Dave sat on his front step, staring at the house opposite, the one that Joe had lived in for so long – for forever – he was so lost in whatever was spinning ‘round in his head that he jumped when Terry tapped him lightly on the shoulder. Terry laughed. Dave tried to, but he looked nervous, he looked like a man who had at least been thinking about ghosts even if he hadn’t actually seen one.
“A’right ?” he managed to say, in a nervy high-pitched voice. Terry smiled again and Dave seemed to calm down.
“Not opening up today?” Terry asked. He knew it would be unusual for the shop not to open at all; the locals had to have their papers.
“Dunno.” Dave almost whispered, “Been sitting here, kind of getting ready to go when…well, when I started thinking about Joe, how he was y’know…” the words drifted away from him.
Terry sat down next to him and offered him a cigarette. Dave took it and lit it with a garish pink disposable lighter.
“Y’know, how like I can see that there’s a lot of stuff that only Joe knew about….well, about me, about things….and I can’t really work out what to do with all that stuff now….where does it all go ?”
Terry started to feel concerned, Dave wasn’t the one given to philosophical outbursts any more than he was given to leaving the shop shut up past ten o’clock in the morning.
Out in the bay, way out on the horizon a thin black strip was forming – dark clouds – a long way off. A front. A storm front. Dave nodded at it.
“See that ? S' the kind of thing Joe would have noticed and he’d have come over here and we’d have watched it through the day, watched it develop, watched it grow, watched it burst open. Sounds stupid of course, now. Why would we want to do that? But we did. Most people thought it was just us sitting here getting stoned, but we were watching the storm, or watching the clouds, or talking ‘bout some sorts of stuff that I really couldn’t with anyone else, y’know…” He teetered on the edge of whatever it was he was going to say, took a breath and seemed to rebalance himself. “….like, like how it was after the accident…like how it was when mum died…that sort of stuff…”
Dave seemed to want to say more, but returned to silence as he drew on the cigarette and focussed his attention on the horizon again. Terry flicked his ash away in front of them and watched it hang for a few seconds in the dead air.
“Must be really hard for you – I can’t say I know how it is. Tho' I guess when I split up with Marie first time round I kind of felt that, but in the end we ran out of things to say anyway. But, yeah, all that past that you carry around on your own now, all that stuff that no-one else can ever be a part of, the shared stuff that isn’t shared any more. I don’t pretend to understand it, but all I know is I suppose the only ones who don’t end up having that kind of thing to face are the ones who go out early, like Joe. Even then I’d guess he had a few shared things where he’d lost the person he was sharing it with….” Now Terry tailed off, he was talking rubbish and he knew it. He didn’t know what to do or say, what Dave wanted from him. He didn’t suppose that Dave actually wanted anything from him, seeing as it was him who had started all this by arriving unannounced, but he also felt that Dave needed something from him. It was a niggling feeling but it had been there from the moment they’d first spoken after all these years. There was something needy about Dave that he’d written off as a way of dealing with his brother’s death, but it was still there, still there. Terry didn’t want to be part of this, but he recognised that he had a need too, maybe even the same one, where he was trying to make sense of where he was going by wondering what the hell had happened to the past.
Dave stood up. “Coffee?” he asked, Terry nodded.
Then he sat down again. He buried his head in his hands and just sat there.
Terry was having real trouble with this and he shuffled awkwardly. Not wanting to put his arm around Dave – they’d never had that sort of relationship – but at the same time not wanting to walk away because to do so would be to admit that he couldn’t handle it when emotions got this close to the surface. When he felt he could glimpse some sort of madness following not too far behind.
He did what he had to do – stood up and told Dave he’d make the coffee. Leaving him for a minute or two on his own, hoping it would all be over when he came back.
After busying himself for longer than was necessary, clattering around the old fashioned kitchen, he came out again and Dave appeared at least much closer to normal, standing on the steps now and smiling.
“S’coming in, it’s gonna be a big fucker.” He shielded his eyes from the glare and pointed out to the bigger black line that now spread from one side of the horizon to the other.
Terry set the coffee down on the steps and was surprised to see Dave grinning.
“Time to open up I guess,” He sighed, “time for a quick puff first though.” He took a slurp from his coffee and took some rolling tobacco from his back pocket. He started to roll a joint – the still air made it easy for a change – and when he was finished he lit it and flicked it through the air to Terry.
“Don’t know, don’t know if it’s even worth it these days.” He meant the shop. “Could just sell up over there and live on it, mind the taxman wants a good chunk out of it too, so suppose I’ll have to carry on. Can’t even get a decent lunch break these days.”
Terry wondered how much the shop might be worth it if Dave, and Joe before, weren’t in a constant state of haziness all the time, if they did something with it. On the other hand it was still like it always had been and that was almost the point. Dave wouldn’t give it up, he reckoned, he’d drown out there in the real world, trying to make a real living. This was a village that, when all was said and done, had built itself around Dave and Joe’s shop. However much things had changed around them the shop was like the centre of the storm, calm and unhurried, the village needed that. Dave needed to be that.
The conversation, such as it was, turned to the mundane and the unnecessary. They talked about what Dave was going to do when he went on holidays from now on – he wasn’t much interested in thinking about it at the moment.He talked at length about the problems he was having still over his mother’s death and the duties they still had to pay, about the pony in the field across the road and the perennial topic of who had been doing what and to whom recently. Terry switched off after a while and together they walked down to the shop. Outside there was the pile of that day’s papers, someone had left a pound coin on top of the bundle and had obviously taken what they wanted without waiting for the shop to open. Dave shook Terry’s hand as they parted, Terry didn’t know why.
The black clouds were now rearing up along the edge of the horizon. Climbing towards the blue and blurring the distinction between water and sky. The air was still with anticipation.