Now this is the first of a number of stories which were influenced by me entering my second year at university and moving out from student halls to go and share a house. It was typical of most student houses, Victorian and cold. One of our house mates was the step-daughter of the landlord which made her imperious and him harsh on her. The house actually cost less than his car and in restoring it, they found that none of the bricks under the bay window in the front room had ever been mortared they were pristine Victorian bricks simply held in place with plaster either side, you could have literally kicked your way into the house.
Anyway, campus was a 4-mile cycle ride from our house, a journey I did twice on Fridays, so I had a lot of time to think about stories influenced by the town I was cycling through. This story was based on a real event. A friend of mine who was a house mate had been working part-time at a bingo hall (itself a centre of lots of petty crime) and had started having a relationship with a married woman who already had another lover on the side too.
This story is about what happened the Sunday afternoon when we were expecting the husband and his friends to come to the house to beat up my friend, who it turned out had been used as a decoy for the woman's real affair. I literally ran away scared and for years felt incredibly guilty about doing that. Fortunately the men never appeared. For a man like myself who was still living in some distilled dream of student life in Oxford, facing small-time violence in a Midlands town was very disturbing.
The cyclist hurried through the living room, the dirty grey bag swinging awkwardly against his legs.
She sat cross-legged on the floor like a fat Buddha, staring at the small black and white television as she rammed another pale yellow chip into the artificial red sauce. This was one argument she had not started. She had little humanity. She would not mediate.
His house-mate stood at the top of the narrow, steep stairs, his hair combed up and back. His brown rimmed glasses and baggy beige trousers gave him the appearance of a writer of the Thirties. He looked pale as he stared downwards.
The cyclist dropped the bag as he hammered his fists into the carpet, enraged and fearful of the city low-life his friend had stirred up.
“You idiot!” He screamed it repeatedly, as his fists came down on the stairs. “She used you to get back at him! Them!”
The one at the top of the stairs ran his tongue over the lips sore from a night’s kissing. He had turned to this friend at a time of doubt and need only to have a violent anger spat back at him. How many hours was it to be before her husband, his friends, maybe her boyfriend too would come pounding at the door? How quickly he had become aware of the games this deserted mother had played. He had certainly seen real people in the real world; an ugly word of tacky uniforms and petty gambling. From a part-time job he had waded into the mire of city life.
At the foot of the stairs, the swearing continued. From where he had expected support and understanding had only come indifference and recrimination. Through all three of them streamed a sense of anticipation, of fear.
The cyclist snatched up the bag and coursed through the narrow house into the throat slicing Autumn evening air. It was quiet as only a city weekend afternoon ever was. He wheeled the cycle briskly to the road and mounted. The fear and anger flowed down his pumping legs as he hauled up the rise and away into the city. Guilt now tinged the rage and fear coloured the reasoning.
There never was a confrontation that Sunday evening, and the incident faded into rare nuances and unstated remembrance. What remained was not the results of a fight faced or not, but of trust betrayed.