Monday, August 29

A Crime of No Significance

It was the first family gathering since we had ended, and I expected to confront a great degree of awkwardness in conversation. Why shouldn’t they enquire as to the final goings-on between she and I? Fortunately the subject was largely avoided. Yes, my sister, Sharon, asked about it—‘So, what happened?’ she asked. That is what she asked me. Sharon had drunk a bottle of prosecco and was more talkative than usual, expecting her openness to be reflected in me, when I was conscious of how much I was drinking, as I had to drive home alone. There is only one designated driver: me. I was sober. I was brief with her—‘I can’t really explain it.’ Everyone had liked her; I had liked her, but who was I to say—‘I love you.’ I did not know why I had to explain that to her, of all things. She would always ask me. I didn’t understand why it was so important. Now that was over and I was greeted with awkwardness at the family gathering. When people asked how I was I understood fully what they were getting at but I, in my stubbornness, refused to acknowledge such a pry and responded—‘Fine! Busy at work!’ Neither was true, but I didn’t feel like getting into it. (Say what you will about your colleagues, but they are blissfully unaware of the tragedies of one’s personal life.) I drank a coke from the fridge. I did not like to hold the can for too long so I drank it quickly. There was perspiration all over the can.
Sharon—‘Have you spoken to her since?’
I said—‘Not really.’ The odd exchange; the collection arrangements of various personal effects left at the other’s residence. It all seemed very official to me, the act of breaking-up, as though it must be treaded carefully, abiding this rule and that. Best not for it to be messy. An easy life is all anyone wants.
‘She was a lovely woman,’ Sharon said.
‘Can you not?’
‘Sorry.’
The coke made my mouth feel bad. The children had arranged a tarpaulin in the garden and covered it in washing-up liquid and sprayed it with a hose. They were sliding all over it. The hose lit up rainbow embryos in the sun. The children slid and gathered suds upon their straight bodies. A great-niece came up to me—‘Where’s T—a?’ Strangely, against all the coldness I had offered the grown-ups, I said—‘We broke up.’ She asked me why. ‘Because we weren’t in love anymore.’ ‘O,’ the child said, with bubbles dripping down her goose-pimpled legs. ‘I liked T—a.’ ‘So did I but sometimes people fall out of love, sugarplum.’ The child smiled and ran off to the tarpaulin.
In the evening I was still sober and many others were drunk, or at least merry. The other couples were a pest to me: my brothers and sisters in relationships, marriages, my nieces and nephews with partners. What torture! I wished to get very drunk but, alas, I couldn’t! I went to the bathroom. In there my sister had tacked various cards to the wall and so forth. I examined them, as I did not immediately need to urinate and the cards held much more interest for me. One of them was a postcard from her son. On the front was a beach photograph, all ivory and turquoise. On the back was a report of his holiday with his partner—‘The whole hotel smells of cinnamon. I hate cinnamon, but J—e loves it.’ The other was a note from her eldest son on the back of a postcard; he was thanking her for a particularly enjoyable weekend, when they had entertained him for his birthday. He had addressed it to both of his parents but undeniably, from his pen, it was clear he spoke only to his mother. I put the postcard back. The final was a card: a glittery affair with a dog on the front. It was from T—a. Her handwriting! Forgive me if I find a lover’s handwriting as personal as the veins on her hands, the taste of her tongue or the way she holds her expression after telling a joke. I ran my fingers over the separate stiff letters. She never could write cursive. How had I deserved to find this card? It was a thank-you for a weekend away during which we had stayed at this house. I remember we had, during an afternoon nap, made love with the stillest of motions and laid there smiling after the fact, and saying—‘We should get up, I think I hear them cooking dinner.’ ‘Thank you for a wonderful weekend. You made me feel most welcome, a part of the family,’ the card said. I put it back and urinated.
I left the toilet and walked down the corridor to the living room where nobody was sat. The wine rack was unattended. I took a bottle of red. I did not see what wine it was, or where it was from, but I wanted the wine, I knew that. It was a petty crime. I did not feel particularly proud, but I held the neck of the bottle with excitement as though it were a creature I had slain. I returned to the gathering with it concealed carefully behind my body. ‘I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.’ Yes, yes, they understood, I was not in the mood. Saying good-bye to everyone. I waved off down the drive. The bottle went into the passenger seat. When I arrived home an hour later I discovered that it was a good bottle of wine. I drank it all in silence in my living room. There was no music playing, no great chandelier in the centre of the room, no fanfare or company; just me and the wine. Then I went to sleep on my half of the mattress.

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