Sunday, February 16

Deciduous Teeth

I MOVED A CHAIR from the dining table—reserved for family gatherings and other remarkable occasions; guests and old friends—to the centre of the living room, where, from my positioned perch, I could have full view of the back garden through the patio-doors. It is something to have full view of a back garden when behind it is an all too pleasant vista. Indeed the house is on the edge of this village. Beyond its wire fence is the sprawl of a field, summery thick with crop ticking metronomes and the crisp borders of a dark green hedge. The August sun beat down, though I was in the coolness of the living room, with the patio-doors shut, and a quick pace in my heart; sadness—of loss and what-have-you—caught up in me, so I rested my arm upon the armrest.
The patio-doors opened on to some textured paving stones, grey with age; a runner of grass, richly alive and colourful just so; the wire fence; a small ditch with the underscore of running water; and then the beyond, the field for summer birds to fly over.
In the middle of the grass was a paddling pool.
The pool was a white metal frame suspending a blue sheet, folded and sewn to hold cold water and strands of grass.
In the pool, two children played. Them, I watched.
Their mother was reclined on a bed nearby, no more than five yards away. She was oiled in the sunshine. Her bikini was some years old, perhaps older than her children. I had a bottle of homemade lemonade I had homemade earlier. I am an old gentleman and when I sit still for too long I feel my bones crack, become sore, uncomfortable, so I will move and shift and try to find my right pose, but there are the children playing—a he and a she, so young, blonde, blue eyed, just like my own grandchildren, and their milk teeth clinging in—and the afternoon is in its second movement.
They went before their milk teeth had been pushed out.
My lemonade is cold. I sit there, not making a sound and undisturbed. The living room is cool. I am alone. I am unnoticed. I may as well be a ghost.
It has been a month since the telephone call.
The children are pointing at each other and playing in their way. The mother is uninterested. I am watching. The boy must only be four; the girl, seven. I am eighty-two; my wife is dead; my child and her family are dead, too. When I cry, my tears spread over the wrinkles I have on my face. I cry. The tears are as warm as the living room I sit in. The chair is comfortable. I sip on the lemonade. The lemonade is the colour of mist. The boy is stood erect and he bends from the waist down to splash his sister, who laughs and splashes back. The mother is smiling is cursing the splashed water on her soft perfect ankles is running over to splash them both; before she goes back to her bed and the sun.
I sip on my lemonade and watch the three of them. The sun angles down beneath the eave of the living room, so that, away from me, a rectangle is cast on the carpet. I am as close to ease as I can be. The front door is just across the hall.
After a while the mum gets up and she makes a cocktail for herself—so colourful so colourful—and takes a carton of fruit juice from the fridge, one and two, for her children. When she is in the kitchen, I am watching her; a sarong around her waist, perspiration beneath her eye and on her upper lip. She is beautiful, yes, and measured, and moving everywhere as she is she like white bedsheets.
The children are playing in their paddling pool water and the water is dancing all over their bodies and performing explosions and they are both so happy playing with each other and while they are happy their teeth show and I smile as though it is the only thing to do and tears blossom in my wrinkles.
This is it for me. I am happy. I am reminiscing. I am happy because I am as close to happy as I can be.
There is water falling on the grass; the grass bubbles; tiny flies dance mechanically in the air; the water disappears. And while all this is going on, the mother sits there so elegantly sipping her cocktail because this is summer leisure. It is a home movie I am watching; it is not real as it is not fantasy; it is; no more than this is laid out for me; stolen, and I observe.
The young boy emerges from the pool. His small blonde foot oversteps the metal frame. He is on the grass; there, his feet feel the grass between his toes; the best feeling. I am sobbing uncontrollably, sipping my homemade lemonade—did I tell you how I make my homemade lemonade? I am, perhaps, not as big a fan of sugar as you might think.
The sun is four o’clock.
Its descent is charted accurately across the sky. I am smelling the afternoon. It is summer afternoon and I cannot explain it if you do not already understand it.
The young boy is in the kitchen. I hear him dripping on the tiles. Tap tap tapping is a wet game when you don’t know the beats-per-minute. I hear him walking around and am not worried. I sip my homemade lemonade. He will soon see me. I hear him close upon the door.
‘Don’t worry about me. I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you.’
He calls—‘Mum, there’s a man in the lounge.’
She stands up off her bed.
I am sorry and I am sad because I see the look on her face. He is stood at the kitchen door. I take my lemonade; I leave the chair where it is; I run off, run away. I am out of the door before she knows it. I am surprisingly agile for my age. I can run quickly. All the slowness of my movements when I sit down evaporate when I start to hurry.
I was somewhere down the street—the eastward street—when I came to slow down. The sun beat its white heat. I was perspiring homemade lemonade. I am so sorry that I disturbed that family. It stabs me in the heart that I did so. I finally—down a small alley—take a breather. What is sweat and what are tears? I limp homeward. I am all alone. But for a while I am okay. I hope they know I mean no harm. I hear no police sirens, and walk back to my house.

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