50. It's All Too Much

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Floating down the stream of time, of life to life with me
Makes no difference where you are or where you'd like to be

'See, Bobby? It's just Ricky's wife,' Ronnie says, in a patronising tone of voice. 'Nothing to worry about.'

There are six men in my living room, four standing and two seated. It's Saturday afternoon. It's bright outside but there's a threat of rain. I've just arrived home and came in here to see if they wanted a drink. I wish I hadn't.

Reggie stands beside the fireplace, leaning nonchalantly with his elbow on the mantlepiece, avoiding the glare of his brother who stands opposite him, his eyes boring holes into his soul.

I remember when we first moved here, I couldn't tell Ronnie and Reggie apart. I don't have that trouble anymore. Reggie is stocky with angular features, whereas Ronnie is portly. Reggie is generally more reasonable, more diplomatic and talkative. Ronnie hardly says a word to me, unless it's to request tea, coffee, sandwiches, snacks. Ronnie's mood can change on a coin toss; he's quick to anger, reckless and abrasive and Frances hated him. I used to think it a shame that she'd like one twin enough to marry him when she blatantly detested the other, but I thought I understood. They were different. They looked the same but had very different temperaments, personalities. In my living room, with the curtains closed in the middle of the day, they don't seem all that different at all.

Bobby stands in the bay window stiffly, his arms folded over his chest. I look to him for help, and our eyes meet for a second before he turns away. He pulls the curtain at the window back an inch and peers outside. His expression is steeled, blank. 'I'm not talking about her,' he says. 'I'm talking about that.'

The fourth man on his feet is standing next to me. I want to get away from him, but I'm rooted to the spot. Frank Heath looks from Reggie to Ronnie, awaiting instruction. He breathes heavily. His shirt sleeves are rolled up to the elbows. His hands are still balled in fists. He turns towards me and I feel him look me up and down before a leering smile spreads across his face.

Ricky is seated, on the sofa, behind Ronnie who stands at his side. I can see him thinking. He mouths something to me, but I can't tell what it is. His face is pale, but not as pale as the other seated man.

I don't recognise the last man in the room. He sits on a hardbacked chair in the middle of the floor. His hands are tied behind him with a piece of green garden twine and his head lolls as he teeters on the brink of unconsciousness. He's making a disturbing low, groaning sound, guttural and bubbling, like he's drowning. There's blood all down his white shirt, he's bleeding from a gash on his head and from his nose and lip. His eye is swollen, as are his cheeks and jaw, purple bruises coming up in rings on his porcelain white skin.

Ronnie holds something in his hand. Silver, thin, sharp. 'Do it,' he says, holding the cut throat razor out to Reggie.

Reggie glances at the blade, then turns away. 'What? What the fuck are you talkin' about, Bobby?'

'Come and look if you don't believe me.'

Reggie steps over Bobby. 'There's nothing there,' he says, looking over Bobby's head, through the curtains.

'That,' Bobby says. 'The blue van.'

'That's a gas van.'

Bobby steps back from Reggie. 'Do you think they're gonna turn up in a bleedin' panda car or somethin'?'

'Where's this fuckin' van?' Ronnie asks, joining them at the window.

As he moves away, Ricky stands and crosses the room to me. 'Why don't you make us some coffee, baby?' he says, putting his hands on my waist and turning me around.

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