by Clive Collins
A Robert Palmer song plays on the radio, “You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming,” because some deejay remembered the death of the singer. I remember, too. I remember you (not the song) in the little green Renault 4 we bought secondhand one summer’s night in Leicester. 1978, I think. Even then the car was a confection of rust, probably, its parts held together by bright paint. I remember you at the wheel, waiting at a set of lights in some small country town on our way to Cambridge, where we had friends at the time. You kept the car rocking to the beat of “My Sharona,” your foot laying on the clutch like a drummer’s on a bass drum’s pedal.
And then, on a Sunday drive to Newtown Linford, you say you can’t come back to Africa with me. I tell you I understand, which I do – and do not. So, we make the crossing to your home from mine, Stranraer to Larne, look at houses for you, rolling around the green suburbs of Belfast in the little green car until you settle on a starter-home, as the agent describes it, not far from Carrick Fergus, where I do not wish I was.
That first Christmas I come back to what you call our home and find the bedroom painted grey, the kitchen black and blue (and red and yellow) to match, you tell me, the Mondrian chair, “a machine for sitting on” your sister’s pal from the art college has made and let you have on permanent loan. Only later when the lies have all unfolded do you tell me what you let him have in return. But that Christmas the Renault is still green. We go up to Portrush on New Year’s Eve, me driving for a change, the night dark and foggy, cold. I wear a new overcoat, blue, double-breasted, bought before the holidays from Top Man, where, in a year or two, I shall find the album by Robert Palmer, Double Fun, with the track “You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming” on it. Time, as the saying goes, passes.
November 1982, and in two weeks’ time I shall be thirty-four years old. The starter-home that didn’t start is sold. We are almost done. So is the Renault. I don’t know everything, not yet. But I’m not entirely stupid, as love is not always entirely blind, only sometimes. We stop the gas and electricity in the house too soon. You go back to your mother’s as, very soon, I shall go back to mine. I think I have a better chance of finding a job in England, I say. I spend the last three nights in the house we bought and could not pay for on my own and cold, reading through the winter’s night by candlelight, wrapped in the blue duvet you paid for when we first got married.
On moving day the movers – our movers – do not come. I can’t remember quite how we managed. I do recall the man who bought our house, a prison officer standing on what was now his fitted carpet, mud on his shoes, a .22 pistol in the waistband of his trousers for us to see, impatient to take possession. I think our next-door neighbour, Johnny Darragh, a Catholic working mostly in the so-called black economy, helped us out with a borrowed truck and some mates of his. In no more than a few hours, the home we’d shared is decanted into your girlhood bedroom. The place where we had lived together for three years (and you had brought your lovers to when I wasn’t there, and your love for me, as you later said, had disappeared) shrunk down, forced in. Soured wine in an old bottle then (to stretch the metaphor). The sofa and the double bed go into storage with your sister. The Mondrian chair? By this time, I no longer care.
And then, the day before I am to leave for England, you go from your mother’s in the Renault 4, its paint as bright as the summer night we first saw and bought it. I watch you drive along the street, make a left to slip downhill in second and out onto the Shore Road. Inside your mother’s, upstairs in your room, busy with my suitcase, I never hear the noise there must have been, the noise you will describe later on when you come back too soon to have done what you were wanting to do. An accident, you say.
Yes, that would best describe it. You, so good a driver, so confident, an accident, how come? Pulling out across the Shore Road, you somehow did not see the car that hit you side on. Your fault entirely, you said as much to the Army and the RUC when they arrived. The other fellow’s BMW was hardly touched, but the Renault, when I see it next, is a comedy job, a chassis just on four wheels. It fell apart, you say, like us.
Image: In autumn the road with fog by Claudia Dea via Flickr.