Daria & Pete

I would enquire, would ask exactly how they all met, but all the members of this party are now dead.

*

1999-ish.

Father took us to Woolworths on the Holloway Road. Brother and I filled up a paper bag with pick ‘n’ mix and accidentally (?) walked out of the store without paying for it. Then we drove to the rough estate nearby to collect Pete from his council flat. Father locked the doors of the car while we waited, hanging off the kerb, engine running in anticipation, until Pete emerged, his cowboy boots clacking the concrete, ducking into the old banger with a slam of the door, a swift nod to Father and a backward glance at us.

Brother and I sat in silence in the back of the clapped-out once-white Peugeot, chomping on sugary chocolate mice and strawberry laces, our sticky hands clasped together in (what I recognise now as) fear, while the men up front smoked hash and discussed Father’s tape collection. We spent what felt like hours in the motor, driving somewhere far away, though it probably wasn’t at all, it was probably definitely still north London. Pete got out of the car and walked, alone, towards the entrance of the mysterious grey building. Father turned around and told us that we had to be on our best behaviour in this place: no running around or making noise, and don’t touch anything. He also said that we weren’t to be scared. We thought he meant of Pete, but he meant of Daria. Father said that yes, she may look scary in her wheelchair, with tubes coming out of her nose and neck and hand, with the machines all around her, beeping and pumping and blinking, but she was still Daria, still lovely, sweet, angelic Daria. He said that she was still Daria but she was just very poorly, and something called “Em Ess” was going to turn her into a real angel soon.

We entered the building together but as soon as we got the ward and saw Daria lying there, Father swiftly dug the car key out of the back pocket of his Wranglers, pressed it into my tiny hand and told us that we could go and play in the car, but don’t drive it or fuck about with the gearstick. Unless the traffic warden comes. In which case…

*

Pete had long brown hair which he wore in a neat ponytail at the base of his skull. He wore embroidered waistcoats. He had a gold hoop earring the size of a penny hanging from his left ear. His fingers were stained tobacco yellow. He wasn’t a friendly uncle-figure who brought us toys or asked us about school. He was the man who played backgammon with Father on Thursdays.

*

Pete was sad. He loved Daria.

Father was sad. He loved Daria.

Lovely Daria. Lovely, lovely Daria.

*

Father drank cans of Fosters and Pete drank bottles of Grolsch: I can’t un-remember this fact.

*

When we saw her, Daria didn’t have wings. Later, once Pete was gone, I cried until Father reassured me that she did have angel wings, they were just invisible to children. This is something else that I can’t forget.

*

One week they’d play backgammon in Pete’s local pub in Holloway; the next week, at a pub halfway between his flat and ours; then they’d play the third week at our local; and repeat. Sometimes, when Pete and Father were both skint, they would play backgammon at our disgusting council flat, in the “living” room. Brother and I were banished to the bedroom while the men smoked and drank and rolled the dice and played The Blues on Father’s old stereo, but we would spy on them, slowly cracking open the door, eyes searching through the gap, giggling at their bad language, writing down all the swear-words to teach to our pals at school the next day. We were too young to know what it meant but our new favourite phrase became, “You jammy bastard!”

*

Pete had a cat called Hopper. One day, Pete decided that he couldn’t look after Hopper anymore, so we took him in as our own; Father cared deeply for animals and though he could not afford to feed his two children, he must have thought that feeding a cat was doable. When Pete came over to play backgammon at our house, Hopper (happy to see his previous owner) would jump up onto the table and walk all over the game and Pete would push him off with more force than was necessary. Brother and I didn’t like Pete very much after that.

*

The men grew sicker and could no longer travel so far to meet one another. Eventually, they stopped playing backgammon altogether. Several years of sudden silence followed. I urged Father to phone Pete, to see how he was doing, to check if he was still alive. Father said that he didn’t want to because Pete’s depression made him feel depressed.

“You should at least tell him that Hopper died,” I said.

“You cannot help a man who doesn’t want to help himself,” Father replied, and that was that.

*

The men “survived” on pensions and disability benefit payments: both had COPD, emphysema, among other ailments and were no longer fit to work. Pete spent a lot of time wandering around the local charity shops. He had an eye for antiques. He would see a plate priced at 50p and buy it knowing that it was worth £500 at auction. He never took any of his finds to auction, though. He just accumulated all these rare and/or highly valuable artefacts and let them collect dust in boxes and on shelves in his moody little flat in N7. One day, Pete bought an old leather jacket in Oxfam for £3. In the pocket of the jacket was a genuine Rolex watch and £600 cash.

“You bastard!” said Father when Pete told him. “You jammy, jammy bastard!”

*

2005-ish.

 I was not yet a teenager. I’d been diagnosed with mixed anxiety-depressive disorder and Father was dying, slowly, painfully. These facts are surely interlinked. Father moved out, left Brother and I behind; we had to find ways to feed ourselves and Hopper, whose fur had become permanently matted with my tears. I wondered if Pete was depressed before Daria died or if Daria’s death was the cause of the darkness in him. Deep down, I knew that he was just as depressed before the love of his life died because his eyes were always black and soulless, for as long as we’ve known him, and it wasn’t because of the hashish or the lager because my chronically depressed Father’s eyes were bright and brimming with goodness, and he drank and smoked and did more drugs than Pete did. The depression was confusing and scary, and all I wanted was to turn into a real angel, like Daria.

*

2012-ish.

 “It was strange,” said Father. “This morning I got a phone call from a woman. She told me that she went to Pete’s flat, found him dead, and didn’t know who to call. Apparently, my name and number are the first entry in his address book. But she didn’t call him Pete, she called him Ian.”

“Ian?”

“Yes, Ian. So I asked her, ‘Who the fuck is Ian?’”

*

A memory: Daria being scared of Pete. Daria crying. Father hugging her, wiping her tears, promising to protect her, to keep her safe. Father saying to Pete in a scary voice, “If you ever lay a finger on her again, I will kill you myself.” Father gripping Pete’s shoulder while he sobbed all over the backgammon set. Brother and I were excellent spies.

*

I was at university when Father phoned to tell me that Pete had died, alone, in his little council flat in Holloway, undiscovered for three weeks. I was sad about it, felt some unfounded sense of loss, but Father seemed unaffected. Father wondered aloud, what will happen to all of those amazing antiques? Tens of thousands of pounds worth of them. The council would send a bunch of guys in to clear the place out. Father worried that they wouldn’t know what they were dealing with, that everything would be thrown into a skip and end up in landfill. Or the guys sent to empty Pete’s flat might know their Laliques and their Wedgewoods and would make a neat fortune selling it all at auction.

“The jammy fucking bastards,” said Father.

*

Father said that Pete wasn’t a good man. I asked him why he was friends with him.

 “Because Daria was an angel,” said Father, “and because no one ‘normal’ knows how to play backgammon. Around here anyway, it’s only bad men that know how to play backgammon because they learned it in prison. I have no choice but to befriend these nutters if I want to play my favourite game.”

 I pestered Father for years to teach me how to play.

 Soon, soon, he’d say, “not right now – we’ve got to dedicate an afternoon to sit down and really go through it together.”

*

When Father died, I didn’t know what to do with his beautiful backgammon set: neither I nor Brother know how to play. It sits on the shelf, collecting dust.

*

Father, recounting the phone conversation with the district nurse who was supposedly in charge of doling out Pete’s meds, told me that it had transpired that Pete was actually a man named Ian O’Callaghan, an IRA deserter who fled to England in the late 70s and created a false identity, met Daria in the 80s, crossed paths with Father in the 90s, became a loner in the 00s, died in the 10s, and became this short story in the 20s. Nobody attended his funeral. I can only assume that he was given a pauper’s grave, likely somewhere in Islington, though under what name? Nobody knows. Or cares to know.

*

Many years ago, Pete had given Father an intricately painted ceramic plaque that said, “Live well – Laugh often – Love much.” Pete did none of those things. There were bunches of acrylic purple grapes framing the mantra, and it had a rustic, antique-y look about it (therefore not as tacky as it would’ve looked had it been ‘Live! Laugh! Love!’ in glittery cursive). Father, always well-meaning, gave it to me when I went away to university and I hung it on the wall by its fraying rope, where it lived above my bed for a year.

When I moved out, I forgot to take it with me, so right now it’s probably in a doss house in Surrey or maybe it was thrown away by the person who moved in after me. Though perhaps the landlord donated it to a local charity shop for someone else to enjoy. Perhaps the plaque is on a shelf in Oxfam, with a £3 sticker on its back, sitting there collecting dust, waiting to be bought by another old man, maybe one with emphysema, one who wears an embroidered waistcoat, a gold hoop earring, a ponytail; somebody with a secret past, a violent streak, an inherent darkness, a fake name; somebody partial to a game of backgammon; another jammy bastard; someone who doesn’t live well or laugh often or love much; or somebody who is nobody at all.

 


This creative non-fiction memoir piece was originally published by HASH Journal @ House of Hash: https://houseofhash.net/hlr

12 Comments

  1. I’ve been following along with your posts still bc I’m subscribed to the emails & I loved your book so so so so much. I had Edward read it bc he is a psychiatrist now! I wanted him to have a better understanding of the patients POV which I think it did. I hope you remember me lol. I’ve finally started blogging again & I am so excited about it! You are the one who inspired me to have a go at it again <3 Back to "Don't Flinch" because that one always felt right for some reason.
    Hope I am not being too mushy lol just haven't gotten to ramble at you for a while.
    Love from across the pond,
    Kait

    1. KAIT! I’m so happy to hear from you! I thought of you last week when I went to a photography exhibition! <3

      Your comments about HoPC mean so much to me, truly. I wrote it -for- exactly those reasons and have been worried that the book hasn't reached the people I intended it to. So to hear that it affected you and Edward in this way, and served a purpose, brings me such joy, thank you.

      I am going to check out Don't Flinch right now. I'm not on wordpress a lot any more but I'm delighted that you're back. You know I adore you and your work. So pleased to hear from you. Hope you're keeping well, and that you're safe and supported and surrounding by love and beautiful things. H xxxxxxx

  2. Enjoyed that! I lived in Kingswood I think it was called in north London for 6 months or so – there was an Irish guy in the front room with a crazy welsh lass, he told me he was a qualified barrister, but had to work on the sites due to circumstances – I don’t know if that was true, anyhow, he beat the living crap out of that little welsh girl, bloody awful. When I went to move out, I told the Irish landlady I wanted my deposit back, she said she’d send her brother down to break my fecking legs! Charming! I think she was round Holloway – we did have a few laughs, but overall it was pretty bad to mix with that lot. That Welsh girl was pretty lively, very young, probably a runaway, I hope it worked out for her in the end, so full of beans, totally giddy!

    1. Haha, brilliant! There are SO MANY characters in London, all with stories to tell. I feel a strange sense of pride that I have immortalised Pete/Ian, made him exist to people other than the few that still think of him, if anyone does at all. Hope you’re doing well, OF! xxx

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