The clouds were even lower when Pat left the underground station.
“Please! Just five more minutes,” she prayed, turning her weary feet toward home. Pat hunched her shoulders, not against the looming rain, but against the crowd of people pouring out of the station behind her. Taking a tighter grip on her shopping, she allowed herself to be swept along.
The noise began at the second corner, growing louder with every step, until Pat could distinguish the music inside the murmur. At the park gates, the crowd turned, leaving Pat to stare over the fence at the giant silver dome of the main stage. A circus tent housed the smaller stage. They’ll need the shelter, she thought, as the first light drops of rain caressed her face. She looked at the scudding clouds. True concert weather, she thought, recalling her own past.
Pat looked at the posters as small streams of water began trickling across the bold yellow lettering. Most of the names meant nothing to her; she wasn’t exactly ‘up’ on current popular music. The headline act was a different story.
Pat could easily conjure up the faces. She had stared at them often enough, on the record covers and magazines that illustrated her youth. She had loved their music. Loved them too, as teenage girls do. She saved her money to buy records that she played again and again. The day the band split, she cried more tears than she did the day Roger walked out the door.
Roger. The last time she danced at a concert, Roger was with her. She had been pregnant at that concert. Pregnant, without knowing it, and without being married. The married part changed. Then changed back again. As for being a mother… well, that changed back too.
Pat shook her head. What was she doing standing in the rain, letting out memories long since caged in the back of her mind?
“Tickets! Buy and sell tickets.”
The tout’s voice called Pat back to the damp poster. Why not? This was the band’s reunion concert. Maybe she could recapture some of her lost youth.
Pat wasn’t totally strapped for cash these days. She could afford a few luxuries. Still, thirty-five pounds was a bit much.
“All right, Love. For you, twenty-five.”
Touts were getting nicer. In her day, they were no discounts.
“Done.” Pat reached for her purse before either of them could change their minds.
Pat stuffed the ticket into her purse, and hurried towards her tiny flat. The groceries dealt with, she headed straight back. Her idols weren’t due on stage for a couple of hours, but other bands were playing. She deserved some fun.
Concert crowds haven’t changed, Pat thought as she walked through the gate. They’re just older, like me. She was surprised by the crowd of teenagers drawn to the reunion of rock legends. Had they learned this music at their parent’s knees, as Kate had at hers?
Kate. As she did a dozen times each day, Pat sent a silent message of love to her daughter. Would Kate remember this band? She’d heard them often enough and sung along in her lisping child’s voice, in the early years when times were hard, but good. They fought more than they sang in the later years.
Pat’s eyes roamed the crowd, searching for a familiar face and tousled brown hair. She did it every day; in every tube station, street and shopping centre. She could no more stop her subconscious search than she could stop breathing.
Making her way up the rise overlooking the main stage area, Pat savoured the familiar smell of cooking food. Revellers of all ages milled around bars and stalls selling incense and cheap clothing. Nothing has changed, she thought, not in twenty years.
Pat turned her collar against the rain, almost regretting her impulsive decision to come. The money could have been better spent. Pat squashed that thought, even as it formed. Money – or the lack of it – had defined her life for too long. A hard life necessitated hard decisions, but hard decisions also made a hard person. She hadn’t realised that until it was too late for her marriage, and her daughter.
Pat shook her head. The atmosphere of the concert was bringing back memories she normally kept locked away. Surely, there were some good memories? She had to get into concert mode.
Her first stop was the T-shirt stall. The choice was greater; so too was the price, but the T-shirts were still the same. She remembered similar purchases of old. Some of the T-shirts had lasted longer than her marriage.
Food was next on the agenda. A burger. Nothing else would do. Pat bit deeply into the bun, ketchup dripping onto her fingers. Why, she wondered, did food that would be unacceptable in a coffee shop, taste so good outdoors?
When the press of people halted her progress towards the stage, Pat was closer than she’d hoped. People around her were swaying unfamiliar music. She started tapping a toe.
Then the heavens opened.
Within seconds she was soaked to the skin, her jacket no match for the torrent. Around her, the crowd shuffled to raise umbrellas and don cheap plastic ponchos. Pat stared laughing. What a picture she must present!
“There’s room for one more.” The man was sharing a huge golf umbrella with a woman and a teenage boy.
They smiled a welcome as Pat stepped into their small circle of comfort. All three were singing along with the band. Perhaps that’s what happens when a family stays together, Pat thought. Parents teach a toddler to sing, then teenagers teach their parents to rock. She jealous of the love that warmed this family like a cloak.
The rain stopped. Smiling her thanks, Pat stepped from under the umbrella, trying to shake off her mood as she did the drops of water. It was unlike her to wallow so deeply in her memories. That’s what happens, she told herself, when you try to go back.
She might have left then, but the band she had come to see was just a few minutes away.
Around her, the fans were jockeying for position, slipping and sliding in the quagmire under their feet. Just in front, a tall young man caught Pat’s eye as he tossed his long blonde hair and laughed. He was… nineteen or twenty? An earring glinted as he smiled down at the half-hidden girl at his side.
In that moment, Pat was transported back two decades. She saw the same smile on Roger’s face as he looked at her. Had she been young and carefree, like the woman at the blonde man’s side? Yes she had. Where had it gone?
Pat and Roger’s love had survived the shock of an unexpected pregnancy and forced marriage. They were far too young, but they might have made a go of it, if they’d both tried a bit harder. They didn’t, and Roger walked out, leaving her with a small child, and a whole world of bitterness.
Pat would have given anything to turn back the clock. Given another chance, she wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Her bitterness ate away at her relationship with her daughter. Kate was seventeen when she left. In the months that followed, Kate began to understand, but by then, it was far too late.
“Hey! How you’all doin’?”
The crowd roared as a man with a guitar stepped into the spotlight.
“You folks have been standing here in the pouring rain all day… and I want you to know that we…” Another cheer as the rest of the band stepped on stage, “… really appreciate that. We’re gonna make it worth your while… LET’S MAKE SOME MUSIC!”
The first chord blasting through amplifiers and speakers shook the crowd. The answering cheer was lost in the pounding of drums and guitars, as the band launched into a classic track from Pat’s past. She remembered every word. This was the soundtrack of her youth, and as she sang, Pat was absurdly pleased that the tall blond lad and the girl at his side were singing too.
On the stage, the musicians played their guitars like there was no tomorrow. They still looked good in tight jeans. What did it matter if their long hair was mostly grey? Pat gave herself up to the music and the moment.
It was raining again when the band left the stage, to thunderous applause. As the crowd surged forward, Pat’s feet slipped in the treacherous mud. She cried out, instinctively grabbing the nearest person for support. Instead, she dragged the girl down with her, and both fell face first into the mud.
“I’m so sorry…” Pat laughed as she spoke, wiping the mud from her eyes.
“That’s OK. No problem.” The girl was laughing too.
Pat opened her eyes and looked straight into her daughter’s face.
The girl’s eyes widened. For a second neither moved, still on their hands and knees in the mud, the crowd moving restlessly around them. Then strong hands grabbed them both, and pulled them to their feet.
“Katie, are you all right? Ma’am?” The tall young man with the blonde hair was Irish.
“I’m fine. Kate? I…” Pat didn’t know what to say. Two years was a long time. To meet again. Like this. The young Irishman looked from one to the other.
“I should have guessed you’d be here. Neil, this is my mother.” Kate’s voice was hesitant and uncertain.
The young man’s eyes flashed between the two women. Pat wondered what Kate had told him. “Well met, Mrs…” The rest of his words were lost in a thunderous roar as the band came back for the encore.
Pat could have leaped onto the stage and strangled the musicians one by one. Conversation was impossible in that noise, and she was desperately afraid her daughter might slip away before she had a chance to say … anything. She flashed a wild glance at the young man standing beside her. Neil smiled back. His left arm dropped across Pat’s shoulders. His right already encircled Kate. As the music swept over them, Kate and Neil joined the singer. Too stunned to do anything else, Pat added her voice to the rising chorus.
“You still remember.” Pat couldn’t hide her pleasure when a break between songs gave them a chance to exchange a few words.
“Of course I do. You played this so many times when I was a kid.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t end up hating it?”
“It brings back some good memories.” Kate yelled back as the opening chords of the final song sounded.
The music was over and the band had gone. Floodlights were pointing the way home. Pat, Kate and Neil stood to one side as the crowd flowed past. Pat’s eyes never left her daughter. Kate was beautiful. Always a pretty girl, in the past two years, she had changed and grown. Her clothes and hairstyle were not what Pat might have wished, but her eyes were clear, bright, and happy. Pat knew that her daughter was all right. She closed her eyes, in a silent thank-you that her prayers had been answered.
“How did you end up here?” Kate began.
“I was passing and saw the posters. I live just around the corner.”
Kate didn’t reply, and Pat realised that her daughter hadn’t known. Kate still pictured her mother in the tiny flat they had shared until they couldn’t stand it, or each other, any more. Pat had remained for more than a year, hoping to hear her daughter’s feet on the stairs again.
“I moved a few months ago. I left messages with our old neighbours. In case…” But obviously Kate hadn’t returned.
The silence was uncomfortable.
“Neil. Kate… you’re wet and muddy. Would you like to come back to my place? For coffee. Or Kate, maybe I could find you something dry…” Even as she spoke, Pat knew the answer was no. She sounded too much like the mother Kate had run away from.
“No. I think we’d better go.” Kate looked up at Neil, “and Mickey will be waiting for us.”
“Mickey?” Pat whispered. Who was Mickey? Surely not! Kate couldn’t have a baby. Could she?
“Mickey is the cat.” Neil must have seen the flash of panic in her eyes.
Pat sagged with relief. Her daughter hadn’t made the same mistake. The relief was swiftly followed by a profound sadness. How could she be so far removed from her daughter’s life? She could have been a grandmother, without knowing.
The crowd was almost gone. In another few minutes, they must walk out the gates, and turn their different ways. Neither mother nor daughter knew how to break the barriers of the past.
“Kate says you had an impressive record collection.”
Nail was smiling down at Pat with understanding and compassion. He seems close to Kate, she thought. Maybe he knows. “I suppose I still do.”
“You still have them? All those old records I remember?” Kate’s face broke into a broad smile.
“I could never bring myself to throw them out.” They were packed with so many other memories in a dusty box under her bed.
“Do you think,” Neil’s voice was tentative, his eyes moving from Mother to daughter and back again, “that maybe some day we… Kate and I… could come round and listen to them. I’d be really keen to hear some of the old ones.”
Pat could have reached up and kissed the tall young man. She immediately forgot the too long hair and the earring. She even forgave the tattoo. If only…
“Yeah. That would be cool. Can we Mum?”
Pat’s heart soared. Her daughter had called her Mum. How she had missed that word.
“Of course you can.” Pat had to bite her tongue. When, she wanted to ask. Next weekend, she wanted to plead, or tomorrow! But she didn’t dare. “Why don’t you call me?” She tried to sound as much a friend as a mother.
“OK.” Kate sounded cautious, but pleased.
Neil pulled a mobile phone from the recesses of his leather jacket. As he keyed in her number, Pat began a careful re-assessment of this surprising stranger. Earring and tattoo notwithstanding, she decided she liked this young man. Liked him a lot.
As they talked, their steps now took them inexorably towards the gate and their parting. As she stood there, not certain what to stay, Pat felt tears pricking the back of her eyes. More than anything in the world, she wanted to take her daughter in her arms and hold her the way she’d dreamed on so many lonely nights. But her daughter wasn’t a child any more. New beginnings are fragile things, easily lost or broken. Maybe…
Strong arms engulfed Pat in a hug. “We’ll see you soon, I promise.” The words were barely whispered in their soft Irish lilt.
“Thank-you.” Pat hoped he understood how grateful she was.
“Bye Mum.” Kate hesitated for just a second, then with a quick smile, she took Neil’s hand, and they turned towards the station. Pat watched until they were lost to her view, then turned her own feet towards home. Her step was lighter than it had been just a few hours ago, and she was singing.
First published by The People’s Friend – April 2002
Artwork by Chrissie Marks courtesy of The People’s Friend
Some years ago, I went to see the great Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse perform at a festival in Finsbury Park. It rained all day – but it was worth it. The concert was amazing and renewed my love for live music. This was the second story I sold, but the first to actually be published. I cried the day my copy arrived.
© Janet Gover 2001