Tuesday, May 31

Around The Young

A minor tradition blossoming: meeting my mother in the county capital where she gets her roots attended to every four weeks. Reservation notification: three people; must have been the only available table left. But, no, my father invited last minute. I was quite hot when I met her, perspiring from the hot sun through the train window; an environment I have weakened against since leaving it two-and-a-half years ago; a discarded immunity, I suppose. ‘Your father’s joining us,’ she said. ‘Father’ used exclusively by her in bad favour. Our minor tradition infiltrated by an outsider. ‘Is that okay?’
‘I don’t mind. It’ll be nice to see him.’
She objected, unsatisfied with my answer—‘But this is our time. He gets to see you and your brothers, I don’t. This is just for me and you, to chat, catch up.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. I was in a good mood, kissing her hello, ordering a cold beer with my cheek still turned. She asked if she should order another cocktail for herself; I said yes.
Ten minutes later my dad turned up, drunk.
You’re late,’ she said friendly enough—‘You said you were going to be early.’
‘You’re lucky I’m even here at all. We were having such a good time in that bar!’
My mother’s back shot up, arched, peaked, ready for a swing. She ground her teeth and looked at me. She cooled and we talked, caught up. However my father was on his phone, so that when my mother called on him for conversation—‘It was a lovely venue, wasn’t it, K—, lovely rooms?’
‘What?’
And she would have to repeat herself. This happened over and over; each time he had not been listening and, having been filled in, simply replied—‘Yeah.’ She was becoming angrier and angrier. I tried to remain positive. When I went for a fag, they argued and I breached a tense atmosphere on my return. Occasionally my father would lend a story, an anecdote about a work colleague, but it would fall flat, unamusing to everyone but him; then he would return to his phone.
When he went to the toilet—‘I’m so fuckin pissed off he’s turned up.’ She was so angry she was starting to cry; I could tell because I, her son, am just the same. ‘Dunno why he even bothered. We didn’t ask him to! If he was having such a fuckin great time in that bar, he should’ve stayed there!’
We did not speak again until Sunday, three days later—‘Your bloody father!’ she approached me out of nowhere, glass of prosecco in hand—‘We went out for dinner and he got on it again, a bottle of white wine to himself—’
‘Hah, lad!’
‘You know what he said?’
I did not know what he had said.
‘He was drunk, obviously… He said he can’t enjoy going out for dinner with us two because we “block him out”.’
‘He wasn’t even invited! He invited himself!’
‘Exactly!’
‘And you tried to get him involved in the conversation but he was never fuckin listening. He kept going “What? What? What?”’
‘Don’t get me started.’ She ground her teeth—‘Seriously, it’s a miracle this marriage is still going.’ She was not being serious. She laughed and drank her drink, then remembered something else and became angry again. ‘So today he’s drying out and is walking around telling everyone that he’s driving and that I’m drinking again!’
I laughed.
But something was playing on my mind—‘He said we “block him out”?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Was he being serious?’
Sip—‘Yeah.’
I did not ever wish to block out my father. It saddened me deeply that he thought so. That evening in the restaurant, when my mother went to the toilet, a silence had fallen between us. All the chatter between she and I vanished with her, leaving only discomfort for the remaining couple. Perhaps at another time, sober, he would have engaged in conversation with me, but I could only sit there opposite, searching for something to say and finding nothing. He looked around the restaurant. I looked out of the window for something to say, eventually—‘So, good Rafa’s staying on at Newcastle!’ I was glad when my mum returned.
What if my dad dies thinking his eldest son blocks him out? Whether or not it is true, he believes it to be so. He is only six years younger than my granddad was when he died.
On Sunday evening, after the family gathering, he drove me to a train station in a nearby town. My mother and I were talking about something or other when he abruptly pulled the car to a stop and said—‘I’ll drop you here. You can walk to the station from here, okay?’ I said that it was okay and good-bye to everyone in the vehicle. Something terrible was settling on me. I took it into the station and stared at it down the tracks. I hoped that it would run away of its own accord. (It did not.)

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