are never more than a hundred yards from Salton Weir.” My father would
like to remind us. “However far it might seem that we have drifted.”
Lucas, my best friend through boyhood took this to heart. The little
narrowboat, on which we took so many family holidays, was initially an
alien environment for him. His people were from the continent, alpine
people full of blond energy and its consequent nervous collapses. His
sister was a set of embedded neuroses that intrigued me as much as their
endlessly tall town house.
“Salton Weir is as close as the next
collapse.” Lucas reminded me on the phone a little over ten years later.
A lad had cast him aside. There had been some violence. It felt
romantic in ways beyond my meagre experience. In short, I had no idea
what he was talking about.
“You’ll feel better tomorrow,” I told
him. My ear was becoming large and red from the telephone receiver.
“There’s a pattern to this that you can’t discern right now, but one day
you will uncover it.”
There was a sound from the other end of
the line that might have been a sob or a snort. The resolution wasn’t
what we expect now. The decades stacked up after that phone call. We
occasionally crossed paths, if that is an adequate explanation. There
were bars in seaside towns with little rationale before or after.
Promises that we would see each other more often. The next I would see
of his world was an obituary: his father, relevant enough while he had
lived to merit this attention. The conservatory would miss him, and
there would be a prize for young musicians with his name attached.
I remembered him only glancingly as a bully who had turned Lucas and his sister into the stuttering confusions that they were.
Salton Weir would draw me back periodically. For births, deaths and
marriages. Each time I was more of a foreigner than the last. I would
reclaim my accent and my poverty of imagination. It was a smog that
would cling to me for the whole of my return visit, and depart
impossible to imagine on the train heading back to wherever I had chosen
to call home.
There were careers and relationships in those
places. I was married and I was made redundant periodically. Much of it
looked like capricious behaviour on my part, although much of that might
have been bluff or retrospective justification. I can tell you a lot
about the smell of fresh paint on newly acquired property; the exits are
more vague. Artifacts that I somehow felt emotional attachments for
fell between the cracks during moments when I was not paying attention.
What happened to those personal relationships, I cannot tell you. The
explanations, even at the time, were too convoluted for even one, such
as myself, who was ostensibly at the centre of them.
sister. What can I tell you about here? A Christmas at the family house,
when both parents were still alive, I can still see her at the kitchen
table wrapping a single Scrabble letter in seemingly endless layers of
wrapping paper, while the rest of the family folded foil decorations or
made pastry lids for endless mince pies.
I am still perhaps in
their bathroom many floors above, soaking in a Victorian bathtub and
listening for the ghosts of the staircases, watching my legs becoming
ever more distorted, and wondering which Scrabble letter it was that is
now so tightly encased in those thousand layers of Christmas wrap. A
telephone ringing on one of the many landings of that vast town house.
Lucas got over his griefs at a measured pace. His lovers and his
family, as each one fell into the irretrievable places, he would give
them the correct measure of his affection before he allowed them to
leave him forever. I admired his careful discrimination. As a quantity
surveyor, I suppose he had some sort of appropriate training that he
could apply to matters both personal and otherwise. It was I who
received those long pauses between sentences on so many phone calls over
And so the decades move along, and shift by a decimal
scale to centuries. Each step on each of the staircases takes the whole
of my energy. I revive somehow and the aroma of mince pies and fruit
cake reaches me from the kitchen. How many layers are on that Scrabble
letter now? It must be so large that none can escape the kitchen. Even
if I could evade the staircase ghosts and find my way back down all of
those centuries, the entrance would be blocked by a sheer mass of
If I can find my way into his father’s old
study, I will open the heavy casement windows, leap from the piano, upon
which a bust of Beethoven stands, and fly out into the night sky. There
are galactic spaces out there where the scale will expand into the
thousands and hundred-thousands of years.