The Boy from Castlebay Down
I followed Winston our cat with my eyes as he skulked into my bedroom. It was a relief to have something to focus my view on after trying to spend the last half hour avoiding eye contact with Leah. Splayed out on my bed was an eighteen inch pizza box, the contents of which we had both almost devoured in mostly silence.
When she arrived I had had the TV on and planned to leave it that way only to have her switch it off with a request to talk. I'd just rolled my eyes and asked her what she wanted to talk about. 'Us' she had responded. I guess it started off ok, she asked me questions about my moods and our relationship and I gave non-committal one line answers hoping that she would see it wasn't going anywhere and either put the TV back on or at least change the subject. Instead, as the pizza came out we drifted into a silence. She spent her time eating itching to break the silence I guessed, and I sat there eating hoping the silence would continue. I didn't want to talk to her; I didn't have anything to say.
"You need to put that fat cat on a diet," she remarked as Winston jumped on the bed and rubbed his neck against my shins.
"Mum feeds him, he's on that dry stuff, and it's all he likes."
"I heard that stuff is bad for digestion, "she said, trying hard I assumed to make light conversation. I could handle that at least.
"Well he ain't dead yet so it can't be that bad, can it."
"Funny Corbin, in my mind I say that same line about our relationship."
I did my typical rolling of the eyes again and looked away from her. "Here we go!" I mumbled.
"Corbin look at me! Corbin!"
"What?" I hissed.
"Look at me!"
I did as she asked, slowly turning my head around to look at her face. Her lovely kind face with sparkling blue eyes that had always made me melt when we'd first met... not so much now though.
"I love you Corbin but being like this every day is draining. If you don't want to be together any more than just be honest and say so because I can't carry on like this day after day!"
I swallowed hard, never really having heard her use the nuclear word before – separation. "I don't know what I want," I responded, thinking what a stupid answer it was.
"Are you seeing another girl?"
"What? No of course not!"
"Well you're out a lot your mum says, when I'm not here."
"Leah, I play snooker, I paint at my art classes and I see friends. Sometimes I'm with Zoe at the stables. Just because I'm not in the house on my own does not mean I'm seeing someone." I huffed folding my arms, and again, looking away from her.
"Then… then what is all this?"
"What is what?"
"You, your moods, the way you are with me. Sometimes I wonder if you actually like me let alone love me anymore."
"Oh don't be stupid, of course I like you. We wouldn't be having pizza if I didn't like you would we!"
I chuckled and shook my head. "Fucking girls, that's all your kind go on about isn't it, love! What's wrong with just being?"
"Corbin if you don't love someone then what is the point of being together… what is the point of actually getting together."
"I don't know," I replied solemnly. "I'm just stressed at the moment OK? We got the move, I need to find another job, and this place CastleBay Down sounds as exciting as cutting my nails… and on top of all that I got you whining in my ear about how much of an asshole I am."
"Hey, I never said that!"
"Yeah but you think it."
Leah sighed and took hold of my hand. "Look, things are going to work out right? Me and you are a team and I'll be here to help you get another job and stuff."
I looked at her. "Team! Team? I hate it when couples use that word. We are not a team we are a couple. I don't need help with any of this I just need to be left alone to deal with it."
"What do you mean by that? You know I am coming with you, or did you forget that part."
"You wanna know how I feel Leah? You really wanna know? I feel suffocated by you. The longer we're together the more you tighten that grip around my neck. I go out, you call me. I'm at home, you text me, and now as I have just found out, you have been talking to mum about the frequency I leave the house."
"Pffft, you sound like one paranoid idiot, can you hear yourself? Well, the truth comes out. You really think that of me… that I'm some kind of possessive bitch?"
"I didn't say that, now you are putting words in my mouth."
"You might as well done. Corbin, we have been a couple for two years, when have I EVER given you the impression you couldn't do what you wanted? Even when were fifteen… kids, I tried to act mature and let you do the stupid things you did with your mates… trying not to be the silly little girl that hung on your arm like other fifteen year old couples were doing in school."
"Where are you going with this?"
"I'm just making a point, you are wrong about me suffocating you. I probably give you more space than most seeing as you never want me here most of the time."
Drawing my knees up to my chin, I sighed. "Can we not argue please, it's pointless!"
"You're right it is, but we can talk. You still haven't answered my question by the way."
"The one where I asked you if you still want to be with me?"
I paused for a moment. Did I? Did I really want to stay with her and feel like this. Maybe it would be easier if I knew what THIS was. "Yes," I finally responded.
"Yes what?" She asked, wearing a confused look.
"Yes, I still want to be with you."
"And I want to be with you too, but we have to work this out. This being whatever is going on in that head of yours."
"I already told you Leah, it's-"
"The move, the job, the place. Yeah I heard all that," she cut in. "But taking it out on me when you could be letting me support you is not doing you, me or us any favours."
"I know, I'm sorry ok."
"It's fine… so do you want the last piece before Winston takes away the option?" she asked, as the cat was in full sniffing mode right by the final dry piece of pizza.
"Nah, let him have it, I'm full anyway."
Leah got up from the bed and put the TV on. "Wanna watch a movie?" She asked, handing me the remote.
"Not really, I'm pretty tired to be honest."
"God when I think back, we were always out doing something on a Saturday night. Either at the park making out or at a party we shouldn't have been at."
"What are you getting at? So now I don't take you out enough is that it?"
"No, did I say that? I just thought about it when you said you were tired. You're 17 Corbin, not 71. I was just thinking how much energy you used to have."
"Leah I was up early, and I have just stuffed a huge pizza down my neck. Just because I feel tired it don't mean I am suddenly this old man who doesn't want to do anything anymore."
"So let's go out. I can call Jodie and see if she wants to me up?"
"So you can talk about celebs and hair products… no thanks."
"See, you are 71!"
Her comment actually made me smile, but didn't take away the feeling of boredom and un-fulfilment I'd had since she arrived.
"So how is your mum?" I asked, wanting to get off the subject of me!
"She barely gets out of bed anymore, God knows who is paying the mortgage."
"Sorry I don't come round, I just don't have much to say to her."
"Pfft, don't worry about it, I don't. At the end of the day I've tried to help her off the booze and so has every specialist in the town but she wants to live that life. What surprises me is why."
"Why?" I asked, confused.
"Yeah, why does she have to get drunk every day?"
"Loneliness perhaps." I suggested.
"Then get up in the morning and meet people. Don't sit there with a bottle of wine at 8:30 in the morning and expect people to come knocking at your door. Mum needs to… do something!"
"Do you think she'll be ok when we go?" I asked.
Leah shrugged. "I said we can chat on Skype and told her I'll check in on her once a day if she leaves the laptop on. I can't be her babysitter though Corbin."
"Yeah," I said now becoming bored of THIS conversation too. I stretched out and yawned hoping she might get a message I was trying to display.
"Jesus Corbin it's just gone six, are you ready for bed?"
"I might have a small nap yeah, what are you planning to do?"
"Well, I said I might call round my brother's place depending on what you and me were doing tonight but if you wanna sleep for a bit I'll do that?"
"Yeah, be nice for you both to see each other before you go," I stated. Hoping it didn't seem like I was trying to get rid of her. I think she knew me too well.
"Fine, I'll leave you in peace. Text me later yeah?" She said getting off my bed and collecting her coat and bag.
"Sure, and thanks for coming round. Want me to see you out?"
"If it's not too much effort," she said, chuckling.
I'd taken an hours' nap and now sat in front of my easel lightly brushing in a very delicate part of my take on the Arc de Triumph. Above me I could hear the fat man in the loft banging about, cursing as he went. I stopped, not wanting to smudge what I was doing and waited for a break in the commotion. With my brush held lightly in my hand I looked up as it suddenly went quiet and sighed. My gaze returned to my project and again and I tried to concentrate just as another thud permeated my room.
"Damn fucking crap up here," I heard him bellow as something came flying out of the hatch and hit the hall landing below. I got up from my chair and walked over to my door which was ajar and opened it up. On the floor lay one of my earliest paintings I did as a small kid all busted up, its frame come away.
Moments later, probably from the noise, mum came running up the stairs. "Don, what's all the…" she stopped, looking down at my picture before looking at me. "It's ok honey, we'll get it fixed," she said collecting it up from the carpet as a bit of it fell away.
"The whole lot of this shit needs burning," I heard him groan, obviously hearing what mum had said.
I just shook my head and went back into my room slamming the door.
"Slam that door again and you'll feel the back of my hand you ungrateful little shit," dad bellowed through the floor joists, his voice muffled. I sat there seething, hoping he would fall through the floor and snap his neck.
Sitting back down at my painting I picked up the brush and looked at it before placing it back down on my palette. The enthusiasm had gone, replaced with an anger that I knew would just come out in the painting so I decided to leave it. Dad hated my painting and I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of doing it badly because I was angry.
I got up and dumped my brush in a pot of water before pulling on a sports sweater. Finding my door keys on the bedside table I placed them in my jogging bottoms before pulling on a pair of old Nike sneakers.
I went to my door and opened it again. The fat man was still in the loft but seemed to be quiet now. I almost took the ladder away and locked the fucker inside but thought better of it. Across the landing I approached my sister Zoe's door and knocked lightly.
"Is that you my dear sibling, you may enter," she called from behind it. I walked inside seeing her polishing her tanned coloured riding shoes while MTV played on her TV in the background.
"Tough job huh?"
"Once the newness fades the chemical will be accepted by the boot. In turn this will absorb better dear brother. I must admit though it is taking some effort to make them shine in certain places." She replied. "And what do I owe this visit?"
"I'm going for a run; I'll be about an hour."
"Ah so the brother is running. This means the tubby man has angered him. Be well Corbin and come back safe."
"I will, do you need me for anything?"
"My time before bed will be exhausted by these boots. I will come and see you before I sleep though."
"Cool, I'll walk with you to the stables if you like tomorrow?"
"My, you must be bored. I would like that very much. I will miss those stables and will be in mourning as the day ends."
Corbin chuckled. "I'll get you something black… right, see you soon." Zoe smiled at me before returning to her boots, placing one down on the newspaper and picking the other up. I closed her door just as my dad was coming down the ladder from the loft.
"I'm going out."
"Hmph," he grunted. "That room of yours cleared out yet? Last time I looked it wasn't!"
"I'll be doing it tomorrow, Leah is coming round to help."
"Just make sure it is all ready, I don't want no pissing around when he have to leave, got it?"
I didn't respond choosing instead to plod down the stairs with a sharp nod. I wandered into the kitchen where mum as trying in vain to get a label off a jar, something she did quite often as our neighbour Hilary next door made homemade jam and never had enough empty ones.
"Can you believe it? This has been in soak for thirty minutes and I can't even get it off with a knife."
I shrugged. "So just throw it away, I'm sure shell cope with one less."
Mum pulled her lips to the side. "Hmm, no, I'll persevere; after all soon she'll have to get her extras from someone else."
I began to turn round heading back into the hall. "I'm sure she'll survive mum, anyway I'm going out for a bit, get some fresh air, I'll be home before ten ok?"
"Take your phone Corbin!"
"Always do mum," I sang, before walking out into a fresh breeze and shutting the door.
I started a slow jog down our col-de-sac until I reached the end. Stopping, I reached into my bottoms pulling out my phone and pressed the screen before scrolling down my address book to the number I wanted and dialled. I placed it back to my ear as it started to ring.
"Hey, it's me."
"Hello Corbin, what a pleasant surprise, are you ok?"
"Sort of, Dad smashed one of my paintings today, I had to get out of the house and cool down."
I heard a sigh down the phone. "Can it be fixed?"
"I think so… listen can we meet?"
"Sure I'm not doing anything; actually I was planning on taking the dog for a walk soon."
"Wanna meet in our usual place?"
"Sounds lovely Corbin, I'll put my shoes on and make my way there in about ten minutes."
"Cool, I'll be there, can't wait to see you."
"See you soon Corbin."
The line went dead and I placed my cell back in my pocket before starting up my jog again and smiling.
I could feel a dampness coming through to my ankles as a low dew hung in the air. Coming off the main road I'd turned left onto a somewhat muddy dirt track left like that from the rains that had come late into the week. Mist chugged in front of my face from my breath as I ran past the last street lamp on the track, finally ending up at a long rusty farmer's gate. My agile long well-built body allowed me to traverse it easily as I landed with a crunch on some gravel the other side. Picking up speed again I ran down a short hill until a canopy of trees lay in front and I disappeared into them.
I slowed to walking pace as the trees started to thin out before I heard the familiar sound of gentle quacking ducks. In front of me was Herring Lake and it looked beautiful this evening as a high moon shone on the ripping water causing a milky white shimmering effect that seemed to relax me right away.
I made my way around the perimeter passing a few landings made purposefully for fishermen who came here to catch here in season. I found my usual spot and hopped down onto the fine gravel below and took in a deep breath. The cool moist air filled my nostrils bringing tranquillity to my so far tense evening. Breathing out slowly, I closed my eyes and took in the local night time sounds of the resident creatures that lived here.
It wasn't long before I could hear a panting in the distance as a large golden retriever came walking lazily past me.
"Ginger! Hello boy," I called, ruffling his main. "It's good to see you," I added as he began to lick my hands.
"I think he missed you too" came a voice. "Been here long?"
"Just a few minutes, it's good to see you, sorry it was out of the blue."
"Corbin you are always welcome to call me. So are you going to help me down or…"
"Oh, yeah sorry. That hip still playing you up Jean?" I asked as she put her weight on my shoulder and lowered herself down.
"Damn thing, I'm sure it was better before they replaced it!" she replied, now standing next to me.
"This was kind of short notice; I didn't wanna force you out here, I just…"
"Nonsense, I'm always glad to get out of the house, you know that. Ginger is good company, but there is nothing like a real person to talk to."
"Yeah, must get pretty lonely around that house."
"Even more lonely when you leave, Corbin, I'm sure. So is it still this Friday? I remember you telling me in a couple of e-mails back."
"That's right. I was planning to come and see you… you know, say goodbye and all that. I guess I was putting it off."
Jean stroked my arm. "Corbin, how many times do I have to tell you, I will be fine. I have my little clubs and I see the church folk on Sundays. The part I will miss is having you to talk to as you were the connection to Bill and Danny."
"I know, I just worry that's all." I stated, blowing air through my lips. "God, how long has it been now?"
"Almost two years. When it comes to Danny, It's easy to just think how hard it was for me to lose a child. I sometimes forget what you went through, you were both inseparable."
"I miss him every day. I sometimes think of all the people I knew in school, some of them being pretty good friends and you know, I don't see any of them anymore... well apart from Mark. But Danny? I think we would have stayed friends and been doing stuff together until one of us died of old age."
"You are both loyal people Corbin… both made of the same cloth, Bill used to say."
"That man wrote to me you know… a while back. Must have been at least five months ago."
She looked at me. "The one who hit them… I remember pouring the tea in the kitchen and I heard the letterbox go. I walked out into the hall and in amongst all the white envelopes was a brown one," she exclaimed, staring straight ahead and frowning as if picturing the day.
"You never told me this," I remarked, trying to think if at some point she had.
"No, I haven't told anyone. In fact you are the first person I am telling now."
"So what happened?"
"Well, I didn't obviously think it was from anyone special, but it was hand written, I do remember that, and when I put my glasses on I saw a stamp on it from HMP Wandsworth. Even then it didn't click because as you can imagine, quite some time had passed."
"Yeah, like a year and a bit?"
"Exactly. Anyway so I opened it up and there was this letter inside. It took me a few minutes until it dawned on me I was reading the very writing of the man who killed my husband and son because he decided to drive his car absolutely drunk."
"How did it make you feel? I know how I would have felt!" I said, my tone slightly angry.
"This is why I decided not to tell you. Indeed, if it wasn't for the fact you are leaving I probably still wouldn't have, but I didn't want you to go knowing that I was keeping something from you. I know how much Danny meant to you, both of you being best friends and all.
"So what did this guy want?"
"He wanted me to go and visit him in prison so he could tell me how sorry he was. I remember leaning on the work top as I read it wondering if I was about to wake up from some horrible nightmare."
"Yeah, I bet!"
"He said in his letter that he never meant to drive home that night. His wife was supposed to have come and picked him up but their child had a temperature and she didn't want to bring him out. He'd told her he was going to get a cab but because it was a busy night and raining the cab company was busy and it was apparently going to be a long wait."
"And so he drove, drunk!"
"And the rest they say is history," she said.
"Why put all that in a letter, just be a man and own up to your crime!"
Jean wiped her eye and sniffed. "I got the feeling like he was trying to justify it. Maybe he thought because of the reason he had no choice but to drive. I don't know Corbin, as I approach sixty I think about how the world has changed. Years ago you still had people who had a drink and drove but no one seemed to be totally sloshed like you hear these days."
"Are you ok?"
Jean chuckled lightly. "Oh yes, silly of me to rake up the past, it always does this to me as well you know."
"Well, I'm glad you told me. I gather you didn't go and see the man?"
"Oh no, I placed the letter in our log burner and tried to erase it from my mind."
"If you're somebody like me, I gather that didn't work."
"Of course not, but it felt like a ritual none the less. Anyway, enough about irresponsible men. How is that lovely sister of yours?"
The mention of my sister brought a smile to my face. "She's great yeah, left her polishing her new riding boots. She's still loves those smelly old horses."
"Awww, bless her, and your mother, how's she?"
I sighed. "Yeah mum is mum, just going through the motions trying to keep a smile on her face while attempting to stop my dad and I killing each other."
"Still bad is he?"
"Mum says he's stressed about things, but I know it's not that. He hates me painting, says it makes me a weak person...like a sissy. He says I should be doing manual work like bricklaying. I keep trying to explain to him that painting is my hobby but he doesn't get it. Even when I got the job working in the diner he still saw my painting as my occupation."
"You do what's in your heart young Corbin. If you are this good at seventeen, imagine what you could be like in ten years."
"Yeah, that's what mum says, she loves my painting, but she is married to that ogre so has to play both angles. That's what I miss about Bill, he was like the dad I never had."
"Yes my Bill adored your art almost as much as fishing!" Jean laughed. "Forty five years he'd had a line slung in the water from this very spot. Had to bring him many a sandwich when he got so engrossed in being down here. I was afraid he would waste away sometimes."
"Must be really cool living so close to the lake."
Jean let out a sigh. "Yes it is, but just old Ginger and me to enjoy it now."
"Yeah, real tough huh?"
"Jean looked across the water to the other side and sniggered as if thinking about a memory.
"What's so funny?" I asked, her smile infectious.
"Just a little story Bill told me when I came and sat down here with him one summer morning."
"Go on, tell me."
"I remember that summer because I was six months pregnant with Danny. It was a lovely hot day and there was a light breeze in the air that was so relieving. I was just sitting here right where you are standing and he looked at me before pointing across the lake. 'See tat old orse chestnut tree cross over tere' he'd said in his Yorkshire accent. 'That tree is there because I was playing conkers with my mate Tommy when were just wee nippers, and I'd knocked his conker off his string. And In a temper he'd stamped on it and buried it in the ground. Now look at it, big as a bastard!' he said… oh it did make me laugh," Jean said cackling hard.
I was chuckling too "Haha, big as a bastard," I repeated imagining him saying it.
"Oh he didn't mince his words my Bill. Still, true or not true, that single conker tree standing all alone reminds me of him whenever I bring Ginger down here."
"Yeah I like this spot too, I remember me and Danny watching Bill fish for hours. I must admit it was never my thing but it gave us a chance to play Pokémon and enjoy the sun."
"Yes, good times Corbin. So how are things with Leah. I remember reading in your last e-mail things were a bit rocky?"
"I dunno Jean, It's not her I don't think, it's me."
"That classic line," she chuckled. "So c'mon, telly your auntie Jean what the problem is."
"That's part of the problem, I don't know. It's like everything she says and does just irritates me. I find myself trying to put off calling her or having her over. I feel so guilty."
"And when did this start, you two have been together quite a long time yes?"
"Two years, a few months before we lost Danny actually. I guess it all started about three months ago, but if you are asking me what triggered it, I don't know."
Jean's face became serious. "Corbin I hope you don't think I am being personal but are you interested in another girl?"
I laughed. "Now Jean, if only it were that simple." I replied, before adding, "No I'm not."
"Hmm, well is it the stress of everything that is happening? After all you are about to move from a town you have known all your life."
"Maybe. She keeps asking me almost daily what the problem is. That's also stressful because I can't give her the answer… I can't give myself the answer. "
"She's going with you yes? Where it is again?"
"She is yeah, oh, and it's a small fishing village called CastleBay Down. The name sounds exciting but believe me Jean, my mum's description of it makes it sound like a morgue."
Jean let out a chuckle. "What's so bad about it?"
"Well, I wish I had gone down to see it for myself when they last went. All I know is it has about fifteen houses, a post office and a pub."
"Sounds like heaven!" Jean said, sighing.
"Really? To me that sounds like life as I know it… over!"
"How far is the nearest town?"
"Hastings… eighteen miles, and Hastings? I mean, what's even there anyway, will it be thirty houses, two post-offices and two pubs just to make things twice as exciting?"
"I do agree for boys your age you do need to be stimulated, but I can't help it Corbin, the place sounds lovely to me. Anyway, you never know, a close little community like that you might find another Danny to hang around with."
"I'd rather just be alone with my paintings to be honest."
"Now now, you have your whole life ahead of you. Take my advice, Corbin. Work things out with your girlfriend, find a nice little job and then become a famous artist."
"I'll give it a go I guess."
"Trust me Corbin, someone with your personality will always be ok in the world."
Yeah, we'll see. So I uh… I better be getting back, it's close to ten and I said I would be home. Thanks so much Jean, you don't know how much better I feel just chatting with you.
"Likewise Corbin, It's always nice to come here with you and feel connected to Bill and Danny."
"Sure is, c'mon, I'll walk you home, Ginger looks bored just lying there."
"I wonder if dogs roll their eyes when we humans start to chat for long periods."
I laughed. "I bet Ginger does."
I got to my front door slightly out of breath and took out my key before slipping off my muddy sneakers. While I had been gone a large skip had been dumped on our drive and I went back to peer inside it. It looked empty but it did remind me of the urgency to get my pictures put somewhere knowing that at some point in the next 3 days most of them would be tossed in here by my horrible father.
I came back to the front door holding my dirty shoes just as it opened. "Where the hell have you been?" my dad hollered, paying no care to the neighbours who lived close by.
"I told you I was going out and I said I would be back by ten. It's ten past!"
"Just get in will you, I need a hand getting our old TV down from the loft."
As I walked over the threshold past him he clouted me round the back of the head and I coward slightly before running up stairs. What annoyed me about myself is that I knew if I wanted to I could take him. I could really hurt him but then what? Firstly my personality did not have an opt-in mode for violence so even though I know I could hurt him, I was always too scared to try, and second, I would be homeless.
I went into my room and placed my sneakers down onto an old art magazine I had already read and took off my sweater, now hot from having been outside in the cold.
"A moment of comedy happened you would of loved to have witnessed earlier brother," Zoe announced, standing in my door way.
"Shit! You made me jump… so what's that then, dad had a heart attack or something?"
"It may have drawn near at the time looking at him, but no. I watched from a distance as he attempted to bring the old viewing device down from the clock tower on his own."
"Clock tower? You mean the loft," I smiled.
"It is whatever you perceive it to be. But yes, the loft, if you choose to utter such a drab word."
"So what happened?"
"His pink coloured overhang acted as a plug as he tried to leverage the item through the hatch to our mother. I chortled silently for a while before he was forced to postpone the delivery to the landing until you arrived back."
"Yeah he said he needed help. Oh, here he comes; I'll come see you soon."
"Best wishes my favourite one, and good luck." Zoe darted out of my room. "Hello Daddy," she said as they passed each other.
"Hey sweetie, got those boots done yet?"
"They sparkle like the stars papa, I am retiring now. Good luck with the television."
"Night night darling, you sleep well… Corbin, get up those ladders will you, I wanna have this done before the news comes on the TV!" He scowled.
"Coming!" I replied sighing, my shoulders dropping.
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