Sandals and Death

He never did what he was supposed to


Characters: ,





Length: words

Sandals and Death by Jackie Thomas

After everyone else had gone, Noel wandered the corridors of the rehearsal studio, checking the rooms they had hired, the foyer with the coffee machine and the fire escape where Julian sometimes went to smoke. He periodically phoned him and, when there was no answer, tried to track him by following the be-bopping of his horrible ring tone.

Julia had been trying to get through as well and texted Noel when she didn’t get a reply. They called each other number one wife and number two wife. Which was so sodding funny.

He finally found Julian upstairs in the small, windowless room they were using to lock away props and costumes. He had fallen into a restless sleep there, wedged between the Bollo suit and the whitewashed brick wall. He still held the script they were meant to be working on, but his phone clocked up missed calls from the floor and his head nodded and bobbed precariously.

The phone, astonishingly, had not woken him. The sound was probably just burrowing into his dreams; infesting them with free-funk-fusion or some such nonsense. No wonder he seemed to be waging some terrible war against himself; giving his all with the maniacal muttering. Something about sandals. Sandals and death, probably.

Kneeling, Noel put a hand between Julian’s head and the wall he seemed intent on head-butting.

“Careful, Ju,” he said, but not loudly, deciding he did not want to wake him.

Julian’s head rested a moment against Noel’s hand.

“You’re Ukrainian,” he randomly announced.

“That’s right,” Noel soothed. “Kiev, born and bred.”

With his free hand he hit a couple of buttons on his phone and, when it connected, spoke over the sound of a fractious baby.

“I’ve got him, Number One. Yeah, he’s fine, he’s just crashed out.”

Julia said not to disturb him, to let him sleep. It was hard to dislike her. But Noel was giving it his best shot.

He eased himself onto the floor and, with a small amount of encouragement, Julian swayed into him. He gazed sightlessly at Noel.

“Have you fed the goats?”

“I fed the goats.”

“What about the goats?”

“They’ve stuffed their fat little faces, love.”

Reassured, Julian dropped his head against Noel’s chest. Noel switched their phones off, wrapped his arms around him, and waited to see if he was going to shut up. Julian never talked so much as when he was unconscious, all his imprisoned words falling over each other to escape. Sense or nonsense, they wanted out. Now Noel heard his name, and then nothing else, as he rested a hand in Julian’s hair.

It wasn’t exactly comfortable. They fitted together better the other way round. Julian was wide and long and soft, everything a sofa should be, while Noel was narrow. Like a coffee table; all sharp edges and angles.

Also, Julian would probably have a nervous breakdown about this when he woke up. To be this close was no longer permitted. But the twins hadn’t slept at all these last three nights and if Noel could steal a couple of hours sleep for him, it would be worth it. It would be worth it to be this close again.

Eventually Noel began to fall asleep too, pillowed against Bollo’s broad shoulder. There was something about the proximity of Julian that made sleep possible. Something about him could make Noel, who existed in perpetual motion, still. Sometimes he thought he was no more than Vince, wanting to lie, heads touching, at a secure diagonal to Howard on the floor of the Keeper’s Hut. Lots of times it was more than that.

There had been numberless nights after gigs or straight from a club when he had believed he could feel the minute vibration of every cell in his body, when his eyes had forgotten how to close. Julian would take him in and love him, and sleep came in the thin, dawn light with Julian’s breath on his neck through the tangle of his hair. But that was before.

He woke much later to Julian peeling himself away, frowning sleepily at him.

“How did this happen?” He asked. His eyes were warm though. His inner-lunatic was evidently resting for the moment.

“You look practically dead these days, mate,” Noel said, which didn’t sound like an acceptable answer, even to himself. He raked his hands through his hair. He’d had to start from scratch with it the last time he had fallen asleep on the Bollo suit. Flipping man-made fibre monkey.

Julian still looked concerned.

“You were safe, Ju, honestly. You’ve got baby sick down your back; even I’ve got some standards.”

Julian nodded slowly and then closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, still tired.

“You were on about those goats again,” Noel said. Julian groaned in response. “I think there’s a whole herd munching its way through your subconscious.”

Julian rested his gaze on him, smiling slightly.

“I suppose you’ve got a flock of unicorns galloping through yours.”

Noel looked down; suddenly, inexplicably shy. “A shoal, really.”

A band started rehearsing in the room above, stop-starting through a jangly guitar song they hadn’t yet got to grips with.

“Christ, I’m going to go up and tune that bass in a minute,” Julian muttered and Noel smiled.

“Leave the indie kids alone, Barratt.”

Julian pulled a cigarette from a pack in his jeans pocket and lit it with the deliberate care of someone still more or less asleep. He looked at his watch and winced.

“I should go.”

Noel drew a knee up to his chin, stretching the stiffened muscles in his leg.


Julian picked his way through the jumble of junk and magical objects from which they would build their show and unearthed his jacket, satchel and a plastic cup of stone cold black coffee. He finished the coffee, put on the jacket and began to gather the bits of script that had slipped apart while they slept. Noel rested his forehead on his knee, not wanting to watch him go.

A hand smoothing down his hair surprised him and he looked up.

“You’ve gone electric,” Julian said, not taking his hand away.

“Electro-gorilla hair,” Noel distractedly explained, though he could feel a different sort of charge crackling through him.

Julian’s hand drifted down to hold Noel’s shoulder.

“I’ve missed you.”

Noel couldn’t speak for a moment. When Julian said how he felt it was always momentous. Then he sighed.

“Why tell me that, Ju? It doesn’t matter anymore, does it? You’ve got babies now, you’ve got normal.”

He spoke gently; there had never been room for drama in this quiet, secret story they had told together.

“It’s what you wanted.”

“I’m sorry,” Julian said and the lingering hand withdrew.

Noel had not known their partnership would become sexual until he saw the first film of the two of them performing together, and then he hadn’t doubted it. It had been a shock to see the way their bodies constantly sought each other; transmitting faint, unacknowledged pulses of electricity to one another across the stage.

It took another couple of years before Julian knew. Or rather before he knew and recovered from his big Northern panic about it. Before he gave up and kissed Noel. The kiss had been hesitant and tender and afterwards Julian held Noel to him in the perfect crush of his embrace. It had all been beautiful, and as fragile as insect wings.

They finished the cigarette together, legs touching on the prop room floor while upstairs, the band taught each other the opening chords of Ziggy Stardust.

Noel got to his feet, looking for Julian’s coffee cup to crush out the stub.

“Are we off, then? Time for you to get home to the nippers?”

He offered his hand to Julian but he didn’t take it. He looked up at Noel, looked into him really.

When your partner is a silent, thoughtful sort you get to be an expert at reading faces. This was an easy one though, this was an expression Noel knew well.


He dropped to his knees, took Julian’s face in his hands and kissed him. Julian kissed back, hard, messy, not breathing.

His hand came around the back of Noel’s head, the other round his waist and he found himself flipped onto his back.

He reached to bring Julian back down into the kiss. And that turned out to be a mistake because it seemed to bring home to the other man what he was doing. He pulled himself away from Noel.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Total nut job that he was, he stumbled to his feet and hurled himself out of the room as if a platoon of Old Greggs were after him.

“Fuck,” Noel gasped.

He didn’t move from where he lay, sprawled flat on the floor, his arms wide. His lips still tasting the kiss, his skin remembering the brush of Julian’s stubble, his body shouting for him.

He calmed his ridiculous heart, covered his eyes and tried not to cry.

That was stupid. He had torn the wounds open again. Right open and he was bleeding on the floor. Just as he had all those months ago when Julian had turned up at his house, waking him and quietly making the longest speech Noel had ever heard from his lips.

The band got better as they got into their stride, becoming fluid and funky. Noel was sorry when they finished; sorry to hear them clattering past the prop room on their way out. Leaving him alone in the silence, with Bollo’s wise old gorilla-face gazing down on him.

He must have fallen asleep, because Julian was squeezing his hand to wake him. He was cold, his back hurt and his hair was now definitely doomed. Reclaiming his hand, he checked his watch; it was almost midnight.

“Piss off, Ju,” he said, closing his eyes against the glare of the strip lighting.

He didn’t though. He never bloody did what he was supposed to. Instead, gently, as if Noel was drunk or ill, he stood him on his feet.

“You’re a fucking maniac. Do you know that?” Noel told him.

Julian had brought Noel’s coat from where he had left it in the rehearsal room downstairs, and he carefully dressed him in it.

“Seriously,” he continued his theme. “You shouldn’t even be allowed out.”

Julian seemed beyond speech. Noel could smell alcohol on his breath which meant he hadn’t got further than the pub across the road. He felt sorry for number one wife, and for number two.

Julian put his arms around Noel and despite himself, he leaned into the embrace, feeling Julian’s breath and the ghost of a kiss on his forehead.

+ posts