Wooden Anniversary



Flying ant season. The nose tickles at its very mention! They cruise and bumble about one’s view on the way to the train station, to the café, they tumble drunkenly over the pub’s doorstep. ‘Sorry, mate!’ they gasp as they collide with one’s cheek—‘Scuse me!’ as they clatter off the eyelid. It is not their fault, no, for they are only just learning the difficulty of flight. Their friends are behind, laughing at their fumble. Each seeks to go out there – even in the metropolis of London – and begin a new colony. Pause, please look down to see the abdomen, shelled and sectioned, covered in a fine dust that does not impair their exploration. They move as if captured on Super 8mm. They bump into my beard as I leave my friends in the pub. It is with the flying ants, the flying ant season, that I recognise the visage of summer.
    When I arrive home, there are herring gulls collected on the floor, beady-eyed trotting here & there in front of the industrial units, white, grey, orange details. Have you stared into the eye of a herring gull? It does not appear to me to contain anything worth retrieving. This is what the birds have been waiting for. The gulls become agitated; they scoop the flying ants up easy enough, off the banks of the railway tracks, the blooms of summer flowers push them out like party poppers and just as directionless. The flying ants have no aim, but for the herring gulls to pluck out the soft humid air. I am under the cold running shower when I hear them climax in a furious cacophony of cawing; who knows why? Perhaps they know the invertebrate’s perfume is soon to end. It lasts no more than a minute, and afterwards, all are exhausted. It was strange to me that it should be heard through my living room, the hallway, closed bathroom door and the water within, the hiss of the hose. Afterwards was this kind of silence as though something had happened, although it had not.
    It is five years since my brother’s wedding, or so it was on the thirtieth of June. In the Whatsapp group, we all wished them – my brother and his wife, my sister-in-law – a happy anniversary.


    Five years ago, it was a Friday and there were no flying ants, not that I recall. After a day of drinking beer in the heat, I went, with an unfamiliar cousin, to the bar and we sunk a few Jaegerbombsuntil the both of us felt our energy – our pep – return. Although I had no performative duties with the wedding, I was tasked with providing the music. It was a responsibility I took very seriously. The music was good. Everybody danced and had a fine time. My sister-in-law’s friends often enquired after the playlist, even years later, and she provided it, crediting me appropriately. To date, and without my knowing at the time, I have soundtracked four weddings. Four celebrations of love to the rhythm and melody of songs that remind me of my youth, of family, the nineties and university nightclubs.
    Five years used to be a long time, used to be a long time before lockdown. It is the human hand, outstretched and splayed; the sum of evolution, and its tendons pronounce themselves. It can be counted to even by an infant.
    When L— left me, I was in the middle of a job down Victoria, and I, quite unrelated, found myself forming strong bonds with the contractors and other engineers working the site in which I was stationed. So often I alighted at St James’ Park and went to the half-finished project in a state of autopilot. It was hot; it was summer then, too. After hours, we would go to one of the local pubs where the site manager was carrying on an affair with the landlady; I had met him years previous on a job down Heathrow, and by that point, we had come to respect each other. One evening, the services contractor, a young man from Birmingham with a perfect beard, informed me that he and his wife were soon celebrating their cotton anniversary. He bought her a framed moth—‘Because they eat cotton.’
    I put my hand to his back in the June stew of some backstreet pub where the beams hung low and the taps lacked lustre—‘Fuck me, man, that’s agood gift.’
    ‘She loves taxidermy and animals, and that, so I thought it’d be good.’
    It was my brother’s wooden anniversary.
    When I listened to the contactor speak of his wife, I became incredibly envious. He was consumed with love for her, and the other builders ribbed him for it. Towards the end of our contract, he had his first child, a daughter, and I have not heard from him since. The building industry is small. He made my loss of love hurt so much more, in a sweet way, and he did not even know it.

    Sometimes, when I am by myself and coursing down a street I know well, I begin to think to myself of the songs I would play at my wedding. Yes, the dancing would be easy enough, and I would be joyous to dance with my new wife and my family and my new family – but I think of the song my wife and I would have our first dance to. The first of anything is special. The first dance between my wife and I would be special. For many years I have listened to music, and it is there, throughout, like nothing more than organised sound, so influential, and how much it has comforted me when I was at my loneliest. There are songs that I have had in my head for years: Cigarettes and Coffee or Nothing Can Change This Love – old soul classics – and then, on this morning, I think of another, out of nowhere: Shama Lama Ding Dong. What can be thought of now, in the cool of a summer morning on my way to work, could one day vibrate through the frame of my happiness and my love’s underneath dim shimmering lights as my mother looks on, satisfied and jubilant. It would be good for my mother for me to be in love. It would be good for my grandmother’s ghost if I were in love. I do not anticipate that it will happen any time soon, but one’s mind is likely to wonder. In the moments of alone when one is lonely, the mind stretches out like the shoots of a tree. It butts against the neighbours, then plucks itself back; it fondles elsewhere.
    The song my parents first danced to was What You Won’t Do For Love. Now I am at an age where I enjoy that song. For two decades, I have enjoyed that song. I know – too right, and with utmost certainty – that my mother does not like to dance, and is overcome with a chill when others observe her doing so. She has never conveyed her anxiety at dancing in front of others. No, it was just her and my father and What You Won’t Do For Love. She probably did not care she was being watched. She probably did not care how she moved at that moment.
    Perhaps she did not even know that one day she would have a child, and that one day that child would be me. I will suggest, after her relationship with my uncle, that she would prefer a son. My hair colour was not like hers, my eyes too blue. Eighteen hours it took for me to come out, and, when she had enough, my grandmother pushed me round Valentine’s Park in east London. I miss my grandmother so much; she died about six days before L—left me. My grandmother died believing that I was happy and in love.
    Now that it is summer, I take my headphones off just before I reach the steps of the train station. My ears have overheated. It is unusual for me to hear the sounds of life. Immediately I recoil, until I become accustomed. Then I watch the young lovers in love traipsing up the stairs, travelling to work together and I wonder if they woke up together. The long line of steel pulls in. (Depending on the time) I take a seat and try to sleep, my body a trifle enflamed, my mind too startled to really peace. Two towns over, across the flat Essex plains, I am cool and set to reassert my headphones.
Mark

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