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Chapter 2 SPAT

Will first saw Angie in a music shop off the Holloway Road. She had lots of thick blonde hair, big blue eyes and a lovely sexy voice. She reminded him of Julie Christie, a beautiful film star.

Two days later, he saw her again in a cafe and started a conversation. By the time they had finished their coffee, he had her phone number.

Will was rather surprised that Angie wanted to go out with him. He had never been out with a woman who looked like Julie Christie before. Women like her didn’t go out with men like Will. They went out with other film stars, or lords, or racing drivers.

He learnt the reason over dinner on their first evening out, when Angie told him that she was a single mother with two and a lot of men didn’t like other people’s children.

Will wanted to push the table over and run out of the restaurant, but Angie was a very beautiful woman.

‘Really, it’s no problem. I’ve never been out with a mum before, and I’ve always wanted to. I think I’d be good at it.’

‘Good at what?’

Right. Good at what? What was he good at? That was the big question which he had never been able to answer. Maybe he would be good at children, although he hated them. Maybe he should give John and Christine and baby Imogen another chance. Maybe he was going to become Uncle Will!

‘I don’t know. Doing things that kids like.’

For the next few weeks, he was Will the Good Guy, and he loved it. It wasn’t even very difficult. He played with Angie’s children, and took them to McDonald’s and to parks and for a boat trip on the river. It was a very good arrangement, he thought. He had never wanted to be a father, but this was different. He could walk hand-in-hand with a beautiful woman while the children played in front of them. Everybody could see him doing it. And at the end of the afternoon, he could go home again if he wanted to.

Angie made Will feel very good about himself. Suddenly he became better-looking, a better lover, a better person. And she especially loved him because he wasn’t her ex-husband, who had problems with drink and work, and who was sleeping with his secretary.

Will went out with Angie for six weeks, but there were some things that he was beginning to find difficult. Once he booked tickets for the opening night of a new film, but Angie was half an hour late because she couldn’t get a babysitter. And when they spent the night together, it always had to be at her place and she didn’t have a video machine or many CDs.

But just when Will was thinking about ending the relationship, Angie decided to finish it.

‘Will, I’m so sorry, but I’m not sure this is working. It’s not your fault. You’ve been great. It’s me. Well, my situation anyway.

I’ve met you at the wrong time of my life and I’m not ready for a serious new relationship.’

It really was very strange, Will thought. Angie had believed he was serious about her, and he hadn’t been serious at all. Now she was starting to cry. He had never before watched a woman cry without feeling responsible, and he was rather enjoying the experience.

‘You don’t have to be sorry for anything. Really.’

Of all the evenings he had spent with Angie, he loved the last one the best. The relationship had been perfect, and had finished in a perfect way too. Usually when his relationships with women ended, he felt guilty, but this time he had nothing to feel guilty about.

Will knew then that there would be other women like Angie - bright, attractive single mothers, thousands of them all over London - and he knew he had a lot to offer them. He could sleep with them, make them feel better about themselves, be a parent for a limited time, and walk away without feeling guilty.

What more could a man want?

One Monday morning Marcus’s mum started crying before breakfast, and it frightened him. Morning crying was something new, and it was a bad, bad sign. It meant that it could now start at any time of the day without warning.

When he went into the kitchen, she was sitting at the kitchen table in her night clothes, a half-eaten piece of toast on her plate, her eyes red from crying. Marcus never said anything when she cried. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t understand why she did it, and because he didn’t understand, he couldn’t help. So he stood there staring at her with his mouth open.

‘Do you want some tea?’ she asked him in a sad little voice.

‘Yes. Please.’ He made some toast, drank his tea and picked up his bag. Then he gave his mother a kiss and went out. Neither of them said a word. What else could he do?

On his way to school, he tried to work out what was wrong with her. What could be wrong that he didn’t know about? He didn’t think it was money problems. She had a job - she was a music teacher - so they weren’t poor, although they weren’t rich either. But they had enough money for the flat, and for food, and for holidays once a year, and even for occasional computer games.

What else made you cry? Death? But he’d know if anybody important had died. He’d seen all his relatives - his grandparents, his uncle Tom and uncle Tom’s family - at a party the week before, and they’d all been fine. Was it about men? He knew his mum wanted a boyfriend because she joked about it sometimes.

But if she joked about it, why should she suddenly start crying about it?

So what else was there? He tried to remember the other things that people cried about on TV programmes. Prison? An unwanted baby?

But Marcus had forgotten about his mum’s problems by the time he was inside the school gates. He had his own problems to think about. A group of kids usually bullied him on his way across the playground. Today, though, they were at the other end, so he reached his classroom without difficulty.

His friends Nicky and Mark were already there, playing a game on Mark’s Gameboy. He went over to them.

‘All right?’

Nicky said hello, but Mark was too busy to notice him.

Marcus tried to watch the game, but he couldn’t see the Gameboy very well, so he sat on a desk, waiting for them to finish. But when they finished, they started another game; they didn’t offer him a game or put the Gameboy away. Marcus felt he was being shut out, and he didn’t know what he’d done wrong.

‘Are you going to the computer room at lunchtime?’ he asked.

That was how he knew Nicky and Mark - through the computer club. It was a stupid question because they always went to the computer room. It was the only place where they would be safe from the other kids.

‘Don’t know,’ replied Nicky after a time. ‘What do you think, Mark?’

‘Don’t know,’ said Mark. ‘Probably.’

They weren’t real friends - not like the friends he’d had in Cambridge — but he could talk to them because they were all different from the other kids in the class. All three of them wore glasses, none of them was interested in clothes and they all liked computer games.

Two older boys came and stood in the doorway. ‘Give us a song,’ they said to Marcus.

Marcus didn’t know these boys, but they’d probably heard about him singing in the English class. Mark and Nicky started to move away, leaving him alone. Then the older boys started insulting Mark and Nicky, and making jokes about girls and sex.

Mark turned the Gameboy off, and all three of them stood waiting for the boys to get bored and go away. Marcus tried to play a game inside his head, listing different kinds of chocolate.

At last the two older boys left. The three of them didn’t say anything for a time. Then Nicky looked at Mark, and Mark looked at Nicky, and finally Mark spoke.

‘Marcus, we don’t want you with us.’

‘Oh,’ said Marcus. ‘Why not?’

‘Because of them.’

‘They’re not my problem.’

‘Yes, they are,’ said Mark. We never got into trouble with anyone before we knew you, and now we have problems every day.’

Marcus understood. They would be better without him. But he had nowhere else to go.

Will was looking for ways to meet single mums like Angie, but he didn’t know where to find them. Where did single mums go and how could he get their phone numbers? Then he had a wonderful idea. He would pretend to be a single father and join a single parents’ group. So he invented a two-year-old son called Ned.

‘I’m a single father. I have a two-year-old son. I’m a single father. I have a two-year-old son,’ he told himself.

But he couldn’t actually believe it. He didn’t feel like a parent.

He was too young, too old, too stupid, too intelligent, too cool, too impatient, too selfish, too careless, too careful. When he looked in the mirror, he couldn’t see a dad, especially a single dad.

He telephoned a single parents’ group called SPAT (Single Parents - Alone Together) and spoke to a woman called Frances.

SPAT met on the first Thursday of each month in a local adult learning centre, and Frances invited Will to the next meeting. He was very worried that he’d get something wrong, like the name of his imaginary son - he couldn’t stop thinking of him as Ted, not Ned.

The centre was a depressing place with lots of classrooms. Will listened for the sounds of a party but he couldn’t hear anything.

Finally he noticed a small piece of paper on a classroom door with the word SPAT! on it.

There was only one woman in the room. She was taking bottles - of white wine, beer and water - out of a box and Putting them on a table in the centre of the room. All the other tables and chairs had been pushed to the back of the room. It was the most depressing place for a party that Will had ever seen.

‘Have I come to the right place?’ he asked the woman. She had a sharp nose and a bright red face.

‘SPAT? Come in. Are you Will? I’m Frances.’

Will smiled and shook her hand.

‘I’m sorry there’s nobody else here yet,’ she said. ‘A lot of people are late because of problems with babysitters.’

‘Of course,’ said Will. He was wrong to come on time, he thought. He should pretend to have babysitting problems too. But then the other members of SPAT began to arrive, all women in their thirties, and Frances introduced him to each of them. The most attractive was a tall, blonde, nervous-looking woman. After she came into the room, he stopped looking at anybody else.

‘Hello,’ he said. ‘I’m Will. I’m new and I don’t know anybody.’

‘Hello, Will. I’m Suzie. I’m old and I know everybody.’

He laughed. She laughed. He spent most of the evening with her. She talked a lot and he listened. He was very happy to listen because he didn’t want to talk about Ned. Suzie had been married to a man called Dan, who had left her the day before she gave birth to her daughter Megan.

Suzie told him about the other women in the room. It was the same story - their husbands had all left them with children to look after. Will began to feel very depressed about being a man.

How could men behave so badly?

‘I’m sorry,’ said Suzie at last. ‘I haven’t asked you anything about yourself. Did your wife leave you?’

‘Well . . . er . . . yes.’

‘And does she see Ned?’

‘Sometimes. She’s not very interested in him.’ He was beginning to feel better; he could show her that women could behave badly too. He was acting, yes, but he was doing it well, just like Robert De Niro.

‘How does Ned feel about that?’ asked Suzie.

‘Oh … he’s a good little boy,’ said Will. ‘Very brave.’

To his surprise, he was beginning to feel quite upset. Suzie put a hand on his arm.

‘She likes me,’ Will thought. ‘Great!’

Some parts of Marcus’s life continued normally. He went to his dad’s in Cambridge for the weekend and watched a lot of TV.

On the Sunday he and his dad, and Lindsey, his dad’s girlfriend, went to Lindsey’s mum’s house. Lindsey’s mum lived by the sea, and they went for a long walk on the beach.

Marcus liked Lindsey’s mum. He liked Lindsey too. Even his mum liked Lindsey. Marcus felt better after the weekend in Cambridge. He had a good time with everybody and nobody seemed to think he was weird.

But the day after he got back, he came home from school and found his mum lying on the floor with a coat over her.

‘Didn’t you go to work today?’

‘This morning. I was sick this afternoon.’

‘What kind of sick?’ asked Marcus.

She didn’t reply, and Marcus felt angry. He was only a kid and things couldn’t continue like this. He was having an awful time at school and an awful time at home, and school and home were almost the only places he knew. So someone was going to have to help him, and that person had to be his mum. She had to do something about it. He was only a kid, and she was his mum, and if he felt bad it was her job to stop him feeling bad.

‘What kind of sick?’ he asked again in a rough voice.

She began to cry and Marcus felt frightened.

‘You’ve got to stop this.’

‘I can’t.’

‘You’ve got to. If you can’t look after me, then you’ll have to find someone who can.’

His mum turned over on her stomach and looked at him.

‘How can you say I don’t look after you?’

‘Because you don’t. You make my meals and I could do that.

The rest of the time, you just cry. That’s . . . that’s no good. That’s no good to me.’

She cried even more then. Marcus went upstairs and played a computer game, but when he came downstairs again, she had got up and was cooking supper.

‘You’re going to a picnic on Saturday,’ she said suddenly.

‘A picnic? Where?’

‘In Regent’s Park.’

‘Who with?’


‘Not that SPAT crowd.’

‘Yes, that SPAT crowd.’

‘I hate them.’ When Marcus and his mum had first moved to London, they had gone to a SPAT summer party in someone’s garden. It had been full of horrible little kids, all about ten years younger than Marcus.

‘Are you going?’ he asked.

‘No. I need a rest. You told me to find someone to look after you. So that’s what I’m doing. Suzie’s better at it than I am.’

Suzie was Fiona’s best friend; they’d known each other since their schooldays. She was nice and Marcus liked her a lot. But he didn’t want to go to a SPAT picnic.

‘I can stay here. I’ll keep out of your way. I can sit in my room all day, playing games.’

‘I want you to get out. Do something normal. We’re not doing each other any good.’

Marcus was shocked. What did she mean, they weren’t doing each other any good? She wasn’t doing him any good, but what had he done to her? He couldn’t think of anything. He felt like crying too.

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