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I’m walking through lots of doors, or rather, the same door lots of times. Each time I walk the same way with the same steps into the same day with a heavy heart. Up and down steps, through gates and over fields of grass, I’m watching myself running backwards with tears in my eyes. ‘What would have happened if I hadn’t acted’ flickering on a black and white screen as the reel is changed. A meaningful chunk of life lived in the smiles of other faces. Faces that smile until they melt with tears or are torn apart in promises.
A Singapore Sling for Renton, an engagement in Paris for the Geord. Tinks is off around the world again and me, well I’m doing just fine. Seven years we’ve known each other, we’ve shared our ups and downs; lost parents between us, been made unemployed, split up with girlfriends and gone through that post-uni existentialist funk in one way or another. And here we are, all changed, but glad to have our friendship intact. So we’re settling down and moving abroad; excited by all the decisions we’ve made and content with all the ones that were forced upon us. Onwards!
I stood in a near-empty tube carriage today pretending I was surfing, watching the carriage ahead twist and turn through the tunnel. Knees and ankles bent to absorb each shudder and swell, I rode the short wave between Bank and Liverpool Street station. I’m not going to get away this summer after all. I’ve run out of time and, for all the good it would do me, could never justify the expense. I’ll discover Asia and the Middle East on the ground floor of the V&A Gallery, Venice and Rome at the National. My wave will be there next year.
‘I’ve been thinking a lot about work recently. If I wasn’t a new mum I really should be thinking about moving on but I can’t be bothered. Maternity brings out my lazy gene.’
‘What’s Sarah like?’
‘She’s all right. I mean, I’m not saying I am, but she doesn’t strike me as a very motivational person.’
‘The person that annoys me the most is Julia.’
‘They text each other all the time.’
‘If that was his wife…’
Pregnant together, licking cookie-dough ice cream, chewing through the cone, discussing head-hunters and day care.
‘It is simply divine.’
‘So, what is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I seek to explain it, I do not.’
A year has passed and in one sense I have felt the passing – noticed changes in the way I feel about things – I’ve ‘had time’ to come to terms with this new life and our new roles within it. Time has been a great healer. But Time has also been a fleeting errant bastard. The distance between the event and the passing present is a click of the fingers, the blink of an eye. It’s really no time at all.
Things I’ll remember about my Godfather: his amazing laugh that always ended in a wheezing cackle; the mischievous flicker in his eye before he told a story; the row of sovereign rings squatting on this fists and the cigarette permanently balanced between his fingers; the Goldwing bike sat polished in his garage and the Harley Davidson that followed (both prized but never ridden); the blackened, callused legs sat puffy and split beneath the table, kicking out in time with every laugh. The tears he shed at his daughter’s wedding and the great bear-hug he gave me after mumbling something honest.
He did everything to the extreme: if he smoked, he smoked sixty a day; if he drank, he drank neat whiskey; if he ate, it was always sirloin steak (bloody) with chips and mustard. He laughed loud and unashamedly, told you exactly what he thought but talked in a mumbled wheeze like Don Corleone himself. A butcher for years, he was known to all; to me he was family. The kind of man you never thought would die, he’d just smile and find a way around it. But his body gave in and collapsed around his big generous Jersey heart.
You said you were so scared and when I saw you your hands were still shaking, trying to put on your make-up for the piece you’d been rehearsing. You were quivering from your shoulders to your fingertips but you wouldn’t leave... I can’t write this like a normal day. You describe everything that happens to you with such clarity; you just get on and deal with it – of course you do, what choice do you have? – but I can’t help feeling so angry that all this should happen to you. You’ve had to accept so much and you’re so young.
You imagine – I imagine – that there is a natural order of things in a life, an accepted progression that each and every one of us is expected to experience. We expect it of ourselves: get educated, find a job, get better at job and be rewarded for being better; get a house and so on (broadly speaking at least, we all assume this is normal. Roughly normal). The older I get, the more people I meet, I realise this isn’t how it works. Things go wrong. Love happens for one. It all gets blurry. Maybe it’s supposed to go wrong.
My first thought was, ‘Jesus! Where did three years go?’ I experienced the momentary chill of being older and, more chilling, of having wasted time in the process. It was replaced immediately with a warm realisation that I’ve actually done a lot in that time. Far more than I ever thought possible, (I’m not convinced about that last; on some level I’d always hoped I’d be here but where do you draw the line between ‘thought’ and ‘hoped’?) Putting the achievements and experiences to one side, I have always been lucky enough to surround myself with good and courageous people.
Shining in your golden arch, hair blown and lashes pointed to the Heavens worshipping the swimming God. A row of children on bended knee, flaxen-haired and wrapped in towels, making an offering to their damp deity. Whines of, “I want a go, Daddy!” float through the air, splashing dewy on the tiles below as Daddy passes judgement – “No, you don’t. I’m not paying a quid for that. Come on.” You turn slowly on the spot like a joint of meat in a gentle oven or Marylin in billowing skirts, all big eyes and smiles, squeaky clean skin and wrinkled fingers.
Leafing through the brochure I can see twelve different facial treatments, Shiatsu massage, Swedish massage, more pedicures than man has toes, hot-stone therapy, almond and milk balm wrap, something involving seaweed, cellulite and colonic combined (one can only imagine how that works) and the ‘Ultimate pamper day’ which judging by the price must be life-alteringly good. ‘Treatments for men’ has been tagged on the end and comprises five items: two facials and tree types of massage with words like ‘urban’, ‘extreme’ and ‘Total time-out’ in an attempt to convince us we’re not really having a seaweed facial and exfoliating mask.
I made it my mission to get through Proust’s ‘A la recherché du temps perdu’ this year; all six volumes but it’s not going to happen. Halfway perhaps. ‘The way by Swann’s’ or ‘Swann’s Way’ (depending on your translation) is unlike any other book I’ve opened; dense with the most beautifully crafted phrases and astonishingly realised characters that eased themselves off the page and took a turn about my mind. Proust is the anti Dan Brown; frantic page turning is of no concern to him. Instead I feel as though I am walking with Marcel through all his winding memories.
I got that funny feeling I used to get standing on the platform at Sheffield station; a clean chill in my bones, pristine earthy cold air in my lungs and diesel fuel. The faint tremors of winter floating along the thermals hinting at snowfall and Christmas and warm family nights in. Evenings of lamp-lit reading and frosted breath punctuated with a creeping sense of unease; a fear that I’d forgotten to say something crucial, something that could have made a difference. Heavy with the weight of things; crushed by bits of paper, expectation and the memory of those Sheffield nights.
He is cool, kitty cat but he’s falling apart. The surface is still, almost serene, cool as they come kids, but inside is ablaze with that awkward jittery mess, tremors of panic and cold sweat; a sickly kind of orange glowing underneath shades of silky blue. It’s steadily getting worse or more noticeable at least. He can’t decide if he’s just more aware of himself. Perhaps he’s not so numb to the soft vulnerable bits and the way they bruise if you push too hard. He has a job to do and can’t let everything sweep over untouched, untouching, anymore.
He’s reading W. Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ and he’s swollen like a bruise, bursting through a lightweight shirt with buttons stretched and puckered down the belly. The seams struggle to align and flare out wildly like rutted tracks on a slalom course weaving down to a village far below in the shade of his glacier chin. ‘Of Trouser Bondage’ would perhaps be more appropriate; two industrial sacks of grain or sand stuffed to bursting point, threatening to split like a sausage under the grill but deader somehow than cooked meat. A brown leather belt holds it all in place.
How we love stability and habit. Habit renders all time incalculable in the moment; we remember the first ‘time’ we do something but the experience fades after that, it becomes part of our everyday behaviour and we lose the ability to record the event for ever after. I crave stability wherever I go; family, circles of friends and loved ones. I am at liberty to feel truly myself in these environments (or a shade of self as we are forced to create several depending on the company, but these ‘selves’ are some of my favourites). Where did my stability go?
My mind is all over the place, full of things to finish – jobs, thoughts and conversations – but I can’t keep focused on one train for long enough. Jump, jump, bounce, jump; flying around the empty spaces like sodium whizzing in water, screaming across the surface through it’s short and silent life. The Cure plays in the background (I must have put it on mid-half-completed thought sometime in the immediate past; soap on my hands and a first gulp of wine in my mouth) all jangling guitars and synth snares. ‘Just like a dream… Boys don’t cry… Friday I’m in love.’
He left instructions with my Godmother: his brothers, my dad and a few others were to open the bottle of whiskey he’d saved. Eighteen years old when he bought it, some thirty years ago, and smooth according to dad. They were to drink the bottle and toast my Godfather; enjoy the occasion with port and cheese, memories of days long since passed. Sixty people (give or take) went to the house for the wake. The feeling was one of relief I’m told. He knew he was dying (everyone knew), there was no coming back.
I said goodbye on the beach.
A special kind of blue tonight. A little empty something left to flap in the wind as the sun goes down and the moon takes over, bone white. The Sunday evening phone call home is the one I miss the most, to hear what they’ve been up to, friends they might have seen. They would talk about a film they’d seen or a meal they’d eaten; what the dogs were doing now. “Logan’s fast asleep in his basket… Nelson’s in the garden chasing after cats.” Sometimes he’d just sit watching the world go by, utterly content. I miss those conversations.
I felt justified in what I said. The question was asked and I answered honestly as no one else was keen to speak up, “I’d rather not play Marcel as I’ve done several similarly ‘contained’ characters. I’d love to read Charlus…” it was described as a difficult role; one that was hard to fill. A flamboyant extrovert I would dearly loved to have tried but it wasn’t to be. I just wanted to solve a problem. He strikes me as being very self-conscious, like he’s on his first day of school, full of well-intentioned professional zeal, missing the point completely.
Very occasionally I allow myself an extravagant purchase; something I desperately want. I usually spend days or weeks lusting after the object following the introductory glance, pick it up and turn it around inspecting from every angle. I might engage the sales assistant in a round of questioning, perhaps I’ll try it on (if it lends itself to being worn of course). Last summer I followed all these steps, even brought along friends and family to offer their opinions. That leather jacket was my pride and joy and yesterday I left it on a train. Now someone else has it.
His feet are tiny, all wrapped up in shiny black shoes, snuggled up behind the laces like a childhood teddy-bear between his pillows. Tottering around like Bambi on ice they barely seem able to support him. Bulging calves burst out of his socks and flourish into timbered thighs. The great bear stutters along on his cubby paws, trunk bent earnestly forward at the waist; his quivering hinge propelling his tongue into a frenzied mess of garbled speech. Lines stammered and lost forever. My heart goes out to him, he looks so isolated but he doesn’t help himself in the slightest.
I’ve not written you out I promise. You fill every word I write. You’re behind each swirling vowel and kicking K; the flourish on my S and Y, the crowning cross on my capital T, the best part of me in I.
You demand clarity and direction. I trim my thoughts and say them clearly, take my tongue from the roof of my mouth. I loosen my jaw and speak from my centre so you always hear me thinking. No secrets, no mumbling, no silence, no doubt. Every word filled with intention; all my stories with you at their core.
She’s sat serenely in the corner, peeling off flakes of skin from her forehead; running delicate fingers along the hairline searching for imperfections to dig out of her face and scalp. Very occasionally she mines too deeply and her fingers come back to her eyes bleeding. A pin-prick that swells a convex bubble, all angry, wet and red. Her cheeks start to colour as she checks the room , eager to hide her glistening treasure from prying eyes as she shifts uncomfortably in her chair trying to focus on her book while busy fingers tend to the flow of blood.
‘People don’t know when they’re happy. They’re never as unhappy as they think they are.’
Sometimes we take great pleasure in misery. It’s seductive; wallowing within ourselves, drawing every dark strand together and pulling them out in fistfuls. This painful indulgence is a comfort to some, it’s easy to find fault in ourselves and in others – a reliable constant – but it’s destructive. There are very few answers inside, we have a finite number of emotional memories to help us through the darker days. The real answers lie outside in the crunch of a fallen leaf one minute away from snowfall.
Over the course of a life the body twists towards the dominant side. There must be a word for this movement; I should look it up. How funny that we should coil and screw ourselves into the ground. Year upon twisting year, the body recognises a preference and slowly moves to accommodate it. The body thinks it’s doing the body a favour by crippling itself. That is to say the mind does not recognise the movement (the body cannot think; the mind simply neglects to) and allows the new alignment. A lifetime spent fusing the body into a cresting curl.
onlie begetter of
these insving sonnets
Mr W.H. all happinesse
and that eternitie
ovr ever-living poet
‘From you have I been absent in the spring,
when proud-pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him...
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadows I with these did play.’
Sonnet number 98 – top and tailed – to be dismantled and put back together again with four voices, four bodies; physicality and light.
So we have something like twelve sets of aunts and uncles, with thirty or so cousins, over in Ireland. “Welcome Home” would have been a nice surprise for her arriving alone as she did. Mum has always been quiet about her family and rarely goes back to see them all, she only really keeps in touch with a handful of her brothers and sisters. I think she’s cautious about letting people know she comes from such a large family. I don’t know why. Is there a stigma attached? It’s a comfort to me – I am part of a Celtic clan.
A father and daughter left as I sat down. “Have you finished your coffee?” he asked in a slightly strained tone. “I think I’ll get something to eat; I might have a bacon sandwich for a change.” He left a pause for laughter but it wasn’t forthcoming. His daughter smiled and collected her coat and bag, then stood. Her father followed suit. This is the narrative I’ve given that twenty second picture. This is what I saw in that exchange. I wish you would talk to dad again – even for twenty painful seconds – I wish we could all go back.
‘What we spent, we had. What we had, we have. What we lost, we leave.’
Twelfth century epitaph for the wife of the Duke of Devon. Two coins rusting in her sockets, patted down with soil, for Captain Charon slumped at the prow of his ferry lighting lamps with bony fingers, smoking a dry pipe. Gentle waves lap the shore but do not touch the vessel. It’s passage slips on uninterrupted, silently parting the ever-dusk. What we lost we leave behind us in a vacuum of sighs, a vacant room – the waiting room – with newspapers and glossy magazines in piles.
The Tip Jar