Days of Dust

 

As soon as she left he opened a can of beer and headed straight for the attic. At the top of the house, he turned the light on and lifted himself up and into the loft through the raised doorway. Jenny had informed him that a couple of boxes remained to be looked through and it was clear that this ‘junk’ would not be welcome in their new home. All the photos and albums and memories were already sealed in boxes in the empty living room downstairs waiting to be transported to another house, into another attic in which they would remain until their own children would be forced to repeat the process and seek out some pleasure from the past.

Moving slowly over the various sheets of wood that rested on the floor beams, he put his beer down beside his feet and looked at the sides of the boxes to see if they were marked in any way which might reveal their contents. Nothing indicated what he should expect to find inside so he picked them up and moved over towards the light. He took another sip of his beer and looked around the empty attic. The sight of this new and unfamiliar emptiness instigated a rush of emotions which scrambled his head and made him think of too many things all at once. Two large skips had been filled with the contents of the loft, but now, he wondered whether perhaps they had been too ruthless and rapid in their eagerness to sort and clear all the things so abruptly deemed beyond use or repair. His parents, particularly his father, would collect and keep and store and hide due to his belief that at some point these items would be of benefit and use. He remembered his mother complaining about how all the corners of the house were filled with trash, but now that these spaces were empty he found it difficult to decide whether he’d discarded more than was necessary. Each item was a part of the puzzle of their past. Each piece was a specific thought that once belonged to his parents. An idea and point of purpose that was left forgotten as the days continued to pass and age crept up silently and slowly until it was all that remained beneath their sagging skin.

A tiny ray of light shone through a gap in the roof tiles and he lit up a cigarette and inhaled. He looked out at the sky above and slowly released the smoke up through the tiny gap and watched it disappear. He wished his parents were still alive. He wished there was no need to dispense of so many elements of their life together. He wished they were waiting in another house not far away. Or downstairs discussing dinner. Or a phone call from assistance. Despite the difficulty and problems that arose within families, he wished he still had one. Instead he was a lone survivor with nothing but his name and the three boxes that now remained in the home they once shared. He felt his pocket vibrate so he put the beer down and removed his mobile phone from his trousers. The message was from Jenny. ‘Where are you? How you getting on?’ Shit. He hadn’t even opened the boxes yet. He looked at his watch and realised that an hour had already past and he was no closer to finishing. ‘I’m still going through the boxes.’ He wrote. ‘Should be there in the next hour or so. X’ He put the phone back in his pocket and reached down and opened the cardboard flaps of the box. He looked inside. It was full of magazines and pads and bits of paper and as he rummaged around and pulled the items out he discovered it was also full of his old porn collection. Suddenly he realised why Jenny had left it for him to sort through. It was her way of letting him know she had found it and wanted it gone. She wanted to know that the lusts and fantasies these magazines and images indicated weren’t real. That they were now insignificant and nothing more than a simple sight of a person he once was, long ago, before he met her. She wanted to know that she was the only one. The only one he ever pictured naked and the only one he craved. Even though she would always doubt if it was true, she wanted to destroy the physical reminders that might indicate the imprecision of such fiction. Tony picked up one of the magazines and looked at Summer Altice as she lay on a bed with a rose between her legs. He remembered wanking in his bedroom over the pictures and hiding the magazines until he was horny again. It got him through his teenage years when girls were something scary and required too much effort and emotion. He picked up another magazine and flicked through it. Ahhh, Sung Hi Lee. Oh how much I missed you. He picked up another one. Patricia Ford. He felt a flicker in his pants and momentarily wondered whether he should do the deed one last time for old time’s sake. He listened. The house was still empty. He was alone. No one would know. He looked back at the double page spread and smiled.

Three minutes later he put the magazine down and removed the remaining glossy prints from the box. He examined the pieces of paper and dismissed them as simple notes made whilst at school. Then, in between an old copy of the Sunday Sport and a guitar tablature, he found a letter he sent to his first girlfriend. He read it slowly and carefully. The letter contained a great deal of pain and hurt and deflated hope and happiness. He felt remorse for how it ended. He didn’t mean for things to happen the way they did, but by the time he returned to some semblance of sense and sanity, the decision was no longer his. There was a time when he couldn’t stop thinking about her and there were brief times when he still did. Occasionally he wished he could still make contact. See what she was up to. How she was doing. Whether she missed him. But it was history. And though he wasn’t sure whether he believed it, perhaps it was better left that way. He held the letter and thought about whether or not to throw it away. Would keeping it make a difference? The questions and doubt would always remain, paper was meaningless amongst past passions, they were merely artefacts of times and places that could never be re-visited and redeemed. It was gone. He took a large swig of his beer and reached into his back pocket for the black bin bag. The present was hard enough. Fanning it open, he put the letter aside and threw away the porn and magazines and other bits of paper. The first box was empty. One down.

Once he had discarded of the contents of the first box, he moved on to the second. He lit another cigarette and peered inside. This was one was full of books and he was surprised he hadn’t noticed it before. The first book he pulled out was the screenplay for Being John Malkovich by Charlie Kaufman. Beneath this were other screenplays and aged books from his youth about sausages and exploding mash potatoes. The remainder of the box was filled with old film magazines and a few football related items, such as his Arsenal autograph book which contained the signatures of Anders Limpar and Stuart Houston. He felt immense gratitude towards his parents for indulging his childhood enthusiasm and hobbies. They always tried to please him and make him happy, and largely, it worked right through to his adult life. He was privileged and blessed and proud. They did their best and he was the result. He wasn’t perfect, but neither were they, and they lived together in what they knew of happiness between their defects and delusions.

He put the magazines and autograph book and photos back in the box and threw the rest of the contents into the bin bag. One more down. One left. But before he proceeded, he decided to get another beer and smoke a cigarette in the garden. He wanted to get some fresh air as the dust was penetrating his lungs and sticking to his skin. He wanted to sit outside and take it in. Absorb as much as he could before it was too late and the opportunity was no longer something he could grasp. Lifting the can to his mouth he took several large gulps and finished it. His head was beginning to feel a little loose and he could tell that he was getting drunk, but it seemed fitting to free the house from his families memory with a beer. It would soon have a new family. New dreams and days and nights devoted to the shelter of a younger family with younger hope and love. He threw the can in the bin bag and began his descent down into the garden, running the tips of his fingers along the wall above the dado rail.

The night was clear and the moon shone down on him and his surroundings as he pulled the plastic chair out from under the table and sat down. There was a time when he used to sneak out of the window above the kitchen onto the small balcony and look up at the stars whilst contemplating what the years ahead would hold. Much of it was good. Some of it wasn’t. And what remained was still play out. He looked up and saw the stars again. They were still there and so was he. He lit the cigarette and closed his eyes and inhaled slowly and deeply. Breathing out he kept his eyes closed and let his body relax and fall with the release of the air from within his lungs. He could feel the lateness of the evening on the skin of his arms but it was gentle and far from unwelcome. Opening his eyes and sipping at the beer he felt good. There were no sirens in the distance and the planes above were passing somewhere else, above someone else. It was dark and quiet and still. Nothing passed through Tony’s head apart from the very moment out beyond it. Everything before led up to this, a cigarette and a beer and nothing but the calm and silence of the here and now. Nothing else mattered. Nothing was better than this. Nothing. He felt content and calm. Free to some degree. Looking up he took another sip of the beer and inhaled once more. The stars were still bright. Then a siren sounded in the distance. The moment passed.

Eventually he rose to his feet and took another beer from the fridge and went back up the stairs to finish sorting through the boxes. It seemed to take him longer to reach the attic and his legs felt tired and drained, but there was only one box left so on he trudged. Inside the attic he walked more slowly across the beams, taking additional care not to fall between them. He picked up the box and placed it atop the others. Following some more beer he opened the flaps and leaned over to get a closer look. He reached in and pulled out Macho Man Randy Savage. He went in again and this time it was the Honky Tonk Man. Next was Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Last Action Hero and then again as the Terminator. Then Robocop and the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and Liono and Bravestar and a couple of characters he couldn’t remember from the Ghostbuster’s cartoon. He placed them all out in front of him and looked back in the box. At the very bottom was the plastic WWF ring with ropes still intact and waiting. He raised it from the box and blew. The dust flew out in all direction and he coughed and squinted his eyes amid the particles of years long since passed that now encircled and embraced him. As he looked at all the toys only one thought echoed in his head. Awesome. This is awesome. This is fucking awesome. He had completely forgotten about the toys. They had been dumped in the attic by his parents when he moved to university and seeing them again made him smile and recollect the joy of his youth. Once he had rolled a cigarette he lit it and set about resuming battles which had lain dormant for so many years. It was back on. Within minutes the Ultimate Warrior was beating and pounding and pressing and pinning and punching the others and shaking the ropes and running around and standing on the top turn buckle as Tony watched and shouted and urged him on.

The vibration of his phone pulled him back and he removed it from his pocket and answered it. ‘Hello.’ He said.

‘Hello.’

‘Oh, shit, hi Jen.’

‘Where are you?’ She asked.

‘I’m still at home.’

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m going through the boxes.’ He answered and gave St. Slaughter a dry backhand. ‘It took longer than I thought.’

‘No shit, it’s been three hours.’

‘No…’ he looked a this watch.

‘Yes, it has. The other guys are asking when you’re coming down. What’s taking you so long?’

‘Sorry, I just found some old stuff.’

‘Like what?’

‘Some of my old toys.’

‘You been playing with them?’

‘No…’

‘Yeah you have.’

‘I got distracted. I can’t believe they’re still here.’ The Warrior jumped off the top ropes and landed on one of the Bushwackers. ‘It’s fucking amazing.’

‘What are you gonna do with them?’ Jenny asked.

‘I don’t know.’ Arnie got in the ring and punched the Warrior straight in the face. ‘I’m not sure.’

‘You’re not really gonna bring with them with you, are you?’

‘Well…’ Michalangelo tried a drop kick and missed.

‘Well what?’

‘Well why not?’ Arnie was going crazy and kicking the shit out of everyone in the ring. Even Batman couldn’t handle him.

‘Because you should probably give them to charity or to the hospital or something.’

‘What?’ The T1000 started throwing them one by one out the ring. Shredder was the first to go. Quickly followed by the Turtles and Jimmy Fly Snooka. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘Come on. Just give them away.’

‘But…’ It was mayhem now as one by one the little men were being thrown out of the ring.

‘Are you listening?’

‘Yeah. Course.’

‘Do what you want. Are you gonna come to the pub now? All your mates are here.’

‘Er, yeah. I’m pretty much done. I’ll be down there soon.’ The Warrior picked up the T1000 and threw him over the ropes. That was it. He was the last man standing. Winner of the Royal Rumble. Again.

‘Listen…seriously…if you want to keep them, just keep them. We’ll make room.’

‘Hmmm.’

‘I’ll see you soon then.’

‘Bout half an hour or so.’

‘Okay. Bye.’

He put the phone back in his pocket and rolled a final cigarette. As he smoked and sipped from his last can of Fosters, he slowly returned all the toys to the box. Despite the immense feelings that were reaching around inside him, the evening had been enjoyable. And despite the fear he previously anticipated and the dread of tears and overloaded emotions, he got through it. The worst of it was already gone. As he turned to leave the loft his leg knocked one of the boxes and he heard something hit the floor beside him. Reaching into the shadows with his hand, his fingers gripped the object and pulled it out towards him. Holding it under the light he realised it was an old cd. ‘O’ by Damien Rice. He stared at the stained sleeve and remembered listening to it over and over again. He remembered sitting in his room at university, alone, tired and full of tears following the breakdown of his previous relationship. He remembered the pain and intense loneliness and sense of abandonment. He remembered trying to think, trying to work out what went wrong, how it went wrong, and why. He remembered trying to find a reason to leave his room, to go outside, to do anything that would make him feel human again. But it was a long time before normality resumed, and even then he was damaged and different. It was the most painful thing he had ever experienced. Shortly after his parents passed away and things continued to fall to shit around him. He cried some more. Cursed his luck and questioned a God who no longer seemed to care. He stopped laughing and spent increasing lengths of time deep in thought and far removed from the daily grind of life. His desires and motivation waned. Friends were lost and work and wisdom suffered gravely. Time just passed him by. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. He grew a beard and stopped cutting his hair. Conversations became difficult and demanding and trust was no longer something he could understand. The reasons to live and love became hidden memories within the confines of his head. Days and nights were same. Everything was dull and dismal. The world dark. He sat down and opened the cd case. Looking at the sleeve he noticed something was written in uneven letters on the inner jacket. He slowly read; ‘Dear James, We hope you have a wonderful birthday. Have fun and remember to eat. And phone us. You’re a man now, but never grow up. Enjoy life. Make every second count. Love Mum and Dad.’  He held the cd in his hand and closed his eyes. It was so long ago. Sixteen years. Gone. His phone vibrated and displayed an incoming call from Jenny, ‘Hello,’ he said and got up, ‘Yeah, sorry…I know…I’m on my way…’ He turned the light off and ran down the stairs. ‘…and Jenny…’ The house fell silent once again. ‘I love you.’

 

 

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