Tuesday, September 4, 2007

1. The Caller

I always thought my life was too boring to blog about, but something weird happened today.

We were all in the hall, everyone from the flats in our house, along with Jim the ex bus driver who lives next door. Most of us hadn’t been in very long. I’d just arrived, and so had my flatmate Jody - coming down the road from work in opposite directions, me from the health food shop and her from what she savagely calls her crappy telesales. Jim had been on the doorstep ringing ground-floor Brenda’s bell and he’d followed us in. Brenda was there, coming to answer the door with her hair in a towel, and Mike the basement student had come up with his rubbish. Ahmed, the freelance sound guy who lives at the top, was going through the mail.

And, Jim, seeing us all together, still drunk from his lunchtime session, lifted up his finger slowly and slurred: ‘Oh yes. I saw Archie when I came back from the pub. He said someone came looking for one of you today.’ (Archie, the old guy across the road who sits out on the wall as if he’s still in Jamaica, even through this freezing summer, and sees a lot of the comings and goings.)

Everyone turned to Jim and it was obvious what some of them were thinking: Brenda that her bastard psychopath ex had found her, Mike the student that it must have been the guy he owes money, Ahmed that this was the Knock on the Door he says he has to live in fear of now, in this age of the War on Terror. Jim, oblivious, was grinning at Brenda in what I can only call a sweetly lascivious way. You can’t say it’s uncomplicated between Jim and Brenda – she’s fifty-odd and a one-time lottery winner with nothing to show for her winnings but being ex-alcoholic. She prompted him. ‘Jim?’


‘Which one of us?’

Jim pointed at me. He said, ‘Oh yes. There was a message,’ but then he was stumped. He scratched his head with a surprisingly loud bristly sound and beer fumes filled the hall. ‘It’s coming back… Wait…. That’s right. There’s something you should hear, something that concerns you.’

They all stared at me, and no wonder: what would anyone have to tell me that concerned me and that I didn’t know already? Me, Cat Smith from Chorlton, twenty-three years old, dead ordinary family to which nothing ever happens - stamped English, as my dad says, like a stick of rock right through - part-time student of art working in a shop, and leading, let’s face it, a boringly transparent life.

‘Well, who was it?’ I demanded.

He didn’t know, Archie didn’t say, and I couldn’t ask him it turned out, he’d since gone off with his suitcase to visit his sister in London.

Brenda turned to Mike the student. ‘You’ve been in all day haven’t you? Didn’t you hear the bell? Didn’t you see?’

He shook his head. He’d be lost in his thesis, Manchester: The City as Prism and Lens, and, as he pointed out, the bushes above his window block any view and it’s time we got the landlord to cut them down. At which Jody came in hotly with her usual worry: ‘Huh! When he does he’ll be clearing the flats altogether in order to develop them and triple the rent, and we’ll be out on our ear!’

Magda, Mike’s girlfriend, had now come up from the basement and said: ‘And this is strange to me from my country, this capitalist system of living accommodation, but very interesting for my doctoral thesis,’ and everyone looked at her blankly, not knowing how to react.

Jim put his hand on Brenda’s shoulder and steered her (wobbling) towards her flat door. He stopped and slowly turned back to me. ‘Oh yes. There was more. If you want to hear this information you should go…’ He stopped. We waited. He looked sheepish. ‘No, it’s gone.’ And Brenda thumped him.

Though she and Jody say I’m better not knowing, it’s bound to be a nutter – not leaving a name or any contact number. But then I’m dying of curiosity and hoping that Jim will remember. Well, wouldn’t you?

This poll has now closed. Readers overwhelmingly voted for the meeting to take place at Central Library. So tune in on Tuesday for the next chapter!


Sally Lawton said...

Love it! Really can't wait to read what happens next!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Glad you liked it, Sally.

So the vote was overwhelmingly for Central Library, rather than the rumbustious Salford pub or the slick (rather wild) ambience of the Printworks.

I wonder why, exactly? Was it simply because that's the place voters knew and liked best - in which case, they're a pretty studious lot? Or could it be that, as happened with the similar fictional blog which Sarah Hepola wrote for the online magazine The Morning News, they wanted to steer the characters, protectively, in the more 'worthy' direction?

Or did they see particular narrative possibilities in the library venue which they were hoping to steer ME towards? In which case, I can only hope I don't disappoint them!!!

M-A-C said...

This is great!Am really intrigued.Did you make Ahmed a sound-guy for a particular reason? possibilities......Also love the photos,helps set the scene nicely!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Actually, MAC, I didn't choose Ahmed's occupation with any clear intent, I just pulled it out of the air. Though that's writing: meanings and connections are so often made subconsciously.