Saturday, December 5

Chins Upheld & Gappy Teeth

EAST TO WEST. I walked east to west, along the spine of the Central line, not looking down, as city-workers fell away and tourists took over. The sun was long gone, although the sky glowed a sickly yellow. Me, too, I was unwell. My skull ached with illness, I had been sleeping poorly and drinking well. Still, you could not tell from how hurriedly I walked, dripping with sweat and dizzy but determined.
My parents were in town from Wednesday, staying at a hotel on Seven Dials, cut through by cobbles for unsteady footing. Despite my mood, I was determined to have a good evening with them. As soon as I penetrated the side of the West End I began to weaken and my resolution to crumble. There was a Christmas market dwindling out in the closed-off road and the crowds were disappearing as the stalls packed away. The hotel was expensive; all white and gold and black. The downstairs bar was busy with Thursday night customers who talked loudly whilst waiters & waitresses rushed between them. I kissed them both hello and sat down, removing my backpack and feeling my wet white shirt glued to me. ‘We didn’t order you a drink ‘cause the table’s booked for half-six.’ It was my fault for leaving work later than I should have, and then for walking, but, since the government had begun bombing a foreign country, I have become very nervous about the transport network, especially during rush hour. The jazz club, where we were to spend the evening, was not far. My mother tried to talk to me as we walked, but, flustered by the traffic and the crowds, I could not concentrate nor be amused by the stories she told me. I tried to cheer myself up, but could not—‘You will have to cheer up soon, otherwise your evening will be ruined,’ I told myself. Upon entering the club’s reception my father accidentally caused the hostess some offence, sending me into a fit of embarrassment, so I hid in the corner of the room until it was over. I just wanted a drink. Our table was front-centre, next to the stage where all the lights shone. My nerves escalated. Drink was not doing anything for me, as my father became more and more merry with it. His voice grew louder.
All I wanted was for my parents to ask me how I was, to show that they cared how I was, but they did not. Not once did they ask about me, my illness, my previous night’s entertainment, or anything in my life. Yes, I questioned them on their affairs, and their answers were long, meandering, difficult to follow – and not once did they ask how I was! Hello, yes, well, everything is broken; I am your son who has not given you a granddaughter. Finally—‘Stop being so fuckin’ miserable!’
The first band came on and the lights on the crowd dimmed. I was glad for the lights on the crowd dimming, because the crowd angered me and I did not know them. I became lost in the spectacle of the band. I floated away as though in a dream, watching them. ‘Is anyone here in love? This is a love song.’ The trumpet-player was young and he had written all of the songs that the band played, and here he was introducing another song, a love song. It was slow and sad. To stay his own awkwardness, he placed his attention upon his friend, his comrade, who sat next to him, caressing a Fender Rhodes, beaten-up and tattered in its honey hum. Her dark hair brushed behind the small swirls of her ear, into which another drink order was whispered; it was not unusual for men to be smitten by her; one-per-night; her thick lips whipped up into a tiny curl at the corners; all the seduction of the devil.
As I was still eating my dinner, both of my parents broke for the toilet, leaving me alone. I put down my cutlery and stared at my plate. The table was front-centre. The eyes came down. It was just me. So rarely in my life had I felt so terribly alone.
The main band came on, and they were joined by a forty-strong choir of children, most of whom had parents in the audience. I was revolted by the infants as they sung with upheld chins and gappy teeth. The parents’ faces were suspended, glowing in the reverberations of the stage lights, smiling their teeth shining. The children looked at their parents, the parents looked at their children. Between songs they cheered loudly and the children beamed.
It was then that I began to weep.
As soon as it was convenient, I would have to get out of there for a cigarette, but when? The highlight of our table meant that it was beyond my pleasure to simply arise and exit! The last song was sung and I saw my chance, so quickly I stood up with my cigarette and rushed in the direction of the door. No sooner had I left my seat than I was stood in the middle of the children as they walked off the stage! ‘O, fuck!’ I shouted. I was caught up in the flow of children as they looked at me and the clapping and cheering parents looked at me and the clapping and cheering crowd looked at me. I was taller than them, of course, and stood out. As soon as I could, I got out of the group and lingered at the side, while the endless stream of them passed under my nose. Finally I was outside with my cigarette. It had rained; the wet street; the kerb puddles. The cigarette tasted good but those things do not last forever. As I urinated I could hear my father in the corridor outside talking to the choirmaster, loudly congratulating him for the performance and commending the children on how brilliant they had been, all chins upheld and gappy teeth.
We left and went back to the hotel bar, where it was considerably quieter. I, like a medieval woman, wished for something stronger and ordered a couple of large glasses of red wine. My mood lifted. The red wine had put something into me that nothing else that night had managed and I was uplifted. My parents and I talked, laughed, I poked fun at my father and rolled my eyes. All of my troubles had been removed and I was enjoying my parents’ company. It was of little consequence that they had so little interest in their eldest – after all, I had survived to breeding age, at least - but I put myself into the moment and took from it what I could. My father wished to pay the bill. A waiter was fingering a nearby till, so he said—‘Excuse me, can we get the bill, please?’ The waiter, without looking up, held his finger up in my father’s face as if to say—‘Wait a minute’. So it begun. My parents scolded the waiter for being rude (who remained indifferent) removed the tip and drunkenly wrote a complaint on the back of the cheque, which would have to be filed for financial reasons. Again, I felt my collar tighten. I went to the toilet, although I did not need to go. It was comical how things were often not meant to be. All the bad feeling had stirred up mud in the night, just as I had begun to feel better. I kissed them good-night and left before the waiter returned.
I walked home with great purpose. Sometimes you believe there is someone out there who truly cares but there is not, because we are selfish as organisms and I now understand as such. I had been fooled, certainly, but I would recover, alone, by myself. I have great faith in myself, often at times when it would appear uncharacteristic. Aldgate station was quiet but for the drunks getting off and the worn platform elevated up to street level. Workers were painting the road in a blue paint that filled the air with an intoxicating, heady wheeze. An untied length of plastic cordon blew in the wind, whipping from one side of the pavement to the other. As I attempted to avoid its tangle, the window blew, whipping it and I almost tripped up. Almost.

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