Individual Shade of Pink

Over the garage was the eldest daughter’s bedroom, and above her window was a nook in the roof where blackbirds made their nest every spring. After school one day and a chick had tumbled, survived the fall, then balled into the smallest gap between the warped garage door and its frame. It did not move nor did it make a sound. Hector was the name of the eldest daughter’s cat, and although the majority of his territory were the fields that stretched out behind the house, it also included his own garage door. I went over slowly, putting on my soft child voice, scooping the chick up in my small hands, and carrying it home; tiny squeaks from the hand and from up on the roof. Mother kept shoeboxes knocking about under the stairs, so I took one, furnished it with straw, and placed the chick in there, the shoebox in my Wendy house out in the garden. Borrowed a saucer from the kitchen. Birds like bread. Babies like milk. Milk makes your bones good and strong, helps you grow. I tore the bread into little bits, warmed the milk until it was the same temperature as my pink finger, then laid it down before the little chick. Looked up at me with big eyes and thick yellow lips that would one day narrow and harden into a beak. It shuffled over to the saucer. I closed the door behind me. No cats would get into the Wendy house, especially Hector. The next morning the chick was dead. Mother told my tears that birds cannot drink milk.

Or like the time I walked down Canterbury Lane in early April. The trees down there straighten the road, along the quiet bungalows, porch doors left open, unkempt lawns, old folk chatting over waist-high fences with a chamois in hand. Some of the old folk who live down Canterbury Lane look after the trees outside their house: put up little wooden borders, edge the turf, nourish and nurture the grass, turn the soil, sweep the pavements. Sometimes I imagine the life of another human being who goes outside to sweep pathways they do not own. In early April, the trees begin to stir and soon they bud and soon the buds open waxily and soft petals spring forth. Down the road the blossom is pink, all different shades of pink, because pink is the most beautiful colour. There are new shades of pink being discovered every day, by hummingbirds, explorers in New Guinea, and young lovers taking turns. Every day (when not buying tobacco) I passed down Canterbury Lane and every day (when not buying tobacco) I sighed and smiled at the blossom slowly unfolding, foreseeing that soon the whole road would be resplendent with it. They were low-hanging clouds. But there were always unopened buds, yet to burst out their individual shade of pink. There will be a day when all the blossom is out, I thought, a day when it will look its best, an exact moment in time when as much blossom will be on the branches as there will be all year. The ground was clear, virgin, and soon the blossom would fall. On Friday I thought that the blossom was almost as good as it was going to look, and it did look good; the branches were heavy with it, puffed, shimmering blossom, tiny petals that melted between one’s fingers! Some had begun to fall, though not many, and they collected in the tufts of grass that sprouted between the unsettled paving slabs. It was blown along by the tenderest of breezes, the winds that came off the sea and hurried along the residential alleyways, to ruffle alongside your toes. The next day, I determined I would bring my camera to capture the scene, what might be a tired subject matter, but if only to remind me how beautiful Canterbury Lane was in early April, a scene I had imagined on my many walks down there through winter. However, the next day, when I returned, pulling my camera out and winding the film onto its fifth frame, I remembered that it was a black & white roll and that, in the dim greyness that had befallen this particular Saturday it was no scene at all but underwhelming, that the patience had been wasted, the moment lost, the final vision ruined by misfortune and, finally, anger. I stuffed the camera back into the pocket of my thick coat, and came up to the promenade, so sick of the same route over & over, where the cold wind caused the left side of my skull to ache.
The night before I had been up late at the keyboard (see: Vanilliinia Tabernacle) and was a little hungover bleary-eyed out in the garden. Leaned on the wall, wobbling and smiling to myself, sometimes I would laugh if I thought of something amusing, but really it was very bright so I squinted. Somewhere inside the house a door opened and closed, felt through the wall and into my body. I turned and through the glass saw a stranger, a young woman, stood next to my brother. It was his girlfriend visiting for Easter Sunday. I smoked it down to the fingertips before having to go inside. I was bed-unkempt, and then disappointed to find her right in front of me as I entered. I muttered and moved towards the coffee machine. He introduced me—‘This is my brother… This is…’ I said ‘Hi’ and she said it was nice to meet me, so I said ‘Hi’ again, and she asked—‘How are you?’ And I said—‘Yeah, hi.’ The coffee machine could not make coffee quick enough. I went into the front room, where there was nobody about.

It was very strange to see my youngest brother with a girlfriend. He mentioned her often, fondly, which made it even stranger. At dinnertimes he spoke to my parents about her, they having already met her once and fond of her, too. If there was no meat in the dinner, my mother would offer it to him to take to hers, furthermore she would offer crockery, candleholders, soap dishes, ramakins; my brother fingered through a pile of objects destined for the charity shop, himself a hoarder, commenting—‘Yes, hmm, she will like this, yes.’ They talked so much about her that it began to irritate me. I spun around in my chair—‘Jesus Christ!’ I said, ‘Giving her all this shit so she’ll hold onto him! “Please take our son!Please! Let him live with you!” ‘ I laughed at my wickedness. ‘That’s not very nice,’ said my father. ‘No,’ said my mother. My brother just stared at me. I spun back round to my game of chess—‘No, it’s not.’ And my smile soon died on my face.

Easter morning, my mother made a large breakfast of coffee, bucks fizz, scrambled eggs, brown toast and smoked salmon. She asked me if I wanted any. There were plates already laid out for my brother and his girlfriend, and my mother and father. I said no, that I would eat cereal later. They talked loudly round the table together. I only entered the room to get more coffee.

Later on, my other brother (middle) arrived with his wife and two daughters. The eldest daughter always enters first, leaping out the car-seat, not helping with any of the bags, running to see her grandparents. She very happily says hello to everyone else, and as she stands there talking quickly about some event from the morning, I linger, nervously wondering if I should say hello to her. ‘Say hello to uncle—’ says my mother and she says ‘Hello, uncle—’ and I bend down to kiss the top of her head, which smells of lice shampoo. By the time the other niece rolls in – unleashed from secure straps – I have lost any impetus to greet her. ‘Say hello to uncle—’ says my mother. I interrupt her—‘Don’t worry, don’t worry about it.’ The youngest daughter used to be really fond of me, would grunt for me to play with her, or sit on my lap and watch television, ‘a special bond’ they said, and then she grew up a little, developed more human traits. My brother entered with his wife and a number of bags for their one-night stay.
The nieces took to my brother’s girlfriend, and she to them. They went out into the garden. The sun shone down, lighting everything up in colour and a blue warmth. They were having fun. When they were at the other end of the garden, I went out for a cigarette. I could hear my niece speaking to my brother’s girlfriend—

‘Are you staying here tonight?’
‘I am!’
‘Yay! Where are you sleeping?’
‘In Uncle Al’s room.’
‘On the floor?’
‘Hooray! Did you bring a sleeping bag?’
‘I did!’
‘Wow! have a sleeping bag, too!’
I banged on the glass, my brother startled up—‘Come save your bird.’

During the large meal of prawn curry and tomato rice, they all ate and spoke quite civilly, despite the drink. I kept schtum. My niece next to me, eyed her younger sister and my brother’s girlfriend, jumping into the conversation when she could. My sister-in-law and the new girlfriend got on well, too, and neither backed away from conversating with the other.

My brother joined his wife in the conversation.
My brother joined his girlfriend in the conversation.
My mother and father joined in the conversation.

I sat there, poking a prawn, separating a mouthful of tomato rice with the edge of my fork. My nieces played with their food. For the rest of the meal, I sat there in silence – other than, perhaps, to urge a child towards her salad and chutney. Inevitably, I wound up remembering, rattled by the rounding jaws within my own skull, the last time I introduced someone I liked to my mother (see: The Weight of Ten Pound Coins). To think of it, to reminisce, only made me sadder, but I remembered all the same. They continued to talk. Each mouth was at an angle of a circle, and from it came quite dull conversation, and I was detuned to the topic. I could not help but remember; every inch of the physical and mental was being chased away by nostalgia, and my cutlery scraped on the dinner service. You can hold a plate up to the light and see every fork scratch in darker lines.

Some time after dinner, I retreated by myself to the front room. I watched Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson videos on the television, then my two brothers joined me, and one of them switched over to a film. I told him to put Michael Jackson back on, but they both quite fancied the film they had found. Leaving the room, I went and made myself a coffee, took it outside and set it on the floor where it cooled quickly off the earth. The clear day had died into a clear night, all stars. I turned back to the inside glow where my middle brother’s wife and my youngest brother’s girlfriend chatted and laughed over the dregs of Easter. Without the clouds, it was cold, and my coffee cooled.