Wednesday, March 2

The First Half

THE CURTAINS BLOTTED out all of the light, so that when I awoke I was slightly disorientated, even more so than one would usually be upon arising in a strange bed. It was a strange bed; the cushion and the scent different; the sheets were in disarray, and I corrected them while remembering my dreams. There was so little light. My dreams were unimaginative. It was half-six and, despite my best efforts, I could not get back to sleep, so after an hour I arose and walked on the warm floor tiles across to the large glass doors. At a tug of the curtains the room became awash in pale blue light. The morning was cool and rain that had fallen during the dawn was still drying. I could see all of the resort. Rainwater trickled from a nearby gutter and the rustle of palm leaves was all around. I had my morning smoke. In the distance, out over the sea, the sun was piercing the clouds. And there – as I start a new sentence – was the sea. On the balcony to the left were some t-shirts hanging up to dry, and on my right – my brother’s room – was a half-empty glass of whiskey, or half-full. I showered and left the room.
By the pool there was a yoga class: a well-defined man before a semicircle of women manoeuvring in unison to ghastly music; otherwise there was no other activity and I was free to roam about undisturbed and uninterrupted. All was quiet. I went to the front of the hotel for another smoke. Spanish women! (I could dream myself in bed with a Spanish woman and her darker skin coasted over with white sheets. I could make her coffee as we laughed, before discussing my shade of white next to the freckle on her ribs.) All of it was placid until I entered the dining hall and all of the noise descended upon me at once! What activity! Well, it was activity of a kind, I suppose, although mostly I saw the crowd gliding around in a stupor, clutching plates and salivating madly. I could not see anyone I recognised so I got a coffee from the machine and sat down. Most of all I wished to see my niece. It would be nice to see her and to squeeze her chubby legs and smell her hair and kiss her cheeks and call her my ‘love’ and nothing else wanted and nothing missing. She arrived, bounced on my knee, and we had a good feast for our first breakfast.
As a child we would often holiday on the island, once every few years. The landscape is desolate. All of it is volcanic black rock. The houses and buildings are white. Everything smells different: the air, the water, the pavements; the staples of existence are peculiarly estranged and replaced with substitutes, whose scents, ubiquitous and inescapable, recall to me memories of childhood. Often we would break to the island during February, after my mother’s birthday. ‘It is strange,’ I say to my mum—‘but pavements remind me of countries a lot. I could probably tell you what country we’re in from the pavement.’ The pavement here is a bar of white chocolate.
Over and over the countryside repeats.
On the third day the sun arrives properly and we spend all of it next to the pool, doing nothing substantial. I spend the first half talking to my family and making jokes; all of us making jokes and laughing. In the afternoon I drink bad coffee and read. Despite not having had much sleep I feel positive and aware. I must watch what I eat, so I drink coffee. Every evening I play ‘cheat’ and ‘shithead’ with my parents because it keeps them awake. When they retire to bed I stay up in the bar alone, away from the crowd but facing it. I like to imagine that the wives are a little bored of their husbands and want to sleep with me. After I feel suitably inebriated I go to bed.
My real life is many miles away. I try to forget about it. I find it easy to lose myself in the moments when my niece is sat on my knee and my nose is in her hair and I am reading her a pop-up book and her podgy little fingers are all over the page. Real life is waiting for me, I know, but until then I will relax and daydream and, hm, do nothing but sigh and drink.

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