Every Family Has One
Her first concert: a coming of age. A rite of passage. And like any rite of passage it was going to be a night to remember …but just not in the way she was imagining.
Hawkwind. Liverpool Stadium. 1974. It sounded grand. She rolled the words on her tongue. She could see the t-shirt. She’d buy it and wear it proudly.
But if Kathleen had known what was going to happen that evening she would have missed the band she’d longed to see and willingly stayed in with her mother to play Ludo under candlelight. But without the aid of a crystal ball how could she have possibly known?
She fizzed with excitement as she climbed the rickety stairs to her attic bedroom to get ready for the evening ahead. Her mother stood at the bottom of the stairs, hands on hips, a face of thunder.
‘That music is filling your head with sin but emptying your heart of God.’ Kathleen inched further up the stairs ignoring the ridiculous statement, wondering where she had pulled it from. Her heart banged in her chest. Her mother wasn’t going to stop her going out. Not tonight. She’d waited months to see her favourite band, Hawkwind – dreaming of nothing else, thinking of nothing else. Had saved her birthday money to go. Yet knew she would be dragged to confession. Maybe her mother was right. Her conscience pricked. She knew she was a seeker of pleasure and God was sure to disapprove. She would pay her currency for the evening out in Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s.
‘There’s no point in going out tonight. We’re expecting another power cut. It’ll be too dark to walk back and you’ll trip over the rubbish stacked along the pavements.’ Her voice was icy, lacking in the cookie cutter sincerity that other mothers seemed to have.
‘I’m warning you Kathleen…’ Her tone was now deeper as she tried to sound menacing, but Kathleen – knowing that she was struggling to perform the role of two parents rolled into one – ignored her. All mothers are slightly insane she had read in a book by JD Salinger – a quote she found reassuring.
Kathleen knew her game. Her mother wasn’t good at being alone; not even wrapped in the big electric blanket of her faith; scared of her own shadow; every creak in the darkness and howl of the wind outside.
‘I forbid you..’
There was a tremor to her voice now, maybe realizing, Kathleen thought that her power was crumbling.
Kathleen stood at the top of the stairs looking down on her archetypal 1950s mother scowling in her pinny, her cleavage under wrap. What an oddity she was. It was hard to believe that she had lived through the sixties and she wondered how on earth she’d ever opened her legs to have sex. Twice in fact, unless there were miscarriages she didn’t know about.
Mary Quant could have made your life so much better she wanted to shout down.
‘Forbid me? What sort of a word is that mum?’ She sniggered, her feisty spirit rising.
She slammed her bedroom door. Her mother’s exasperated groans floated up and she knew she would be returning to the warmth of the fire and her crutch – the Bible. Her faith had become a soft blanket ever since the fateful day her father had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught up in the Troubles visiting his sister on Belfast’s Falls Road.
In her bedroom Kathleen peered in the cracked mirror and smiled guiltily at her reflection. Her skin glowed in the pool of light from a table lamp. Her radiant, dark curls cascaded around her shoulders, complimenting the white of her cheesecloth top. Her friends told her she looked and sounded like Nerys Hughes in the comedy The Liver Birds but she liked to imagine she was Farah Fawcett Major starring in a blockbuster movie; a thought that she tried to quell because it led her into a dark and lonely place – where they punished the vain and the proud; vices that enveloped her soul in a plethora of guilt and self loathing.
When she was ready she put the pot of rouge back into the crack she’d chiseled out under her bedroom windowsill remembering how pretty it had looked on her friend Sandra’s dressing table sitting on a dainty doilie. The pot was nearly empty. She didn’t know where the next pot would come from. Gathering new supplies was always a challenge, but Kathleen tried to see the funny side of her situation. My house is like the bleedin’ Soviet Union she laughed to friends.
Standing up she peered out of the tiny misty window that looked out over the Liverpool docks. A breeze was gently rattling the pane. She closed her eyes remembering the long walks by the Mersey with her dad; looking up at the liver birds nestled on top of the Royal Liver Building, his hand squeezing hers. One bird is watching the football, the other the shipping so it is Kathleen. The memory still made her glow inside even though it was now three years on.
She loved to watch the view out of her window. How she longed to skip down to the Docks one early morning and meet a sailor dressed in white and blue from a faraway place to whisk her away on his ship to a sandy beach thousands of miles away. But that was the stuff of fairytales or a story in Mills and Boon. The only men she ever saw at the docks were grubby balding men with missing teeth and sweat patches under their arms going about their work at the quayside. But these days there wasn’t so much activity down at the docks as there had been when she was little. Dominating the scenery now were stacks of brightly coloured containers, like Lego bricks and huge cranes lifting those Lego pieces onto ships. Like the sentiment within the song ‘American Pie’ her dream had curdled too.
She lifted her mattress and put the crusty mascara in the centre, next to the latest Jackie Magazine. She flicked through the magazine and could hear her mother’s voice in her head.
That magazine is filling your head with romantic clap trap. Get rid of it.
But it was nice, warming clap trap. Preferable to reading long, turgid passages of the Bible. Her mother reminded her of Mary Whitehouse; a tight lipped, cold hearted killjoy. She picked up the Bible, sitting on her bedside table, pride of place and in a moment of defiance flung it into the air and watched it come crashing down. When it landed it was a heavy thud: the type of thud that would have sent her father scuttling down to the lav at the bottom of the garden to play his banjo. She could see her mother downstairs, probably bowing in silent prayer, bearing the daily cross of grief.
Kathleen went downstairs to say goodbye wondering what her mother would say this time to stop her going out but as she came into the kitchen she found her hugging the picture of her dad in his fishing gear holding an enormous trout. She was rocking back and forth next to the fire, silent tears trickling down her face. A faint smile flickered across her face. She knew she was remembering the time he had dressed in his rubber suit with every piece of tackle and rod he owned dangling over his shoulders and fallen down the muddy bank, clawing his way back up. In her mind’s eye she could still see the muddy claw marks on the bank and everyone laughing hysterically. As their eyes connected she knew that her mother was recalling the memory too.
But as quick as the memory flashed both their minds she looked up; brushed the tears away with her sleeve and went to get up, placing the photo frame back on the mantel above the fire.
‘Mum we could revive the musical spaghetti nights. Fill the house with music and laughter again. Invite Auntie Hilda to clatter her tuna can?’
Maria’s face looked as if she had suggested a walk in a storm. She turned back to the photo; probably remembering how Paddy used to baulk the spaghetti out with porridge oats and invite the whole street round.
This is Liverpool, Kathleen thought to herself. Every house in the city where modern music was born should be making its’ own music and singing all the hits that made this city great. Suddenly she could see herself walking down to the Cavern with her dad. They were the Saturdays she had looked forward to as a child.
‘Father Joseph might drop over later for a cuppa.’ Maria’s face relaxed as she spoke of the priest.
Kathleen studied her mother’s face. She was still pretty. Had the type of legs any man would desire. But she knew it wasn’t going to happen. She thought of the priest, Bible tucked under his arm clutching his collection box appealing for more money to save the church roof. There were better ways to spend a Saturday evening.
‘You’ve not had your pudding’ Maria snapped, the memories now a million miles away. Kathleen watched her move to the counter more sluggishly than normal to dish the slop – her body showing the strain. Life seemed to be slipping out from under her.
She banged the bowl onto the table in front of Kathleen in an unloving way as if it were a great effort. Kathleen looked at the runny mess. Any minute now she expected Marlon Brando to blast in to complete the 1950s scene. It would be so nice, she thought to be offered butterscotch Angel Delight for a change and a glass of refreshing Rise and Shine: sunshine in a glass.
As she ate the slop she could feel herself buckle under her mother’s cold stare and waited for the negative comments to fly.
‘You look ridiculous in all that makeup and that skirt is too short. You’re asking for trouble.’ She suddenly shouted. ‘You girls these days. It would pain God to see you so it would.’
‘I won’t be late. Don’t wait up.’ Not giving Maria another chance to break her spirit she got up and headed into the hall to put her coat on, calling her goodbye from the front door; her spirit strong and determined.
But unfortunately her feisty spirit was to be to her peril.