Friday, March 28

Tradition

CHIPPING HAD TAKEN part in the tradition since he was a child. Through the years it had become less about what he wanted and more about tradition, carrying on year after year, one summer following another, ticks around life’s face. His father’s house—as it was, in a similar fashion at least, to that of his youth—expanded over its quiet country. The eastern front was based by a quarter-mile thickness of wood. The wood was just beside the pool-house so that it loomed over it in dark brush, heavy and watching, with thin branches coming toward you. ‘No, now it’s just you and your son. You two go out there together.’ A hand on his shoulder, briefly, embarrassingly withdrawn. Chipping was a salesman in the city and the trip to his father’s was a welcome break, one he brought enthusiastically to his coworkers who smiled briefly and separated. He was universally disliked but could not be let go. His stubble, even newly shaved, lent blue to his jaw. His eyes were pale brown so that when glimpsed quickly—which they always were—they appeared yellow.
A weekend in the woods by his father’s house. It was not his agreed weekend, but he had spent some time on the phone to his child’s mother, pleading with her, for no other date was agreeable with his father and the weather was bound to turn soon.
He emerged quietly from the tent.
He was doing up his jeans and tightening the incumbent belt. He looked up to stretch his neck; above his eyes was the smothering of trees, lightest above him, descending into mad crystalline morning at the edges, darkening. The scent of the woods, the trees, their sap, the rotting vegetation, the soil; flushes of childhood warming his cheeks. He stifled a cough to not wake his son. An extinguished campfire was before the tent. It was white and peppered; only in the middle was one late-added log—by his son—atop the rest, and now half-burned; its belly grey and cracked, the crest still brown and half-alive.
The campfire was roofed by two logs upon which they had sat in the glowingly fierce warmth. He sat back on his log.
‘This is my log. That’s your log,’ said his son, pointing from his own.
Stretching a star against the cool stiffness of his hard-slept body, he walked around the ashes and took a small spade and cleared them. He dumped the ash beside the fire. Underneath the soil was black. He was sorry to see the black soil, but he kept up with his task, his nostrils drenched in the soggy stench of last night’s spent light. He took some twigs, kindling, and started another. It started to cackle and spit when the plastic rustle of his son’s awakening caused his to straighten his back. He adjusted himself.
He could hear his son. He was struck by a smiling fondness he was not used to. Imagining, as he did, his son behind the veil of the tent, he was inclined to smile. What was he doing? He was most certainly awake; sitting upright in his sleeping bag, rubbing his eyes. He was recognising where he was. Wondering, momentarily, where his mother was?
‘Dad?’
‘Out here, mate.’
The tent unzipped to reveal a somewhat unready young boy, dressed only in a t-shirt and pants.
‘You okay?’
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m just starting a fire for breakfast. Are you okay?’
‘Yeah.’
‘You wanna put some trousers on, before you catch a cold?’
‘Yeah. Okay.’
His son recoiled into the tent—‘What you want for breakfast?’
‘You said we’d have bacon and beans?’
‘I did … you want toast, too? I could run to the house and get some?’
‘No, it’s all right. I just want bacon and beans.’
The sound of the tent’s rustling comforted him. The fire was taking. His mind were poisoned for a moment by the tremendous thoughts of his life, sad and distant, tragic, unwanted. The flames were growing. He went to his backpack and pulled out the pack of six bacon rashers and the tin of baked beans in tomato sauce.
His son, no more woken up, reemerged from the tent and carefully put his trainers from the inside to the outside, back cool wet ground. He told his father he would go look for more firewood. Chipping watched his son walk off into dead leaves, eyes down. The fire shuddered on its throne. It was Sunday morning. The camping trip was almost over.

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