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The Rocktastic Corduroy Peach

Chapter Three

“It’s a disgrace. They will lower the tone of the village considerably.”

Danny hated his mother and sister visiting but couldn’t tell them not to, could he? And anyway, he didn’t want to stop them from coming, not really. He loved them. It just made things, well, difficult.

“Everyone on the Parish Council is in agreement, we do not want these women and their illegitimate children rampaging around the place.”

Danny just wanted to tell them he felt differently, had dissimilar values, views. He wanted them to accept him as himself. But hey, family.

“There are simply not the facilities to cope with them in the village. And, to be frank, most of them are on drugs.” Jane, Danny’s mother, folded her arms to emphasize her disapproval. A large woman in her sixties, she went everywhere with a formidable frown and tweed skirt.

Cynthia, Danny’s sister, sat to his right, a slender woman in her thirties, hair tied back with a blue scarf, eyes shut, a look of gentle serenity on her face. Praying, no doubt. Cynthia and husband Martin were devout, born-again Christians, or Happy-Clappers as Danny thought of them. Nathan, her twelve-year-old son, sat on Danny’s leather sofa, knees drawn up under his chin, scowling at his mother. Danny tried to catch Nathan’s eye a few times whilst Jane continued her diatribe, but he seemed fixated on his mother with a hatred Danny found quite upsetting.

He decided to at least try to stick up for liberal ideals. “Mummy, it’s a women’s refuge. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re on drugs.”

“You are so naïve, Daniel. When you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ll understand. Have you cleaned in here recently?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

The living room of Danny’s large flat overlooked Florence Park in East Oxford. A low evening sun shone in. Outside, the trees were thick with blossom and the calls of birds. Perhaps Danny could persuade them to go for a walk later, just to get them out of here. Turning his attention to the pot of tea, biscuits and best china on the coffee table, he leant forward and began to pour.

“I really wish that you would move closer to us,” sighed Cynthia. Cynthia always sighed. She, Martin and Nathan lived in Bristol, near their mother.

“I know, Cynth, but my job.” Danny sighed in return, mimicking his sister in gentle sarcasm. She failed to notice and he changed tack. “Nathan, how’s the football going?”

“Alright. I s’pose.”

“It’s alright, Cynth.” Danny held his hands up, trying to calm things. Just let me fucking talk to him, will you? “If you’ve got your ball we could go to the park?”

“He doesn’t have his ball,” cut in Jane.

A moment’s tense silence followed.

“Perhaps Nathan can explain why he doesn’t have his ball here?” Jane stared hard at her grandson. He didn’t meet her eye but scowled into the corner of the room.

Danny’s heart sank. “It really doesn’t matter…”

“Well, Nathan?”

Nathan’s eyes narrowed, his voice a venomous hiss. “I said a rude word.”

Fuck. Danny closed his eyes for a second, wishing he could say something to rescue his nephew. “Who wants some tea, then?”

He began handing the cups out. Nathan sulkily shook his head when Danny offered. There were beers hidden at the back of the fridge. Danny looked sideways at his mother. No, perhaps now was not the time to offer Nathan a beer. Danny wished he could get him over to stay without Cynthia, to show him the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, show him that, while his parents might be religious nutters, Uncle Danny knew a thing or two about having a good time.

Jane stood. “Where is your vacuum, Daniel?”

“Mummy, I vacuumed this morning.”

“Well, it doesn’t look like it to me. Is it in the closet?”

Danny nodded wearily as Jane marched to the hall.

Cynthia sipped her tea and returned the cup to its saucer. “You’ll be coming to lunch next Saturday?”

“Er, no, I was going to see Daddy.”

Jane returned from the hall and banged the vacuum cleaner noisily down on the living-room floor. “What are you seeing him for?”

Danny sighed. “He’s my father, Mummy.”

“He didn’t seem particularly concerned about that when Camilla showed up, did he? He abandoned you, remember? He abandoned all of us.”

“Come on, Mummy,” chipped in Cynthia. “He is our father. Anyway, I believe with prayer, we can bring him back to the Lord.”

Jane snorted and plugged in the vacuum. “Yes, well, Cynthia. I’m afraid a man such as your father is simply beyond redemption.”

And thank fuck for that.

“I don’t know why you’re so hung up about him, he had a beard for fack’s sake.”

Debs Lomely leant back in her chair and looked hard at Rose. Debs had no time for nonsense, being, as she was, from the East-end of London. A plump girl, she had a friendly face, with straight blonde hair, blue eyes and an irresistible smile. She smoked like a chimney, although she couldn’t do that here in Brett’s Café above the covered market in the centre of Oxford. Smoking wasn’t allowed. However, giving a piece of your mind to your mates when they wallowed in self-pity was.

“He decided to fack off, so fack him,” she continued with characteristic elegance. A final year student taking Sociology at Oxford, she was widely expected to get a first class honours degree.

“He’s gone off with my best friend.” Rose chewed her lower lip. “I can’t believe he could do such a thing. Not after all this time.”

Debs drained her cup of tea, noticing Rose had hardly touched hers.

“We’ve been together since we were sixteen.” Rose began twirling a strand of hair around her finger. “We met at school. He’s like part of the family now.”

Debs sighed and put her hand to her mouth. Then she remembered she didn’t have a cigarette in it. “Rose. Look at me.”

Rose looked up at her.

“Did he support you when you wanted to come here?”

Rose shook her head.

“Did he back you up when you had to have a barney with your old man about coming here?”

Rose shook her head again.

“He wanted you to be at home, be the nice little missus, compliant. Now tell me, girl, is that what you wanted to do?”

Once more, Rose shook her head.

“I see you, girl. Little farmer’s wife, coupla kids, bottle of stout every night, fling with the facking priest when he’s had a few too many, Prozac, varicose veins, piles.”

Rose giggled. “Okay already.”

“Fack him, the geezer had a beard. Come on, girl, a facking beard. Not a goatee, a facking beard.” Debs felt relieved to see her friend smile again.

“He did have quite a big beard, I’ll grant you that.”

“He was a facking mullah, girl.”

“I don’t know what I saw in him.”

“Exactly.”

“He had a beard, after all.”

“He was a walrus. And I bet he smelt of pig-shite.”

Rose laughed. And then she sighed. “I loved him.” She fiddled with her tea spoon. “I loved him. I love my dad. And my mum. Why can’t they just let me do this? It’s only a degree. It’s not like it’s costing them anything, I saved all the fees up myself.”

“You worked before you come here then?”

“I worked on the tills at Ryeguard’s Supermarket back home. ‘Hello, would you like some help packing? Would you like cash back with that, madam?’ Jeez, never again.”

“Well. There you go. You want to spend your life stacking shelves, go home. You want to do something that won’t drive you totally mad, do a facking degree.”

“I worked as an administrator before that. At Silk and Sons Accountants.”

“An administrator? Fack me, you couldn’t organize a gangbang at a brothel, girl.”

“Well, they did let me go.”

Debs snorted. “Look, Rose, you’re doing the right thing. Your pig-farmer boyfriend back home wasn’t the one, girl. What you need is some new totty.”

Rose grimaced. “I’m twenty-six. I’m over the hill.”

“Fack off, girl. Twenty-six ain’t over the hill. I’m nearly twenty-three. There’s stacks of totty ’ere. Look, there’s one of those speed-dating things coming up. Let’s get some tickets.”

“Ah jeez, Debs, I couldn’t be doing with one of those. They’re so cheesy.”

“Ah, come on, it will be a laugh. Get yerself laid, girl.”

Rose shook her head, a broad grin lighting up her face. “I don’t know.”

“Ah go on. Let’s get laid.”

Rose thought for a moment. “When did you say it was?”

Marcus loved the indoor market on a Saturday morning. A huge, old, brick building with a glass roof right in the centre of town, it bustled with tourists, students and locals alike. Apart from a few wooden stalls near the entrances, most of the lots were permanent, brick-walled shops. But what shops. Butchers hung up whole deer and flocks of pheasants. Fish mongers sold white wiggly things Marcus assumed were at some point alive and in some way marine, and delicatessens sold cheeses that could be from Outer Mongolia for all he knew. The smells and sounds of the semi-organized chaos of the place filled up his senses. He didn’t often buy anything there, preferring ready-made meals from the supermarket, but he loved the place nevertheless.

Right now, he needed a cup of tea and a sit-down. The subject of videophones and whether he ought to get one taxed him. Karl Simon Danvy owned one because he needed it for conference calls. Marcus couldn’t quite see them as more than a gimmick. Okay, if you were talking to someone situated in a quiet room, you’d get a picture of their face. But what if they were walking down a noisy street? You’d just get a close up of their ear. Stupid bloody things.

Snuggled between a shop specializing in wedding cakes and a boutique which seemed to sell nothing but paper flowers, a stairway led upwards to Brett’s Café. A number of small cafés perched high up near the roof of the covered market. Brett’s was Marcus’ favorite, partly because it played alternative and indie-rock music, but mostly because gorgeous female Oxford undergraduates featured amongst its clientele. Marcus decided this was exactly the distraction he needed to rid his mind of the thought of Karl’s inner ear.

He climbed the stairs, leaving the hubbub below him, and entered the café just in time to hear the words “let’s get laid”. He grinned to himself. Steady on, tiger. I love these students.

Then he saw her, the barmaid from The Flowing Well, sitting opposite some roly-poly, blonde bird. Marcus paused. Would the barmaid remember him? She might find it intrusive if he went and talked to her. After all, she was pretty damn fit and probably got loads of unwanted attention from undersexed men with oversized beer bellies. Still, he’d given her a tape, hadn’t he? That would be an excuse to talk. He could just say “hi” and chat quickly and then see her again at The Flowing Well. He could impress her there at the open-mic session with his guitar playing. Yes, that’s what he’d do. He could learn a deeply romantic tune and sing it to her across the bar. Something Spanish maybe? He loved Spanish music.

I thought I made it clear I don’t want to speak to you anymore.

He closed his eyes for a second, clenching his fists.

“Excuse me, mate.”

Marcus started. A tall student stood behind him, trying to get into the café. Marcus stepped aside from where he blocked the stairway.

“Sorry,” he murmured as the student went past. Right, this was it. He smoothed down his curls. They objected and bounced straight up again. Faint heart never won fair lady. Don’t say darlin’, don’t look at her tits. He stepped up to the girls’ table and cleared his throat.

“Hey, aren’t you the barmaid from The Flowing Well?”

The two women looked up. A momentary frown shot across the barmaid’s face but it faded as she seemed to recognize him. She nodded. And then she smiled that big smile of hers.

Excellent. Out of the corner of his eye, Marcus noticed the blonde girl running her gaze up and down his body. Yes, that was excellent too, in a kind of take-it-or-leave-it way. He smiled his winning smile.

“I’m the guy the other day at the pub. I gave you a tape of my band, remember? You asked me to stop me mate from smoking.”

“I remember, alright.” The barmaid rolled her eyes. “He got quite a strop on about it.”

“Ah, yeah, sorry about that. He shouldn’t have been doing it, though. Disgustin’ habit, right?”

“It’s a f…disgusting habit.” The blonde girl seemed eager to concur. A little too eager.

The two women exchanged glances. The barmaid pulled a wry smile for a moment and then grimaced slightly. Had the blonde woman just poked her under the table? Marcus wasn’t sure. God knows what that was about.

He kept his attention on the barmaid. “Did you listen to the tape then?”

She seemed reticent to answer. “Oh yeah, it was…great.”

“What was your favorite track?”

“Ah…”

“You in a band then?” The blonde woman leant across into his field of view.

Marcus glanced at her. “Ah, yeah, I’m the guitarist.” He turned back to the barmaid. “I wrote some of the music for the third one.”

“Right…” The barmaid bit her lower lip.

“I play guitar.” The blonde woman seemed quite keen to get Marcus’ attention. He wished she would have the decency to stay out of it.

“Like when do you play guitar, Debs?” laughed the barmaid.

“I do.”

“I don’t think I got your name, dar…” Marcus remembered just in time to dispense with the darlin’.

“Rose. Rose Finer.”

Marcus held out his hand. “Marcus. Marcus Mason.”

Rose looked uncertainly at Marcus’ outstretched hand and then shook it.

“I’m Debs Lomely.” Debs bent forwards.

Marcus smiled at her for just a fraction of a second and turned back to Rose.

Marcus sat with Debs and Rose in the small living room of their digs on Divinity Road. It came as no surprise to him the girls lived here, the street lay in the heart of student-ville. Packed with bedsits and rented houses, Divinity Road snaked its way down from the top of the glorious South Park to an ignominious end with an estate agents on Cowley Road. Oxford students who couldn’t get digs in the colleges and students at Oxford Brookes University, the former polytechnic up in Headington, rented rooms on Divinity Road. A room here was almost a rite of passage for anyone wanting to live in Oxford. Marcus rented here once, when he first came to town.

Debs insisted Marcus come back with them to listen to his tape. Now the music was actually on, playing on Debs’ small, tinny CD-radio-cassette player with built-in speakers, Marcus began to have second thoughts. Rose winced a couple of times at Danny-boy’s singing, although she said nothing. Was he out of tune? Marcus couldn’t be sure. At some points in the recording Danny-boy sounded a bit wrong. At the time they made it, Danny-boy and Dermot argued, with Danny-boy insisting he was in tune and winning the day. Now, watching Rose cringe, Marcus began to think maybe Dermot had been right.

Debs smiled, nodding enthusiastically as the tape progressed. Christ, she was fresh. Bloody students. Worse still, somebody in the house smoked. Marcus could smell it, the lingering odour of stale cigarettes, and he gasped for one. The fourth and final track on the cassette came to an end and Marcus leant forward to hit the stop button.

“That was great,” Debs gushed.

“Did you think so?”

“Yeah f…really good, the guitar’s brilliant on it, especially the solo at the beginning of that last track. You’re f…really good.”

“Ah, that solo was Danny-boy. What did you think, Rose?”

Rose bit her lip. “Ah, well, I’m no real expert at music, you know.”

“Bullshit, Rosie girl, you’re facking great on the cello. Oh.” Debs covered her mouth.

Marcus wondered what her problem was. The swearing perhaps? Whatever. “You play cello, Rose?”

“Ah, a bit like.”

“You’ll have to play on our next demo tape.”

“I’ve got a guitar,” chipped in Debs. “Do you want to see it?”

Marcus glanced at Debs. If he said yes, it would get her out of the room for two minutes. “Yeah, go on then, I’ll have a butcher’s at it.”

A butcher’s was Cockney rhyming slang for a look. Butcher’s hook—a look. While it left Rose mildly perplexed, Debs leapt to her feet and ran to fetch her instrument.

Marcus waited until Debs was safely out of the room. “Anyway, Rose, so what did you think? Tell me honestly.”

Rose grimaced. “Well…”

Marcus looked up at the ceiling. “Ah, shite. You think it’s crap, don’t you?”

“There’s some good bits, don’t get me wrong, it’s just…”

“Yes?”

“Your man on the vocals. He’s not exactly John Lennon, you know what I mean?”

“I don’t know, someone might just shoot him one day. Is he really that bad?”

“Clinically, I’m afraid.”

Marcus snorted.

“I mean, can you not tell?” Rose continued. “He’s got at best a rudimentary grasp of pitch, his voice lacks any emotional depth, there’s no memorable tune to what he sings and his lyrics might just be passable for a thirteen-year-old struggling to come to terms with his first erection.”

Marcus sucked air through his teeth. “So, you don’t think it’s too good then?”

“It stinks.”

“What about the guitar playing?”

Rose sighed. “Look, the backing’s okay, nothing special, but it’s the singer you listen to.”

“Ah, fuck.” Marcus flailed his arms in despair. “Bollocks. Wank. Fuck, arse, tit, shite.”

Rose laughed. “Sorry, Marcus, but you did ask.”

“I thought we were alright. Well, not too bad.”

“But ‘not too bad’ is not good enough though, is it?”

“I didn’t think it were too bad.” Debs stood in the doorway, a Spanish guitar in her hands.

“Ah, bollocks, Debs, come on.”

Debs walked into the room and collapsed onto the sofa opposite Marcus. “Well, the guitar sounded okay. Fack ’em, Marcus, find a new band. Oops.” She put her hand over her mouth.

Rose nodded. “Debs is right, Marcus, what you need is a new band. Your talents are wasted with this loser.” She gestured to the cassette. “You never know, Marcus, there might be a vacancy with Raydar.”

“Hey, Rose, you’re right there. Marcus, guitarist with Raydar. And, girl, he’s in our living room.”

“We’re in the presence of celebrity, Debs.”

Marcus grinned. “Well, I could have a look-see. There might be someone looking for a guitarist. If you think CP are that bad?”

“CP?” Debs raised an eyebrow.

“Corduroy Peach. I don’t need to tell them just yet, do I? No harm in looking.”

The girls shook their heads. Debs held up her guitar. “What do you think?”

“Looks like a Japanese job to me. Did you pay much for it?”

“Er, I dunno. I’ve had it for ages.”

“Give it here.”

Debs passed Marcus the guitar. He stood it on its end, looked down the neck and frowned. “It’s a bit warped.”

Tucking it under his arm, he strummed an A chord. Rose winced at something. Marcus couldn’t hear anything obviously out of tune but he thought he ought to say something, just for the look of it.

“You need new strings. When did you last replace them?”

“Er…” Debs thought for a moment. “I’m not sure I ever have.”

Marcus grimaced. “It needs a bit of work.”

“Could you put new strings on for me?”

“Well, I could but…”

“Do you know how to do all that, then?” Rose began twirling a strand of hair around her finger. Marcus found it mesmerizing. He wanted to touch her hair.

“Oh yeah, strings are easy.” He dragged his gaze away from Rose’s tactile fingers and back to the guitar. “I made my own guitar.”

Rose gaped. “Jeez, really?”

Marcus’ cheeks flushed and he stared at his feet. “Well, yeah, two actually. Nothing to it really if you’ve got the right tools.”

“Well, if you could fix Debs’ guitar up so it sounds half decent, I’d be well impressed.”

“Really, could you?” Debs looked wide-eyed at Marcus.

Marcus smiled. “Course I could, darlin’.”