Wednesday, August 30

Cheese, Melon & Pub

My mother picked me up from the station—‘Do I smell?’ I asked her. She told me I did not, but I was still quite concerned that I smelled from sweating on the long journey. I was visiting my family for my thirty-second birthday. Colleagues asked me where I was going on holiday and I was ashamed to tell them—‘O, only C—n.’ They all went on holiday to glamorous foreign locations. It did not matter; I was looking forward to seeing my mother and my niece again. ‘I feel like I smell… I’m sure I can smell myself.’ My niece and sister-in-law were at the house when we arrived and the former was very glad to see me, so that she sat next to me during lunch; a colourful spread in the garden that they had postponed so that I might join them (my train had been delayed on account of a suicide). My niece mainly ate cheese and melon. The encyclopaedia entry of her name would note—‘Diet: cheese and melon.’ The juice from the melon smeared around her mouth and traced sweet arteries down her arms. I asked her if she had enjoyed visiting me at the weekend. My brother brought his family to the city and I met them. We spent the day together, walking great distances (with her in the pram, but not sleeping) and although I was very hungover I enjoyed our time together. She spoke to me, as chatty as her parents, although half as intelligible – her mother clarifying the odd word or sentence – and I would ask—‘Really?’ and she would say—‘Yes’ and then tell me some more, gesticulating and fumbling over her words. After all the cheese and melon, she had an ice-lolly – ‘What do you say?’ ‘Peas, mummy.’ She dedicated ten minutes of her life to the ice-lolly, while we sat and talked and had coffee.
My sister-in-law and niece left. My mother and I sat there for a moment, feeling lunch slowly settle into the journey of our guts. ‘Do you wanna go for a walk?’ she asked. I told her I was too tired, but then I thought that there were other times better suited to being tired, and I was more likely to regret not going for a walk with her than not dozing in the afternoon sun.
So we went for a walk.
My mother put on trainers and she walks fast and I walk fast, so both of us were happy. Down by the sea there were people relaxing and paddling pale toes in the cold swell. The water did not move much; the air closed in around you; a hot sun glowed brilliantly behind white clouds. Beach huts hunched with their doors hung open, deck-chairs sagged under the weight of families surrounded by collected shells. As anticipated, the walk invigorated me, pumped me full of sea air, woke me up. I would be at my parents’ for five nights, and I looked forward to that. The best was yet to come, I thought, and I felt good. ‘We can stop at the pub on the way back,’ my mother suggested. As we walked along, we talked. Forever I am nervous that when alone with another human being I will be without something to say, but, truthfully, I talk very freely with my mother. We shared the conversation, our steps synchronised, our breaths passing and panting; I caught up with goings-on.
We turned from the prom’ and got up level with the road that ran parallel to the tide. A lip of grass whimpering in the wind. The pavement was upset from the movement of earth beneath, cracking, ruptured and weeds that perforated its quiet pinkish hue. All the clouds were going to a thunderstorm-themed fancy-dress party.
The pub was quiet. We sat outside, my mother and I. She ordered a glass of prosecco and I a beer. Our table was separated from the road, from the sea, by a glass screen that reverberated my voice back at me—‘You don’t hear it?’ ‘No.’ ‘It’s really strange!’
We went two rounds, not like boxers but like milkmen. I spoke to her most candidly. First I turned it over in my head, whether I would tell her or not, but eventually I did. If only I relayed more often the thoughts within my head – but who to tell them to! It was good to talk to her and the time went by. I was worried she might want to leave after only one drink but—‘Shall we get another?’ The pub remained quiet and soon we were alone in the garden.
‘Did you enjoy seeing your brother at the weekend?’
‘I did,’ I said. ‘It might have looked from the photos that I was miserable and hungover, but nah, I really enjoyed it. It was good to see them.’
‘Your dad and I really like it when you lot see each other without us.’ She paused, then—‘Your brother doesn’t like saying good-by to you, yknow?’
‘He doesn’t?’ This surprised me.
‘Nah, when he drops you off at the train station and that, he doesn’t like leaving you alone.’ Most strange, I thought. ‘He felt sad when he left you on Saturday.’
‘I didn’t know that.’
‘Yeah, he feels like he’s leaving you all alone, or something.’
‘That’s nice, I suppose.’
‘Do you feel like he’s leaving you alone?’ she asked.
‘Hmm, I don’t think he’s leaving me alone or anything like that, but I do feel distant to you lot.’ She tilted her head, sipped. ‘I feel like it’s me … and you guys. Like, I’m down there and you’re all up here… I know it’s not much farther than where I used to live, but it feels so much farther away. Know what I mean? You hardly ever visit now. I do feel very separate.’
‘Do you feel bad that we never visit?’
‘Kinda… Not really… I dunno. It’s far away, I know… it takes you ages to get there. I don’t mind coming to visit you. It feels like I live farther away from you than I actually do, if that makes sense.’
It would have been good to stay at the pub a little longer, but there was a dinner to prepare. Besides, brief moments are sometimes all that is required.
We walked home, we walked back to my parents’ house. The sky had darkened now. Since I was a child I had noticed that the sky seemed to grow dark around my birthday, at the tail of August, as it brooded into autumn.
On Sunday evening, my sister-in-law asked us all around the dinner-table what the best part of our long weekend had been and the worst. I wished to say that it had been going down the pub with my mother, but thought it too exclusive. I said that our Sunday in the garden, eating good food and fooling around, had been wonderful. I did not answer what had been the worst time, and, because they all knew what had been my worst time, I liked that they did not press the matter. I just nodded, hmm, yes, I had had a wonderful Sunday.

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