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Extract from Patience:

Patience

July

‘Ladies and Gentlemen! We’re Gary, Mark and Howard. We’re what’s left of – Take That!’

The crowd erupts. The group sitting in front of me –  demob-happy mums in their late thirties, bottoms berthed on royal blue plastic seats, all sipping overpriced Chardonnay from white paper cups – suddenly thrust their bulk heavenwards, spraying lukewarm wine onto my feet as they do so. But I say nothing.

All I can see now for what seems like miles is a sea of waving hands; all I can hear is a cacophony of catcalls; and all I can smell are the combined fumes of booze, cheesy nachos, and sweat. Through the hubbub, I can just make out the early strains of ‘Pray’, which is one of my favourites. I start to sway along as it ramps up both in volume and beat. Music always makes me move; it’s like my body doesn’t know how to do it until it’s been given a rhythm.

I close my eyes so that I can ignore both the drunken ladies and the two bored husbands I’ve just spotted a few metres to my left, arms crossed, faces like thunder. What a waste of money it was bringing them here. Why would you even bother? A night off from those charmers would feel like a jail break, surely?

I open my eyes so that I can check up on Gill. She’s standing up like most of the audience, waving her dimpled arms in the air, the loose flesh beneath them flapping around like a net curtain, a beat or so behind her hands. She has long since forgotten I’m here. The atmosphere and the music have carried her away.

That makes two of us.

Gary Barlow’s voice is so familiar, it’s etched into my childhood-like declarations of undying love on a school desk. ‘Pray’ was released in 1993, when I was four. It’s a perfectly ordinary pop song really, with a catchy chorus and soaring vocals, but it means so much more to me than the sum of its parts.

Now don’t tell Gary this, I think it would hurt his feelings, but I’m not here for the music. Or even the totty. The boys – lads – men, whatever term you prefer, are lovely to look at, but in all honesty, it’s the memories that go with their songs that have brought me here. Take That’s music is the soundtrack to my life. And when you can’t be the main actor in what’s happening to you, your memories form a parade in your head, as if you’re a film director assembling a storyboard.

Listening to music is a trigger for me, a little bit of magic that allows me to jump right back into pictures from the past, like the children in Mary Poppins launching themselves into those drawings on the pavement. First drawing: Eliza and me wallowing in the paddling pool in the garden, surrounded by parched grass on an idyllic summer’s day. Second drawing: her crying because she didn’t win the running race at her ninth birthday party. Third drawing: she’s practising plaits on my hair in our bedroom. (Both of us got chickenpox in the same week and she experimented on my hair to pass the time. Whenever someone tries to tame my unruly blonde mane into plaits now, I still feel the itch.)

I am pulled back from my memories by a change of song. It’s louder this time, one of the band’s new singles. The bass is so strong that the floor beneath me is vibrating with the beat, and both the repetitive rhythm and the musky aroma of the assembled mass of bodies are overwhelming.

I notice that Gill has finally decided to stop dancing and look my way. I don’t think she likes what she sees. I possibly look a bit green. Or red, maybe? I’m definitely a bit hot and I feel slightly dizzy, now that I think about it. I don’t want fuss, though. I hate fuss.

‘Are you OK, Patience? Do you have a bad head?’

Gill is sitting down next to me now. I notice that a sweat-tsunami is forcing an inexorable path southwards from her armpits – she’s not accustomed to exercise, our Gill – and the resulting odour, both ripe and rampant, makes me nauseous.

Piss off, Gill. Please. I want to enjoy this by myself. This is time I will not get back.

Through the waving arms of the women in front, I can just about make out the band gyrating suggestively with some lithe female dancers. Strobe lights shine out into the crowd, flash-flash-flash in quick succession. Hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of ticker tape are then blasted into the air, falling down slowly, gracefully, like ash.

It starts to feel stifling in here, airless. Lights emitted by thousands of mobile phones begin to blur. And then there’s a cloud above my head, a swirling cloud that seems to be made up of dust, glitter, dry ice, smoke and baked breath. I’m floating now, and Gary Barlow is beckoning to me.

I’m coming, Gary…

Then the sound of the band starts to dull and all I can see is darkness. I feel a thump as I hit something. There are heavy, frantic footsteps. I can just about make out what someone is saying.

Call an ambulance, quick! Some girl in a wheelchair is having a massive fit.’

 

 

Louise

July

As Louise pulled into the hospital car park, she registered a flash of pink and red in her peripheral vision and slammed on the brakes. Her tyres screamed in protest and came to rest just a few centimetres from where two small girls stood, as if frozen, blinking in disbelief at the car bonnet which now loomed over them. They wore pyjamas and flip-flops, and each clutched a small plastic unicorn. The girl in pink’s left arm was constrained by a sling.

After a few beats of Louise’s now frantic heart, the girls sprang back into action and continued to run across the car park, their short legs pumping hard, mischievous smiles returning swiftly to their faces. And then their mother sprinted in front of Louise’s car, her arms stretching out to grasp at invisible hands, her mouth fixed wide and open in a silent scream.

Breathe.

Louise put on the hand brake and took a moment to focus on inhaling and exhaling, trying to rid herself of the extra adrenaline.

Beep. Beep-beep-beeeep.

The driver in the car behind her apparently wanted to pass. Reluctantly, she put her car back into gear and swung into a nearby space. After she had turned her engine off, she closed her eyes and lowered her forehead, resting it on the steering wheel.

Thud.

Thud. Thud.

Louise raised her head. The woman who’d just run in front of her car was now banging on her window.

Do you hear me, you stupid old cow?’ the woman shouted, the glass distorting her voice, so it sounded as if she was underwater. ‘You almost killed my kids.’

Louise inhaled deeply once more and opened her door, forcing the woman and her two wide-eyed, chastened children to back away towards her bonnet. Instead of rising to the bait, however, she remained silent.

I said. You. Almost. Killed. My. Kids.’ The woman took several steps forward, invading Louise’s personal space.

So, what have you got to say? Anything?

Louise raised her eyes and looked directly at the woman, whose two girls were now attempting to hide behind her ample, dimpled, Lycra-clad thighs.

‘You should have been holding on to them,’ she said, quietly.

What?

‘You should have been holding on to them more tightly,’ she repeated, louder this time.

‘I’m sorry. I must have misheard you. Are you blaming me?’

‘If you had been holding their hands, they wouldn’t have been able to run off. I had a split second’s warning. It almost wasn’t enough.’ Louise had lost control of her breathing pattern completely now.

‘You were going too fast,’ the woman spluttered. ‘It was your bloody fault. This is a car park, not a racetrack.  And there are sick people here. My daughter has broken her arm!’

‘Then you have no idea how lucky you are,’ Louise said, her hands now scrunched into two angry balls.

‘What?’

You have no idea how lucky you are.’

‘Yes, I heard. I just couldn’t believe it. Are you saying I’m lucky that you didn’t run my kids over? It’s the opposite, you bitch – you’re bloody lucky you’re not in a police cell.’

‘No,’ Louise answered. ‘You are lucky. Those girls – those girls, they can run. They can run away from you. They have legs that work and arms that heal. You are lucky.’

‘And you’re a nutter. Insane.’ The woman shook her head, a look of disgust rendering her face a caricature.

‘I have to go now,’ said Louise, swallowing hard to suppress tears of anger and grief. She reached into the car for her handbag, turned away from the woman and began to walk away. ‘Sorry,’ she said, as an afterthought, not looking back.