Habits

The apartment smells of hamburger. The extract hood was running, the meat spat & spat, little flecks of fat bursting every which way. The burgers were turned, three of them, like the father, son, holy spirit, but edible, and brown. I had on one of my favourite records. The curtains were drawn, stirred by a breeze from the open window. The music could hardly be heard over the sound of cooking. Already on the chopping board were finely sliced red onions and tomatoes, torn leaves of iceberg lettuce, very thin dominoes of cheddar cheese. The bun was under the grille. Cooking hamburger in my small, hot apartment, I liked to imagine I was the great John Fante, halfway through asking the dust. And although it was all in my imagination, I felt I was practicing peace.
    Dinner alone in front of a documentary about a sushi restaurant. Next to my feet was a peace lily. I had repotted it during the afternoon. It had been limp, but after a careful transference and considerable watering, it was now erect and quite magnificent. In fact, it sat at my ankles like a loyal hound, waiting for me to toss it some crumbs of hamburger. My mother had stressed to me the importance of keeping a lily well-watered—‘Every three days or so.’ It was sure to be a test of my paternal responsibilities. Astounding how it had gone from being so limp to bursting with exuberance over a matter of hours! I had done a fine job. I had saved its life, and yet would never hold it in my debt. Indoor lilies were probably accustomed to humans saving their lives and thinking nothing of it. Instead, I would put the peace lily in my bedroom and teach it the true meaning of terror.
    There was a world’s distance between this Saturday and last. Seven days previous, it was my niece’s fourth birthday party, hosted at my parents’ house, and my brother and his wife invited their family and friends and their friends’ children, and it was horrific. Few things chill my blood quite so much as the presence of children! They were happy and frolicking and laughing; it was too much to bear. I retreated to my parents’ guestroom where I played a video game, although it was just a means to an end, a method of distraction. The weather was very grey, lifeless. The party would last for three hours, yet after the first I was already inconsolably sad. It was quiet in the room, the distant echo of a birthday party coming through faintly. Every hour, as long as I could wait, and on account of my own organisational shortcomings, I had to go downstairs to where my tobacco was and roll a cigarette. My brother’s friends were in the kitchen. I did not wish to be near them – let alone converse! – but they insisted on being friendly, asking how I was, how long I was visiting, whether I was still working in London; topics of that nature. I grimaced and pretended that I was in the middle of some important business, hurrying out the room. Even after the party had ended, and I exhaled a tremendous sigh of relief, I was greatly distressed to learn that my sister-in-law’s mother and stepfather were staying for dinner, and, to make matters worse, the mother was seated beside me at the table. She gushed at everything, remarkable or otherwise, so that one became confused as to what was genuine. Furthermore, she was tactile to the point it made me wretch with discomfort. Apropos of nothing, she would extend her hand most uninvitedly to touch my forehead without leaving me any time to recoil. I nearly gagged I was so offended. Nobody tried to help, to wrestle me from this woman’s adjacency! Nobody even bothered to bring me a bucket to be sick in or a lead pipe to harass her with.
    No, today, this Saturday, I was by myself. Alone, but not lonely.
    Without enough hours, I woke up in good spirits and put a children’s film on to fall asleep to, but found myself so amused that I could not, eventually arising and assessing my state of mind. Against every sense saying otherwise, I went out for a walk. Yes, my nerves were shot, and every step out on the streets took a horrendous toll, but each also felt like a distinct achievement. Knees were unsteady, stomach shrunk, every passing minute was caught on the wristwatch. There was no reason to leave the apartment, but I believed that it would be good for me, so I bought some wine and vegetable oil as well. There must be a cocktail you can make with red wine and vegetable oil, I thought.

    ‘What outlet do you have?’ she asked.
    ‘None, really.’
    ‘Writing?’
    ‘Yeah, writing, I suppose. Although I don’t write as often as I used to…’
    ‘Chess? Guitar?’
    ‘I haven’t played chess in months. I do puzzles all the time, but I haven’t played a game with anyone in a few months… I haven’t played guitar since the nineteenth of February. My fingertips have gone soft.’
    ‘What about music? Do you ever listen to music?’
    ‘Again, not as much as I used to. I used to listen to so much music—’
    Tears started to come, and they were breaking my voice; it would not have been good for her to hear me break down. Regaining myself, lungful enough to emit—‘I need to get back to what I love.’
    ‘You do,’ she said.

    On the Sunday, we went to a garden centre. It was Father’s Day. I bought a peace lily, venus flytrap, and several smaller flowers to go in my window planters. I spent four hours cooking a large meal for everyone, and it made me glad. How can there be such a difference in my mood from one day to the next?
    So now I will try to write more. It is without consequence, form, structure, it is without flair, perhaps it is without character. In my twenties, I wrote furiously, every night. I was never too tired to write. I never felt like not writing. I dim with age, I recognise that, but pardon me if I attempt to fight against it. It has been a rough week, but there will be others, and some will be better – most will be better. Now, when I sit at my desk, this object of indescribable personal value, I am inclined to look to my left, to the planters that hang off my balcony, where bees come to the sip from the flowers at my window; and it is enough for me to drop what I am doing, and to stare.

Mark

Thank you for reading. It really does mean so much to me.