was dead, but because he gave me a reason to be sad, a reason I could live with. Now, I remember thinking, now I can
mourn. I’ll have all the companionship of loss, a worldwide community of grief. I won’t have to do it on my own any more, won’t have to confess my mother’s treachery. When I
weep, I weep for John Lennon and the end of innocence. My mother doesn’t even have to come into it. Callous, I know, but that’s how I felt.
I took the wine Paul offered me and drank half of it as quickly as I could. It was vile – warm and sickly sweet, but I didn’t care. I’m lucky that alcohol doesn’t take
the pain away. I know it does for some people, but for me, it simply blurs it at the edges. Makes it sit around the heart a little more easily. Anyhow, it worked that night, just enough. That, and
Paul’s arm, warm around my shoulders. I leaned into him and he bent down and kissed me. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bandbelted out ‘She’s Leaving Home’
and all the words came flooding back to me.
I listened as the Beatles sang about an ordinary Friday morning; I listened as their nameless young woman made her way towards her second-hand car salesman and the disaster that her life was
about to become. And then I saw her, my mother, dancing around the kitchen in Ennistymon, her face flushed with pleasure, a tea-towel flung over one shoulder. I remembered feeling how incongruous
the sight was even then, and I must have been only a small child. This woman didn’t suit her surroundings, she didn’t fit into her life. She was willowy, her red hair was wild and
gorgeous and her hands were floury up to the elbows. Her body seemed strangled by an old-fashioned pinny, tying her down at neck and waist. I know that I was shocked when she abandoned us, but I
don’t think I was surprised.
I pulled back from Paul for just a moment. He looked at me, his green eyes questioning. I put my hand around his neck and pulled him towards me again. I’d made up my mind. I remember
thinking that my Aunty Kate hadn’t been surprised by my mother’s departure, either. ‘Helen must have had her reasons,’ she’d told me again and again, in the early
years after my mother left. ‘My brother,’ she’d once said, very dryly as she lit one untipped Craven A off the other, ‘was never the most exciting of men.’ As a
twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl, I couldn’t be sure of what she meant, and was too shy in those days to ask. But even then, I knew it had to have something to do with sex.
John and Paul’s mournful tones sang goodbye goodbye as their girl tiptoed away from a life that had become too small for her. Not that my mother left us for a man from the motor
trade. No. That was just another one of life’s tired little jokes. My father was the man from the motor trade. Not the seedy salesman of the Beatles’ song, but the town mechanic,
complete with overalls, dirt under his fingernails and skin that smelt faintly of diesel, no matter how often he washed. Mother’s sights were set higher.
I felt angry: could she not leave me alone? Tonight of all nights?
Paul squeezed my hand. ‘You okay?’ he asked, brushing my hair back from my eyes.
‘Yeah,’ I said, as softly as I could. He continued to stroke my face. All I wanted was for him to kiss me again. ‘This record brings back a lot of memories.’
He nodded. ‘It’s John Lennon’s anniversary. Did you know that?’
I smiled. I didn’t want to tell him the whole sad history of my mother, my youth, my dubious moral genes. Not yet. ‘I think I must have forgotten.’
‘My sister,’ he said, ‘is a music nut. Watch her. She knows every word of every song of every album – well, of the ones she keeps playing, anyway. This could turn out to
be a very long night. She’s got Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye already lined up. Knowing her, things’ll go downhill as the evening goes on. It’ll be something like Gladys Knight and