Saturday, May 5

There Is No Plural of Roly-Poly

If you start a piece with ‘I’, everyone knows it’s about you. I was on my way to have a cigarette at twenty-six minutes past nine, which was late for my first work cigarette, but I had just finished my first coffee. The elevator arrived with that sound it makes when it arrives, and my boss appeared, asked me if I had spoken to L—n for his assistance on a project. I had not spoken to L—n because I did not like him and his breath smells like death. I did not want him involved on my project. And although I didn’t tell this to my boss, he said—
‘No offence, but all you do is fail at everything.’
I went for a cigarette with his words ringing in my ears and I could not really enjoy my cigarette, but maybe the reader doesn’t smoke and so cannot understand how anyone enjoys a cigarette. I enjoy cigarettes. However, nicotine aside, the protagonist of this story fails at everything.
My brother showed me around his house. My brother’s family showed me around their house. They each took turns, each one of them accentuating certain features that appealed to them. My niece did not want us to leave her bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her and then leaning on it—‘No!’ My brother pulled her aside and she was so upset that we left her room. It was a nice room. It was my niece’s room alone and you could smell the clean carpet and freshly-assembled wood. Her crying got to me terribly, a frequency in her moans that resonated with my blood or my DNA or something. I looked around the rest of the house. It was a lovely house.
It was my brother’s first house. He had lived in houses before – my childhood home, rented, etc – but this was the first house he had owned. There was a deposit and a mortgage and the smell on everything of newness.
When we stood in the garden, my brother talked about the lawn. You don’t know so I will tell you: the lawn was still settling. The lawn had just been laid. It was green and the lawn smelled new. But it had to settle and take root properly and then you could walk on it. My niece walked on it; or rather she danced on it and did roly-polies; her dress fluttered; she danced and roly-polied like someone above the law.
A platter was laid down of cured meats, fresh vegetables, cheese and fruit. It was delicious and my family sat and spoke about the house and my brother spoke about the work he was going to do to it. There was cheese on my fingers. As much as I licked my fingers, the cheese seemed to remain. I did not mind so much as the cheese tasted good. If you lick your fingers, everyone knows you’ve been eating cheese.
Then my brother bought his wife a new car. My brother bought his wife a new car to park on the drive of their new house. The car smells new; I haven’t been in the car but I am sure it smells new because it is a brand new car and brand new cars always smell new. My brother took his family shopping for a new car and they spoke to salesmen (or –women) and my brother most likely signed some documents, contracts and so on, and now my brother’s wife has a brand new car.
The perception of me being a failure in my office is to be expected. Most likely it is borne of the fact that back in two-thousand-and-seven I quit and went to France to write a novel; except I didn’t write a novel, I became very drunk and then returned home and asked for my job back. I have seen my friends leave for other companies. I have seen friends get promoted. And still I remain. It is only expected for me to be perceived as a failure.
The cigarette tasted of cigarettes. Sometimes they taste of other things: toffee, roast dinner, corn flakes. This one tasted of cigarettes. I asked my brother what he wanted for his birthday. He said—‘I dunno. I’m shit, mate. Sorry.’ Then he replied again—‘Actually, could do with a new work backpack?’ Hmm, backpacks. Maybe I could get him a backpack like mine. He could keep all his stuff in there.
‘He said he text you Monday.’
‘Yeah,’ I told my mum—‘He did.’
‘Said he asked how your weekend was and you said “Shit”. Said he wished he hadn’t bothered.’
‘Well, it was shit. If he don’t wanna know the answer, he shouldn’t ask me the fuckin question,’ I snapped.
‘All right, all right… How’s your week been?’
‘Well, my boss said—’
If you end the piece with ‘I’, everyone knows it happened to you. I looked at the sunshine and it seemed quite blue and everyone looked really good. What kind of backpack could I get my brother? The backpack might remind him of me. Because of the sunshine a cyclist came past in a pristine slide and swerved around a large black puddle and her dress fluttered like my niece’s dress in the garden. I saw the cyclist and flicked my cigarette. That’s what I did. The cigarette flew through the air a good few metres. That’s what I did.

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