It was a fresh one just after five o’clock, morbid, somebody at Stratford sprinkling themselves over the tracks to warm up in the sun, triggering announcements of All Lines Suspended, a flurry of slightly awkward groans across the concourse at Liverpool St. The drivers had been on strike, returned to work, and someone used them as Hemingway’s shotgun. Colleagues were out with a salesman around the corner in an openair circle of bars, financeworkers, yellow stone, slimy tapas and cold Estrella. A couple of beers in, my phone went. Usually, I will ignore such an interruption but it was my youngest brother calling from a strange place. I did not apologise to anyone nor excuse myself, but put my beer down, taking the call away from the group and up some steps. A pang of guilt at my environment, I pressed it closer to my ear and a little farther from the crowd. Between half-five and seven he is permitted to use his phone.
    The medication had dulled his voice—or it could have been grief—and it was hard to hear him over the raucous mob. He was doing okay. He was on a cocktail of drugs: for the alcohol withdrawal, for his mood, for sleep, vitamin D or B—he could not remember. I did not yet know where I was placing my anger but I knew that it was not in that conversation. There was anger as there is equal amounts sadness, anger, hurt, sympathy. His words dragged their feet, tripped and scuffed, groaned under their own weight, sounding like just one step from the bottom. At times, along the length of a sentence, I felt my own voice begin to crack but I righted it. Had he heard? If he had heard, had he listened? If he had listened and heard, had he noticed? I might be the shortest but I am the eldest and the executor of my father’s will. There were people walking past in good spirits as I turned away from them and wiped my eyes. He sounded very far away when he asked how the cat was. I told him the cat was perfect, she is always perfect, to not worry about her but focus on his recovery. The dead body on the tracks stopped me from getting back to her as soon as I would have liked; that was something, and the dead body was nothing.
    We ended the call and I took a moment; struggling to breathe, as though my body was pulling every breath through the narrow waist of an hourglass. Satisfied that there were no signs of the exchange left around my eyes, I returned to the group. Beneath the railway bridge, I turned back and crossed Great Eastern St, they told me I was going in the wrong direction, asked me what I was doing. Their voices faded away; the night’s colours swept by, rippled, hissed. I made sure there was only the thinnest of cotton between me and London’s lukewarm air.
    The next day, at four in the afternoon, I was in a car with my father. The cat, she was on my lap, looking at me with green eyes. Tiredness clung to my bones like scale on the innards of a kettle; my mind a dull knife. It was a dark time for the family, a broad stroke of black ink along the timeline. There was a slight yet unmistakable hint of excitement in my voice, not necessarily happy but aroused, a line of questions not yet asked that, as someone who cannot drive, I felt would need a straightforward stretch of road before being posed. Asking my father how he is, the response a bleak pause, a sigh, as he summons up an answer, hands ten and two, exasperation, the word exasperation; a substantial and important portion of time between generations that neither of us could quite grip—
    ‘It’s been hard. We didn’t know what to do.’ He pulled out from the traffic lights. I stroked the inside of the car with one hand and held onto the cat-carrier with the other, my thumb in a brass hoop. Then, when I least expected it, he said—‘And it made us realise how much we weren’t there for you when you and L— broke up.’ It had weight to it, unfatherly weight, it bent under its burden and the load of one generation to another.
    ‘I dealt with it. You move on. You have to.’
    I took my hand from stroking the upholstery to turning the air conditioning dial. Heartbreak had been shoved under his nose, underneath my mother’s nose. If they had ever known what heartbreak was, beyond the drone of pop music and romantic comedies, then they had surely forgotten. Briefly, as we went down that road out of town onto the carriageway, there was myself curled in an empty Bow bed, drinking & writing, her cats still there, perched upon my chest when I read, sandwiching me as I slept. Likewise, if there were ever callouses upon my heart, I had gnawn them off. His recognition was, to my surprise, well received. Is that what I had wanted after all this time, for my resilience, independence and healing to be recognised?
    He talked, I listened. He listened, I spoke.* When I spoke, I choked. I adjusted the air conditioning dial. My palms perspired. If I choked, then I looked out at the passing scenery: roadwork signs, Greggs in Little Chefs, the grey dust on bent stems, slip roads, anything. When my brothers and I had the giggles as kids, my father would become angry and scold us, threatening; I used to think of the word molecule to calm myself down, biting my lip, thinking of the word molecule and thinking what it might mean to stop myself from giggling. I did not think of the word moleculewhen we spoke about his youngest son, my youngest brother. We passed over a golf course, afforded a moment, and I swallowed hard. ‘I’ve smelled it on him before, when we got in the car going out for dinner, but, I dunno, I always figured his aftershave had turned or something because I thought—“There’s no way he’s that much of a fuckin loser.”’ Gritting teeth. ‘But he was.’ I expelled my anger into the automobile, a travelling enclosure of trapped air and fluctuating numbers.
    The cat’s eyes had turned yellow. When I was in the car, she looked at the driver; when I left the car, she looked outwards. Unzipped, she always strode boldly out of the carrier at my parents, quickly making herself at home, pouncing up onto the work surfaces and hob, the cabinets and furniture; small, lithe and delicately grey.
    After some rushing, I sat at the back of a church. The air was the same temperature as my skin, the structure as old as the village, the couple in love as Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. There were many people in front of me with the back of their heads, none of them Corinthians. Standing, sitting, standing sitting, standingsitting. The hymns shuffled along monotonously. I tried to look for old friends I recognised but, so far was I that, few could be seen through the one-eighty strong congregation. I tried to make conversation with the large gentleman next to me—thankful that he (13:08) had arrived even later than me (12:59)—but after a couple of sentences were exchanged I estimated he must have offal & moss between the ears, so returned to my gazing around the church. How long did weddings take? Before the lord’s prayer groaned, they signed up for love and for state! It was then that I pouted at the stained glass windows, ornate, draped beautifully in royal tones, beams bore traces of centuries’ old leaks, a woman had her fake breasts out and oiled them—I might believe—her face carved into a flurry of strange angles, more Juan Gris than Pablo Picasso, skin pulled tightly then loose as the bones & muscles struggled to adapt, I chuckled, just obsessed, and spun the order of service between my index fingers. Punching my gaze through a canyon of bare and suited shoulders, I could just about see my friend of twenty-eight years, better him than I, looking down at the register, grimacing through the broken ribs of a cycling accident.
    The guests crowded both sides of the church’s gravel path with fists of dried petals. As I walked, my senses overloaded and downplayed, I was, by old friends along the avenue, smacked and punched, welcomed and laughed, until I came upon a hometown pair—‘Yes, mate.’
    The reception was held on a wheat farm not far from the village church. It was scenic, as scenic as it was alien, alien as it was pleasant, pleasant as it was particularly unsettling. Unseen behind the still barns, the wheat farm stretched out into the distance and a part of the landscape, a portion of the view. Cold beer took away the weak remnants of two-hours-old toothpaste. It was good to see the hometown pair again, returning, well-known, into that familiar language of jokes & cadence. As long as I had known, they followed each other, and were now both perched atop some country valley, neighbours but for one or two, nestled in a familiarity of dinner parties and golf course engagements. In there was a life I had rejected, I suspected, for reasons that made sense at the time, but over the years had become something of an accepted mystery. My best friend from school had finally come into some luck at conception, a house down by the estuary, partnership with his brother selling quality ovens, and a child on the way. And then it happened, as it had happened many times before, and as it had been written, for me to reply, sheepish and feckless—‘Nothing really, man, nothing. Nothing behind or ahead, really. But I got a cat now. Fuckin love her. She’s perfect. Cats count, right? Who wants a beer?’ My absence, for years and decades, gave folks cause to seek me out at such engagements, a novelty if only for a line or two.
    I took great pleasure in making them laugh and hearing about their lives. Madmen I had known at school were now raising children, managing accounts, running companies, organising troops, yet beyond the pepper and recessions, there were the teenagers, between creases, I had lived among two decades past. We drank and drank. I went to the bar and brought back drinks, talking remember when, brought back drinks that pronounced glass flawlessly over the cotton and woollen lapels of lounge suits. ‘No, no, sorry, mate,’ he said—‘Just a photo of 7N boys.’ Then we were lined up and I recognised the photographer, the wedding photographer. She directed us. I had gone out with her back when it meant nothing at all, really, but there was a time we coursed handinhand round the rollerskating rink to Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing. ‘Can you come in a little bit, please. Come on. Hey, you, just in, closer.’ The speeches cringed. The toilets swayed. What food came, arrived too little and too late.
    In the numb-flavoured turn of night, where cold dusk faded into colder evening, my memory ran out. Everything was pulled back into furry black edges of sight, thin slivers of sound. To the bar I went. Tequila rosé chased by a double gin & tonic and let me get another tequila rosé to chase that down—you want one?—let’s go again. You come back from the bar and the drink is gone and you wind up talking to someone else about the clumsiness of life against one’s delicacies, so—‘Lemme get you a drink… tequila rosé… and a double gin & tonic… and another tequila rosé, please.’ Until the bar staff were no longer giving me gin and I stood there thinking I had nothing but tonic—‘Cunts haven’t put any gin in here.’ Again I kept going, from tent to van, for tequila rosé as they made ghosts of gin & tonic.
    I did not remember leaving. I did not remember saying good-by nor see you soon. There were shards of the shower, and I woke at some point in the blue yellowless morning with leather for a mouth and my nudity above the made bed, curled in towards my own warmth, the cat climbing on the reliable fixtures of hips and shoulder, meowing. When I felt steady enough, the downstairs of my parents’ house did not move within locked windows. They were at church. I already knew what they were praying for and thought I had a pretty good idea of what it meant.
    All day I had carried around a card in the breast pocket of my suit jacket. There was money, there was a message. What happened to that card? I could ill afford to lose the money but surely it made its way to the happy couple? I recalled writing that card for them, on the dining table of my parents’ house. It had felt strange in that house and I knew that neither of them wanted to drink while he was in rehab. My penmanship—a source of pride—had been off before the wedding. Everything scratched when I did not want it to. The message, which I had drafted in my mobile phone, looked like the work of someone coming out the clutches of something unsteady or other. I lay down, arranging the cushions gently beneath the kite & sails of my skull & spine, hoping to sink in past the cushions and the sofa, past the house and its foundation, into the earth, deep into the earth, away from the sun and realised hazards of existence.

* If you got this reference, we can be friends.