My earliest memory is my parents taking me into Northampton for the fair during some school break. I have snippets from before then, but that’s the earliest concrete memory I have. My mum drove us, Dad never passed his test. We played some games, won some prizes and ate some candy-floss. But that isn’t why I remember it. I remember it because of how quickly Dad turned. I know now that it was probably drink that did it, but back then. God I still remember how scared I was, hiding behind the bear Mum won for me. Holding it so tightly on the way back home, hoping I would fall asleep and wake up the next day. I had nightmares about that day for the first couple of months at Uni.
Casey woke me up one night, late November. She sat on the edge of the bed, and gently shook me while whispering my name. He soft words carried on the early winter chill that was flowing in the open window. I’ve never slept well unless I’m cold.
“What’s wrong?” She asked when my eyes opened.
“Nothing, what are you doing?”
“I could hear you moving around, saying something. I couldn’t make out what. You were having a bad dream.”
“That’s not that weird. I don’t even remember what I was dreaming about,” I lied.
“Yes you do. Come on Chris, we both know you remember. What is it? I’m worried about you.”
“Don’t be, it’s nothing.”
Instead of walking away, or at the very least moving around the other side of the double bed and sitting there, Casey moved me over and sat where I was previously laying down.
“So tell me,” she said. “Everything. No matter how unimportant it is.”
“I don’t really want too.”
“I know you don’t, but that’s okay. Nothing you say will ever leave this room. I promise that. You won’t ever have to worry about it again. A problem shared is a problem halved.”
“I don’t believe in that.”
“I know, neither do I. But still, just tell me what the dream was about.”
“It’s a memory, more than a dream. It’s twisted a little, and I was young at the time but I still know it happened.”
“What do you mean?”
“My Mum drove us to this fair in Northampton, during the school holidays. It was on a Saturday I think. On this park near the town centre.”
“That sounds like a nice memory.”
“Yeah, it was. But that’s not why I remember it. I think that would have drifted off like most of my childhood if that’s how it stayed. On the way home, as my Mum was driving us back my Dad got angry about something. I don’t remember what. But it was like he just snapped. Shouting, and screaming. I don’t like thinking about it.”
“You can tell me, I know it’s not easy. Don’t worry. You don’t need to tell me anything.”
We went around in circles for a little while, neither of us feeling tired enough to go to bed. As the clock struck three in the morning, the conversation had moved onto so many different things at that point, there was a nice silence. Both of us sitting there, back against the bed’s head-board and that’s when I told her. I told her about my Dad’s drinking. The way he used to hit Mum, hit me when I tried to stop it when I was little older. The way they used to argue and then make up, and the amount of tears shed by everyone.
Casey stayed quiet during all of it, she just listened as I told my stories. Everything I could remember. About how one time Dad came home from work early, suspended because he was drunk on shift. There would be a meeting about it. I was around ten at the time. There was an argument about money which resulted in me screaming as loud as I could with tears drowning my face as he struck her. I didn’t know what to do. I was old enough to know it was wrong and that I didn’t like it. I screamed loud enough that one of the neighbours called the police. Everything was calm by the time they came around and everything was denied. I’ll never know why she believed his apologies, and his lies about stopping, but that didn’t matter.
A couple of years later when I was twelve, Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I remember being told, sitting in the living room with a fresh bag of sweets. My parents standing above me, never seeming so tall, blocking out the sun coming through the window. I don’t remember exactly how they told me, I don’t think I understood at first but when it hit me, it hit hard.
Dad stopped drinking then. He got his job back, and everything seemed to be getting better. There was just Mum’s problem hanging around us. People spoke to me differently at school, I was going to a school in Wexgate. A few of us were. We had to get the bus everyday. It wasn’t the longest drive probably twenty minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. It felt even longer when people didn’t want to talk to you any more.
Time moved quickly back then, and soon enough I was standing in Holy Trinity Hospital. We had to get the same bus I got to school, into Wexgate and then a few minutes walk down to the hospital. I knew what was happening, I didn’t want to know. I didn’t speak the entire time. I was told to hug Mum but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want for this to be over, even though I couldn’t do anything about it. I hugged her and started crying, silently. After I sat in the corridor while Dad spoke to Mum. A little while later he came out saying it was over, and there were tears in his eyes. At the time, hell probably even now, I blamed him for this. I remembered hearing in school that falling over could cause cancer and that made me think of her screams as he pushed her down stairs or slammed her head against the wall.
After the funeral it seemed like he had changed. He stopped drinking for quite a while, kept his job and didn’t raise his voice in a while. We were distant and it was difficult, but I think that’s to be expected. It didn’t take long though, a few months before things started to slip. It started with him not coming home straight away from work. I was making my own dinners. Someone found out, and that started a big fight. I didn’t tell anyone, they figured it out. I was doing everything at home. By thirteen I was cleaning, doing the washing and sorting out my own food. Normally stealing money from his wallet while he slept. I think he knew. He must have, but he was still furious when he found out. Then he lost his job. I don’t even know how we kept the house at first. He started doing odd jobs for friends, most of it probably not legal.
And then Little Campy happened. Ryan’s little brother, Timothy. That’s when things really went downhill.
I decided then that I would leave Westmeadow as soon I could, without looking back, and never come back. I would never set foot in that town again, or Wexgate. And yet here I am. Sitting in the car, eating chips, knowing that I will be back there in a couple of hours.
I’d already told Casey everything about Westmeadow, apart from Timothy Campbell. Everything, but that. I still didn’t want to tell her. I suppose I would at some point, she had a way of getting things out of me. It’s not that I’d forgotten, I could never forget. I just didn’t want to ever admit that it happened. Thinking it is one thing, but saying it out loud would make it real.
“So how come you never told me about Ryan?” Casey says casually, while gathering a chip on her wooden fork.
“No reason, I just forgot about him.” I wasn’t about to tell her now. That secret can remain with me for a little while longer.
“Really? You know, I can tell when you’re lying right?”
“I know, but I’m not lying. He’s a couple of years older than me. I just don’t like thinking about the past. You know,” I started, but never finished the sentence.
“I know you don’t. And I’m sorry that I’m asking you to do this, I know it’s not easy. I just have a hunch that there’s something there. I know you get that. I honestly can’t find out anything about the town from the last ten years. Nothing about car crashes, accidents, robbery or even something good like new buildings or whatever. It’s almost completely forgotten.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of towns like that.”
“Obviously, but not ones where no one who lives there has an online presence at all. Ryan said he moved to Wexgate when he turned twenty-two and he thinks something strange is going on.”
“Fine, I’ll meet up with him. What’s the worst that can happen?”
Thanks for reading,