Tuesday, January 16

Photographs Of His Dead Dad

Don’t go back on the second, go back on the third. The office opened on the second, but I went back in on the third. I returned to London on the second and made preparations for the weekend: arranging presents, packing groceries away, cleaning the flat, and doing laundry. I slept poorly, as I expected myself to. During the holidays I had been sleeping for nine hours a night. It had been a good time but I was due back at work and, besides, the routine and productivity would alleviate whatever guilt I had forced upon myself for doing nothing the past eleven days. Ah, stepping outside I remembered that the sunlight was now gradually returning; but one would not have thought so because it was so dark and the wind blowing this god-awful drizzle on to everything, my ears pestered by a perpetual hiss and not light enough for shadows. Although for all this I did find a strange happiness in feeling the city’s rain hitting my face and hands. It smacked my skull and felt fizzy or like my skull was not quite full but I tilted my head and knew that my skull was full.
It is unusual – the yellow white of office lights in from that dark morning. The first day back at work, of this year, the new year, two-thousand-and-eighteen. I went over to my desk and said hello to the three men around me but it was so quiet in there that I kept my voice down. Nobody was saying anything, everyone was looking down, most miserably. It was heavy. I took my backpack and coat off—‘Fucking hell,’ I said, ‘It’s quiet in here! Did someone die?’ They looked at me, smiled and continued with their work. I checked on Marzena’s plant, which she had entrusted to me over the course of her month holiday. It was still alive but the soil was dry, so I watered it. If it survives until her return I will have earned a bottle of high quality vodka. I turned my computer on, tapped my fingers on the desk, sipped my coffee and stared out of the window, waiting. The office light reflected back at me, washed the dark blue outlines of the buildings opposite, and in the fragile objects of scenery I could see wind affecting the scene.
Damian (who sits next to me) stood up and walked off. My friend leans up over his computer, which giddied me because he was either about to relay something amusing or chase me up on something—
‘Hey, mate, Damian’s dad died over Christmas.’
‘O fuck,’ I said.
‘Yeah, so go easy on him.’
What a fool I was! Of course how was I to know, but for my first words to ask who had died! I wished for the earth to swallow me up. So I went outside to think about my dad dying. It was still drizzling, or raining; it is difficult to understand when drizzle becomes rain or when rain becomes drizzle. The building over my head was leaking drips that dropped on to my head and down my collar. When I went back inside, it astounded me how I said not a word to Damian about his dead dad. For a moment I paused on the threshold of saying something, that spit in the throat, the gasp of air coming or going; but I did not say a thing and let him continue. I looked at my e-mails and got on with my day. It was a new year.
The days went on; they are such similar things.
Nine days passed (yes, nine days, I just did the maths in my head) and I saw Damian’s screen. It is right next to my own, so it is very easy to see Damian’s screen. He is a big man with big arms that rest always on his desk and around his desk are pots and pots and pots, filled with things like pencils, pens, screwdrivers, stanley knives, bits of computer circuitry, rulers, receipts, dirty cutlery and a thermometer, as well as a calendar with a photograph of him and his sons on every month. There is a cup of black instant coffee, which smells terrible, and an empty wrapper of something or other. He cannot clear his throat without apologising to all those around him, and makes about four calls a day to his wife, asking how she is, what’s the weather like there and how her day is going; she talks loudly and he apologises to her for everything, from bad weather to a localised traffic jam. He eats his lunch at one minute past twelve and leaves the office at one minute past five. I saw Damian’s screen because it is right next to my own. On his screen was an old photograph that he had magnified and was taking great care to correct, to adjust every detail and erase every blemish. It was a faded colour photograph of a man and two boys in a boat. All three were smiling at the camera and the older man had his hands on the shoulders of the boys, pulling them together and uniting them sweetly in a freeze-frame of seventies Kodak. The boat was small and wooden with a single slat across the middle for a seat. The water looked calm; calm enough for a mother on the shore to say—‘Smile.’ He tuned the photograph, bringing out the red of the man’s jumper, and saved it. The next photograph was much older, black and white, a boy close up, eating ice cream, his plump pink tongue stuck out and, caught in the corner of his lips, a smile that would have blossomed fully not a second after the shutter released. Out the corner of my eye I thought that the unfinished smile was greater than the complete. Beneath the interior arches of a church, the camera rested on a pew, the self-timer caught a family in well-ironed Sunday wear: mother, (father,) two boys. How could he just sit there confronting the unflinching stare of his dead father as a child? Eyes are big in the skull of a child. I could not confront my dead father like that, in an office after Christmas. Still, he proceeded to study and edit photographs of his dead dad.
Later on that day we sat in a meeting and he was not looking at photographs of his dead dad. He was talking over drawings and explaining things on a very large computer screen. He was flustered and apologising and I wondered if he was thinking about his dead dad. What differences were there between then and when his dad wasn’t dead? I could not notice them, I could not notice the differences. The meeting ended. We went back to our desks, he and I. He sat beside me, Damian and I. He called his wife to ensure that everything was okay. Yes, he was just finishing his speech—‘What was the name of that man who worked on the boat with Dad?... Giovanni, that’s it. I couldn’t think of his name… The man who gave him the license… No, Giovanni’s right.’ He promised he would be home on time and hung up. He ate the rest of his crisps. The speech was ready. It spanned two pages of the word document. From where I sat I could not read a line of it, but I knew that it was about his dead dad and I could not imagine writing it in an office after Christmas. He had written two pages about his dead dad in an office after Christmas. There was no grieving, mourning or reflection. It was something he was remunerated for. At one minute past five he said—‘Right, I’m off, see you Wednesday,’ and I knew that Tuesday was his dead dad’s funeral.

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