Prelude 82

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.”

Prelude 81

“I told you we should have stopped at that pub,” I say.
We are walking along the Grand Union canal pathway in steadily declining daylight, hunting for a place to eat.  It is Saturday evening, and you would expect Milton Keynes to be buzzing, but it isn’t.  A solitary Beefeater restaurant turns us away, so we head along a main road further into the town in search of something.  Eventually we find a fish and chips shop that is just about to close but is happy to sell us the greasy and very unsatisfying dregs of the day.  We sit unhappily on a bench under a street lamp, eating.  A group of youths pass by noisily, causing both Joe and I to look at each other at the same time.
“I think we’ll head back after this,” says Joe.  “I don’t fancy a pub tonight.”
I nod, and soon we are done eating and trying to find our way back to the barge, amidst clouds of stinging midges, and relieved to find it still floating where we left it.
The barge is hot and stuffy, but we daren’t open the windows for fear of the insects.  Joe opens a bottle of red wine, and pours two glasses.  We sit at the little dining table, not speaking at first.  The wine is good, my first glass in ages, but I resolve not to return to former habits.
“I’ve enjoyed today, Joe.  Thanks for this.”
“That’s alright, mate,” he replies.  “I needed to get away too.”
I look at him curiously.
“Yeah,” he continues.  “Life gets pretty dull without any real sense of purpose.  But then, is there really any point to anything? We are here by some incredible, mindless fluke, somehow all hanging together in fine balance, but it is just that: mindless.  There is no why.”
He takes a long sip of wine, and then continues.  “I suppose our only purpose is to make life bearable for each other, but even then, why?  Perhaps the only purpose is that we survive, either as individuals, or as a community.  Existence is the only purpose.”
“Today was more than just existence, Joe,” I reply.  “As much as I agree with you, something in me senses beauty, artistry and intent in everything.”
He looks at me sharply. “Even the bad things?”
I nod.  “Yes, oddly enough, even in the bad things.  I think life would be one dimensional without the bad things, like light only makes sense in contrast with dark.”
Joe looks at me for a long time, not speaking, then downs his wine in one gulp and replies wryle.  “I’m glad we’ve existed today, Aaron.  I’m off to bed.”
I sit for a while longer listening to him clatter about the back of the barge, humming to himself, my old friend.  Soon he settles in his cot and all his quiet.
I swirl the remaining wine in my glass.  Even in the bad things.  Really?

Prelude 80

Aaron gazed dreamily at the rolling waves crashing endlessly like a nagging wife on uncaring rocks, battle after battle only briefly interluded by the sea’s sulky withdrawal. He liked this place: desolate and alone, it was unfrequented by all except that occasional startled cormorant, and he came here to escape, to think. He sat hunched over, braced against the icy wind, drawing his knees together below a great white beard, his deeply creviced face crumpled in contemplation around two intelligent eyes that shone like forgotten pools of youth in an ageing desert.