Persy: Drapes

The thing about Aiden is- he always gets what he wants and he gets it by doing nothing. Honestly. One time we had a decade-long argument about the drapes in the front room. He insisted they were peach. I said they were salmon. He said it probably didn’t matter anyway, but he was sure that I was wrong. So I said-

‘If it doesn’t matter, then why bring it up?’

‘I don’t know, Persy.’ He replied, ‘I just thought you cared about that stuff.’

I should probably provide some context. Our living room, at the time, had a colour scheme which had been mostly informed by the drapes.  The drapes had come from the old house, a house that had never needed drapes but was filled to the brim with them. At one point, we had drapes disguised as throws, as rugs, as table cloths. Drapes on drapes on drapes, even. It had been a little joke of ours since our old, old house had been so- I suppose desolate is the only nice way to describe it- that we had made a pact to go ridiculously over the top decorating the next one.

There were many houses between that house and the very last one. And by then the drapes had completely lost their jovial, light-hearted warmth. They were instead a reminder of a place that we were both slowly realising we could never go back to. They went up with no joy. They filled the room with no love. We never walked past it and prodded the other, saying-

‘Drapes on drapes on drapes, eh?’

We just didn’t talk about it.

Didn’t talk to each other at all. Aiden had work. I had work. We had split the domestic duties so that he got the kids and I got the house and there was no overlap. No reason to interject while the other was sinking further and further into the empty nothingness of modern day life.

Until the drapes.

I can’t remember what he opened with. or how he closed. I just couldn’t get the thought that all my work had come to nothing. That something was wrong in our showroom home. It was my job. It was one of my only jobs. And somehow, without me realising, it had changed colour with no warning and no prompting. Or had it?

If I had been looking at it objectively, and I can never look anything objectively when Aiden is around, I would have been able to decipher his coded message. For clearly, what he had wanted to say was-

‘I can’t bear to look at those drapes every day, Persy. I can’t comprehend how much has changed since we lived in Florence, and Marrakech, and Constantinople and Carthage. I know in the beginning it was bad, sitting on uncomfortable stone thrones, sleeping on a wooden bed that was too small. Your mother would visit and make you cry. You couldn’t get anything to grow down in Hades. But somehow, now, I think it was good. Am I crazy, or do you see it too? We thought we had nothing, but, in fact, we had everything. We had each other. We sacrificed so much to have the chance to grow together and it seems growing has actually torn us apart. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d never taken you with me all those years ago.’

Something like that.

But Gods forbid he actually say it. Actually do something.

So he left the thought with me. Left it to me to destroy what was left of our marriage. Because I heard a different message in the following silence. I heard-

‘Take it down and start again.’

And I knew the minute it settled in my head that I could not start again. Not again. Couldn’t repeat the pause and reset combination again. I was spent. I was overdrawn.

There comes a time in every 2000 year old’s life when she must make peace with the fact that some things, some obstacles are insurmountable. That patience and love and understanding are not a fountain, but a well and the well will run dry if you dip in too much and too often. Being married to a man who is scared of his own voice is a sure fire way to turn that well into a cavernous abyss. And the abyss will start within you and then move between you. And then swallow one of you whole.

Aiden got what he wanted. I took the drapes down. I took the drapes with me, and I left. For good. The thing about me is- I never get what I want. But I’m very good at tricking myself into thinking I do.

 

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That Time Again

‘Well, Meg. It’s that time again.’

Fred stands on the door step, puffing on the last of cigarette. Meg holds the door open, waiting for him to finish. The sky is bloctchy, black and brown. The streetlights make Fred’s shadow look like a heaving black blob.

‘You’re letting all the warmth out.’ She shivers. Fred tosses his stub into the bush and crosses the threshold. He wipes his feet slowly and deliberately on the doormat. Meg cannot watch him any longer and heads into the kitchen, exasperated.

The remnants of the pasta bake, which she had just warmed up before he arrived, are now cold. She picks at the pasta shapes with her fork. When he comes in, he pulls out the chair, scraping it along the tiled floor, and starts to take his coat off.

‘No.’ Meg says, ‘You’re not going to be here for that long.’

‘Well, I gotta count the money, don’t I?’ He asks, leaning heavily on the chair.

He’d put on weight. No, muscle. He had always flourished as a bachelor. Underneath his coat he wore a nice suit. Zara Men maybe. TM Lewin?

Fred produces a money clip from the breast pocket of his suit. It  barely contains the thick wad of cash between its teeth. Fred waves it with a smile. Meg barely blink.

‘900 for rent.’ She rattles off,  ‘160 for school dinners. Lex needs a new PE Kit. That’ll be 50. Rowan’s going on holiday with Godmother and he’s going to need spending money.’

‘How much?’

‘Another 50.’

‘Let’s call it 100.’

He counts out the notes, licking his fingers, desperately trying to not to cackle with glee. Meg doesn’t watch the money the way he watches the money. She watches him. How different his very features seems. His soft smiling eyes are mean. Greedy. Lost.

‘What about you?’ He says, sliding the pile of money towards her. ‘You wanna do something? Your hair looks like it needs some love.’

‘I can look after myself, thanks.’

‘Doesn’t look like it.’

‘Well, whatever it looks like, I don’t need anything from you.’

She stands up and chucks the pasta bake in the bin.

‘Maybe not money…’ He says, quietly. When Meg doesn’t turn around, he gets up, joins her at the sink.

‘When was the last time you-‘

He places a hand gently on her shoulder, moves it slowly down her back. Meg suddenly turns around, the fork from the pasta bake hovers dangerously close to Fred’s Adam’s Apple.

‘Take your hands off me.’

He backs away.

‘Relax-‘

‘You think you can come in here, waving your blood money at me and what? Get back in this house?’

‘Megan-‘

‘Do you even care about your kids? Because you never ask about them. You’ve been here for half an hour and you haven’t mentioned them once.’

‘Of course-‘

‘Go home, Freddy. You’ve done your song and dance and now I’d like you to leave.’

‘Megan-‘

‘Now.’

Fred picks up his coat, defeated.

‘I really-‘

‘Out.’

He throws his coat on and leaves. The money on the table flies about in the gust.

 

Not in this timeline

When I finally got out, the world was…It wasn’t the same. Everything was painfully dull. After you watch so many people die, it’s hard to be focused on washing dishes, or brushing your hair. The world is flat and heavy but I feel lighter. Like something otherworldly, floating through it. I have no roots any more, nothing grounding me. Everything I was before, everything I became has been erased. And the weirdest part is, I have no desire to start again. I’m spent. I’ve had enough of trying. I just exist now. Living my life on mute. So when it finally comes time to take me out, I’ll have nothing to miss.

When I meet people their mouths move but I can’t hear anything. When I’m working, I turn the keys and I stack the shelves and I walk up and down with my clipboard, but my mind is elsewhere. I just do what I’m told and live in my head.

I can’t really describe it. This french guy who fixes the vans told me about the idea of multiple timelines. I think that’s close to it. In my head, there are many timelines and I can tune into whichever one I want. There’s this one, where I’m siting in a four by four room with no furniture, smoking cigarette after cigarette until I fall asleep. And there’s another one, where I’m living in a log cabin. Or another, where I have a dog.

My favourite is the one where V and I- I suppose actually we have normal names in that timeline, names like Ben and Rebecca – but we make it. We meet for the first time somewhere normal, at work or at church maybe. We fall in love in a romantic way. Candlelit dinners and picnics and holidays and smiles. We get married, we buy a house. We have arguments, sure, but they’re about such inconsequential things, like what colour to paint the hall or where to host the wedding reception, that they’re more fun than destructive. We get pregnant. Have a child. Have four. We’ve got photos on the walls. Family videos. Tricycles are lined up next to bicycles int he garden. Little clothes hand on the washing line. When we go out we walk hand in hand, kids running ahead.

It is the best part of my day, visiting that timeline. It’s always warm in the house. It smells like pastry. There’s always chatter, always giggling and excited exclamations. As I walk into the living room, someone runs up to me. The youngest, maybe. She has my eyes, and V’s smile. When I hold her, she smells like baby powder and biscuits. She clings to me and I choke up. She’s lost her first tooth, she tells me. Asks me if I’ll stay up and make sure the tooth fairy knows where to find it. Eventually she falls asleep on my lap, and V is beside me on the couch, and we’re just watching TV. It’s getting quiet now. Calm. I carry her up to bed. Swap her tooth for a two pound coin.

Then we’re finally alone. I play those scenes out slowly. They’re part foreign, part memory. I tell I love her over and over. Sometimes she says something back, sometimes she just looks at me. It doesn’t matter. She’s here. She’s here with me. We are wrapped around each other. She’s so soft and warm and mine. Mine, mine, all these things are mine. And no one can get to them. Not even me.

I would never be sick there. I would never be high. Never think about my adopted father, or my dead brother, or all the shit and piss and pain and blood I’ve seen. I’d never wake up in the night screaming. Never hurt anyone. Never leave V.

I’d just enjoy it.

Really, finally, enjoy being alive.

The nights are the hardest

I have nightmares. Or at least, I call them nightmares. They don’t necessarily happen at night, or even when I am asleep. But they keep happening.

She’s at my dinner table. She’s washing dishes at my sink.

There was a point where I didn’t recognise her anymore. And rather than watch her drift away, I chose to leave. I believe some people are capable of holding onto something until it turns to dust in front of them. I cannot imagine ever holding her in my arms and seeing nothing in her eyes.

She’s behind the counter at the supermarket. She’s a nurse on the cancer ward.

At first, she would hold onto me so tightly that when they prized her away, she’d take my sleeve with her. My hair. One time, my skin.

She’s wiping down the table next to me. She’s giggling into a phone.

When she came back, she tore at the scar. Punishment for letting her go. Her rage was just as intense as her sadness, and though she was making my suffer, I knew that she was suffering too.

She’s pushing a child in a pram. She’s ringing the bell on her bike.

To have that go away. To disappear completely. To see that bright spark turn to a dim flicker, a shadow of itself-

She’s pouring over my hand. She’s slamming the door in my face.

I packed a bag and left. She didn’t come after me. I thought it would be easy. Easier.

But I keep having these nightmares.

I’m driving back to my house. She’s in the middle of the street. I know she’s not real so I keep driving. But she doesn’t move. Just looks at me. Looks so sad. So I stop the car. I get out. She’s covered in flowers. As I approach her, she falls back. Lies prone, flowered arms crossed over her chest. I kneel over her. I see that she’s not sad. She’s dead. Her black eyes are grey. Staring.

The flowers are wreathes around her naked, decomposing body. Her stomach is bloating, bloating- the skin splits. 

Fingers reach out. An arm. I recognise a scar that stretches from the elbow to the wrist.

I’m climbing out of her. A version of me that I do not want, cannot meet right now. 

I run back to car. It won’t start. He’s ambling towards me, damp. Naked. 

I slam my head against the window. Over and over until my surroundings fragment, fall apart. When I am back in this time, this world, blood drips from a cut on my forehead.

I wonder if she still suffers like I suffer.

Lost Clause II

Losing the house didn’t bother Caldwell. It had been chopped and changed so much since the divorce that it no longer resembled the house he had grown up in. What did bother Caldwell was what exactly his mother was selling. Was it the ornaments? The wood panelled flooring? The whole thing? The very land his summerhouse stood on?

Caldwell’s mistake, of course, was thinking that the summerhouse was his at all. In truth the glorified shed had not been gifted to him, or even loaned to him as a kindness. His mother was almost permanently abroad, and when she did vacation home, she spent most of her time staking out his father’s new bachelor pad. She had not noticed he was still there until he sat down at the dining table to confront her.

Mother, He began, quite ceremoniously.

Oh. Yes. She replied, taken aback.

Caldwell, isn’t it?

I’ve seen the sign in the driveway.

Oh, good. I was worried no one could.

What does it mean?

What do you mean what does it mean?

What does it mean for me?

Well…nothing, I imagine. You’ve got your own place now.

I’ve got-

It was at this point that Caldwell realised his mother had not gifted him the summerhouse, or loaned it to him as a kindness. He also assumed that the binoculars on the table were not a gift for him either, but for something much more sinister.

I see. So you’re selling the house?

Yes.

And the furniture?

Yes.

And the land?

Yes. If someone can afford it.

And how much would it cost?

His mother then suggested a price that does not bear thinking about and honestly made Caldwell break out in a cold sweat.

Why? Are you thinking of buying it?

He had been.

No. I was just…curious.

Well. This was nice. Shall I show you out?

She then, in a almost farcical manner, proceeded to escort him through a house he knew inside out, and out into the driveway where he pretended to walk along the country lane for five minutes before crawling back into the property through a makeshift entrance he had built eleven years prior.

Lost Clause I

In moments of high drama, some things will inevitably fall by the wayside. One might forget to wash their hair, for instance, or to iron their clothes. One might forget their wallet at home, or put on two different socks. Sometimes, one might forget a child they had brought into the world. Such is life.

We find Caldwell, our hapless protagonist, in that very situation. After 12 years of uncomfortable family holidays, and gatherings and photos, his parents decided to loudly and publicly uncouple. Many depositions were recorded, many articles were written and many gold bars were hidden in almost cartoonish fashion. Yet, somehow, when the final list of assets had been drawn up, Caldwell had not been included.

It wasn’t the first time that someone had forgotten about Caldwell. For the first three years of his life, he did not have a name because his parents ‘never got round to it’. The name Caldwell had been made up on the spot, on his first day of school and since no one could be bothered to protest it, it had stuck.

But having a name did not improve Caldwell’s luck. He just had, it seemed, nothing much about him. His eyes were very eye like and his nose could only be described as ‘on his face’. In fact, Caldwell’s invisibility had become lore. Locals would swap stories of how, one minute, he had been in the sweet shop and the next, right before there eyes, he’d still been there but it was ‘kind of like he wasn’t.’

The divorce only served to strengthen the myth of Caldwell. His two filthy rich and petty parents squabbled over door frames and window panes, while their son, if he indeed existed, continued with his day with only a set of earplugs to keep him company. That’s why he wasn’t at all surprised by being left out of the settlement. What did surprise him, though, was how reluctant his parents had been, once the mistake had been noticed, to  to fix it.

Well, they each said.

Well.

Seeing as you’ve already packed up-

Perhaps it’s time you stood on your own two feet.

But I am standing on my own two feet, he reminded them. And also, I’m twelve.

If this was the Sudan, and you were a girl, you would be married by now.

Caldwell could only agree.

So you see, this is entirely possible.

You’ve got to start out sometime. Why not start immediately?

Then they both got into their respective sport cars and drove away.

Surprisingly, Caldwell did not make it very far. Twelve year olds do not possess things like money or life skills. At least, this one didn’t.  He could just about drag his Goyard trunk to the summerhouse at the end of his parents’, now mother’s, home before he collapsed in a  pile of gilets on the floor out of boredom and frustration.

There he remained. For 12 years. Scavenging for whatever food his mother left in the fridge while she was abroad. He foraged for whatever he needed: water, warmth, all the episodes of Game of Thrones available on Sky Catch Up. He was a warrior, a survivor. A ghost even, depending on what the locals continued to say.

Until of course, our inciting incident takes place: Caldwell’s Mother decides to sell the house.

Junior

There is a certain power that comes with being aloof. Some people have nice eyes or sweet voices, but aloof people, we have mystery. The mystery is what keeps you coming back for more. You wonder if today will be the day you break down my walls and find out what’s at the heart of me. And I know that. So all I have to do to keep you around is never let you in. Never. You won’t leave without an answer, so you’ll never leave me. I keep you, for as long as I want you, because you’re weak and live for a good riddle. Or probably because your dad did the same thing to you. You recognise it in me and mistake its familiarity for comfort. It’s not. It’s not comforting. You should be repulsed. You should run in the opposite direction, because this is not a gimmick. I’m not playing at being broken, I just am. You want to know, need to know why I’m so gloomy, so comfortable with being alone. You cycle through causes, each one getting more and more romantic. ‘He’s a weirdo’, to ‘He’s lonely’ to ‘His dad walked out on him’. But the truth doesn’t matter. It will never be as good as what you imagined. It will never help you find the cure.

There isn’t one. You’ll go on trying to get at me, to get to know me and I’ll keep holding you at arms length. Cos I don’t have nice eyes and I don’t have a cute smile. I have a lot of anger and distrust and fear. I wear that shame the way he did because I have his name.

Most people, when they leave you, they just leave you. Pack a bag and disappear into thin air. Recollected, if ever, in whispers. You can forget about them. You can even begin to wonder if they ever existed. But my dad, it’s like he branded me. Stamped his name across my chest so that everywhere I go I get that look. Any place he’s been before, it’s like I’ve been there before too. They look at me like I’m something familiar even though I’ve never met them before.

What’s your name again?

I mumble it, but it still clicks. Still registers. I get a knowing smile and dig in the ribs.

Freddie’s son.

No. Not Freddie’s son. Just Freddie. I am Freddie. I am not his son, not just his son. But it’s no use. When you hear that click, watch it register, it’s already too late. Freddie, the Freddie that I am, evaporates. The phantom of my father stands in his place.

It happens anywhere, everywhere. I’m never quite prepared. One time I was at the greasy spoon around the corner, breaking up with my girlfriend and it happened. Another time I was at a church for my cousin’s wedding and it happened again. The weirdest ones are the furthest away. A pub in Manchester, for example. I walk through the door, someone hears my name, and there’s suddenly a swarm. Everyone thinks they know me. Everyone wants to tell me stories. Stories. Can you imagine what that’s like? People reciting memories to you, your own memories sometimes and you haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about? You’ve deleted them. You’ve actually removed them from your mind because they’re too painful to recall.

I met you when you were a boy, just a ickle boy. So high. You were bouncing on yer daddy’s knee, dya remember?

I saw you at Southend. You had a bucket hat on, sucking on a piece of rock. You and your cousins and your uncles and your dad. Do you remember?

I bought you a silver rattle for your christening. Engraved. Real fancy. I know your dad probably teefed it, but do you remember seeing it?

That one I did remember. I did recall seeing it in its box once in a while, when we would be moving and mum would forget what was inside. And then very abruptly, I remember seeing the box empty. I remember my mum yelling at him on the phone and I remember he was dead silent.