That somewhere else happened to be Rob and Faye’s house. The whole table was in agreement that although the bands were good, the atmosphere in the Raven lacked something. Simon later in life put his finger on it. They lacked humanity. As with all of the emo tribe that moped and sulked through the early 21st century, sullen and moody as if they were the first to wear black and spend their lives angry, these macabre conformists sucked all the atmosphere and energy from the music. Now as a personal preference, I hated the music anyway. The anger, the screaming, the discordant distortion all sounded grating and terrible to me, however Simon and Rob listened to a lot of this sort of music. Over the years I think I became accustomed to it, if not secretly enjoying a good portion of it. To cut a tangent short, I was glad that we had left the Raven hall; not able to find Alicia and Josh I didn’t let them know, hell they would be too busy sucking face. Simon and Rob left Nikki and I animatedly gabbing in the back of a taxi whilst the boys ran into ASDA to grab a bath full of alcohol. Nikki produced a Chinese take-away menu from a website on her phone, we were to be decidedly feminist. If the boys provide us water, we shall provide sustenance.
The night was young enough for Faye to have only just put their children to bed as we entered the house. Rob and Faye were a lovely couple, both had a cool temperament, quick wit, and complete adoration for each other. Faye was a dirty blonde with hazelnut colour eyes, a strong jaw and a womanly figure. Rob a handsome and broad man, thick set neck and jaw. In 2012 they celebrated their tenth anniversary of being together, their oldest son, Alex, was eight, their youngest, Aaron, was five.
Rob walked into their large kitchen-diner and tenderly kissed his wife on the lips as she rose from the pine table to greet him.
“Hey you.” He slid his arms around her.
“Hey back.” Faye smiled wide and watery in his face. “Hope you’re gonna share that monster amount of alcohol with your wife.”
“Yeah, but got a few stragglers and strays to feed too baby.” Rob said mock mournfully.
“Ah they can share with the dog.” Faye looked over to us just as Nikki (the back of the queue) came through the door shaking off water from the winter’s night. Smiling she came over to us, giving me and Nikki a warm hug. The house was homely, the kitchen capacious and purple. The kettle, cups, cupboard doors, wall-clock, utensils and walls all matched in an almost identical bright violet hue. The table was set with anticipation of us arriving, the unmistakable aroma of freshly brewed filter coffee swirling through the air.
Simon lugged the bottles of Newcastle Brown and Magners to the fridge and started loading it up. Rob passed him the bottles of WKD and Red Square and in a short space of time their large fridge freezer resembled the bar-fridges in the café. Nikki, Faye and I pored over the Chinese menus as the boys chivalrously opened drinks and rolled cigarettes before joining us. Rob and Faye’s stereo caused many amusing arguments:
Simon put on Alter Bridge, Faye grimaced and Nikki told him it was “pussy rock.” Rob put on Five Finger Death Punch, Faye and I sat with our hands over our ears. Faye put on Jessie J and the boys proceeded to throw Chinese food at the stereo. Nikki decided upon Nickelback, just to turn around and see the four of us pretending to be asleep. When I put on James Blunt, Rob, Simon and Nikki all got their coats and made to leave the house. Faye and Rob sat on the same chair telling us funny stories about their kids. At some point the guitars came out so Simon and Rob could perform some stupidly simple comedy songs. Nikki sang at one point, she had a voice that could rival her brother’s. When I suggested that she join Rob and Simon’s musical act, they decided the best answer would be to throw food at me. I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time. It felt so effortless enjoying the inherent comedy of the boys, and rolling my eyes along with the girls. I was accepted into all the girls’ conversations when the boys went off on one of their tangents. I learnt so much about Simon and Rob. They fought like siblings, and in so many ways were completely opposite to each other. Simon was an Arsenal fan, Rob followed Liverpool; as well as metal music Rob loved 90’s indie music, Simon had a huge soft spot for Country and Western; Rob liked American comedies, Simon liked to be gripped by a good thriller. The one thing they could agree on was, they were best of friends, and would be for a long time. Faye and Nikki confided in me their girlish secrets, and I divulged mine, cringing and laughing like we had known one another for a lifetime. The more alcohol that was consumed, the more random our actions became.
When ‘Broken Wings’ by Alter Bridge came on, we sat there swaying with lighters. Vaguely recognising it as one of the songs Simon had sung earlier I smiled with flashing memories of him squirming like a possessed man in the large scorching hall. When ‘My Wena’ by ‘Bowling for Soup’ came on Nikki and I tried to jive. Rob stuck breadsticks up his nose and pretended to be a walrus for some reason. Faye got out the kids game of twister and I distinctly remember slipping and sitting on Rob’s face. I laughed so hard that I couldn’t get up, leaving Rob mumbling and chuntering under my backside. The subject of Simon and I came up briefly when the boys went outside together for a cigarette.
“Are you and Simon going to get it on or what?” Faye burbled drunkenly. “He could do with a good seeing to.” Faye cackled jovially.
“Hey that’s my bro, sis.” Nikki said with mock horror. “Anyway he hasn’t paid all his rent yet.” Nikki winked in my direction knowingly. I laughed at Faye’s confusion.
“Ah just get on it girl whilst his attention is on you and not his guitar.” Faye cackled again. A rich, dirty and melodious laugh.
“Hey a good girl never reveals her intentions.” I smiled and looked out at the boys. Rob was dancing and twirling in the dark, Simon was doubled over laughing. I could see the tears streaming from his face.
The rest of the night we danced, shouted, played games and drank our body weight. All the time I looked at Simon. My Man. I rolled those words around my mind smiling. My Man. It sounded so perfect and so right. The night became early morning, and as all good gatherings do, it winded down to a lulled hush of conversation. That is when I first broached the subject of DOF. My gods how have these three letters have plagued my life since? How many lives have they ruined for their apparent greater good? Why didn’t more people see the danger in the early days?
“Can I ask what may be a stupid question?” I asked after a minutes drooping silence.
“You? A stupid question? No!” Rob smiled. I smiled in return but ignored the sarcasm.
“What does DOF stand for?” A momentary contemplative silence gripped the room around me. I looked from each person only to find them each staring at their glass. It was Simon who spoke.
“The second song I sang for them tonight was by a band called ‘Day of Fire’. They have named themselves after them because of that song.” Simon tapped his fingers on the glass of his bottle, staring into the dying dregs of his brown tipple. Faye stood up and motioned to the kettle, she was answered with unanimous nods. Nikki and Rob looked at each other meaningfully, as a swirling unknown contemplative tempest brewed behind his eyes.
“Why that song?” I asked simply.
“Because when Lewis, the founder of that group first heard me play it on my mp3 player, he twisted the words and its meaning to his own ends. He played it at their meetings and used some of the words to stir up a following.” Simon’s eyes were dark and enigmatic, his mouth pursed into an indescribable shape. His face showed a strange emotion, one that can’t be adequately described in all its complexities. The closest you could get to name his exterior emotion was by choosing one word. Regret.
“What is it? Simon what’s wrong?” I turned to find three pairs of eyes staring at me intently. Only Simon looked down to the floor, furrowed brow and pensive features.
“Lewis Harris, a friend of mine at college. I met him, and clicked with him immediately, very clever but hyper-political. He was trying to stir up a lot of interest in his so called political movement; it was all he ever talked about. For a while it was funny, I would wind him up on purpose get him on a rant about the economics and how the Conservative Party is destroying the country. Oh and the Labour Party have no idea how to run the country either. Lewis believed that you couldn’t run the country unless it was run by the working classes.” Simon took the last swallow of his ale as he accepted Faye’s coffee and placed it on the table next to him. This was one of those dramatic moments that Simon enjoyed, letting his words hang, making sure that he had a rapt audience. He took a deep breath and continued.
“He acquired himself a gaggle of followers from the younger groups at college, and they began to hang on to his every word. See Lewis has an IQ of 144, and he knows it. He likes to compare his IQ against everyone he meets, urges them all to do a test in front of him.”
“Did you do one?” I thought it was a simple question.
“That is beside the point. He has the traits of a psychopath. Incapable of empathy, doesn’t like to share power. Megalomaniac to the core, and enjoyed being the puppet master. It hurt him deeply that he couldn’t get people just to flock to his cause; gradually he began to resent my jibes and jabs at his ideas and got quite smart-arsed with me. He came to one of our gigs one night and from there on in kept badgering us to play.” Simon shot Rob a look. A cryptic hidden message transmitted through simmering airwaves.
“Simon and I played once, performed some of our songs in front of these people, and from there on in became minor celebrities amongst them. But we had to withdraw our act. I watched Lewis speaking and twisting our songs into something political, and at times quite twisted.” Rob picked up his coffee cup and slurped audibly.
“Twisted how?” I wish I hadn’t started this conversation; the night was going so well. All the frivolity had been sucked from the air and all of a sudden we were marinating in a stifling atmosphere rippling with an unknown discontent.
“When the Looters were tearing the shit out of the country last summer, DOF saw an opportunity to promote a working class uprising. A chance to take the streets back from the government. Groups of them went to Leicester, Nottingham, London and other cities and orchestrated some nasty arson attacks. Lewis spoke very passionately about the ‘Government’s Absolute Reign of Power’ but by then our damage was done.” The words seemed to hurt Simon as he spoke. Rasping and spitting with an aggression I had never seen from him before. Rob stood up and went to the fridge, forsaking his coffee for another bottle of Magners.
“I managed to get out of playing again, but Lewis blackmailed Simon into continuing to appear and sing that ‘Day of Fire’ song.” Rob Sighed
“What is so special about that song?”
“The words are special. With a hole in my hand, with a strength in my stand, with a flame in my heart, burn in me again. Very stirring words, coupled with someone who loves the song singing it to a fevered bunch. It has deep religious connotations, which suits Lewis since he has always wanted to be God. He twisted those words and their meanings to his own ends and began to whip a bunch of bored emo kids into a stupor over it. I was filmed singing the song, stupidly drunk wearing a DOF t-shirt in support of a friend. This was back when I believed them to be a harmless bunch of rebellious teenagers. If I don’t keep appearing at the meetings and singing that song to them, he will leak the video and ruin our reputation.” Simon followed Rob’s lead and went to the fridge for more alcohol.
“Simon and Rob challenged Lewis and tried to openly explain to the public that although they had performed that song, which incidentally has become their signature tune, they no longer endorse the violent actions of the group. We believe that it was them who convinced Simon’s ex to send her boyfriend and cause a fight with him in the pub. Perhaps the initial idea was for him to hospitalise Simon. As it worked the other way around, and Simon lost access to his kids because of it, DOF informed Simon that in his fight for access to his kids that they would convince his ex to keep the details of the fight away from the court case. But if he didn’t sing for them, then the solicitors would find about the fight, and the amount of damage Simon is capable of doing.” Nikki looked through me as she spoke. I began to understand the anger; I began to understand the aggression.
“Your ex? Is she DOF?” Simon greeted my question with a harsh and unnatural laugh, one I hoped I would never hear again.
“Jane hasn’t got a political bone in her body, as long as shops are open, and shoes are included in the sales, marijuana is still accessible, and her Eastenders continue on television then her life is complete. Her boyfriend Tommy is DOF, so she is easily manipulated. Tommy is violent; Jane is often seen around the town sporting black-eyes and split-lips. Cameron once said to me, that “Mummy must get very tired when he goes to bed, because she always keeps falling over.” Now as long as he isn’t hitting my kids, he can beat her to a fucking pulp every night, she could have got shot of him ages ago. Any more bruises she gets, she is asking for, by not getting out of there. I offered to leave Nikki’s so that Jane and the kids could stay there, but she didn’t want to leave Tommy.” The room went silent as Simon finished speaking. I drained my coffee and also decided I would prefer to be back on the alcohol. My Man. My poor hurt Man. My Man.
“This is the sort of shit you are letting yourself in for Toni. You get involved with me, my life isn’t simple.” Simon rolled a cigarette and walked to the back door behind the table. Silence gripped the room for a few minutes. The cold silly-o’clock air whipped through the door and wrapped icy fingers around our hands and wrists.
“Who fancies a DVD?” Faye spoke for the first time in a while. Grateful for the break in tension Nikki, Faye and Rob all jumped up and ran to the living room to squabble over which film they would put on. I turned to join them, but stopped and looked at Simon sucking on a cigarette at the door. My Man. My poor damaged Man. My Man. I walked up silently behind him and slid my thin arms around his waist and pulled my face into his back, kissing his shoulder blades through his denim shirt.
“Damn I wish I hadn’t asked.”
“I am surprised you didn’t ask earlier, I am sorry I have brought edginess to proceedings.” Simon faked an upper-class-twit accent. I didn’t need to fake my smile.
“Honey. You know that none of this matters to me. I am not Jane. I am not DOF, but I only care that shops are open, shoes are in the sale and that I get to watch Criminal Minds once in a while.” Simon’s body vibrated with a deep chuckle after I had spoken.
“I like Criminal Minds too. We’ll have to have a romantic night in with serial killers one night. But I have to warn you, I kind of have a crush on Garcia.”
“Well as long I can cheat on you with Morgan I can get past that.” A comfortable conversation, the sort of conversation a couple would have. My Man. My funny Man. My Man.
“How long does your ‘rent’ with Nikki continue?” I said as he turned around to face me.
“Until I tell the stupid girl to butt out I think.” Simon looked into my eyes and smiled. He closed the door behind him. Pushing him against the glass door I hooked my fingers into his belt.
“Go and tell her to butt out then.” I kissed his neck and pushed the palm of my hand underneath his shirt and run my fingers through the hair on his chest. I was surprised to find a nipple piercing whilst I was caressing his skin. Simon kissed me, our first kiss, a proper kiss! One with tongues, and closed eyes, fingers in my hair, hand on my neck, and cushioned pressure of soft lips. My Man. My passionate Man. My Man.
“Not tonight Baby. Let us have a night to ourselves first.”
“Hey dude, isn’t it the girl’s job to make the man wait?”
“Hey you can’t be sure that I am a man.”
“Then I’ll have to find out where the clitoris is then.” I loved his smile right there and then. My Man. My delectably smiling Man. My Man.