I still have plenty of time to get to Levenshulme within the window Sally gave me. The A6 has slightly more powered traffic on it than the roads around the centre. I recognise the smell of burnt ethanol mingled with the saliva generating aroma of biodiesel. Motor vehicles are still outnumbered by bikes though.
The address Sally gave me is on a street that runs parallel to the railway line. It’s a dead end with a park, converted to allotments, at the end. This street runs north to south, so it’s not so good for catching sunlight on the roofs. A lot of them, however have basic green roofs, boxed off and with sedum grass sprouting from them. I just hope the waterproof membranes are good enough.
The house has frames in the front garden, for peas I guess but bare now. There are still some onions and leeks in the beds around the frames though. It seems that every piece of earth that can be reached has been planted. I don’t know how many people are completely self sufficient, but a fair few must be getting close to it. It’s like the whole dig for victory thing from the second world war, only it’s going to go on for longer this time. We are, let’s face it, entering the post pollution society. Considering how far they’ve got in Manchester in such a short time I’m optimistic about what can be achieved elsewhere. This was the world’s first industrial city, responsible in a way for the advances that have led to so much pollution, perhaps it can make up for that by becoming one of the first truly eco cities.
Sally’s short and tiny, with a pretty face and short black hair. She’s wearing some sort of one piece that’s splattered with paint. There’s a moment of recognition, for both of us. She nods and smiles, a little coy, “The wanderer returns. Come in.” There’s a short corridor with the stairs at the end, but we take an immediate right into the front room.
I’m not the greatest with names, and I still haven’t placed Sally though I’m sure we’ve met. And spent long enough together for me to remember the face at least.
“You don’t remember me do you?”
“Well, erm, no. I recognise you but I can’t remember why.”
“I’m Keith’s sister. You spent a week helping me find a flat once.”
“You don’t remember? You did that sort of thing often?”
“Often enough, I guess.”
I have a horrible feeling I’ve got of to a bad start somehow, her pronouncement is so cold. “Last year.” she continues, “They said that he might still be alive, if they could have had the right drugs. But the world situation put a stop to that.” She’s started fretting, little movements like she’s pacing on the spot. She clasps her hands together, drops them to her side, puts them behind her back. “Sorry. I’ve been trying to think how I’d tell you about it ever since I got your email saying you were back in town. I think I fucked it up didn’t I?”
She tries the smile again, a little more nervous this time. I’m at a loss for words, which is bad. What she needs right now is reassurance of some form, but we stand across from each other, not quite ready to make a move. “Tea?” she asks.
“You have tea?”
“Nettle tea. I quite like it.”
She leaves the room and I take a seat. I have a feeling I made more of an impression on her than she did on me and wants to be remembered better than my sad old synapses are able. Thinking about it I do remember Keith having a sister, but I swear she was blonde. There are photos on the mantelpiece, maybe they’ll give me some information. One larger picture is a family portrait, Keith, a mousey Sally and their parents. Keith is sitting with the others around him. He does not look very well, what I first thought was a crew cut could be something worse. Tucked into the picture frame are a couple of other photos. One shows Sally in a baggy T-shirt on a beach, looking off to her left, the sea reflected in her sunglasses. In the other she’s with her brother, who looks much healthier, out on the town in a bar I think I recognise. The Sally in this picture is the blonde one I remember.
“Tea.” she announces as she comes through the door. “It will need a while to brew.”
We sit across from each other, trying not to watch the tea brew. “So. You said you had something for me?” I manage after a while.
“Keith kept some of your stuff. And your other friends put him in charge of looking after the stuff you posted back.”
I’d set up a post box, long distance, and passed the details on, and posted backups of my pictures and writing to it. I hadn’t even thought about checking what had made it, I’d just assumed it had been a failure.
“How much stuff?”
“There’s a shoe box of disks, just about. They’re in the basement somewhere, we can go and have a look.” She’s blushing, and I’m getting that feeling again. Looking for something to do, she pours the nettle tea. It’s quite nice. I’ve drunk worse, and stranger, in the last few years. “I haven’t checked the post box since Keith passed. There might be some more stuff in it. And I’ve hardly seen any of his… your friends since the funeral. Everyone’s so busy now, wrapped up in getting along. There’s my neighbours, I guess, but we just don’t seem to have the community everyone else talks about.”
“It can be hard getting to know people.”
“You never seemed to have that problem. Not from what I saw and read.”
“I’ve always had trouble talking to people, they don’t seem to have any trouble talking to me. I’ve never really understood how that works.” I pour myself some more tea. “Do you live here alone?”
“Yes. I have a spare room.”
“You’d rent it out?” This has headed off in an odd direction, but I was going to start looking for somewhere more permanent than the hotel anyway.
By the time we’ve finished the tea we’ve agreed terms and I’ll move in tomorrow. It’s not as if I have much to bring. “Shall we go and see if we can find your stuff?” she suggests.
We head down into the basement. I have to duck under beams that she’s too short to be bothered by. The basement has about the same footprint as the first floor, which makes it larger than I’d expected.. There are a lot of boxes along one wall and a work desk along what equates to the front wall. Canvasses are stacked on the work desk and leaning against the boxes- lots of paintings, oils or acrylics I think, of local buildings grand and small. “You did these?”
“I just started again. I think we’ve reached the point where people will pay for art again. I’ve done some shop signs as well.”
“Nice. I like the town hall.”
“Thanks.” She starts lifting boxes down. I notice that none of them are higher than she can reach. She’s stacked them herself, maybe she really hasn’t had that many visitors recently. “I think it’s in…. That box there.”
Sally hands me a shoe box. I lift the lid and it is filled with dvds, cds and thumb drives. I think they all got through, which is a hugely greater success rate than I’d expected. The ones I thought were most important, or most sellable, are backed up online or in other disks in various European banks, but this collection will add depth to them.
“Let’s put that in your room.” Sally suggests after I’ve stared at the inside of the box for a couple of minutes. “Then you can go and collect all your stuff.”
My room’s on the first floor, with the bathroom between it and Sally’s. It has a double bed, cupboards and not a lot of floor space. There’s a second floor, with a tiny studio making the most of the skylights. I can live here quite easily. Again, I’ve slept in worse over the last few years.