Some days the old gloom returns and I mill about aimlessly, sleeping, reading or just staring out the window at life passing by. The street below is busy with a seemingly endless stream of traffic. I mentally count the yellow cars as Jojo and I used to on long trips. They are more common now than then, and the game would be less fun probably. Across the way a row of tired shops and takeaway places sit, not really bothering to lure anyone in with their dusty, sun bleached window displays. I see a dog sniffing hopefully at a heap of black rubbish bags at then entrance of the narrow dark alleyway that leads to the canal. He then cocks his leg, deciding that urinating on them might be a better use of his time.
The sky is grey and oppressive, in apparent sympathy with my mood. Rain is coming. I turn away from the window and sigh.
Why did things end up this way? What choices would I have made differently? Was it Fiona? Would I have been a different husband to Molly? Would I have loved other children as much as Liesel and Jojo? Perhaps my only failing was working too hard, to want too much for those I loved. Was that such a crime?
Whatever it was, the result was this, me here, old and alone, sitting pointlessly in a dingy council flat with nothing to live for, simply waiting for the end.
The phone rings but I ignore it. The only person who calls me is Joe, and I’m not in the mood. I decide instead to take a walk. I put on my coat. Harry looks up briefly from the couch and winks knowingly at me.
“See ya, fella,” I saw. The dumb brute just stairs back at me. Cats are not like dogs, I think to myself, not for the first time missing faithful, canine company. I smile briefly at a memory of a cartoon: a dog tied up, and a smirking cat mocking him. The dog says, “It is because they WANT you to go that they don’t tie you up.”
The traffic has died down to almost nothing, and only a lone plastic bag hurries by. I decide to walk along the canal, despite the brooding weather. The alleyway has been freshly painted again by the County Council, obliterating months of angry graffiti with a soulless grey paint. I think I preferred the graffiti or street art as they like to call it. At the end of the alleyway a solitary “Fuck the counsel” is sprayed in illiterate, red glory, a lone protest at the attempted suppression of expression.
The canal walkway is empty, with a strong, cold wind tumbling papers and leaves in flurried chaos around my ankles. I head towards the park. It is deserted but I sit nonetheless on a bench, enjoying the ferocity of the elements. Large drops begin to fall. I turn up my collar and hold my coat close and sit under the increasing deluge. Rain runs down my face, starting to drip steadily from my nose, and soaking my beard and trousers. A roll of thunder rumbles in the distance. I look up at sky. The clouds are heavy laden with water, dark and ominous. I watch drops as they fall, swirling in the wind.
I look down again, my thoughts interrupted. It is Elsbeth, standing under a comical bight green golf umbrella, looking at me curiously and with apparent concern. “What on earth are you doing?”
I look up at her sheepishly, not quite sure what I was doing.
Elsbeth grabs me by the arm and forces me up. “Come on, I’m taking you home, you old fool.”
She drags me hurriedly through the rain, giving me the umbrella to hold. Soon we are back at my flat.
“What were you thinking,” says Elsbeth, clattering loudly in the kitchen while the kettle boils for some tea. “Sitting in the rain like that. You could have caught your death.”
I don’t reply. I am sitting in my pyjamas and slippers, wrapped in a faded blanket. Elsbeth had all but wanted to change me herself, but I managed to salvage some dignity and shoo her out of my bedroom while I changed.
“Were you trying to kill yourself? Is that it?”
She stood looking at me angrily, drying her hands with a dish cloth.
I can’t meet her gaze.
“Life is too precious to be thrown away. Do you hear me? I would give anything in the world to have my Tom back, and here you are, miserable sod, wanting to throw it all away!”
She was almost shouting now, and I looked up at her imploringly.
“I am sorry, Elsbeth. I get these dark moods.”
“Well, just stop it, OK,” she says, her voice now quieter and starting to quiver. “I can’t lose another one.”