It is summer and Marge is lying in a field under a tree whose branches spread out above her. The grass is so deep that she can hear insects moving around her head and feel herself almost a part of the earth. But best of all, Cullen's head is resting in her lap and every so often she reaches down to stroke his hair. She feels that she is the centre of a big dream. It is if everything that had happened before had been part of a bad dream and this now is the only reality.
It is so restful just being a part of it, part of the trees, the fields and the sounds of the river. And there, at the far end of the meadow, across from the river is a white cliff that rises clear above the tree tops, the warm sun of afternoon catching its face.
Marge lifts her head and looks down at Cullen; God he seems so innocent and peaceful lying there half asleep. She can hardly believe those other things had really happened, the time she'd lived with Vera, and all that screaming and crying after the hold-up. But Vera has gone for good. She's run off with Stutty and Marge is certain she'll never see her again.
There was that time the police had come round to the flat. It must have been a couple of weeks after Vera'd scarpered. They'd come very early in the morning, got her out of bed and started nosing around the flat. She hadn't realized it was connected with the murder at first until Taylor had arrived. Marge was still in her nightie and he'd begun leering at her and cracking jokes to the other copper who was seated across. He kept going on about Vera. "Where's your fat friend," he sad, Then Taylor had told her that he'd got an anonymous letter. He reckoned that a woman had written it and he hinted it was something to do with the Palace murder, and now they were going from door to door taking handwriting samples.
Marge guessed what had happened. The letter had to be Stutty's work, Vera would never be stupid enough to do a thing like that. Somehow Stutty had put her up to the writing. Marge was frightened and confused at first but when she talked about it to Cullen afterwards he said that he'd been proud of her. She was to be nice to Taylor and kept him chatting so that she could try and find out more.
For the next few days she'd been really frightened but, in the end, the whole thing had blown over. Cullen reckoned that Stutty would have been too shit scared to write anything definite. Anyway, Cullen'd had made contacts in London since the murder. He was respected in the smoke, what with carrying a gun and all that, and he had mates who were keeping their eyes open. God help Stutty and Vera if he ever caught up with them. Marge'd hate to be in their shoes. But then, it served them right. Didn't it?
But now, sitting in the warm sun and listening to the buzz of the insects and the sounds of the river, it all seemed so very far away. The police had forgotten the whole thing; they were more interested in catching people serving drinks after ten at night, so Cullen said, or frightening old ladies when their dogs shat on the pavement. They were dead stupid really, the police, when it came down to it. And best of all, Taylor was getting Cullen to sell him information on the murder. That was a laugh. Cullen was down at the Bridewell most days now, talking to Taylor and passing on bits of chat. He was hand in glove with the police, so why would they ever suspect him of doing the Palace job? God, you had to hand it to Cullen, she thought, he's dead smart that one.
As she lay on her back half asleep, feeling the weight of Cullen's head on her lap she began to think how much she herself had changed after Vera had done her bunk. She dressed much better now; she'd even had her hair cut and made a real attempt to clean up the flat. Well, tidy it up more that really give it a good clean, because there were years of filth on the floor and the walls, layers of it going right back to before the war. Not that she wasn't bad at looking after things. Give her a nice house and she could keep it spotless, couldn't she? Yes, things had definitely improved after the Palace.
Marge took a deep breath and inhaled the country smells. She tried to sort them out in her mind but there were so many of them, and all were so new and strange to her. She realized that she couldn't smell the sea, and that made her feel funny because the sea was all round you in Liverpool. Here, in the country, the smells were softer and warmer. Without looking down she stretched out her hand and plucked a long piece of grass to weave in Cullen's hair.
It was funny, the way he'd started to spend time with her after the murder. Of course they'd always been mates before, but only taking mates--nothing else really, just talking in pubs and crowds. Then a month or so back he'd bought a Ford Popular and got it done up real good. It was all polished and shiny with the motor working a treat. That afternoon he'd take her on a trip in the country as far as Maghull and on another day they'd gone to the sandhills. There was Cullen running up the sand just like a G.I. soldier in a movie. And now here they were in the Welsh Mountains together. The same mountains she'd watched across the river when she was a kid. Even Dad hadn't brought her this far.
Marge had joked with Cullen only a week ago about how, when she was little, she'd thought that the mountains were floating in the sky. And then this morning he'd turned up in the Popular and honked the horn. She'd run downstairs and there he was, sitting on the bonnet in a pair of dark sunglasses and this dead flash suit.
"Well, come on then," he said. "I'll take you up into the clouds."
Cullen had filled the back seat with blankets, bottles of beer, crisps and a box of iced cakes -- it was going to be a real picnic. When they turned into Lime Street he'd opened the windows and sung, all the way to the tunnel entrance. He'd never have done that sort of thing in the past but somehow after the hold-up Cullen'd had become a lot nicer. He didn't seem to be so angry any more.
When they were inside the tunnel Marge pretended to be scared and clung on to him while Cullen'd told her what would happen if the river broke through the cracks in the ceiling. She'd screamed a bit and hung on even tighter then when they got about half way through she began to get panicky for real and wondered what would happen if the car broke down. But Cullen only laughed and said he'd stick up the first Rolls-Royce that came by.
After that the tunnel began to curve upwards and she could see a patch of light at the end. Cullen told her how she'd given him an idea. He began to wonder if they could do a hold-up in the tunnel at rush hour, using a couple of lorries to block both lanes and a motor bike to get out fast. He'd maybe need to get a couple of his mates down from the smoke for a job that size. And then they were out in the sun again, but it was all so bright that Cullen couldn't find his way at first and so he cursed and swore and smashed his fists down on the steering wheel until Marge was scared for him.
In the end, Cullen stopped the car and they sat on the bonnet together and drank beer while he told soppy jokes. God, he was like a big kid sometimes. And then they were off again, with Marge curled up asleep after the beer. As they passed the Yank air base Cullen nudged her awake and slowed down the car so the pair of them could imagine all the Americans inside. Then Cullen shouted and pointed at the far end of a field where some G.I.s playing baseball. It was fantastic really. Imagine, real baseball, just like on the movies.
Cullen said it was funny the way some people hated the Yanks. Marge nodded, "It's because the Yanks was always getting their mothers in the pudding club."
Cullen laughed. "Imagine some big Yank doing it to Ma." Marge was taken aback, she'd never heard him talk about his mother that way before.
With the Air Base behind them Marge snuggled down beside Cullen and fell asleep again. The next thing she saw were trees flashing overhead as the car turned.
"Well, we're here, Marge, this is Loggerheads."
Marge woke up right away and jumped out of the car behind Cullen.
"Come on over here, Marge." he was shouting. "There's real fish in here, dead big ones." Marge joined him on the stone bridge and they both looked down into the little stream. It was all ripples and sunlight and at first she couldn't see anything, for the stones at the bottom kept flickering and dissolving into each other with the movement of the water. But as Cullen pointed she began to make out the shape of a fish below. Then she saw another one and realized that the fish had been there all the time but she had not understood how to see them.
Cullen said he wished he had a stick of dynamite on him so he could go fishing. "God, Marge, if the river was bigger I could make a packet. There's probably trout and salmon and God knows what else. They fetch big money in the swank hotels."
Cullen patted her bottom and they both went into the pub for a couple of pints. Cullen asked the locals about the fishing but they were a crabby bunch. Dark smelly Welshmen talking in their stupid language to each other, Cullen said after he came out. You could see they were really suspicious about Cullen, but he just stood there at the bar and looked around at them like he was in a cowboy movie - so in the end they shut up, stared into their beer and gave each other sly Welsh looks.
Afterwards the pair of them came out and lay under a big tree, with its branches spreading out over them, and looked up at the hill. When Marge screwed up her eyes she could see little trees growing right on the top, she even thought she could make out a pathway through the rocks. Fancy anyone climbing up a thing like that, she thought. Then she closed her eyes and listened to the sound of the little river and the noise of the wind through the trees.
Cullen stirred. "Are you happy love?" Marge said, but he was still asleep. Then Marge began to sing to him. It made her fell funny inside because although she couldn't remember the words the song seemed to come out of her. It must been in her head from long, long ago. She pretended it was her baby she was singing to, and that Cullen owned the pub across the way.
She'd be a really good mother and sing to the baby every day, and tuck it up good in bed, and give it a nice cuddle. Then she'd have something hot on the table for Cullen when he came in at night. That would be dead nice.
Cullen stirred again and this time opened his eyes.
"Yer ready for off then?"
Marge nodded and Cullen stood up and brushed the grass from his coat. He picked up the army haversack stuffed with beer and food and the two of them walked across the little bridge towards Loggerheads rock.
The stream passed in front of the rock and into the woods. There was a path and Cullen took her hand as they walked beside the river.
"We'll go for a bit of a walk first?"
Marge nodded and set off down the path beside him. Soon it was dark with the trees above and Marge thought it was like a real jungle. She could hear so many noises of wild animals running about in the bushes and ferns. One time she screamed and grabbed hold of Cullen as a squirrel jumped out in front of her and ran up a tree, but Cullen just laughed.
They walked for hours and hours, at least it seemed like that to Marge in her high heels. But Cullen was happy picking up stones and throwing them down in the river or breaking off tree branches and using them to smash at the plants and things. "God, he's just like a big kid really", Marge thought again.
At last they came to a clearing of big rocks and grass. Cullen said it was where cave men were buried and that's why trees would never grow there. The two of them sat down together and drank some more beer. Cullen got out the cakes. He took one and then offered them to Marge but she could see he was famished. Next he took the round one with all the pink cream on the top, then a chocolate eclair, and finally a big fat creamy one with icing on the top. God, he did look hungry. Marge would have liked to have had another cuddle but she could tell that Cullen was restless and needed to be on the move again. He got up and walked into the bushes a bit then shouted back. "I'm going to explore...you can stay there if you like."
Marge sat with the remnants of their picnic around her, looking at the bushes that began a few yards away where the grass ended. She wondered if there were big spiders and snakes and things like that inside, then she wondered what she'd do if one of them came out to get her.
She started to sing out loud because she'd heard that wild animals were scared of noises.
In the end, she moved over to one of the biggest stones. But she didn't fancy sitting on it after Cullen'd told here about the cave men, so she perched on top, just on her heels and put her arms around her knees while she watched the grass to see if there were any snakes. She wasn't too happy about the country any more. The city was really safe, no wild animals and stuff ...admitted there were cockroaches and beetles in Liverpool but not horrible snakes, and things with big teeth that would jump out at you. You were safe sleeping anywhere in Liverpool, she'd even fallen asleep in the street some times when she'd been really tanked.
Finally she heard Cullen's voice shouting to her from above.
"Maaaa..rrrge...come on up here...". Then, like the kid he was, he started shouting "All ...in. All....in." in that whiney voice little kids used when they're playing on the streets. And Marge shouted back "Coming love" and she grabbed his haversack and was up and running towards his voice.
And there was Cullen, standing as proud as punch in front of a wonderful little cottage. It was painted white and had real roses climbing up one side of the wall.
"Oh, Cullen, isn't it smashing. It's just like something out of a magazine."
Cullen grinned, all proud. "It's our home for the night." he said, and he picked up a stone and threw it through the window.
"Oh, Cullen, are we really going to sleep here? Honest?"
Cullen reached through the window and turned the latch. He was inside like a flash and next thing she knew he was standing at the front door and waving her in like a duchesses.
"Look at it, Cullen" Marge said in delight, "It's dead nice...all wood and stuff. And look at those oil lamps." Cullen stood there beaming like the owned the place while Marge ran around examining everything, the shiny brass ornaments hanging on a piece of black leather by the fire, the whitewashed walls with the pictures on them and the Welsh dresser with all its plates.
"Ah come over here, Cullen, and look at them plates...there's little pictures on them...look."
But Cullen had gone into the kitchen searching for food. "Hey, Marge, there's cans and things in here....we'll have a great meal."
Marge went into the kitchen. It was more of a passage really with a little sink but the cupboard was full of cans of soup and beans and Spam and things.
"Ah, God, Cullen, there's not gas stove or nothing, we'll have to cook on the fire....fetch us some coal, love."
Marge found some old newspapers under the chair and set about rolled spills for the fire until Cullen came back looking dark with anger. "There isn't even a bloody coal house here...what're we going to do?"
Marge laughed. "You can cut us some wood, Cullen...just like we was Yank prospectors in the Gold Rush..and we'll have a big fire and beans and soup and stuff."
Cullen found an axe behind the door and went to cut the tree down in the garden while Marge sat by the fireplace pushing the spills down into the grate and listening to Cullen chopping.
"Bloody fucking hell."
Cullen screamed and Marge ran outside. He'd bruised his leg with the axe and he was jumping about in the middle of the garden ripping at a tree branch and slashing at the trunk in anger. She could see where he'd tried to cut the tree, but most of the cuts had been wild and it was still standing.
Cullen turned and glared at her so fiercely that she enough for a moment he would go for her with the axe. In the end he threw it down and pissed himself laughing. "It's a bloody sight easier in the movies than in real life."
Then he ran into the cottage and came out with a couple of old chairs that chopped up real easy.
"Here y'are love, get the fire on and gerrus some nosh."
Marge went inside and started the fire while Cullen wandered around outside looking for more things to do. The newspaper was wet or something because it burned smokey and kept going out without ever catching the wood.
When Cullen came back he took one look at the fire and got down one of the lamps and poured paraffin onto the wood. God, the fire went lovely after that, all roaring up the chimney. Cullen said he'd seen that on films, where the ranch house burns down after someone breaks a lamp. It was real good.
While Marge cooked the food it started to get darker. Cullen went upstairs and brought down a pile of blankets and pillows to set in front of the fire.
"Make us a bed, Marge, it's going to be a cold night."
While she made a snug nest for them in front of the fire, Cullen chopped up a table and another chair for the night. They they lay down together in front of the big fire to eat their supper and watch the wood snap and the sparks fly up the chimney. Cullen pointed over to the wall opposite and held up his arm so that it made all sorts of scarey shadows. They could hear a tree branch scraping on the window outside and Marge said "What if some fella came prowling round outside and pushed his face against the window to look in?"
But Cullen laughed and picked up the axe and winked.
"Yea, Cullen, just think how scarey his face'd look coming out of the blackness and pressed against the window with us in here."
Cullen rolled over again and put his arm around her. It made Marge feel very tiny, just like she was a little girl beside the warm fire with Cullen snuggled close against her. She reached for his face and kissed him. "I love you Cullen...you know that, don't you?"
She closed her eyes and was up in the clouds floating with the Welsh mountains, then over Loggerheads Rock and looking down at this very cottage. It had never been like that with anyone before, not ever, so gentle and nice. She was so warm and sleepy with his smell all around her and the smell of the bedsheets, ever so gently, and she was warm and tight with her eyes screwed shut and the sound of the fire crackling, and with the smell of Dad in the bed beside her, rocking her to sleep with the door locked downstairs and no one to come up and disturb them, Mum out so late and now he'd hold her and take good care of her for ever and ever and ever. There was no fear, just the warmth and the floating and the stroking and no one would ever come in and scream at her again or shout at her. She smelled his smell so strong that it caught in her lungs until her breath was trapped in her body, and her chest was stopped, and she was squeezed tight shut.
Then it was over and deep from inside her the big sobs started and flooded up over her and she buried her head in Cullen's chest as tears dripped down her face. After a bit she sat up and took a deep drag on Cullen's ciggy. She brushed her hair out of her eyes and rubbed at the tears, and then she began to talk from deep down inside her. But Cullen didn't seem to hear, he just looked into the fire while she told him how she'd always felt cold and dead inside.
A bit later they snuggled down again and she drifted off to sleep, all happy and dreaming her mixed up dreams. The next thing she knew the sun was streaming in though the windows and Cullen was dressed and stuffing things into the haversack.
He reached over the fireplace and took down the brass ornaments. "Honeymoon presents" he said, winking at Marge and she went wobbly all over.
He told her to get dressed and they hurried off down the hill together in case someone came early and found the cottage open. When they got to the clearing Cullen threw down the haversack and said he'd forgotten something.
Marge sat on her stone while he went back. This time she didn't feel at all frightened. Wasn't that strange? She looked around at the bushes and even picked up a little bug and watched it try to run though the tangle of hairs on her arm.
Then Cullen came up running. "Come on, Marge, get a move on", and he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her down the hill and along the path. Marge found it really hard to run in her high hells but Cullen wouldn't stop and made her jog along behind him.
When they got to Loggerheads Cullen let her catch her breath while he jumped into the river, all daft he looked with his shoes and socks on, and tried to catch one of the little fish. When Marge had got her breath back they walked across the field towards the stone bridge. Marge pulled Cullen towards her and kissed him on the neck and then she turned and said good-by to the rock. And as she did so she noticed a column of black smoke rising through the trees in the distance. Cullen laughed.
"An, God, Cullen, you didn't do anything to that cottage, did yer?"
But Cullen just stood there, the big innocent, and then he ducked over the bridge and came up with just the top of his head showing and said "Wot me?" like in the cartoon.
He looked so funny that Marge just had to laugh, but then she saw the smoke again and it made her sad inside. It was their first house together and in a funny sort of way things would never quite be the same again.
Then they were back in the car and heading for Liverpool. Cullen put his arm around Marge and said. "But we had a good night didn't we?" and Marge nodded. They drove on for a bit without speaking.
As soon as they could see the city in the distance Cullen started talking about when he was a kid. About the nuns and things like that; how they'd been dead good to him. Then they came to the tunnel and Cullen was his old self again chucking the empties out of the window towards the cars that were coming on the other side and pissing himself laughing as they tried to swerve.
Pretty soon they were back in Liverpool. "Home again," Cullen said, "same old Liverpool". And he was right too, the day seemed so murkey and dark compared with the fresh air of Wales, even though it was afternoon. Cullen said he had to help his Ma with the stall and anyway she'd give him shit for being off so long. He dropped Marge at the corner of the street and drove off.
Contact F. David Peat