Mainstream television and radio often present the music industry, or rather its stars, in fairytale-like terms, as if record companies have created an exclusive paradise – a sublime wonderland where the heroes and heroines of rags to riches stories live happily ever after, and under a sunshine glow of adulation. Enormously popular shows like X-factor and The Voice are fundamentally rooted in this commercial, glamorous, shallow myth. The publishing world regularly propels the fantasy to new, outlandish heights through highly-selective autobiographies and biographies. A reasonable mind might speculate that stars can only ever display a feeble little twinkle at such galactic distances from the world most of us inhabit. For it is only when some kind of sales-generating sympathy vote can be extracted from an audience that the music industry’s PR moguls will the public to glimpse real life with all its ups, downs and warts.
Randal Eliot’s What Goes and Comes Around is refreshingly different. Taking music and its, by turns, positive and negative roles in popular culture as a leading theme, the novel comically explores how dreams can careen into crash and burn nightmares. And while at least one money-grabbing, tone-deaf, oily svengali is always lurking around blossoming talent, he isn’t always responsible for disasters. As the black comedy in this fabulous excerpt shows (don’t forget to check out Randal’s complete novel for a more rounded portrayal of real life and the music business):
How had she ever believed she was a natural born diva? Thank God her dad wasn’t here to say, ‘I told you.’ Hadn’t it been blatantly obvious after those horrible auditions?
All the same, Alicia had news for her dad who she now pretended was stood right in front of her. She hadn’t lied about the first audition! So there! And it hadn’t been half the inconvenience he’d made it out to be; okay, he’d driven over to Manchester, but he hadn’t queued in the rain! He’d spent the afternoon quaffing cocktails in the hotel lounge! It was Alicia and her mother who’d suffered under an umbrella amidst the swarm of fame-hungry hopefuls surrounding The Theatre of Dreams.
Alicia’s stomach had cramped in the small hours. By the time her mobile’s alarm broke into the X-factor theme, she’d been up sporadically spewing into the toilet bowl for what felt like the duration of her dad’s Pink Floyd collection, live bootlegs included. She sobbed, horrified by her death-white reflection in the mirror over the washbasin – the judges would think she was some kind of Goth! Why was this happening? Had the capricious gods of entertainment sent her a test? Did she have to demonstrate that the show always goes on? Feeling like she did, she wasn’t fit for the bottom of a bill never mind those demanding high notes. Humph with maudlin violins! She should have picked an easier song for her audition. And it later proved to be a colossal mistake to blame nerves when Dad asked her why she was so quiet. She hadn’t even kicked up a fuss about her outfit, allowing Mum to choose from the three they’d packed due to Alicia’s indecision about which one fate had specifically designed for her triumphant moment. Mum opted for the long black gown so that stains wouldn’t show so much should an accident occur. Now I really look like I’ve crawled from a crypt, thought Alicia, so crippled by belly ache she hadn’t the strength to object. She’d have awakened the dead otherwise.
When the taxi dropped them off, the mob of hopefuls had grown intimidatingly ginormous. Under a bronze statue of three footballers, Alicia lurched over and vomited yellow bile. The victorious salute of the statue’s central hero seemed to ridicule her plight, yet a nearby steward ceased shepherding new arrivals behind temporary steel barriers to bark: ‘How disrespectful! That’s the holy trinity! Any more of it and I’ll turn you away, madam.’
‘Haven’t you any compassion?’ Cathy asked, scoldingly. ‘She’s sick with nerves!’
‘Get into this queue if you want to get in,’ he replied, adding to the sea of waves that greeted a low-flying helicopter. A camera man dangled a leg from its sides as he filmed. ‘Hi Mum!’ the steward shouted over the cheers, cutely waggling the fingers of his right hand. Enough footage captured, the helicopter buzzed off over the football ground’s stands.
Alicia and her mum forlornly waited in the swollen, winding queue. The sky was a cold, grey sheet as comforting as one covering a bedwetter’s mattress. Cathy put up her umbrella, embracing her pale daughter under its shelter. Thankfully she’d persuaded Alicia to borrow her stylish trench coat and slip it on over her gown. The queue shuffled along. Stopped. Urrgggh! The remains of Alicia’s stomach lining splashed at their feet.
‘Excuse me. Should she be here?’ asked a skeletal, zitty indie kid. He wore round glasses, a sickly green, suede smoking jacket and torn jeans so paint-splattered it looked like Jackson Pollack did his laundry. Indie kid was stood directly behind them, smoothing his greased-up quiff. ‘I don’t want to be catching whatever she’s got.’ He jigged like a puppet on strings in his bright red brothel creepers. ‘I’ve a date with stardom, missus.’
‘She hasn’t got anything catching. She’s just apprehensive, aren’t you, babe?’
‘Doesn’t look like that to me,’ fired a bloated Madonna-alike in front of them. She bulged in a pink leotard under a studded leather jacket. Her white tights and canvas plimsolls were saturated, as if she’d paddled up the Manchester Ship Canal en route. ‘Pick Me!’ demanded the white letters amateurishly sewn into her fluorescent pink headband.
‘She’s sick as a parrot with bird flu!’ So claimed a lanky transvestite in some kind of tin-foil spacesuit, a deep purple bob wig and matching platform boots. They had tiny silver stars glued all over them. His lipstick was black as if he’d kissed the Grim Reaper. ‘And she probably squawks like a parrot!’ He fluttered his purple eyelashes with his hands on his hips. ‘Put Polly back in her cage!’
‘They ought to send you to a freak-show!’ The transvestite’s camp bitching had crawled under Alicia’s skin; she angrily hit back despite her cheeks turning a shade too close to the green of the indie kid’s jacket.
‘It’s you usual suspects whose goose is already cooked,’ Cathy shot from her lip. ‘You’ve even come prepared for an hour on gas mark five going on the way you’re dressed. The judges will recommend you to Ready Steady Cook.’
Everyone in earshot giggled at the transvestite’s tin-foil spacesuit.
‘I suppose, duckies,’ he whimpered, twiddling the ends of the fake fur round his neck, ‘you’ll pay my train fare if…’
‘I’ll hang you with that if I hear any more,’ Cathy rapped.
‘Blimey, listen to it!’ The tranny stepped back, as if fearing Cathy might at least swing for him.
‘I think I ate something bad for supper in the hotel,’ Alicia groaned.
‘Me and Dad are fine, babe. Supper was fine.’
‘You didn’t order the…’ Farrrphhhh!
‘That smells disgusting,’ the transvestite complained, holding his nose. Cathy had to agree. Dirty nappies had always repulsed her; changing them had been the bane of motherhood, and it had many moments.
Alicia’s face tearfully screwed up as she clutched her bum through the trench coat like she was holding something up.
‘Goodbye. Get well soon,’ smirked the transvestite.
Everybody but Alicia and Cathy howled. They applauded as the blushing mother and her teary-eyed daughter skulked away under their umbrella, the latter still clutching her backside like it might fall off.
Alicia’s soiled knickers were dumped in the toilet of a nearby pub before they requested a number for a taxi from the barman. He gave them a card, and Cathy ordered drinks. The pair silently waited for their lift in a corner, under a framed black and white poster featuring a jubilant player holding aloft the European Cup. Alicia didn’t touch her mineral water, but Cathy sipped away her Bloody Mary that had a little too much Tabasco sauce. She needed a drink for what might come next.
‘She did what?’ Dad asked, unable to believe his ears, when his wife had dragged him up from the hotel bar. ‘Show biz isn’t for you, Alicia,’ he called through to the bathroom where she was hiding, ‘if you get stage fright so bad.’
‘She thinks she ate something that’d gone off,’ Cathy explained, relieved that her husband hadn’t particularly overreacted, one way or the other. He leaked that slightly silly glow of alcohol consumption.
‘From this rotten dive,’ sniffled Alicia, emerging from the shower wrapped in a great white towel.
Her dad had been enjoying a tipple or two with a Scouse nurse and his carer wife. John and Julie were visiting Manchester for the opening date of some comeback tour, greatest hits and several original band members included. By the time John arrived to take a look at her, Alicia had slumped onto the couch in her pyjamas. ‘She’s got the symptoms of quite severe food poisoning,’ the off-duty nurse confirmed, his breath reeking of garlic, which made Alicia retch again. John moved towards the door. ‘Plenty of fluids, rest and a complaint are going to remedy things.’
The hotel manager had eyes like a bird of prey and an unflappable disposition. He slickly asserted that his staff had impeccable curriculum vitaes and pointed out that no other guests had been taken ill. ‘It’s a four-star hotel that’s worthy of its five-star reviews – an excellent base from which to explore the city,’ he smiled, expediently withholding the information that only one guest had opted for egg mayonnaise on her salad. ‘Everything’s accessible from here. And I’m sure you’ll appreciate a case of white wine to take home as a goodwill gesture.’
‘Most excellent, sir.’
‘Stage fright, after all,’ said Dad, and Alicia’s second stab at fame a year later seemed to vindicate his hotly-disputed opinion.
Fighting fit and dressed to kill in a black PVC catsuit that had almost stopped Dad’s ticker, Alicia made it all the way to the entrance of an audition booth on her return to the Theatre of Dreams a year later. She’d rehearsed her routine so thoroughly she could practically perform it in her sleep while dreaming of cruising LA’s sun-kissed boulevards in a classic red Cadillac. What came over her? She’d never been able to say, although the catsuit did her no favours. She’d suddenly felt nauseatingly daft – most of the others were in denim or dresses! Blubberwubber! She kicked her new high heels over the protective flooring on the pitch and fled, dodging contestants, wrong-footing a concerned steward, leaping over a barrier and – ouch! – she stubbed a big toe on the stand’s concrete aisle. The other hopefuls who waited their turns in the seats heartily cheered the mad, sexy girl as if her frantic performance was part of the day’s official entertainment. Avoiding their stares, Alicia raced up the steps alongside the seats towards an exit sign. She tripped over herself down some other steps, and tumbled into the heart of the stand. Another flirtation with fame was over. Only a handful of those queuing for overpriced snacks or to spend pennies in the ladies noticed the barefooted girl who almost fell down the stairwell in her haste to get out.
An hour later, Cathy and Ian braked alongside their crestfallen, puffy-eyed baby, shivering on a windy street corner in some downbeat area whose imposing, towering buildings still, after so many years, secreted a ghostly stench of the industrial revolution’s privations. Alicia slipped into the back seat without a word. Her parents said nothing. Dad eased the car into slow traffic.
The loaded silence held until Cathy closed the door of their hotel rooms behind them. ‘What the hell were you thinking running to a place like that in an outfit like that? You could have been mistaken for a hooker!’
‘You put her up to wearing that gear,’ Dad interjected. ‘And who was right about Alicia and stage fright?’
‘I put her up to nothing! She’s got a mind of her own.’
‘And we’ve standards and rules of our own.’
‘Responsible parents aren’t necessarily control freaks.’
‘I didn’t know where I was going,’ Alicia sobbed. ‘I didn’t know!’
‘We know where you’re not going,’ Dad said, ‘and that’s to the top of the charts.’ He realised how harsh that sounded right now. Maybe it was just what Alicia needed. ‘You’ll get over it by getting your head in textbooks. Staying in will at least save me and your mother a few quid.’
Cathy’s words tormented Alicia by emphasising her failure. With a grimy, blistered foot, she kicked over a lampshade and ran to her room, locking the door behind her.
‘Less of that!’ Exasperated Dad rushed over to the toppled lampshade and stood it up. ‘Only rock stars can behave like that in hotels!’
Get your copy here:
Booklovers are now completing Randal Eliot’s recently published What Goes and Comes Around, and glowing reviews are appearing. Check out the latest two (below)! Why don’t you give Randal Eliot’s fabulous contemporary novel a chance? It’s an inexpensive but very classy read.
‘An excellent book… based around a typical family caught up in the trappings of modern society. The author draws you into the lives of the four main characters and what drives them. Even with their flaws, which are evident from the beginning, your affection for each member grows as the story develops. I found myself rooting for each of them towards the end. It is a well paced novel that keeps you hooked on the turn of every page. The language conjures up fantastic imagery and illustrates the modern world perfectly. In fact, it is the author’s description of the modern day world, which runs through this book, that I found to be what sets this book apart from others. There is more to this novel than a story about a family’s struggles. It is intelligent with its outlook, and witty in its dialogue. If you enjoyed Hunter S Thompson’s social commentary, then you will find this to be a rich and vibrant modern day tapestry. The writing is of the quality of an accomplished author, who has a back catalogue of numerous titles. However, this is the author’s first! A very impressive first! I hope to read many more! I would advise anyone to buy this book. It is a cracking novel and one of the best I’ve read. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with this read. I’m looking forward to the author’s second book. As soon as I’d finished this one I wanted to read more!’
5 stars out of 5!
‘I found this book very interesting and it reminded me of the writings of Stan Barstow, earthy, gritty and down to earth writing about ordinary people. Can’t wait to read more from this author.’
5 stars out of 5!
In order to survive and thrive, independent publishers need adventurous readers to engage with their books and pamphlets. That independents can exclusively concentrate on quality is the one real advantage they have over big, corporate publishing houses, bustling with agents demanding six-figure sums and therefore concentrating on ultra-commercial genres. Ultra-commercial genres that don’t always guarantee quality. Are you the type of reader willing to give a quality independent book a chance? Then Randal Eliot’s What Goes and Comes Around might be just up your street. Here’s a sample of the earliest reviews…
‘A very thoughtful, and more importantly, a very readable and entertaining book. Randal Eliot has a message to get across – and he’s not afraid to let it show – but that never gets in the way of this well paced story of a modern family cracking under the strain of our consumerist society.
As our hero, Ian Randall, tries to come to terms with the simultaneous break down of his marriage and loss of his job he must also contend with his thoroughly modern children getting into all sorts of trouble with their thoroughly modern ambitions. It’s a familiar story but well told with easy humour and some cracking dialogue.
The real story, though, is a parable on the perils of falling for the consumerist dream. The married couple themselves are largely responsible for their financial and domestic woes, and Ian even feels some responsibility for his own job loss, having not supported his union at work. But we are left in no doubt that the author’s sympathies lie with these ordinary folk, fed the impossible dream until anything less seems like failure.
Highly recommended and only missing the fifth star because I know that Randal Eliot will get better and better the more he writes.’
‘A spectacularly well-written novel about a working family struggling to cope with the pressures of the modern world. Brilliantly drawn characters, sparkling, acute dialogue, dark humour and sharp wit, and a plot and narrative that skilfully wind between gritty realism and idealistic romance, What Goes and Comes Around has got something good for all readers of contemporary fiction. I couldn’t put it down. Genuinely demands your attention.’
‘Very promising debut from Randal Eliot. He has a real flair for language – the descriptive passages are beautifully realised, and his narration is by turns witty and compassionate. Would love to see him turn his talents to a longer piece of work.’
‘Really enjoyed this book. Being from the area in which it is set I was able to pick out certain land marks that are described in the novel. It is very well written and the description of the characters excellent too. Well worth a read.’
‘This book is not in my usual preferred genre, but I tried it on recommendation from the publishers social media page.I must say how pleased I am to go outside my ‘comfort zone’ to try something new.
Randal Eliot has produced an excellent debut novel. Full of real characters and scenarios that most readers will be able to readily identify with. The descriptions of family and work life are absolutely spot-on. It is very easy to digest,so interest is maintained throughout. This book will have appeal to all adult ages, and I hope Mr Eliot is already working on his next venture in literature.’
‘I really enjoyed reading this very well written, gritty and descriptive novel. I’m looking forward to reading Randal’s future novels and hope I don’t have to wait too long!’
You may know that Literary Fragments recently published Randal Eliot’s What Goes and Comes Around. What instantly attracted us to the novel was its clear understanding that conflict and the movement towards its resolution comprise the very essence of powerful literature. Those of you who take advantage of this opportunity to read What Goes and Comes Around’s opening chapter will soon see what we mean. Moreover, you’ll recognise some incisive, fluid characterisation at a highly-charged point of anagnorisis (a literary scene of recognition or discovery). The skillfully-executed stichomythia (dramatic dialogue of alternate single lines) not only adds humour, energy and atmosphere to the text’s exposition, but serves as yet another indication that Randal Eliot’s hybrid-realism is accessibly, entertainingly poignant and relevant.
‘Look here! Your friends might have been born during the last commercial break on Sky ultra-direct debit – and don’t laugh! – but I remember my granddad’s tales about apples and oranges for Christmas, four-mile treks rain or shine before hard graft underground, and the value of community. And that’s the warts and all real world, not the airbrushed, virtual pipedream.’
‘Tch, ever heard of progress? I eat five a day and I’ve a gym membership, silly! And community? That’s the beauty of this, Dad. You’re always in touch. Ideal if some monster jumps out on a pretty girl like me when I’m walking home at night.’
The big, shiny, innocent eyes that spotted every which way to sell a one-way ticket for a guilt trip. Where did they learn that stuff? God, Disney or the X-factor sympathy vote has a lot to answer for, but, ah, yes. ‘You always get a lift when it’s dark. So do your friends. And doesn’t the phone you’ve got – and I quote – ‘do everything but slice bread with lasers’?’
‘Pfft! It’s so yesterday it’s, like, the invention before the square wheel.’
‘I can’t buy the idea that something that required the amputation of my arm and leg a few months ago is suddenly good for nothing, lady.’
‘Well, the camera…’ Snap! Save file. Upload. Post. High definition scowly dad frying his bacon in the inescapable heat of the kitchen and served up on Facebook with a saucy caption, ‘He’s special because he’s getting me a you know what xxx’.
‘Look, Dad, twenty ‘likes’ already and just read the comments! Everybody thinks you’re great! I knew you wouldn’t let me down.’
The emotional bribery dressed up as sweet, loving gratitude, ready and raring to lead you on the merriest dance.
‘Go on! Read the comments! Everybody’s got one!’
The peer pressure willing and able to bully all resistance in its path.
‘Mum wants one, too.’
‘For Christ’s sake, leave your mother out of this! She’s enough games of her own!’
‘And I make my own rules! They include washing the frying pan and wiping the work tops when you’ve made something to eat.’
‘Oh, hello darling, where did you spring from? I’m just getting our daughter to see reason.’
‘And I’m giving you reasonable notice that we’re both getting a model. Everyone else…’
Never underestimate the relentless march of the in-crowd.
‘Did you say games, Dad? We luv ’em 4eva and we never lose.’
So, they’d seen fit to deploy the pincer movement – thank gawd their third battalion was out sniping at his grandparents.
‘The screen they’ve developed is such quality…’
The who dares wins at any cost sales’ spin…
‘…you can see the tiniest detail…’
…because what irresistible fantasy has got into the kid’s head now?
‘…of a rock chick’s pad in virtual LA where…’ – click, click, click – ‘…I’ve got enough credits for a guitar-shaped swimming pool!’ Zing! ‘Wow! That’ll look magic on the new screen!’
What’s got into all of our heads?
‘Girls, be realistic, you don’t need these, and they’re more than a pretty penny.’
‘That’s where you’re wrong, Dad. It’s got the fastest internet ever. Think how proud you’ll be when I pass my exams.’
‘Isn’t your laptop so advanced it’s, like, practically science fiction?’
‘With this you can find out everything wherever you are. Biology, physics, chemistry…’ And, you stoopid caveman, the really essential stuff such as who’s had most number ones? Who starred in? Why did she win an award? Who dated? Who’s the worst love rat? Why did she wear that hat? What did drugs do to her? How did she become the new me? Has she had a boob job? Who’s the best newcomer? Who’s a lifetime genius? Boo the bigmouth judge! Look at his hair transplant! And who wouldn’t always score on his wages? But you need the talent, dingbat, so who’s hot? Who’s not?
‘Mum, when are we going to pick them up?’
‘Our surprises. Dad you’re such a silly sausage sometimes.’
‘I said no, and that’s final.’
‘Mum said yes.’
The raising of hell for the right to shop until you drop.
And now the family might really sink, they had their damn mobiles switched off, which, of course, would only be against the grain if they’d put in another loving request for precious something else that screamed, ‘Buy me!’ He flung his pay-as-you-go junk at the fashionable black leather sofa with such peevish force it bounced off the firm but spongy seat. Boing! Crashing face down, his phone spun on the polished surface of the recently laid, fake oak floor as if mimicking a wheel of fortune that had been fixed to predict, ‘Tough luck, monkey. Have another banana skin!’ Glowering, his upper lip twitching, he somehow resisted the temptation to launch the useless thing across the room with a toe-end packed with Arrggh!
One long moment passed before he stooped to pick it up. A familiar tearing sensation in the small of his back caused him to regain his full height with the jerky rigidity of an unoiled, malfunctioning robot. Seized up, he squeezed his eyes tight until the pain eased to a dull ache. And then he saw that his phone’s screen had cracked, corner to corner, into an X. Huh, no bloody treasure there! He hastily slotted the gadget into the rear pocket of his washed out Joe Bloggs, so worked up he couldn’t bring himself to test it for signs of life. At least the new prize floor didn’t betray a tell-tale scratch.
Mincing and huffing, occasionally cracking his knuckles – just as he’d been doing before failing to get through to them for the umpteenth time – he paced the room, which was, perhaps, as opulent as any on an ex-council estate in the whole of England. Silver silk curtains, twin leather sofas, one along the wall facing the window, the other facing the pristine, white marble Victorian mantelpiece – but both perfectly positioned for goggling the widescreen TV in the corner – the handcrafted oak coffee table, the – oh no! – mint rug… Where had that come from? There’d never been much point in familiarising himself with the bloody show house; schemes for another transformation were always incubating. He often felt like a cuckoo chick that had somehow hatched in a department store’s Easter display, baffled by the strange nest’s turnover of shiny, multicoloured things that never seemed to do anything.
With a peck of guilt, he caught sight of the framed photographs of cute Alicia and Davie that had been the room’s only constant fixtures, and which were presently mounted on the smooth lavender walls above the sofas. Then a passing motor’s humdrum drone abducted his attention. His grey-blue eyes popping and his jaw dropping, he took on the appearance of a grotesque Looney Tunes’ character shocked senseless to find itself this other side of the screen. Bizarrely, it seemed to befit him. Frantically running his chunky, calloused fingers through his thick, wavy brown locks, his lips silently formed the word ‘shit’. He stared in horror out of the window at the immaculate silver Mondeo parked in the drizzly street. Was it coming to this? His transparent, ghostly reflection in the glazing gawped back at him with its head despairingly in its hands. It’d all drive him round the bend, blubber, blubber, it’s not fair! From somewhere within him a steely voice demanded, ‘Get a grip!’ His hands dropped by his sides and he let the blank television screen lure his eyes. That couldn’t tell him something he didn’t want to know.
Ian Randall would have been a strikingly attractive man for his forty-two years if not for a hint of a double-chin and a pot belly. It stretched his plain black T-shirt into the shape of a gloomy meteor that eclipsed the hot, racy but earnest aura radiated by his chiselled, masculine features, wavy brown locks and robust six foot frame. Once upon a time, to dreamy young lasses – and in the pecking order of romantic heroes – Ian might have passed as a descendent of some dangerously lovable stable-lad on Mr Darcy’s estate, or at least the lost cousin of a Hollywood heartthrob’s stunt double. In Ian’s youth, the nick of scar tissue over his left brow had conjured more than a touch of daring charm whenever his grey-blue eyes twinkled with desire for a girl, as if compellingly proclaiming love is the only thing worth living and fighting for. Ah, the fancies and idealisations of youth. Nowadays, aided and abetted by that flabby waistline, the faded scar might evidence a past of thuggery; sleazy pubs with broken bottles and football chants. If the truth was that he had never been anything like a conventional romantic hero or a violent villain, and that he now had the time to get back into super sexy shape – as his wife would once have put it – did it matter?
He collapsed into the sofa as if that malfunctioning robot he resembled whenever his back injury twinged had become a dead weight of scrap. The salesman’s slick pitch about ‘incomparable luxury’ echoed through his mind, which had only ever experienced discomfort whenever he considered the price he was paying for it. The crooks who dream up those credit deals are worse than the devil – he could have expected to profit for a while in this life if he’d sold his soul at the proverbial, lonely crossroads rather than allowed himself to be seduced by an over-mortgaged mouth on commission at a store near you. The overtime he’d needed to keep up with this monstrous house must add up to a prison sentence! What had he done to deserve it?
More, bigger, better – the house seemed to have devoured both high street and internet stores; one top of the range digitalised washer after another, tumble dryers, microwaves, dishwashers, vacuum after broken, just out of warranty vacuum, the latest widescreen TV, Sky packages, laptops, games consoles, lush carpets and curtains, pine wardrobes and matching chests of drawers packed with enough outfits to keep the fashion shows of London, Paris and Milan running into the next season, luxury beds with sumptuous mattresses that would make Goldilocks squeal, ‘Better than just right!’ He glanced around stunned by what had become a nightmarish, alien environment. He’d practically lived at work. To think he’d boasted about it all. How had they got sucked into this?
The soles of his trainers had left, here and there, traces of crumbly dry mud on the otherwise spotless floor. In front of the marble hearth, her slyly-acquired new rug of rainbow hues in a pattern of overlapping and concentric circles was also soiled. That would be received like the design of life had taken a messy beating! He sniffed the air to be certain that it was only mud; the aroma of lavender oil that typically flooded the house tickled his nostrils as if he was developing an allergy. That was something. Sort of.
He’d muddied his retro adidas in The Dragon’s car park, if that’s what you call a few bags of gravel sparingly chucked across a bulldozed beer garden. After the bad news had put a premature end to the shift most of the men had agreed, amid the angry commotion in the locker-room, to an emergency meeting in the boozer over the way. Just a few others besides Ian bothered to take a final shower. Usually a ritual accompanied by banter and bawdy songs, the shushing rush of steaming water seemed to painfully, eerily pronounce that they were already exorcised ghosts. Like another bad omen, the rank smells of a blocked drain, burnt pies and the muddled, angry workers’ sweat and cheap deodorants were commingling around The Dragon’s packed, dreary taproom when he walked in. Even the cranky clown Mick Humphries seemed to grasp that the circus had left town. He solemnly pointed out to Ian – as he pushed through bodies to get to the bar – that he still had lather behind his ears. Mick would usually have soft-soaped Ian and twisted his laxity into a shitty, embarrassing prank. Ian scooped the cold, sticky bubbles onto an index finger and, unzipping his tracksuit top with the other hand, wiped them on his black T-shirt underneath. ‘Cheers, Mick.’
‘Frothier than the head on the beer, that was.’
‘I’ll bet. A pint, love.’
‘I’m surprised to see you here,’ Mick went on like a terrier suddenly baring his teeth.
‘And me!’ Someone else growled. ‘Bloody blackleg.’
‘He didn’t break a strike, Al.’
‘He would have done if there’d been one.’
‘Big if, but I know where you’re coming from.’
‘Thanks, love.’ Ian snatched his change, grabbed his beer, and tried to lose himself in the crowd where he caught pack-eat-stray glares wherever he turned. The men’s heated, babbling discontent drowned out most of the words, if not entirely the riff, of the rock classic – You Really Got Me – playing on the CD jukebox. As the lead guitar mutedly tore into the solo, Johnny Jacks, the union rep, in an attempt to establish order, climbed on a table without realising that one of its legs was shorter than the others. Ill-tempered laugher erupted when the table wobbled and threatened to topple Johnny. ‘That’s just it! So it! The union should have seen it coming,’ bellowed a heckler.
‘It did, but you wouldn’t listen,’ Johnny blasted back, having stepped down onto a more stable stool. ‘Didn’t you notice the plant’s been winding down for a month? How many times…?’ Would they refuse to listen to anything but their own confusion?
Whether the suit and tie mob were illegally rushing the plant’s closure – as Johnny claimed – the men quickly advised themselves into defeat, there was nothing they could do but cash their redundancy cheques. They’d seen the last of the commercial packaging to be manufactured in this neck of the woods, for sure. With that, a few started on the juice as if to mark the advent of a long holiday, while the majority hit it as if they were at their own wakes. Ian smelled bother. He guzzled his pint, said a few subdued see-you-arounds, and was the first to leave.
Driving home through the drizzle, his mind tiptoed round the implications of joblessness, as if they’d get bored of waiting for a fight and go away, shoulders drooping. He switched the radio on. Can’t beat the speculation of the sporting world! ‘And we’ll be with you again tomorrow for more hot debate on all the issues…’ Missed it. And as for the weather forecast, anyone can see the outlook is gloomy. What about some hum-along, sunshine pop? Hmm-hmm-a-hmm-hmm, erm… It was when he put his key in the front door’s lock that the storm clouds opened up. His face blackened as he thought on that only last night they’d been cooking up something other than tasty sustenance in the kitchen. Had he heard Cathy say ‘mission’ as he’d drowsed in the living room in front of the news bulletin? He knew too well what their ‘missions’ entailed. ‘What are the pair of you mischievously giggling about?’
‘Nothing,’ they’d called back in sweet harmony. ‘We’re the angels of the house,’ Alicia sang in a silly soprano that was too close to sarcasm. Lowered voices succeeded another bout of dizzy giggling and he left it at that, too dog-tired to risk a no-win quarrel. Wide awake in the cold light of a dull, disastrous morning, everything was different. All their recent talk about the best jewellers’ shops! And what about the incriminating history on Alicia’s laptop when he’d borrowed it to check his lottery ticket? He reached straight for his mobile and made the first of his many abortive calls right there on the front doorstep.
Waiting for them to return was like waiting for Christmas, dreading that Santa had abandoned you, because, even though you’d tried to be good, trying just wasn’t good enough. Daytime TV’s smarm-fest irritated his gnawing ambivalence of self-pitying dread and spiteful anticipation, and he dug a finger into the remote. The adverts had lost their funny fizz and he turned them and it off, thinking on that he’d once entered a competition to distinguish the all-time number one commercial in two hundred and fifty words. Trying to be clever, he’d waxed lyrical in a poem – the lines rhymed at least – about how ‘milk has gotta lotta bottle’. He posted his entry assured that he couldn’t be denied the prize holiday. Months later, when the day-to-day to-ing and fro-ing he wanted a break from had bumped and knocked his flirtation with verse to the back of his mind, he’d read in the Sun that Mr Johnson of Derby had won over the judges with a sonnet that declared love for the ‘for mash get Smash’ classic. My English teacher was a chump, Ian had reasoned at the time. Yet, of late, he’d moodily championed the theory that there was some kind of conspiracy against him. If it had no rhyme or reason, he had enough material to fill a compendium of the world’s worst jokes.
For god’s sake, when were they going to get home? They had to be told to take it back!
The swift pint in the pub hadn’t packed a kick at the time, yet a flat wave of after-alcohol emptiness washed over Ian. It was always the same when he started drinking. One was never enough because it was all too much if he didn’t go on tipping them back. He dragged his arse into the kitchen, opened the fridge, crammed the remaining half of a pork pie into his mouth and, munching away, grabbed a can of strong foreign lager. He clicked back the ring-pull, binned it, took a generous draught to wash down the pie, belched, and reached into his pocket to inspect his phone. Look at the state of it! If they weren’t so ignorant and had bothered to answer his calls, it’d still be in tip-top shape. He could kill them. He should have stamped his foot down last night. No, way before that. He drained his can and cracked open another.
Halfway through the first can of the next four-pack, he finally heard a key turning in the back door’s lock. ‘Let’s get out of these boots, phew, put the kettle on and – woooo! – feast our eyes on everything! What treats!’ his wife Cathy said as she stepped inside patently wearing that annoying giddy mood shopping centres inspired in her. Her and her retail therapy, well, the day had come when they’d discovered it cured nothing and increased the likelihood of contracting gibbering idiocy. And everything?
‘Where the hell have you two been?’ he boomed, jumping to his feet as if that grotesque cartoon character had repossessed him as its nemesis fooled around with an electrified cattle prod. ‘I’ve been trying to get hold of you for hours!’ His hands flapped in the air and – ouch! – he blinked at the stab of pain in his back. Nimble feet could be heard climbing the stairs. The door he was glaring at swung open.
‘What are you doing here?’ Cathy asked sharply, her nose turning up, as if she’d walked in on an unwashed squatter. As much as a disinfectant as a love potion, her perfume diffused through the room. She certainly hadn’t sprayed it on for her husband’s benefit. ‘Shouldn’t you be at work?’
‘Breaking the habit of a lifetime, am I?’
They looked at each other with such simmering malignity it was a marvel they hadn’t given each other up long ago. Over time Ian had stopped noticing that his wife’s youthful loveliness had stunningly bloomed with each passing birthday. A number of years his junior, she epitomised style like tequila margaritas do frolicsome holidays in the sun. Perhaps it was the inevitable loss of innocence that goes hand in hand with life’s hurly-burly and responsibilities; Ian no longer felt the need to protect his precious red rose, which was how he’d once addressed her in Valentine’s cards after coming across an article on Burns in a Sunday supplement. Someone had left the magazine on a train that was destined somewhere he’d long-forgotten. It wasn’t that, back then, he couldn’t understand other famous words of love, especially those of popular songs; the simple, earthy, enthralling sentiment of Burns perfectly articulated his feelings. But, no, you haven’t the energy to nurture and cultivate a fixation when you’re rooted in shift patterns. And whether the mature woman’s petals were still gorgeously fragile, Ian had learned that her thorns were as prickly as fencing swords. He now thought himself a lucky man only when he was sozzled, and he wasn’t nearly so far gone yet. And when she was done up to knock ’em dead it meant one thing – he’d been set aside for survival so he could be done over time and again. He glared at the five high street bags she hadn’t put down in the hall in her astonishment at hearing his irritating gob. On the Saturdays she knew he wasn’t at work she’d have left them stowed in the boot of her Clio hatchback until she was sure some manly nonsense had preoccupied him.
Cathy’s long blond hair was up in a bun, which pronounced the near-perfect symmetry of her proud, startling beauty. Her mascara was delicately, expertly applied to tease out her big, sparkling, oval eyes’ suggestion of girlish mystery, which was deepened by cosmetic lenses that changed the colour the world looked into so often that her husband – if anyone asked him – would have been unable to identify their true tint and nature without collaborating with an old Polaroid. Her fleshy, ripe lips had been at the heart of many a local man’s lusty fantasies, and aware that they considered her to be little more than a breathing, fully inflated doll, she had developed into an accomplished actress. If, as is commonly acknowledged, it is a man’s world and that entire world is a stage, Cathy had meticulously honed her role, accentuating her luscious physical glamour which never failed to serve as a foil on the rare occasions she fluffed her lines. Her husband seemed to be the only man that wasn’t enchanted; she’d taken to pretending he didn’t exist when he threatened to seize the director’s chair. Yet, for all her magical, improvised performances, she’d misplaced her sense of self. Her love of her kids provided her only stable footing. What’s more, she’d developed the horribly vague suspicion that most people had to be flawed and incomplete in order for the world to go round.
‘Well?’ The stack heel of her thigh-high, black leather boots impatiently clicked against the laminate floor. After glancing down and realising she’d neglected to take them off, disdain contorted her lips into an ironic smile. Should the floor have one infinitesimal scratch her husband’s mouthing as soon as she’d walked through the door condemned him, guilty without trial. Today’s image was the aloof, classy dominatrix who specialised in never giving a fool a chance. Her black, wool skirt was breathtakingly tight and short enough to show just a teasing glimpse of silky leg above her big boots. Her black, patent leather Italian jacket was unzipped to reveal a mouth-watering hint of her fleshy, voluptuous fruits underneath. And though she’d slipped into and wore the look with effortless aplomb, whereas other women might throw it on and tramp around with awkward vulgarity, her husband’s knees refused to weaken.
‘They’ve only gone and done it,’ he snarled, ‘while you’ve been out splashing it around the shops like there’s no tomorrow.’
‘Carry on talking to me like that and there won’t be a tomorrow as far as we’re concerned.’ Her curiosity, however, was greater than her ire. ‘Who’s gone and done what?’
‘Don’t you ever listen to me? I’ve warned you plenty of times. The union have suspected it for months.’
‘Don’t the union talk out of their backsides? You annulled your membership, remember?’
‘Never mind what I said and did. We’re all redundant – just like that.’ He clicked his finger and thumb. ‘The work’s gone to their other place the other side of the country.’
‘I see,’ she said, thoughtfully puckering her cherry red lips. It pleased him that he’d caught her without a comeback for once:
‘So, you see, your shop until you drop has got to stop. Or else the roof will cave in on this palace you’ve made out of an ex-council dump.’ He sarcastically gave the four walls a royal wave before polishing off his lager. Bending over to put his empty on the coffee table, he winced.
‘And I’ve told you,’ Cathy retorted, ‘to go and see the doctor with your back.’
‘Never mind that. What have you got there?’ His eyes narrowed to slits like peep-holes from which to give her shopping bags a thorough ogling. Drat! Something from a jeweller’s would be a small package and Alicia would be safeguarding it up in her room. Not that Cathy’s hands didn’t hold enough overpriced damnation to be going on with. ‘You’ll have to take everything back. How’s that sound?’
‘Like your usual nonsense. When did they tell you they were closing?’
‘Huh! When do you think?’ He whipped a pouch of tobacco from the rear pocket of his jeans and, remembering his ruined phone in the other pocket, rolled a cigarette, his hands shaking with mad passion. ‘With the state of things in the world,’ he spat, ‘we’re in a hole. God knows what it will be like in the area now one of its biggest employers has deserted.’
‘You don’t smoke in… Look at the floor! Mud on my new rug!’
Demonstrating his rebellion against her house rules, he let the flame of his disposable lighter burn until the wheel got hot on his thumb, and then he bent towards it to light the droopy smoke he’d fixed up. ‘Us men have been treated like dirt. A bit of muck on the floor won’t make much difference…’
‘Enough! Put that out!’ Against her common strategy – premeditated indifference – Cathy’s claws extended. ‘Don’t you dare come home and take your problems out on us! You’ve been more than happy to take your fair share, to be the king of your petty little Englishman’s castle.’
‘My problems? I’m alone in the world, am I? Excluded from the house of love because I’m not earning for delicacies, delights…’
‘Don’t be so melodramatic,’ she tartly cut him out. Her lips thinned and she belligerently glared from his disgusting, floppy cigarette to her dirtied rug, while defensively holding her shopping bags behind her, as if he’d drop it if somehow he couldn’t see them. ‘We don’t stop living because of an itty-bitty crisis…’
‘Itty-bitty? That’s a good one!’
‘I’ve been out because of something that’s important to our daughter. Get it?’
He watched his smoke rings slowly break up into amorphous grey-blue clouds under the ceiling, figuring he might as well have handed her a loaded gun with which to shoot him down. He screwed up his nose at the cigarette as if he didn’t really want it, opened the window and flicked it out onto the lawn. She acknowledged his concession by saying, frostily, but not altogether without encouragement, ‘Something else will turn up.’
‘And by then we might have been buried alive under bills. Buying rubbish like that’ – he pointed at her bags – ‘has to come to an end!’
‘It’s good quality stuff from a closing down sale, actually. We got it dirt cheap not unlike someone who isn’t a million miles away.’
‘Just great. You go out and waste a small fortune on the junk no one else wanted to buy in the first place.’
‘You’re horrible! The nastiest man that ever… ever… called himself a dad!’ It was Alicia, pushing past her mother to get into the room and in on the row, and momentarily uniting her parents with the thought that the tantrums of the terrible twos were an eternal, earaching curse in her case. Alicia would have screamed and stomped over such a tacit understanding if she’d ever suspected its existence; there was nothing so obvious to the girl that she could stick two fingers up at the world over anything and everything because her case was a special one. Wasn’t she destined for great things?
Like her mother, Alicia looked fabulous and many people had guessed they were sisters when they were out and about. Even today, when Alicia’s silky blond hair flowed down over her shoulders and she was in casual, figure-hugging blue jeans and a pink vest in contrast to her mother’s impeccable coiffure and dominatrix splendour, their likeness was astounding. The family photo album revealed Alicia to be such an uncanny double of her mother at the same age that almost everybody who turned its pages exclaimed ‘My word!’ – or words to that effect – before attesting, as if complimenting Cathy, that the similarities were only skin deep, after all.
‘You. Don’t. Care!’ Alicia punctuated each word by jabbing an accusatory finger in her father’s direction. ‘We’ve been buying things that will help to develop my career!’
Her outburst had the least desirable effect; it tickled her father’s blokey sense of humour, which had become ever cruder the longer he’d worked in environments with scant mental stimulus. These days he never picked up on a situation’s subtleties and laughed only at the downright outrageous, perverse or brutish. Tears of frustration welled in Alicia’s eyes as her father loudly guffawed, looking her over from head to foot, certain she’d never be a match for him. It escaped him that she wasn’t meant to be his match.
‘Let’s calm down with a cup of tea,’ Cathy said with a theatrical sigh, sidling into the hall and through to the kitchen, making sure her shopping bags went with her. She hurriedly opened the pantry door and crammed the bags between the vegetable and wine racks like a furtive alcoholic stashing bottles of much-loved hard stuff. ‘Or would anyone prefer coffee?’ she shouted into the room, closing the pantry up.
‘I’ll have a beer while Alicia does her comedy routine.’
‘You won’t find it so side-splitting when I’m famous and I tell the papers what a rotten father I’ve put up with,’ Alicia shrieked. ‘Everybody will hate, hate, hate you!’
‘My darling princess, you’ve failed two major auditions – the third time we’ll all get lucky and you’ll lose your voice.’ Her father gleefully slapped his knee and a tear trickled down Alicia’s cheek. She slumped into a sofa, her bottom lip quivering; how could anybody say such things to her?
‘Don’t listen to him, babe,’ her mother said, returning empty-handed; no bags and no beer, magic. ‘Ian, how could you say that? You know she’s got a sensitive, artistic temperament. She was ill at the time of her first audition and then she had an attack of nerves due to her inexperience. She’s such a soulful voice and she can dance. That’s exactly why she’s attracted an agent. She’ll get experience working in the clubs and then she’ll be ready to take on the world. She’s far prettier than the contestants on the talent shows. You’ve said it yourself when you’ve been in a better mood.’
‘I’m glad one of my parents appreciates my genius,’ Alicia said, wiping her cheeks.
‘An agent? He’s an old perv who’s got a few contacts in deadbeat clubs. Big deal. This is exactly what I’m talking about – it’s time this family got real rather than bags full of labels and dreams. Why isn’t she at college?’
‘We deserve some things. That’s real!’
‘Not now everybody is going mad for austerity!’
‘Humbug! If we’d lived on what we’ve been paid, we’d have had nothing but austerity over the years whether they said on the TV the country was booming or going bust.’ She flicked at the sleeve of her patent black leather jacket as if ridding it of invisible fluff. ‘What sort of a life is that?’
‘And that attitude explains why I never get to see the credit card bills? How do you think we’re going to keep our heads above water now I’ve lost my job? I won’t get another like it in a hurry.’
‘It wasn’t what you’d call a career.’
‘It was one of the best paid jobs around here.’
‘And it didn’t pay enough. Nothing comes cheap these days.’
‘Don’t I know it. And for someone who spends so much time losing her head in catalogues, you’ve a truly terrifying comprehension of our predicament.’ Because it was true, boom or bust, they would never have made it on their wages alone. Back when they’d married even half-decent jobs were scarce – the area’s major industry had received the kiss of death for the love of hard-hearted modernisation. Their parents had done what they could to send them on the way, and the newly-weds had returned from their honeymoon in Scarborough to a spic and span home furnished with mended, repainted, revarnished, second-hand stuff. The oldies, bless them, couldn’t extravagantly shell out for weddings – they had their own pressures. And, anyway, young Ian and Cathy were stuck on each other and happy, regardless of the ugly view from the social ladder’s lowest rungs. The couple only started to appear comfortable when they got access to credit. While his wife had been recklessly blasé, if the truth be known, Ian had also caught the bug. Live now because tomorrow never comes. It was infectious. A virus whose delirium was like a high that soothed pain right up to the moment it turned fatal.
Cathy took her husband’s silence to be a return of the little reason he was capable of. ‘It’s going to take ages to get that awful tobacco smell out of the room. What got into you?’
‘You know she’ll never get anywhere singing, don’t you?’
‘Mum, make him stop saying that!’
‘And the other brat – he’s made it to school?’
‘He can’t wait to leave on a morning since he started pirating films, music, god knows what else. That should please you. Your son’s a criminal but, hey, so what? He’s making his own money and not spending yours.’
‘Don’t you think you need to apologise to your daughter? And after that you can get out the vacuum and clean up that mud.’
‘Have you parked round the back?’
‘What’s that got to do with what I’ve just said? You do go off on them at times.’
‘You’ll have to sell your car.’
‘I pay for that car,’ Cathy said, laughing, after scrutinising her husband’s face and finding not a trace of a joke. ‘I need it to get to work.’
‘It’s got to go. We can’t afford to run two motors. I’ll give you a lift whenever you need one.’
‘You need the money, sell yours. I’ve still got a job.’
‘Till death do us part, huh?’
‘Don’t start that,’ Cathy groaned.
‘When two hearts beat as one.’
‘Please! Spare me!’
‘Ah, yes, you’re all right, Jackie.’
‘Yes, she is!’ Alicia had critically watched her parents sparring. No, she’d never hated anyone as much as her dad! ‘And she can do better than you!’ She sprang from her seat, her nostrils flaring, the lustre of fiery hysteria in her eyes. ‘She’s already got somebody else!’
‘Alicia, the show is over. Grow up.’ Her father’s chest heaved with bored fatigue. ‘Just because you can’t always have your own way doesn’t mean you’ve the right to stir things up with lies.’
‘He’s been coming round when you’ve been working afternoons or nights, and when Mum could persuade Davie to go out.’ Alicia laughed inanely. ‘He’s far nicer than you and, for your information, I didn’t have to get my new outfits in the sales because Michael paid for them. He’s loaded and he’s somebody. Why don’t you go beg him to give you a job?’
‘Cathy, do you see what spoiling our daughter has done?’
If looks could kill, Cathy’s glare would have arranged for Alicia to freewheel down a steep hill in a hearse and over the edge of a cliff, just to be certain. Alicia sniggered nervously, hopping from one foot to the other like a child uncertain of her place in the big kids’ playground.
Ian was gratified to see that his wife still retained a basic sense of right and wrong. ‘I’ll let you sort this one out,’ he said, coolly, taking a step back towards the window as if presenting his wife and daughter with enough space to slug it out.
They didn’t seem to hear him.
‘He said the family needs some reality, so I’ve injected him with some,’ Alicia eventually blurted, biting her glittery nails.
‘Get to your room!’
‘Ok! Ok! Ok!’ Alicia petulantly tossed back her head, swishing her blond locks through the air, but it was all show. Her revolt had blown out; she cowered before squeezing between her mother and the door jamb on her way out. That she believed her mother might strike her – the golden girl – caused a shattering revelation. Gasping, Ian fumbled in his pocket for his tobacco. His eyes rolled wildly while his trembling fingers rolled a cigarette. He lit up with such a tigerish expression that his wife thought of diving for the phone to call the police. He had never been a violent man, but how would he react to her betrayal of him?
Speechlessly, they weighed each other up.
His brow and palms were sticky with sweat. She crossed her arms and her legs, closing herself down to him as a shiver ran down her spine. He flicked ash in the beer can on the coffee table, incapable of collecting his thoughts that had fragmented like a mirror struck with a hammer. A great thud shook the ceiling and their necks immediately craned upwards. Alicia had started throwing and knocking things around her room. Crash! Something else went over. ‘Pack that in, lady!’ Cathy screamed.
Cathy defiantly met his animal glare. ‘You’d have noticed if you hadn’t been so immersed in your mates down the club, or playing with cars, or whatever else was so important.’
‘I’ve always been working.’ He spoke with a guttural whisper through clenched teeth. A scream of such savagery had gathered in him that he was terrified of releasing it. He lost colour as if holding in his pain was poisoning him. Alicia’s revenge had stripped him down to the very bare bones of the lonely man that he was. No match for a man like him? The truth his daughter knew had had the power to wipe him out. ‘And on the day I lose my job,’ he said with a pathetic, oscillating whine that made his wife cringe, ‘this is the sympathy I get.’
‘It’s been over for years, Ian, don’t you understand that?’ And without waiting for a reply she walked from the doorway, leaving him to the chilling nothingness at the beginning of the very end.
He numbly dropped his cigarette in the used beer can and it sizzled out in the dregs. This… can’t… be… Why? When? With who?
Cathy reappeared and leant on the open door, sipping a glass of red wine.
‘It’s only plonk,’ she smirked with delicious bravado. ‘It won’t break the bank.’
‘Let me guess,’ Ian thundered – her sarcasm had been like a hit from a lightning bolt that temporarily infused him with the power to pull himself together – ‘you stayed for the sake of the kids. The evergreen secret behind a million…’ A lump formed in his throat; he was disgusted and infuriated because he couldn’t swallow it away and have his say. Another drink would have shot some charge in his veins, but he couldn’t bear to brush past her to get to the fridge. His skin crawled at the thought of touching the treacherous bitch. His chest swelling with emotional fury, his head so full of accusations and wild questions it was fit to burst, he knew that he had to getaway or he’d do something he’d regret. He found himself moving towards the door and away from the impulse to put his foot through the television.
‘Don’t you dare go near Alicia’, Cathy hissed, backing off into the hall. She drained her glass and thrust it in front of her like a weapon, holding her ground at the kitchen door.
As if his shock had suddenly developed the eyes in the back of his head that he’d needed for many months, he swivelled round and swooped for his wallet and car keys that he’d left on the coffee table. He beat down the urge to overturn it and reeled into the hall, his hurt pride prohibiting him from looking at her. The front door didn’t slam as it had so often done before. It was wide open.
On the doorstep, he sucked in fresh air hoping it and the fine drizzle that was falling would cool his boiling blood and clear the seething smog of his mind. Making out that he was rubbing something from his eye, he strode down the garden path, through the open gate, onto the pavement and up to his car. Though his legs were shaky, he had managed to walk in straight lines and anyone watching would not have suspected that anything was amiss. He absently got in. Seatbelt. Ignition. A cigarette. A tear fell onto the Rizla paper and ruined his smoke in the making. He pulled another paper from his near-empty packet and started to roll again. After lighting up and inhaling deeply, which did nothing to calm him, he switched on the radio. Nothing the newsreader announced sunk in; Ian only sought a human voice that might alleviate the loneliness that was already eating him up. He’d lost his job. His ex-workmates thought he’d kissed the bosses’ butts. His wife had screwed another man. His kids… Nooooooo! He beat the steering wheel with the balls of his fists and butted it.
With feral, desperate eyes he pulled up at the junction at the main road, looking left, right – nothing was coming and where was he going? He might have stalled indefinitely if the old goat from across the street hadn’t pulled up behind him. He guessed the goat would be turning right towards town, so he spun the steering to the left and put his foot down.
Slumped on a sofa, her face buried in the leather, Cathy sobbed with grief or relief, she couldn’t tell. She’d often wondered what would happen when her secret finally broke, and though she had prepared terse lines of sharp wisdom for numerous eventualities, she hadn’t been ready for such alarming abruptness and jarring finality. Her family had collapsed, just like that. Her marriage was over.
No matter how terrible the feeling, no one can relentlessly mourn with such wretched intensity, if only because it is exhausting. A sleep-like peace appeared to come over her, though she occasionally trembled and sniffled. She still had dreams. Someone else. He was the one she should have always waited for and… ‘Mum?’ Alicia stuck her neck out and her head round the door. ‘Are you all right, Mum? Is there anything I can get you?’
‘Get out, you little bitch,’ Cathy snapped, without looking up.
What Goes and Comes Around is available at:
Randal Eliot’s What Goes and Comes Around has been out just long enough for a couple of readers to finish it and leave reviews. Perhaps you can give the novel a chance and write a review of your own. We’d be much obliged.
‘I really enjoyed reading this very well written, gritty and descriptive novel. I’m looking forward to reading Randal’s future novels and hope I don’t have to wait too long!’
‘A spectacularly well-written novel about a working family struggling to cope with the pressures of the modern world. Brilliantly drawn characters, sparkling, acute dialogue, dark humour and sharp wit, and a plot and narrative that skilfully wind between gritty realism and idealistic romance, What Goes and Comes Around has got something good for all readers of contemporary fiction. I couldn’t put it down. Genuinely demands your attention.’
‘This book is not in my usual preferred genre, but I tried it on recommendation from the publisher’s social media page. I must say how pleased I am to go outside my ‘comfort zone’ to try something new.
Randal Eliot has produced an excellent debut novel. Full of real characters and scenarios that most readers will be able to readily identify with. The descriptions of family and work life are absolutely spot-on. It is very easy to digest, so interest is maintained throughout. This book will have appeal to all adult ages, and I hope Mr Eliot is already working on his next venture in literature.’
Literary Fragments are immensely proud to be publishing Randal Eliot’s debut novel – What Goes and Comes Around – on 15 December 2014. Our blurb will hopefully whet your appetite for a masterful piece of contemporary writing.
The Randalls are the fashionable, aspirant, working family to be found on every street. Until their relationships’ frailties are brutally laid bare by explosive revelations. Amid the toxic fallout from the household’s spiralling debt, there’s the destructive affair of beautiful Cathy – wife and mother-of-two – with her urbane boss.
What Goes and Comes Around follows the journeys of four estranged individuals, slowly, painfully grasping that they have constructed their own little worlds on treacherously shaky foundations. Dreams are often flawed and selfish rather than inspired and rewarding, and fashion and consumerism’s tempting glitz can’t replace the family unit’s loving support.
Redundancy, a humbling visit to his folk’s place and wild idealism rediscovered in rock and roll nostalgia open Ian Randall’s eyes to his downfall’s inevitability. The abrupt, cruel end of his wife’s romance with wealthy, ruinous Michael leads her on a parallel, lonely route to self-discovery. But in the austere modern world, the price of enlightenment could become unbearably high.
While their parents struggle to find their feet, young Davie Randall’s cheeky entrepreneurialism and his sister Alicia’s embryonic musical career attract the unhealthy interest of the local hood, Liam Briggs. His reckless interference puts the kids’ lives on the line. Only by pulling together and finding strength in each other again can their stricken parents hope to avert disaster…. Isn’t it clear that reconciliation and some tough decisions might just help them through their financial crisis to recover, better and wiser human beings?
Set in the post-industrial North in the great financial crash’s aftermath, What Goes and Comes Around adapts and modernises the realist-cum-naturalistic novel, producing a sharp, poignant and sometimes acerbically funny study of contemporary life. Accessible prose and subtle, aesthetic patterning shape a penetrating exploration of love, betrayal, debt, dreams and popular culture, and the very economic system we live under.
For Smashwords pre-orders: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/493638
What Goes and Comes Around is available on multiple formats (check out the above Smashwords’ page for examples) and also stocked by Apple ibooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Overdrive, Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd, Baker & Taylor and Page Foundry.