Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Looking the wrong way

The sun makes me squint, unseasonable glare furrows my brow into tight knots as I watch the waves tumble gently against a discarded coke can. Three swans dip their heads down into the water in unison, feeding in a delicate balance of choreography. Out in the harbour the boat pointlessly christened Offshore Rebel lolls lazily. Out the corner of my eye kids play and dogs run, a couple with a his and hers set of canines walk briskly past. His is daftly enthusiastic, lolloping along, tongue out to one side gormlessly pursuing flung fragments of wood, hers is frantically trying to scramble its two inch long legs in pursuit, whilst keeping its head at a perfectly, competition winning angle.

Dogs and kids.

We nearly got a dog a few years ago.

“It’ll be company for you whilst I working late on my MA,” she’d said. I’d quite liked the idea. My folks have had dogs for as long as I can remember. I like the whole routine of walks and I love the unadulterated adoration they give you.

I can’t remember why we didn’t in the end.

Possibly we decided the landlord would never agree to it.

Possibly we decided that if I had to be out on the road for fourteen hours it’d be unfair on the dog, especially if she was also out.

Possibly we decided the ten foot by eight garden wasn’t big enough.

I suspect it might have been because we couldn’t agree on what sort.

“Something daft and friendly. We’ll go to the local dogs’ home and see who likes us,” I might have said.

“We could get a Chihuahua,” she possibly replied. And yes her friend’s Chihuahua is lovely, but I couldn’t quite see myself owning one.

None of which is really the point.

The two Steve’s come back from the toilet and sit down next to me in the Dorset sand. They’ve decided to drag me out of my moping and out camping for the weekend which I appreciate, frankly, to a pathetic extent. We sit in near-silence for a while choosing only to comment on the austere senior navy pose or salty-sea-urchin beard of the various amateur captains sailing past. We mock the name Sheer Calm for being one of worst, and most absurd, puns I’ve ever heard.

“If you had a boat, what would you call it?” asks Google Steve.

“H’mm,” I mull for a moment. “Dave’s boat?”

Jesus, I think to myself. I really need to start thinking about words again if that’s the best I can manage.

Walking back along the coast we spend a little time on a concrete path. Two little boys overtake us in a race. The younger propels himself along on a silver scooter, the elder whips his hips from side to side on some sort of flexi-board. It looks fun, although my complete natural lack of balance would probably make it impossible. The older kid wins, just, but I suspect he deliberately made it a tight race. Too kind to just leave his brother in his wake, too competitive to actually lose on purpose.

Dogs and kids.

The book I’m struggling with is, amongst other things, about a man in his early thirties trying to come to terms with the responsibilities of fatherhood when his girlfriend, stuck on the other side of the world, discovers she is “a little bit pregnant.” It’s also about what happens when you lie so much you can’t even tell yourself the truth. Amongst other things. There might be comic and narrative reasons for these plot devices, but still...

It’s a lot of time to be thinking about something.

Someone, I forget who, said something along the lines of whenever we put pen to paper we a little bit of ourselves remains in the marks.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Three Weeks.

Twenty-one days ago:

“I know we’ve been having troubles, I know we’ve been fighting too much, but we’ve both been under a lot of pressure,” I implored from the kitchen doorway. Two steps down and three across she makes coffee and refuses to meet my gaze. “Can’t we give it another go? Make an actual effort to make it work? Twelve years is too long to throw away this quickly.”

Her spoon spun the hot water into a tiny whirlpool. A little blackness slopped over the rim of the mug.

“I mean, we’ve hardly been spending any time together. We’ve both been too busy. And then when we have it’s been too pressurised, so much so that it was inevitable it’d snap. Things will be calmer in the autumn. It’d work again. We just need to-“
She threw the spoon down across the work surface, splattering a trail in its wake. Strangely it was silent when it hit the floor.

“But I don’t want to spend any time with you.”

And with that the foundations upon which I’d built my entire adult life crumbled away like they were but dust.

Eighteen days ago:

Everything felt heavy as I stumbled onto the bus on the Old Kent Road. The party celebrating the end of our course had seemed to be occurring just outside of my reality. The few people who knew had tried to distract me, but in the end all I could do was pour innumerable cans of beer down my gullet and in the early hours stagger off.

Sitting upstairs the ambulance’s blue lights turned my skin opaque. I read the text message she’d sent the night before, from out of her sister’s spare room, visiting the nephew we once shared and now I’m not allowed to see.

She called me sweetheart and ended with a kiss.

Knowing it was wrong, knowing it was a mistake I rang her.

“Hi,” she said, and we mumbled through our conversation, conscious of listening ears at both ends, until I said:

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”


“Yes. Really.”

I got off the bus and walked down Sevenoaks Road to our house; the trees felt cool in the rain’s afterthought and my heart swelled hard against my ribs.

Sixteen days ago:

I pulled the pump out of the airbed and frantically tried to screw the cap back on. A gush of air whistled across my knuckles.

“Did you sleep in the bed whilst I was away?” she asked from the bottom of the stairs.

“Uh-huh,” I hate the airbed. It’s uncomfortable and the lounge is always too hot when I go to bed and during the night a chill slips down the chimney and pinches my neck.

“Why won’t you sleep in the bed?”

“It doesn’t feel right.” I closed my eyes for a moment.

“It’s your bed too. Come on,” her fingers had snuck up on me whilst I wasn’t looking and they brushed the back of my palm.

Fifteen days ago:

“I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression.”

“I thought you’d had a change of heart. Come to your senses. You sounded so emphatic.”

“It was just a reflex.”

Thirteen days ago:

“You know what?” she asked with that sad-tired smile that told a million fairy tales. “I’d really like to climb a mountain with you. Just one more time.”

Eleven days ago:

“People keep offering me places to stay.”

“Don’t go anywhere. Please.” We both sat silently, neither of us exactly sure why she shouldn’t. “You don’t just disappear into the night after this length of time.”

“No. No, you don’t.”

Eight days ago:

It probably wasn’t what she'd had in mind, I thought to myself, as grass sprung under my boot, but I couldn’t help myself. The words were uncontrolable.

“You can’t accuse me of not supporting you as an artist and at the same time claim that I’ve no ambition of my own, that I’m too wrapped up in you. It’s either or, surely?”

There was no anger which surprised me. The slopes of Pen Y Fan seemed to pull all the aggression out of me. There was, instead, just the words tumbling across the still mountain air.

“Are you breaking up with me because I’m not an artist?” She didn’t answer, but instead looked down at her boots taping out a beat to the rhythm of the hill. The mud and water clung to leather like memories.

“Help me out here, because I just don’t know.”

It’s hard to be more impetuous when all the other wants to do is sleep and work, I thought but didn’t say. Then I wished I had said, and then I was glad I hadn’t, because in the end what would have been the point? How would it help?
And a few hours later she clasped my shoulder in the dark of a pub car-park and cried tears of the bereaved.

Another couple of hours later she slumbered in the passenger seat and I whispered the words to the song going round for the umpteenth time, unable to change the CD without disturbing her.

“As ah walk through this land of broooken dree-aams, ah have visions of maaannnyyy things, love’s happiness is just an illuuusssion, filled with sadness an’ coooonnnfussion.”

Five days ago:

I was driving along the south-circular to supermarket, Front Row was bubbling in the background and a novelist I never caught the name of said:

“Of course all great literature is about love. It might pretend to be about something else occasionally, but deep down it’s always about love. After all, what else is there worth writing about?”

I sat in the car-park, the strip neon lighting reflecting back in the windscreen and pinched the bridge of my nose till I thought I might pass out.

A few hours later and something stupid had been said and:

“Shall I move out now? Shall I just leave in the morning?”

“Please. No. Stay.”

“Why? How exactly does this help, Dave?”

I didn’t know, except that I couldn’t bear the thought of her running away.

Four days ago:

I looked around the studio flat and simply thought: “Oh fuck.” It’s horrible. The staircase up to the attic featured holes into the abyss, the walls were smeared yellow from cigarettes, in the kitchen panes of glass was missing from the windows. If I’d lain down, had I dared, in the living/bed space and stretched out like a star I would have been able to touch all four corners.

“Are you sure it’s six-hundred and ninety a month?” I asked the estate agent who shruged unapologetically. “And that’s not including any bills?”

An hour later and I walked through another door, only this time it felt different. It was light, clean. Not enormous, but not miniscule. Affordable, even.

“I think I’ve found a flat,” I told her later over dinner.

Over the evening she cried and frowned and screwed her face up like someone’d spat in her soul. It made me feel terrible.

“I love this house,” she said. So do I, I thought. “We could be housemates?” She wasn’t entirely joking. For a second it was tempting, but then the thought of her with someone else in the next room made me feel sick.

Three days ago:

We spent the night with different groups of people for the first time in what felt like forever. The bus back from Dalston seemed to be endless and it was a quarter to one when I finally slipped through the door. The clunk of the locks woke her from the slumber on the sofa.

We sat amicably for a while and then she hugged me so tight that I think I may burst. She kissed me tenderly on the cheek.

“You can still kiss me on the lips, you know?” I said.

“But I shouldn’t.”

“Why not? If it feels nice?”

She did so.

“It does feel nice. It’s lovely,” she said with that tired-sad smile back again.

Two days ago:

I reached across and held her tight, the Sunday morning air held in place by the duvet. Her back pressed against my chest and I nuzzled, then I kissed her shoulder.

Then I remembered and everything ended once again.

Later I was forced to ask: “What’s wrong? You seem really cross about something.”

“I’m angry about the cuddling and the kissing this morning.”

I could have protested, but the words were running dry and I felt I had to save what was left, to hold them precious until the final gasp. Instead, I poured myself another cup of coffee and wondered if this would be day I woke up.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Something Changed

I wrote this two weeks ago, but haven’t been able to find the strength to post it:

“These aren’t the words I intended to write today. In fact, these aren’t words I ever imagined that I would have to write.

I wanted to follow up last week’s piece with something called Worst Case Scenario whereby I’d take slightly-fictionalised possible outcomes of global warming, environmental collapse, energy shortage and economic meltdown and project possible outcomes. All very depressing, but all in tune with what I’ve been reading and thinking about.

However, it’s easy to forget, when looking at this sort of thing, about everyday life. Yes, I am concerned about climate change and would like to do more to try and affect it, but it’s not a subject that consumes me. Maybe it should, but it doesn’t.

Because I’ve just had a far worse scenario presented to me and that is life without Beck.

I know I shouldn’t be putting this in the public domain, and I’m sorry to her and to everyone else, but I’m going to have to tell a lot of people about this, most of whom are on the mailing list for this blog, and I don’t think I can face having to have the same conversation again and again. So I’m taking the easy way out and writing it down.

Beck has broken up with me. I have absolutely no desire to end the relationship. Even after twelve years I was excited about what the future holds, I was looking forward to how upcoming changes in our lives would affect the relationship dynamic. I felt it would make it stronger. I guess I was wrong.

I won’t pretend to understand why she has broken up with me. I don’t. I can’t. Nothing seems to make sense this morning. I feel as though I’ve been turned inside out, as though my very essence has been extinguished. I feel cold and empty and alone.”

I sat down the morning after she told me and wrote the above piece. Two weeks later it still holds true. Despite my best efforts, and a little wavering on her part, she remains resolute. I still don’t understand. Possibly, I understand even less. Two weeks of talking and I have yet to hear an actual reason for splitting. Yes, there have been difficulties in our relationship, but nothing exceptional, nothing that I did not feel could be overcome with a little effort. If we wanted. It’s like a vacuum has sucked my nerves away. I am hollow.

To make matters even worse I can’t write. There’s only one story I want to tell at the moment and that seems to have little chance of coming true.