The Places We Used To Go
© Jon Horne  

   1st January 1987
    I woke up with the sun in my eyes, a harsh winter sun shining in through the gap between the thin living-room curtains. Every part of me was twisted a little out of shape. One arm was still asleep and the other one had pins and needles. I swung my legs out, sat up straight and surveyed the room. There were bottles everywhere, on the coffee table, under the coffee table, on top of the television, on the windowsill and all over the floor. Both ashtrays were full, the one perched on top of my records and the one which rested on Kevin’s stomach, gently rising and falling like a boat on a calm sea.
    Kevin had managed somehow to make himself comfortable on the armchair. He lay across it with his head tilted slightly back over the arm of the chair and his mouth open as if he was expecting the kiss of life. His impossibly long legs were draped over the other arm, nearly reaching the ground. Big hairy feet swung almost imperceptibly back and forth in time with his breathing.
    I got up, winced at the pain behind my eyes and went into the kitchen. I swilled two pint glasses in the sink and filled them with water. I drank half of one, put the other one on the floor next to Kevin and made a start on the room. In five minutes the ashtrays were empty and bottles were lined up by the sink like ranks of toy soldiers. That would do until we got up. I filled the glass again and took it into the bedroom where Miranda was sleeping soundly, wrapped inside the white duvet like a giant larva. I put the glass on the table beside her, took off my clothes and lay down, none too gently, on the bed. She whined in her sleep and moved just enough for me to ease a corner of the duvet out from under her. I rolled myself into the cocoon.
    “Fuh,” she mumbled, “yuh’re cold.” But she took my arm anyway and smothered it into her chest as if it was a teddy bear. She nibbled at my fingernails. I buried my face in her hair and we slept the fitful sleep of the hungover.
    Later the phone rang. I ignored it. It rang again some time after that. Kevin answered it. The bedroom door opened.
    “Hey Ally,” Kevin drawled, his voice a octave below normal, “stop shagging my sister and get the phone.”
    “Sod off,” I said into Miranda’s neck.
    “It’s your Dad.”
    “Aw Christ.”
    I got up and put on my underpants while Kevin theatrically hid his eyes. I went out into the narrow hallway where the telephone sat on a cardboard box.
    “Charming I must say,” my father said.
    “Hi Dad.”
    “Hello Alan. I was just calling to say happy new year.”
    “Thanks Dad, you too.”
    From the bedroom I could hear Miranda and Kevin talking in hissing whispers.
    “Did you go out?” I asked.
    “Not really. The Andersons came over, we saw it in with them.”
    “Oh. How are they?”
    “Bearing up. Peggy got a bit tearful but you’d expect that.”
    “Aye,” I said.
    “You should call them.”
    “I will. Later on.”
    “Really, they’d want you to.”
    “I will.”
    There was a silence, eventually broken by my father.
    “So,” he said, “I take it you were out painting the town red.”
    “A bit. You know what these two are like when they get together.”
    “I don’t think I want to,” Dad said.
    A voice in the background, my mother: “Stop hogging the phone.”
    Kevin lumbered out of the bedroom. He made a ‘T?’ sign as he went past. I gave him a thumbs-up. My mother’s voice was hoarse, but it was probably just the drink and cigarettes the night before. I peered into the bedroom; Miranda was once more pupating. From the kitchen there was a purposeful clatter of kettle and mugs. My mother wished me a very happy new year and told me to call the Andersons. I wished her a happy new year and told her I would definitely be up for Dad’s birthday. Kevin brought me a cup of tea, took one in to Miranda and then began hoovering the living room. I shouted at him to pack it in while I was on the phone. I said goodbye to my mother and went to help him.
    “No bother,” he said, “it’s nearly done.”
    I picked up a few token bottle-tops and crisp packets, then ran a bath and spent half an hour soaking away the sweat and smoky grease from my skin and hair. Miranda came in and brushed her teeth.
    “Are you alright?” I asked.
    “No.”
    “What’s up?”
    “Nothing.”
    “Come on, what is it?”
    “I miss them, that’s all! I just wish they were fucking here!”
    I couldn’t think of anything to say something that wasn’t bland and worthless. I wanted to change the subject. I ran more hot water. The night before, we had drunk many toasts to the memory of Iain and Jamie, all of them heartfelt and none of them really to the point. The point was that we (whatever ‘we’ were: Miranda and I, plus Kevin; Miranda and Kevin, plus me) were three-fifths of what we used to be.
    “Come here.”
    Miranda hung her dressing gown on the doorknob and got in the bath with me. I kissed her, soaped her back and held her until she said she was alright, which she wasn’t, then I got out and left her to it.
    Drying myself off, I said: “We should call their Mum and Dad.”
    Miranda said: “Why don’t we go back?”
    Kevin and I went out to Sandhu’s for milk and cigarettes. Frost glittered the pavements. A lone car spluttered along Heathland Road. In the distance, the motorway was quieter than any day except Christmas. Brisk strangers walked big dogs and ignored Kevin’s murmured Good Mornings. I looked up at him and shrugged my shoulders in apology. He glared.
    “You know what they’re like down here,” I said.
    He snorted. We turned the corner. Sandhu’s was open. We went inside. Mr Sandhu nodded at us. I said Hello. Kevin reached his hand over the till.
    “Oh yeah,” I said quickly, “you remember Miranda’s br...”
    “Kevin!” said Mr Sandhu, taking Kevin’s great paw and shaking it.
    “Hey Sandy, how’s it going?”
    “Surviving, always surviving.”
    “You and me both, pal,” Kevin said.
    They only saw each other about three times a year, whenever Kevin came down to stay. Mr Sandhu was never like that with me. We got the milk and cigarettes, also three kingsize Mars bars, and started home.
    “Hang on,” Kevin said. He turned and walked back to Sandhu’s. After a minute he came out carrying a bunch of flowers.
    “What’s that for?”
    “Brighten your place up.”
    “Miranda wants to go home,” I said.
    “I know.”
    When we got back, Miranda was in the living room in legwarmers, a long woollen skirt and my thickest pullover. The window was wide open.
    “Christ, it’s freezing in here,” I told her.
    “Room stinks,” she said.
    The flowers did brighten the place up. Miranda arranged them in twos and threes around the living room. I had one thin-stemmed vase, a moving-in present from the Andersons; the rest went in pint pots.
    “That’s better,” Kevin said.
    I was shivering. “Can we shut the window now?”
    By five o’clock it had been dark for over an hour. The windows and curtains were closed and we had both bars on the fire on. We sat around it, not exactly huddling together but not quite lounging either. Miranda was reading; Kevin and I were watching the football results.
    Miranda put her book down and started drumming her fingers on the carpet. I looked across at her. She kept doing it. I joined in: da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum. She didn’t come close to smiling.
    I gave up. I said: “You still want to go?”
    “Do you?” she asked.
    “No.”
    Kevin said: “I’m away home tomorrow anyhow. I’ve got work.”
    “So have I,” I said, “here.”
    “You’ve got three more days off,” Miranda countered.
    “Why do you want to go?” I asked.
    “Because. Look, a couple of days at home won’t kill you. I just think we should.”
    I pouted. I said to Miranda that I thought this was her home. She said I was sounding like my mother, which sent me into the bedroom to sulk.
    Later I said to her: “OK.”
    “You don’t have to.”
    “I know.”
    “I could go by train.”
    “You haven’t got any money.”
    I shouldn’t have said that.
    “I’m coming,” I said, “OK?”
   
    The next day, Kevin got up at seven and spent the morning doing whatever bikers do with the engines of their motorcycles. I filled a Tesco’s bag with two changes of clothes, and Miranda packed far more than she needed for a couple of days away.
    Kevin led off, weaving through the traffic onto Spaghetti. We trailed behind, amid the slow-moving ranks of overfilled hatchbacks. A lot of people were going home. We met up at Sandbach, where Kevin was on his third cup of coffee, and again at Charnock Richard, where we found him in the middle of being thrown out of the self-service for smoking at the wrong table and refusing to move.
    “You’re a bad man, Kev,” I told him.
    “Mad, bad and dangerous to know,” Miranda added.
    “Shite,” Kevin said, “where’re we going to eat?”
    We went on.
    “Thanks,” Miranda said as we went over Shap Fell, the summit patched with snow.
    “What for?”
    “For doing this. And stop fidgeting, it’ll be alright.”
    “Oh, it’ll be lovely,” I said.
    Miranda took a sharp breath. She bit back whatever she was going to say, folded her arms and stared out of the side window.
    The weather turned. Kevin slowed down and rode behind us the rest of the way. He saluted as we crossed the border. An hour and a half later, we were home. I pulled up outside their mother’s house and helped Miranda in with her bags while Kevin hauled his motorbike into the back yard and covered it with tarpaulin. Then I drove the short distance back to my parents’ house.
    My parents welcomed me in. They were a bit distant - which was fair enough, I thought. It must have hurt that I hadn’t come home for Christmas. I told them that Miranda and Kevin were with me and that we would see the Andersons in the morning.
   
    They came over just after breakfast. We trudged through the twisting side roads of the estate to the Andersons’ house. Kevin came as far as the front door. He shook Mr Anderson’s hand and kissed Mrs Anderson, then carried on, to work.
    My father was right; the Andersons were bearing up. We sat on the hearth rug, warmed by a coal fire, and were plied with tea and scones. Mr Anderson gave us a nip each of twenty-year-old single malt. He congratulated me on my new job, which I’d had for over a year. He wished Miranda luck in finding one soon.
    The room was shelved on two sides, floor to ceiling, and the shelves were full of books, a few of them old, some thick and academic, most of them uniform, orange-spined Penguins. I wondered how many of them the Andersons had read. On the mantelpiece above the fire were two framed photographs of Iain and Jamie. One was formal, the pair of them in suits, aged about fourteen or fifteen - at a wedding, judging by the carnations. Jamie was still noticeably the elder of the two. There was only eighteen months between them, but we really should have spotted something was wrong with Iain when he started looking older than Jamie; we saw them together often enough. At the time we were all too worried about Jamie. The other picture was of them splashing about in an inflatable paddling pool. It was a blow-up of a photograph that I had taken.
    “You remember that?” asked Mrs Anderson.
    “Uh huh.”
    “Showing off to everyone with your toy camera. We never knew it had a film in it.”
    I said: “We’ve got one like that of Kevin at home.”
    “Oh! When he fell in with his clothes on.”
    “That’s the one.”
    “You know,” she said, “I think Jamie must have pushed him in.”
    I didn’t say anything.
    Mrs Anderson said: “Jamie could be a bit boisterous, I know.”
    Mr Anderson shot her a look. It said: ‘Don’t’.
    She gave a fleeting smile that blanked her expression as effectively as if she’d used a blackboard rubber.
    “So anyway,” Mr Anderson said, “how do you like living down south? Feel like you’re where the action is?”
    He’d asked me the same question a year ago. Just as then, he didn’t wait for an answer before starting off about the way Glasgow was going. “All braces and pasta,” he said, “and they’ll be here soon, you’ll see” - which again was something he’d come out with before.
    We spent the morning with the Andersons and promised to come back in the evening.
    We met Kevin at the garage.
    “Two minutes,” he said. We waited while he got out of his overalls and set about his hands and arms with Swarfega.
    For lunch we went to Luca’s and queued up with generations of shoppers for fish and chips. Luca must have taken hundreds of pounds off of us over the years: school dinner hours, afternoon truancy, Friday evenings escaping our parents; and later, closing-time munchies which would sit in the pits of our stomachs until the next morning. He did reasonable fish, horrible puddings and great, great chips; rust-brown crisping around thick white mash. No green ones, ever. We used to buy single Benson and Hedges off him at 5p each, put them in our top pockets and smoke them after the chips.
    Miranda said: “Let’s go to the bank.”
    She meant a patch of wasteground near the river, between our estate and the football park. It was overgrown with shrubs and ferns but there were distinct tracks of grass that ran up the side of a steep rise - the bank itself. A couple of disease-ravaged elms marked the boundary between the bank and the flatter ground next to it. It had seemed when we were kids as if it was our place alone. For one reason or another, no one else ever seemed to go there. There were proper parks with real playgrounds for kids, pitches for lads to play football on, prettier patches in the woods where lovers could go, and whole estates to pick on if you wanted to cause trouble.
    The bank was where we’d played our imaginary games, such as hide-and-seek where the object was to not find the person hiding. We’d all scrabble around in the undergrowth looking for each other in rabbit holes and under twigs. It’s hard to explain, but to be too blatant about not looking was to cheat - and Jamie was very strict about cheating.
    At the top of the bank was about ten feet square of frozen mud, which in the summer was bare, sandy earth. It had been the castle, the fort, the wrestling ring, the operating table; whatever was at the centre of our games. We sat there, smoked and shared a tin of Coke that I’d brought from Luca’s.
    “You know what?” Miranda said, “I hated being the squaw.”
    I choked and sprayed Coke everywhere.
    “I’m serious,” she continued, “I had to sit there while you did all the running around. I wanted a gun.”
    We really had played Cowboys and Indians. I’d forgotten about that.
    “You were only little,” I said.
    “Only a girl, you mean.”
    “That’s not fair! We always included you.”
    We had, no matter what; never mind how much stick we got for it.
    “Only ’cause of him,” Miranda said.
    “Who’s ‘him’?” said Kevin. “Am I not included now?”
    “Christ almighty,” I said.
    Miranda was not to be stopped. “All I’m saying is that for ages, years mind you, I was only tolerated because of you.” She reached over and patted Kevin roughly on the leg.
    “Someone had to look after you,” Kevin said.
    I wished we hadn’t gone home. I had my own home. I didn’t want to be hanging around the places where we used to go.
    Kids’ gangs break up; that’s natural. Ours did.
   
    When Kevin was fifteen and Miranda thirteen, they were put in care. It was their stepfather. According to Kevin, one minute he was fine, and then before you knew it he’d got completely out of hand with the drink. I didn’t see any of this. By that time, Kevin wasn’t really in the picture as far as I was concerned, but Iain sometimes saw him and I still hung around with Iain. I started going with Iain to the children’s home. When the stepfather turned up and threw a slate through the window, we happened to be there. That was when Jamie got involved. For three nights running, Jamie, Iain and I stood guard outside the home. I don’t know what we thought we were achieving. He never came back and there was no more trouble, but by the end of it, we were all together again.
   
    “I should be getting back,” Kevin said.
    He left, towards town. Miranda and I walked the other way, across the estate, past both our houses and on into the woodland near the golf course. Hidden in the wood, like an ancient ruin half-buried in some tropical forest, was a walled garden. The big oaken gate was stiff; I shouldered it open and we went inside. Flowerbeds awaiting spring were arranged on a stepped maze of terraces. We sat on a bench at the high side of the garden. All the time we’d been home, in fact ever since I’d made the stupid sarcastic remark on the journey up, we hadn’t kissed or held hands.
    It was only a day. We often didn’t kiss. We often did. Sometimes we went for days and nights just co-existing; other times we became one of those embarrassing couples who feel each other up in public and sunbathe in the missionary position on Sunday afternoons in the park. But still...
    “What’s wrong?”
    “Nothing. I think I’ve got a job.”
    “That’s great.” Then I said: “It’s here, isn’t it.”
    “They need a girl to answer the phone at the garage.”
    “What? Aw, come on!”
    She rolled her eyes. “I knew it.”
    “No, I mean... for Christ’s sake, you can do better than that.”
    “Of course I can. But I need a job now.”
    I felt sick.
    “I’m sorry,” she said.
    “When do you start?”
    “Soon as I can. Tuesday at the latest, or they get someone else in.”
    “Are you coming back with me?” I asked. I could hear my voice cracking.
    “I don’t think I’d better.”
    I didn’t say anything for a long time. I picked at a hangnail. I probed a broken back tooth with my tongue. Miranda was watching me.
    I reached into the deep pocket of her coat until I found her hand, limp, passive and as cold as the day. We sat staring at the bare flowerbeds. I could say that birds twittered in the leafless trees; they probably did, but I can’t say as I noticed.
    Eventually I said: “Shall we go?”
    “If you like.”
    “I’m sorry Miranda. You’re right, you should take the job.”
    “I’m going to.”
    We stood up and started to walk back to the estate.
    “Where’ll you live?”
    “Mum’s. For now anyway, then I’ll see what happens.”
    “Does she know?”
    Miranda laughed. “No.”
    “She’s in for a shock.”
    “Oh aye, I’m terrible to live with.”
    “I’ll tell her that,” I said.
    “Still,” Miranda said, “I’ve got my good points.”
    She took her hands out of her pockets, turned around in front of me and rested her forearms on my shoulders. She stepped closer. I put my arms around her waist and drew her in until we were touching. We stayed like that for a few seconds, our breath mingling and condensing together. Then I let go and ducked out of the embrace.
    “No,” I said.
    I could barely breathe; my throat felt as if I’d swallowed a nail. We walked back to the estate side-by-side, too quickly, not talking.
   
    “So,” Mr Anderson said, “you’re staying on.”
    “That’s right,” Miranda replied.
    “Working too,”
    “Yes.”
    “That’s very good. So many youngsters go away and just end up in a rut. They waste their lives when they could be making a difference.”
    We were once again in the Andersons’ living room, lined up on the settee, Kevin in the middle with Miranda and I at each end, sitting with our legs crossed away from each other. Mr Anderson was in the armchair, slightly drunk. Mrs Anderson was standing in the kitchen doorway, staring daggers at him.
    He continued: “We all have a potential to fulfil.”
    The number of times I’d wanted to hit that man. But I let it go, and so did Miranda. We both turned to glance at Kevin, who was practically shaking with rage. Miranda put her hand on top of his and squeezed his fingers.
   
    Jamie died by misadventure. He fell into the Grand Union canal. Apparently it was heart failure, rather than the actual drowning, which killed him; probably caused by the cold. It was so cold that week. The surface was frozen; there was always a side of Jamie that thought he could walk on water. He was probably on his way to see Miranda and me. She hadn’t long moved in. It was Valentine’s Day, 1986. There were flowers and candles. I cooked moûles marinières from a recipe book that my mother had given me a couple of Christmases before. For dessert, I gave Miranda a peeled banana and two small scoops of ice cream. She kicked me under the table, but she ate it with a smile. We made love; and the next evening we heard about Jamie.
    For months he had been turning up at stranger and stranger times - five in the morning, half one in the afternoon when I was late getting back to work - looking ever more drunk and wild.
    Sometimes he sent me letters, although he only lived on the far side of the city. I would read them and not know what the hell to do. I would try to phone him but he wouldn’t have paid the bill. I would go over to see him. Sometimes he wouldn’t answer the door even though I knew he was in; other times he would be wide-eyed and manic, always drinking. I told him to stop. I begged him once - I actually got down on one knee as if I was proposing - but I think it had the opposite effect. I was much younger then and I didn’t know what was the right thing to do. Sometimes he was just himself - thoughtful, funny, arrogant, all those things that he was.
    His letters kept talking about ‘potential’, his father’s favourite word; how he’d had it and how he’d wasted it. There was even a laboured quip about his ‘potential energy dissipating into the ether’. I don’t know how much of his father’s badgering he had taken to heart, or how much of it was the drink and the depression talking.
    I don’t even know if he was depressed. I still don’t know where you draw the line between depression and just being very tired and pissed off with your life.
    I know how hard he used to work. A law degree, as far as I was concerned, was something other, something that people like Jamie did. I took the piss out of him when he got his first pair of glasses, but I knew he’d knackered his eyes staying up all night with his books. I’d seen him at it. He failed one set of exams, I think in the January, and then again in June. Over the summer he just gave up, and that was when he took to drinking in the daytime. The university finally slung him out in the September, after he’d failed yet more exams (or more likely the same ones again). I realised then - he probably knew already - that he was just like the rest of us, halfway smart and halfway thick; he’d have been better off doing what we had done, knocking off school early, farting about all the way through our adolescence and getting crappy little jobs when we were sixteen. Even Iain managed that, despite his father. Iain might have died young, but at least he had a laugh when he was alive.
    I was living in England by the time all this went on. If I’m honest about it, I came here because of Jamie. I tend to forget: for the first year or so, he loved it down here. He got in with the usual student crowd of potheads and eggheads, and he wanted us all to join in. He kept sending me the jobs page of the Birmingham Post. Being a jumped-up office boy is a transferrable skill; I fancied a change of scene, and if he wanted a bit of company, then that was fine with me.
    The last time all five of us were together was in the October, for my twenty-first birthday - actually a couple of days before it, because that was the Saturday. It wasn’t a party as such. By then, Jamie was on the slide, so I didn’t want him going off his head and ruining it for himself and the rest of us. We just had a big, hot chicken chilli with a bottle of wine between us, and watched a couple of films on the video. It was the night that I first got off with Miranda - properly anyway. What with the two of us disappearing away to bed at midnight, and what with Jamie wanting a drink, and Kevin and Iain talking him out of it, it meant that, as usual, we didn’t take enough notice of Iain.
    Thinking about it now, Iain looked so ill. I can’t believe that we weren’t worried sick over him. But we weren’t.
    I wonder sometimes if Jamie knew. He only ever sent his mad letters to me, and when Iain was there, he tried so hard to be normal. Perhaps he just didn’t want his father to find out how low he’d sunk, but I like to think he was worrying about Iain, even if the rest of us weren’t.
    Iain died on the 15th December 1985, in Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The last two weeks of his life were the worst thing I have ever seen. I went up there twice, each weekend. The first time, Jamie went with me; then he stayed for the duration. Iain was twenty-one but he might have been seventy, grey-faced with masks and drips, wired up to monitors. They should have just let him go.
    Jamie came back to Birmingham on the night of the 16th, telling his parents that he had things he must do. On the 19th, I went to fetch him and drive us both up for the funeral, but he wasn’t at home. I looked everywhere, all the pubs he went to, and all the friends of his that I knew. To this day, I don’t know where he went. In the end, I drove up by myself.
    Christmas was awful. A couple of weeks after that, Miranda came to live with me. She stayed for a little less than a year.
   
    “I said,” Mr Anderson slurred, “that we all have a potential to fulfil.”
    “Alright!” Miranda snarled, finally. “You’ve made your point. I’m only answering phones at the garage!”
    “Leave her alone,” said Mrs Anderson. She went back into the kitchen and brought out a tray of tea and Hobnobs.
    “All I was saying...”
    “All you’re saying,” I said, “is that whatever we do, you’re going to sit there and carp about it. Why can’t you just let people get on with their lives?”
    I regretted it straight away. I turned to Mrs Anderson and said: “I’m sorry.”
    “No,” she said, “I agree with you.”
    I had to be getting on. It would be an early start the next morning. I drank a cup of tea to show no hard feelings. Mr Anderson was quiet.
    I said Goodbye to Miranda in the Andersons’ hall. We kissed. She said that we didn’t have to split up just because she was moving back home. I said no, we didn’t have to. She told me the things she needed from the flat. I promised to send them up to her, as long as she phoned me and reminded me again of what they were.
    I told her I was sorry that I’d got angry with her, and that it was only because I was going to miss her. She said she should have told me sooner. I wondered how long she’d been unhappy living with me, but I didn’t say anything about that. We kissed again. Kevin came out into the hall and hugged both of us, which was the sort of thing he sometimes did; then I walked back to my parents’ house.
   
   

***
   


    The summer, 1971
    I stood in the line, peering nervously from side to side. Kevin did the same. Iain stared hard-eyed, straight ahead, ready to take on the world - though he knew he had to die soon. At the top of the bank above us all was Jamie.
    “Charge!”
    We made Red Indian noises and stormed the battlements. Jamie levelled his machine gun.
    “Dadadadadadadada!”
    Kevin hurled himself to the floor and lay still. I held my chest and sank slowly to my knees, groaning and contorting my features in agony. Iain plummeted and lay face down on the grass with his arms out on each side, palms up, rigid. Then just as it seemed all over, he gave a final twitch, a terrifying death-rattle which brought murmurs of approval even from Kevin. We stayed still and silent except for little Miranda, who ran in excited circles beside Jamie.
    Jamie walked slowly, coolly down the bank, waggling his finger from side to side. He pointed at me.
    “You win,” he said.
    “I was the best!” Iain howled.
    We all stood up. Jamie grinned and chewed. A head taller and a year and a half smarter than any of us, he knew how to keep us in our place. Iain flew into a rage and leapt at me. We wrestled each other to the ground and tussled until Jamie grabbed us and bashed our heads together.
    “Pack it in, you stupid wee bastards!” he said. We let go, dazed.
    “I’m telling Mum that you swore,” Iain muttered.
    I picked myself up and waited with Kevin while Jamie battered Iain into silence.
   
   

***
   


    31st December 1999
    I’m trying to make some sense of us, together as a five, and perhaps explain what happened to us. That doesn’t do it. It’s dramatic, but in truth it’s just what kids do all the time. What is Cowboys and Indians, or half of the games we play when we were left to our own devices, except a death dance?
    Really, the only unusual thing about what happened to us was that Jamie and Iain were brothers. A friend of mine, who is a teacher, once told me that in any decent-sized school, one child per year is pretty much guaranteed to die, just by the law of averages. Apparently some teachers like to run a sweepstake on it. Jamie and Iain were a year apart, and they both made it through school anyway. It was bound to happen to someone. It was just unlucky that they came from the same family, and that they were our best friends.
    My wife, Caroline, is fuming at me. We are going to a party at Miranda’s tonight, and Caroline doesn’t want us to go. I’ve backed down on just about everything recently, and this time I’m digging my heels in. It’s getting near midday. If we don’t leave soon, we’ll be seeing the millennium in separately, because I’m going to the party whatever.
    Caroline still sees Miranda as an old flame, or as my childhood sweetheart (which she wasn’t), and Kevin simply as Miranda’s brother. She doesn’t really understand us as three of five. I’ve talked to her about it, many times, but it all seems very childish to her. She once made a snide remark about us as the Famous Five, although she apologised for that. Caroline and I have our bad days - we’re having one now - but she’s not a cruel woman.
    It is true that Miranda was my girlfriend for a year and a bit, but no one could say it was a good year. Not counting a couple of flings with Jamie’s student friends, it is also true that Miranda was my first love. There’s nothing I can say to that, except that I certainly wasn’t hers. She had boyfriends all the way through school, and even got engaged, albeit briefly, to one of them.
    I see Kevin sometimes. His job takes him all over the place, and we’re pretty central as far as England goes. Anything in London or the West Country, and he usually pops in for an hour on his way there and back. I miss him for days after he drives off. He’s still huge, of course, and in the last few years he’s put some weight on as well. Sometimes I wonder how he fits in the car.
    The last time I saw Miranda, she spent her thirtieth birthday with us - over two years ago now. Her husband had gone away and didn’t look as if he was coming back. Caroline was suspicious of her turning up out of the blue, but she was won over by the children. Miranda has two boys, Liam and Daniel, who have smiles that make women melt. I think they know it, too. Caroline and I have a little girl, Colette. She is also going to the party with us, as long as Caroline relents - and Caroline’s body language suggests that she will. I don’t know about Kevin’s little boy, James. Kevin and his partner are sometimes together and sometimes they’re not. I don’t know how they stand at the moment. I wish they hadn’t called him James; he’ll only end up as Jamie. I don’t believe in omens, but that one’s a bit too close to home.
    Okay, we’re going. Time to strap in the child-seat. I knew Caroline would see sense eventually. To be honest, I don’t think she’s as suspicious of Miranda as she makes out. It’s a long way to go for a party, and I reckon she just doesn’t want to be bothered with it.
    Sometimes I imagine our kids all growing up together the way we did. I’m sure we were happy. When Caroline talks to me about her childhood, it sounds so lonely, having one Best Friend. Mind you, I’m not sure I’d want Colette getting stuck with all those boys. Miranda hated being the squaw.
    The millennium is wasted on people like us. I was thirty-five last October. Best to be eighteen and on your way to Edinburgh or London. We’d have loved it, us five. Sometimes I think about Iain and Jamie; not often, just at times like this. Miranda said it, a long time ago: I miss them, that’s all. I just wish they were fucking here.


      
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