Excuses Anymore

After seven weeks, they called me back. The voicemail sent me into a fit of nervousness—‘I need to talk to you about something.’ Normally my boss would outline the reason for calling more explicitly. At the start of furlough, I had feared for my job; however, the feeling did not last, until recently when I started to worry very much, money is tight, and it kept me up at night. Job safety, they call it. I could not bear to lose my job, to be made redundant—as has been happening in the building industry—so every time they asked me for some assistance I gave it gladly, enthusiastically even, so that, should the time come, they might look upon my position more favourably. God knows I have enemies there, but I also have rabbis. In fact, I was giving assistance gladly when I missed the call from my boss. I was telling the man who had taken over one of my jobs—‘No, that’s fine! I’ll do it! No problem at all! … No, no, of course not, you want to get it right! No worries! … Let me do it!’ He thanked me and told me a story about him buying a croissant for his wife; the middle was not great but it picked up towards the end. When I called my boss back he did not pick up. I sat there in the shade of the garden, shaking through my cigarette. Two hours later he called me back—‘How do you feel about starting again?’
    A cat mews in the thicket. You cannot hear it, but I can. There is a frog in those bushes. Maybe there was a frog in those bushes. The other night the clouds of the day cleared and every star could be seen. Some of the stars went different colours, so I read about it; the atmosphere makes the stars appear different colours. A puddle drying on a petrol station forecourt five-hundred lightyears away. Occasionally you catch the nights closing in; darker now by half-nine. Soon it will be my birthday, soon it will be autumn.
    I did a terrible job of sounding enthusiastic, but he had caught me off-guard. At first I was reticent but then I remembered my bank account—twenty-two pence to my name for the month—and I remembered how much I wanted things to be back to normal. I said—‘Put me in, coach, I’m ready.’ Then he told me how much he wanted me to change my ‘attitude’ and I said—‘Yes, that’s fine! I’ll do it! No problem at all!’ He told me to think of it as a fresh start. He asked me when I could begin; again, I hesitated. It would have been better for me to start on Monday, to enjoy the rest of my free time, but I must be enthusiastic or they will only go to someone else and I might lose the opportunity! ‘Whenever,’ I said. He asked me if I could start tomorrow. I said that I could. I work these three days, full-time, back to normal, then on Monday we return to the office, Monday and Wednesday. That night—Tuesday—I could not sleep. I turned and fidgeted and thought about things, about work, about writing. I realised that I was very sad and there was nothing I could do about it.
    I woke before my alarm. I woke many times throughout the night in a panic that I had overslept, but it was not so. The day was bright and beautiful and a cool breeze was coming through the open window onto my bed. At that time of the morning the air is more blue than it is yellow. I had a meeting with the engineer who had taken over my projects. It was my strong suspicion that she would not be able to cope, but in our meeting the reality struck me that she had not done a thing. Not a single thing. I had been set back seven weeks and now my bosses would beat me for it, as though it had been all my fault. ‘We don’t do excuses anymore,’ he told me—‘Our ethos has not changed. Please keep me updated.’ I had picked a bad week to cut down on coffee.

    What I would give to get blind drunk! Perhaps it is peculiar to crave such a thing, but throughout this I have not been as drunk as I would like, and to me it seems like a memory of normal life. What I would give to fuck! And perhaps it is normal to crave such a thing, but I have not fucked in months—since the seventeenth of February—and to me it seems like a memory of a happy life. Yes, call me crass, but I want to be blind drunk and to fuck, dance to loud music clumsily, laugh, be joyous, then fuck the bed a yard from the wall and irritate the neighbours.
    On Monday I will return to London for the first time in four and a half months. I might shine my shoes; I have new laces for them. I have two work shirts and two pairs of trousers. Everything is clean. I hear from everyone that the city is still dead. In a rare occasion I found myself sat at the dinner table with my father, neither of us saying anything and I became most uncomfortable, because everyone else—on a separate table—was talking loud and gay. It saddened me that my father and I should have so little to say to each other. ‘I’m looking forward to going to work on Monday … I mean, I’m not looking forward to work, but I am looking forward to seeing everyone and being in the city. It will just be a little bit of normal life again, you know?’ ‘I walked from Whitechapel to Liverpool Street today,’ he said—‘It was dead.’ I traced the route in my head with a certain fondness. ‘I was sweating from here, and here, like this.’ And he showed me where he had sweated.
   This weekend is the FA Cup Final. Usually it is in May. Every year I will organise a day out for my friends on FA Cup Final day. We will meet early on and drink beer with our breakfast and coffee and maybe some juice; we will do something fun, and then hole up in a decent pub and watch the game, put a score in a glass, place bets, settle debts, then we will drink into the night. Everyone has a good time. My friend says it is the start to his summer. He says that that is the day that summer begins. I agree with him. It is the first big weekend of the summer; forget the solstice. My mother asked me whether I will arrange something this year, but I say that it is irresponsible, and so many of them have young children—some, grandchildren!—and that it is not worth the risk.
    ‘Your free time has currency,’ I told her—‘It has a value … And when you have nothing but free time then it loses its value. Now that I have to work again, maybe I will seize the opportunity to write when I can, and it’ll be more fruitful or productive … and I’ll get more done.’
    After my father showed me where he had sweated, my uncle offered me a cup of coffee. I looked at the time. ‘Black?’ Yes please, I told him. I stood at the end of his garden and drank the black coffee, which was so strong that it made me a trifle agitated. Over the fences and between the trees, punctured by chimneys and caressed by hills in the distance, I saw the blue peach-purple sky fading, the same sun, the same source of light, distorted by the atmosphere into the best of colours. ‘I finished my coffee,’ I said to my father.