Tuesday, 31 January 2017

...and at the other end was a small dog.

At one end of the lead was an early middle-aged woman, chatting on her phone. She was always chatting on her phone in an overloud whine. I had watched her walk that dog so many times, always on the phone. I doubted that there was anyone at the other end.
Just across the fence, George emerged from his garage with some tools and a satisfied smile. George had a life. He worked on his jeep, took it up to the mountain with other jeeps. He risked his shit for fun. He asked me to come once, I was busy.
I drew hard on my cigarette in an attempt to ease the tight feeling in my chest. I drew again and necked the last of my third cafe Americano. You know, its named after the way the Italian baristas tried to satisfy the American GI’s desire for long filter coffee during WWII.
No one needed me that morning, at least not enough to pay me. Instead I would go to the supermarket.
I walked up the stairs describing my every move. I’m going into the bathroom. I’m taking a piss. Every sentence beginning with ‘I’. I didn’t wash my hands. The first person pronoun. I’m undressing. But none included ‘me’. The first person object pronoun. I ran the shower. scalding hot, I liked the pain. Twenty years of teaching and all I had was the ability to express my life in grammatical terms.
The aromatic shower gel lathered well in my chest hair. The foam covers the grey. I scrubbed and shaved in the steam then ran my hand round my face, smooth and young. I drew the shower curtain and regarded the man facing me in the mirror. I couldn’t say I knew him well, we were acquaintances, that’s all. I mined my ears with a Q-tip, no wax came out on the cotton tip but you can never be sure. I brushed my teeth, twice. My daily battle to keep the stench of rot at bay.
After dressing, I look in the full length mirror in the hall and pull in my gut. Not bad, I lie. I’m sure I could turn someone’s head. Modal of ability.
“Hey kids! Who would like to come shopping with daddy? All boys together, eh.” One clicked a YouTube link the other changed weapons and blew the head off a zombie. I left.
There is one thing the futurists will never understand about the car. Expensive to own, expensive to run, dangerous for pedestrians and the environment alike, but obedient. When you urge a car to go faster, it goes faster. It doesn’t care if anyone is watching, it doesn’t care if it gets messed up. You will, it does. I dread the day we are all shuttling around in self-driving cars, safe and clean. I guess the upside is that there’ll be one less thing to stop me drinking. I turned the stereo as loud as I could, the speakers began to protest so I took it down a notch. Always maintain clarity in your excesses. Imperative. I sang even louder, I have little clarity in my own abilities. I took a bend a little too fast and the back kicked out. My heart raced. I sang louder. I enjoyed myself driving. First person reflexive.
I swung the car hard into a space narrowly missing the next car. I popped the boot and went back to retrieve my eco-friendly reusable shopping bags. The next car had a fine blue line down its rear quarter. Maybe not so narrowly.
Supermarket trolleys are a poor imitation of the car, they require huge effort for the most minor manoeuvres. They must have been designed by women. The supermarket was packed with couples choosing vegetables. Singles choosing convenience and children choosing disruption. I chose wine.
Once I had filled my trolley with the demands on my list I joined the queue. I let a guy with a six-pack go ahead of me. It made me feel good.
Back home, I parked the car more carefully. I managed most of the bags in one trip. Was I strong or just poor. The handles cut deep into my palms. The pain gives me strength. I returned to the car for the bottles. The bags were full of crisps, cakes, condiments, cheese and aromatic toiletries. It seems that less and less of our weekly shop is actually food. I refilled the wine rack but it wouldn’t all fit. I would deal with that problem later.
The evening was punctuated with dinner, penne with pesto. I decided a merlot would compliment it best. I splattered it with tabasco.
“Why don’t you taste it first?” she asked.
I like tabasco.
She started talking about Italian food. I drank the merlot.
“You remember that restaurant you took me to?”
“When?”
“Ages ago. For Valentines.”
It was early February. I didn’t remember. She insisted that I should know this. I didn’t. If we were talking about the same thing, I remembered the flowers I bought. She was getting quite agitated, I didn’t get the big deal but for some reason she needed me to remember. I remembered how I had felt about her that night.
“I remember it was Italian.” I thought that may satisfy her.
If I had remembered, I would have told her. Third conditional.
It did not.
An earbud connected to a mobile hiding in his lap fell out of one of the kid’s ears. I hadn’t noticed it when he came to the table, nor had she.
After dinner I watched Top Gear or whatever it’s called now with a glass of wine. Three middle-aged men risking their shit for fame and money but mostly for the hell of it. Then I read a book, with a glass of wine.
Eventually the kids were told to unplug. Passive voice.
They had a snack from the non-food provisions of the day’s shop and were herded upstairs for teeth and showers. I listened to them bicker and fight. When I was called to, I went up to give kisses and good-nights.
We watched a film on Netflix and I continued to deal with the bottle storage problem. I was winning.
“I think I have angina,” I said.
She looked at me horrified. “Since when?”
“I don’t know, I have been having pains in my heart.” Present perfect continuous.
“You must see a doctor!”
“Nah. It’ll pass one way or the other. Eventually.”
We smoked a cigarette together by the burning fire. The flames drew the smoke up the chimney.
I turned off the TV and headed upstairs to bed. I took a piss but didn’t brush my teeth. She locked the front door, lowered the heating and turned out the lights.
She climbed into bed almost naked and rolled to face me. I ran my hand up her side. She closed the gap with a kiss. I tried to pull her close.
“You do remember, don’t you?” She kissed me again, her body inches from mine. I wanted her but couldn’t bridge the space. I wanted to tell her. I wanted to lie but she wanted something I no longer had.
“Valentino’s… something like that.”
She spun like a crankshaft. “You’re doing it on purpose!”
I moved in like a jigsaw piece but her shoulders tightened even more. I ran my hand down her soft stomach, her thigh, the upward stroke bringing my hand to rest between her legs. Her elbow hit me in the armpit. “You know I hate being groped!”
When I woke, I was alone. The sound of gunfire from downstairs. There was a cold cafe Americano by the bed. I drank it and delved into other people’s lives on facebook. One of my ‘friends’ had posted half a dozen sad songs and a couple of inspirational memes. Another had posted pictures of her night out. The majority of my ‘friends’ are women, I guess it’s the profession I’m in. I clicked ‘like’ on a couple of posts and wrote something clever about politics.
I sat on the veranda with my second coffee and rolled my third cigarette. George emerged from his garage. His jeep was wearing the huge knobbly tyres he fitted when going up into the mountain. It had been snowing hard for some weeks and the side streets were dicey. The mountain would be perilous. I raised an arm, he returned. “Wanna come?” I did but I was busy. Round the corner I heard one side of a phone conversation. I doubted that there was anyone on the line. At the other end of the lead was a small dog.

This is the first part of my Love and Marriage Trilogy a dark and harrowing study of what it means to survive the til death doing us part. 



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