Sunday, September 2

Coffee Thirty-Three

For my thirty-third birthday my mother bought me a book entitled A Year of Living Happily; usually I am inclined to scoff at such things, but, upon having a particularly bad evening on my birthday, I decided to lie in bed and read it, humouring her as she slept in the other room. Tears almost came to my eyes, a weighted feeling through my abdomen, and all sorts turmoil that I could have done without! Why was I so unhappy? I felt terrible and it choked me, as that kind of thing will often do. The book went on for a while then gave some exercises, a new one every week, that would teach the reader to be happy. The bedsheets smelled. The book told me to write down three things from the day that made me happy. I wrote down three things from the day that had made me happy. It was my birthday so I was able to think of more than three. Seven. What about the days when it wasn’t my birthday?
The next day and rain fell throughout. It came down in thick sheets, shimmering in itself and tapping a bank holiday melody on the windows. We sat indoors and my mother and I played Scrabble, drinking. That would make the list at the end of the day. Now that I sit here alone again, I try to remember it; the smell of cooking and new wood, the gestures my mother and I performed allowing the other to admire our words, the terrible jazz disco my father was playing as he turned a spoon in the pot.
We often went for walks. My preference was to get to the seafront and turn left, heading away from the town. It was quieter, as the last of the holiday-makers reclined peacefully in the breeze, minding children who paddled in the frothy shallows and leashed dogs sniffed the ankles of passing strangers. The sea moved very little. Of course my nature being what it is, I preferred the walks with my mother alone. The conversation flowed and we kept our own similar pace, although at times she would say—‘You walk too fast! Slow down!’ It was on those walks that we travelled the farthest, feeling like we had truly reached the edge of the land; there were no more houses, only grass filled with sand, a pylon erect over everything, the buzz of electricity. We walked back and where we needed to be was a haze from where we were. My clothes stuck to me. My mother dropped a prescription into the doctor’s. A green perfume came from the florists and my mother bought me two shoots of ‘lucky bamboo’, which I carried to the pub. There was no one but for us. The lucky bamboo lied between us diagonally. We drank and then went home for another game of Scrabble.
It did not seem like my birthday; I did not feel as though I had aged at all but I thought of the number for a moment: thirty-three. At catechism or somewhere I had learned that Jesus died at thirty-three. My favourite comedian growing up had also died at thirty-three. It seemed like a special age to me, as though surviving it might prove something; truthfully I knew it meant nothing.
When the sun set and everyone had gone to bed, I thought I might use my father’s computer and write. What would I write? It seemed unnecessary. Instead I went to bed and was swallowed up by the pillow. My spine’s carved vertebrae disagreed with the mattress so that I awoke sore and uncomfortable but peaceful. My spine would heal. Downstairs my father was working and we said good morning. I drank a glass of juice and smoked in the circle of sunshine that collected in my parents’ back garden. Gulls made the most terrible sounds above. I drank coffee and had conversations; it was a good thing for me to come down to those I loved, caffeinated in the sunshine. At that time of the morning the radio station played hip hop. My father had developed an unhealthy obsession with fresh croissants, so every morning he would drive out to get some. ‘You’re in charge of the coffee,’ my mum said. I made the coffee. I was now thirty-three.

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