Tag Archives: just friends

A touch of Lilac

Crazy Yank was just one of many of Lilac’s male suitors dressed up in a platonic façade. Another was called Howard who I never met but heard inevitably disagreeable things about; he seemed to boss Lilac about, telling her she was late when he knew she was working long hours and certainly didn’t seem to tickle her funny bone either. Of course, there was Henry’s younger drum teacher (Lilac remains 49 years old all her life) but that was all hush-hush drinks at the pub and a reckless option in her mind. There was Big James, younger in his early forties and good friends with Crazy Yank, who’d inevitably ‘just be passing’ on his motorbike from Ealing.

At the time, my joint favourite contender with Crazy Yank was his antithesis: Tennis Mike. Despite Crazy Yank playing a great deal of tennis, Tennis Mike had good contacts within the Lawn Tennis Association. He’d spoil Lilac with the best Wimbledon tickets you could get your hands on and steak au poivre and champagne dinners. Meanwhile, Crazy Yank would whisk Lilac away for daytime and late-night drinking along the Chiswick High Road.

Lilac would typically go with the flow, enjoying herself and maintaining that both Crazy Yank and Mike were ‘just friends’ and that they wanted to be just friends with her. This was just the start of getting to know a woman who, to this day, never fails to amuse me. A woman who one day, felt hungry and burnt croissants so they looked like charcoaled elephant turds on a baking tray. Another day, she got home telling me how famished she was and I went out to the kitchen to find her eating quail eggs knocked back with a couple shots of vodka.

But Lilac isn’t always so chilled out. Unlike Henry. And that became a problem when I was living there. One night in particular, 10 GCSEs meant watching Skins and crafting me a Best of Zero 7 for Henry. And for Lilac? It meant shouting.

‘Henry, what are you doing? This has to stop. You’ve got your GCSEs, Henry. Do you know what this means? Do you know how hard I work for you to go to this school?’

Henry, as usual at his mother’s outbursts, would say nothing. I sat there, looking at the carpet, shouting inside for him to say something.

‘Saskia, please don’t encourage this behaviour. He’s got his exams soon. They’re very important.’

I looked at Lilac to say something but nothing came out. Lilac was staring at Henry who was still watching Skins.

‘Henry! Are you bloody listening to me?’

Henry got up from his armchair, slung his satchel over his shoulders and stomped up the stairs. She followed him up two flights of stairs to his attic room, shouting on the verge of tears.

I switched off the TV, turned off both lights and crept up the stairs to my room.

Soon after that, it was time for Lilac and I to have ‘a chat’.

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Life with Lilac

I moved to Barnes the following weekend. I don’t remember much about it except my stuff fitting in the one car. Whether it was Jack or Lily’s car, I’m unsure.  They both came with me. I can’t even remember if Henry was there. Henry is Lily’s younger half-brother, then sixteen. I’d also met him in the hallway the previous weekend. He’d seemed a bit embarrassed by the whole affair. Although I think that’s because Lily asked for some sort of reaction in response to the idea that I might move in. It’s hard for anyone to muster up excitement for a stranger to move in let alone possibly sharing a house with a stranger. I think Lilac might’ve been pottering upstairs in her room. She’d potter a lot. I remember one day, she locked herself in her bedroom to paint her furniture. The fumes stunk out the entire house. I went upstairs to check she was OK.

‘Can you really smell it?’ she asked, popping her head around the door. Lilac was wearing her nightie and slippers and had her glasses on, worn only when real concentration was necessary.

‘I’m glad your windows are open. I really think you should keep the door open, too,’ I said.

‘I’m hoping I’ll get high on the fumes,’ she said, laughing to herself.

I only stayed in Barnes for about two months, which is strange because it felt like home for much longer. Although Crazy Yank was a prominent figure before we even met.

‘People call him Shark Attack. He’s a lot of fun to go out with. But we’re just friends now. He’s going to love you. He’ll be after you,’ were the first impressions Lilac gave me.

‘Why is he called Shark Attack?’ It seemed a disturbing nickname for a middle-aged man let alone one raising two kids on his own.

‘Because when he’s in bar, he fishes out the talent,’ she said, laughing.

Lily and Henry didn’t find their mother’s friend quite so amusing. One day, I picked up the landline to this broad New York accent:

‘Hey, is that Lilac or Lily?’

‘It’s Saskia actually. I can go and get Lilac for you?’

‘Cool. I’m coming over to pick her up. We’re going drinking.’

‘Great. I’ll just get her for you.’ I passed the phone to Lilac who didn’t say very much. She giggled a lot.

‘He told me he digs your British accent,’ Lilac said after she got off the phone.

Ten minutes later, Crazy Yank was circling the front door. I opened it and introduced myself. He was tall and broad, wearing a dark polo shirt and long chino shorts with a handsfree phone piece stuck to his right ear. His black shades matched his head of receding hair, which was swept back. I can’t remember what we talked about but I remember Lilac coming home and telling me that he had told her: ‘I dig that hippy chick.’ Granted I had short hair at the time and nothing on my feet but I didn’t realise this made me Sandy Shaw.

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