I’ve just done some more work on this, and ths is an updated version
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There was soon a pile of bills I was putting off paying, and then I received a reminder in the mail about tax for the Jag. I did not have the money for it, and since the car was hardly roadworthy, I didn’t want to be bothered with it. I worried all that day, and then woke the next morning with a brilliant idea. I called around some of the Jag owners I knew, and eventually found one that would take the car for parts, and he even agreed to come and tow the vehicle back to his workshop.
It was a sad day, but also a relief to be free of the responsibility. It was also good to have some spending money again, and I decided to have some fun, so I got the bus into Hunstanton. I walked along the sea front and suddenly thought about the beach huts that I’d camped out in all those years ago. I started off that way but was soon out of breath as I struggled to walk through the sand dunes.
When I got to where I thought they were it all looked different, there seemed to be more of them than I remembered, and they were all painted and gleaming. The buildings just didn’t look the same, and I started to wonder if I’d got the right spot. After a time I just gave it up and began to trudge back to Hunstanton.
It was a long walk back, and I was exhausted by the time I got near to the outskirts of town. Just as I was getting close to the bus terminus, a car passed me and then screeched to a halt. The driver backed up, and I saw to my surprise that it was Angel.
“Angel,” I said, “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I’m like a bad penny, I keep turning up! Say, do you want a lift? Where are you going anyway?”
I was on the verge of refusing the lift, but I was so tired, and my feet were hurting, so I accepted and climbed into Angel’s car. I saw her looking at me sideways as she drove, and was careful not to let her see my missing tooth. I tried to be vague about what I was doing and turn the conversation to what she was up to nowadays.
“Well, after that crap with Alistair my Edinburgh life went a bit sour,” Angel explained. “I came south again and worked in Birmingham for a while, there’s a lively gay nightclub scene there, and that was OK for a while, but I had a bit of bad luck, and a string of unhappy love interests didn’t help. Then I tried London for a bit, and now I’m back here. Guess I’m like you in that respect, we always end up coming back to our roots, don’t we?”
Angel told me she was thinking about what to do now she was back, and then asked me if I’d be interested in going in with her in some sort of bar venture. I said I might be, but knew inside that I didn’t have what it took anymore to go running around the countryside. She said she’d call when she had some more ideas, and dropped me at my apartment building. I think she was expecting to be asked in for a drink, but I knew the apartment was a mess, and I couldn’t have her in there, so we exchanged phone numbers, and she went off into the night.
Christmas came and went. Percy sent me an invite to his Christmas gathering, and my brother said I could spend the holidays with him and his family, but I didn’t want to talk to anyone or go anywhere. I had a few calls from Angel, but I didn’t answer them, and after a while, she stopped calling.
In fact, by the middle of February, I just stopped answering my phone at all, because it seemed to be too much effort to do even that. I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. When out of provisions I had to go out to the store, but I tried to go at the quietest times to avoid meeting anyone. Even so, I did occasionally run into someone I knew. For 3 weeks running, I met Jenny just as I was coming out of the store, and it was awkward to talk without showing my broken tooth, all the time aware I was carrying a couple of bags full of booze. After that, I started to go to the 24-hour grocery store at 3 am so that no one else would be around.
One early evening in late March my peace was disturbed by the buzzer from the front entrance. I had taken to ignored that too, and found that eventually, everyone went away. Suddenly there was a pounding at my own door, and I opened it to see Jenny and Angel standing there. They had persuaded one of the other tenants to let them in the front security gate and found my apartment by looking at the mailboxes.
I was suddenly aware that I’d not cleaned the place in I didn’t know how long. I could see Jenny taking in the pile of empty bottles in the kitchen. It had just seemed easier to leave them there than throw them in the garbage, and I felt myself getting defensive, just from her look.
“I happened to meet with Jenny in the Anchor,” Angel told me. “We got to talking about people that we both knew, and you came up in conversation. We both said what a great guy you were, but that we’d not seen much of you. So, I got a bottle, and we thought we come round to see you.” So saying, she got a spirit bottle out of her bag and put it on the table in front of us.
“The thing is,” Jenny said, “we’ve been worried about you and think it’s time we said something.”
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about me!” I said, trying to be as bright and confident as I could. “I’ve got a lot of things bubbling under you know.”
“Tony,” Angel said “This is us you’re talking to, remember, not a couple of floozies you’re trying to impress. You’re a good friend, and as a friend, I have to tell you that you are very much not doing well. Anyone can see it. When was the last time you took a shower? When was the last time you had a decent meal? And how long is it since this room was cleaned?
Jenny chimed in “You’ve been wearing the same clothes every time I’ve seen you around town, and again today. And when are you going to get that tooth seen to?”
“Listen, “ I started “If you just came here to make me feel bad…” but before I could go on Angel broke in.
“It’s true Tony, just look at this place and at yourself. When we first met you were the toast of the town, Mary used to drool over how gorgeous you were, in and out of bed, and you could have any woman you wanted. Men as well if you’d ever been that inclined,”
Jenny joined in “I’m sorry you’re going through a tough time, but you’re not helping yourself. We both love you like a brother, and we’re worried about you, can’t you see that?”
Suddenly, all the frustration from my situation broke through my composure, and I let rip at them.
“Like a brother?” I lunged at Jenny. “Yea, sure, what about you stealing my wife from me that was just like a brother wasn’t it? And you” I turned to Angel “you introduced me to that faggot friend of yours who proceeded to steal the money that I worked so hard for. No one cares about me, and you’ve all made it clear I’m not good enough. Just like everyone else, just like my mother! I tried to be a good son, a good husband, a good lover, a good employee, but none of that was enough!”
I’m not sure what else I said, but it seemed that every hurt I’d ever felt and hidden came out in a continuous stream of consciousness. Eventually, I ran out of things to say, and a profound silence filled the room.
“Oh Tony,” Jenny said at last. She got up, sat next to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “Oh sweetie I know, honestly I do.”
“I don’t know,” I said, feeling myself on the verge of tears. “I don’t have a job, and I don’t even have a car anymore. What good am I?”
Angel came and sat the other side of me. “Tony, you’re you, just like you’ve always been.”
“I’ve only actually known you a few years, it’s true,” Jenny said, “but I’ve come to really like you. I like you for who you are, not what your job is, or what car you drive. I like you just for being Tony.”
“Me too Tony, we had fun together, and we’ve worked together – why do you think I asked if you wanted to come into business with me? Because I knew you’d bring your positive attitude and fun-loving self. This,” Angel waved at the untidy apartment and then looked at my dirty clothes. “This isn’t Tony. This is some sad old man that has given up on life. That’s not you, that’s not the Tony I know.”
We sat in silence for a moment, while I thought about it.
“You know,” I said eventually, “this is a part of me too. Sure, there is the positive side that you all see, but underneath all that there has always been a darker side, a self-destructive part of me.”
I went on to tell them about running away from Dad’s wedding party, and why. I told them about the times I would drive my car so fast that I was in danger of killing myself, and the one time I nearly did. And then I admitted that after Ruby had given up on me one more time, I gave up on myself, too.
“It was just easier to think that all I amounted to was a job and a car,” I explained, “and then when they were gone too, I didn’t have anything left.”
“You have us, Tony,” Angel said. “You have friends that care about you, lots of them.”
Jenny nodded. “You’d be surprised how many people have been asking about you, wondering if you were OK. You know,” she went on, “most of us just want you to be Tony, we don’t care about what you do or don’t do for a living. We don’t care what car you do or don’t drive.”
Angel looked thoughtful. “You know Tony, it was hard being gay in rural Norfolk. Oh, it’s getting better now, but back when we first knew each other, it was really tough getting accepted as anything other than odd. But you just accepted me, I was just another of your buddies, and you probably don’t know how special that felt. I’d like to be there for you too, just be Tony, and that will be enough.”
“We really miss you at the Anchor, and I was talking to Percy,” Jenny chimed in “I’m sure it must be hard financially for you just now, so maybe there would be a way for you to do some potman work for the pub. I know, you’re better than that, but maybe just getting out with people would be a start. Only, you really need to clean yourself up sweetie, really you do.”
“I’ve got an idea” Angel jumped in. “I’m at a loose end right now, why don’t I come round tomorrow, and I can help you clean this place up a bit? You don’t have to do anything yourself if you don’t want, I could clean, and you can make coffee for me and tell me some of your stories. Listen, why don’t you just give me a spare key, that way I won’t have to beg a stranger to let me in, and you won’t need to worry about answering the door.”
“That’s an excellent idea,” Jenny said, “I’m not working tomorrow, so I’ll come over too if you let me, and between the 3 of us we can turn this place around!”
I was a turmoil of emotions inside, but somehow, the thought of the girls coming round and cleaning up made me content. If they wanted to, then I’d let them. I wasn’t sure about anything else, but anything was better than the self-imposed isolation I had sentenced myself to.
I gave Angel my spare set of keys and told them the combination that got them into the apartment building. Both girls gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek before leaving. The door closed behind them, and I was alone again.