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0040 | goodbye: 1/3 (two brothers) – a thousand fragments

0040 | goodbye: 1/3 (two brothers)

I woke that morning to an orange sky which seemed far too beautiful for the day in front of it. Low-lying clouds sponged the colour away in places, but that only made the view finer still. The sky and those clouds on the left and the black-blue tree tops on the right. Total quiet and everything almost perfect. And then it started to fade. Everything slowly tipped ninety degrees as I pulled my head up from the pillow and, with greater effort, my body from the bed. The sky and the ground relocated – became above and below once more – and the familiar order of things returned and I was truly awake. The window now became a frame and the wonder of that first impression diminished as the room and my being in it filled both view and mind. There was the chair, with yesterday’s clothes; the single bed, with the glut of double duvet; the cabinet, bare, but for the lamp I had fumbled to switch off last night; and the clothing rail, which held the hanger which held the suit I would wear to the funeral.

The flat in which my brother lives alone does indeed look like the home of someone who lives without the regular company of others: a sense of things being just as one person and only one person could order them; no compromise; just him and his things and the way he wanted them to be. When I had arrived, some ten or so hours before that beautiful morning sky, he had apologised for the messy state of his surgically clean kitchen. I thought about a corner of my own kitchen, where you could glide a finger along the bevelled edge of a photo frame or the top of a recipe book and find a trail of dust and light grease that would speak perhaps of neglect, but which I felt more loudly revealed a space that was shared.

That night, I had taken my bag through to the spare bedroom at the back of the flat as my brother made a few last kitchen items more clean. I had hooked the crook of the hanger over the clothes rail and straightened and smoothed the trousers down as I went. I pulled a barely noticeable loose thread from the bottom of one of the trouser legs. Like my brother, I was making good those things which didn’t seem to need my intervention.

In the orange light of the morning that followed, I took the hanger from the rail and removed the suit from the hanger. I laid the jacket gently onto the bed and as I pulled the trousers from the bar, I saw that the hem at the bottom of one of the legs had become unravelled. And so it felt like the seams of my day had started to unpick too. I returned them to the hanger and looked once more through that frame and to those clouds, and remembered that being back home always brought these little difficulties. I closed my eyes and tried to recall the peace of the sleep that had come before that amber sky had risen vertically from my world. I opened them and little had changed, but for a better preparedness to face the next thing. I turned and walked out of the room and found the switch for the hot water outside the bathroom, and then found the cupboard from which my brother had told me to take a towel. I closed the door and stripped and stepped into the bathtub. I turned on the shower and, irrevocably, broke the pact I had made with the light and the quiet and the melancholy of the beginning of the day.

The taxi arrived ten minutes early. I pulled on the trousers which my brother had patch-repaired. The hem now sat where it should, just about resting on the mirrored black instep of my shoe. Its restored neatness pleased me greatly. I left the flat, pulling on the jacket as I shuttled down the steps and placing a rolled-up black tie into my pocket. I waited inside the taxi, fumbling a thick solid silver square through the first of two holes on the cuff of my left sleeve. I watched Dave close the door behind him and felt the car dip as he sat down beside me in the back. My progress with the cufflinks was slow. Dave called Mum to let her know we were on our way. She asked him to pick up a sliced loaf and a copy of the Metro. He replied that she really wouldn’t have a need for either this morning. He passed the phone over so that I could reassure and comfort her further. She repeated her request for the loaf and newspaper. I told her we could take care of that later; afterwards. I asked if she was dressed. She sounded calm and organised, said that she was ready and looking forward to seeing us. ‘See you soon, darling.’ ‘Yes, see you soon, Mum.’ The phone was old and heavily scratched and three possible buttons at the top of the handset for disconnecting the call were all worn down to the bare plastic. I handed it back to Dave with a pincer-like grip meant to indicate a precarious knowledge of the device. He smiled and brought his thumb down on one of the buttons before returning it to his pocket. He struck up conversation with the driver as I threaded the second cufflink into place. They discussed town planning and high-speed train links and the drug dependency of a mutual friend. Then they started to talk about the profligate habits of a charity whose name and purpose I missed. ‘They spend money like confetti’, came one reply from the front. They throw money like confetti, I corrected, to myself, unable to let the simile sit any other way in my head. ‘They throw money around like confetti.’ I sent a message to my wife and realised how much I missed my two children. A slight swell of nausea took hold of my stomach. I heard the driver and my brother and the softer din of the car radio, and the quiet of all other things that their exclusion from the car dictated. It was the quiet of those other things that remained loudest for the remainder of our journey.

Reader Comments

  1. I’ve read this several times since you published it. As always in your writing, I can see the scenes playing out before me so clearly. Each moment, each movement, each image you focus on provides a touchstone–which makes the reader feel of your journey more heavily. I’ve been there–focusing on each tiny moment that precedes a difficulty that lies ahead. Slowly noticing the small things, holding on to them as long as possible, before having to move forward and past.

  2. i am so sorry matt. how is that life can be so opaque, thick with heaviness and yet so broken, fragile that we can’t even hold it for a second without causing more damage.

    again, i am sorry…

  3. Meemalee:
    Glad you enjoyed this. The Metro, yes: we have a knack for deflecting concern onto far more trivial things at times like this. Thanks for commenting.

    Thank you so much. I guess my comment to MiMi, above, stands here too: choosing to focus on the ordinary on extraordinary days. They’re all one and the same thing which enrich.

    Thank you. To know you come back to read these more than once is very touching (although should I fear you’ll return one day as editor and not reader?!). Yes, those little things through which we can face the rest.

    Always so lovely to see your comments among the others: they’re so often the most fitting of post-scripts, more poetic than anything I could write; so often the same wavelength and lens.

  4. No fears, Matt. I don’t wear my editor hat when I’m reading for the pure pleasure of it. Especially here. (I’d probably have to invent a problem if you asked get out my chapeau here.)

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