Home > Don't You Forget About Me(14)

Don't You Forget About Me(14)
Author: Mhairi McFarlane

Or, I still get the job, but with Lucas resenting me, and that’ll be nothing compared to how he reacts when the penny drops about who I am? That’s a high wire act.

Lastly, best case scenario: I get the job, and it’s fine. Lucas grudgingly admits I’m sufficiently efficient, we rub along reasonably well. And he never places my face.

I lie in bed, my breath making ghosts in the damp air, wondering why my best case scenario also somehow sounds like the worst.


I didn’t know what loss meant until I lost Dad and I didn’t know what regret meant until I regretted Lucas McCarthy.

Although, as my counsellor Fay told me, I didn’t have complete control over the situation and the nature of my regret suggests I was entirely responsible when I only had power over my part of it. Lucas was an ‘independent actor’.

I said, ‘Hmm OK I regret my part in it.’

‘Accept that much, then. It’s yours, take it.’ She picked up a mug as a symbolic gesture, placed it on the desk and pushed it towards me. I didn’t think it worked that well really as it had a picture of King Kong on it and was obviously a personal artefact I wasn’t meant to literally accept.

I pulled it toward me and nodded. ‘Am I meant to feel any better?’

‘Not better as such, not automatically improved, like the words are a magic spell. But it can spring you out of self-defeating thought patterns where you continually berate and diminish yourself for what cannot be undone. You are not an omnipotent deity, you’re a human just going along, learning, making a mess sometimes in the process, as we all are.’

I wept then and she said it’s good that you can cry about it. I said: Seriously? Why? through whirlpools of my Lancôme liner as I plucked at the box of tissues on her desk. She said because admitting hurt helps you dispel its power and lets you get past it.

To be honest, a lot of counselling appears to be accepting you’re up to your tits in shit and finding you’re zen about it. Saying: at least my tits are warm.

I was glad I went, though. I liked Fay, with her henna-red wispy copper wire hair, billowing black jersey dresses and spectacles perched right on the end of her nose. The weekly hour spent in the calming room with the bamboo plant and the painting of sailboats in Mousehole harbour didn’t untie the knot, but it loosened it.

A note on the wall in the lobby told me I could tackle a number of issues, including:

• Emotional Eating

• Anxiety

• Debt Worries

• Histrionic Personality Disorder

• Internet Addiction

• Managing Chronic Pain

I thought: sounds like an average weekend round mine, har har har. (Fay told me I did this as reflex, mocking myself. I told her I couldn’t take my problems seriously, given some people are sleeping rough. ‘There are always those worse off than you. Your problems are not invalid as a result, or needing to be measured against an internationally recognised pain scale before we decide if your condition is severe enough to treat.’)

I didn’t turn up to talk about Lucas, it was to discuss my dad, but the counsellor said most people end up on different ground to the area they expected to cover. In family therapy, Fay said, you’d be amazed how often parents turn up to analyse a peculiarly difficult child and we end up looking at their problems instead.

I said: Do you know, I wouldn’t.

I never told Jo or my sister or anyone else about Lucas and it felt strange to turn thoughts I’d churned on into actual consonants and vowels, in a room, with a stranger. It gave it life outside of my head.

I still didn’t tell Fay the whole story.

I think the real damage was that Lucas and I never spoke after the leavers’ party. It wasn’t just that our relationship was unconsummated, there wasn’t a conclusion of any sort. No conversation whatsoever. Exams were over, school was out forever, and we didn’t have any mutual friends to pull us back into the same orbit, that summer or ever after. When there is so much left unsaid, your mind is free to fill in the words that were never exchanged in a hundred thousand different ways, and believe me, I have. Then my dad died, I quit university shortly after, and really it’s been a race to the bottom since. Lucas hasn’t been a user of social media as far as I could tell from my searches – unless he blocked me from view – or I might have weakened and approached him in the years after. But being honest, I have no idea what I’d have said if I had found him. It would’ve been pretty tragic. Better that the temptation was taken away from me. What I wanted was to hear things from him I was definitely never ever going to hear.

At the end of that session, Fay said, What if it’s not what happened with this boy you regret, it’s you? It’s the you who you left behind. It’s who you were at eighteen and the things that happened subsequently and you look back on it as a watershed. You broke up with yourself.

This hit me as fearsomely true.

I mean, if I was Doctor Who’s new companion, and he was agitatedly racing round the Tardis, throwing levers on the control panel, the noise like bellows starting as the time machine mechanism booted up and saying, ‘Where to, Georgina Horspool?’ I’d waste no time in identifying early evening in a crap pub in northern England in the early twenty-first century.

A blonde girl in a red dress from Dorothy Perkins and uncomfortable shoes is unsteadily making her way there.

For the time being, she has no experience of managing chronic pain.


If there’s one thing you don’t need after a dark night of the soul, reliving your worst moments from the past and facing up to a grim present, it’s a Sunday lunch with family. Particularly, my family.

I’d love to give Esther a swerve today but she’ll be waiting on a debrief from last night, not to mention I’ll get a horrendous guilting about how she’s catered for me.

In the competition between How Much Aggro To Not Go vs How Much Aggro To Drag Myself There, Esther’s vigour makes the latter choice a clear winner.

I’m summoned for midday, decent booze in hand. Luckily, I rootled out some decent bottles of Beaujolais from the last time Robin was here. Despite his ‘fresher week’ diet, Robin liked classy booze.

I may be skint but a taxi to Esther’s is the only plausible option on a Sunday when she lives on the wrong side of the city and a journey by public transport would take in three buses and half the Peak District. I stare morosely out of the window as the view changes: the boxy post-war houses and takeaways and chippies and bookies of the largely itinerant community of Crookes give way to the city centre, then out into the Peaks until we’re in greener and pleasanter spaces.

My sister, her husband and their son live in the village of Dore, in an architect-designed detached house. It’s palatial, with a double garage and bi-fold kitchen doors leading on to a properly kept rectangle of garden, with a large patio for barbecues in summer.

Inside, Esther is fond of the sort of uplifting wall art that says things like LIVE LOVE LAUGH. It’s weird, because she’s the world’s least whimsical person. It always has a whiff of the floggings will continue until morale improves to me. I might get her one saying LAUGH DAMN YOU.

As much as my still-delicate stomach feels like it’s on a catch-up delay, like I’ve walked too quickly on an airport travelator, the scenery from the cab window soothes me.

Of all the ways I could feel a failure, still being in my home town is something I’m obstinately proud of. I love Sheffield, even if it is often freezing and everything is uphill. If cities have a spirit, then its spirit is mine.

‘Here she is, the pink sheep of the family!’ says Geoffrey, who answers the door and critically assesses my coat. If I had to find a Geoffrey quote to sum up Essence of Geoffrey, it’d be this greeting; ostensibly merry but delivered with teeth, not his place to say it, too close to the knuckle to be easy to laugh at.

Yet I’m required to, or I’m churlish. Participating in my own ridicule: it’s what I do best.

He’s always in a size-too-small Pringle V-neck, his hair, teased across his pate, and a curious unnatural colour that Esther and I secretly christened Butternut Squash Shimmer. I give a strained smile, pulling my arms out of my furry outerwear as he takes the wine from me and twists the label round to face him, re-balancing his readers.

‘Hmm … not heard of this one. Looks like it’ll help wash the taste of the broccoli away, at least, har har.’

Boom, a one-two punch. He grins and I grimace and not for the first time, I think: I know it was a tough time, Mum, but really, him? Then consider I’m not in the strongest position to be thinking such things.

The kitchen is a blur of activity, doors in the range cooker being opened and banged shut and oven gloves being clapped together. Geoffrey considers himself a Yorkies expert – he’s one of those men who turns everything into a contest – so he and Mark and Mum cluster round the pudding mix in a Pyrex jug, debating tactics, though Mum is hanging back so not as to get her wrap dress splattered. My mum is expensively silver-blonded, and always immaculately turned out. Geoffrey once referred to her as ‘the gold standard’. Eeesh.

Esther calls to me: ‘Sit with Milo and I’ll bring you a drink through,’ and I very willingly trot back down the hallway and into the front room.

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