Tuesday, September 18

Alone, or With Our Kids

The building industry is quite the small thing and the city of London smaller still. And to be in such a daze, such a focus of distant thought, he stops before me, removing a headphone and motioning to shake my hand but not quite. My old drinking buddy many moons ago. Straight away I exclaim—‘Fuckin’ hell! I had a dream about you last night!’ He looks concerned, furrows his brow and such; I assure him—‘You were in my dream last night!’ The dream cannot be remembered any further than that it featured him. I felt quite silly, but remembering dreams is not my forte. He stared at me. Quickly we asked each other how they were, the way men do. It did not take long before he began talking about his sons. People who have children like to talk about their children. Soon, on the edge of a busy city pavement at nine-fifteen, he showed me many photographs of his son; photographs to help flesh out the stories he told me. There were his sons next to each other on a the bed. There was his eldest on the train—‘He loves trains!’ The son was stood on a train seat, looking out the window, with curly blonde hair and the sun coming in that side of the carriage, everything cast in a diagonal light. ‘He plays my guitar, too,’ he says; and there is a home-movie of his son hitting his acoustic guitar. Without the footage, I never would have been able to imagine anyone hitting this man’s guitar, but there it was, video evidence, right before my eyes.
I did not recognise the man.
Truthfully I knew someone who looked like him, but did not have children. There was a man, big and slow, who never broke a smile for anything other than something sinister. He and I drank together, in a pub across the road from our office, four nights a week. He couldn’t hold his liquor and would become unpleasant after a short while, but we drank four nights a week, such was my affectation.
Yet there I was, there he was, making a muddle of my impressions, challenging my perception of the years since he had left the company! He scrolled through photographs and videos. There was nothing for me to show him. In the time since we had drank together, he had found someone, fallen in love, married, had children. And now he was infatuated with them. Polite yet silent pedestrians brushed his shoulder. A cigarette burned to the tip, was tossed spinning into the path of a hurried automobile. I had no interest in his children, but I felt it polite to pretend otherwise. When I look at children, I foresee suffering, and if there is no suffering then I suppose there will be boredom.
We had both smoked up so I said—‘I gotta go back.’
A few days later, he passed me again, but in the opposite direction and perspiring profusely. Once more he stopped, removing the headphone. His round skull sparkled a little. I say fondly that his round skull sparkled. All of it perspiration. ‘Why you so sweaty?’ I asked—‘Been down the gym?’ He told me it was something like that, but he was heading home as his son had been taken ill. ‘Eldest?’ I asked, and I knew what they looked like now. He told me that, no, it was his youngest, only a few months old, coughing up blood—
‘Probably just a cold,’ he said.
Blood… blood… I thought of blood. When blood comes out the mouth it seems that there is much more blood than there is. Blood is distorted by the mouth, by the teeth and tongue.
He told me about a man at his work who had just married his cousin.
Then he left.
The mouth of a baby is so small and soft and it has blood coming out of it in tiny coughs. We used to go drinking, his father and I. A lot has changed since then.

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