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One – 1981
All Jed P. Horton wanted was a job. If anybody had bothered to ask him, he would have told them he’d do anything, collect rubbish, stack shelves, walk your dogs, pull your teeth out, absolutely anything, but please would somebody employ him. He was a good guy, and at eighteen, young enough to do almost anything.
Jim, his best mate, had started at The Friendly Chippy a couple months back. And already he’d landed a pay increase after winning the ‘Best Fryer in Town’ competition. Admittedly it hadn’t been too hard to achieve, considering the competition had garnered only one entry, Jim. But still Jim was earning, and Jed was not.
Jessie, his other mate, had suggested his unemployed state lay smartly at what he wore. Jed had not been pleased. As far as he was concerned, tight jeans, leather jacket, red Doc Martens and coiffed black hair were just fine. And anyway, he’d reminded her, if Jed Parsons, his rock ’n roll hero, could dress like this, then why the heck couldn’t he.
The trouble was it was 1981. And in 1981, his peers preferred shoulder pads, leg warmers, and of course the customary big hair.
It was fair to say Jed didn’t do himself any favours. But there again, it would be fair to say, he really didn’t give a toss.
Jed cocked his head as the town clock chimed the half hour. He’d been at the job centre, in the oddly named town of Leighton Buzzard, for close on thirty minutes. But as yet, he’d not mustered up courage to walk in. He stood at the window and stared at the multiple rows of job-cards before him. Occasionally he frowned and nodded, hoping his feigned interest would disguise his nerves that had sent his stomach churning and diminished his ability to read. He felt completely useless and envied the people who’d strolled in amiably and applied for jobs while he’d only managed to root himself to the ground.
He took several deep breaths and reminded himself how pathetic he was. The more he told himself this, the more his annoyance built. His jaw clamped and he ground his teeth deliberately and slowly. He wasn’t sure what would be worse, standing outside all day, or going home defeated. His mum would sigh, of course, and then he’d be even more miserable. He was living a nightmare, a twenty-four-seven nightmare at that.
A group of young lads barged past him, pushing him towards the door. Jed bristled. His chin lifted and he was ready to deliver a punch. He glared at the boy who was before him.
The boys’ eyes were wide. “Sorry, mate, sorry. You goin’ in here?” He grappled for the handle. “Here, I’ll hold the door for you. Sorry.”
Jed nodded and took a step forward. Now, there was no chance of turning back, the lads were following him in.
Once inside, the lads dispersed, leaving Jed to wonder what the hell he was supposed to do now. There were counters with queues for enquiries, and tables and chairs for applications. He couldn’t for the life of him decide the difference. He scanned the centre for a friendly face and was rewarded with none. Once again he felt his feet rooting and he cursed as he felt a build-up of sweat in his armpits and his heart began to race. He heard somebody coughing, the sort of cough used to attract attention, and turned to see if it was aimed at him.
“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked, tapping her painted fingernails on her desk. She was a young woman, probably only a couple of years older than Jed. He felt her eyes running over his body and he prayed the sweat running down his chest hadn’t soaked into his t-shirt.
“Well?” she asked, as her tapping increased. “Are you delivering something or using my office space as a way of getting out of the cold?”
Jed stared as he struggled to speak. It was maddening that he was unable to come back with a sharp response. He closed his eyes and told himself to pull himself together. All he needed do was explain what he was there for, and then she’d direct him on. He clenched his fists and opened his eyes. “No. I, err, I wanted to speak to somebody about a-” He paused and swallowed. This wasn’t going as he’d hoped, he sounded like a three-year-old afraid to ask for a drink. “A job,” he blurted.
The receptionist smirked and flicked her hair from her face. “Really? And do we have a CV?” She pulled herself up and arched her back, accentuating her breasts. “You do know what a CV is?” She didn’t wait for a reply, raising her voice to draw attention to the situation, intensifying Jed’s discomfort. “It is a curriculum vee-tie. And if you don’t know what that is, it’s a document that outlines your work and education levels.” Her forehead creased, “You have been educated, haven’t you?”
By now several other job applicants were staring at Jed. He felt his ears burning and he began to shake. “Yes. I do have one, just not on me.” He wiped droplets of sweat from his nose with his sleeve. “I thought I could-”
The receptionist held her hand up to silence him. She winked and beckoned for him to come forward. Jed edged towards the desk and leant towards her baby-pink lips. He could smell her perfume; it was floral, not something his mum would use. He felt her warm breath on his neck as she whispered into his ear.
“Sweet-pea, I didn’t see any adverts for Jed Parsons impersonators on our boards. At least that’s who I think, you think you are.” She reached for his jacket, pulling him closer until her lips brushed his cheek. “So why don’t you stop wasting my time and go find yourself a freak show position instead?”
Jed recoiled and bolted from the centre. As the door slammed behind him he tripped over a rubbish bin sending the contents scattering into the road. He tried to grab the bin but slipped and fell to the ground, landing heavily on his wrist. He pulled himself up, cradling his arm. As he did, he saw the receptionist and several of her colleagues, laughing and pointing through the window. He felt close to tears and swore at a young mother who came to his assistance. He wanted to apologies, but couldn’t. Instead he ran, until he reached his battered old mini.
Sitting in his car, Jed held his arm. His fingers were badly swollen and any wrist movement sent a shooting pain up his arm. He would have done anything to have his mum or Jim drive him to the emergency room. But driving home and finding either of them wasn’t an option; he needed medical attention now. He started the car, and edged his way into the traffic. The drive wouldn’t be easy but he’d driven one-handed before, admittedly when he was drunk, but he was confident he’d reach the hospital with nothing more than a damaged wrist.
The emergency room was reasonably quiet, and Jed sat near the back waiting his turn. He fiddled with his cigarette packet and put a cigarette to his lips. A passing nurse coughed and pointed at the non-smoking sign, so he sheepishly removed it and placed it back in the packet. He tried to browse through some dog-eared magazines but quickly became bored. He turned his attention to counting the tiles on the wall. When he reached four-hundred-and-eighty-five he heard his name being called and followed an orderly to a medical room. He smiled nervously at the nurse and followed her instruction to sit on the bed. She ignored his attempt at pleasantries and kept her head down as she questioned why he was there.
Jed dubbed her Sister Happiness. If ever there was contradiction, this was one: She seemed about as happy as a man with boils on his balls, and her face was about as pleasant to look at as a dried prune with mould. At one stage he nearly kicked her in the shins when she smirked and yanked his wrist to test its capacity for movement.
“Not broken, badly sprained,” she snapped at Jed.
Jed nodded. “Will I need plaster?”
“Hardly. A tight bandage will suffice. Don’t move, I’m going for supplies.”
Jed hoped she’d trip and crack her head open and then the pretty looking nurse at the desk would come back and bandage his wrist. But he was not in luck; Sister Happiness returned. She yanked his wrist once again and began bandaging. Before he could stop himself he screamed, “Fuck that’s sore.” Sister Happiness smiled and yanked even harder.
Jed left the emergency room, scowling. In his pocket was a pot of strong painkillers that he was told not to drink alcohol with. Fat chance, he thought, and headed for his mini.
Two – 1976
Jed felt Simon’s hand tightening around his throat. He was convinced that this time he was going to die. He clawed at Simon’s hand, digging his nails into skin as Simon towered above him, goading him to fight for his life. He lashed out with his feet and landed a direct kick on Simon’s bare shin. Simon screamed, but still maintained his grip. Jed kicked again, but this time managed only a glancing touch. Simon recovered quickly and landed several punches to Jed’s stomach, winding him badly. He closed in until his nose was touching Jed’s cheek. Simon’s breath was rancid. A globule of spit hit Jed in the face and he gagged as he felt it slowly rolling down his cheek, and touching his lip.
Simon grinned and turned to his mate. “Search his bag, Jonno. He must have something good in there to eat.”
Jonno did as he was told and pulled out a lunch-box. He ripped off the lid and a mound of sandwiches fell to the floor. He grabbed one and squashed it in his hand. Tomato sauce squelched between his fingers and he screwed up his face. He tossed the bread to the floor and smeared the thick, red sauce over Jed’s white school shirt and then his face. Jonno sniggered as he pushed the sauce into Jed’s eyes and up his nose. Simon reached over and mixed the sauce into the spit and began to laugh, a sickening and cruel sound emanating from deep in his gut.
Jonno paused abruptly, his sauce-caked hands before him, his mouth wide. “Shit, Simon, somebody’s coming.”
Simon told Jed to shut up, or else. His grip started to lesson and Jed took his cue, aiming his knee at Simon’s groin. Simon went down hard, gasping, his hands between his legs.
Jonno took off even before Simon hit the ground, and Jed was determined not to be far behind. He stumbled over Simon as he grabbed for his school bag. As he was about to run, he turned back and raised his foot and delivered a thwack to Simon’s stomach. Simon groaned and Jed heard footsteps closing in. Fearing he would be found, he ran, rubbing his throat and gulping for air.
The emergency exit was in sight and Jed watched as Jonno hit the exit bar and stormed through to freedom. The door banged against the wall and ricocheted back as Jed reached it. Jed took the blow to his side, but his momentum kept him going and the door slammed once more against the wall before bouncing back into place, shutting out Simon’s cries. Jed stumbled but managed to stay up. He clutched his school bag to his chest and took off.
It was only mid-morning, but Jed was not heading for class. As the school bell rang, he ducked and made his way off the school premises, heading for the canal. The route was familiar to him, having bunked on numerous occasions, and Jed knew exactly how to stay out of sight of patrolling teachers.
He took the long route past the hall and headed for the edge of the field. From this point he would be concealed by the trees. As he crossed into the wooded area he leapt over a log and collided with an oak tree, bashing his shoulder. He managed to stifle a cry, but refused to slow down. His arm felt numb but he just kept going until he reached the canal.
The canal path was quiet and he slowed his pace. His shoulder still hurt although feeling was gradually returning to his arm. He pulled his tie over his head and opened his shirt to check for bruising. There didn’t seem to be any, but he still probed and found a tender spot.
The heat of the mid-day sun was baking down and he could feel the sweat running down his back and chest. He pulled his shirt from his trousers, a slight breeze lifting the cotton fabric and circulating his body. The shade of the trees and the sound of rustling leaves were inviting; he considered taking a break. He decided instead to head towards a safe spot at The Globe Pub, situated by one of the many locks. It wasn’t far, and he knew that once he was there he could hide out in the barn, a place where he had sought safety before.
Touching his face, he could feel the tomato sauce beginning to congeal. And the thick layer in his nose was gross. His shirt was no better, and he knew there was no way he was going to arrive home looking like this, if for no other reason than his mum would have a fit and demand to know what had happened. And then who knew what she would do. He daren’t take the chance of her phoning the school-head demanding retribution. Yes, it might get Simon and Jonno in major trouble, but he’d never live it down with his peers. It was a well-known fact that any student who’d had parental intervention spent the rest of their school year being mocked and labelled as a mummy’s boy or girl. He already had enough to deal with at school; he didn’t need that as well.
He removed his shirt and rinsed it the best he could, tying it as a sail to his school bag to dry. He cupped his hands and tossed water onto his face. It was cold, but welcome and he quickly removed the stickiness from his skin.
The pub was still closed, and Jed dropped to a crouch as he made his way past the windows. He could hear the publican telling his barmaids to show a bit more cleavage over the bar, and they in turn told him to take a running jump into the canal.
Jed didn’t wait to hear anymore and took his chance to sneak in the back door to the kitchen. Scouring the room, he spotted a box of chips and a crate of coke, and grabbed some items from both. He froze when the coke bottles clinked together, half expecting to be pulled into the bar by his ear. When nobody came, he headed for the barn.
The barn door was closed and he tugged at the handle. When the door began to open he smiled and squeezed his way in. It was cool and the light was muted; with luck nobody would be in and out for the next few hours. He made his way to the back where he settled down amongst a mound of bunting and umbrellas. He flipped the lid of the coke and gulped half of it down. He belched and grinned, then downed the remainder.
From his school bag he pulled out his latest song lyric book, thankful Simon and Jonno hadn’t found it. He’d been waiting for this one for weeks, having left an order with the local newsagent. It had cost him a week’s pocket money, but it was worth it. This edition was the mother lode, a special once off of all Jed Parsons lyrics, and he was determined to learn them all.
He started with “Flamin’ Hearts”, reading and memorising the lyrics. Once he was sure he’d got it, he closed his eyes and began to sing. After several attempts his head nodded forward and the lyric book fell to the ground.