t -‘You can trust me, you’re my sister.’-
I spent a lot of time in Barney’s bedsitter, mostly hanging about, listening to music and reading. He had loads of books and I started to read them all. I've always been a voracious reader. But I soon found this was impossible.
It seemed he didn’t care at all for his own property, but then I twigged they weren’t his anyway. People would just take them away, and he’d always bring back more he’d borrowed from the Pools library, or maybe robbed.
The local Pool in Burndon is well advanced. Some different CoOps that make things and others consuming stuff as well. Then there's skill sharing, you know, someone offers to do plumbing, or window cleaning or whatever.
And a new second hand and free shop, where they used to have the car showrooms. You can just go shopping without paying if you know where!
But the latest brand new craze was Levels, we were one of the first I think.
So you could have -'Level 4 Learning'-, -'Level 2 Production'-, -'Level 9 Happiness'-, or whatever, we were supposed to update monthly and average out.
Only people took the piss and gave themselves -'Level 66 Sexiness'-. Barney and his friends were in it as well, but they were un-together. Not like Maggie and her friends........
[See Glossary Personal Levels}
Learning counts as Work, I mean, why not?.. And House and Family that's Production too. I liked that new cool Project, like living in a game of Money Free!
Barney used to pick up people in those days. Much like he picked up books, but forgot the fruit and 'vedge', no offense to him. He had to be in company because he got fits of depression if he was on his own. So he’d often bring back friends or freaks or old guys or anyone at all, to smoke dope and make music, and drink and talk the night away.
But that first day, when I got back from meeting Danny with my bag, the place was empty and silent. The bell did ring a few times, but I was afraid to answer it. Barney never showed up and eventually I went to bed.
Then about two in the morning he crashed in with four or five more. I just pretended to be asleep, Peeking out from under the smelly duvet, as they sprawled about and went on about the CLANS and laughed a hell of a lot.
The CLANs were hot gossip just then. People said they were horrible street gangs. While Barney and his friends were promoting and getting them backing. As the force behind the revolution they wanted to happen. [glossary and r insurrection]
Another guy arrived and they went quiet. Almost whispering, though I could hear it all. They talked about these really sick fascist boys recruiting in the schools. Like Killian Bate who branded me as a dirty whore and beat up Jerry. Maybe they were planning to do an action against them.
But they all started roaring laughing, so maybe not.
Those people were fun and zappy, but when I woke up again, it was getting light and they were all gone.
Just scattered bottles and butt ends to prove it wasn’t a dream.
I got up and dragged up the big window and leaned out. It was a beautiful morning, the cold had gone, though thunderclouds were towering already..
I had nothing to do and I started obsessing on my teacher and my dad. Tying knots in my tummy.
You could see a lot from that window. It was a high house, and looked back on a clutter of long gardens, garages and a lane. Big greenhouses and little sheds. And a few old fellas out already, digging a ditch for the floodwater.
Cauliflowers, cabbages and onions. Runner beans and sprouts.
Some of the walls were knocked out to make bigger spaces, further down a lot of kids were arriving, in boots with tools and picnic-boxes, some kind of Pools play-shop or De-School I'm sure.
A ray of sun flashed out from behind a chimney pot. And seconds later the windowsill was flooded with warm yellow light.
It was a big wide granite window ledge, and mossy. A nice place to sit in the mornings if you weren’t too afraid of heights.
I was still there, leaning out, feeling the sunshine seeping into my bones. Watching the swifts come swooping round the houses. A gang of quarrelsome sparrows were chirping loudly below me.
When somebody rapped on the door.
-‘Hey Barney it’s me Maggie.’- came a mellow female voice.
I didn’t move, but the music was still playing. Then a key slid in, and a woman walked into the room.
I can see Maggie still, that first time, coming sudden in the door. And I wish I could see her still.
A big tall red haired woman, wide mouth and a few big freckles, wearing a worn orange coat and bright yellow trousers.
Speechless I stared at her. Seeing spots from looking at the sun.
-‘Oh sorry.’- she said. Seeing me at once. –‘I was looking for Barney.’-
I wanted to speak and talk and welcome her, but somehow I couldn’t come out with a word.
I had this idea she was his girlfriend. She was chuckling in her deep voice.
-‘Well I’m not chasing after him either. So bad luck for him. I’m an old friend who lives down the road.’-
She took her tea, and cupped it in her hands. Took a sup and smiled from ear to ear.
-‘So what brings you to this part of the world?’- says she.
But I held my silence. Looking in my grey tea and figuring out a good story. Then I looked up, and suddenly right into her warm orangey eyes.
-‘You can trust me, you’re my sister.’- she said strangely.
And stranger still I began immediately to tell her the true story. It seemed like Maggie was the first really honest person I’d ever met, and I took to her at once. As if I’d always been waiting to meet her.
I started to tell her the truth, as I saw it, and it wasn’t that easy. I told her about my problems at school and at home. Though not about my Dad molesting me. I was still too panicky for that.
I ended up crying on her shoulder. Getting my black eye bathed with a hot flannel, and laughing together, and making more tea.
With her my heavy masks slipped, and started sliding off. Leaving just myself, hard and soft all at once. Maggie my friend who showed me my way. She was a country girl, by birth, but she lived here in Burndon, in a rented house with six other women. Plus one man, three kids and a smelly dog.
They wanted to talk everything out clear and care for everyone, and give each person what she really needed. They all seemed to have the same way of going on.
We had great gas, me and Maggie. The way she would tell a story would have you in knots laughing for hours. She was helping set up a Health and a Dance CoOp, and she worked in a posh restaurant at nights.
The talk came round to Barney.
-‘The reason I came up here’- says she –‘was to see is he all right, and check a few things with him. He got into a stupid fight the other night down at our place. And threw out two idiots who were plastered drunk.’-
-‘What! I never would’ve thought he’d hurt a fly. Sure the kids used to climb all over him, on the Project.’-
-‘Yes well... .’- Maggie sighed, then leaned forward. -‘ He thinks he's really gay, him and Monica didn't work out. And he doesn’t stop, he doesn’t sleep. We all need Barney coz he knows everybody. Even the CLANs trust him.’-
-‘You think he’s gay and he's cracking up? ‘- I asked. -‘Then why does he work so much?’-
-‘Who knows why. Scratch half these fellas and you’ll find they’re clinically bonkers..’-
Maggie dropped her voice and went on.
‘He was in the Earth’s Revenge, and the Planet Federation, and more things, I don’t ask and wouldn’t say. Barney’s a playground worker, with male fantasies of being a guerrilla hero.’-
-‘A what?.. He‘s a terrorist?’-
-'Ha! Not at all. He's studying to be a sports masseur. He's not bad at it.'-
-'But you think he's a bit mad.'-
-‘Course not. He’s my friend that’s all. Just, um, he can’t stop to take care of himself.’-
-‘So I’ll tell him to slow down.’-
Maggie laughed and hugged me hard.
But I was surprised and afraid, and pulled away.
-‘Okay let's slow him down. We’re hyper active all right, with all these so called De-School Projects. Now we’re getting sponsors for local gangs to run them.’-
-‘The kids love it, because the school is so boring, my mother says.’-
-‘Listen Maxie I have to go, I need to see Carol before the meeting at eleven.’-
But I wanted her to stay, to go on talking, about anything at all. Just so long as she stayed with me.
-‘I got to go.’- she said again. –‘Look here's my cellphone number. Tell you what, would you like to come over for tea?’-
-'Yes, yes, thanks very much.’ - I said. -‘Yes I will.’-
I did go down to Maggie’s house for tea which turned out to be a nosh-up. I was scared all right, going down there by myself, with my schoolgirl clothes and my black and blue eye.
[refs. and 22]
Their house was big and crumbling. Set apart in trees. An old woman had let it out to the ‘young ladies’. She died soon after and it became a squatted Pools center. I wandered down the old cracked pathway to a yellow painted porch.
I pressed the bell firmly but no one came, then a little tricycle came round the corner of the house, pedaled with difficulty through the mud by a very small child.
-‘Hello hello.‘- I said. And dark eyes flashed up at me.
-‘Who are you?’- She panted in a squeaky voice.
-‘My name is Maxie Moon.’- I said. –‘I’ve come for tea.’-
-‘Derrie, grubs up.’- A woman stuck her head out. –‘Oh hullo.’-
-‘Hello I’m Maxie.’- says I. –‘Maggie invited me.’-
-‘Come on in so, I’m Marie’- she said. Tossing back her long black hair. –‘You’re just in time.’-
The back kitchen was long and low and whitewashed a light bright blue. In the middle was a big wooden table, and people milling about, clattering knives and forks and dishes.
-‘This is Maxie.’- Marie shouted.
-‘You sit here by me’- says Maggie. And kissed my cheek.
-'Bring over the butter Marie.’-
-‘Where’s the salt?’-
-‘Who’s taken all the cups again?’-
I took off my coat and sat. The other wall was covered over with pans on nails, posters, notices and hanging plants. In the middle a smiling sun said –‘Nuclear War, Fuck that.’- and others. -‘Legalize Abortion.’- and -‘Save The Biosphere.’- -‘Private Property is Theft.’- and -'Wannabe Money-Free.'-
Marie and Tricia were telling a long story about a nasty manager and tucking in. And so did I. I was hungry.
After that day I used to eat there often, till we moved. You could starve at Barney’s place. And they didn’t mind that I was always skint. I would put some cash in 'The Pot' when I had it, and we were using money less and less. And I took my turn washing and cleaning and child minding.
I was sitting down to eat, and Patrick, Marie’s older kid, was eyeing me across the table. The talk died as we all tucked in, but this Patrick kept glancing aggressively. The same dark eyes as his little sister.
-‘Were you in a fight?’- says he loudly.
-‘Don’t be rude Patrick.’- said Marie at once.
I felt myself blushing, staring at my plate, and there was this big silence. Or so it seemed to me. Then I looked up. Flicking back my hair that wasn’t there.
-‘Me dad..’- I began. But Maggie had started to speak at the same time.
-‘Sorry go ahead.’- she said.
-‘Me old fella b ‘battered me.’- I was staring back at Patrick. -‘So I’m after leaving home.’-
I felt everyone looking at me, so I kept my eyes fixed on Patrick.
-‘My Dad’s gone to America.’- he said. And turned back to his food.
Then I did the same, stabbing at a carrot, as other conversations began. And I grinned and glanced about. I felt accepted anyway.
That’s what I needed then, feeling I belonged.
And never more than that first day at Maggie’s, with my black eye and my working accent.
And blushing like the carrot on my plate.
After a while some people rushed out. But others arrived, And we all got poured mugs of home made wine and got a bit merry, laughing and joking. Some of them started playing cards and Maggie took me up to her room.
She let me rummage through her clothes. All from the free shop or adapted. Throwing shapes and messing about. I got a pair of bright green trousers and a pink woolly like I'd seen in a Chic Romance comic, my taste in clothes being dread and woeful.
The others were into Clan Earth fashions, like, beautiful denim fringes instead of shorts. Strings of painted seeds and pods instead of a T shirt, skull caps and fiery wigs...
She had that room done up like herself, all oranges and browns, and the big tree rustling outside. She'd found some mellow music on the local Pools radio and we danced and finished our wine and talked.
Maggie asked me loads of questions all right. But she never once told me to go home.
Then she had a go at my hair, trying to straighten out the spiky bits, and hugged me again. I held my breath but this time I didn't pull away.
She was cuddly like that, was Maggie, and it struck me then that she must be gay. Which she wasn’t always, because she used to go out with fellas but...
But she really preferred women, as she would say herself.
Maggie had no hang-ups about sex and that. And talking about it in detail.
Right in front of everybody.
And I was secretly shocked coz I had plenty.
-‘You’re giving me an itchy clitoris.’- she would say.
And squeeze me tight till I wriggled.
Being with Maggie changed my point of view in just twenty minutes.
It’s true that I already hated the open hypocrisy of the school, and my mother's as well.
I’d just escaped my dad’s sadistic trip.
But I’d swallowed all kinds of notions..
Of submission and guilt and purity, and needing to be punished..
The false glory of destroying yourself, in the service of oblivious macho shitheads.
We started telling stories and giggled plenty, I wasn’t used to drinking, not at all.
Hugging Maggie made me squirm and wriggle. Okay I did get scared and panicky, but I didn't lose my breath or have an attack, like when men touched me.
Which made me wonder if I wasn't really meant to be gay as well.
Sure thing it was my lecherous father had put me off fellas forever.
But I didn't dare talk to anyone about that yet.
-‘I’d better be off to bed.’- said Maggie again. -‘Tomorrow we’re doing a health survey I’ve to be out at the crack of dawn.’-
-‘I’ll be off then.’- My heart sunk, I had a problem with leaving her.
- ‘You can stay over if you like, we’ve got mattresses.’- But I shook my head.
-‘I'd better go back, sure all my stuff’s at Barney’s.’-
-‘All right then. Listen come over any time, you can just walk in the back door, okay?’-
-‘Yes please. If it’s really all right.’-
-‘You're in your granny's. And what about the Runaways, do you wanna go?’-
-‘Um, I’m not sure no ..’-
Meeting other runaways gave me butterflies.
-‘We’ll talk about it tomorrow.’- she said.
Walking back from my new friend Maggie’s house.
I felt new-born. Like I'd just broken out of the egg.
Like she'd helped me smash away the rotten eggshell.
Pointing and peeping about. Delighted at my surprise.
The thunderstorm was breaking and I was elated.
Skipping from shelter to shelter, then dashing through the rain.
My whole body thrilled. Seeing things super real and new.
Glancing about for pursuers.
My feet bouncing and springing, with the first big drops off the cracked path.
There came a shocking flash, crackle and bellow.
But I arrived, panting and laughing, at Barney’s door.
Before the real deluge began.
My past life and terrible sins were just past history.
I had escaped as well as run away.
But I would never have gone back to Barney's. If I'd known what would happen that night.