Nothing changes at all. I always thought of myself as a pretty level headed person, that I knew a lot, that I was wise. I’m obviously not.
Dad came round today. He put on this act that everything was OK, that I didn’t need to worry, that everything was alright because he was in control. He’s not in control.
I pretended I had work to do, that I had a test tomorrow and needed to study. I probably do. I should probably get on Facebook and see if Liv’s online, she’ll tell me what homewok’s due.
But once I’m in my room I decide not to because, as I’ve already said, nothing changes and doing school work isn’t the sort of thing I ever do. Although I did decide at Christmas that this year I would work harder, that I would do my homework and prepare for tests and not leave it till the night before, which is what I always used to do. But it’s half way through January and I’ve still not changed. In fact, if I’d really cared I would have done some work over Christmas, but I didn’t.
Each year is the same as the last, each of us is the same. Dad’s the same. I can hear him laughing downstairs, joking with mum. Their voices are muffled so they must be in the kitchen.
She says something which cuts through his laughter. Her voice sounds sharp, curved with a jagged edge like a steak knife.
I’ve heard them like this before. He’s too thick, his head too clouded with beer and smoke, and he doesn’t see that she’s not finding him funny, he doesn’t see when I don’t find him funny. But he carries on, goes on like a stuck record, the needle jumping back across the groove, and he goes on until his pushed a button that’ll make her snap. Then I’ll hear her shouting.
I pick up my ipod and I’m about to turn it on, but I stop, my finger smudged across the screen and the screen’s lit up and I can’t help myself from listening and it’s pointless because if I couldn’t hear I’d not stop thinking. I can’t win. I’m stuck, just like last year, just like the rest of this year, three hundred and fifty days, I mean three hundred and sixty five days.
I repeat the number in my head and I’ve clenched my fist and I think I’ve dug my nail into my palm. But I don’t look in case I have, in case I’ve drawn blood.
He’s not joking anymore, thank God, but I can hear his voice angry like hers, which is still like a knife and she’s using it to stab at him. But it won’t work. His voice is like broken glass, like a broken bottle, as sharp as hers and when he raises his voice it slashes at her and she stabs at him.
He’ll come up here in a minute. He has to because that’s why he’s here. He’ll come up here to save face because he’d lost the argument, because the argument didn’t matter, because that wasn’t why he came here in the first place.
I’ll hear his feet on the stairs and when he comes in he won’t think I heard his feet treading too quickly on the stairs, his face too red and he’ll be out of breath. He’ll think that because he’s smiling, I’ll think it’s alright.
Will he believe me when I say I’m busy? It’s been three weeks since he moved out, when he said he had a job that he couldn’t refuse, said it like a villain in a Bond movie. He said that he’d have free accommodation and a spare room for me to sleep over whenever I liked. I open my laptop and open up Explorer. Facebook is my homepage and I’m always logged in, which is stupid apparently,
‘You’ll regret that if you lose it.’ Dad had said once,
‘But I never take it out of the house.’ I replied, ‘and besides, I’ve nothing on there, no personal details, no status updates, you’ll get nothing from me by looking at my wall. I’m silent, I’m a Facebook recluse.’
We both laughed at that.
Facebook is so boring, but I open it every time I’m online and I check my wall and I check my friends’ statuses and I check my messages and I check and I check and I check and I read everything I can, but I never write. I’m a recluse.
Then the shouting starts.
I scan the page, blue and white. I read what they’re doing, read that everyone’s alright, because everyone is alright, even when it’s shit we pretend we don’t care, write that’s just great or I’m really happy and everyone clicks that they like this or like that. One day we’ll start being honest, admit that we care, but as I’ve already said, and I know you’re bored of hearing it, nothing changes, everything remains the same.
‘Two months!’ Mum shouts suddenly, and I hear her so clearly that I knw Dad must have opened the kitchen door. He’s preparing his escape and I don’t blame him because I feel that knife, as real as if it’s being run across the tiny hairs on the back of my neck and I hear the anger in her voice and she’s cuts with the knife, she’ll cut herself in the end, but she wants to cut Dad.
I’m scared that she’ll cut herself. I know that she’ll cut herself and I listen to the murmur of her voice, she’s talking quietly again.
I do this, try and interpret every word, and I hate it, because I can’t interpret hardly any words and I don’t know what they mean because they think they can hide it from me, and they do, but not everything, because they can’t.
‘Hey Tilli.’ There’s a message at the bottom of the screen, it pops up like a pleasant surprise. But no one like’s surprises, surprises are fear and although we like being afraid, ghost stories and and tales about car crashes, it’s only when we really are afraid that we realise that we don’t like it, which isn’t a surprise at all.
‘For Christ’s sake, Doug…’ I try to tune out the shouts from downstairs, it’s not real.
‘Hey,’ I type and I want to type more, but can’t think, ‘Hey, Liv’ but Liv’s already typing.
‘…a father?’ from downstairs.
‘…School tomorrow…’ types Liv
It gets so mixed up I can’t tell what’s written, whether it’s a written word or noise coming up the stairs.
Doug swilled the remains of his pint around the bottom of the glass. Amber liquid, it frothed up with the movement, tasted foul and warm.
Christ, he thought as he left the pub, realising that his breath smelt of beer and his clothes of cigarette smoke. She’ll think I’ve been there all afternoon, when in fact he’d had only been there an hour or two and for most of that time, for the last half an hour at least, he had sat with a half empty glass on the bar beside him. He couldn’t finish it, partly because he didn’t want to leave the pub and go there, to that flat, and partly because he didn’t have the money to order another pint.
He pulled his jacked closed around his neck. The zip was broken and he needed to hold it, it was raining too, he didn’t want his shirt to get wet. But then again, he thought, the wind, the rain, light though it was, light specks, as light as the spray when you wash up, wash up too quickly because you want to finish quickly and a spray of tepid water catches you in the face, it would get rid of the smoke smell.
Perhaps it was three hours he was there, in the pub with people coming and going, and in all that time he spoke to no one, alone in his thoughts, maybe that’s why he felt so groggy.
Never mind, he rang the bell. Something sharp scratched his finger when he pulled it away. Never mind, he was too nervous to care and he couldn’t think right, too self conscious that he could be seen through the frosted glass of the front door and that the neighbours in the opposite building, the newer building, were watching him standing on the walkway, the 1960 sweeping veranda, with is battered old jacket wrapped around his hunched and shivering shoulders. He’s too poor to buy a new coat, the neighbours are thinking, why is he ringing the bell to his own home?
He was glad it wasn’t his home anymore, but he missed Tilli, at least he thought he did. He thought he did but he hadn’t thought about her in the last week, hadn’t thought of anything much, nothing at all in fact. He saw a figure come towards the door, the image caught for a second in the light form the big window in the living room. Its shape came quickly towards te door then stopped. She must have seen my outline in the frosted glass, Doug was thinking and then he recognised that it was Tilli and suddenly he realised that he had missed her, that he really, really had missed her and h loved he and he felt the sting of a tear in his eye.
The door opened slowly.
‘Hello.’ Said Tilli, a young girl with dark hair that party hid her face. She had pretty eyes, dark and wide, pale skin. She looked tragic, looked like a pre-raffelite, a corpse in a pond. In fact, no she wasn’t pretty at all; she looked like Doug, she had a mouth like Doug, too wide and with a skinny top lip.
‘Why didn’t you use your key?’ a woman with blonde hair asked from further inside the flat, but not in a friendly way. She was coming out of the living room and going into the kitchen and had a mug and a plate in one hand, two plates. The mug balanced on the plate and it jiggled as she walked, looked as if it was about to fall. Doug couldn’t help but watch it, wait for it to fall, the crash and the mad scramble for pieces of broken cup in the carpet.
‘Tilli, wait.’ Doug said to the young girl, who was walking away, up the stairs. She doesn’t want to see me, he thought and the thought made him panic and he missed her so much and he wished he wasn’t so drunk because he couldn’t thin straight.
She stopped, turned, but said nothing.
‘What are you doing today?’ he asked, trying not to sound too desperate, too pleading. That would come later.
‘I have a test tomorrow. Need to study.’ She said in a flat voice, then shrugged, tilted her head towards the door at the top of the stairs that was slightly ajar. I need to go to my room now because I’m busy, she said with that movement.
‘What?’ he said in mock horror, ‘No time for your old man?’ he pushed his mouth into a grin, wasn’t sure if that was him, something he’d normally say. Suddenly he felt outside himself looking in.
The girl stood looking at him, said nothing again.
‘So how’s school?’ he asked, couldn’t think of anything better to say.
‘Fine.’ She couldn’t look at him, looked instead at the thing in her hand, the ipod, iphone, that thing. It had a black rubber case that she began flicking at with her thumb.
‘You’ll have to come over.’ Doug said, but really meant please come over. He wanted to grab her by the arm, feel that she was still warm, feel like he had felt when she would run to him, hang on his neck with both hands, when she was small enough that her feet wouldn’t touch the ground.
‘It’s a great place, big too. You wouldn’t believe they’ve let me have the old place, for free too. Needs a lick of paint though.’ His words came in a rush, meaningless. Then with sudden relish he said, ‘You could help me!’
‘Sure.’ The girl smiled, paused, holding the smile on her face with, what seemed like, deliberate concentration. Then she glanced up at her room again, ‘I…’ she said.
‘Yes, yes, you go.’ Doug said, then added ‘I’ll come up and say good bye in a minute.’ Which he hadn’t planned to say, but what had he planned to say? He felt suddenly annoyed with himself, suddenly pitied himself, despised himself for all the selfish things he’d done. Had she meant to do that to him, to make his feel like that? She’d just a little girl, he thought. His thoughts were scattered about the floor like pieces of a broken mug and he scrabbled to pick them from the weave of the carpet.
Then he walked into the kitchen.
Carole heard him come in, heard him behind her, she must of done because she began washing up with more force, vigorously clacking plated together in a tub of soapy water.
‘You’ll break those if you’re not careful.’ He laughed, feebly.
‘No I won’t.’
Doug leant against the worktop next to the door, the one with the cooker fitted into the work surface. He could feel the knobs that controlled the electric hobs pressing into the back of his jeans.
‘So we never did get that dishwasher.’ He joked again, clutching at the only conversation starter he could think of. ‘Suppose it’s too late now.’
Carole turned her head, looked like she was about to say something then looked back at what she was doing. What was she doing? Her hands were beneath the surface of the foamy water, a cup and plates and two knives were on the draining board.
’So next Sunday you’ll both have to come and have lunch with me.’ He said. ‘I’ll cook.’ And he smiled at the idea, ‘Bring your mum if you like.’ He laughed, louder than he had expected to.
She turned round then, looked at him, a look that was supposed to stop his laughter abruptly. It didn’t.
‘Shut up, Doug.’ She snapped.