It is 1995, a Saturday afternoon, and tonight Fern and her friends will head to Leeds to a club. The chapter opens with the group sprawled out in a self-contained flat in Harrogate.
There are never fewer than three people here, even when we’re asleep. Me and Sean might be the only ones on the tenancy agreement but James, being homeless, is here all the time. He said it’d be temporary but he’s been here for, let me think…it must be over a month now. I watch him, slouching on his elbows on the floor. He sees me looking. He’s got bad red eye – must be really caned. I don’t think he’s even started trying to find somewhere yet. I could mind but James is fairly innocuous – good word that: having little or no adverse or harmful effect – a Lou word. Besides, I like it, have always had people around me.
The only downer about it is that me and Sean can’t fully go for it when we’re having sex. When he first moved in, James dropped some sarky hints about moans and groans and strange rustling in the night. Funnily enough he’s gone fairly quiet on the subject since Sean told him we had to do it sometime and that if he didn’t like it, he could find a higher class of hotel. Truth is, Sean buzzes off having someone in the room. I’ll be trying to be as quiet as possible and he will suddenly thrust really deep inside me so I gasp. Bastard. Still, I suppose having an audience is better than there being no performance at all…
Anyway, what was I thinking about? Oh yeah, all the people coming round the flat. Cheltenham Mount is definitely the place to be in Harrogate. The problem is, it’s getting to the stage where me and Sean have very little control over who comes round. People who’ve been to a party here or who’ve been round with a mate once get to thinking they’re welcome every day and start bringing ‘just one or two’ friends around to score. Lately it’s got a bit much.
“Can I have a bath?” James asks. The stereo’s halfway through Dougal’s Love Of My Life, which I hadn’t even noticed coming on. Must be all the smoke in the air.
“Yah man, go for it,” Sean tells him. “You know where the towel is.” The other one is going mouldy in the laundry basket.
“We really do need some more towels,” I say. Two months on already and no one has actually managed to find the nearest launderette yet. If it’s absolutely urgent, I’ll go to my sister’s to do the washing but I really don’t want to see her, let alone crawl round, asking favours.
“Nah, it’ll be right. We’ll just go to your Lotus’s,” Sean says brightly.
“It will not be alright. I ..do… not.. want to go… to my sister’s just… to do some washing.”
“She won’t mind.”
Evidently stoned or he’d have picked up on the tone in my voice.
“Come off it Sean, you know how fucking superior she is.” I affect the mock upper-class voice my sister has adopted since she moved to Harrogate, “‘Well, if you had a job, you’d be able to pay for your own washing machine. You’re a clever young lady, Fern. How about some office work?” And then she would produce the local paper, dump the job page on my lap – so fucking predictable.
“So. Just ignore her.”
Easy for him to say but there’s no point in trying to explain. He just doesn’t understand why I don’t want to have to answer to Lotus. It’s alright for him: he can lie his way out of awkward questions, will maintain till he’s blue-faced that he’s been to three interviews that very day but that there just aren’t enough full-time jobs to go round. That last bit is true, even in a wealthy small town like this. Personally, I would consider a job in which I was permitted to use my brain but unfortunately I don’t have the qualifications – the brains but not the qualifications. And I absolutely refuse to work in a dead end job. I don’t want to be anaesthetised by the system and neither do any of my friends. Won’t catch us being neatly-packaged by society. Not like my sister, a twenty four year old newly-wed who’s just bought her three bedroom semi, is working as a personal assistant to her husband – one of the directors of a small retail outlet – and is planning two point four children in the near future. I shudder. Besides, as I’ve told her over and over again, it’s not as if we don’t want to work; it’s a matter of principle. I mean what’s the point when there isn’t even a minimum wage? Anyway, the last time I went to see her, she whinged about me only coming round when I wanted something. There’s no way in the world I’m giving her more ammunition by asking if I can do my washing.
“Do you want to go into town now?” I ask Dan, seeing the necessity of escaping before I start shouting at Sean or someone turns up and it becomes a major mission to leave.
“Alright.” Dan launches himself off the sinky chair and pulls me up. Unlike Sean, he seems to have noticed me getting annoyed.
Me and Dan leave the flat and turn left up Cheltenham Parade. Dan stops at the nice bakery to buy a Cornish. I wait outside and a snooty old woman in a lavender coat uses her elbow to nudge me out of the way. This is what I fucking hate about Harrogate.
We walk on the road to pass the townie kids outside McDonalds. I’m wearing my jeans and Dan looks like an older version of them so we don’t get any comments today. They’re always giving James and Sean stick but it’s cheeky rather than aggressive; James and Sean either laugh or ignore it, depending on their mood.
On the grass near the cenotaph there is some kind of scuffle. Dan grabs my jacket with his fingers and pulls me closer so we can see. Some bloke is running after the scrawny Big Issue seller with the ripped-up trainers, the one who usually stands outside Woolies. He catches him, spins him round by the collar and swings. Looks twice the size and, even though we’re about fifty feet away, I can see how much the poor dude is shaking.
“Shit, it’s Cafferty.” My hand goes to my mouth.
“That’s not Cafferty, that’s…”
I take my eyes off them to look at Dan. “It’s Cafferty,” I repeat. “Who did you think it was?”
“Nobody.” He flushes.
Look back and Cafferty’s still beating the faeces out of his latest victim. The man’s magazines are strewn all over the road and he’s not even trying to fight back. Cafferty is holding his collar with one hand so the poor bastard can’t fall to the floor. With it being Saturday, there are fuck loads of people about but that’s not stopping him. Then a siren starts up.