Tartan Blanket

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“Tartan Blanket” (circa-1968)

From the day their mother and father informed family and friends that their daughter, Victoria had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, it took less than four months before her battle against the disease finally ended and her life slipped slowly away.

In the last few days of her life her body had been reduced from a nine stone beautiful young woman to a weak and helpless skeletal frame. With skin hanging like soft paper tissue from frail bones, she was unrecognisable and resembled a woman more than twice her age.

Ellen Brand told friends and relatives that Victoria was in so much pain and suffering that when her life ended it was a welcome relief.

After the funeral Ellen fought with her own recovery. But after too many sleepless nights, too many pills and too many severe bouts of depression leading up to, and after her daughter’s death, she eventually lost the fight and spent the rest of her life lost to pills and despair.

Eddie Brand was no stranger to death. He had seen enough during his National Service.

He had endured the pain, the sorrow and the anger when the life of a friend or loved one is unexpectedly taken away. He was also aware that when it happens we always look for someone to blame, and that someone is usually that devout man in heaven. But even after losing too many friends in World War II and spending too many sleepless nights drinking and cursing at a bible, he wasn’t prepared for the loss of a child.

If he had remembered about the heater not working in his father’s Rover 90, he would have worn a leather jacket over his thin cotton shirt.

The cold weather never seemed to bother his father. His shirt unbuttoned at the front and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding a cigarette.

If the truth were known his resilience was probably the reason why he hadn’t replaced the thermostat in the car. But nothing seemed to bother him. Even his deformed left arm didn’t prevent him from becoming a tailor.

The badly scratched tattoo on his father’s left arm was a permanent reminder of a heavy drinking session during his National Service days. He told everyone it was a scorpion, but with his deformity it could easily have been mistaken for a Lobster.

It was quite bizarre to think that he had gone all the way through World War II relatively unscathed. But when the war ended, his father and six other troops were driving through France in an army vehicle when the driver – who was apparently drunk at the time – collided with an obstacle at the side of the road. After losing control of the steering wheel the vehicle turned over and landed in a ditch. The six soldiers were thrown from the back of the vehicle and other than a few cuts and bruises they were relatively okay.

His father was less fortunate. After falling under the weight of the vehicle his left arm was crushed beneath one of the wheels. Medics told him that the soft ground probably saved him from losing his arm.

The one with the tattoo.

After driving for almost twenty-minutes neither of them had spoken a word. But with the age divide and nothing in common, conversations between fathers and teenage sons were always at a premium.

But although they didn’t talk very much he still had a lot of respect for his mother and father, knowing how difficult it was during their upbringing, providing food and clothing for him, his brother Frank and his two sister’s Victoria and Eve.

His parents were both humble people from working class backgrounds. They had no proper education and in those pre-war days they were expected to leave school at an early age to earn money to support their own parent’s modest wages. After leaving school at fourteen his father worked as a trainee tailor and his mother worked as a seamstress.

Married at nineteen, by the time Ellen Brand was in her mid-twenties she had given birth to four children. With six mouths to feed his mother and father worked harder than ever to provide the family with the best opportunities possible. And although they were deprived of some material goods, they always managed to get by.

During his early childhood he had fond memories of his mother and father working tirelessly on a ‘Singer’ sewing machine until the early hours of the morning, making suits or altering clothes for friends and neighbours, desperately trying to earn a little extra cash to supplement their modest income.

They made their regular day-to-day clothing that kept their children looking reasonably respectable. They even made their school uniforms from left over material that they had suspiciously acquired from previous jobs.

And they always made sure their names were written inside.

“How’s the job going?” his father enquired, through a cloud of cigarette smoke, the sudden break in silence, forcing a stammered reply.

“It’s…Its, okay.”

“Sticking in at college,” his father asked. “It was good of your boss to let you take a day off ataşehir escort work to attend Newcastle College.”

“Yes,” he answered to both questions.

“You’re training to be an architect?” his father said, with pride in his voice.

“Building surveyor,” he quickly replied.

“Same thing… I tell everyone you’re an architect.”

“Are they paying you enough?” his father boldly asked.

“Good enough, considering what my friends are earning,” he answered, hoping this would be the last of his father’s interrogation.

It wasn’t.

“When you’re going through an apprenticeship son you’re expected to do all the menial tasks at work. But don’t let that boss of yours give you all the shitty jobs to do.”

“Fucking shitty jobs… Don’t let him give you all the shitty jobs.”

He wouldn’t dare tell him about the shitty job his boss had recently volunteered him for.

Apparently someone using the men’s toilet felt it necessary to smear the walls of one of the toilet cubicles with human excrement, and the only way they were going to catch the perpetrator was to hide someone inside the toilet and observe the comings and goings of everyone using the facilities.

The humorous remark of the boss telling him they were looking for someone who didn’t bite their finger nails did little to help the mindless hours and boring days sitting on a wooden stool inside a cleaner’s cupboard, peeking through a grille in the door, a furtive voyeur waiting for the ‘phantom crapper’ to decorate one of the toilet cubicles.

A week had passed. There were lots of visitors in and out of the toilet. There were lots of bladders emptied and plenty of bowel movements, but unfortunately no desecrated toilets.

It was late one Friday afternoon when the sound of heels tapping across the ceramic floor tiles broke the boredom. He peered through the grille in the door. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Nicola Thompson, a young and very attractive girl from the admin office walked into a cubicle and closed the door.

A few minutes later the door opened and she was gone.

He slipped out of the cupboard and opened the toilet door.

The walls of the cubicle were smeared in human faeces and a signature of brown hand marks decorated the inside of the door.

He quickly retreated back to the cleaner’s cupboard returning to the cubicle with a bucket of water, a cloth and a bottle of disinfectant.

It took less than ten-minutes to clean the cubicle and return to the sanctuary of the cupboard.

He never asked her why…Only a psychiatrist could tell her that.

“Is that another new shirt you’re wearing? I hope you’ve written your name inside,” his father chuckled, blowing smoke against the windscreen.

“Oh Fuck,” he cursed silently. Not the story about writing their names inside their clothing.

He knew that if he didn’t change the subject quickly he was going to hear the story for the millionth time. But all he could think about was Nicola Thompson desecrating the toilet cubicle and he had no intention of betraying her dark obsession to his father.

“I knew you would do well son,” he smiled, tapping his fingers across the steering wheel.

“Did I ever tell you the story about when you were all growing up and you wondered why I had written your names inside your clothing.”

He frowned. He cursed silently. He knew he couldn’t prevent the inevitable narrative.

His father’s declaration was always said with conviction and guidance.

“It will encourage you to strive for better things in life,” he said, a thin smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“If your names on the outside of a building you are considered a rich man. If your names on the inside of a building you are known to be a working class man. But if your name is on the inside of your clothing, you will always be classed as a poor man.”

It went quiet for a few minutes, his father deep in thought, puffing away on his cigarette, another philosophical statement hanging on his lips.

“From the day we’re born we travel on the conveyor belt of routine. Working class…Middle class…Upper class…Rich and poor, all striving for better things in life… The only thing in common is that we all fall off the end smelling of piss.”

He smiled and winked at his son.

“So you must have thought about what I said, otherwise you wouldn’t have become an architect. Who knows son, one day you might be the next Christopher Robin,” he smiled, nodding his head and lifting his shoulders. “You never know,” he chimed.

He was about to correct his father’s mistake but fearing it might grow into an extended debate, which he wasn’t really in the mood for, he just sighed and waited for the anecdote that always followed.

“There are only two things that matter in life, son. Sex and money,” his father offered, pulling on his cigarette. “This is not a rehearsal son. Get as much as you can before you die,” he added, searching his memory for the name of his wife’s kadıköy escort bayan sister.

“Look at your aunt Gloria, poor sod. It’s only been six months since we put her in the ground and she’s already forgotten. She had no life with that bastard she married. He spent his money like a drunken sailor. If he wasn’t spending it on drink, he was throwing it away in the betting shop,” Eddie barked, flicking ash from his cigarette, echoing his words of advice. “Get as much as you can son.”

For a man who didn’t have a driving licence, Eddie Brand handled a car extremely well.

If you were to ask him why he had never taken a driving test he would be the first to tell you that driving licences are for people who lack the confidence and need a certificate to tell them they are competent behind a wheel.

The country roads had a covering of black ice and required his father’s deep concentration, so the rest of the journey fell silent until they reached Bishop Auckland.

Eileen Brand waved a welcoming hand from her living-room window when the Rover pulled to a halt outside her dreary council house.

“Come inside, Eddie,” she invited, raising both hands and wiggling her fingers. “And bring that handsome son of yours with you,” she added, a cheerful smile lighting up her face.

“I’ve made you and Mark a brew and something to eat,” she offered, spinning on her heels and heading to the kitchen.

After a cursory glance in the living room, Eddie lit two cigarettes and handed one to Eileen. “Where’s Malcolm?” he enquired, pulling on his cigarette.

“Where do you think,” Eileen cursed. “He’s in bed pissed. Your brothers always pissed,” she barked. “I married the wrong fucking brother,” she mocked, covering her mouth with her hand in the way of an apology when she realised her outburst of inappropriate language might have embarrassed Eddie’s son.

“You handsome young architect,” she said, forcing a smile and flashing her eyes, brushing her fingers through his long hair, hoping this playful gesture would recompense for her careless oversight.

“Building surveyor,” he offered, catching a glimpse of her huge breasts, sitting quickly on a stool to hide an untimely erection beneath the kitchen table.

“How’s Ellen coping with the loss of Victoria?” Eileen enquired, pouring tea into cups and placing a plate of ham sandwiches on the kitchen table.

“She’s devastated. We all are. But she’ll feel better tomorrow…After the funeral,” was all Eddie said, as he bit his teeth into a ham sandwich.

“Cancer and only in her early-twenties,” Eileen sighed. “She’s only a child for Christ sake,” she barked, staring at the reminder of her Catholic faith hanging on the wall, as if the man on the cross would give her the answer.

“You know we’ll have to stop using these,” Eileen said, taking a cigarette from Eddie’s outstretched hand. “There not good for you,” she declared, drawing smoke into her lungs, wagging a finger at his son. “Your too smart and certainly too handsome to start smoking,” she offered, brushing her hand against the side of his face.

“I wished I was eighteen again and know what I know now,” she sighed.

The hot cup touching his lips prevented him from confessing that the last woman he shared a cigarette with, her husband died on his own vomit…While he was fucking her brains out.

Not even scalding hot tea seemed to bother his father, he thought, the hot tea almost burning his lips. He must have an asbestos tongue, he decided, watching him drain the cup.

“I’ll go and check on my brother,” Eddie volunteered, scraping the stool across the kitchen floor as he stood up, his footfalls trailing in fading echoes up the creaking stairs.

Eileen fussed around the kitchen sink, his eyes following her every move, catching fleeting glances of her huge tits bouncing inside a tight blouse and her little bubble-shaped bottom wiggling enticingly beneath a snug pair of cotton trousers.

A tired face hidden beneath too much makeup and short blonde hair showing evidence of dark roots, Eileen Brand was no real beauty. But with her knickers creeping inside the crack of her bottom and a pair of tits that could stop traffic, she was always going to get his undivided attention.

Washing and drying dishes, clinking cups and rattling plates into cupboards, humming a tune inside her head, every movement suggestive, lifting and lowering, bending over, the fabric stretching over curvy buttocks, disappearing between both cheeks when she stood up, her unabashed performance leaving him with an uncomfortable awakening inside his pants.

Did she need to bend over that often? He thought. Or was Eileen teasing him? If she was he didn’t want her to stop.

A shuffle on the stool, his hand flirting with the growing muscle inside his pants, his eyes transfixed on her womanly curves, his head swimming in a sea of hormonal fantasies, thoughts and images forming in his tortured mind. Ripping her blouse open…Her big tits spilling escort maltepe into his hand…Fondling one and squeezing the other…Burying his face between her cleavage… Feasting on one nipple and biting the other…Breathing in her sex until she begged him to fuck her.

“That’ll have to do,” she sighed, turning quickly on her heels, the unexpected gesture breaking his lustful thoughts.

He cleared his throat and the erotic images from his mind.

“Will Malcolm be okay for the drive back to Gateshead?” he asked, sneaking another glimpse of her shapely breasts, discreetly lowering his hand beneath the kitchen table, moving the growing nuisance from its uncomfortable angle inside his pants.

“Fuck Malcolm,” she replied. “He can stay here for all I care. I’m sick of his drinking and I’m fed up with him constantly being drunk. The only time he wants sex is when he’s pissed. But because he’s pissed all the time, he can’t get it up.”

She sighed into her cup and lit a cigarette.

“Malcolm thinks a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” she frowned, blowing a stream of white smoke at the ceiling, her frown turning into a smile and a wink. “But men who say women belong in the kitchen usually don’t know what to do in the bedroom,” she said, forcing a laugh that quickly faded. “I’ve gone too long without love or sex. If it wasn’t for my phallic friend I think I would have left him a long time ago.”

She breathed another sigh and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, frowning when she caught sight of her wedding ring. “I think I’m probably giving you too much information,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “I hope I’m not corrupting your young mind,” she giggled. “I know your mother wouldn’t be pleased if she found out that I’ve been discussing my troubled sex life with her precious son.”

With her solo practices now embedded in his memory files and knowing he would have to stand up at some point with a painful lump straining inside his jeans, he waited until the moment was right, dropped his hand and quickly made another adjustment.

“Here he is.” Eddie announced, ushering Malcolm into the kitchen.

“Black coffee Eileen,” Eddie insisted, guiding his brother onto a stool.

After an hour of filling Malcolm with black coffee, Eddie was becoming impatient.

Although it was only four o’clock in the afternoon it was getting dark outside and with icy roads ahead he knew they couldn’t delay things any longer.

“Come on Eileen, we’ll have to get going.” Eddie said, taking Malcolm’s arm. “He’ll have to sleep it off in the car,” he added, lifting his brother from the stool.

“I don’t want that drunk in the back of the car with me,” Eileen screeched, as she picked up a small suitcase with their pre-packed funeral clothes.

“No,” Eddie replied. “Malcolm can sit in the front with me. If he needs to vomit or he has to use the bathroom, then I’d rather have him in the front where I can keep an eye on him.”

He was about to mention the broken heater in the car when his father chirped in.

“You’ll need to wear something warm, Eileen. My son said it was cold inside the car on the way here. I don’t feel the cold,” he offered, with a smug smile.

After slipping a woollen sweater over her head, Eileen opened a cupboard door and removed a large tartan blanket. “This should keep us warm, Mark,” she smiled, catching a glimpse of the impressive bulge inside his jeans.

With his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Eddie scraped a thin layer of ice from the windscreen while Mark poured Malcolm into the front seat of the car and Eileen put their luggage into the boot.

After too many turns of the ignition key and a few frustrated curses from the driver, the old Rover 90 eventually fired into action.

Under the veil of a darkening sky they headed back to Gateshead.

“Put this over your legs,” Eileen whispered, a suggestion of excitement and anticipation dancing behind flashing eyes, wrapping herself inside the tartan blanket and spreading the rest over his muscular thighs.

Because there was evidence of black ice on the country roads, Eddie didn’t talk too much, he just puffed on his cigarette and concentrated on the driving. Other than the occasional grunt from the drunk in the front seat, the inside of the car was reasonably quiet.

The car chugged along with comfortable ease, weaving its way through the sweeping country roads, the headlights beaming into the night sky, the occasional swerve brought about by icy conditions or the unfamiliar terrain.

“The roads are slippery,” Eddie confirmed, glancing in the rear-view mirror, muttering curses and apologies under his breath.

“Take your time…There’s no hurry,” he offered, smiling at his father in the mirror, blinking his eyes, trying to focus in the darkness, just making out the silhouette of his father’s face and his left hand on the steering wheel, the dashboard lighting up the fine hairs on his disfigured arm, the reflection in the mirror throwing back an image of a proud and honest man.

The man who didn’t have a driving licence. The man with a lobster tattooed on his arm. The man who thought one of the most highly acclaimed architects in history was called Christopher Robin.

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