Tom Raymond: One Hand Clapping (The Finale)



Que Sera Sera


I followed them from gig to gig. I travelled to Leeds and Manchester and Liverpool and all the way down to London. I stood at the back, trying to concentrate on the songs. I found that I could do it, sometimes, by closing my eyes. I tried to think of them as entities that were separate from me; as standards, even, songs that anyone could play. After all, I didn't want to play them any more. I hadn't written a song since I'd been kicked out of the band. This was the last time they were going to be performed and I wanted to make the most of them. It made it easier knowing what I was going to do. I had decided to do it in London, it would be both more fitting and more dramatic, and, for the first time, I felt as though I had power over Julian. Every movement that he made – every pout and wiggle and carefully spontaneous pose – he made with my permission. I had only to put my hand in my pocket... The knowledge was heady. It kept me going.

The performance hardly varied from night to night. Right from the beginning of the tour, it started with Ian, progressed, through Colin's ticking sticks and Julian's "do it with one hand", to "Louise May", "Some Other Girl", "God Bless America" and so on. I could tell that Julian needed the repetition. His memory was poor – he forgot some words and phrases – and he relied on the lack of spontaneity to get him through. When he muffed an introduction, he went back to the beginning and did it again, word for word. There were gaps between songs that left him looking bewildered, like he'd been sleepwalking and was trying to work out where he was. He'd pass his hand across his face or else he'd gulp a glass of water and watch the band, warily. He only seemed to come fully alive when the music was playing. Once he was singing, he was fine; he was a star again. If I were still his friend I would have been scared for him.

It was plain, too, that he despised the audience. I was near enough to the front one night to see him mime "I need a piss" to Ian. He went to undo his fly and, to make Ian laugh, he aimed himself out into the crowd. The place went nuts. Laughing, he toyed with us, doing it up and then, slowly, undoing it again. There was a rush that almost drowned the bouncers at the front. People were being squeezed against the stage. Still laughing, Julian went back to the microphone and softly sung the last word of the song. He looked down at the bouncers, grinning. He leered over at Ian. The look said: what did I tell you? From then on, he included it in every show.

For the first time, I was glad to be anonymously ugly; it conferred power on me. It was a satisfying reversal. The first time I had tried to see them play, I'd barely been able to walk. My legs had felt as though they were going to give up on me. It was in a pub in the Mile End Road. I was trying to stay righteously angry, but I was overcome by nerves. I wasn't drunk enough; what did I think that I was going to do? There were too many of them. When the bouncer came over and asked me to leave I was almost glad; it meant, at least, that there wasn't going to be a fight. He was slow moving and seemed bulked up beyond utility, like a circus fat lady. He shifted awkwardly from one leg to the other and breathed heavily through his mouth. Nevertheless, he had a commanding presence. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he steered me to the door, and I felt validated: they saw me as a threat.

The next time, I was careful to get drunk. At least, I was drunk enough to pretend to be much drunker. Desmond was at the door. He pointed me out and shook his head. He started to walk away but he had only left two students taking money at a trestle table. I put both hands on it and, pushing my head between them, shouted,

"Oi!"

He didn't turn around. I shouted again. This time, he did a reluctant U-turn, scattering ash around him as he did so. Coming carefully towards me he looked prim. His hands were held out slightly in front of him, as though he was wearing invisible gloves.

"Yes Simon?"

"You remember my name then."

"You can't come in."

"Why not?"

He sketched a swift line from my shoes up to my nose.

"Look at you."

"And?"

We were talking around the head of one of the students. I had stepped aside, from a misplaced sense of decency; I didn't want to get in the way of anyone that might be behind me. We were to the left of the table. People were sliding through on the right.

"You're drunk", he said.

"You stole my songs."

"Oh please."

"You stole my songs. I'm coming in."

"You can't."

"You stole my songs."

"We've been through this."

"Have we?"

"They're Julian's songs."

"Christ. How can you."

He didn't let me finish.

"They're Julian's songs."

He was speaking firmly now.

"This is just jealousy, Simon. I suggest that you go home and sleep it off."

The imperious effect – the Laughtonesque nose, with its slightly dilated nostrils, and the bleak, commanding stare – was spoiled a little every time he checked behind him for the bouncers. I could see that I wasn't going to get in. I could go round the back and check the windows but I'd only be escorted out again. I half-heartedly went to push past him but he fended me off easily. We stood facing each other for a moment and then I turned the table over. I was striding away before it hit the ground. It made a satisfying crash, and I could hear people shouting, but no-one came after me. What was the point? The futility of the gesture had proved how impotent I was.

Debbie had offered to come with me, but I had refused. She would have known what to say, she was aggressive and frankly spoken, but that was the point; I would have felt outclassed and emasculated. At work, I could feel her watching me. I'd had to take a week off and now, more often than not, I'd find myself sitting and staring into space. You couldn't see my desk, most days, for forms and paper clips. I'd pick up pieces of paper and then put them down again. If I had to make a phone call I had usually lost the number. It wasn't long before Brian became concerned. He took me to a cubicle along the corridor. From here, you could see the kiddie bricks, the Play School clock and classical frieze of One Poultry. It was a stupid building: it didn't know what it was meant to be. I tuned back in to find he'd issued me with a verbal warning.

When we came back, I could see Debbie eyeing me. She was always efficient. Her gestures were brisk and economical. She wasn't messy at work, or boisterous. Why couldn't I be more professional? She made me coffee and tapped me on the neck as she walked past. I could feel her affection waning with every tap until it was more of a peremptory knock. At lunch I often ate alone; they couldn't spare the two of us, she said. I sat on a bench, next to St Paul's. Up close, it was dirty looking and crumbling. There was a mark, like a high water mark, about three quarters up. It looked like it had been left behind by a receding tide.

Even at home, she was losing patience. I had moved out and was staying in her room. It never amounted to much more than that; everything was fairly, but firmly, divided so that even our CDs were separate. I couldn't afford to stay where I was and I didn't want to share with strangers. Debbie had suggested that I move in, but she continued to give the impression that she had given in to something. Frank was even less happy. He barely talked to me. If we were in the kitchen together he elaborately skirted round me. He wasn't used to having another man about, Debbie said.

"He's used to having you to himself, you mean."

She didn't say anything.

"He calls you Debsie. I saw him slap you on the arse the other day."

"So what?"

It was a Sunday morning. I had tried, and failed, to have sex with her. Now she was reading a magazine. The girl on the front looked challengingly at the camera. She had a heart-shaped face and a slight, superior smile. She reminded me of Julian. Still, everything reminded me of Julian. I said,

"So nothing. Forget it."

"Where are you going?"

"To beat him up. Where do you think?"

I stepped over plates and knives and forks. When I had first moved in, Debbie had cleaned her room but now it was as messy as it had ever been. In the bathroom, there were lipsticks and creams and nail varnish, scattered all over the sink. There was a cigarette butt in the bin. It was appropriate, I thought; the clutter objectified the way I felt. This bothered Debbie. She wanted me to take charge, somehow. I wasn't sure if this meant of me or her. Coming back, I trod some mashed potato underfoot. I scraped it off, not saying anything. She lit a cigarette. Ash was accumulating around the ashtray. Finally, she said,

"What are you going to do today?"

I'd got back in beside her.

"Nothing."

I pulled the cover up to my chin. There was a fine layer of smoke, like mist, between the two of us.

"Oh, that'll be fun."

"I'm sorry."

"You're always sorry."

She put both feet on the floor. She sat there for a while but I was busy looking at a spider's web, up on the ceiling. By the time I had turned towards her she was dressed. She leant across and pressed the cigarette into the ashtray. She sat up, wordlessly, then slowly walked across the room. At the door she turned and said,


"You might think about washing if you get a minute."

She thought I was obsessed. I was obsessed. I kept a scrapbook. I had pasted in our first review and then our interview and photograph. (I peered at it, for minutes at a time. You couldn't make me out. Was that deliberate?) I stuck in subsequent reviews and pictures and the picture sleeve for "Julie Doesn't Mind". I wasn't sure I knew why I was doing it. I tried to track down Ian but he hadn't left a forwarding address. I rang the record company but I couldn't get past the receptionist. She used the same voice that I used at work; a bright, almost an uplifted, tone that could be used for everything. No, she couldn't give away home telephone numbers. No, she didn't know a man called Grant. Did I not know his surname? No, she'd never heard of Julian, or of Desmond. She was unfailingly polite but her politeness acted as a forcefield; nothing got through it. I tried flirting with her but I had never been any good at that. It sounded like clumsy wheedling.

I knew, deep down, that there was nothing I could do, but I refused to believe it. I was aware of a level of panic that lay underneath the panic I was ostensibly feeling. I could keep away from it only if I slept or kept moving. I doorstepped the Record Company after work. The receptionist's manner was only marginally less impersonal than when she was on the phone. She was smart and pretty but her smile didn't seem to connect to anything; it was an extension of her uniform. I sat in a chair by the lift. I hadn't washed or shaved in two days and my legs were bouncing up and down like I was juggling an invisible football. On the third day, she told me that I couldn't wait. She sounded a little regretful but, in every other respect, her manner didn't match up with the words. She smiled at me when she said it. She, too, reminded me of Julian.

I visited the university and found the offices of the magazine. They told me that the interviewer and the photographer had left the college. It wasn't their policy, they said, to give addresses or numbers out. If I could leave my name... I shouted, but it only made it worse. I'd already gone to "La Cage Aux Pizza" but Ian didn't work there any more. I'd known that they wouldn't come here now but I had stayed in any case. I wanted to try every avenue – to be able to tell myself I had tried every avenue – and I didn't want to go home. I sat and looked at myself in the mirror. I was already beginning to put on weight. My hair sat lankly on my shoulders now and there was the beginning of a drink tan around my nose. I was the only one who wasn't animated; who wasn't shouting or flailing his arms around. Everything – the crowd pitched at perpetual yuletide and the yodelling barstaff and then me, in mute comparison, morosely resting on my glass of double whisky – expressed my predicament perfectly, like a video.


What was I going to do? I tried to ring his mother but she wouldn't talk to me. I considered a law suit but I knew that I didn't have a leg to stand on. Debbie laughed when I suggested it. She thought that I should forget about it. It was terrible, she said – Julian had done a terrible, terrible thing; she hoped he died a painful death – but there was nothing I could do. I had to move on, for my sake. She didn't say "and for mine" but that was what she meant. At weekends, I was laying in until the afternoons, not thinking; willing myself to doze. On Sunday mornings, I could hear Frank and Debbie in the kitchen. Frank's speaking voice, from here, was an unexpectedly melodious baritone and Debbie seemed to be laughing in counterpoint.

On the afternoon of the day that Brian had given me a written warning, I came home early. He'd told me to. I was no use to anyone, he said. I needed sleep. I didn't want to tell him that I was already sleeping more than was necessary. Debbie had taken the day off. She wanted to do some tidying, she said. I heard her as I put the key in the lock. For a split second, I couldn't place the noise, but it was only because I hadn't expected it. As soon as I realised what it was, I heard the second voice. It was grunting in a lower register, in time. Before I knew what I was doing, I was taking the stairs at a run, my bad leg bumping behind me. It was Frank, of course, and he had leapt out of bed. He was half in and half out of his trousers and he should have looked ridiculous, but he didn't. He looked sheepish but he also looked ready for me. He was, I saw, prodigiously muscled and, although one hand was bunching up his trousers, the other was squeezed into a fist. I knew, as soon as I saw him, that I wasn't going to hit him. It wasn't just the way he looked. I was too aware of what I'd done, and what I hadn't done. It wasn't even really a surprise. Debbie was sitting pressed against the headboard with the sheet pulled tightly up against her chin. She looked both vulnerable and defiant. I mustered enough dignity to keep my eyes on Frank. He dressed, looking straight back at me. Debbie said,


"Don't."


She was talking to Frank.


"Just leave please."


I watched him out of the door. He took his time. He went downstairs and then I heard the front door go. Debbie was lighting a cigarette. She threw the match on the floor and, for a moment, this bothered me more than anything else. The mess had just seemed to build up before. Now she was doing what she knew I hated. She was dramatising her disregard for me. I went to leave.


"Don't you dare", she said.


"I'm sorry?"


I was trying to sound cold and disapproving.


"Don't you dare walk away from this", she said.


She was sitting forward now and her breasts were exposed. I felt a brief desire to throw her on her back. I hadn't felt anything like that for months.


"I'm sorry", I said. "I don't know what to say."


"Something. Christ, anything. You know: 'you bitch'; 'you whore'. 'How long has this been going on?' I'm sure you can come up with something."


Tonelessly, I said,


"How long has this been going on?"


"Today."


"Uh-huh."


"I knew he'd be here, though. I left my bedroom door open. I asked him in."


I had sat down at the end of the bed. There was a pause.


"You bastard", she said. "Why aren't you angry?"


I was looking down at the floor. She leant across and shook my face. I looked at her. She did it again. The muscles of her arm were emphasised by her tattoo. I wondered what she'd do if I just held her down. I nearly did it, but then she pushed me, then pushed me harder, so that I had to get up.


"You fucker", she said. "You useless fucker."


Her eyes were shimmering. A tear had made a track mark through the make-up on her cheek.


"You did this", she said.


She made a gesture that was like the gesture that she'd made before, right at the start of our relationship. It took in the tangle of her clothes, her naked body, the bed.


"This is your fault", she said.


"Oh no you don't. You can't blame this on me."


"Why not? You don't love me."


"I do."


"You don't. Fuck, look at you. You can't do. You never have. I've been convenient, that's all."


"That's rubbish, Debbie."


She wiped at her face with the back of her hand. The effect – the smearing of rouge and blusher – was theatrical. It enhanced the feeling I had of unreality. I should have left them to it. I felt removed; abstracted. But Debbie only seemed operatic because I didn't feel what she was feeling. I tried to make up the gap.


"I do mind."


"No you don't. You thought you would. But you don't."


She seemed to be calming down. Her hands, though, were clutching at the cover. Her cigarette was burning away unnoticed.


"Face it", she said, "this isn't your band, so."


Her shoulders went up and down.


"That isn't fair", I said.


She took a long drag of her cigarette. Now that the urge had passed I felt a brief shudder of disgust. She looked, all mussed-up hair and slap, like a pantomime dame. Her body was beautiful but her head was wrong. In the right mood, I could find the disjunction erotic, but as for love... She said,


"Why were you early?"


I had sat down on the edge of the bed again.


"Brian sent me home."


"You're going to lose that job."


"I know."


"And do you even care?"


She searched my face.


"No, 'course you don't."


She ran her fingers through her scalp. Sighing, she sketched me with her cigarette.


"You're a fool, Simon."


"I know."


"You don't. I was the best thing you ever had."


"Was?"


"Yes."


She was pushing her cigarette into the ashtray. Smoke fumed up from the wreck.


"It didn't even cross your mind to fight for me."


"I'd lose."


"Well, you've lost now. Arsehole. You'd rather moon around."


"It's more than that."


"Is it?"


"Well, Christ. I lost my band!"


"God, don't I know it. And look at you."


"What?"


"Angry at last."


She smiled, sadly.


"You find me fucking someone and you're absolutely fine. But mention your band."


She was reaching for a sweatshirt. Even now, angry as I was beginning to be, I watched her clothe her body with some regret.


"You know", she said. "All that about your songs. About you being 'expressed'."


She lisped, richly, on the word "expressed".


"I think it's bollocks. I think you hide behind them. They're what you do rather than have a life."


She sat back and looked directly at me. She looked like she was taking aim. Calmly, she said,

"Julie, my arse. You copy all those styles because you don't know who you are. Or what you are. You're scared, that's all. Go on. Get out."


"But."


She sat forward.


"Out!"


I tried to convince myself that I was devastated – I even managed tears – but I didn't argue with her. If I'd have argued then she might have let me stay. I felt, above and beyond it all, a sense of rightness. I didn't want to have to make the effort any more. I called a taxi and managed to squeeze my things inside. I got Debbie to pay for it.


My parents were as accommodating as they always were. They gave me my old room, still papered with pictures of John Lennon and Smokey Robinson and Rogers and Hart. I lay in it for days and listened to CDs. Nothing would fit. I couldn't wallow, like I wanted to, in "In The Wee Small Hours" or "Blood On The Tracks" or "Almost Blue". My life had an awkward, idiosyncratic shape to it. I didn't miss Debbie enough, or blame her enough, to be able to find my feelings represented in a ballad. How could you represent ambivalence? And what about the band, and Julian? Just when it counted, when I needed it most, pop music failed me.

And it was then that the crisis finally happened. I gave in to the things that I was feeling: grief and terror and rage. My mum would find me clinging to the walls. I'd walk the village raving, in the middle of an argument where I had Julian by the throat. I'd cry for hours, sobbing with such violence that it sounded like I was retching. I kept my scrapbook up to date, scanning the papers for glimpses of Julian or the band. Here they were, hamming it up inside the London Dungeons (Julian as a hanging judge and Colin as an executioner) and here was Julian rubbing his chin, the model of probity, on some Channel 4 talk show. I was able to quantify my loss by measuring the distance between me and the band's success. The more famous they were, the more Julian made his reputation on the strength of my songs, the more angry I became.


This lasted for months. Then, one night, I dreamt that I was in my old room in the flat. Julian was on the bed, arranged, as he was always arranged, as languidly as possible. I couldn't see him very well: there was a diffuse, late evening light and he was tiger-striped with shadows. A song was playing – I couldn't hear it properly, but I knew that it was mine because I kept anticipating it; kept singing its crescendos and diminuendos just before they happened – and Julian was laughing at me; he'd told me, or was about to tell me, that I looked ridiculous. What was I doing singing? I realised that I was pointing something at him and, looking down, I saw that it was a gun. I nodded to myself. It was right and proper in the circumstances; what else was I going to point at him? Aiming, I fired. Julian arched his back. It seemed to happen in slow motion; there wasn't any blood but I could feel his power draining away from him. At last, he was quiescent. I woke up just as I was bending over him, trying to make sure. I lay there, panting. I told myself, over and over, that it was just a dream, but I couldn't shake it. It stayed with me for days.


Of course, I thought, I was doing what I could never do in real life. It was a compensatory fantasy. Perhaps, this way, the anger would dissipate. It didn't, and, what's more, the longer I felt angry – beside myself; prone to tears and tantrums – the more I lingered on the images of the dream; on the gun bucking in my hands and on Julian arching on the bed. Slowly, the dream itself faded and all that was left was a feeling of empowerment. I found that I liked to linger over that too.


I wanted to kill him. It was as simple as that. Once I admitted it, everything fell into place. I felt relieved, if anything. I put my affairs in order, closing the scrapbook and hiding it in a safe place under the bed. I still had my credit card and I used it to buy a ticket for every night of the tour. I wasn't sure what I was going to do after I killed him – whether I was going to go to jail or go out in a blaze of glory – but I knew it wouldn't matter how much debt I was in. I started brushing my teeth again. I put weight on deliberately, like a method actor, and grew a beard. Sitting in the lounge, talking to mum and dad, I calmly watched myself detail plans that I had no intention of carrying out. I felt like I was operating machinery; leaning over for a biscuit, delicately dipping it then bringing it slowly up to my mouth, I congratulated myself on how smoothly I was accomplishing things. This must be what Julian felt, sometimes: the relaxation that comes from knowing that you're playing a role.


I had to get a gun. But where could I get one? A sports shop? A mail order catalogue? In the end, I started drinking in The Blue Boy. It was the scariest place I knew. It was the same as it had been last time, the same cavernous space with the same drunken-seeming scrawl on the posters. There was a different barmaid: a pretty girl who seemed to have scarified her hair and spread eye shadow out away from her eyelids in order to make herself look ugly. The music was still punishing but I made sure to nod my head in time to it. I had also taken up smoking. It looked attractive when Julian did it but I was soon lost in the boom and bust of nicotine addiction. When someone came up to the bar, I made myself available, turning obliquely to encourage conversation, but no-one ever spoke to me. There was a tangible sense of menace. The air seemed heavier in there, somehow; the customers seemed under-evolved. There was one man in particular, who sometimes sat up at the bar. He had a swastika tattooed on his left wrist and, on his right hand, the tip of one of his fingers had been removed. His head looked like it had been beaten into shape. He had a way of looking me over that made me shiver. After three weeks, I didn't go back.


I hadn't wanted to steal my father's gun, but they had gone to America for a month (they had asked me, half-heartedly, if I wanted to go) and in the end it was irresistible. One morning, I stood and stared at it then, suddenly, as if by impulse, smashed the glass. I had already tied a drying up cloth around my hand. I'd also written a note. I hadn't known what to say and, in the end, I'd written,


"Sorry. Watch the news."


I swept up the spangles of glass and put the note up on the mantelpiece. I checked the gun: four bullets. I'd never fired one before. I felt a shiver, a symptom of fear or of excitement, go up my back and neck. Stepping out into a slab of sunlight, I stopped and squinted for a moment. I suddenly realised that I had a choice. I could go back inside and start to live a life, of sorts – my life, whatever that turned out to be. Or I could link myself with Julian forever. Closing the door, I stepped out, hesitantly, into the glare.

*****


So this is what I do.

I side-step the bouncers and sprint up the stairs, onto the stage. This is more difficult than it seems. These bouncers are surlier, and more compact, than the ones I used to encounter. They’re almost graceful. Still, I’ve seen it done at other gigs. The trick is to run as fast as you can. If you’ve timed it right, the bouncers can’t get at you until you’re actually on the stage. At the last show, I saw a boy kiss Julian on the lips before he was roughly torn away.

So this is what I do. I run. I have stationed myself by the stairs and have already stood, impatiently, through “Dancing Cures Everything”, “La La La” and “I Want You Back”. “Dancing Cures Everything” is a proper calypso now, with Julian shaking maracas at the microphone, and “La La La” is so like the Jackson Five that “I Want You Back” just sounds like a continuation of it. Once Julian reaches the end of “Albert” – the mannered, triumphant self pity of “who do you think I am?” – I go like Hell. Halfway across the stage, I can see a bouncer heading for me but I am ready for him. I pull the gun out, and everything changes. He stops in his tracks and puts his hands up, very slowly. There are screams but there are also cheers, as though what is happening is part of the act. Just for a moment, the response is equivocal, which is what I would have expected when the spotlight was finally turned on me. Julian has recognised me, and I would love to say something, some zinger that caps our relationship, but I can never, when I think this over, work out what. In any case, I haven’t got the time. I shoot him in the belly, and then stand over him and fire into his head. He jerks. It is different to the way he arched when I dreamt about him; it’s less balletic. I can hear a bouncer coming up behind me and so I swing the gun round in an arc. It briefly takes in the audience and I see that there is a real commotion, now, with people pushing each other towards the exits. I have two bullets left. Swinging back round (both bouncers are stock still, eyeing me closely), I see that Clive is rooted to the spot. I don’t want him. Ian is trying to escape and so I shoot him too. He does a skittering puppet dance, backwards, knocking over a cymbal and exposing Colin’s arse. I walk over and fire down at Colin, who has both hands clasped together. There is now blood beside the drum kit and by the microphone. It spreads slowly and inexorably, and I am leaving red footprints as I walk up to the mike and take it off its stand. I throw the gun away and as the bouncers come for me I say,

“Thank you London and goodnight.”

Only, of course, I don’t.


It is a fantasy; something that I snap out of just as the band is finishing “I Want You Back”. Julian is looking out over us and I can’t seem to move. I should be at the stairs but I’m still here, pressed up against the people in front, like everybody else. I want to do it; I’m sure I want to do it. There’s still time. All I have to do is push my way diagonally through the crowd. The bouncers are elsewhere. Something is happening and they are marching towards it in a human wall. But I can’t move. Julian is speaking now. I have a pretty good idea of what he’s going to say. They have recorded everything I gave them. I tell myself that I am waiting for it; that I’ll move when the song is half-way through. There is a pause, then Julian says,


“I have something to tell you.”


There are still cheers and whistles, but he waits patiently. He doesn’t tease us, now; this, you can tell, is going to be serious. At last, the hall goes quiet.


“I’m glad it’s you”, he says.


He is nodding his head as he says it, as though confirming it.


“A home crowd, I mean.”


There is another surge of noise but he waits through it.


“Because”, he says.


Another pause. His eyes go all around the hall.


“This is the last gig that we’re going to play together.”


Everybody suddenly seems to be talking at once. He holds his hand up.


“Ssssssssh.”


It's like he is reassuring a child.


“Listen”, he says. “Listen. We love you.”


More conversation, and a couple of shouted questions. The girl in front of me is crying. Her boyfriend doesn’t know where to put his hands. Once again he says,


“Shhhhhhhh.”


He pushes his hand through his hair then does it again, slowly.


“I need a rest”, he says.


He looks as though he means it.


“We need a rest.”


But still he can’t resist a final flourish.


“But we’ll be back!”


It is as though he has forgotten what he said at the beginning. He steps backwards and it seems like he’s been pushed there by the roar of the crowd. George strums the beginning of “Albert” and Julian looks up into the gallery. He is going to do the whole song like he is pleading for understanding. He will hold his hands out and the audience will yearn, gratefully, towards him.


And I am moving towards the exit. I’ve realised that I can’t do anything to him. I thought I could. The floor moves subtly upwards and the crowd thins out until there are small groups of two or three, up by the bar. I’d like a drink but then decide against it. I don’t want to turn round; I want to keep the band behind me. Out in the auditorium, there are pictures of him everywhere. You can still hear him. It’s like he's part of everything: the walls; the stairs; the carpet; me. It was when he sculpted his hair; when he shyly addressed the microphone. I felt my heart go out to him. It was when the choice seemed suddenly, starkly, to be between life or death. I knew I’d chosen already. My pulse was rapidly hammering and each breath was difficult. I couldn’t move my legs. I thought, at first, that it was fear. I thought, as I watched him night after night, that I was keeping my eye on a moving target. I thought that this was a story about music; about how it was stolen from me and how I plotted revenge. Of course, it isn’t. It’s a love story. It always has been.


Outside, there are what feels like handfuls of rain, thrown at my face. I feel... What do I feel? Ridiculous. Duped, somehow. Shocked. It colours everything; it changes everything. “Julie”, my arse. And all that time I thought I was expressing myself.


I take the gun out and I study it for a while. I’m sitting down now. An hour goes by. Two hours. I’ve put the nozzle up to my eyes and I am staring down the barrel. I’m gentling the trigger. There is another story, beneath the things I thought I felt. It frightens me.


But not as much as the gun. Before I put it away, I empty the chamber. I start to walk again, a ghost among the ghosts of shops. I can’t think any more. The rain has eased a little and now I’m nearly at the tube station. I’m going to go home. Tomorrow, who knows? I take one last look around. The streets look polished with rain. Thank you London and good night.


Somewhere, inside my head, I think I can hear a new song beginning.



Tom Raymond has already written two novels, The Conquest of the Incas and Rough Music.