“Dead Town Waking”

… continued from “Southgate: He Changed Even the Weather” and from the novel “Return to Cocoa Yard”

“I can see a change in you,” said Mary to Anna.
“Really?”
“Yes. Your face is back but then it isn’t.”
It was a strange thing to say, Anna thought, or a strange way to put it, but she knew her mum was right; that morning the woman who looked back from the mirror was a different woman, one whose eyes were no longer ringed, whose smile was not painted. They were in a pub or strictly-speaking its carpark on which a marquee had been hastily erected for the World Cup Quarter Final between Sweden and England. The brewery’s expense in their eyes was justified – the town and its pubs and its people had journeyed from doubt before the tournament to apathy in its group stage to the excitement of opportunity, and this now, this pub now like all the rest, had been turned into an open-air theatre where sleeping wasn’t an option as dreams were real. Anna’s dad, Harry, had been parked in a chair with his friends Gord, Hen, Daz and Jigger, Anna and her mum on the table behind, all with adequate views of the big screen.
“My face is back but then it isn’t? I don’t understand.”
“Is there something you want to tell me?” said her mum.
Anna didn’t usually talk to her mum about such things as sex, she didn’t talk about much at all to her mum and never had. She’d always talked to dad, the man who would tuck her up at night and read bedtime stories and tell her about the Granfather Paradox and lots of other things too. But here, in a setting that could be viewed unusual, incongruous even inappropriate, she was talking to her mum about sex, and sex with the interesting stranger who’d walked into her life and she’d been told and had felt compelled to go after. She didn’t really expect her mum to understand the notion of causal sex but told her anyway and simplified it thus, that it was simply deep and meaningful, and though she’d never see the man again, his ephemeral visit would live with her for ever. Because he’d changed things, he’d made her come alive. And she even found herself telling her mum she’d seen Tony that morning and thought he looked like a man not well, and funny that it was a kind of epiphany and when she asked the stranger to dinner there was an undercurrent of more on the menu. And profound the way he made love to her the way she never knew before; whereas she’d just let Tony do his thing to her, this man did things with her, and it felt like love even though it wasn’t and could never be perhaps. And that the fucking eczema although she didn’t use that word to her mother, was an issue forgotten.
“Well,” said her mum, more to curtail matters than to prolong them.
“Well what?” said Anna, sensing and not caring that a reproach was on its way.
“I don’t understand all of what you said but I could see a change in you, I could see there was something on your mind.”
“But what did you mean by my face was back but it wasn’t?”
“That there was something else.”
“Something else?”
“More you wanted to say. I know I don’t talk much, Anna, but that doesn’t stop me seeing. Is there more you wanted to say?”
Of course there was more to say, but if this were an incongruous place to talk about sex to a woman Anna had barely talked to with any real import in all her thirty-eight years, it was definitely not the place to talk about assisted suicide, that would have to wait. But if this were a room, that was definitely the elephant in it, and Anna realised that however profound was the discovery and impact of sex, the knowledge of what was going to be said about dad weighed even more heavily and showed on her face that was back but then it wasn’t.
The place was filling now, and Gary Lineker and pundits were discussing England’s chances v Sweden and asking would the trophy, the actual trophy that was standing proudly but Anna thought unfortunately resembling an oversized testicle in the studio beside them, be coming home? Their booming voices were piped around Cocoa Yard where the pub was and mixed with the expectant buzz of the growing crowd; men and women and children, many in England shirts and some dressed like Gareth Southgate with waistcoats and masks to boot, and to a man spilling plastic drinks in hand.
“Mary,” Hen said above the din, “I think Harry wants the toilet.”
“Do you sweetheart?” said her mum, “Come on.”
As Mary rose and took Harry’s hand, Anna saw that it was too late, a dark river there for all to see if they could or if they weren’t too engrossed in the theatre of dreams that were real. And with sadness she watched her mum, the little woman who she loved but had rarely talked to with any import until now, guide her father towards the pub, where she’d clean him up in the ladies, explaining to anyone entering what was happening and it wouldn’t be an issue because her dad was no threat.
“Bastard illness,” said Daz to Anna, and again nobody disagreed.
The match was starting by the time they returned, and Anna hated those who showed mild annoyance as her mum parted the crowds to get her dad back to his seat. And then she smiled gratefully as Hen, Daz, Gord and Jigger stood to usher him in, to where they’d now join the theatre, her dad too, and they’d make a fuss of him, involve him in all the cheers and fervent analysis.
“Is dad OK?” Anna asked her mum.
“I managed to clean him up,” she said, “I brought clean pants.”
“Oh mum you’re so good, you think of everything.”
“It’s hard,” she said, “but I love him. And wouldn’t be without him. Now he wanted us to watch the football with him so let’s watch the football.”
And so Anna did watch the football, with half an eye on her dad and glad he was finding so much enjoyment in it, with his friends and with her mum and her, the friends and the woman and the daughter he loved. “And wouldn’t be without him.”  The words seemed loaded, portentous, so Anna knew it would be doubly-hard now to broach that subject. Yes that would have to wait, go unsaid that day, if even said at all.

 

 

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