The Act of Rolling

There was a time when age mattered to me. Birthdays wrought with misery and sadness, all those numbers with meaning. Twenty years ago I was losing my mind in a fit of terror and worry. But now, in my late thirties, it is all much of a muchness, as they say, and I am left somewhat apathetic. Something has happened now for the numbers to hold such little meaning, or, more accurately, something has not happened, and so the numbers hold such little meaning. How great I might have been! yet look at me: a sorry soul!

At the beginning of August, I was due to visit my uncle for him to show me how to make curry, as mine never have the je ne sais quoi of his. He had to cancel at the last minute, though, as he had been given some news about his health, and had to submit himself for tests and so forth. My mother told me four days ago—having felt it would no longer temper the occasion—that two of the extracted polyps had come back cancerous; a CT scan was ordered. He relapsed and spent the weekend drinking.

My great-uncle John, an old Irish navvy who used to run amuck round Kilburn, died the day before I returned to the coast for my annual holiday. He was eighty-four but when he was alive he was much bigger than that. He took me and my brothers in at a family wedding when we were young. Bald, big rosy cheeks, a broad southern Irish accent, wrists as wide as my thighs; the way he said—‘Ar-sen-al,’ very purposefully, emphasis on each syllable, as though it were a word he insisted we memorise and cherish.

For a few nights, the bottle of wine on the work surface, which had already been donated to my leisurely appetite, was ignored. For a few nights, my mother went to bed and reminded me of it there, underneath the medicine cabinet, beside the bag of turned beansprouts—‘You can have that wine.’ For a few nights, I tortured myself to write, ultimately shying from the ordeal, going to bed ashamed of myself. Somewhere within is a part of me that is proud to have written something bad, and another that is content leaving something beautiful unwritten.

The cat comes with me and we share the guest bed. We revel in the coolth of the room, which bathes spectacularly in the open windows until morning when it is pleasantly chilly. She sleeps between my legs or in my arms. If she is in a mood with me—it happens—then she sleeps on the pillow next to my skull and looks the other way. Monday morning, I apologised and stroked her back; she snapped out of it immediately, nuzzled my palm and wrapped her legs around my arm. This year past I learned a new love.

Golden Virginia. It was not wholly nauseating. It drippled over his shoulder, hitting me square in the face. The waves were not substantial, not boisterous, hushing sweetly against the shore, leaving the silt undisturbed, the water turquoise and still. It was something to be ten months without a rollie, even Golden Virginia. No, not really, I told him, I missed it, sometimes, not the smell, but the act of rolling. I paused and wondered if I could take a cigarette only occasionally, with a cup of coffee or a seafront walk against a misty wind.

We went to a garden centre for lunch. My treat. There were a lot of old people, who entered in long drawn-out pulses, slow, whitehaired ejaculations buffering off the cake cabinet’s glass. It was just my mother and I as she tried to recall the name of a flower. The café was sleepy, it was peaceful. Afterwards we went to the DIY shop, the furniture store and the supermarket. For the first time in months, I played guitar very loudly, then I beat her at scrabble (282 – 311) and cooked us dinner (spaghetti carbonara).

Am I glad I sat down and wrote? There is something in the act of writing that pangs me nostalgically the amount I used to write every night. Nowadays, if I am not careful, writing can feel like I am penning a loveletter to someone whose address I lost years ago. I drink the red wine gifted me, I listen to Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. I invite the cat onto my lap. I sit down and try to remember the kind of things that inspired my younger self.  I remember that man. He was so obsessed with age.