Friday, August 3

Here Goes The Next Story...

RAIN FELL PITEOUSLY upon the windowsill outside. It bounced off the varnished wood and splashed the pane in a grey August downpour. The rain, during a particularly heavy, short burst, was so thick that it created a haze over the distant houses, like tracing paper held over a photograph. A boy sat inappropriately on the sofa – as his mother had told him not to – and was staring out at the weather. It is odd for us to catch him so settled. At any other moment, especially during the summer holidays, he is full of energy and unable to sit still; a trait his worrisome mother has some trouble handling. He kneeled up straight on the sofa, his tummy against the back, arms folded on the top of the cushions, and his chin atop of his arms, causing his plump childish cheeks to squish up over his eyes. He was dressed smartly in a miniature black suit and white shirt with a navy tie made of faux-silk; and though the get-up had caused him some discomfort – as young bodies are not familiar with such stiff fabrics – he had not yet changed. Evaluating the rainfall he wondered if it was even worth changing. Looking, he tried to guess how much longer it would last; and then, when finished, how long would it take for the grass to dry so that he could go out and play.
To the introduction of an order for her only son, his mother entered the room. He did not respond but remained still, framed by the light from outside. ‘Tommy, can you please take your shoes off. How many times do I have to tell you?’ It had been more times than either of them could count. Begrudgingly, he got off the sofa and unlaced his polished black shoes, though not without an aggravated sigh, which his mother, for ease, chose to ignore.
Where is dad? In the study, no doubt, going over things. I heard them talking in the car about loose ends. Surely death is the end to end all ends. Who cares about loose ends after their death? That is the end. Everything else is kind of pointless. Mum’s perfume was still strong after the funeral and the wake and maybe she topped it up in Sandra’s toilet because no perfume in the world is that strong, otherwise they’d pour it on flowerbeds to keep the cats from pooing. These laces stay in the same knotty shape even after you’ve unlaced them. The rain will stop and in the heat it will dry in no time and then I can go out. The sky just needed to rain a little bit. It’s been so long since it rained. It has to rain every once in a while. We’ve all just got to deal with it, I suppose.
‘Another fly!’ she was picking up a crispy black ball off of the carpet. He had seen it when he walked in but only because it stood out against the cream. What he care about a fly? They were all over the house. They buzzed day and night and then in the morning they lay dead everywhere, for new flies to replace them. The spiders had their work cut out. He often saw them scuttling across the kitchen or the bathroom floor. His mother shrieked in horror at them, then killed them – or if it were particularly big, got someone else to kill it for her. He never dared kill a spider. Who was going to take care of all the flies? Sometimes Tommy would catch a spider and place it in an old coffee jar with some mud, grass and twigs; then he would observe it. There were breathing holes but the spider died after a while, even with the provision of some dead flies.
‘Tommy, can you move your shoes, please, darling.’ Satisfied that the living room was tidy enough, she sat in the sofa and leafed through one of her magazines.
The rain continued for the rest of the afternoon. Sometimes it lightened but it never gave up completely. Drops fell with varying intensity until it was too dark to go out, and it was the rainclouds that made it so dark. Under their blackened roofs the light on the land was as if it were autumn or some time far later in the year when the days were not so hot and long, and, having given up hope of going out to play, Tommy amused himself with some figurines in his bedroom. The rain ran down the windows and unsettled the light that eased through them and pitched itself rectangular on the space above his bed. He was relieved when dinner was called because it gave him something to do and very quickly he had grown bored of his figurines.
The family ate in the conservatory underneath the rain, which soundtracked the meal with a soft static. Tommy sat there with his parents listening in to their conversation. They did not discuss the funeral but other things that he tried to understand as quickly as possible so that he could follow it.
‘I don’t know why they’re arguing over that. It’s so old. It’s worn down to bare threads.’ His mother said.
‘He spent a lot of time on it.’
‘But, really, where will Martha put it?’
‘She’s always talking of turning that spare room into a study. Not that Nigel wants it, I don’t think.’
‘Probably just because we’ve got one.’
‘Rosie!’
‘What? It’s true.’
‘Maybe.’ Tommy’s father mixed the pasta up in the bowl so that it was covered in sauce. It made a wet sound. ‘If it were reupholstered it could be a lovely chair. I think dad’s dad gave it to him in his will.’
‘Something like that then – an heirloom – should be mentioned in the will.’
‘Maybe dad thought it was worthless because of the state it was in. The material between the legs is filthy. Have you seen it? … He used to eat a lot of meals in his study.’
‘Your father never had the best table-etiquette.’
Tommy’s father laughed – ‘And he made a right racket when he ate!’
The pair of them laughed a little. Tommy smiled. It seemed like a good thing to do.
If the sun had been shining he would have rushed down dinner so that he could go play with his friends. It was cooler in the evenings and their games – be it football or forty-forty – were not as tiring. Tommy perspired and the dust stuck to him and he liked that. He would raise his wrists to his nose and sniff them. His wrists smelled like summer, that sweat and dust, and the evenings had a smell too, all of their own. This August perfume was joined by the scent of grass from the green; scuffed into his knees and the soles of his trainers, he smelled the village green. Grass does not smell the same when it grows or when it is cut as it does when it is rubbed into clothing. To a child growing up in the village there is only that smell and it haunts them their entire life.
‘Have you been through all of the papers now?’ his mother asked after a brief hush. She ate very delicately; small mouthfuls; her mouth cleared with a sip of water.
‘Yes.’
Pause.
She asked – ‘And?’
‘Things of little consequence: the white plastic garden furniture, an air gun, his comic collection. The best thing is the grandfather clock.’
Mum looked up at this one – ‘Oh?’
Tommy asked – ‘What’s a grandfather clock?’
His father, noticing that his son was showing an interest, was glad to answer, putting down his cutlery and wiping his mouth – ‘It’s a big tall clock with weights & bells & it rings out every fifteen minutes, just like Big Ben … remember that clock in London?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Just like that.’
Imagine a house being filled with bell chimes every fifteen minutes, like in London. Would it be difficult to sleep with it ringing out? After a while you’d get used to it. You can get used to anything in the end.
‘Why did he leave you the garden furniture? That stuff is so old and dirty. It’s not even white anymore.’
And so his mother continued to discuss what his dad had been left in the will.
Tommy dwelt on the grandfather clock for some time; and then his thoughts moved to the air gun. He did not know what an air gun was but it nestled the word ‘gun’. Such a dangerous word tacked on to such a gentle word. As his mother tucked him into bed that evening, as she walked through the door, darkening the room momentarily before she was by his bedside and her scent – which Tommy could never describe to anyone had he wanted to – rumbled over his horizontal body, he asked her what an air gun was. He asked her whether it shot air or just made noises and why had dad got one. She did not know why granddad had left his dad an air gun. She explained to him what it was and he was instantly fascinated by it, the way young boys will always be fascinated with such things. ‘It’s not a toy, Tommy.’ He told her he knew that it wasn’t a toy. ‘Do you want the door open?’ Some nights he like the door ajar; other times he felt decent enough in the dark and tired enough that his imagination would not trouble him. He asked her to close it – ‘Please.’ She was turning around, twisting the knob when she added – ‘Your father and I were very proud of you today, sugarplum. You did very well going to a funeral. Most children would be too scared. You were very brave.’ She let the words sink in – ‘Goodnight and sweet dreams.’ The darkness of the room was disorientating. Very brave, he thought. Why would other boys be scared of funerals? Then he remembered the air gun and he thought of what it would look like. If he kept being well-behaved, perhaps his dad would let him hold it if it wasn’t too heavy and if he asked very nicely maybe his dad would let him shoot tin cans in the garden. Mum keeps the tin cans for the recycling van on a Monday. The recycling van won’t care about a few tiny holes in their tin cans. And, though he had not spent the day out with the other boys of the village, he fell asleep, exhausted, the rich soft sleep that adulthood prohibits.

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