soul my friend Alan used to call it, by which he meant those of us who
were sensitive, clever and a little bit strange, as compared to the rest of the
population; Tory voting, boring and lacking in imagination and heart. It is
easy when you are young to separate the good from the dull, but now that I am
much older and living in another country, I am not so sure who is who, and
whether I am the decent person that I thought I was when the world and
everything in it seemed uncomplicated and there for the taking.
Helen, my beautiful
shiksa, and I lay in each others arms after the most romantic of love
need to say thank you... she told me, and as I started to apologise,
nor say sorry. I enjoy it too.
I know, well I
hope so; I still find it so difficult to believe you are with me, just
insecurity I guess, and not fitting in, or just not normal.
everyone feel like that? she asked.
Well you seem
normal I told her, as if you know what to do in every situation,
and will always do the sensible thing.
Is it a Jewish
thing? Not belonging?
maybe, there is a sense of insecurity, but that might be our history, it is
more than that though, my friend Alan feels it too, or he used too, and he
see it. You are little eccentric, that is all. Especially the amount you
listen to that singer you like, Tracey Thorn. You seem okay otherwise. In fact
I find you quite calming.
Later she asked,
am I really normal?
definitely. Dont you think you are?
Most people think I am odd.
I am not sure.
I feel that it wouldnt take much for me to fall into madness. Perhaps
that is why I am with you. You keep me sane.
said and we kissed.
Sometimes Helen said
things and later on I would wonder if I should have pursued it, but then she
moved the subject on so quickly, or we started being lustful, and it was only
afterwards I started to ponder on what she had said and how serious she had
been. Perhaps I ignored Helen when she threatened to come off the
pedestal on which I had placed her, or deep down I knew that anyone so
beautiful who allowed me to defile her pure, gentile body, must have something
wrong with her, but I didnt want her to spoil the illusion that a
beautiful woman who could have anyone had chosen me.
Helen rang me one
Are you in
work today? she asked.
library is closed on Wednesdays remember, but I thought you were.
No, I am not
well and she gave a sort of laugh, lets go into
But if you are
Oh I am okay,
just need a day off.
My mother would
never let me take the day off from school unless she thought I was ill enough
for the doctor to be called which was never - and as a consequence, when
I got a job and left home, I still dragged myself into work, not matter how ill
I might be feeling. It was thus with a feeling of wickedness that I sat with
Helen on the train heading into the city, although my feeling of unease was on
her behalf for ringing in sick when she was clearly fit and healthy, albeit a
bit giggly and talkative.
There was a couple
opposite us; she was pretty, Asian heritage with a lovely smell of vanilla
coming from her, and an expensive looking winter coat draped over her
shoulders, whilst her companion (colleague rather than lover I guessed) looked
dull and tired. To my embarrassment Helen started talking to them.
We are going
into Liverpool. Fancied the day off.
The young woman
smiled, Enjoy yourself.
Come with us
if you like, you and your friend and Helen tapped him on the knee.
We would love
to, but we have a meeting.
They both appeared
to draw back into their seats, and then of one accord they got files out of
their bags and started leafing through them, refusing to meet our eyes. Helen
touched my thigh lightly and then stroked it, she chatted away about
inconsequential things so loudly that the whole carriage must have been able to
You sure you
are okay? I asked quietly.
Yes, I am
good. I am looking forward to that drink though.
As we left the train
I saw her wink at the young man opposite, but the prig refused to acknowledge
it, so I gave Helens bottom a loud smack as we left, and she giggled.
that drink I said.
And drink we did;
Helen had a better knowledge of the pubs in Liverpool than I did, and we
visited several I had no idea existed and probably wouldnt have been able
to find again. She liked the small and dark ones, hidden away in side-streets,
which smelt of disinfectant and old beer, and where a couple of old men drank
slowly and talked about horse racing.
At one pub I
dont want to talk about it by Everything but the Girl was
that singer you like Helen said and started to join in;
stand all alone, will the shadow hide the colour of my heart
voice was loud but tuneful, and it contrasted well with Tracey Thorns
gloomier and more restrained vocal,
I dont want to talk about
it, the way you broke my heart
.. I looked at her as she sang, but
her eyes were unfocused and I wondered who she was thinking about; an old
boyfriend she had not mentioned or just life in general.
Thank you for
coming with me. she told me after the song had finished, I would
have struggled on my own.
And then she was up
and looking for the next pub.
We found ourselves
in a side street near the Pilgrim Pub, and suddenly we were snogging by some
large, silver bins.
she pushed her finger in my
mouth and I sucked on it slowly and then lightly bit it; it tasted of salt and
cinnamon. After that I did not care about the cold, the smell of rubbish or of
being caught; Helen was everything and I was overwhelmed by her.
She had a Bible by
know you were religious.
it to me. I was in town a couple of days ago having lunch. This woman
came over and started talking to me. I ended up buying her coffee. She
gave me it to me.
Why were you
having lunch in Birkenhead?
Oh they sent
me home from work. I was just a bit tired thats all.
worry about me, she said after a few moments of silence, sometimes
I need a break.
How are you
Interesting. I havent looked at since school. A lot about your lot in
Well we wrote
I thought it
was God who wrote it. He is quite critical of the Jews; Jesus is always going
on about the Pharisees, they are Jewish priests arent they? And Hosea.
Always telling you off.
wasnt for the Pharisees the Jews would have been subsumed by the Romans;
anyway religion is like sport, all very well until you take it too
probably right. Mind you I have seen you when Everton lose.
I woke up needing to
urinate; it was three in the morning and Helen was still reading The Bible, her
lamp giving her a halo as if she was a Christian saint.
you slept? I asked her.
No, this is
fascinating. Why dont you ever talk about it?
think it interested you, anyway it is just my childhood, something I wanted to
I hurried to the
toilet and when I got back to bed she was still reading intently, and almost
immediately I fell back asleep. I woke up again at eight and she was gone. And
later when I rang her at work from the library, she sounded happy and
How are you
feeling? I asked.
I am okay, a
I will have an
early night tonight I think.
blame you I told her, I dont blame you at all.
I used to dream
about Tracey Thorn, at least as much as I dreamed about Helen, although these
were not erotic dreams, rather they involved me abandoning her in various
places; the library where I worked, Lime Street Railway Station or in the
middle of a strange city. I would wake up feeling overloaded with guilt, and
eventually I would realise that I had left Tracey in a Burger King, and that
she was waiting patiently for me to pick her up and take her home.
I had all of
Traceys albums; not just the ones she recorded as one half of Everything
but the Girl (for which is she is best-known) but also her obscure solo album
A Distant Shore and the two badly produced bits of New Wave that
she did with The Marine Girls, the band she was in as a teenager. Even
now, many years later and in another country, I still buy anything new that she
releases, and I have read her two memoirs several times over. I follow her on
Twitter and Facebook, even sending her messages which she sensibly ignores, and
occasionally I still dream that I have left her somewhere alone and frightened.
Whilst I have always
loved her voice; melancholic and slightly offkey, it is her that I am obsessed
with; so calm and sensible with politely concealed contempt for those who do
not meet her high standards. Sometimes when Helen and I cavorted on the bed I
would imagine Tracey looking down on us disapprovingly or when Alan and I,
drunk and laddish, giggled over a rude joke, there she was glaring at me,
wondering when I would grow up. I still yearn to gain her approval, and I
suspect that all the achievements in my life are due to her, and my attempts to
make her proud of me.
I am going to
church on Sunday, would you like to come with me?
A friend from
work invited me; Claire.
Christians disapprove of this? I pointed to her sprawled naked on top of
the bed, her body warm from our passion of a few moments before and smelling of
I have been
meaning to speak to you about that
Thus she became
unobtainable, but then I had always felt that I was trespassing on her flawless
body, and it could not last forever, that eventually I would be caught.
She still let me sleep beside her and would kiss me languorously goodnight
before disengaging with seeming regret and sleeping with her back to me. I had
a feeling that Tracey Thorn would approve.
She talked about God
more and more. I used to love her company, looked forward to spending time with
her and even imagined it becoming permanent and maybe breaking my
mothers heart - a marriage. But now our evenings consisted of her reading
aloud from the Bible and talking about The Jews, before agonising as to whether
we should have sex or not, and it was Hell. Was she unwell, or was this how
Christians spent their time? I wondered if her colleagues had noticed anything
or had she always been odd, and I had not seen it until now.
The vicar is
doing a talk about the Palestinians. Would you like to go? His brother was
there, in the West Bank a few weeks ago and made a film. Quite
I thought you
would be interested, doesnt your sister live there?
Not in the
West Bank no, in Tel Aviv, and I do not care about all this obsession with
Israel, and the feeling that I am personally responsible for the actions of the
Israeli government and army.
Arent they your people?
Shouldnt you feel responsible?
No. Perhaps if
it wasnt all that everyone goes on about I might be more concerned; but
they do not seem to show the same worry about what is happening in East Timor,
or in Burma. Sheesh always bloody Israel, and always how wicked the Israelis
are; what about the Palestinian suicide bombers? People blown up on buses or in
restaurants? I bet your vicar does not go on about that. It is just another
excuse for anti-Semites to hate Jews.
hate them exactly she told me, which is when I walked out.
She sounds as
off her head as you. Alan told me as we drank coffee together one evening
in a small cafe, before we went to see Siouxsie and the Banshees in concert at
The Empire in Liverpool. Even if what she says upsets you, perhaps she
needs you to be kind, not get cross and hurt, get over yourself a
quite sensible I admitted reluctantly, but it is difficult when I
am with her, and she is going on about Jews and how we control Hollywood and
tell the government what to do.
has a point, there are lots of Jews in government and in film. And they did
work with Hitler during the Second World War, I was reading a book about
I looked at him in
despair; he had become comfortable and rich, now that he was working for a law
firm in the city centre, so that even on a night out he was smartly dressed;
chinos, white shirt and a corduroy jacket rather than jeans and the battered
army jacket he used to wear, and his hair looked as if it was cut regularly and
somewhere expensive. I had even had to drag him along to this concert, despite
Siouxsie and the Banshees having always been his favourite band. I remembered
only a couple of years ago us spending a cold night on a bench in Nottingham
railway station after seeing them play at Rock City, I doubted that would ever
we used to divide people up, between those who had soul and those who
well people can swap sides, and anyway perhaps those with soul are those
who havent grown up.
Next time I came
round to see Helen I noticed a sticker of the outline of a fish stuck to her
It is an
ichthys she told me when I asked her about, an ancient symbol of
Christ. My friend Claire gave me it.
I gave her a smile,
unsure of what to think, as I sat down next to her on the settee.
left-handed as well, she said, as we did The Guardian quick crossword
you noticed before? And as well as what?
She looked worried,
isnt that a sign of the devil? And witches, they are
I hope so.
Anyway, farmer, six letters, third letter o
The Talmud is
full of spells isnt it? Against non-Jews, goyim.
Who told you
about the Talmud? I looked at her in mock horror. Thats our
big secret, nobody is supposed to know about the Talmud. I might have to kill
you now; where is that kitchen knife?
She looked at me and
I realised that she was scared, and I gave her a hug.
sweetheart, I was joking. But where are you getting this stuff?
She cuddled close
but did not say anything, and I could feel that she was tense, as if she did
not quite trust me, and when I stroked her back she flinched.
Do you cast
spells? she asked, her voice trembling, is that why I fell for you?
You cast a Jewish spell to capture me?
There was no humour,
no banter in her voice, she sounded serious and I did not know what to do or
say, so I continued to hold and stroke her, and eventually she seemed to relax
and fell asleep in my arms. At about two she went to bed leaving me to
sleep on the settee, later I heard her crying, but when I went to see what the
matter was, her bedroom door was locked.
Next time I called
round she wouldnt let me in; I knocked loudly on the door but there was
silence and when I tried my key, the door was locked from the inside.
called, but there was nothing, and I imagined her sitting on the kitchen floor
trembling and so I left, giving the ichthys a baleful look as I did so.
When I tried to ring her at work the next morning, I was told she was busy with
a client, and got the same answer when I tried a couple more times later that
week, at least she was in work I supposed, rather than hiding away at home. In
the end I posted my key through her door along with a note asking her to call
me, and then I walked away; after all you cannot make someone see you,
especially if you seem to be frightening them.
She is clearly
mentally ill Alan told me, during our last conversation together,
why dont you help her?
She is supposed to be your friend, and you have given up on her.
She gave up on
me I told him, but only half-believing it, and I imagined Tracey Thorn
shaking her head in disgust. A couple of days later I posted a letter to her
with the contact number for Mental Health Services in Birkenhead, which was all
that I could think of to do, but I realised that it was a bit a pathetic,
despite all my spurious arguments to the contrary. What would Tracey have
done I wondered? I had no idea.
The next time that I
saw Helen was a couple of years later in Liverpool City Centre; she was heading
away from Primark, looking scruffier than I remembered with baggy jeans and a
long, dirty-looking green t-shirt. She was still beautiful, but you had to look
for it beneath the unbrushed hair and badly applied lipstick.
said, and she looked over at me, puzzled and distracted, and I could see her
eyes searching and searching, and then she gave up, gave me a frightened look,
and hurried away. Later I was looking at my reflection in a shop window; smart
haircut, suit and discrete tie, and I realised that I did not recognise myself
I am in my fifties
now; the best of my life is over with and death is often in my thoughts, after
all Israel is not the safest place to live, with murders on both sides reported
every day, mind you, nowadays it seems Jews are targets wherever they live.
After everything changed in England, I decided to make aliyah and flee; at
first I lived with my sister and her husband and then I got a job at the
university, rented my own apartment and began to make friends, I even had a
lover for awhile, until she got bored of me and left. But I am still a stranger
in a strange land, and in the evenings when I play Tracey Thorns latest
album (a series of feminist bangers apparently) my mind goes back a
quarter of a century ago and I am in love with someone beautiful who when she
needed me, I betrayed.
I called at her
house before I left England. For the last time I took the train from Liverpool
to Birkenhead Central station and then I walked up that steep hill, so
treacherous in Winter, and which left me breathless at any time of the year. I
walked down her street again, hoping that she would still be there, but
guessing that she didnt live there anymore. She had left her job in the
town centre several years ago and could be anywhere. I had with me a letter
asking her to take a chance and come with me, which I planned to post through
her door if she did not answer.
The house looked the
same, even the ichthys was still stuck to the glass on the door, a little faded
now and beginning to peel at the top, and for a moment my heart felt as if it
would burst. After regaining my breath and plucking up my courage I banged on
the door, I thought that I heard a noise from within, but nobody came so
eventually I pushed the letter through the letter box, and heard it slip onto
the floor. And then just as I turned away, a man came out with my letter in his
There is no
Helen here he told me crossly, handing it back to me, you must have
the wrong address.
I wanted to ask him
if he could keep it, just in case she returned, but he had gone back indoors
without a backwards glance, and so I screwed it up and stuffed it back in my
As I stood at the
closed door, I lightly stroked the ichthys as if it was as charm, and then, in
a burst of anger, I ripped it from the door and squashed it under my foot,
wishing it was as easy to rip out the sadness and fear in my friends
heart, and the guilt in mine.