by Neil Campbell
He had the remote control in bed and so he put it on like he always put it on but unlike him I was not born to run. Every morning that same fucking song. In every room the posters, in every room a stereo with him playing. The Boss, Bruce, Springsteen, every fucking where.
And then the book came out. Born to Run. A fucking memoir. As if the album wasn’t enough. So, Tim was there, every night in bed, reading from this book and going on and on about what a great writer Bruce is. So now he is not just a musician whose music plays twenty-four hours a day in this house, he is also a writer. Oh Charlotte, echoes of Kerouac, Tim said. Could easily have been a short story writer too, he said. Charlotte, you should read this, you must read this, he said.
And then of course there are the DVDs. The nightly DVDs of concerts from New York and Barcelona and Hyde Park, London. The guy plays three fucking hours, minimum. The DVDs seem at least that. Multiple discs. Behind the scenes. The making of. On and on.
For years, Tim spent loads on bootlegs. But now we don’t get CDs with shitty covers on, and music where you can hear people in the audience talking, we get downloads. Download after download, slowing down the computer. Gig after gig after gig. And it is always the same songs. Thunder Road, Racing in the Street, and Born to Run. The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive – I used to like that. Many moons ago. Now it’s like an old pair of curtains or something.
Just after I first met Tim, at a Bruce gig at the Old Trafford cricket ground, it was a glorious summer evening, something of a rarity in Manchester. I wore a print dress and these boots I used to have, and it was too hot for a bra though I still don’t really need a bra, and we danced together on one of the cheesy songs, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day I think it was, and he held me from behind and pressed himself up against that thin dress I was wearing and it was thrilling and I was into it, the music made us sway together and it was so hot, so hot, there was sweat on him and he was my own Bruce, even if he couldn’t dance, there was so much to him then, so much possibility, so much ambition, all the things he told me he was going to do, we were going to do, and that we never did. We don’t touch so much anymore either and we never did have kids, we couldn’t. But we got through that. For years, Bruce got us through the bad times, all those gigs we went to, so many gigs, the cricket ground again, the Etihad, twice, but now he is a reminder of those bad times, the music is like a chain around my neck. When he does new stuff, I will give that a listen. I like his quiet stuff but I also like it when he straps on the electric guitar and gives it some welly. And I love how old he is and that he is still doing what he is doing. But all our lives, we’ve just watched what he’s doing.
Before Tim met me, he had met Bruce. I’m sure that will come as no surprise to you. And he was always telling me about it. How he was going to ask for an autograph but just got someone to take their picture instead, a roadie or another fan or something, I forget. There was the picture of them together. It was in a frame on our bedside table. Both smiling, arms around each other, Tim towering over Bruce, and Tim isn’t a big guy. So, you see, Tim was into Bruce before he met me, and me and Tim, well, we don’t share anything that’s ours, that we discovered together, nothing that compares anyway.
Bruce’s face peers at me from the front of Tim’s t-shirts. A t-shirt for every tour. It is a funny thing, but Tim has a beer belly and it pushes out the fabric of the t-shirts so that Bruce seems to grin widely at me from a fattening face. Tim goes jogging because of that beer belly. No shit. He isn’t born to run. Far from it, fat git. Coffee mugs have Bruce’s mug on. Keyrings. Pens. Album cover prints in frames all down the hallway. Day in day out, his voice, his face all around the house.
This morning, what I did, I took the picture of Bruce and Tim out of the frame, and I put a picture of us in. It is from our wedding day. Outside Manchester Town Hall. Taken by me, not the photographer we hired, Tim’s mate. An afternoon in early summer. We held hands outside and there were all these office workers around on their breaks, and I was a bit cold and Tim cuddled me. We carried on having our picture taken by the photographer, and we sat on a bench looking across Albert Square. Then we kissed again, and I took a selfie of us on that bench and that’s the picture I’ve slid into the frame.
You know something, you know what I like? I like musicals. Bob Fosse. Chicago, Cabaret. And you know before that, Fosse was a dancer, a great fucking dancer. He did the jazz hands thing, and used chairs and bowler hats like Fred Astaire. They think he used the hats because he was bald, but, wow, what a dancer. I used to be a dancer too, way back before Tim. They used to weigh us all the time. I hated that, that’s a whole other story. But I loved the dancing. That movement, that fitness, being lost in the dance, all toned and not tired, never tired. Maybe I will dance again. I don’t need Tim for that anyway. Charlotte the dancer. That’s who I was. That’s what I want again. Charlotte, that is my name.
Neil Campbell is from Manchester. His debut novel Sky Hooks is out now. He has been included three times in Best British Short Stories (2012, 2015, 2016). He has two collections of short stories, Broken Doll and Pictures From Hopper, published by Salt, and two poetry collections, Birds and Bugsworth Diary, published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press, who have also published his short fiction chapbook, Ekphrasis. Recent stories have appeared in The Lonely Crowd and Litro. A collection of flash fiction, Fog Lane, is forthcoming. Find him on Twitter @neilcambers.