Part 1.3

The recent days have passed by into gloomy obscurity, but today my spirits seem higher, despite suffering a little from a lack of wine.  I think about venturing out again to buy some, but don’t. 
I decide instead to clean the kitchen and to take a walk along the canal to my favourite bench, where I have a fine view of both the canal strollers and the yummy mummies with their children in the playground.   There I sit, basking in the tree-dappled sunshine and enjoying the almost bucolic scene.
It’s not much of a canal really, and the water is filthy, but it has character of sorts. Mysterious house boats line the banks, some deserted, some containing families or lone farts like me. I'd love to have a boat: I'd spend all my days navigating the canals around the South East. Perhaps I'll win the lottery this week; that of course assumes I do the lottery, which I don't. It saddens me to see the poor fools queuing week after week wasting their money on ridiculous odds. Having said that, in my case the odds are zero.
The kids in the park are very cute; apart from a noisy little brat called Bradley who has his hapless teenage mother wrapped around his nasty little finger, and has already pushed several other children out of his way. I wonder where the dad is … probably holed up at some pub, or fishing along the canal.  A little girl, about six years old, her dark hair in tight ponytails, clambers fearlessly on the climbing frame, away from the carnage below.  I watch with amusement as she ignores the pleas of her mother to be careful - so much like my Jojo at that age, a reckless tomboy scared of nothing.  The memory is painful, so I look away.  I miss the girls. It is so long since I left them that they are no longer girls, but women, perhaps even married with children.  The thought brings a lump to my throat.
Then I notice that she has arrived and is sitting on the bench diagonally opposite me, feeding the pigeons and reading what looks like Silas Marner, one of my favourites.  I’ve noticed her before: an attractive, kindly looking woman in her late fifties, neatly dressed with her shoulder length grey-blonde hair falling about her face.   She turns the page of her book and looks up suddenly, catching me staring.  Our eyes meet for an instant, sending a jolt through me, before I look away, hot with embarrassment.  For an awkward moment I’m unsure what to do next, but then get up hastily and leave.  Out of the corner of my eye I notice with some disappointment that she has returned to her book. I could kick myself for being such a coward.
I decide to take a walk along the canal to Camden lock and catch the bus back.  It’s a good few miles but my bad knee holds out.  Back at home, evening comes and I warm up leftovers for tea.  The sky is now overcast with heavy, dark clouds and soon rain drops start to beat against my window.  I wash up the few dishes and return to the table to read the newspaper. It looks like some thug footballer has been caught with his pants down again and the front page is full of furtive photographs and suggestive headlines.
I am interrupted by a plaintive mewing from outside my window, where a bedraggled ginger cat looks in, pawing at the glass.  Since I live on the fourth floor, this is a rather surprising turn of events. I open the window to let it in, but the cat retreats to the edge of the sill and stares at me intently.  I wait for a moment, the wind driving heavy rain into the room.
“Well, are you coming in?” I say, but the cat just looks at me.
“Suit yourself, but you’ve got two minutes before I close the window.”  I sit down again at the table and watch as the cat continues to eye me suspiciously, mewing at annoying intervals.  After two minutes it has still not moved, so I decide to put a saucer of milk on the floor next to the window to tempt it in.  I do so and return to the table.  The cat takes a tentative step forward, then leaps down onto the floor and begins to lap up the milk, pausing now and then to make sure I’ve not approached.  I don’t move, but watch as the soaked beast finishes the milk, preens itself for a minute, then leaps onto the sofa and lies down on my single faded cushion, purring gently.
“Make yourself at home, why don’t you?”  The cat twitches its ears and for a moment I fear it might run away, but then it lays his head down and closes its eyes.  I step quietly over to the window and close it.  The cat does not move.  I turn off the light and go to bed.
Next day I am awoken by meowing, and get up to find the cat at the front door.
“Do you want to go out?” I ask.  The cat just looks at me.  I don’t know why that should surprise me, and wonder why the hell I was even talking to it.  Senility has clearly crept up on me without my knowing.  I open the door and cat leaps off down the concrete stairwell, a flash of ginger against the drab, graffiti covered walls.
 “My pleasure, cat.”  I say before closing the door.

Tags: reflections of grace, book, biography, comedy, download, drama, family, fiction, friendship, love, novel, romance, story, book, novel

Part 1.2

"Aaron, grab the line!"

I dived after the rapidly disappearing fishing line, missed it and hit my head on the boat's edge. Tears welled up, along with a bump on my forehead, and I watched in dismay as the line and our first big fish of the day got away.

"You'll be all right, lad,” said my father, his leathery face crinkling with a smile. “Every fisherman needs a big one that got away story, and you’ll get at least an hour of sympathy from your mother tonight!"

The sun had been out most of the day, keeping the wind down, and we drifted lazily on the sparkling water of the Norfolk Broads, waiting for fish to make up their minds. The long silences were punctuated with occasional manly grunts but not much more. Some days we talked about important things, but that day we just shared the space as father and son, enjoying what seemed to be increasingly rare time together.
The shadows lengthened as the sun drew the day to a close and we rowed back to the shore where our little jetty awaited.  I tied up the boat while my father packed our fishing gear into a waiting wheel-barrow. He had a slow, methodical approach that sometimes irritated me, but that day I just watched patiently as he went through his routine.

Suddenly there was a loud rustle in the reeds behind me, followed by a pair of large paws that all but knocked me over.  I turned, laughing. “George!”

My father looked up and chuckled while our black Labrador bounded around excitedly, barking furiously, his long pink tongue lolling in the breeze. 

“That dog’s as crazy you are, Aaron.”

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Part 1.1

I wake with a start, my head pounding mercilessly against my temples, scarcely daring to open my eyes. I do and gaze painfully at the bleak off-white sky of the ceiling against which a lonely light bulb hangs from a piece of wire.  A cobweb wafts by, propelled by unseen drafts.

It’s my own fault really – too much cheap red wine – but it didn’t help that the upstairs neighbours were pounding the bed springs again, all night.  A nice change from their usual fighting, however.  I don’t know why they bother staying together.  Perhaps they fear becoming what I have become: old and alone.

I continue to lie in, under the covers, consider going back to a troubled sleep. Force of habit drives me out, groaning and stretching, my joints cracking with complaint.  I stand for a moment before the dresser, looking at myself - tall, pale and scrawny, my heavily lined face unremarkable except perhaps for a long shaggy grey beard reminiscent of a sage rather than a fool.  I turn sideways and examine my profile - curved spine, bony hips and protruding rib cage. I wonder how long I’ve looked like a concentration camp escapee rather than a pensioned member of the noble British welfare state.  What the hell has happened to you, Aaron?

Sighing, I put on a threadbare gown and worn slippers, staggering from the bedroom to the kitchen, only to be reminded that, yet again, the dishes need doing.  I will definitely have to tackle them today, but I recall thinking that yesterday too.  I salvage a vaguely clean bowl and spoon from the food-encrusted pile in the sink and fill it with cereal dregs and milk that is rapidly approaching its really-you-ought-to-have-used-it-by-now date.

Breakfast is soon done and the prospect of spending yet another day alone in my crummy Islington council flat fills me with dread. I eventually head off to Sainsbury’s supermarket to get some food, clutching a hastily drafted shopping list in my hand.  The aisles are jam packed with hapless trolley pushers entangled in commercial confusion, and lifting my basket above waist height, I wade through with my gritted teeth.  Just a few things to get: pasta , canned tomatoes and mince for my beloved spaghetti Bolognese, bread, milk, cereal, and then of course, the wine. Ah, yes the wine, ever the wine: sparkling red in the glass like a harlot’s promise, the ruin of all who yield. For a moment I have to pause, fighting the memories and the tears, my wrecked marriage, my ruined career, my estranged daughters.

“Excuse me!”  The voice is accompanied by the sharp nudge of a trolley in my back. I turn to face my antagonist. She is a lean woman of uncertain age dressed in a white track suit, large golden earrings and hair tied back tight enough to produce the effect of a DIY face lift. She glares at me and snarls “Are you going to stand there all day?”

      For a moment I consider beating her to a pulp with my empty basket, but instead I  smile an apology and let her pass, watching her bony hips sway from side to side as they exude a terrifying sexuality that makes my stomach churn. Shrugging my shoulders, I turn to walk in the other direction, soon filling my basket with customary male efficiency. I do not understand the concept of browsing. I come, I see, I buy – that is my motto.

It’s not until I have started queuing at the one-basket-only till, with six people crowding behind me, that I remember the wine. Cursing, I leave my treasured place, watching the gap close hungrily behind me as I stride towards the drinks aisle with the ‘Specials’ shelf - the only wines I can really afford on my meagre pension.  I am not surprised to find it is mostly empty, apart from one lonely, but reduced bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  I reach forward …

“Excuse me!” The voice is familiar, as is the brutal trolley nudge. “I was going to get that!”

I turn and looked incredulously at the heap of dusty, tracksuit-clad angles before me, my anger slowly rising. “I don’t think so,” I growl, glaring at her.  But she stands, resolute: her hands perched on her hips like a vitriolic teapot. I sigh. Have I not done enough fighting with women for one lifetime? What has come of that?

“You have the wine,” I say, turning to walk back up the aisle. “I didn’t really want it anyway.”

I am soon back at home, surrounded by unpacked shopping, and I sit staring vacantly out the window.  A “room with a view” the chap at the council had said.  Funny guy.  Still, it’s not a bad flat, so I shouldn’t really complain.  At least I have a place now.  Those poor blighters sleeping rough under the bridge are lucky to wake up with their shoes in the morning.  Here, it is dry and everything works, and to be fair to the council comedian, I can see a bit of Regent’s canal ...  just enough to remind me of happier times.

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