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époque press
pronounced: /epƏk/
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Given our cramped living circumstances, it was something of a surprise to return one afternoon from teaching to find an unfamiliar man sat on the sofa bed. 

     'This is Tom,' Lana introduced him with open palms, as you might a new piece of furniture. 

     Tom’s arm lay protectively on a large black suitcase nestled in the one empty space of the room, the right angle between the sofa and our green paisley armchair. His polished shoes sat atop the suitcase, a polite but unnecessary gesture.

     'Tom's an old friend from university,' said Lana.

     'Is that what you call me?' laughed Tom.

     I needed to lie down on the busted sofa, a charity shop job that in bed mode gently slid your head towards its rusted folding mechanism, but Tom was in the way. Marnie stood with one hand on his knee, using a rolled-up book of Soduku as a hammer to test his reflexes. It was unusual to see her this calm. She was normally pretty grouchy in the day because she was still waking up throughout the night, screaming the place down, and the only remedy for this was to take her for burns around town in the van, that was until the axle broke. I was no stranger to staying up all night, but on the free party scene I hadn't had to make random, delusional decisions about how to keep another human alive, or at least not often. We only learned about 9/11 on 12/11.

     'I wasn't sure what Marnie would like,' Tom could see me staring. 'Is Sudoku okay?'

     'How did you know I had children?' said Lana. 

     'I work in IT,' said Tom. 'It wasn't so hard.'

     Here Lana might have excused us to the kitchen, to explain why this shirted man was bouncing our daughter on his lap. But this was not possible in a flat the estate agent had described as having a lounge-kitchen. 

     'Did you get the shopping?' asked Lana instead.

     'Your text said come straight home.'

     'I sort of meant with the shopping.'

     'Why don't I get us all a takeaway?' interjected Tom. 'To say thank you?'

     I considered informing Tom of our economic ban on takeaways, but since he was paying and this got me out of a hole I didn't argue.


*                         *                         *


Some hours later I woke to find myself curled around Lana on the sofa bed.  'Marnie's up?' I murmured, to acknowledge it was my turn to be awake with her, even if Lana was already awake. 

     'She’s all settled down and fast asleep,' said Tom. 

     Behind me on the sofa bed lay Tom in a neat line. I noticed he had changed into green pyjamas.

     'How did you unfold the sofa with us on it?' said Lana.

     'I'm pretty handy,' said Tom.

     It was difficult to think straight, since Lana and I had consumed so many of Tom's artisan beers. The sight of a dozen or so empties, lined on the fold-out table, made me want to throw up. Lana looked even worse, one of her plaits sweat-glued across her forehead. 

     'You must have noticed our flat is very small, Tom,' said Lana as she dragged herself upright. 'We don't really have any kind of spare bed.'

     'If you don't mind just for tonight,' said Tom, 'I can sleep right here. I'll be gone in the morning.'

     'But this is where we sleep,' I said. 

     ‘What about the spare bed in Marnie's room?' said Tom. 'I could go in there?'

     So, we let him, as they say, make his own bed and lie in it. I was glad to have the sofa to ourselves, and pulled the blanket over me, remembering with despair the morning had my name on it, literally, written on the calendar, and in a couple of hours I'd be awake again with Marnie.


*                         *                         *


Marnie, Tom and I were all out on the balcony by the time Lana woke. This was some time after the sunny hour and by now the shadow from the neighbouring block of flats had plunged us into darkness. I saw little to be gained by telling Lana I had missed the sun altogether and had only woken half an hour earlier to find Tom creeping around the kitchen with a silent Marnie, making her breakfast. Despite my hangover, the novelty of a whole night's sleep left me more refreshed than I could remember.

     'Look at all of you,' said Lana.

     Tom ripped a hunk of croissant and offered it to Marnie, which she grabbed, eating half before sliding the remainder through her hair.

     'You've been out for croissants?' Lana asked me.

     'I always carry croissants,' said Tom. ‘I'll be out of your hair when I'm finished here.' An ironic turn of phrase since it was going to take a while to wash the chewed up pastry from Marnie's. Luckily today was one of my work days.

     'You said you have to be somewhere this morning?' said Lana.

     'Unless there's anything else you need help with?' said Tom.

     'There's plenty of washing up,' I joked.

     'Of course I'll wash up,' said Tom.

     'Where do you have to be?' said Lana.

     'Nowhere in particular,' said Tom.

     'Well, some of us have to go earn a living.' By which I meant that Barbara Tovey, the manager of English First      Language School, would be waiting at the school's entrance to once again check I was punctual for classes. Due to money problems beyond my control, I'd been forced to focus less on my music and more on teaching as a necessary evil to save cash for a new van in time for summer. I had a headful of ideas for new tunes and once I'd acquired a sampler and synthesizer to replace the ones I'd sold for the flat deposit, I intended to lay down tracks for a more up-to-the-minute promo CD, a sure-fire passport for a return to techno slots on the festival circuit. 

     I drained my tea and put the mug down on the table. ‘Right then, I’d better be off. Here’s some more washing up for you, Tom.’


*                         *                         *


I arrived home to find Lana on the balcony, arms splayed along the rail, staring down at the traffic below. Marnie was nowhere to be seen.

     'Here we are,' said Tom, entering the room with Marnie in his arms, who held a complicated arrangement of wool around her hands. 'We were keeping out the way.'

     'Can you say the catechism, Daddy?' said Marnie.

     'We've been to church baby group,' said Tom.

     'I thought we didn't do churches?' I directed this out to the balcony towards Lana. During her pregnancy we had pledged, at a dawn fire ceremony in the healing fields of the Paradise Moon festival, to resist exposure of our child to the superstitions of mainstream society. 

     'Tom offered, so I could make a start on some new jewellery lines,' said Lana as she came back inside. 'It's the opportunity I need to get started again’ – though one, it appeared, not seized upon, since the jewellery workbench was still folded behind the sofa – ‘which meant I didn't leave the flat, and couldn't buy food.' 

     'Let me take you out for a meal,' said Tom. 'My way of saying thanks for everything.'

     'I work Thursday nights,' I said. 'Teaching English pays the rent, but my real work is a weekly 2am slot at              Cable. A techno club.' In truth it was Simon's slot at Cable, but since he had secured it with my promo CD, and I played all the music, it was fair to regard the work as mine. Simon took half the money, which I guess was fair, and on the nights when he did put in an appearance he chose to hang out in the chill out room fraternising with the ketamine kids. We'd bonded when I first encountered him asleep under the decks in a field off the M25.      'Tonight's when I'm showcasing my set to Fazman. A promoter,' I indicated to Tom. 'I need to craft my set.' It was good to remind Lana this was working towards our future.

     'Then why don't I just treat Lana?' said Tom.

     'We're not really into meals out.' I said.

     'I'd quite like a meal out,' said Lana.

     'But what will I eat?'

     Tom resolved the situation by popping out to buy me another takeaway, and I slept for a solid four hours til they returned, with Marnie waking only once.


*                         *                         *


When I woke around noon the following day, the flat was quiet and empty. My set at Cable was something of a disappointment, since Fazman hadn't showed and the audience consisted of six people, two of them wrapped around each other in a heap on the dancefloor.

     Lana ushered Marnie through the flat door. Both had fingers to their lips.

     'Daddy's awake?' said Marnie. 'We can shout now?'

     'No, sweetie, because Tom's asleep. In the bedroom,' said Lana.

     'Tom's still here?' I asked.

     'He slept in with Marnie again. I needed a proper rest.' 

     Lana looked gorgeous, in a long patchwork dress I hadn't seen in a while. I pictured her naked, an image absent from my mind for weeks. I attempted, perhaps unsuccessfully, to convey this thought to her. 

     'I slept the whole night,' she said, as though it were a feat of Olympic expertise. 'Didn't even wake when you came in.'

     'I heard you all home,' said Tom as he appeared in the bedroom doorway in pyjamas, red this time. 'Do you want me to take Marnie since Vincent's only just surfacing?'

     'I thought you had to work?' 

     'My work's pretty flexible.'

     'Tom offered to build me an online shop,' said Lana. 'For my jewellery. Which is exactly what I need to start making van money.'

     'How much does an online shop cost?'

     'I'm happy to work pro bono,' said Tom.

     'What about Water Babies?' Lana worked a few hours a week helping new parents, or rather their tiny children, retain their birth ability to swim underwater, by submerging them in a warm pool and photographing every step of the journey.

     'I don't know how much longer I can work there,' said Lana. 'We have very different ideals.'

     'What is your work, anyway?' I asked Tom.

     'I write weather forecast algorithms. For oil companies.'

     'I've only worked two days in an office in my entire life.’

     'I don't work in an office. Weather can be analysed from anywhere. And I only work half-a-day a fortnight. My visible work, anyhow. I have other stuff going on behind the scenes.'

     'I could predict weather,' I said. 'I have almost a year of a geography degree. If you hear of anything going outside the fossil fuel industry let me know.' 

     Marnie and I took off to the playground, to give Tom and Lana time for the online shop. In one corner were a series of upright metal pipes, which made organ tones when hit. I tried to teach Marnie a bassline, but she was more interested in bashing one pipe over and over, not even in time. I left her to it and sat on a bench, daydreaming about the future. If Tom could build the shop in a couple of days, and Lana start jewellery production in the same time frame, we could see revenue only a couple of weeks hence. There was a chance to make it through the winter and hit the road again come spring, to station ourselves at plenty of festivals where I could showcase my music in person. 

     I hoped we could persuade Tom to stay around a while longer for all our sakes, and since he worked so little it made sense that he stayed awake with Marnie in the night. Lana and I briefly discussed whether one of us should take a shift the night before Tom had work, but we concluded that since Tom's bed was in the same room as Marnie he'd wake up anyway, so we didn't bother. Besides, it wasn't clear if he even woke in the night at all, since I never heard Marnie cry. Though I couldn't be certain, because of my club-grade earplugs. Everyone was happy.

     We settled into a symbiotic relationship, where Tom drew the benefits of company and home-cooked meals – he quickly became a very good cook – whilst Lana and I slowly returned to our normal selves, as functioning, creative adults and thus better role models for Marnie. Even though parenthood constrained us to a domesticated routine, we took seriously our vow to be examples of an alternative to ploughing the mainstream furrow. 

     To inspire the creation of more inventory for her jewellery shop Lana signed on for evening classes, whilst I spent more night hours with Simon, dreaming up new tunes for Fazman. 


*                         *                         *


It was a Tuesday afternoon and Lana and I had taken the opportunity to laze around the flat whilst Tom was out with Marnie. It might have been a sensuous occasion, but Lana's mood had turned dark. We lay on the sofa bed under an Aztec blanket.

     'It's the middle of May,' she said, 'and once again festival season is upon us. What happened to pinning down Fazman to confirm those gigs?'

     We had spent the winter in something of a daze and I partly blamed this on Tom's passion for expensive wine.

     'There's no point meeting Fazman until my new tunes are finalised and mixed properly,' I said. 'I can't afford studio space right now. Not since Barbara Tovey cut my Tuesday classes.' 

     The van fund had likewise suffered from Lana's dismissal from Water Babies, since she had not survived a second formal warning for dunking.

     'How's your hunt for a new job going?' I said, though I was aware of the answer.

     'How many jewellery-maker ads have you seen?' Lana swirled her hair into a knot behind her head. 'Perhaps we aren't charging Tom enough rent.'

     ‘Five hundred a month seems fair,' I said, ‘and he shares the room with Marnie.’

     'Maybe a temporary increase. Just until online sales pick up.'

     'Maybe if you started some new lines.' I patted the jewellery workbench in its long-term residency behind the sofa. 

     'Jewellery doesn't do it for me any more,' said Lana. 'I'm transferring to a new class, to develop a range of neon-sequinned festival shorts. They'll sell like hot cakes. Although I'm not sure I can really cope with another English winter. If we can’t get sorted for this season then maybe we go join Stan and Mel in Andalusia. There's a good market for jewellery down there.'

     'I thought it was sequinned shorts?'

     'Jewellery, shorts. I'm versatile.'

     'Stan and Mel came home. Not together, though. I saw Mel in the supermarket. She said Stan had become a fascist.'

     'Well anyhow,' Lana lay horizontally across the sofa bed, which meant on me. 'Why can't we just cash in now for a new van and head south?'

     I wasn't entirely sure what she meant by cash in, but our time alone came to an abrupt end as Tom carried Marnie into the flat. I pretended I had woken from some much needed rest and tried to take Marnie so Tom could fold the pushchair. She was being difficult, so I took the pushchair instead.

     'We're going to head to Spain,' said Lana. ‘A road trip to rejuvenate our senses.'

     'Before you make any hasty decisions,' said Tom, ‘let me show you something Marnie and I found today. It's outside.' 

     'Will this take long?' said Lana. 'I have inventory to sort through.'

     'Just a couple of roads away.' 

Tom led us out of the flat, downstairs and around the corner towards the park. Opposite the park gates he stopped by a garden wall and proffered a hand in the direction of a large Victorian terraced house. 

'I thought we could use a bigger place,’ he said. 

‘I don't know if you realise,' I said, ‘but not everyone has the finances to rent a place like this.' I kept a check on the sarcasm, though was quite incensed at the way in which the wealthy are blind to the economic difficulties of others.

     'Not to rent. I've bought it,' said Tom. 'I thought the flat had become a bit cramped.'

     It was, of course, Tom's presence that had contributed to the cramped situation, but it wasn't the time to mention this.

     'My room has a round window,' Marnie pulled at Lana's hand.

     'You know the country Spain, don't you sweetie?' said Lana. 'We might go there instead. Wouldn't you like to speak another language?' As I stared at the house I noticed some steps leading down to another door under the main entrance. 

     'Is there a basement?' I asked, picturing an entire underground floor given over to a soundproofed studio.

     'It felt like the right time, said Tom, ‘a new marital home.'

     'We're not married,' I reminded him.

     'Not you,' said Tom. 'Lana and I.'

     Tom held out his hand to Lana. 

     Lana took mine instead. 

     'Tom,' she said, ‘what do you think is going on here, exactly?'

     'I thought we agreed,' said Tom.

     'That I would marry you?'

     'At fresher's Christmas Ball. December the eighth, 1991.'

     It was hard to imagine Lana, once anointed festival-queen, ever considering Tom boyfriend material. ‘We don't believe in marriage,' I said, trying to soften the conversation. I was afraid Tom might change his mind about the house. I pictured myself hunched over samplers in the basement, Marnie developing her appreciation for music through imitation. 'Think of the money we'd save in rent,' I whispered to Lana.

     'I didn't mean to offend anyone,' said Tom.

     'Can you give us a moment to think about it?' I said.


*                         *                         *


Tom had taken Marnie to the park playground, as per the schedule for Saturday mornings. Which was fortunate, since although today was her birthday Lana had chosen the previous evening to get paralytically drunk on Tom's wine cellar and we now lay side-by-side on the sofa, staring out the bay window at the apple tree, hungover. Heavy drinking had become a regular Friday night replacement for Lana's textiles evening class, ever since she was asked to leave for referring to the course tutor as a pawn of Big Pharma for vaccinating her child with the MMR.

     'What are we doing?' moaned Lana. I was pleased that Lana was, at least, wearing my birthday present, a woollen poncho.

     'We're waiting for Tom to bring Marnie back from the park,' I said. 

     'I meant in general,' said Lana. 'In life.'

     'You're applying for that jewellery degree.' I wished Lana wouldn't be so miserable, especially on her birthday.      'How's that going?'

     'Pressuring me is not going to help.'

     'I thought it started in September?'

     'It takes time to get all the material together,' cried Lana.

     'You could be excited about my meeting Fazman this morning,' I said. 'This could be the big break for my new tunes.' 

     'Which new tunes would these be?' said Lana.

     'Well thanks for the encouragement.' 

     Though perhaps this was smarting at the grain of truth within. When you have ample time for making new music there never feels like a good moment to start. Back in the days of Marnie's feeding/waking/screaming, ideas poured out of me, scribbled or recorded on scraps of paper that were promptly lost or dribbled upon. Now that Tom had loaned me the money for a new synthesiser and sampler, the pristine new equipment simply goaded me, and the sight of the basement provoked a particular brand of artistic depression. 

     'I want Marnie home,' said Lana. 'It's my birthday.'

     'Wait for Tom,' I said. 'Enjoy your day.' 

     Tom's note, tucked behind my breakfast croissant, had requested I keep Lana in the house for the morning, I guessed for some kind of birthday surprise. I’d woken to a barely comprehensible text from Simon, saying that Fazman was on his way over and that he’d met him in a club in the early hours when he, as any good manager ought, forced my tracks upon him. Now they were on their way over, pronto, for gig discussions. Apparently my old tunes still hit the spot, techno-wise. Though it was now noon and they still hadn't made an appearance. 

Lana's phone rang. I lifted my head, painfully.

     'Okay. Give us a few minutes.' Lana held her hand to her eyes and rested the phone in her neck. 'Tom and Marnie want to show us something. In the park,’ she said, turning to me.

     I texted Simon our location and we dragged ourselves outside to the park. It was a beautiful August morning, and though the sun’s burning rays hurt my eyes, I was glad of a day out, with my family, in the sunshine.  Arched over the park entrance was an arrangement of pink and white roses, twisted round a frame to spell LANA.

     'Happy birthday, Lana.' Tom stepped from behind a hedge and kissed her on the cheek.

     'Happy birthday, Mummy.' Marnie held out a plate carrying what might have been a hedgehog, fashioned from pinecones and grass stalks.

     'Thank you, sweetie,' smiled Lana. 'Where did you get that pretty dress?'

     On the grass adjacent to the playground a crowd of parents sat on picnic blankets, attempting conversation whilst watching their children on a huge bouncy castle. Parked near the fence was a silver Airstream, a woman languishing in the doorway with a large snake coiled around her neck.

     'You know I'm not really a birthday-party-organising person,' I said.

     'That's okay,' said Lana, though I hadn't meant it as an apology.

     'Who are all these people?' I asked Tom.

     'Most of us met at toddler groups,' said Tom. ‘Come on over and meet them.’

     We followed Tom over to the party and he introduced us to those gathered there. We shook hands with a man in a blue-striped shirt and a woman in very large sunglasses.

     'I'm Marnie's dad,' I said.

     'You seem to have this party pretty sewn up,' said the man.

     I was about to indicate I would never organise a party without a hefty stack of speakers and darkness, but he wasn't talking to me.

     'I've catered parties before,' said Tom. 'It's all about timing.'

     'On the subject of parties, I beg to differ.' Simon appeared at my shoulder, exuding a feral heat as though in high fever. 

     'Where's Fazman?' I asked.

     'Faz Man. Two words,' said Simon. 'He couldn't make it all the way, despite his best efforts. I put him in a cab at the edge of the park.'

     'So why are you here?'

     'I was headed in the direction of your mansion to wish the lovely Lana happy birthday,' Simon bowed.

     'I don't think I've ever seen you at the toddler group,' one of the women said to Lana.

     'I've kind of slipped out the routine.' 

     'Where did all these kittens come from?' said the woman.

     'Sorry. They were meant to be a surprise,' said Tom. 'I asked the handler to keep them in the caravan.'

     'Why are there kittens at all?' I said.

     'Every child gets one in their party carrier.'

     'There's no such thing as a party carrier.'

     'You can't put kittens in bags.'

     'Well, you've certainly upped the ante for future children's parties,' the woman said as she raised her thick black eyebrows above her sunglasses.

     'This isn't Marnie's birthday,' said Lana. 'It's mine.'

     'No one bought kittens for my birthday,’ the woman said as she wandered off to watch the snake charmer show. 

     A man wearing a bow tie and headset handed a microphone to Tom.

     'Excuse me. People.' Tom's voice boomed over the PA – he must have hidden speakers in the tree foliage. 'If I could have your attention for a moment. I just have a few words for the birthday girl.'  

     He stood on an upturned wine crate and said some very complimentary things about Lana to the gathered crowd. I might have said something similar myself, had it been my speech, though in less sentimental fashion. I was a little embarrassed for him.

     'And here's a small birthday something from me.' Tom handed Lana an envelope.

     'It's a letter of acceptance,' said Lana, opening the envelope and staring at the piece of paper inside. 'For a degree in jewellery design.'

     'I applied for you,' said Tom. 'As a surprise. I created a portfolio from all those photos I took for the website.'

     The applause quietened and people began to disperse.

     'It's at the University of Dundee,' Lana brandished the letter at Tom.

     'If student loans are the worry, I have that covered,' 

     'I can't move to Dundee,' I said. 'Not with my music taking off.'

     'I thought as much,' said Tom. 'The house is yours. I'm amenable to discussions about rent. Marnie is already excited about Scotland.'

     'Are you?' I asked Marnie.

     'You never said Vincent wasn't coming.' Marnie punched Tom's leg.

     'That's Daddy to you,' I said.

     Lana folded the letter and put it back in the envelope. 'You can't do this,' she said.

     'But if Vincent isn't doing it,' said Tom. 

     'I don't want you to do this. I can't live in Scotland,’ said Lana as she thrust the envelope at Tom. 'I can't take the cold. And this kind of – attention. Do you not see how demeaning this is?' Lana began to cry. 'Can I make it quite clear that we're not going to have sex again?'

     'Again?' I said.

     'As in, any more than that one time at university.'

     'I never meant anything about – that,' said Tom. 'I thought we were just having a nice time.'

     'I'm going home now,' said Lana.

     'What, don't you want to wait for the elephants?' said Tom.

     'What elephants?'

     'There aren't any elephants. That was a joke.'

     Nobody laughed. I felt sorry for him. 


*                         *                         *


Since the move was Tom's idea it was only fair he support me whilst we settled into a new life in Dundee. With Lana at art college all day, and due to the combination of the rain and my lack of DJ breaks, Tom and I spent a lot of time together. I didn't even mind when he introduced us as Marnie's two dads in the school playground, especially as he suggested that Marnie refer to me as Daddy One.

     With Simon off the scene, as in dead, along with my contacts in the music industry, the only opportunity music-wise was the late Friday sitting at a town centre pizza bar, serving up low tempo ambience. The pay was two quattro formaggio eighteen-inchers, but money was not a problem since Tom had agreed to be my artistic patron. It left me free to experiment, untainted by commercial pressures. Many diners gave me discerning nods on their way to the bar.

     Towards the end of that first year Tom called another of his house meetings. In theory any of us could have called a meeting, but only Tom did so.

     'I don't think I'm mistaken,' said Tom, 'in sensing discontent in our household.'

     'Not from me,' I said.

     'I was meaning Lana.'

     'What's the point in all this studying, just to spend a working life touting establishment crap to marriage fiends?' said Lana.

     'The endless conundrum,' I said. 'Art versus commerce.'

     'I think it's time I air my suggestion to Vincent,' said Tom.

     'Let me say!' said Marnie.

     'Say what?' I said.

     'In my opinion,' said Tom, 'this is an ideal time for a brother or sister for Marnie.'

     'Woah, there,' I said. 'This particular subject is perhaps a Lana and I discussion.'

     'You said I could discuss this with Vincent before you said anything,' said Lana. ‘And particularly before you told Marnie.'

     'It kind of slipped out,' said Tom. ’Anyway…here it is, all ready to help cement us as a family. He placed a labelled plastic container in the middle of the table. At the bottom was a small amount of white viscous liquid. 'Via IVF, of course,' he held up his hands. 'My apologies if I didn't make that clear.'

     'My body my choice?' said Lana.

     'Absolutely,' said Tom. 'Though this is something of a deal-breaker for me. Money-wise, that is.'

     Lana said she wasn't feeling well and went to bed. 

     Each evening that week Tom placed a fresh container in the middle of the dinner table, sometimes wordlessly. For my part there was no position to take – the situation was, so to speak, out of my hands. 


*                         *                         *


As Daddy Two to Thomas Junior I learned to appreciate the value and beauty of the sights and sounds of a newborn child, one that did not wake you at all hours. The kind of meaning I'd only experienced previously in the realms of music, such as when a trumpet melody lodges in your brain and later becomes a killer tune programmed into the sequencer. Here was another child to whom I could endow my wisdom and experience of the world. Of how to seize the day, to plough the path to a future that aligns ever more with your dreams, that permits the full flourishing of your talent and manifestation of your dreams. 


Ethan Crane has stories published in Aesthetica magazine, 3AM magazine, Dogmatika and in an anthology for Earlyworks Press, stories that can also be found on his website: The Second Husband is from an in-progress collection called Heartbreaks of the Gen X Edgelords.

Of The story featured here, Ethan states:

‘The word desire coerces us into thinking it is a desirable, positive state – but this story was born out of the idea that many desires can have less than desirable outcomes.’

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