Crumbs in Awkward Places
By R McCrum
Location: Albion Road, Old Trafford
We were better on our backs. Then no one could see that small, very small, and nearly, just very nearly, embarrassing difference in height between us. It was a matter of millimetres. I didn’t mind it. Though I still have the pumps with the paper thin soles that I bought to wear when we started. Such an unexpected start. So exciting. So happy.
I never told you exactly when I bought them. Careful to have some tact, tiptoe around it, as it were. The day I called in to see you in the record shop, and I was dressed for meetings. Skirt suit and those deceptively heeled knee high boots that really did have me touching six foot. You sloped out from behind the counter in your t-shirt and your sneakers, and you were not happy. Not happy at all. That was the first time I saw the narrowing of your eyes.
Those soles outlasted us.
But flat on our backs, toes touching, we did really well. Those first few weeks, playing in your bedroom on Albion St. Making weekend breakfasts to munch off our hangovers and then forget halfway through. The best were strong with smoked mackerel and rocket on toasted granary bread, messy with seeds. They struggled to make it to a hung up, come down mouth that was too busy laughing to concentrate on what it was supposed to be doing.
Perfidious old Albion St. It wasn’t there that it all went wrong. We were honest enough there. Your County Kerry burr.
When I stayed during the week, and had to leave early in the morning, you’d wheel your bike to the bus stop and see me on. Wave, throw your leg over, and hurtle off. Travelling in straight lines. A to B. No sightseeing, a purpose, even to any brief detours. To get there quicker. You knew what you were doing. You thought so, anyway.
The bus stank. Metros flung dirty round the floors, shrill faced adolescents clashing music out of phones or fumbling a cigarette out of the top deck windows. It was boring. I actually preferred to walk. Meander, potter.Waver. It took longer. I saw more. Well, that bit from the flat, past the tower blocks, over the egg slicer bridge, down Oxford Rd, through to town. Just over an hour, evenings, and mornings when I could. When you didn’t walk me to the bus stop. It would have been a little difficult to explain. You might have tried to come with me, still on that bloody bike, and it would be been awkward, you forced to stutter on your pedals, or circle back. No rhythm there. Or worse, you wouldn’t have wanted to come. And I’d have watched you ride off, and you would have known that you were leaving me behind. Going at a different pace. Seeing all the same things, a little ahead.
After it all ended, after the shock and the tears, and after that goddawful Easter Sunday, hunched on the front steps in the warmth of morning. Both of us still spangled from the previous night and trying to make the other understand. After the humiliation of you describing me, under duress and pleading, as ‘enthusiastic’ when what I had been aiming for, all that time, was ‘passionate’. To match that focus I saw and loved in you, of headlights, direct and burning. Rather than the wildly swinging, indiscriminate, happy illumination on whatever was in front of me at the time that was the only thing I could manage.
After you had swaggered your sweet way south.
I bought a bike. I quit that job. I found one that didn’t leave me spinning. That didn’t require me to spend the red eyed trip from Manchester to London in the dalek toilets of a Virgin train, applying and reapplying coats of concealer to a fading ankle tattoo. That let me see the steps I had to take a little more clearly. But I think now, that even if I had caught up with you at the time, it wouldn’t have mattered. The only time we really worked. Flat on our backs. Getting crumbs in awkward places.
R McCrum says: ‘I was in Manchester, now in Edinburgh. Stuff happened. And I loved it.’Stats: