Violence is a great leveller. When two men are mano-a-mano, money, power, and all the bodyguards in the world won’t make a bit of difference. It’s you and him.
“Perhaps I’ll smack him in his face. Cuff him in that pretty puss of his,” the boy said, half out loud and half in his head. He looked down at the train tickets, first class open returns to Liverpool Street. “That’s a long way to go for a bloody lunch,” he muttered, he didn’t want lunch. He just wanted to see him. He wanted to see that face in real life, instead of on a poster, on YouTube or in a magazine or newspaper.
“Are you ready?” shouted a voice from downstairs.
“Yeah, nearly,” the boy shouted back over his shoulder.
“Well, don’t stay up there, come down and let me look at you.” Her voice was one that must be obeyed, so, he picked up the tickets and went down stairs.
“You look lovely. Handsome, just like he did when he was young, your age I mean.” His mother said. He blushed, she was a typical mum, always fussing. “Listen, you don’t have to go if you don’t want y’know? I’m not saying that for my feelings, it’s you I’m thinking about.” She said gently tucking a curl of hair back over his ear.
“I know.” The boy replied.
“Just see how it goes eh?”
“I will, thanks, mum.”
“You’d better go, you’ll be late. You look lovely. He’ll be proud.”
“Why don’t you come? He sent two tickets…”
“No love, do this on your own. Go on get off. I love you.” The boy hurriedly kissed her on the cheek, threw on a jacket and left.
The man, the legend, the rock god, stood looking at a framed disc, a platinum disc. He was considering his upcoming lunch appointment. Would he have even arranged it, if the press hadn’t publicly shamed him? Maybe, he wasn’t sure. He just wanted to get it over with, to tell his side of the story. He’d look upon the boy and see how he felt, and then take it from there. His concentration broke, was the television on? No. It was the manager, on the phone as always. Eff this, eff that, no effin way. Even Channel Five didn’t sound like that at 1130 in the morning.
The profanity wagon rolled into the room. “You don’t have to do this you know?”
“I want to.” The man replied.
“Look, this will blow over, I’ll call Max, he’ll fix it. We’ll put another story out, and the press’ll get bored.”
“I said, I want to.”
“Look, things are good, y’know? The tour is coming up, the new album is going to smash the charts, and Radio 1 are playlisting the single. There’s a lot to be happy about my friend. Write him a cheque, give him a million quid, you can afford it. Brush it off.”
“How about I brush you off?”
“Don’t even think about it son. When you left that band you were done, fat, fucked, finished. We took you on, and we cleaned you up. We made you bigger than ever.” The manager made an arc with his hand purveying the multiple framed discs. “Don’t forget it either. And, today, no drinking, not even one. Yeah?”
The man looked at him, and the feeling was strange. This bloke, who worked for him, had a power over him. He weakened him while strengthening him. It was a force from which he couldn’t get from under. “No booze. Get me the car I’m going to be late.”
“The car is at the station picking your boy up. I’ll drop you off, I hope you know what you’re doing.”
Unlike most ‘Rock Gods,’ he was aging well. He was always immaculately groomed, still tight in all the right places. He would always cock his head slightly to the left, he believed that his right side was his best side and rarely was his left profile given any limelight. He sat in the restaurant. He’d been papped on the way in. On the way out, with the boy, they’d have a field day. He made a note to himself, ‘leave through the service door.’ They would always let him do that, especially when he had company.
The boy arrived dead on time. The Maitre D knew exactly who he was and escorted him to his table. Walking through the arrangement of perfectly placed tables the boy’s head almost exploded. In every seat sat a face he knew, faces he’d seen fifty foot tall, larger than life. The women were all stunning. The walls, the walls they were mad. They had real Picasso’s hanging on them. He knew this because he was two-thirds of the way through his art degree. Then he saw him. The man stood, fastened a button on his jacket and very formally held out his right hand. “Hello, how are you?” He said, as normally as anyone could utter such a mundane greeting. The boy grasped his hand and shook it, “I’m fine thanks, how are you?” The man nodded, with his head tilted slightly to the left. The boy recognised him. How could he not? For years this had been one of the most famous faces on the planet, for years, this face along with that of his four mates had hung on the boy’s wall, the boy totally oblivious to the paternal connection.
The boy once heard that Sean Lennon didn’t know that his dad was a Beatle until he saw ‘Yellow Submarine’ on TV. The boy didn’t know who his dad was until a journalist pulled him over one day as he was leaving a lecture. Then his world collapsed. Sat in the restaurant opposite the man, he wondered if it would ever be normal again.
They didn’t speak they just looked at each other. Seconds slogged by as if they were hours, food came and food went. The man couldn’t take it. “I like fishing, what about you?” With that, he pulled a photo from inside his pocket. It was of the man crouching on the bank of a river, in regular clothes, holding a massive yellowy brown fish. “Look at that!” The boy took the picture and scrutinised it. “That’s nice. It’s big. What else do you do?”
“Well, I climb. I love mountaineering, well I say mountaineering, it’s just climbing. I’ve got a climbing wall at home.”
The man was animated now because he was his own favourite subject. At a rapid rate of oral knots, he began to give the boy a rundown of all of his greatest achievements. As if the boy didn’t know. Everyone knew what this man had done, love him or hate him his gorgeous fizzog, his records, his charity work, his professor like expertise in all things ecological was well known. And by God did this man like talking about it. The boy’s face glazed over as a frontal verbal assault pinned him down and sonically tortured him into surrender. The man paused, he was proud of himself. He thought that this was going well. “How’s your food?” The boy had barely touched it. Not because he wasn’t hungry, but because he had no idea what he had ordered. “It’s ok. I think. I don’t normally come to places like this. Me and Mum go to this place in town. It’s great, it’s only seven quid, and you can eat as much as you want. They do Chinese. And Indian. And Mexican. I think they do Italian as well. We only go as a treat now and then and never at night. At night it’s fifteen quid, there’s more dishes though, so that’s ok, I suppose.”
The man felt stupid. He felt hollow, and a pang of acidic shame pierced his gut, he thought that he was going to be sick. “Do you drink?” The man asked.
“Do you do drugs?”
“That was meant to be sarcastic. I know you don’t do them now, it says so in your autobiography. The third one. The one that came out last Christmas. But yeah, I do drink.”
“Sorry, I didn’t catch it. Sorry. This isn’t great is it?”
“I’ve had better lunches.”
“At the seven quid place?”
“Yeah and MacDonald’s.” They both laughed. The man stood up, “Come one, let’s go.”
They left, through the service door. The man sent the car away and took the boy on a tour of Soho and decreed that they should embark upon a massive piss up. The boy was 20 years old and needed to play, play the way his Dad had played since the time that the boy was born. Cocktails and shorts were punctuated with strippers, some scuffles, a bit of dark corner action and selfies with the great unwashed. They drank and laughed, and the man told the boy stories, funny stories, incredible stories, dirty stories. The curtain was well and truly pulled back. For the first time in a long time, the man felt real and fulfilled. The boy, well, he felt sick.
The boy closed his eyes, his body rushed, he felt like he was on a rollercoaster. His body pushed forward, and his head whooshed back into his brain. His eyes rolled back in his skull, and he staggered. His legs wobbled, and his head made small circles. He held his arms out slightly aloft to try and balance himself. And then slumped back against a wall in an alley off Brewer Street. The man saw himself. It was like looking into a mirror, a mirror that made a gap through time. He smiled and was so engrossed by the moment that he forgot to tilt his head to the left. The boy, for the first time, saw his whole face, in real life.
The man softly approached him. He reached out and put his arm on his shoulder. The boy grabbed it and spat at him. “I don’t know you!” He shouted. The man put his hands up to shush him. “Don’t tell me to be quiet! I need to talk to you. You never shut up, do you know who I am or what I do? You don’t care. But I don’t care. I really don’t care. I’ve met you now and do you know what? You’re nothing. You’re just a bloke. You’re not special, not even stupid or eccentric; you’re just a bloke. Am I supposed to love you? Because I don’t. You’re just normal, and a bit boring to be honest. I don’t know if I’m even glad I met you. I’m apathetic to you. There’s nothing there. I don’t even care enough about you to mildly dislike you. Which is a shame because I wanted to hate you and punch you. But all I really want to do is go home.” With that, the boy passed out.
The man was drunk. But not so drunk that he didn’t hear what had just been said. He felt relieved. In the long run, this outburst would probably save him some money. He walked over to the boy and put an arm around him and tried to lift him. The boy yelped like an organic alarm clock and jumped upright as though fifty thousand volts had shot up through his backside. “Get off me! I wanna go home!” Then he collapsed into a total deadweight. The man took his phone from his pocket and dialled a number. “Hello Len, meet me on Great Pulteney Street mate, yeah, get some coffee, we’ve got a long drive.”
The boy was slouched in the back seat of the Bentley. The plush cream leather interior was shaded by the darkness of the privacy glass that was installed in all the back windows and the hatch that separated master and servant. The man was fully expecting the boy to throw up. If he did, it didn’t matter he had people who would deal with that, he had people that dealt with everything. Within no time, they had navigated the north circular, and the car almost floated onto the M1.
As the lights flickered past, the man stared out of the window, it was late, and traffic was sparse. He felt a thud. The boy had slouched down so low that his head was now resting on his lap. His first reaction was to move him, he didn’t feel comfortable with this. His hands just hovered over the boy’s head. He looked at the boy, his long eyelashes, and his light brown hair. At that moment there was a transformation, the boy no longer looked 20 years old, he looked like an infant, innocent and beautiful. The man’s chest began to heave uncontrollably, and his eyes flooded. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. The tears began to flow, and he reached down and started stroking the boys’ hair.
Discomfort turned to what he felt was the most natural thing to do. The years of separation, wonder, anguish and self-loathing just melted away. It was like a piece of paper folding corner-to-corner joining two different times, and disregarding everything in between. The man felt love, real love. The journey was like a dream, an ecstatic, magical dream. Then the car stopped. Reality has an awful habit of biting and biting hard.
Looking out of the window the man saw a row of gray terraced houses. They were packed together shoulder to shoulder like soldiers on parade adorning the drabbest uniforms ever worn by man. The boy was home. The hatch slid back “This is the stop Guv’.” Len said. The boy awoke with a start and pulled himself slowly upright. “I’m sorry, I dribbled on your expensive trousers.”
“It’s ok.” The man said.
“Where am I?”
“You gave me a lift? What did you do that for? It’s bloody miles.”
“I think you missed your train.”
“I doubt it, you sent me an open ticket, yer flash bastard.” The boy climbed out of the Bentley and closed the door behind him. He righted himself and kept one hand on the roof as he walked around the car. The man’s window silently slid down. “Are you ok?” The boy leaned in,
“I’m fine. We had a good night didn’t we?”
“It was pretty wild.”
“Do you wanna come in for a cup of tea? Don’t worry, She’ll be in bed.”
“Maybe next time?” The boy paused, and put his hand inside the car and squeezed the man’s shoulder. “Next time then,” he said.
As he pulled a key from his pocket, he unsteadily turned around, fumbled for a minute and opened the door. He closed it softly behind him, and the man watched as a light came on in the hall. “Home Guv?” Len asked. The man was looking at the house, and he could see the boy’s silhouette. Then the lights went out. “I am home,” he said, “I just got lost for a bit.”
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