Friday June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
Sunday June 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
Rain falls like electricity on the land, its current spent in the brown earth, the colour of its reason shed in the trickle down angles of the light, held in the spell of its watery circumference, landing with a hopeless, reckless mercy.
Friday June 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
The boy totters, fumbles and sings his way around the shuttered yard. One side is bathed in sharply angled sunlight, the other densely shadowed under the sloping porch roof. So sheltered, that the plastic garden furniture – jade, and room only for a table and two narrow chairs – is cold against his skin, sitting here in his shirtsleeves. Cilla brings out their drinks on a tray, dragging closed the curtained patio door behind her.
– It would be better really if there were grass for him to run about on, she says. She sits diffidently, knees together, hands flat against her thighs as she does through all of their encounters.
– Yes, he says. Leaving unsaid that their marital home had a thick lawn, and all the room to run into he could wish for. He stoops to pick up a rubber ball that has run against his foot, handing it back to the child.
– And how have you been? he says.
On the drive back into the city he takes the old airport road. Under the terms of the ceasefire, and the subsequent settlement, the airport was closed indefinitely. The only flights in or out of this capital city were the pale United Nations transports which landed at a smaller strip, beyond the city limits. But he liked to drive past its vacant spaces, its redundant presence.
Today the airport was washed out in the thick spring sunshine, its squat terminals, and abandoned hangars blanched and from this distance, bleeding into the watery sky. What disturbed the landscape was its vast quietness. At his closest, he feels he could wind down window and trail his fingers along the chain-link fencing that hooks around its perimeter, beyond it the empty runways, baking in the sun today.
He slows the car down to a crawl. In the rough, before the fence, the tall grass furrows on the wind that is sweeping over the opened spaces, and there is the smell of bright tarmac.
Later, the city grows around him suddenly, narrowing and tightening as he approaches the centre. Joining lane and after lane of dense traffic he thinks of Cilla making this journey, driving their son into the town. When he left this morning the boy was inside, drawing with his crayons in front of the TV. Theirs is the basement flat, below street level, and the room was dark, the flat light from the silent set flickering along the walls.
He leaves through the back gate that opens out onto the street from the yard – a narrow back-road between the houses, lined by gutters on either side. Above them while they talk, a tangle of satellite dishes and aerials, like stick insects clinging to the side of the tall buildings, and an insistent buzzing sound, like static, that isn’t entirely like the sound of the heat cooling in the brick work.
He thinks of her leading the boy out of the same gate, across the narrow lane, to the small car he pays half the insurance on, parked nearby. By a stop sign, in the doorway of a disused shop, two soldiers stand blankly to attention, momentarily shadowed as a cloud passes over and the street sinks into darkness and back again.
Thursday June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
On the roof of the Hotel Accord, there are sniper positions. It is an open secret in this city. You can see them, if you can get high enough, shallow figures moving darkly beneath their camouflage netting. The hotel is only overlooked on one side, by a tall apartment building, but you can see them too from the upper floors of the Zachler building, or even the old Exchange building, itself now apartments.
The Hotel Accord has long held a place in the mythology of my inner life. Before the occupation, it is where Presidents would come to celebrate their election victories, and where they would host lavish state visits by foreign dignitaries. My father, like me, was a diplomat, and my childhood and adolescence were punctuated by short stays in the tired, complacent luxury of the Hotel Accord, my mother and I ensconced on one of the mid-level floors, while my father attended the banquet downstairs. I watched the election parties on state television, usually to the accompaniment of my father’s dark mutterings about how this or that Party (it didn’t matter on which side of the political spectrum they sat) would undo years of patient diplomacy within six months of gaining office.
As I got older, reached my early twenties, well-to-do friends would have their wedding receptions there, hiring out the second floor which could be turned into a disco, and dining area. I have been pretty drunk in the Hotel Accord, and I always feel a surge of nostalgia when I walk past it along the street, and glance in at the thick rouge drapes hanging in the floor-length windows. Or driving along Xsander Street, turning into Leda, see the big American cars pirouetting into the hotel’s underground car park. It is an unusual road layout, and involves a certain amount of skill to turn sharply across three lanes of traffic and into the narrow concrete opening. Most times of the day it is possible to see, for not a very long wait, a flustered chauffeur or official driver sweating and stranded, beached in the high tide of traffic rushing east to join the freeway at Clermont.
Or at least until they shut the freeway at Clermont. Another casualty of the occupation.
I am standing in that apartment building, on the fortieth floor, looking down at the Hotel Accord, several stories below, watching the small figures dancing over the network of camouflage and battlements covering the roof. It is dusk. Grey shadows, our shadows, move softly across the glass. I am already on my second drink.
– It’s like watching ants, I say. Through the wrong end of a telescope.
Nedra is cooking. Her brother and I are in the living room.
– Have they ever shot anybody from there? he says. Have they ever killed anyone? He is sitting in one of the beige, featureless corner-sofas enclosing the room.
– I don’t know, I say, and genuinely don’t know.
Nedra shouts through from the kitchen.
– Will you pull the drapes now?
– They can’t see us, you know, her brother says, stretching his legs, walking over to the sideboard where he pours himself another measure of schnapps. Silently he gestures to the opened bottle. I nod. Yes, another drink.
-Dinner is nearly ready, she says.
Thursday June 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
much is not
and when is
final, in just
is a sensible
we must be.
if you can
call it that,
of a dry
on a dry
and the dreams
Wednesday June 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
The dress was probably spoiled. She winced as she pulled it up and straight, almost standing in the cramped space, feeling the crown of her head brush against the fabric of the roof. Rain fell darkly against the windscreen. Then she saw him emerge over the shallow rise above the dunes, and the start of the narrow track that ran right the way down to the beach. The dog followed behind, half-galloping, half-falling against the wind.
-You know what I love most about blowjobs? he said, winding down the window with one hand, while in the other he held the half-rolled cigarette.
She smiled, and he laughed a little, a silent, airless little laugh. He smelled of tobacco and dog. Turning to look out of the window she regretted the dog hair that matted the upholstery and stuck to her clothes.
-What? he said.
They ate with the radio on. The sea moved gravely before them in grey lines. Along the coast the empty smoke of the refinery puffed on the wind. She watched in the mirror as another car pulled up, and then as quickly pulled away. Darting from the car she threw their rubbish over the brow of the hill, watching it fall amongst the tall grass.
That night they ate at the hotel. The rain now fell in watery sunlight and from their table near the bar she was overlooking the golf links, while Dick had his back to it. A thick brocade curtain lay against the window. She ordered another Bloody Mary.
-Will we go to Mablethorpe tomorrow? she said, fingering the rim of her glass. She had in mind her holidays there as a child. A girl came by to close up the curtains, even though it was still light outside.
Dick was still eating.
-What will we do with the dog?
-He can run around on the beach, she said. Like he has every day. There’s a beach.
They agreed they would go, depending on the weather.
-I should probably teck him some water, he said. The dog was in the car, sleeping on a blanket with Dick careful to ensure the window was open, just a touch. Here, he said, you want that, a piece of steak. It was mostly gristle.
-No, she said. I’m going to the bathroom.
When she came back Dick was at the bar, talking with two Australians they had met the night before. They were on the way to King’s Lynn, but were enjoying a diversion. She walked right past them on purpose, and when they beckoned her over, after she had been sitting a few minutes, she made her excuses and went back to the room.
Dick stayed in the bar until last orders, when he ordered a brandy, no ice. He was alone by now, perspiring heavily under the hot, close lights of the bar. The manager had stood him the last drink, and they talked until all the other patrons had gone, Dick leaning across the narrow counter, the manager standing in the opened bar-flap supping on a half. When it was time to leave, the manager gave him a bowl for the dog’s water.
Outside, Dick stepped heavily into the yard. Mary had been stirred awake by another guest and had lain awake for several minutes. She was hot, and had pushed open a window. Now she heard him moving about on the cobblestones, talking softly to the dog. It must still have been raining because when he came to bed his clothes were wet.
Sunday June 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
The shops either side of the Salt Box were dark. In one, a little pale light gave out from a back-room, dim and vague across the surfaces. Three cars sat empty in the car park. In a fourth, only a pale silhouette on the driver’s side, waiting. From their table Cathy was able to watch her father’s van as it approached, the high roof emerging over the top of the traffic and into the car park like a shark prowling into shallow waters, the headlights searching the edges of the drooping, dark trees along the embankment, illuminating, briefly, the dark, angular recesses of the precinct.
George snapped shut the ignition. A string of extinguished Christmas lamps flapped against the awning of an adjacent shop. In a doorway further along, two figures shared a light in the shadows. He pauses, beached momentarily on the frosted curb. He sees through the densely reflecting glass that Hilly and the girl are sitting up by the counter, practically alone. Somehow it seems like them. How like them, he says to himself, feeling that pressure gather again in his throat. How like Hilly, any road. Connie, he nearly says.
Stepping inside, he orders a tea and walks over to them, surprised how gloomy it is in here. Somewhere a radio plays Christmas songs, but the volume is turned down low. Sitting down beside the girl, Cathy, he sees she has a milkshake. Hilly has nothing, only a cigarette that she is leaving to burn along the rim of the foil ashtray. How much he would like to say nothing, to slip inside the languorous delay of the occasion.
The girl drops his tea beside him. She is not like Cathy. As she walks away, she is nothing like the girl, and why is he surprised. Hilly is saying something about their day, and he finds himself listening.
– I need to tell you both something, he says finally.
– Ok, George. We’re both sitting right here.
He feels foolish. He has lit a cigarette of his own. His lips are burnt from the tea.
– Its Connie, he says. There’s been an accident.
Cathy has finished her milkshake. She’s sixteen now. He looks over again at the waitress, busy closing up her till. So young still, compared to his Cathy and her probably older. Probably. You never can tell, not for sure.
– They’ve taken her to the King’s.
– Aye. They’ve taken Connie to the hospital.
Hilly takes a long drag of her cigarette, breathing her smoke up into the ceiling.
– Does Ian know?
– He was the one what called the ambulance.
– She fell.
– She fell, says George. Aye, she fell.
– Pissed, was it? says Hilly.
And Connie his own sister.
When Cathy was younger, maybe only ten or eleven, Connie had brought some of her old clothes to the house for the girls. George remembers this now, looking at Cathy looking at him, and he wonders if she remembers this too. In his mind’s eye, he sees Cathy standing on the hearth rug in Connie’s old fur coat and slippers.
– I don’t know. Does it matter?
Hilly dashes her cigarette out in the tray.
– She brings these things on herself, George.
– She might die.
It is daughter’s reaction he looks for, but he finds none.
– Don’t be so dramatic George.
– They reckon she’s fractured her skull. There’s bleeding on the brain. I don’t know. She might not make it.
– I’m very sorry, says the waitress. She has walked over to their table, and is leaning over the seat next to Hilly. We’re closing now.
He realises he is still wearing his work clothes. His hands are still dirty, and he suddenly feels old, and threatening in front of this young girl, who is not like his Cathy, more like the girls that the young lads at the factory knock around with.
-I’m sorry love, we’ll just be a minute, he says.
On the pavement outside Cathy goes ahead to the van, while he and Hilly talk.
– I am not having her going up there, she is saying, and he is agreeing, ok, he says, and she says ok, and walks over to the van, waiting for him to go inside, reach across and unlock the door for her.
The waitress passes them, says goodnight, and walks over to the waiting car, which sparks its headlights and pulls away before he can even tell Hilly that its open.
Sunday June 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
Don’t let the hours set you off your stride, beguiled
By the arithmetic of so much love
Tender as the mid-morning sun
Lying broken on the hearth, resisting interpretation
Even understanding, leaving you nothing to
Conjure with, only the bookish twilight
Enveloping the surfaces, the glassy-eyed
Reversal of the night, then, more than ever,
Don’t let the hours set you off your stride, beguiled