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“More Songs About Chocolate And Girls”: A Short Story

Idling on the tarmac at JFK waiting to go home and I just can’t believe it is over. There were times in August when Tara, Johnny, Jojo and me, it would be mid-afternoon on a Saturday so too crowded for the public swimming pool, and the sun would be blazing, and we’d be at Rainey Park, lying in the grass facing the city: JoJo would be holding Tara’s hand, and Tara would be holding mine and I’d be holding Johhny’s, and it would be so quiet underneath the dogs barking and the kids from the projects playing hoops, families barbecuing and couples walking together. And it seemed that we had done the exact same thing yesterday and the day before and the day after: like all we had done is doze in the sun, like lazy cats purring in closeness and friendship and love, and I would have bet that we would be doing that for all time: till the world ever ends we would be there alone together, never growing older and never changing, like a snapshot of a memory. Instead I am waiting to go back to Manchester: no Tara or JoJo, or Eddie and Norman, no Auntie and Uncle, no sleeping in the corners, no going on bagel runs with Aidan,, no plugging the jukebox with Undertones songs, no  Astoria: it seems to be slipping away even as I sit here, like the edges of what happened are kinda gone and I didn’t want it to go. I have an older brother and sister, but way older, ten years older. My sister Gloria is 24 and has two kids of her own, who I babysit for and get… well, a free meal at least! I never had a sister my age and while I have tons of friends, I’d never had a friend like Tara: Not Ever. And if not having a Tara is one thing, I just know if I live to be 100 I will never, ever find another guy like Eddie.

Not that any of this started very well.

I’m named after my Nana, she was Chastity O’Riordon, and I’m Chastity O’Sullivan though why I got lumbered with a first name that would ruin any fourteen year old’s love life added to  my so reckless daddy Timmy’s last name I don’t know. Mum loves Dad, they divorced but they didn’t much mean it, I figure. Timmy (everybody calls him that) is Mummy’s penance as a not all good  Roman Catholic working at a topless bar to provide for me and Nan… and Timmy, in a way. Timmy appears and disappears at will but never so that he actually helps us anyway,  but rather to borrow some money he doesn’t plan to pay back. When I was a kid, freezing in the living room because the heat had been turned off and cuddling with Nana under the blankets watching old musicals  (don’t ask…), I would curse him under by breath and Nana would shush me. Nana died in April and my Auntie Rose, who had left to the States to be an au pair as a teen and never came home, before I was born for sure, came home to bury her Mum. Seeing the two sisters together, they were very similar in some ways. I had met Auntie Rose before but only once, a wedding I think, and Nana went to the States to visit her daughter every couple of years but me and Mum never did.

I didn’t really consider it but the simple truth is we are poor. It never felt like POVERTY poverty, we could go to the cinema, and when I was eight years old we got tickets to see One Direction… so how poor is that? But in a general way, I just had the feeling we weren’t all that well off. Neither were the people around us, and I’ve lived there for forever. My Nana and Grandfather -who I never met, he dies long before I was born, got the government subsidized home. My Mum and Auntie were born and raised here, so was my sister and brother, and so am I. It isn’t shabby, it is just… not extravagant and you get by.

Of course, being more English than Irish we do what we should do, hate the rich, so I didn’t want to be rich because I looked down at them: money is inauthentic even if I want to have it.

I got on so well with my Auntie from the moment she landed, it was fun to see my Mommy reverting back to being a little sister, fun to see Mum be me and Auntie Rosie be mum. It was a time of real sorrow, I thought Nan was kinda old, 73, but my Mum said no. Mum and Auntie Rose spent the first day in contact with the funeral parlor and setting up the wake, and my big brother Shamus showed up with the wife and kids, and then Gloria, and we were all crowded in the kitchen, Auntie picked up a random wee one off the floor and nuzzled him, “I miss my toddler, Aidan. I bet he is raising hell with Jimmy,” she chucked. “But Tara can handle him, I’m not worried.” She turned to me, “Tara is your age, I wish she was a little more like you.” I could feel myself blush to my red roots. “You’ve done a good job with this one, Charity. You can tell from the way she remains a lady even with her heart breaking. My Tara is always disappearing with one boy or another, I should lock her in her room.” That sounded like a lot of fun to me, boyfriends in New York City compared to secondary modern boys in Moss Side. .

Mum gave me a hug, “You’re missing Nana aren’t you?” Yes, I was but I guess I’m more English than Irish because I didn’t want to share it, I wanted my sadness to be just understood because otherwise you’re parading your feelings and they stopped belonging to you anymore. And then Timmy was at the backdoor and for the next coupla days you couldn’t get away from the family.

After the wake was over and we’d buried Nana and the evening before Auntie returned to New York we were watching TV and playing old synth bands on Spotify and Auntie said, “Come and spend the summer with us, Chas. It will give your Mum a break and I would like you to get to know Tara, and you remember Uncle Jimmy, right?” Well, no but I nodded my head. “We own a wonderful neighborhood pub called ‘Rosie Gannons…’”

Mum laughed out loud, “I forgot he named it after you!”

“He better, we O’Riordon’s don’t come easy.”

“That’s some pick up line!!!”

“The randy old bastard,” Auntie laughed…

So it was settled, the country mouse was going to visit the big city, the big apple. I couldn’t wait. Just a place where I didn’t have to be me, didn’t have to be a never been kissed fourteen year old virgin, a place where I hadn’t known every smelly, puberty stricken boy in town for a billion years.

And my first big, solo holiday. Sometimes we did go on summer hols, over to Blackpool: we stayed at a bed and breakfast and subsisted on half pints of shandy and fish and chips. AND IT ALWAYS RAINED. I am not even exaggerating. If I headed to Blackpool right now, rain would follow, in the middle of summer it would be cold, windy, and raining and the seashore? Nobody was ever out on the seashore.

I left seven weeks ago, July 12th, and I was almost choked up with yes nerves and also just a huge adventure. The biggest adventure of my life. I wondered if everybody was racist like their President, or if there  was gonna be rioting in the streets? And what was Manhattan gonna be like? Where was I living? It wasn’t in the city city, but close. I wondered if they’d forgotten about me entirely and there would be nobody waiting and Mum had left the home and I was stranded and an orphan.I got a direct flight from Manchester to New York City, Thomas Cook Airline, which I’d never heard of before. I wanted something with British or American  in its name.

The curse of the working classes, I got stuck between a woman with a tot on her knee and a fat guy who didn’t stop chewing even when he’d stopped eating. I sat very quietly between them, looking at my cell on airplane mode and thinking of digging through my bag for my Kindle where I was busy reading “Ready Player One”. The plane bustled and then subsided and I sat with a knot in my stomach. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t breathe -like anxiety, and then the engines purred and we taxied and as we lifted up I could feel my stomach lurch and I went for a sick bag and there wasn’t any so I swallowed my puke and swallowed my puke for maybe half an hour. I was in a hot sweat and I know my temperature must have been through the roof. The woman looked at me nervously, and then rang for a hostess. “The young girl looks ill,” the woman said.

“What do you suggest I do about it?” the hostess snarked.

“It seems that you can wait for her to puke all over my baby or you can get her a sick bag”,

The hostess did neither, but a woman behind a woman behind me passed a plastic bag that had once held knitting and needles and I threw up food I’d forgotten eating in it, and zipped the bag, and though of handing it to the hostess then thought better of it. Finally, the safety belt light was off and I dashed to the toilets. First I threw up again, then I threw away the puke, washed the plastic bag (for reuse as necessary), and cleaned myself as best I could. On the way to my seat, a man with gray hair and great teeth offered me a couple of motion sickness pills which, despite knowing, as all good fourteen year olds do, never to take strange pills from stranger men, I sat back down and popped the pills fast and I closed my eyes and I felt myself get back to normal, in that place half asleep and half awake, where you don’t know why  there is a poster of One Direction circa “Story Of My Life”  on your bedroom wall, or what your bedroom wall is doing on an airplane. I less drifted and more lurched off to sleep and when I opened my eyes it was dark and when I opened them again the captain was telling us it was 83 degrees in New York City on a Thursday at 830am as we made our descent into JFK.

I knew America would feel different than anywhere on earth and it did, standing in long winding lines to go through customs and even that which is pretty terrible when you think about it, it is like a ride at the Blackpool Funfair. It is all so… American, it is so big and there are so many people and so many colors and its all hi tech gadgets and I guess Manchester was the same but it felt like nothing like the same. First of all, it was the world in microcosm, every color, every race, all in line like trying to get into heaven. I bet this is the line my Nana had to get onto to get into heaven: everybody welcome here. It was thrilling and every time I breathed in and out I felt like this air was different then my air and this world was different as well. Could I fall in love that quickly? I felt like Juliet at the party scene where Romeo falls in love instantly… I fell in love instantly and what is strange, movies and stuff notwithstanding, I wasn’t very pro-USA at all. None of us are, We are strong,  working class stock, we are Irish (not to mention Manchester) strong. What did the US have that the UK didn’t? Well, long lines filled with people from everywhere for one thing.

It felt like a dream, I felt like I was moving like underwater but fully clothed and every step dragged the old world off me and the new one on me. No cute guys so far, true… but who knows? On the night before I left, I was cuddling with my Mummy and she wasn’t quite depressed or worried, I mean she had a new boyfriend, right? But I could feel something in her that seemed not at ease and she shook her head in complete agreement. “I won’t be okay till you’re home safe,” she nodded. “These Yanks aren’t like us, they’re very pushy.” I didn’t say this but I thought: “I certainly hope the boys are pushy.” I’m pretty, like not to show off, and I am not drop dead or anything, but I am pretty, light red hair, my skin a little darker than most Irish girls, a few freckles and in the sun a few more freckles, but not ginger creepy blah blah, I look cuteish. And I liked boys in theory lots and lots but nobody around me. I’d never even been kissed me. I was well beyond virgin and veering dangerously close to asexual and I figure New York City was the place where, to nearly quote one of Nan’s fave movies, I won’t come home until I’ve kissed a boy.

SO -that was one major plan for me. Boys.

I was thinking all of this while patiently waiting for the line to move, there was this electronic sign that suggested it would take 55 minutes but I kinda didn’t think so. I was just enjoying being alone in the world for a little while, of just being a grown up and responsible for my own moment in time and I was thinking all of this when a young girl, maybe six years of age, grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go. I looked around and then in front of me and there was a woman with five children trying to control the situation and looking frazzled. “Is this one of yours?” I asked.

The woman looked behind me, the girl had hidden, saw her, and looked up apologetically. “I’m so sorry, my husband is already there, we are returning to him and it has been crazy. I nodded my head, the little girls hand still in mine.”

“Have you come a long way?” I asked.

“Such a long way…” She paused, looked at her disruptive brood and barked… well, I don’t know what she barked but it quietened them down. “Never marry, never have children,” she said to me. “One day you will thank me for that advise…”

We kept inching towards the customs lines, the little girl with one hand tightly holding mine and the other hand occupied with a thumb in her mouth, the mother told me of an arduous journey to New York where her husband works for google and with two years -and huge amounts of worry over the tightening of immigration restrictions, she was finally meeting with him. Then she asked me about my plans and before I could answer we were separated.

My Aunt and Uncle and their toddler were waiting for me, Uncle Jimmy reached for my bags and Auntie Rose hugged me hard, baby Aidan was quietly sucking his toes in the baby carriage and we walked out onto a sunny afternoon in New York City. It’s funny what makes an early impression on you, today thinking about “Rosie Gallon” (the pub not the Auntie) and I feel a sort of sudden hominess, a place of comfort, but a bumper to bumper trip to the bar in Queens and  all I can remember is Auntie complaining about her daughter Tara. Apparently, Tara was meant to go with them but disappeared and wasn’t answering her cell: I realized, even in my dazed state, that Tara probably wasn’t gonna be overly pleased to see me.

Rosie Gannons’ is long and narrow, the door opens onto a small hallway and then another bar into the bar proper. It is very long and quite wide, very smart, very clean, though that first day gave me a taste of the clientele: blue collar workers in hard hats and older men and women, drunk on the bar, sleeping it off or on or somewhere it between. There was loud music coming from the jukebox (a dollar a song as I would later find out), and I know the song because it was one of Nan’s favorite bands from way back when and the song was our song, or would become our song (though Eddie didn’t know it), “More Songs About Chocolate And Girls” by the Undertones. Auntie lead me straight through the bar to another room, about half the size, with a pool table in the middle where two men battled it out. we walked to the end where there was a curtain and behind the curtain a door, Uncle opened the door and we went up a flight of stairs to the Gannon abode. Home, sweet, home. And it was about then I learnt Tara and i would be sharing her room for the next seven weeks. I knew, knew, knew this was trouble. I know how I’d feel if the roles were reversed, and I am quiet and self-contained  and I would have been furious. Tara was going to hate me. And that’s exaxtly what Tara did,

I don’t know if adults simply forget or were always stupid, but as Auntie took me to Tara’s room, which was locked though Auntie Rosie had a spare (“I’m no fool,” she said with a smirk and sounding more Irish by the second) she wouldn’t stop bad mouthing Tara, and I am sure she’d been doing the same in person WHICH MEANS… which mean I had a headache. “You take the big bed and Tara can use the roll out,” she said and I almost gasped…. “Come downstairs when you’re done…” she said.

“May I have a bath and a  nap?” I asked and she left me to it.

I decided on a shower and carefully locked the door. The water was hot and strong and  somehow cooling me off, I put on my dad’s boxers and an Ariana Grande, the patron saint of Manchester, tee shirt and got under the covers of the bunk bed. I could hear the aircondioner whirling in the distance, and I awoke to the sound of Auntie banging on the door, “It’s past five, child,” she said. “Get up, sleepy head, Astoria awaits”.

I woke up, looked at my phone and Mum had texted and I replied,  but that was it.

I walked into the main room and dinner was on the table, spaghetti and meatballs and not bad at all, the sauce was garlicky and tastier than we are used to at home, and the spaghetti, spaghettier. Uncle Jimmy looked me over, “You’re a pretty girl, our Chas,” he said to me. “Don’t be like Tara, don’t run off chasing boys all the time?” I blushed to my red roots and swallowed some more root beer (which tastes like liquid bubblegum), but I didn’t say anything. “You can go upstairs and watch TV or go online with me, or go to the bar with Uncle Jimmy, he will be helping out. Saturday night, there will be two bartenders and Uncle Jimmy… Chas will be alright, right Uncle?”

“Right, Uncle,” he answered so I went with him. It was around six and the place was filling up and the shifts were shifting, the day barmaid was closing up shop and the two bartenders were starting business and that’s when I first saw him. I guess, if you want to be stupid, you could say he could have been even  more muscular, like toned, and blue eyes and black hair were a strange mix, and he seemed to be half smiling in a big headed way. And then he spoke, just a nod of the head to me before talking to Uncle and he had a bit of brogue -I sure don’t. He sounded more Irish than American for sure and I found out later that he was actually born and raised in New York State so weird… , but even so… he was gorgeous. I just couldn’t take my eyes off him. The other bartender, well, he looked like a serial killer I thought. Tara nicknamed him Norman because we were listening to the Undertones all summer long and she thought he was like the murdering girl chaser in the song. It’s not that Norman really was any of those things but just like we called Jimmy, by the name  Eddie… so why call Jimmy, Eddie? The cute bartender’s name was Jimmy but so was Uncles so we needed another name for him.  Why not call Jimmy, Jimmy? I can explain this because Tara named him and I stole it. Tara has weird taste and she was addicted to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” -this very messed up rock musical but kinda sci fi and cool, and we would watch it on Tara’s laptop and talk about her boyfriend and Jimmy and stuff (I know, we have  to meet and actually become friends but whatever…we will) . Anyway, Jimmy always wore jeans, a white tee shirt and a leather jacket and while Eddie in the movie is fat and rough looking with a switchblade knife,  Tara kinda thought that was what Jimmy could be like, like Eddie. So we started calling him Eddie and singing the song at the top of our lungs. My song for Eddie was much better than Tara’s for her REAL LIFE boyfriend, she would rap “Molasses” (because his name was Earl and because he fucked the freckles off her face, bitch…) Whenever I saw Jimmy I’d sing “when Eddie said he didn’t like his teddy you knew he was a no good kid,” to myself,  though what I was aiming for was “what a guy, made you cry, and I did”.

Still no Tara by ten so I went to bed and was definitely not jillying when I heard loud voices in the hallway, screaming at each other: me and my Mum weren’t like that, she had too much of a big sister, partners in crime vibe, and I wasn’t really up to anything because where I live, Moss Side, was beyond dodgy and the boys were creepy and the girls were very dangerous and to survive you build a wall of friends and keep to them. But no potential boyfriends, like zero point zero zero as my math teacher would claim…

The door was flung open and in my elusive cousin roared. First impression: she was a little shorter than I am, and looked a lot older, a bit overweight but all of that paled before…”I don’t want a roommate, this is my place on earth and it belongs to me and I don’t want you to think that we are gonna be close or friends or anything. I fucking hate you. Stay away from me and don’t speak or do anything, hide when you see me, you bitch…”

None of this was a big surprise and still I couldn’t help but exclaim, “I would die for boobies like that,” I said and managed to leave her speechless before she started in again, “I don’t want to hear your voice ever, I want you to shut your cracker ass” whatever that meant, “and leave me alone and then fuck off back home.”

Then she answered her cell and her voice changed immediately, “Hey honey, miss me?” she said. Then a pause and “I’m grounded because of my fucking cracker cousin ratting me out.” I didn’t see how I did anything to her and of all the things I hate in life, I hate unfairness most of all, it’s just the way I am. Be mean to me if you must but don’t be unfair. “Of course I want to suck you dry again, just not tomorrow…”

I had enough, took off my PJs, put on jeans and a top, and socks and kicks, and left the room and sneaked back into the bar. It was around 11 and the night was on fire, the Gannons flat must be soundproof because the place was very loud, the music from the jukebox, “One Kiss,” blasted me in a really good way and the bar was three deep at the bar. I could see my Auntie and the cute guy from this afternoon (neither Jimmy nor Eddie at this point of my vacation) and Stan (the ugly one) at the other end with Uncle). It was busy but not unpleasant, there was a nice mix of ages, old and very old), drunks at one end of the bar, couples at the other, moderate dancing in the middle, a darts match and in the other room, people milling around taking their turns at billiards. Couples, some new couples actually, were kissing like there was no one present and it seemed to me that everybody in the USA were sucking each off (to use Tara’s sexy phrase) except me.

I found a corner behind a corner (I bet Tara knows it) and I slipped down low, tucked my feet beneath my tush, and watched the world go by, it was like our Moss Side local without the stressfulness, people seemed to have money and there was a mid ground between friends and strangers, some folks were drunk and sloppy, probably the 6pm shift guys who’d been here all night, while the other guys were local newcomers coming from shows or stuff like that. I felt invisible, like part of the woodwork, and just let my mind wander. I thought about my Nan -maybe my favorite person ever, and how she was so dead now and if she was still somewhere, anywhere, and could reach me, she would. I know Nan loved me more than her other Grandkids, and Great Grandkids, because

1 – Her Great Grandkids were too young for a Nana’s affection

and

2 – We really had a life together.

When Mum was off working or with a guy, and the Grandkids were involved in their worlds and home, day after day, I would come home from school and it was just her and me. And we would talk, like grown-ups, like friends… like…I must have fallen asleep because I was being shaken awake, and I uncoiled myself and was staring straight into Bartender-Jimmy-Eddie’s eyes and I felt a lurch in my stomach like that one where the plane lifted off yesterday.

“Why are you hiding here, girl? It’s two in the morning” He said with a smile.

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Translation: Tara is being Tara?”

“Oh, she hates me,” I said and shrugged, and my lip began to tremble and my face began to scrunch up even as I steadied it. He sat down beside me on the sofa, the bar was empty, the jukebox was humming with that song, “More Songs About Chocolate And Girls” and I cried some more. He  gave me his hand, “I’m Jimmy,” he said.

“Chastity, Chastity O’Riordan”

“That’s a lot to live up to,” he said and I could sense I was smiling.

“It’s whatever,” I said in my best pent up teen sulk.

He shook his head no, “Don’t be petulant, you’re allowed to not be cool with me.”

“I guess I’ll be spending every night here from now on,” I said.

“I’ll handle Tara, ,” he replied.

“Please don’t,” I said. “She has her reasons, good reasons.”

“It’s partially Rosie’s fault, she came back from Manchester speaking in glowing terms about how mature and in charge you were, how with so much less than Tara had you made so much of it.”

“Which shows you what adults know.” He chuckled at the comment.  “But I can see why Tara isn’t so fond of me…”

He changed directions, “”Are you scared anyway,”

“My Grandmother died earlier this year…”

“I remember…”

“Yeah and I miss her and my Mom…” I  stopped myself mid-sentence. Don’t talk so much, never show yourself…  I was wandering around the bar, collecting glasses and then putting them in the bar sink. Then I found a cloth and began cleaning down the tables while Jimmy washed the glasses. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“You’re Irish as well.”

“American first, I was born and raised in Syracuse…”

“Where is that?”

Jimmy waved his hand in an upward direction, “Over there somewhere.”

“Why do you sound like you are visiting from Derry?” I asked.

“It isn’t as thick a brogue in school. As a kid I caught it off my parents but in school it wasn’t there and now it is back, probably because I am working in an Irish pub.”

“And the girls like it?”

“Yes”  he said, “and the girls like it.”

Then he fiddled with the jukebox and put on the same band, the Undertones and kept singing “HYP, I”m hypnotized” in a tuneless monotone which seemed to me to be the best singing I’d ever heard. “Is that it for the day?’

“I  think I am going to close up early, it has been busy and tomorrow is Friday…”

“What happens Fridays?”

“We lock the doors at four and keep on going all night until opening time at 8am, then we unlock them.”

“Is that illegal…?”

“Ask your Uncle,” he smiled and it was, in the light of a bar that was all but closed and with no one else around and just old songs from the 70s in the background, a sort of secret gift. I wanted to kiss him then, I wanted, like I don’t know, he was older than me but I wanted him to like me that way. Jimmy  moved into the corner of the sofa and closed his eyes and I didn’t, I kept my eyes open and watched him doze. I’ve never felt quite that way before, not just like that, like in a strange country and without even a room to sleep in and by myself and vulnerable yet not because… I wanted to be near him, I wanted to dream about him and enter his dream and… I could feel my excitement rise and yet I did nothing, it was settled on me like a blanket: I just wanted to hear him speak and then I did…

“You remind me of my dad…” Jimmy said. I wasn’t sure how to answer that but I was certain it wasn’t the words that I wanted to hear, I mean, at least say I reminded him of his Daddy because he was a ginger like me. “He was crazy sweet, my daddy was. There was so much gentleness with me, I wish I was like him.”

“Where is he?” I asked

“He died in the troubles, I was six years old.”

Then silence because I didn’t know what to say. The hour clicked to 4am, and then clicked again. We sat there quietly with only the Undertones buzzing guitar and soulful singing in the background, the air conditioner was off, the lights were off though I can’t remember him turning them off, and then he began speaking. “I remember him but how many memories are really memories and how many memories are the pictures all over the house, how many are the stories our Mam tells me? How many is me with him? I feel a little, like, he is lost in there…. “The Undertones,” Jimmy said, nodding his  head upwards as if the jukebox was in heaven with his daddy. “They were his favorites. He used to dance around the living room shouting ‘It’s never too soon to enjoy dumb entertainment.’ Years later I realized he’d changed the words on me….”

I moved closer to him and I felt as though this was where the line between being a child and an adult was. The way he spoke to me was like a revelation to someone who would understand. The bottles seemed to be walls of ghosts, of dead Republican soldiers, shaded in the night and the mirror reflected us as though we timeless souls haunting the bar. It was so other worldly, so strange, and I said nothing at all, I just listened to the soft purring voice. “Our dad was an idiot in the end, dying in wars is for men without families to take care of, without young boys who would never, ever know him.  It taught me something I didn’t forget and sixteen years later I use to this days. Lots of Irish guys  go in for manual labor, you know, working on construction sites, or joined the police, or the armed forces,  but the old leaders of the IRA stood by me and mum, they paid for our house, and they made sure we had money, and then Mom married one of them and it was all good. I’m going to college because I’m not stupid enough to work my body till I’m dead at fifty. I got a job here, easy work… busy but not hard. And I am studying elevator repair, unionized, health insurance and now I’m thinking maybe computers instead so I doubled up my classes.. I know what you’re thinking…”

I wasn’t thinking anything at all, except that the bar was getting lighter, and I was scared to break the spell so I got quieter if that was humanly possible. Jimmy walked towards the window looking out at Steinway Street.  “I can see what Rose likes about you, you have the gift of listening. Most people are just waiting for their turn. You make me feel interesting ” He paused and in the first light of day his black hair seemed like a halo and his blue eyes in the deadening dark were like an ocean, deep and insightful and yet distant. “I should go,” he said. The street was quiet, opposite us was a row of immigration services, Middle Eastern fast food, and small ma and pa stores, all closed, the occasional bus went by, and cars started, but it was still in transition. “Under The Boardwalk” came on the jukebox just as Jimmy unplugged it. “‘… down by the sea, on a blanket with my baby…'” he sang to me, before kissing me gently on the cheek and I knew, and I said to myself, he will be my first proper kiss. I’d thought about it and if I had wanted it, it could have been anyone because I’m not that rough. But I wanted it to be something that would matter because I knew it would be something I’d always remember. “Tara isn’t a bad kid, make friends with her… ” he added, as though I had any options. “It’s gonna be a scorcher… lock the door to the billiard room when you go back upstairs.” And he was gone. And suddenly Tara was there, looking at me.

“I was worried about you,” she said.

“I won’t get in your way,” I muttered, under my breath.

“What?”

“I won’t bother you, have your room and may it give you much happiness and I pushed by her and up the stairs. “Wait, wait, shhhhn,” she said and pushed me into her bedroom. Then she smiled for the first time and I must admit, she looked much more human when she smiled and it was all I could do not to smile back.

“So Eddie, eh?” she said, now beaming.

“Eddie..?”

“Mom made me think you were a loser, dad said you’d be alright though…”

“This is just the third time I’ve met your daddy.” Tara lay on her bed and pointed me to my bunk. She looked cool even in her baggy PJ pants and baggier “Pro Era” tee shirt, her toenails were painted black, and her fingernails blood red with white tips. She dismissed my comment by putting her hand straight up and in my face, “Fuck that.” She said. “What about Eddie.”

“Who is Eddie.”

“Eddie, Eddie…” she said, and then “I meant Jimmy. I call him Eddie for obvious reasons…”

I knew silence wouldn’t help here, “What are you talking about?”

“‘EDDIE’s TEDDY!!!'”  she all but screamed. “Jesus, you child,” she snapped and made for her Iphone and put a song on Spotify, I vaguely remembered it from some TV live musical thingy, Tara snarled “He was a low down, cheap little punk…” and then she started jumping on her bed singing on the top of her lungs:

“When Eddie said he
didn’t like his teddy
you knew he was a no good kid
but when when he threatened your life
with a switchblade life
what a guy
made you cry
and i…did”

Well, how do you reply to that? I started jumping and making up the words as I went along and I guess we forgot that it was only six in the morning and in stormed Auntie Rose. “Tara, turn that racket off, what are you girls doing? Your father is trying to sleep and you’ve woken Aidan, wait till I get my hands…” she said, her face red and heated, and I thought she was overreacting. Tara jumped away and hid behind me and I could see Auntie’s face do a quick calculation: push me out of the way to get to her or back a hasty retreat. She retreated.

“One bloody night, Tara,” she said, seethingly. “This young, gentle, beloved girl who has never been anything but the pride of her family is bringing down the house with you after ONE NIGHT. I don’t know what to do…” She calmed down. “Go pick up some bagels and cream cheese, they’ll be opening now” and handed $20. Tara wouldn’t come out of hiding so I handed her the money myself.
“Since Aidan is awake anyway, can I take him with us?” Tara asked. “Chas is coming with me.” And with those four words we became inseparable.

“That’s our Tara’s saving grace, she adores her little brother,” Auntie said to me. “Okay, pick him up on your way.”

I went to put on my jeans and Tara shook her head no. “It’s already seventy degrees: flip flops, bikini bottoms and a tee shirt…”

“Eddie?” I asked. Tara laughed and laughed, “Jimmy is so cute but such a tough guy with his leather jacket and white tee like a member of the hell’s angels. Yet he isn’t like that at all…” I laughed as well, and we went and got Aidan and out him in the stroller and walked to the shops hand in hand in stroller.

“So do you like him?”

Now it is over, now I’m in the plane looking at JFK and wondering what the rest of my life will bring me, I’ll always remember that morning and that moment as among the happiest of my life and that isn’t even it. I am not shy, I am private. I read something that said there are three forms of revelation, public, private, and secret. Public is what you show everyone, private is what you reveal to your friends, and secret is what you tell nobody ever. I have never reached public and as I considered telling Tara about Eddie I was jumping from nowhere to secret.

“I really, really like him.” I told her, blushing to my very roots.

“Did he kiss you?”

“Yes, I mean no… ”

“Which is it?”

“On the cheek but so gently…” Then I thought, “Wait, you’re not interested are you.”

Tara laughed, “Wanna know a secret?” I thought uh oh, I am stepping on her toes, she will hate me again. “I have a boyfriend but it is a big secret,” she said, picking up Aidan and cuddling him as we reached the bagel shop on 30th Avenue where a line was beginning to form. “Don’t I, Aidan? Don’t I?” she sang said, kissing her baby brother.

“Auntie Rose doesn’t want you having a boyfriend? It’s not Eddie is it?”

“Will you with Eddie? Eddie is all yours. No Auntie would be Okay with it except he’s black?”

“Black and too old?”

“We’re the same age…”

“Then I don’t get it at all, is it… I guess Auntie is racist? Nana wasn’t, my Mum isn’t… why would Auntie be?”

She ordered a dozen bagels and a tub of cream cheese and bothered them to make sure we got the next batch out of the over, then we stood to the side. “That’s where I was last night,” Tara nodded. “I am meeting him at the park tonight, wanna come?” Well of course I did. “Wanna know another secret? I am having sex with him…”

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God….” was my reply: THE MOTHER LODE. I understood the mechanics of sex perfectly well, but I didn’t understand the mechanics of boys, I didn’t know the what and where and… I just didn’t know. I’d been on one date in my life and it had been a disaster. We were both so shy we didn’t say a word for THREE HOURS. He sat there dumbfounded, his brain as blank as mine was. That was last Christmas and I decided after that that it couldn’t be a local boy who got my first kiss, and I wondered how did Tara go about it. How does it happen.

The summer of 2018 was the hottest summer on record in Astoria, from the day I got there till the day I left the temperature hovered in the low 90s with only a few rainy breaks to coll us off. We had breakfast and then got dressed and told Auntie we were off. We walked straight down Steinway to Broadway and then left till we reached the East River and then right to the entrance of Rainey Park. And i fell in love with my cousin, she was so… not like me. I am a person pleaser and Tara is a Tara pleaser, and she understood and ruled her world with absolute certainty. She called out her Daddy as a racist, and her Mummy as a selective Christian, she thought the Irish around her should assimilate, and the world around, especially her school, needed to relax itself or else.

But she loved me and tentatively at first, and then with the sureness of a listener and, maybe more importantly, somebody on my side she heard me out and knew that we were similar though I was a coupla revolutions behind her.”I love it here,” she said as we the quality of retail lowered and the number of basketball courts got larger. “This is where  Jojo and Johnny live,” she said, pointing to a huge apartment projects. “If it was later, they’d be here playing ball. It’s all they do, Jojo says all he wants out of life is to play hoops and kiss me… Johnny is his kid brother, sorry he’s only ten years old, but you’ll like him. The two of them are SOOOO not gangsta. They are such gentle and sweet guys. When Daddy gets started on black people, that’s when I know he has his limits. He thinks they are all world famous rappers and drug dealers, he thinks they are all criminals, except for his friends from his first job who come and visit and remain friends. “Not all of them, I never said that.” he claims, but he did say that. It is so ignorant. And I can’t turn to Mom, or anyone, and say: look, they’re pissed I am sexually active, I get it, maybe fifteen is a little young, but that he is black: that’s fucked up.”

I listened intently, all the more so because it wasn’t yet eight o’clock and the sweat was already dripping down my neck in a mad rush to my ass. I felt smelly, and heavy, and yucky, and Tara didn’t even seem to notice it at all. It began to worry me, I didn’t know it was going to be one of the hottest summers on records but I did worry it was gonna wear me down, this was before I learnt about the Astoria Park Pool -and that we were gonna spend half the summer between Rainey Park and Astoria Park Pool. So I did what I do best… I worried in silence while Tara chattered to me. “I have loads of fun, you’ll meet them over the summer,” she said, “but I don’t have a bestie, I don’t have THAT ONE since Janet moved to Nashville last year.” And then, in a move I would begin to recognize as standard issue, she doubled back to a Ma and Pa department store and hugged a guard (surely not her boyfriend), and walked towards a counter and picked up a bottle of tanning lotion, “Forgot mine,” she said. “And I think you’re gonna need it…”

“I don’t have much money,” I fretted to her.

“How much?”

“$700… A $100 a week with your Mom…”

“That’s it?”

“You know we have no money, right?”

We were back on the way to Rainey when she stopped and doubled back again. “I am friends with them here,” she said. “I bet I can get them to give you a couple of days a week.”

“And pay me…?”

“Yeah, I work here when I need money. It only pays ten bucks and hour but it is off the books…”

And that’s how I spent two days a week.

This was my life in New York City, ready? Working two days  a week (while JoJo and Tara,), a couple of mornings at Rainey’s, a lot of afternoons at the pool, closer to home on the weekend because my Uncle and Auntie were taking us places, Tuesday, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Eddie did the night shift and I would hang around, coming down to the bar on Thursdays around two in the morning (hiding behind a door till I knew the bar was empty), taking Aidas for walks, losing at hoops to the boys, and sometimes going to Jones Beach when Auntie wanted a day off,  and talking about boys, and love, and dreams, and watching the days tick back as though it was never ever going to end.

If this was a story I’d have a real problem because nothing dramatic really happened till the very end, and otherwise I could feel myself growing stronger and slimmer and sexier, in a short bikini and a tan, my red hair turned to blonde and my fair skin slowly growing brown till the difference between the bra strap portion and the rest of my shoulder was glaring and sexy and brown and I could feel eyes, guys eyes, Eddie’s eyes upon me, staring at me,  hypnotized. I’d go down in my bikini with a tee shirt and flip flops and I could feel him burst with the idea, fill up with the idea of me. I don’t know how I’ll remember my holiday when I am really old, like forty or something, but right now, today, I know that as every piece of friction magically disappeared, as even Auntie said I was a good influence on Tara, and I had a little money, and the days drifted ever forward in the hard basking sun and I realized (perhaps I mean, as I became) ever prettier, it was the happiest days of my life so far. Yes, I loved Nana, and I missed her very much, but Mummy was a little absentee, and while I get comfort remembering watching Netflix on the sofa with my Nan after school, already dark at four in the afternoon, the sound of the rain on the roof, it was a localized joy that didn’t let me imagine my future. But this summer, hiding under the covers with Tara and laughing at “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on her MacBook I realized something that I had never, ever known and never wanted to forget: that feeling I always had that melancholy and sadness, missing my Mummy while she was out all night at the  club, missing Timmy and feeling left by him and my useless brother and sister who never cared for me at all, all that, I thought it gave my life a better feel: like it felt more like real life because the sadness and loneliness were what would make me a woman, but I was wrong because I was more of a woman, or a potential woman, lying by the pool with my friends and laughing, just the feel of how the sweat came and then when I jumped in I was suddenly chill and my friends were there and we were smiling and giggling and deciding maybe we would go a movie or go home or… that was what made me real: Tara and Astoria was giving me the right to be very, very happy. Sitting in the dark with  Eddie, and the jukebox in the back, and we’re singing “Here Ccomes The Summer”” and I can’t help, don’t want to help but, think to myself: I feel wonderful, I feel just as though there is nothing else I need or want and would hold that moment, his beautiful blue eyes shining on me, his long legs, his thigh next to mine, his body so close I can smell him and feel him and the lights a dark red from the jukebox. It is like at that moment Eddie got used to my presence late, late at night. Then over at the movie house, sharing a big popcorn with tons of butter with Johnny while Jojo and Tara sit in the last row doing what JoJo and Tara do.

What I did miss, and I did like to see it, is Tara and Uncle Jimmy: Aunt Rosie was always on the warpath about something or the other, but as Auntie shouted Tara snuggled close to her daddy, and Uncle Jimmy would lower his face and whisper in her ear and they would laugh and talk about I don’t know what they were talking about but I knew father daughter love when I saw him and it bothered that Timmy -I know he loved me and was just a moron, but couldn’t he have been better? Would it have killed him to love me the way Uncle Jimmy loved Tara?

I wonder, if Johnny had been my age instead of eight years old, would we have become ad? item, could he have stopped me obsessing over Eddie? There was something so not what I expected about the brothers, like not like those brutal rap guys at all; Johnny himself was a tag along cutie who took my hand when we crossed Broadway  and was shy and… At the pool we would splash about in whatever real estate we could find, it was a crowded and noisy scene. One early afternoon, I don’t remember what time but we hadn’t had lunch, Tara received a text from Auntie and scowled. “She wants me to go home and babysit Aidan so she can go to the city,” Tara said. “Well, I’m not gonna do it. JoJo nodded in agreement but Johnny quietly said “Perhaps you should?”

And I thought about it for an instant and agreed. “Let’s go back, T,” I said.

“Why should I help her?  I hate her.”

I knew this wasn’t true and told her exactly that, “No, you don’t hate her, and she has power over you so even if you did you really shouldn’t start fights with her.”

Tara didn’t like this and began to snap back but JoJo shushed her. “Let’s hear.”

“Adults think I’m a good girl, I’m not good or evil or anything, but I do what is needed and I do a little more, and in return I’m trusted and get to do what I want… Unfortunately…”

“Unfortunately..?.”

“There is nothing much to do where I’m from…”

Tara and JoJo began to laugh and Johnny looked relieved that there would be no fight and hugged me. One day we went to Johnny and JoJo’s home and we had a  Bar-B-Q outside and that gentleness, it also emanated from their Daddy, a large man who worked for the Post Office and yet was so gentle… I wished he was my daddy. Not that Timmy isn’t gentle but that Timmy isn’t there, isn’t a part of my life. I wanted a daddy who was involved in my life every day… Tara’s dad was cool, though he left the nuts and bolts of parenting to Auntie. When we got home that day and Auntie, I was worried she’d thank me, but she knew her daughter, knew Tara couldn’t be convinced to do something she didn’t want to, and she hugged and kissed her daughter and handed us Aidan and left in a rush of perfume and vodka and we settled down on the bar because, really, at three in the afternoon it wasn’t dodgy for kids. We spoke with Maggie (the day bartender) and we got the dirt and guess what? Margaret liked Stan! Except Stan isn’t Stan, he is Phillip and the anti-Eddie because Eddie was, there is no denying it, a hottie, Stan is short, a little overweight and though he had a sweet smile he essentially ignored Tara and I and we decided he was a Stan… like the old Eminem song with Dido on it, I love that song but it is horrible, he kills his girlfriend because he’s obsessed with Eminem. So we Stanned him.

“He does have a nice smile,” Margaret said.

“He does but he is so quiet…”

“Sometimes I get him talking and he’s funny but a little…”

“Mass murder-y?” Tara asked.

“Rapey?” I nodded…

“No, no, no, he is just listless, he doesn’t have a plan…”

“He needs a plan?” I asked, sipping flat diet coke and tickling Aidan.

“I could give him a plan,  you know,” Margaret nodded.

“You like him, right?”

“Yes, he is right for me if you know what I mean, like I can imagine a life with him, a life nearby him. We would make a nice couple, we wouldn’t be right with other people, but when you think of a Jimmy, how would I look with a Jimmy? I’d look like shit…” I had never remotely thought of that, I’d look like his daughter myself. “But with Stan, we’d fit so well together: I just think we can give each other’s lives direction and a place and I would… I’m babbling!”

Tara smiled at her and then smiled at me, I’d only been in New York two weeks when this happened but I already knew what that smile meant.

I had barely even made friends with Tara the first time I met the brothers. But I felt a comfort with Tara along with the insecurity, a cousin isn’t that close, and our Moms aren’t that close, but I knew we had something that fitted us together like a pod in outerspace, like we were in similar directions. What will happen now? I think we will lose ourselves because I’m not coming back, Tara is gone and Jimmy is gone and JoJo… they all have live sin Astoria and on the streets that were feeling like second nature to me are gonna go now and I won’t be part of it at all, will I? I’m going home to Mommy stripping and daddy borrowing a fiver off me, and Nana gone, and rain and time all just waiting in Moss Side -a place much rougher than the worst of Astoria…Though… you think of New York City as one thing but what was the very best about Astoria is that it wasn’t this tourist place but a place where people lived really good lives, not like multi millionaires or billionaires but a nice way to be: with restaurants and swimming pools and shops and parks and schools, and kids and parents in little houses. The thing I like about Astoria is that you enter a world where people are not visiting but really, really living.

I’m five three and Tara is five five ,and  Johnny, JoJo’s eight year old brother, is already my height and JoJo is taller than any of others, and you never know how you are gonna fit in, but we were lazing by the East River that first time I went to the park and it was around ten and Tara got a text. I was nervous because things were great and I really wanted it to be just us two but we doubled backed to the hoops and Jojo was tall, and cute, and at first he looked at me with suspicion and sort of frowned, wondering where I fit in. It was hot, 85 degrees, and the cement seemed to steam and the people wandering about the complex were slow and morningish. You might think it would be a mostly black projects, but there were white people and Puerto Ricans and we didn’t stand out.

“You stand out too much,” JoJo said and Johnny wasn’t having that, the way Johnny looked at me was not like I was a hot girl but like I was a different form of being, a God or something, and he frowned at his big brother and snapped. “She looks great, she looks better than other people.” JoJo and Tara laughed, but I didn’t laugh at all. I liked it. I knew that sort of hero worship stuff and I loved being on the receiving end of it. I smiled at him, and JoJo kissed Tara and then the boys went back to their game, baggy shorts long and ending past the knees, nike kicks, no shirt, the sweat glistening on their bodies -they looked like those rappers Rae Sremmurd and I started singing (rapping? speaking?) “Black Beatles” and Tara joined in and Johnny sat down next to us, “I am sick and tired of chasing him up and down the half court” he sighed and eventually JoJo gave up and we walked back to the park, JoJo holding Tara’s hands and almost demure in the way he treated her, almost with reverence and hope, a sort of sweetness the rough and tumble boys in Manchester didn’t seem to possess.

We got a huge soda and a cup of ice and some cups and sat near the water looking at Roosevelt Island and wondering what to do with the rest of the day.”Let’s go to the pool,” Johnny said.

Tara shook her head, “No, I don’t have my bikini,,”

“Let’s go to the movies…”

“I guess, guys but…”

“I’m hungry!” That was Johnny.

“It’s too early…

“Hey Chay,” Johnny said, “Let’s go swing on the swings…” And just like that Chay became my nickname. We swang in the desultory air, and we wandered over to a stickball game, over by the lakeside while Tara and JoJo went off, and then Tara texted me and we went to Subway for lunch and wandered back to Rainey Park and we put on some music and lay in a row in the grass, the sun so hot and sweet and sleepy, as though New York City was at rest. The playlist was a mix of my own local heroes, and apparently Tara’s, The 1975, as well as some Arctic Monkeys, and the guys, a lot of 6ix9ine for Johnny, Future for JoJo, and Drake for all of us.. Jojo switched to the new Drake album and we lay there not saying anything, and not pushing anything. It was mid afternoon and it felt as though time had slowed till it was in time with the heat, I seemed to have walked into a strong love and friendship and I was just part of it as I was there. What are they doing now? Yesterday we were in the same park to same goodbye, and now Rainey Park was, if I jumped off the plane and grabbed an uber and we went fast, maybe half an hour away but it wasn’t half an hour away at all: it was forever away. I won’t be but if I was to come back in a couple of years who knows anything more but no less than Johnny would be grown up, he wouldn’t be that little boy who worshipped me, that was passed. It was as passed as Nana -it was dead in ways only the end of a summer holiday can be dead, it was a buried memory.

I called Mummy all the time, but after awhile I felt disconnect from that life, and deeper and deeper into that first summer afternoon, it is amazing that time passed at all that afternoon. Business was good at the strip club but  her current guy was making notice that it was perhaps time for Mum to quit. “Some nerve,” she shrugged. “He says I’m too old for it.” Well, Mum is in her mid-40s but she doesn’t look it. “I said ‘Look, you bring home money to support me and my girl and we’ll talk about it.'” Mum always had me in her sights even when she didn’t appear to. She was feeling the loss of Nana and she was really missing me, I felt like she  loved me a little more… I missed her too, I wish she could come here and we could live here. And it was always the summer of 2018…

We had to be home for dinner at six and, imagine that,  time actually did move and we did move. “Are you coming with us to Church tomorrow?” JoJo asked. My side of the family really didn’t do Church that much… “No,” Tara replied, “my parents are taking us to Jones Beach for the day, we want to show Chay there is more to New York than Astoria.”

“Monday?”

“Monday, we will do it all over again on Monday.”

“Plus swimming…”

Yesterday afternoon we began our goodbyes, the sun wasn’t as high in the sky and the clouds seemed to be darker and more forbidding at Rainey Park, we stood leaning on the railing looking over to New York city, Johnny was holding my hand and trying to hold back tears but every now and then one escaped in a muffled signh like an ache from the heart. I felt like his Mommy, I never thought before that I might one day make a Mom but I felt like I could now. I wanted to hug and cuddle him and I went and drew him near to me, he cried quietly on my shoulder, and JoJo and Tara both were ashened faced. It was like somebody had died, like I had died…

Johnny’s Mom died just about when he was three years old and the family had a lot of relations to help out, a lot of Mommy figures, plus Daddy was a good guy who always maintained himself in the middle of his two sons life. It left Johnny  confused by not feeling that there was somebody who was there as his mother figure and so maybe that was what I became. Also, ever since Tara told her parents, Auntie Rose has been taking Johnny under her wing so I guess if and when I return I won’t be in that position anymore. I’ll be someone else. The sun didn’t feel so hot and it is like overnight the world had changed had spun on its axis and spit me out at this tarmac. And I was going home and who would be there? Maybe Mom but Mom sometimes stay with my step dad and sometimes with me so I could be dropped off alone. As for my brother and sister, they were completely useless. It is the age difference, neither of them ever paid me any attention at all. I had been a plump ginger, and so young I disappeared into the world,, into the furniture for a long time. This year I began to change and this summer, with all the walking and swimming, I had changed even more, all my fat turning to curves… The way Jimmy-Eddie looked at me…

That first Sunday I began to discover just how huge New York is; for some strange reason I’d convinced myself that Astoria was, in fact, New York City. Auntie and Uncle left Margaret in charge, the afternoon trade was hefty and Uncle decided to call in Stan as well and Tara and I grinned to each other. We bundled Aidan into the car seat and drove the hour plus (it would take much closer to two on the way back) just like any other American family anywhere. On the way back, Uncle played SImon And Garfunkel and Tara and I held hand and watched the sun disappear and the cars pile up forever. I had gone from red to brown skinned and the Sunday evening dread of school the next day wasn’t there, Sunday evenings, maybe it was nine when we got home, “Rosie Gannon” the bar was quietening down and Stan and Margaret were melting each other, giggling softly,  and there was the lulling sleepiness about the world. Tara and I got on so well because we had similar body clocks, “Come on,Chas,” she said her mouth a yawn and a nodded head, “let’s sleep,” and we went upstairs. I could hear Uncle saying “They are very good for each other, very good….”

This goodness exploded into a reason for even being alive for me. I was far enough away from the situation to believe Tara was misreading it, I don’t think her dad would be upset if she was dating a black kid, I mean a good black kid like JoJo. Uncle wasn’t a racist like a Donald Trump racist, he was more a disliker of hip hop culture, he didn’t hate immigrants at all as well (he had two Latin American workers he helped open the bar). And I knew that her Mummy wouldn’t mind at all. I knew it but I wanted to KNOW IT, so I had been there for a month when Tara was sick in bed with cramps one afternoon and I was sitting with Auntie in the living room, listening to Michael Buble, and I had been thinking and thinking and I decided that if it cost me Tara’s love then here is what I would want to lose it for: a good reason, indeed. Auntie was telling me about Mom and her as kids, always mucking around with boys and breaking curfew, “We had a taste for bad boys when we were a little older than you… I could tell you some names. We would double date and we were both big time flirts and… you know…” she laughed to herself and shook her head and covered her face with her hand,peaking at me through her fingers. “I shouldn’t be telling you this…”

“Auntie,” I said and paused so long she looked at me and her face went serious, “Aunitie, may I trust you with a big secret please?”

“No, Chastity. No, if I  I have to tell someone I will…”

“Just this once, trust me that saying something will cause harm.”

She paused and looked at me wonderingly, “To whom?”

“Does it matter? Harm is harm.”

“Alright, I promise…”

“Tara has a boyfriend.”

“I know that but I figure it is her secret and if she wants to keep it private that’s her business.”

“That isn’t the problem, he is black and she is scared of how you’ll react.”

The news stopped her and she seemed to struggle with the next question, and I don’t think she did well… “How black?” she asked but I don’t think it was skin pigmentation on her mind.

“He is a sweet guy, sixteen years old, when we hang out he brings Johnny, his eight year old kid brother… his Mummy is dead and his Daddy is a postman and… he is so sweet, Auntie, I love him. They are perfect together and it is sad she is too scared to bring him into her world here… She goes and hangs out with his family all the time. She sometimes goes to a Baptist church with them as well. Me as well, they make us so welcome and she can’t do the same and it makes me so sad, Auntie. You have to welcome JoJo, you’d be so happy for her…” And I could feel a yucky, I’m gonna cry for no reason sensation raising forward and for Tara and JoJop and Johnny and Nana and me. Auntie hugged me and hushed me, “I tell you what, I’ll deal with Uncle, you deal with Tara and we will bring this to a happy new beginning. Tara can be difficult…”

“She trusts me,” I nodded.

And Tara did trust me though it took a lot of reasoning and begging and explaining and just saying, what I did say. “If your Mum  says, ‘No, Tara, you can not see JoJo again’,  what will you do?”

“How do you mean?”

“Will you stop seeing JoJo?”

“Of course not, I don’t care what anyone has to say about it.”

“So it wouldn’t change anything… now what about JoJo? How do you think he feels when you never let him and Johnny near your family…”

“He understands,,,”

“Yes, and what does he understand…”

“That…”

“That Auntie and Uncle are racists? If they are, then fine, tell him they are and that’s that. But what if you are misreading the situation? JoJo is a wonderful guy and I think your parents would adore Johnny as much as I do. I believe you are wrong, I believe they would be happy to welcome both of them, and I think since in a real way their opinion has no effect at all upon what is going on for both of us, tell them.”

I have no idea how the conversations went and I didn’t ask because if Tara wanted to tell me she would have, but she picked me up after work at “Lee’s  Dollar and  Shop and Designer Clothes Emporium” and hugged me hard and then she said. “I know, you know?”

“Pardon?” I replied.

“Pardon? Pardon?” Tara said. “Nobody else in the world would talk on my behalf, nobody else would lay it down so they would embrace the two Js. Only you Chastity, my sister and my best friend, would make sure good things happened to me. I love you very, very much. Thank you…”

Two weeks ago, Uncle and Auntie bought tickets to see Mumford And Sons on December 11th, and Tara was so excited, she was fizzing about, and so Auntie emailed her the tickets, and Tara opened it and then shouted on the top of her lungs, “Did you send Chas hers?”

“Chastity won’t be here…” Auntie replied and I could see Tara failing to compute the information at all, “I’ll get this sorted, I won’t go without you…”  And she went at her typical sprint and I rushed after her, “Tara,” I shouted, “I’ll be home.” She still didn’t get it. “Tara, I’ll be back in Manchester” and Tara went pale as a sheet as it sunk in, it was like she had forgotten, as though she couldn’t imagine a world without me. I wanted to cry, she was so upset it was wrenching, and so was I. I hadn’t forgotten the way she had, but it had been so far away it wasn’t real and suddenly it’d gone from month to week and countable easy days. She turned to me and shook her head no, “Not a chance… ”

Life in a pub works in its own strange timetable and at some time or the other I began to get the swing of stuff, it was like a world within a world; a little like when you are home sick from school, the way the time passes so differently. At home, there would be that time around three when if you were at school you were looking at the home stretch but at home it isn’t anywhere at all: it was a time and place that only existed on the odd occasion, it happened and then it didn’t. A family pub is the same way, full of flits and starts, full of tidal waves and calm and storms. Depending on the hour, or the day, or the sense of play. “Rosie Gannons” was like that, a family bar on Steinway Street where the audience seemed to change in front of you, in the morning you got the degenerate drunks, but the good ones: old and decaying, but in the grip of their affliction they had a home, if they didn’t make trouble.  The lunch crowd were the hardhats and unskilled labourers, three shots and three beers and take out chinese from across the street: hewn and hard men who would die before their time, an aching mess. That was what Eddie didn’t wan to bet. The afternoon brought out those who skipped work early, worked different times, were scarpering for hard liquor, or getting a start in the night. The evening was the regulars Monday to Thursday and by the weekend those who were out celebrating, and the local college kids and first jobbers: between games of darts and games of pool, it could be competitive, but Uncle had a reputation as a hard man and there weren’t any fights at all. One night, an altercation went too far and Tara and I stared out the window of our bedroom as two fully grown men went after each other. It lasted for a minute or so and then stopped cold as police sirens filled the air. Sunday was the quietest night of the week, we opened late and though we didn’t actually close early we might as well had. The jukebox was mostly Frank Sinatra during the day and 70s New Wave bands at night, except for Friday and Saturday where it was suddenly only “Now That’s What I Call Music” for hours on end. Before dates, in between dates, no dates weekends of pop groove stuff that back when Nan was alive, she wouldn’t approve of while insisting we play more Paul Weller.

The official end of the evening was 4am but if we were empty we’d close a little earlier at the bartender’s discretion (alcoholics had to be able to rely upon you), and stayed open all night Friday and Saturday, even though it was illegal.  They’d lock the door and you’d have to knock and if they knew you, they’d let you in. The day began at 6am when two brothers from Venezuela, who’d risked their lives to get here, and whose documents might not be worth checking, cleaned the bar, switched the kegs, cleaned the already cleaned, stuck ice in the sinks and beers in the ice, and drifted into the background. Some mornings, Tara and I would hang out with them, they were both much stronger than they looked, and much funnier than you’d suppose…. though, to be honest, I think they thought we were hysterical, with Tara’s High School Spanish and my occasional thrown in line, “andale” -which means quickly and which I got from a ‘toon Nana made me watch. Andale quickly became my other nickname, though they were a bit more careful with Tara. Sometimes, we’d go out and get bagels and sit around sharing breakfast while they worked. Some days they’d bring their wife and toddlers around… I loved the toddlers, they looked very, well, spikey and adorable, and cuddly.

Eddie worked nights Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays. But forget Friday and Saturday nights because they were busy and the place never  losed anyway. That second night, I spoke with Tara in detail, we plotted, lying together in her bed, whispering to each other. “Can it happen again?” I asked her, worried, obtuse and sweating it out.

“It can, it must. You must do this.”

“What if he doesn’t like me?” I was worried about that. “Who needs rejection at fourteen years old. I might never recover and die alone and a virgin… Tara laughed at me, not harshly. “Don’t be a jerk, don’t you know anything about boys…”

“Boys? Yeah…”

“You’ve never been kissed…”

“I’ve never liked any of them enough, I want something special, something that will last me so when I turn around and think about it and imagine it it will be always be with me.”

“You want to kiss Jimmy-Eddie?”

“So much, I want to kiss him more than anything…”

“But you can’t jump him, you know. You can’t be easy, even now we have to be elusive. He has to notice you but you need to be clearly distant. That’s where your age helps and hurts…” I moved closer and took her hand, listening with every inch of my ears. “You must let him see you, as you wander in, just a dress and flip flops, that’s all, you can’t be obvious. No make u. Like you’re sleepwalking into his arms and it is for him to catch you because if he can’t, guess what? You won’t be caught…

On the Monday, we walked down to the park and met up with Johnny and JoJo. I was never certain how much JoJo liked me, I mean I didn’t think he disliked me. But I certainly wasn’t giving Tara a run for her money. He was just off hand and that meant that between the four of us, he was the only one that was offhand. Tara had become my sister and my best friend in three days. I adored her, she was my hero and I loved that she loved me, and I knew she loved me because when Auntie Rose would go on about how Tara should be more like me, she didn’t mind, she nodded and agreed and never even got a little upset with me. We were together, except when Tara and JoJo disappeared up to his home for a little hanky panky, all the time.

When they left us alone that  first time, I became a babysitter but more because Johnny even at the beginning looked at me differently than everybody else. He could see in me something I couldn’t see in myself. A certain level of emotionally security, as if I was going to be there for him. We walked past the park into the industrial area of Long Island City, where buildings were being constructed all over the show. I was quiet, you know, but interested, and Johnny had his Mummy on his mind. She died in a car accident when he was three. “Like, she isn’t a real memory. I can’t imagine ever being with her except sort of snapshot memories of memories. I sometimes think, when I am closing my eyes late at night, that I can remember a moment: like her hand in mine.” Johnny has a quiet voice, still hasn’t broken, and he speaks like Michael Jackson when he isn’t excited, there’s an intensity about the boy that makes you interested, makes you want to strain to hear him. “There are videos, sometimes we sit in the family room and watch them. I’m in some of them. I think I can remember me then, I think I can imagine how I was then… Mommy was very religious, it is Joseph and John, after the disciples, but she had an easy smile. Dad and JoJo never discuss it but she had anxiety and was taking something and she fell asleep while driving… that’s what is whispered…Dad never discusses it and for JoJo it is like a recurring nightmare that day, he just could not shake it till he met Tara and Tara shook him back to where he might have been. Tara made him, not by doing anything or anything, but just by her being there, my big brother and I felt less alone and the family began to get better.

“But I wanted a mom and my friends who had mom’s, they were all like ‘oh no, I can’t do that, my Mommy worries about me…” and it isn’t that no one cared, it was more where no one cared LIKE THAT.” He fell silent and I could have told Johnny about Nan, and Timmy,  who only shows up when he wants money, and my Mom’s load of boyfriends, but it would sound wrong because it would sound like I was condemning them and I wasn’t, I love my family, it’s weird though filled with love, like his was. I decided to leave him to his thoughts because when I was young and wanted to talk about it, everybody compared it to their lives as if to say “hey, so what? Look at mine…” and that isn’t what I wanted at all. So I listened and when he went quiet I just took his hand and he turned to me and said “Can you be my Mom…?”

There are times to speak and there are times not to talk and when you don’t know which, don’t say anything. Not last May but the may before that, our Nan was back from the hospital and life was threatening into its usual routine,, and I was glad to have her back, she was lying on the sofa and I was sitting in the big armchair with the faded pattern, and we were watching “Hello Dolly” was the millionth time, and she turned to me, I was twelve  at the time, and she said, “You’ll be alright, you will. I’m not worried about you, I’m more worried about your Mum. But you won’t forget me will you?” Now that sounded like a question but I knew in my heart that it really wasn’t. she was telling me something but her words needed me to fill them in in my mind. I knew she was dying and I got up and lay down next to her on the sofa and I didn’t say a word. I know it doesn’t seem like a similar thing, but it was because Johnny was giving me information in the form of a question, he was telling me something very important but he was saying it like a question when it wasn’t. I squeezed his hand and we walked towards the sity, sat on a bench opposite a car dealership, staring out at all these cars and trucks zooming by as the sun shone bright upon us.

I’ve never, ever, had a close friend. Like, I was part of five friends from school and we were often together, but they broke into two pairs of best friends and me belonging to neither. My thing is, not having a normal family structure, my Mum alwauys dating guys and dad not around, my brother and sister long gone, and just me and Nan, I was a bit of a loner and distrustful, and so I didn’t share with the girls, not really. I really don’t know how Tara broke through. Anyway, because of that I never felt connected to anyone but Nan and then she died… And I was always broke, I worked part time in the chippie, and smelled of vinegar and fried stuff and was always boiling my clothes… and guys.. So just three days into my vacation I felt as though I was being reset to a time that never quite happened but could have, a me that I had the potential to be but really wasn’t, and I felt with Johnny that, we both knew (though seven weeks for an eight year old is a lifetime), that I was leaving soon -just like his Mum. About three weeks later, when Auntie Rose got to know JoJo and Johnny, I realized that something was happening that I wasn’t gonna be a part of and part of it was Auntie Rose would be Johnny’s new Mum… I was both relieved and jealous. We shared my earplugs and listened to the Coup and Lil Pump, Denzel Curry and BROCKHAMPTON, I felt really American, and really happy, And then Tara texted me and we walked back to Rainey Park.

Three days later, Thursday going into Friday, around 130am, and I am so nervous I am feeling sick to my stomach, and Tara is trying to calm me down. “Don’t worry, what can happen?”

“He can report me to your parents, that’s what can happen.”

We had been figuring out what I should wear and what I should say. I had barely spoken to Eddie since that first night and I had been patient. Like, I had been thinking of just being friendly and chatting to him when I walked through the pub to their home, but Tara said no. “You don’t wanna be that child, you don’t want to be that girl, you don’t want to be in the friend zone at all. You want a sense of mystery and of disconnect. You want him to be unsure of you, that will leapfrog you past the age because you will stop being an age and just be Chastity…”

“CHASTITY… I blame Nan, she ruined my love life by sharing the worst name ever…”Tara began to laugh and I shushed her, “Quiet, quiet… you’ll ruin everything…”  Tara couldn’t stop and so she stuck her face in my pillow and rolled around gasping for breath between muffled yelps.

I was dressed in a loose, print cotton dress, it went to a little above my knees, like an two inches. “Too short?” I asked Tara but she said no, it was just right. “What should I do if he asks why I’m there?”

“Say you couldn’t sleep, but he won’t.”

“What if he rejects me?” I asked, painting my toenails cherry red because Tara said guys won’t notice if I do but will notice if I don’t. Mysterious stuff.

“Don’t make a move, don’t be aggressive, guys like to pursue…”

” I don’t think that will be a problem…”

“Sit near him, swing your legs, listen intently, look at him from the side of your eyes…”

And with that, it hit 3am and I thanked the Lord that Aidan had started sleeping through the night as I walked down the stairs to the billiards room, quietly, just the sound of my flip flops on the floor.  I was scared and yet I wasn’t not sexually awake, I was aware that what was on my mind wasn’t innocent.

“Rosie’s” was empty, there a lone drunk sitting at the end of the bar, nursing a beer and ordering a shot and -Eddie looked tired and like he was considering cutting him off, I stood quietly just inside the door of the billiard room and then moved like the ghost of girlfriends past to a corner and watched intently as the minutes ticked by. The shop was quiet, usually -Eddie would be listening to music on the Jukebox but I was guessing that he wanted to shovel the drunk out and give him no reason to stay. Five, ten, fifteen minutes, then the drunk slurred in an Irish accent. “I guess I should get home,”

“Do you need an Uber,”

“No, I’m gonna leave my car in your parking area and walk home, maybe clear my head a little.”

“The missus…?”

“Yeah, her as well…”

He shrugged himself alive and stumbled into the night, there was still action on Steinway Street but it was dying down quickly and he melded himself with the crowd. “You can come out now…” Eddie said as he moved to the Jubebox and soon the sound of Feargal Sharkey filled the distance between us:

“I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night, all right….”

He shrugged himself alive and stumbled into the night, there was still action on Steinway Street but it was dying down quickly and he melded himself with the crowd. “You can come out now…” Eddie  said as he moved to the Jubebox and soon the sound of Feargal Sharkey filled the distance between us:

I wonder how I looked? Maybe like a ghost, a willowy thing, somewhere between the real and the invisible world, a fairy, a temptress, a child: I wanted to know how I looked to him: I was too young, I realized, but there was something about the way I handled myself that seemed right for him… maybe, I think. “Are you going to help me?” Eddie  asked in a half brogue. “I notice you made friends with Tara…” I was gonna answer, I thought of answering, But silence is always best to my mind, if I say nothing, there is nothing to catch on to. I looked up at him and reached for a tray, started picking up the empties and taking them to the sink behind the bar. I soaped up and washed em before leaving them to dry by their own design, then went back for more as Eddie cleaned the tables and straightened the chairs. “Tara is a sweetheart, isn’t she? Mischievous, and drives your Aunt Rose bonkers, but she isn’t mean at all.” I looked at him darkly, with what I hope was an inscrutable half smile. “And I thought I was quiet,” he said to himself. It took half an hour to clean the bar, but it was done and Eddie smiled at me. “Come on, kid. There’s a burger joint round the corner and I’m starved.” I didn’t even ask how I would get back in, I didn’t even care. I just cared that I was going somewhere else with him…

“Fatburgers” was quite literally round the corner and we walked side by side, me thinking of him, thinking of me. And him? Well… who knows? We ordered a coupla burgers and fries and soda from the Arabic guy behind the counter, he seemed to know Eddie and Eddie tipped him, and we walked down Steinway to a bench and sat down. It was the heart of the summer, and it wasn’t less than warm even at 3 in the morning, but it wasn’t boiling hot, there was the slightest of winds, and he sang softly to me, “Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…”

We sat down side by side, chewing and slurping, “not sexy,” I thought to myself, shrugging a little. Then I remembered and slowly swung my legs back and forth, and I was watching him, watching him…

“No, really..” Tara, said, excitedly, later on.

“Really, I do think so, I could feel his interest like something right nearby. I could smell him he was so close…”

“What did he smell like?”

“Like the pub a little, a little stale beer but also some cologne left over, and some deodorant, and a sort of… what is it, Tara?”

“I don’t know, what is it?”

“Is twenty-two too old?”

“I guess yes, but not really. I mean, you like him, right?”

“Yeah, a whole lot…”

“Then…”

“He smelled like a warm, ambiguous smile…”

“What the fuck, dude… Did you touch him…”

“My hand skimmed his knuckles… There was no one else around…”

It had taken every ounce of nerve, but the way he kept glancing at my legs, almost beyond his control, I just let my hand drift towards his. I was completely conscious of the movement of my hand and when it finally reached the back of his hand I thought I was gonna puke with excitement. It was still dark and Eddie was all in shadows, his body like a rock emerging out of the landscape, at six foot his legs lounged out on the cement opposite a mattress retailers and his body slouched without slouching, I wanted, maybe more than anything I’ve ever wanted, to put my hand on his shoulders and feel his rugged toughness between my fingers, all tactilic need and deliverance.

“How do you like New York?” he asked, quietly.

“Yes,” I replied. Not the best moment of the evening but he seemed to get it.

“It kinda changes you, doesn’t it. You seem different already.” I didn’t reply. “More assured”. I still said nothing. “What do you like most about it?” He asked.

“This,” I replied. He turned and looked at me closely, then laced his fingers between the fingers on my right hand. It wasn’t aggressive the way you think, he wasn’t being sexual but he was making me aware that he was aware that I was aware of him.

“How old  are you, again?” He asked.

“25”

“No you are not…”

“24…”

He shook his head and got up, pulling me with him. “Come on, I’ll walk you back to Rosies.” And we walked hand in hand down Steinway Street. If I could stop time, I would stop that walk back to the pub, and I bet I do, I bet I return to it all my life, whatever happens to me, wherever I go, when I need to feel my sense of self, when I need to be certain that I was uniquely me and capable of a happiness that can overwhelm the world, I’ll remember that walk back: July 19th, 2018: the night I fell in love for the first time.

And as for July 22nd, 2018? THE DAY I SAW THE BIGGEST CONCERT EVER!!!! Auntie and Uncle bought an extra two tickets and gave Tara’s ticket to Margaret and Tara and me, we sat together, and screamed and screamed for Taylor. I’d been to a big place before, with my dad Timmy and my big brother, we went to Old Trafford when I was ten years old. My Dad took me, that’s what he did. Timmy, everybody called him Timmy, wasn’t a good dad in any way you think a dad should be good, he never hung around much, and my parents divorced when I was four years old and he didn’t disappear, we saw him whenever he needed some money… and I knew he loved me in his own way. Timmy is a fun loving jokester, with lots of girlfriends, all of whom he owed money to. And, yeah, he neglected me, but he must have thought “Well, Chas has Mom and Nan, and a name that will keep her out of trouble, and she knows I love her…” I guess he’s right in some ways even if not in others. I could have used him, I could have used a father figure to turn to, even my brother would have been nice, but no, Mum’s series of boyfriend sort of ignored me, and nobody else stood up, so men were less a subject of fascination and more a case of indifference: the important stuff, none of it involved them… it was all Nana and sometimes Mummy.

But this one time, Timmy had won a pool at his hard hat job in construction, four tickets to watch Manchester United versus another team, I don’t remember who. He was gonna take his friend from work, my brother and me for a Saturday afternoon at Old Trafford. And I was so excited. I wouldn’t have told Timmy, no way, but I was really happy to be spending some family time. Like a real dad taking me to a big game, how cool, right? I’m usually on the quiet side but I couldn’t stop discussing it at school. And Mummy bought me a wooly and a tee shirt and a scarf, and socks, and I looked like the smallest reddest Man United supporter on the planet.

I think, when daddy dies, I will remember this day with a great deal of fondness. He came through. Timmy wasn’t drinking, wasn’t being a jerk, paid for everything. He held my hand as we took the train from Altrincham. Lots of fans, all singing “Glory Glory Man United” -loud, cheerful, full of hope, a team of people with one thing in common and there it was, on my tee shirt, on my head. Timmy’s friend thought I was a boy, “Chas, my son,” he said to me. “This is a glorious day to be a Mancunian”. I nodded sagely while taking  another of his cheese and onion crisps. Isn’t it odd how much better his crisps tasted than my own?

I sometimes wondered about other people’s families, ones where Mummy didn’t work all night and Daddy was around for family meals, but I am really smart and I notice stuff and it didn’t seem to me that my friends had particularly cheerful families so maybe it was one of those things, like Christmas, or summer holidays (except the one that had just ended), or the same of an airplane as you wait for liftoff, it was special without being different. Timmy is five foot three, all of the rest of the family, me, Mummy, everyone, is much taller, I could end up as tall as Eddie, but he handles it with humor. Always making jokes, always friends with everyone, he walks about our town and he KNOWS EVERYONE AND EVERYONE KNOWS HIM AND HE HASN’T LIVED HERE IN TEN YEARS. I don’t think any of them know the O’Sullivan portion at all, he was Timmy to everyone. You know who he reminds me of? Did you ever see “My Fair Lady” -one of Nana’s favorites, we watched it a couple of times a year on DVD, and Timmy reminds me of Eliza’s daddy. He says at one point, he says this: “I give ‘er everythin’; I give ‘er the greatest gift a human being can give to another: life! I introduced ‘er to this ‘ere planet I did, with all its wonders and marvels. The sun that shines; the moon that glows; Hyde Park to walk through on a fine spring night. The whole ruddy city o’ London to roam around in, sellin’ ‘er blimmin flowers. I give ‘er all that; then I disappears and leaves ‘er on ‘er own to enjoy it.” I can imagine Timmy saying that, that’s his way that’s all. Plus, he doesn’t play favorites, he’s exactly the same with my sister.

I was never sure why he wanted me to go to the game, I don’t care for footer at all, and Man United fans are especially stupid, but it was a real treat and I really loved… At one point, Timmy went for another beer and then he suddenly turned round and took mt hand, “I want you where I can see you,” he said and off we went. I liked that, I didn’t get it much, and it made the hugeness of the place become smaller in front of me and him, because it was only as big as where he could keep his eyes on me. I’ll never forget it.

Metlife is like this high tech something or the other. Going home took us two hours to get out of the parking. Luckily, Tara and I were very tired so we jumped into the car and fell sound asleep and we woke up and we hadn’t even left the car park. I could see Uncle Jimmy just fuming, and snapping at Rosie, “I told you, I told you. It was like this after the Giants, I told you…” But Auntie didn’t care really, she had a Taylor mix on her phone and she was singing along, and so did we, and Uncle began to shake his head and laugh and pretty soon we wer on the road.

The very next day I interviewed for a job at Lee’s,  a 99 cent store on the ground floor and all kinds of stuff on the top, and I worked like twelve hours a day every Tuesday and Wednesday and suddenly my other Chastity came into focus. Thursday nights belonged to Eddie. Monday, Thursday and Friday we went to the park and then all afternoon swimming, Saturday we skipped the pool because it would be too crowded, and went to the movies, Sunday, if we weren’t with the fam, we went to Church with Johnny’s fam. And later, we would share both families, they’d come together. Auntie and Uncle went to the Church with Johnny’s daddy, and then we’d go out for the day, on a drive, or we’d have a barbecue, or hang at “Rosie’s” and watch in pleasure as Norman and Margaret began to get closer and closer. Then we’d do it all again. It was sometimes boring in the sense that in the summer sun time would slow down to the trickle of sweat on my neck. But we were always walking, and playing, Johnny and I would play in the pool for hours on end, till our fingers were all wrinkled, and our stomachs began to ache.

Then suddenly, but I guess slowly, I could feel my body changing on me, my legs were slimmer, my arms more muscular, my hair was going from red to blonde on the top, and I wasn’t so much a doof, and I think I was cuter. Guys were beginning to really notice me, and though Eddie wasn’t noticing me iin the sense you would think, he really, really noticed. If I was in the pub with Tara and Uncle and Auntie, I would glance at him and sometimes he would be looking at me, and he’d smile like it was nothing big but it felt kind of big.

“It’s your age, he is confused by your age: he doesn’t know what to do but he is tempted but he’s a good guy not a perv… and he is just thinking that you are really pretty and you obviously like him. He is wishing you were older. remember how he asked how old you are? And he is 22 so while eight years difference is a lot, if you were 19 and he was 27 it wouldn’t be so much at all…”

“So what do I do?”

“Nothing, there is nothing you can do. He isn’t a friend, so it will happen..”

“He tells me things…”

“Sexy things?”

No, not sexy things, walking back from Broadway as the sun began to rise he’d tell me how he wasn’t going to be just a bartender all his life, how he studied all the time, and wasn’t sure but he was good enough at Math to have a chance and getting heavy into computer because even fixing elevators wasn’t enough.  Maybe an IT guy. ” I know my life is gonna matter, not to everybody Chastity, but to somebody, to some people. It will matter that I’ve made a good life and taken a responsibility and not wasted it on nothing at all. I won’t waste it, Chas. I promise you” And as he spoke I could feel my heart swell inside of me, I would squeeze his hand tightly and I would have to choke back tears because I knew he would, I knew he would do just that and I would be in bloody Manchester and he would be with someone else, someone who wasn’t me at all… What could I tell the world about my big summer romance? That we held hands? I held hands with the man I love. How pathetic? How is that all, is that it?

I’m not a stranger to sex. I mean, I am to having sex, or anything like that, but the way romance works I kinda get. My Mummy, she is the reason why. My favorite people in the world (well, not the world because Nana is dead, but my favorite people anyway) are:

Nana

Tara

Mum

Johnny

Eddie

And after that, everybody else. So I love Mum a lot because while Dad is coming to Mummy to scrounge money, Mummy is hustling all night and giving me the money she makes. I’m not sure quite how far she goes but she’d be arriving home rom work just as I was leaving for school. “Wait, our kid, wait…” She’d say to me, and she’d open her backpack and dump everything on the kitchen table, and along with the car keys and the hair gel and wrinkled fivers and the pound coins, they’d be twenties and fifties, and she’d give me a twenty and kiss me goodnight, or goodbye. “You be a good girl, Chas,” she’d say and before I’d even answer she’d be skipping up the stairs of our  council house, singing a Rihanna song

“Throw it, throw it up

Watch it all fall out…”

And I’d rush off to catch the bus with my friends, pulling up my socks, and tucking up my plaid skirt, with the song lodged in my mind. How couldn’t I love Mum? Why wouldn’t I? Nana, me, my big sister Gloria, Mummy -we all understood that there was worlds of difference between doing what you had to for nice clothes and doing it to feed your kids. No comparison. Mummy worked all night and then gave me her money. I loved her for it, I respected her, sometimes I felt sad for her, and I knew my life wouldn’t be like that, I’d find another way (for one thing I wouldn’t have had children with a man like Timmy -Eddie is responsible at 22 in ways Daddy isn’t at 52). But if it had to be, imagine my life without Mum? Who paid for my trip? Who gave me spends? Who do you love? Who loves you and how?

Yesterday afternoon, Johnny and JoJo and Tara and me, we were down at Rainey Park -there was a big meal later at a Greek restaurant near “Rosie’s,” but this was our personal goodbye, the four of us, leaning on the railing,  looking at the city, watching the world go by for one last time up in the east, down in the west, it had only been seven weeks but it felt like a lifetime for people to grow this close and suddenly this far. tara said,  “It’s like I’ve lost something I didn’t have before and now I can’t live without.” JoJo looked at her blankly. “A sister, I lost my sister, my twin, I lost my Chas…”

And Johnny, who had already burst into tears twice started to cry, and then so did I. And the three of us sat in the grass there crying while Johnny watched on, completely out of his element, just wanting to comfort his kid brother and girlfriend, he took Tara’s hand and squeezed it and smiled at Johnny, “You’ve still got me!” he exclaimed and all three of us started crying again. I’d thought about Tara coming to visit me next year but I don’t think Aunt Rosie would let her, and Moss Side? Moss Side was dodgy in ways that Astoria, even Long Island City, wasn’t. I was also a little embarrassed by how poor we were, I couldn’t imagine it though I wanted to offer out the idea and something held me back.

Instead I said, “We will always be like this, Johnny, you’ll always be my boy and Tara, you are my sister now and forever, nothing can destroy these bonds, nothing can stop us now. We will always love each other.

But I was feeling better than I had been because Eddie doesn’t work Monday nights but Norm told me on Sunday that he was saying goodbye because Eddie changed night shifts with him and… I guess I would be saying goodbye to Eddie and sure, what did it mean? I was too much of a coward, I couldn’t deal with the rejection, to try and kiss him, and he was too much of a coward, didn’t want to go to prison for statutory rape, to kiss me himself. And even without any physical intimacy, I mean a lingering kiss on the cheek here and there, but that was it, I felt like the girl in his life. When we were alone, even when we were with other people, he treated me differently to everyone. There is a quiet arrogance about Eddie (remember where Tara and me gave him the nickname from), he has a smile that slid into a smirk with ease, and he knew girls liked him and while I never actually saw him flirting, I know girl’s liked him, and I knew there were girls in his life. They didn’t really matter but they were there. And then there was me, and with me he was himself, a little worried about his future, a little unsure, a loner with lots of friends but no one but me he really turned to. His Mum and step-father live in Syracuse and he never much visits them, and as first generation American with a dad so Irish he died for the cause,   he cared enough about his heritage to work in an Irish bar  but not enough to go to Church. At times he’d try and explain it and end up stuttering a little. It was another part of the Eddie confusion. He was enigmatic, at least I thought so. He found me completely baffling. The reticence was more English than Irish, it was bad form to  talk about yourself and I was not shy, I was indifferent, most of the time, with Eddie I was shy.

I walked down the stairs one last time, like the ghost of Christmas yet to come, like the image of the girl I wouldn’t be much longer. Eddie already had the Undertones on the jukebox, and he turned to me, looking handsome, and sharp and mine, and singing in his tuneless voice:

“Sit down – relax and cancel all other engagements

Its never too late to enjoy dumb entertainment…”

Swaying up and down and stopping in the middle of the chorus and adding, “I’ve had a few drinks tonight… I don’t know why…” Then he shrugged and smiled and “Summer Wind” came on, Eddie opened his arms and I went to him, he encircled me, help me tightly towards him, and swayed in the late night quiet, “like painted kites those days and nights went flying by…” I put my head on his shoulder and I couldn’t help myself, I just began to cry and cry and Eddie didn’t stop me, he just let me be  there as the Sinatra sang me good bye, and I knew it was me and not Eddie Sinatra was singing to:

“Then softer than
The piper man
One day, it called to you
I lost you to
The summer wind”

I was lost to him, my first love, and he cupped my chin and caressed it, and then his lips were on my lips, and I felt his strength and softness, the smell of vodka and the temptation of youth and tongue and moment and movement. Sex and romance, hopes and dreams, we had just this time and no other. We kissed and kissed and kissed last night.

I can still taste his breath as the engine of the plane began to roar and the Captain murmured, and the plane seemed to back up just a little bit and then like a vault jumper it started to run faster and faster and then we were in the air and my summer was behind me for ever as my future began, never to see my first love again but the memory? The memory would never, ever leave me.

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