He said he never brought girls back to his place because he was embarrassed about his flat.
I told him that I’d lived in some horrible places myself, with mouldy wallpaper hanging off the ceiling, mildewy curtains, bloodstains on the walls and a ground-floor window fashioned from cling-film and sellotape;
and that one time a guy took me to a crack den on our first date and he tried to kiss me while we were sitting on a damp mattress that had previously been set on fire and a rottweiler was trying to eat my handbag;
and that my friend dropped a hot microwaved chili con carne on his kitchen floor 4 years ago and it’s still there;
and that another friend’s bathroom contained a toilet that was worse than The Toilet in Trainspotting, there was no light or running water and someone had stolen the shower-head and taken a shit in sink so when anyone ever needed to take a leak they had to leave the house and go to the cinema down the road to use their facilities;
so I’m sure his flat would be lovely.
And it was. It was spotless. It was a really nice modern studio flat, high ceilings and big windows, and loads of books and records but not messy or cluttered at all.
“Got any booze?”
“Yeah, there’s some beer in the kitchen sink. And some vodka, I think.”
I went over to the sink and sure enough found some bottles of Bud bobbing around in the bitterly cold water that filled the sink to its brim.
Oh, and some vodka. Not much, but enough.
And 2 pints of semi-skimmed milk.
And a pot of strawberry yoghurt.
And 500g of extra mature cheddar cheese in a ziploc bag.
And some kind of ham in a ziploc bag.
And half a cucumber in a ziploc bag.
And a handful of grapes in a ziploc bag.
I heard his voice behind me.
“This why I don’t bring girls back.”
“Cos I don’t have a fridge. People think it’s weird. People think I’m weird.”
“Cos everyone has a fridge. They don’t know how I survive without one.”
“I mean, why don’t you have a fridge? Do you just not want one, like how I don’t ever want a TV so I’m never going to get one? Or maybe you only eat fresh stuff?”
“No, it’s not that I don’t want one. I just can’t.”
“Oh, I see… Your electricity bill must be lower than everyone else’s though, right?”
“No, well, yeah, probably. I just can’t have one. I…”
I can see he’s starting to panic.
“Hey, it’s alright, I actually think it’s cool that you don’t have one. No pun intended on ‘cool’, either.”
And then he blurts it out:
“I’m scared of fridges.”
I say nothing.
“And freezers. Fridge-freezers. Fridges. Freezers. All of it.”
“Woah. Okay. Erm. I’m guessing you had a bad experience? Did you get locked in a freezer once or something?”
I laugh and open the beers with my teeth.
His face pales.
“No. Not me. Someone else.”
“Jesus. Sounds pretty—“
“Bad. Yeah, it was. It was really bad.”
I remind myself that I am a listener, not a therapist. I am a listener, not a therapist. Listener, not therapist.
“Wanna talk about it? Come, sit with me.”
We sit on the window ledge and dangle our legs out. I light us each a cigarette.
“It was ages ago, when I was a kid. I was 9. And a half. We were playing hide and seek in the scrapyard near my old house. Me and Tommy. He lived a few doors down from me and we used to play out after school.”
I stare at him for a second too long and then flick some ash off my tights. We watch it fall one two three four floors down until it disappears. I half-hope that he’ll change the subject but I’m also massively intrigued, so I say nothing.
“We were playing hide and seek. It was his turn to hide. I counted to 30 because the yard was huge and there were so many cool places to hide, like old cars and empty skips and that. I looked for him for fucking ages. Fucking ages. In the end I was shouting TOMMY I GIVE UP. COME OUT NOW. I GIVE UP. It was getting dark. I guessed that he had just gone home cos he got bored or cos his sister came to get him or he had gone off with some of his own pals.”
Beer. Inhale. Exhale. Beer. Exhale.
“Anyway I heard my mam calling my name to tell me that my tea was on the table getting cold. So I shouted LAST CHANCE TOMMY, I’M GOING NOW, I’M NOT JOKING, FINE, I’M LEAVING NOW, BYE. Went home, had my tea, forgot all about it. Went to bed. Then my mam woke me up in the middle of the night to ask me if I’d seen Tommy cos he didn’t come home for his tea and his mam was worried cos nobody had seen him and the police were downstairs and wanted to ask me if I’d seen him. I was scared cos I thought I would be in trouble and I thought the pigs would take me to jail and they wouldn’t believe me if I said I didn’t know where he was even though I would be telling the truth but grown ups never believe kids so I didn’t say nothing.”
Inhale. Exhale. Beer.
“Next morning everyone went out searching the scrapyard, neighbour said they heard some kids playing there the night before, and we all used to play down there all the time so they started looking for him there. They had sniffer dogs.”
He tenses up.
“Then at school in the middle of last lesson we all got taken into the hall for an assembly and the headmaster told us that Tommy Greenwald had tragically passed away. That we were all devastated by the loss of such a bright young lad. That the funeral was on Friday, that the school choir would be singing You’ll Never Walk Alone at the service and we were encouraged to wear our Liverpool shirts to the church. That we would be making condolence cards in class that would be passed on to his mam and sister, and that if we see his family in the street we must treat them with the utmost respect. “
Inhale. Exhale. Beer. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
“Long story short, they found him in a fucking fridge. One of them massive industrial ones. The pigs in the assembly warned us of the dangers of playing in the scrapyard. They suspected no foul play, that this was a tragic accident. How he must have opened it, got in, shut the door and of course it don’t open from the inside, does it, and it was sealed shut so he fucking suffocated. Nobody could hear him scream because the yard was so big. His screaming made him die faster. He was 7.”
“Jesus H. Christ.”
Beer. Inhale. Reach for vodka. Exhale. Vodka. Inhale. Exhale. Beer. Inhale.
“You know it’s not your fault, don’t you?”
“No. It’s not. Even if you told the police where you were playing, they wouldn’t have saved him any sooner. He would’ve… gone quite quickly.”
“Seven years old.”
Vodka. Vodka. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.
“I should’ve looked more, for longer.”
“No. You were a kid. Something awful might’ve happened to you too if you stayed out wandering the scrapyard in the dark. You weren’t to know, anyway. You weren’t to know.”
I am a listener, not a therapist.
Beer. Spark up. Inhale. Exhale. Vodka.
“You’re the only person I’ve ever told that to.”
“What? Not even your mum, or Tommy’s family?”
Beer. Beer. Inhale. End beer.
“Shit. I don’t even know what to say.”
Silence. Inhale. Silence. Silence. Exhale. Silence. Inhale.
“Hey, I’m sorry to change the subject, but I’m gonna grab us another drink– I think we need it.”
“Go for it.”
“Is there any more beer in the…”
[Featured image source]