Next time he looks hard at me and says ‘Give me one thing your parents could have done to help you out.’ I look at him, wondering what he’s getting at. I can’t think.
‘Take your time’ he says, ‘I’m going to get a coffee. Want one?’
‘Please. White, two sugars.’ He leaves.
What could they have done? I don’t know what he’s getting at. Dad was always trying to get me to go and play football with some of the lads he knew (he must have known I hated sports but he kept on trying), or help him do the house up – rubbing down or mixing cement or whatever. Mum was always getting on at me to come downstairs and ‘at least’ watch some telly with them. To be honest I think the best thing they could have done was bloody well leave me alone.
I don’t know. It sounds ungrateful, but I just wanted to get on with my painting or reading or whatever it was I was doing. I went to the library a lot, and I had this idea that if they built me a shed down at the bottom of the garden I could use it as a studio, maybe have a gas heater in it and a hammock and they’d never have to see me again. There was the Wendy house down there with all shrubs overgrown around it. Dad built it for the girls when they were little, and, say what you like about my dad – if he built something it stayed built. I spent a lot of time down there, especially after I screwed everything up, but before that too. I took my books and some paper and stuff and found a little cupboard and an old deck chair and some candles and made myself a little retreat. I spent a lot of time just sitting in there, peering out through the bushes at the garden. I had all the porn I’d collected hidden down there too, in a big Tupperware box underneath the floor. I used to go down there at night sometimes, or when they’d all gone out. Anyway...
‘A studio’ I say when he gets back with the drinks.
‘Like a big shed at the bottom of the garden, so I could go down there and work without them all...er...’
‘Without them all what?’ He takes a mouthful of coffee, watching me over the rim of his mug.
‘I don’t know. It was just, in the house, you were always aware of them, downstairs, or in their bedroom, moving about.’
‘Why did that bother you?’
‘I don’t know. It was just like, they could come in at any time and see me there, and there’d be this, I don’t know, irritation, like I should always be doing something else. They just had this exasperation all the time. I was always doing the wrong thing. Do you know what I mean?’
‘Just as an aside Gabriel, are you aware of how often you start your sentences with “I don’t know” and then go on to give a perfectly good answer? I’m not saying you should stop necessarily, but I thought I’d point it out. You do know Gabriel, actually. And yes I do know what you mean, but wouldn’t they have come and disturbed you down the garden just the same?’
‘I suppose so. Actually it probably would have been worse. Mum was always going on about dad and what he found to do down there in his shed. They’d have thought I was a real weirdo, even more than they did already. “Oh here comes Rasputin the monk.” She thought she was very funny.’
‘Perhaps you could have got a place on your own somewhere, once you left school I mean.’
I don’t know what to say to that. It doesn’t seem very likely. I know other people my age did that but they had rich parents or good jobs or something (or else they went to university of course). And I know there’s no excuse because I should have just ‘got off my arse’ as my dad used to say, and bloody well earned some money instead of faffing around in my room. I know that, I do, really, but then I used to look at the jobs in the paper or down the job centre and all I could see was weeks or months, maybe years of shelf stacking or sweeping up, always being checked up on, looked down on. The best dad could suggest (if I was ‘lucky’) was that I’d be a manager one day and then it’d be my turn to make someone else miserable, telling people who thought I was a jerk what to do. And that was all I could see – stretching on into the future, like endless shelving stacked with stuff I didn’t want – mortgages and insurance and MOTs and bills and pensions. And every day getting up and going to the same place, wasting all that time – time I could have spent doing something else, something better – painting or travelling or... something. I don’t know what. And then you’re old and sick and you think – what the fuck was that all about?
But then actually I couldn’t imagine sticking at any of those jobs for very long. Sooner or later they’d find a reason to sack me, which would be a relief, for a while, but then what? Back to mum’s – that’s what, and signing on.
There’s nothing to say, no excuses. I’m submerged in shame and uselessness. I just shake my head.
He looks at me, like he can’t think of anything to say either. Eventually he leans forward and says ‘Was it just about the money?’
‘What about the thought of you being out on your own, fending for yourself? Didn’t that scare you?’
‘That wouldn’t have bothered me.’
‘So it was just the money.’
Hah! “Just the money” he says, as if it’s no big deal.
I look about the room, not focussing on anything especially. Someone up on deck is laughing, a woman’s voice, light, feminine, sexy. I feel a surge in my chest, in my groin.
‘Can’t you imagine getting a good job – one you could enjoy?’ he says.
I pretend to think about that for a while but I know the answer.
‘Not really’ I say, and I’m not being melodramatic. I honestly can’t. Work’s not about enjoying. It’s about fucking well doing as you’re fucking well told and fucking well putting up with it. That’s what my parents taught me.
‘We need to work on that’ he says, and begins to gather his things to leave.
To continue reading, either go to Lulu to buy or download the book, or let me know when you want to read the next bit and I'll post it on the blog.
A life backwards
It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.
Thanks for your patience.