By Chris Clark
Extinguishing the cigarette under his hand-made Italian sole and savouring the last hit of nicotine, Martin Cavendish checked his reflection in the blacked-out car window, sighed, and headed towards the faint sounds.
Crunching the Transit’s gears, Gary Wright cursed. Solid summer air exacerbated the clamminess of his hastily-showered body. The thin aroma of own brand supermarket shower gel wilted against the overpowering stench of hard graft emanating from the cluttered rear of his van, as a sharp right hand turn sent week-old redtops scrambling across the dashboard.
A ‘Class of 82 Reunion’ banner strung with all the care of a ‘closing down’ sign welcomed those ex-pupils curious enough to come back. The school gymnasium had taken on the look of a hastily arranged birthday party. Nervous trestle tables trembled under a battalion of warm lager, as sandwiches wilted in their cellophane cells. The gym apparatus, for so long the nemesis of many, appeared impotent. In contrast, the thin blue floor mats seemed just as unforgiving.
Martin Cavendish wished he’d followed his instinct and stayed away. Someone he should recognise said hello. He replied politely, and threw the remnants of the tepid white wine around the plastic glass.
Suddenly, the unmistakeable, flat northern tones of Gary Wright crept over his shoulder, causing his stomach to bottom out. Tentacles of sweat spread quickly through the fibres of his Egyptian cotton shirt, circling his expensively-trained body, instantly turning the crisp white shirt translucently limp.
In tandem, the two men turned, faced each other, and stood. Memories of their shared childhood flashed before them.
Suddenly a wrecking ball landed on Martin Cavendish’s tanned jaw, pausing his recollections. The ex-pupils surrounded both men; Martin staggered backwards as hands shoved him back towards his attacker. His head spun. Their faces blurred. All he could hear was the familiar school yard chant:
Gary Wright bounced on the balls of his feet.
“Come on!” he taunted. “Come on!”
Licking at the trickle of blood that escaped from his lip, Martin stayed put. As kids he couldn’t beat him, never, and now his gym-fit body was no match for the power of Gary’s raw manual labour training.
“Why?” Gary was now screaming at him. “Why? Why’d you do it Mart?”
Martin crouched on one knee, as crimson red droplets spit-spotted the parquet flooring of the gym.
Gary had dropped his fists, beads of sweat clinging to his eyebrows. The crowd waited, hushed.
“Why would you do that to me? Why’d you tell me the wrong time for the train?”
Martin Cavendish knew why. He knew that taking Gary with him that day would have been social suicide. His jeans were always that half inch too long. He wore supermarket polo shirts. And that bloody hair – how could Gary be a Mod with curly hair?
“Come on, I deserve an answer, Mart.” Gary had calmed, pleading almost. “It was The Jam, The Jam for God’s sake!” he repeated, looking round the circle of ex-school friends. “Our band!”
He was right. Martin knew that. They’d been inseparable growing up, loving the same band. The Jam’s last gig was in Mod Mecca Brighton in December ‘82. Martin and Gary, both sixteen, arranged a pilgrimage, the first and last time they would see The Jam – together.
Tears of frustration replaced the rage as Gary walked to his still crouched ex-friend.
“Why? That’s all I want to know Martin. Why?”
Martin stood, dusted down his trousers and brought their crease back into line.
“You just weren’t Mod enough.” Martin looked him straight in the eye and repeated, “You weren’t Mod enough.” He knew the statement sounded hollow, even more so out loud.
Gary shook his head with disbelief, “We’re brothers! Didn’t that count?”
“Step-brothers,” Martin interjected, turning away.
“Not Mod enough…” Gary repeated incredulously. The baying circle began to dissipate as an ex-teacher arrived.
“Break it up, break it up, come on now,” his liver spotted hand shooing, reasserting an authority he’d long since relinquished.
“And here’s one for all you old Jam fans out there,” DJ Johnny Lightning announced from behind his traffic lights to nobody in particular. “Thick as Thieves.”
Chris Clark lives in Leyland and is searching for a decent winter coat.