“We 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.
Lucas’ 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 the years.
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 Christmas wrapping.
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.