It begins in a dance hall, dark and noisy, with dancers packed so closely that elbows and feet collide. On this island, the dancing begins when the pubs close at ten, and ends at midnight when Sunday begins. My friend Abby* and I are dancing with two young men. We are out on a late pass from the school where we board. This dance hall used to be off-bounds because of its poor reputation but lately it has cleaned up its act and the matron has relented. My dance partner is Pete*, a guy I dated for a few weeks. We broke up, but it seems he might be interested again. I feel hopeful, excited.
Someone bumps into me. Just another dancer – or so I think – but he is dragging my friend away. It is someone she went out with a few years ago, and that did not end well. Pete doesn’t like it either. He says, “Hey! Have some manners. Leave her alone. She’s dancing with someone.”
The reply is a fist in his face.
Within minutes the bouncers order us all all outside. I am shivering with cold, fear and confusion, barely aware of what is going on. Pete hisses that he isn’t impressed with company I keep. “I thought you were a nice girl.”
“I don’t know him,” I reply. “I’ve never spoken to him before, and Abby finished with him long ago. She doesn’t want anything to do with him.”
It is the last time I ever see Pete.
As Abby and I head back to our dormitory, she tells me that she has agreed to see her ex-boyfriend the next day – on the condition that I go too.
I don’t want to go. I definitely don’t want to go. But I agree, just like she did.
As we walk down the cobbled street to see him, on a cold Sunday afternoon in January, my hands are clammy and my throat hurts. Tension winds around my chest and grips my stomach.
That meeting is a blur. After it, the phone calls start. I didn’t give him my number, but I didn’t need to. It is the same number he used to call Abby when they were dating.
He tells me he is drinking a bottle of whisky a day and that he needs help. He has thought of ending it all. He wants to straighten himself out so that Abby will love him again and come back to him. I suggest he sees his doctor for help with his drinking.
He phones the next day and he says he’s seen a doctor who refused to help him. I feel shocked, appalled at the doctor’s lack of care. It never occurs to me that what he’s told me might not be true.
And then there are the aggressive calls: the ones when he has been drinking, the one when he says that he because he works in a hotel he has influence and will get Pete barred from every pub in town. Somehow, this feel as if it’s my fault, and so I try to call Pete to warn him. His flatmate answers the phone, and says he’ll pass on the message. His tone suggests I am over-reacting, and I now feel embarrassed as well as guilty.
The phone calls keep coming, sometimes several times an evening. It gets so I dread its ring. He says sorry for his previous behaviour, says he was depressed, and blames it on the booze. He wants to stop, but doesn’t know how.
I agree to meet him, to talk face to face. This time, Abby says she isn’t coming and I go alone, afraid of what he might do if I abandon him. We meet on the seafront, in the dark and cold. He talks about God, and what God wants for him, about how he is failing to live as he should. He says he is determined to kick the booze, and gives me a half bottle of whisky, asking me to get rid of it. I don’t want the responsibility and would get into trouble if I was caught with it. But I want to help him when he’s so desperate and trying so hard, so I take it. Then he hands me a knife. He says he had intended to use it to hold me hostage to get Abby to come to him. He realises this is a stupid plan that would never work. He begs me to get Abby to come and see him. I say I will ask her, but that I can’t promise anything. Already I feel sure she will say no.
Back at the dormitory, I tell Abby what happened and together we pour the whisky down the drain and get rid of the knife.
It seems to me he wants to get better. It seems that perhaps by listening to him I am helping. So when he rings wanting to know if Abby will come, I say it’s unlikely, but that I will ask her again.
It is another Sunday afternoon when I walk back down the cobbled street, with dread once more making my hands clammy and my throat sore. We meet in a shop doorway, and he talks about God again. I have a Bible in my coat pocket.
It begins to snow.
He suggests we go to his accommodation, which is only a few blocks away, and which will be warm and dry. Naive as I am, I agree.
This is a big mistake.
Read the second installment A Minister’s Son
* Names have been changed.
If this post drew you in, you will like my novel, Drawings In Sand, available in Amazon’s Kindle store.