I turned back to her and shook my head before passing her a 5 pound bank note from my jeans.
"Thanks," I said, as she went over and punched a few buttons on a small white till. I took my change she gave me and wandered back out the shop, immediately rummaging through my bag for the pasty to devour.
Having jumped off the train some 15 minutes ago I approached Rackemup, the local snooker hall where I was refining my skills as a pretty decent player. Rackemup was a single story grey building in need of a very urgent paint job that sat on its own in a quiet road just on the edge of town. It's small sign above the single brown beat up door said very little to advertise it was indeed a snooker hall but that changed when you walked inside and in front beheld 16 full size tables gently lit with hanging lights above.
"Hey Chrissy," I said cheerfully stopping at the small serving counter she was behind.
"Hey handsome, early today aren't you?" she replied taking my membership card I held out and swiping it through the computer.
"Yeah, was planning to go to art class later so wanted to pot some balls to clear my mind."
Chrissy smiled at me and handed me back my card. "You paying now or on the way out?"
"Nah I'll pay now, I know how long I want. Put me down for an hour," I replied, handing over more of my precious part time work money. Just as I did the door opened and Mark Spelman shuffles in, a college friend of mine. He rubs his hands vigorously before blowing on them with his breath.
"Hey Waitey, Jesus its fucking cold out there!" He announced, shaking my hand. "Didn't expect to see you in here this early, had a row with the Mrs have ya?"
"Hi Mark, and no, she went home early this morning. I'm going to art later, I just wanted to come down here for a bit. How are you, apart from always feeling cold?"
"Top yeah! Oh, did you hear about Chris Butterwood?"
"Yeah," I said before beginning to chuckle. Mark handed Chrissy some money and it was my cue to lead him over to my usual table I liked to play on. The place was empty right now which was just how I liked it. We both made our way through the dim light and smell of old wood to the far end wall and found a table to sit at.
"Bet he's mortified," said Mark, running a hand through his dirty blond wavy hair before pulling his jacket off.
"I did say didn't I… never post videos to girls you hardly know because it will get you into bother."
"I bet that is all over those Porntube sites now," Mark stated, pulling a cue from the standing rack fixed to the wall and handing me one.
The conversation we were having related to a not so close friend of ours from College. He was a short bony lad who just happened to have a rather large package between his legs, something he had now posted to a girl online who subsequently decided to upload it to a few sites after he said she needed to wear less makeup… silly boy! Chris was now at home licking his wounds and trying feverishly to keep his parents away from the family computer, paranoid that somehow they were going to find the video of him choking the chicken.
"So what have you been up to?" I asked, as I filled up the triangle with red balls. Mark chalked up his cue and leant it against the small round table and sat down.
"Been down the boat yard helping my dad recondition an engine when I ain't been at College of course, you?"
"The usual, rowing with Leah, rowing with my dad and then going out to get away from it all."
"Things still not good between you and her?" He asked. It was a subject I really didn't want to spend too much time on but I was polite and went with it.
"I dunno mate, I think I'm just not cut out to be in a relationship."
"And it's taken you two years to realise that… man, Leah is stunning, you are really lucky you know that?"
"I know, Mark and I have bouts of guilt when I think of how badly I treat her sometimes, I just can't be bothered with it all. If life was just snooker and painting I'd be sound as a pound ya know?"
Mark shook his head. "Somehow you have landed up with one of the hottest chicks in College and you wanna dump it for snooker?" He started to laugh and I followed to fill in the fact I really wanted to answer yes to that question.
"You wanna break?" I asked, pulling the triangle from the neatly arranged red balls and hooking it on the light fitting above us. He got up and shook his head.
"Nah, you break, see if you can leave me something easy though," he smiled; folding his arms and letting the cue sit snugly against him. I winked and took to my striking pose, cue in hand before gracefully hitting the white down the table to break up the army of reds.
I stepped back from the table pretty satisfied with my efforts and took a seat, reassured that I'd actually got the white pretty tight against the cushion. Mark wandered round the table a couple of times to assess his next move.
"So when is the big move?" he asked, starting to take aim.
"This Friday?" He looked up at me, I nodded. "Wow, so just the rest of this week, you didn't say."
"I know, bet you think I'm a right dick. Guess I just didn't want to accept it."
"Still not that thrilled to be going?"
"It just sounds like one of those places people go to die, Mark. My mum was trying to sell it to me this morning and it just reminds me of some sleepy hollow. Then of course there is my dad… I just really wanna get away from him and I fucking cant because I don't have a job that could support me. In fact, after a few days I don't even have a job full stop!"
"So what will you do for money?"
"Mum says she can help me out until I find some work, but I might be ok. I have about nine hundred saved in the bank and my nan says she is going to give me two hundred as a settling-in present."
"That's cool of her. So how is Zoe taking it?"
"Ha, my sister thinks Christmas has come early. Apparently there are loads of fields and places she can so riding so she is made up. She's been pretty limited to the stable area around here cause mum don't like her going on the roads in case the horse flips out and she comes off."
"Fair enough, and Leah?"
I felt my face become prickly as I thought about her coming with us too. "Haven't asked mate, but I'm assuming she'll be ok down there. Her mum is an alcoholic waster and her dad she's never met so…"
Mark came over to the corner of the table nearest to where I was sitting and leaned against it. "You um… you ever thought about what would happen if…"
"It didn't work out? Only like two hundred times a day, Mark." I looked at the ceiling trying to put the two hundred and first time out of my head. "This is my problem anyway, not hers. Maybe I will find out the reason why I feel like I do around her."
Mark curled his lips down and nodded at me and I got up to take my next shot.
Exiting out into the cold of the day Mark shook my hand and we said our goodbyes. "Hey come see me before you go yeah?" he said as we started to walk our seperate ways.
"Sure, you wanna go for lunch or something… maybe on the Thursday?"
"I'll be there, just say where," he said, cracking up.
"Uh, oh hey, let's keep it nice and simple…KFC?"
Mark's eyes lit up. "Yeah man, I haven't had KFC in like ages, we gotta do that."
"Cool, well I'll call you or you call me, whatever and we'll sort out a time."
"Nice," he replied. We tapped fists once more and went our separate ways.
"Three items lay in front of you. A toy car, a large green apple and a tall cup. Now class, I want you to paint these items, but I want you to capture a mood… perhaps an empty room where they sit. The time will be early afternoon and the light will be grey."
I sat and studied the items a dozen feet away from me, as did my other six class mates who had just listened to Mr Porter request what he wanted from us. I knew the style I wanted because I could see it in my head, I just wasn't that good at painting contrasting items that well. I liked one object to focus on. The roundness of a face or the sharp edges of a boat resting calmly in a canal.
I began mixing up some of my paint to get the right colours I wanted. The toy car was a deep shade of purple while the cup was sunshine yellow. I noticed Shelly Field had already started to make the first brush strokes on her paper and wondered if half my problem was taking to long to think about what I was painting thus over complicating things.
She caught my state and smiled shyly. I smiled back and nodded. In the background was the sound of Porters light classical music he always played when taking a class. He said it calmed the mind to a frequency that allowed full inspiration to seep out. Most of the guys including me thought that was bullshit, but it did have a nice ring to it.
Porter was an old man in his late seventies, but still an excellent painter. He specialised in portraits and had even had his own showing at the Tate gallery one year. But where he really excelled was his ability to bring out the painter in YOU, by making simple speeches on where the hand should position itself and how one should look at the item they are painting. Less is more was his favourite saying as he floated round the room seeing how we were all doing at various stages, often stroking his straggly white beard.
"For those of you on the right of the apple, can you see the little bright area of white light caused by the sun?" Porter looked around the room seeing that some were nodding. "Capture that light in your mind and exaggerate it on the canvas… bring the apple to life," he said passionately, throwing his hands in the air.
"Hey Corbin, do you think he talks to his wife like that?" Shelly whispered making me grin.
"He's the sort of guy I expect to have a Harley Davidson stashed away under a tarpaulin in his garage," I replied quietly.
I got home to an empty house around three in the afternoon and plodded up to my room. Toeing off my sneakers I threw myself on the bed and found the remote to my TV, bringing it to life.
I flicked through the channels before sighing at the usual crap that always seemed to be one at this time of day. An old black and white film or chat shows for women, oh and the staple that was Jerry Springer which seemed to be aimed at people with no jobs and who had nothing better to do than try and imagine their life was much better than the poor souls on his show. I placed the sound on mute and closed my eyes for a moment, enjoying the tranquillity of the silence until I heard a bleep. I glanced over and saw my phone was flashing and pulled myself onto my elbows before reaching over to the bed side table I'd left it on. It was a text from Leah.
Leah: You in a better mood?
It read. I began typing back.
Corbin: I guess, wat u doing?
Leah: Just washed my hair.
Corbin: Thrilling, sorry I was in a bad mood this morning.
Leah: U can talk 2 me you know
Corbin: Just got a lot on my mind.
Leah: Want me 2 come over.
I stopped and stared at the screen and thought about the question. Truth was I didn't really and I tried to think of why I didn't. Was it because I didn't wanna talk about stuff liked she had suggested, or was it because I didn't really have anything to say. Before I could think of a reply she came back with one of her own.
Leah: Guess you don't seeing as you are taking so long to answer.
Corbin: I was taking a pee! I typed deciding to lie.
Corbin: You can come over if you like
Leah: Want a pizza, my treat?
Corbin: Sounds good!
Leah: Cool, I'll be there in about an hour then, love you!
I dropped the phone on to the bed deciding not to respond because in that moment a huge question hung over me.
Could I say it back?
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