Leaves splayed their lazy autumn fingers across the branches of the sky, ready to begin their descent down onto the harsh frosts that lay in wait below. A soft summer breeze still hung around hopefully, blowing the trees playfully as they outlined the edge of the meadow. In the distance the low rumbling of cars and pedestrian crossings buzzing could be heard, reduced almost to an imperceptible hum. I reached both of my hands out to brush gently against the long stalks and weeds that had begun to brown under a harsh waning sun.
A shadow moved alongside me to my right and I looked up to see Dad, twice as tall as I was, ambling belong beside me. Touching the back of my neck gingerly he glanced down at me for a moment, seemingly lost in thought, traces of worry and concern etching faint lines in the corners of his kind eyes and around his mouth. The ghost passed and he smiled, pushing me gently forward with his hand. We walked along in silence, the consistent crunch of our galoshes against the dry grain rising to enter a harmony of bird song that drowned out any city activity surrounding the park. My thoughts quickly drifted to wishful thinking – what if this day never ended and we just continued our joint adventure forever until we eventually traversed all the seasons the park had to offer and felt, smelled and tasted in the air all the blooming and blossoming, the wilting and frosting, watching the leaves run through their cycle of death and resurrection? What if it didn’t have to end and boy and man, father and son, strode off into the sunset, joyful in the blessings of a present that never had to move forward into an ugly future? I reached out my left hand and prodded him sharply in his ribs. He feigned mock surprise, bending over dramatically as he clutched his side. I was off before I had even gotten my entire sentence out, screeching in delight as I felt the wind intercepted by how close he was behind me.
“Tag, you’re it.”
I shut my eyes as the train rambled on, my heart pounding between my ears. This’ll shoot you to the stars, kid, said the guy who was my usual supplier. The train stank of piss and rot, emanating peoples disgusting low sense of hygiene and lack of enthusiasm for general propriety. The position and direction of the train lined up almost perfectly with the one track mind of my thoughts as they chugged onwards into a proverbial sunset, its rays highlighting every crease and crevice of each one so that I was happily and willingly exposed. Sitting opposite me was a small Indian man, not over 40. He was leaning his unshaven face against the windowpane with cheap plastic headphones sticking out of his ears. His fake Bollywood music reverberated its chronic tune in my dulled brain again and again, creating a wave of apathy above my euphoric one. Wrapping my arms around my warm body I brought my knees up to my chest, inhaling slowly the benevolence of the drug that spread from my fingers and toes to the wiring of neurons pumping chemicals around my dosed brain. Opening my eyes vaguely for a moment and then shutting them again, I pulled my hood down until there was only a red hue dancing in front of me - one that always accompanied these journeys with me as my little devil that danced his fiery tune - taunting me with its warmth and friendliness and pleasure.
Smiling to myself, I felt my skin as I slid further and further into the tunnel of the unknown, hitting spots of gladness along the way. The train lurched towards this pleasure, taking me with it, counting the slow seconds that flew by towards my happiness. Reality around me shrunk into a renowned sector of distance, shutting me out and pushing me towards enlightenment, towards the answers, and true reality. I had found peace; I had found a way to ignore the known, the menial, and the generic wasteland of dystopia that flapped its black wings at my head, forcing me to duck and run for cover as the societal machine sat on a hill in the distance, capturing the down and out that weren’t strong enough to resist. Miraculously, however, within reality I had managed to escape. Within its walls was a box of tricks narrowly opened to invite only the lucky few. I clambered in, eager to taste the satiable food it provided. If this was what I had been looking for all along I would be no longer hungry, no longer thirsty, and no longer bored or angry or depressed or threatened or oppressed. I would just exist, and my existence would maintain a mutual exclusivity to the rest. As my head sank into my chest, I pushed out the thought: and that is how it should be.
I kicked a can across the road, the roar of the freeway filling up my headspace and limiting my ability to think properly. I’ve been here before I know I have. Everything looked so strangely familiar. The lights were too bright. The people around me walked too quickly, their faces zooming in and out of focus, demons on the street to perdition that were seeking souls for the taking. This pace of life tried to sweep me up with it but I wasn’t having any of that. Sleeting rain pushed my clothes against my body, rubbing skin with fabric and in an absent-minded effort I rubbed my hands up and down the edges of my clothing, trying to keep warm. My slow walk took me past house after house, yard after yard. Red stop light; green, orange. Pedestrian crossing. Surrounding me were cars that were barely able to stop for my brief moment on the tarmac before screeching off again, offended at such a brief interruption.
One person peeled away from the generic mass and shimmered in the rain, her outline distinct and different from the shadows that enveloped on either side. She was walking towards me.
“You got a light?”
Her shirt was tucked away into the waistband of her jeans, creating a sealed shield from the saturation that permeated even this. She was about a foot shorter than me, her shoulders hunched against the weather that made her appear even smaller than she was. Her wet hair hung in damp, thick vines against the sharp outline of her cheeks, concealing a good part of her face. Her thin lips hid teeth that chattered in her mouth in protest of the shared exposure we now stood in, taking up most of the middle of the sidewalk. I was trying to think of who she reminded me of, but my consciousness came up short.
I pulled out my lighter, touching her fingers lightly as I placed it in the palm of her hand. Her hair fell further over her face, which sliced a tent of shelter from the drops forming swiftly as she bent to light her cigarette. Drawing back up again, she took a deep drag on the end, her chest inflating with dry, white smoke. She parted her lips slightly in the frosty air as puff by puff the poison was expended, clouding her temporarily from view. Opening her mouth to speak again, she looked up and straight at me.
“Actually, there’s something else.”
I proffered my hand for the returned lighter, tossing my hair out of my eyes so that I could see her better. She seemed familiar and foreign all at once; someone who’s character didn’t immediately show and so made it difficult for one to make a solid first impression. I honestly couldn’t perceive whether she was completely trustworthy or not. I stopped any notion of those thoughts quickly, and shook myself violently awake. What did I have to lose, anyway?
“Do you know where I can get any drugs?”
This question was not new to me. London hid many characters within its intricate woodwork, demanding the attention of those that were well to do and feigned ignorance, however, were inevitably subject to such unwanted delight when walking down the darkened lanes that provided short cuts to the office. Was it that obvious that I was one of these miscreants that scuttled from building to building, living a life of solidarity and desperation as their addicted mind fuelled them on towards the dangerous glow that would never be able to completely fulfil them or give them exactly what they were looking for? I hadn’t been in this business for long, and personally felt that I was somewhat still an amateur at it. However, I was so grateful to Danny for showing me the way and guiding me through to an identity that I could call my own that I really couldn’t help but feel the need to pass on such kindness and generosity of spirit. Worst came to worst, I would make a friend.
“If you’ve got somewhere we can do them, then yes.”
The movement of the compromise was forward, I knew. I didn’t know anything about her and I had never seen her before. But she invoked in me reminiscent feelings that glued to the walls of the decision making part of my brain and wouldn’t stop convincing me to follow my heart and not my head. It didn’t seem to faze her, either. Taking a moment to tuck her hair back behind her ears so that she could read my face better, she looked up at me with eyes that seemed to be swimming with trajectory.
My Mum’s face enters my mind so sharply sometimes; whisking me away from whatever current scene I’m in to painfully reminisce days that I would rather just forget about. A soft hum begins the montage back into the past, recreating the scene with the radio tuned softly in the background until all of a sudden I’m sitting in the small brown chair with the ottoman in the lounge, listening to her sing in the kitchen. She always sung as she cooked or baked, kneading or patting or basting or mixing her melodic tunes into whatever she was making for us, notes bouncing merrily around the explosion of ingredients that lined the kitchen bench until she swiftly stowed them all away again until the next day would dawn. Leaning over the side of the chair I would crane my neck as far as it would go to peek around the corner of the room, a voyeur of her commands that watched diligently and with a practised awe. Her worn face would turn and face upwards every now and then, searching with her eyes for the two authoritative hands of the clock that determined each and every decision that was made. As the days wore on she would look up more frequently, returning to her work with a sigh that deflated the air around her, sinking into her apron to be pocketed until the next time she stole an apprehensive glance. His impending arrival home would never be matched with her expectation or estimation. Peeking from above my book as I sat sunk in the comfort of no man’s land, I would watch as he approached her hesitantly, pausing to consider what would be the best bomb diffuser to use. He would slide his hand tentatively around her waist, gently pulling her in for a kiss on the cheek until she turned to embrace him completely, standing motionless for a moment until she remembered herself and quickly regained composure. As the days and years worn on, however, these greetings came to a slow and painful halt, my Dad slamming the front door before trudging bitterly up the stairs as she flinched ever so slightly before returning her attention to the oven. Their bond seemed to be doomed from the beginning, a nest of bent and broken twigs that lay unrepaired in those vital fresh beginner years, slowly poisoning the rest with their irreparable damage. His presence in the few childhood memories that I still had stacked away was rare. His interest in us waned, dropping off slowly as he became busier in his office endeavours, before stopping completely with a sharp obvious absence night after night. His work always called his name stronger than we could. It didn’t change much when my sister came along either. Clocks are staggered along the shelves of memories I hold, intercepting moments of dread and impatience and despair with their sinister chime that kept the beat of betrayal and disappointment. Mum painted our developing lives with rectification as she desperately tried to make up for the absent other half of the parenting team. Her face wore the stubborn pride of a bride in denial, masked with a stoic determination to push through the long absences with a preoccupation for us that ended up paying off to a certain extent. This short nostalgic train of thought that takes approximately two and a half minutes to run its course through my brain before nestling comfortably back into the recesses of my subconscious has completely shaped how I now think of my father.
In moments of solitude, when all that remains is the character with which we address ourselves, shed of its cloak worn in outward appearance, I often wish for the child of my youth. It seems like such a simple task, fracturing your mind into one solid plane of innocence and wonder, reducing your thoughts crammed with unnecessary adult tensions to the freedom and carelessness that you once possessed. How can a thing once so precious be possessed so fleetingly and carelessly? The mental strain of such a demeanour seems to always lead to only more grown up worries.
Sometimes, I’ll catch myself feeling homesick. Not often, though.