Monday, August 26

If I Want To


THE CROWDS HAD come to the seaside. I had never seen it so busy; I was sweating and holding a cold can of ginger beer, also sweating, as I walked through them. They had picked their spot, set up their windbreakers & tents, started a kick-about, unpacked their picnics, unscrewed their thermos’ or uncorked their bottles of wine.
My family was where I expected to find them, with the picnic mat down and the wine in full flow. I said hello to everybody and rolled another cigarette. All of a sudden—from where?—I felt ill of mind and disinclined to greet anybody. Removing myself from the group, I stood around, taking in the view, feeling the strong sun on my bare arms and nose.
Soon the planes would arrive; delayed roars of engineers would rumble down to us; the whole crowd squinting up. The sea was all caught in a haze so that where it ended could not be determined, it blended itself into sky, on the fingernail of the horizon.
When everyone was there, describing the terrible traffic, I went looking for drink, yet there was none; only white wine. I would surely die. Ah, one beer. I would save it, I thought. My mood worsened.
Things were taking a turn for the worse. The sounds of the aeroplanes was overwhelming and could not be escaped. Still, I kept away from the group.
‘Happy birthday for—?’
‘Sunday,’ I said.
‘Yes, happy birthday for then!’
Don’t remind me, I don’t wish to be reminded. Just leave me be.
Every plane sounded different. The audience cooed as though they were fireworks bursting over their heads. Some came so close that one felt their whole skeleton shudder and the heart valves pucker up, retching. I felt sick with misery and had to lie down. ‘Go home,’ I told myself—‘Forget all this and go home.’ Trying to drift into sleep I was disturbed again and again by those around me, who, ignoring my signals, tried to talk to me. In the end I had no choice but to ignore them, or, when they started talking to me, to flee as if I had forgotten something in the car. The finale of the air-show arrived, roaring in low over the houses, billowing red white blue smoke from their rears and sending the people around me into wide-eyed fits of enjoyment. I lay there with my eyes closed, angry that the sun was still burning in through my thin eyelids.
After they had performed their feats of daring, we were free to leave.
I rushed up to my room. The world was not right for me. I had to lie down. I had to be away from all of the people, no matter what. ‘So what if they’ve come here for my birthday,’ I thought. I shut my door and rested upon my bed. It smelled of me. Softness. I started to cry because I thought I was cursed. I did not wish to carry on, but to remain in that place all day and for everyone to leave.
‘Are you okay?’ My mother was in my room.
I turned away from her so that she could not see my eyes.
At some point I fell asleep. I had vivid, rapid and terrible nightmares. Waking in a sweat, I looked at the time and fell back to sleep.
‘Dinner’s ready.’
‘I don’t want any. I’m not hungry. Thanks.’
‘I’ll save you some.’
I wanted her to tell me that everyone had been murdered and that she was putting the kettle on. She didn’t. She left again. I could not be sure how many times she came and went. Perhaps she even visited when I was asleep. I hunted sleep like a wolf hunts sheep. If I roused, I would try again to return to it. After three hours my body was soaked. I sat up, put my shoes on, rolled a cigarette and went downstairs. To my disappointment everyone was still there. They were eating fruit salad. I walked through them but there was no way I could go unnoticed. They stared at me. Embarrassed, I hurried to the garage to hide. There was a box of beers in there. I took one. The beer was warm. I swallowed it all and returned to my room.
I waited another hour.
The next time I went down, almost everybody had left. I opened another beer, ate, made a pot of coffee and listened to the conversations that happened around me, apart.


WE HAD JUST pulled up at my brother’s new house when my mother handed me her phone—‘Hello, Nan.’ I made sure to hold the phone close to my ear and to speak clearly. She only wanted to wish my happy birthday. I told her what we were up to and thanked her for the card & money she sent me. It was good to hear her voice. When we finished I gave her back to my mother. Afterwards—‘You should be very honoured she called … She never calls anyone.’ ‘I am,’ I told her.
My brother gave me a cold beer and showed me around his new place. It was all very clean. I washed my hands and complimented his girlfriend on her choice of soap—‘It smells like strawberry milkshake.’ Would it taste as good if I squirted it into my mouth? Everyone was in good spirits. I made jokes.
In separate cars we went to the restaurant. It was a hot sunny Sunday afternoon; a DJ was playing in the garden and it was busy; the punters were people who either knew the DJ, a member of a wedding party, or eating before a night out on the town. We ordered our drinks and took our seats in the garden. The young ladies—one of whom I recognised my from my days at college; a grand nose and always looking older than she was—were pretty to look at, drank pink champagne, represented the county well, and had their legs on show.
My brother turned up with his girlfriend. He was angry at something or other. I tried to ignore him by killing wasps that pestered us, and talked to my father. His girlfriend tried to ignore him by talking to my mother about some eyeliner that she no longer had any use for and would be more than glad to give away. The sun was stretching its arms and running its fingers through the trees, the light upon the outermost leaves was golden, whatever touched your skin could be felt in your blood, warm and thick.
My brother kept on moaning until we sat down for dinner.
The meal went on. The waiting staff were busy and made many mistakes. I forgave them because I did not like to be waited on anyway. I felt a sour mood coming upon me but I struggled to keep my mind above water. The waitress who served us was dressed differently to her colleagues, a loose flowing black dress that followed her around as though it was made of obedient butterflies. Her loose flowing black dress got caught in the crease of her buttocks. Her bum was sculpted and a wonder to behold. When her loose flowing black dress got caught in there—held stuck by the sweat of her hectic shift—I stared, aroused.
One brother didn’t stop staring at his phone. The other didn’t talk and was moody (I later learned it was because he had lost a pair of shoes and wanted to be out with his friends). His girlfriend tried to cheer him up, to involve him in conversations, but he ignored her. She smiled, laughed, put on her face. I pitied her and wished that she hadn’t ended up with him.
As a child I remember someone telling me that the seventh wave is the strongest, the biggest. I could not understand why. Whenever I was in the sea I counted the waves, waiting for the seventh.
A mood came over me like the seventh wave. I felt myself about to cry. I necked my beer, slammed it down and stared into the distance. A moment, a very troublesome moment, a trial. Tears gathered around my eyes as if waiting for a fight to begin but I held them back. Exhale. Okay.
The meal continued.
As soon as the last mouthful was put away my brother said—‘We gotta go … gotta party … can’t be waitin’ for you to have a coffee … we ain’t gonna have dessert. Is that okay?’
I felt hopless and did not want to look him in the eye—‘Fine.’
My mother—‘No, it’s not.’
So he sat there and ignored his girlfriend some more.
I thought of a sentence and kept repeating it to myself. Glacial sadness sliding over me. Another birthday done, I supposed, and I believed it.

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