A giant flag draped behind the nation’s leaders. A faded flag hanging limply in an antique shop in a small town. A book of ensigns on a shelf next to tea sets and cracked crockery, medals and vinyl records and gas masks.
A woman standing proudly in front of a house. A family on the beach. An old motor car. The car of a man and woman. The house and family of a man and woman. A woman standing proudly in an old photograph in a tatty album, on a dusty shelf, forgotten beside the flags, in an antiques shop.
There will be no clichés. No morning light, no birds singing, no greening of the year. This is no bildungsroman. We learn nothing. We will repeat the same mistakes because we have the same hopes and the same fears and we continue to lack the facility to contend. We are compromised by ourselves and others but prefer not to think about it. We will not accept ourselves and our complicity. We accept feeling thwarted, but deny the true challenge. The roles of hunter and hunted are vainglorious, but we never let them go. We enjoy stasis. It is our alibi.
I try to shut the thoughts away but the words he says prise open my every defence. I can’t not hear it. He talks about his life, his friends, the plans we’ve made, the things we’ve achieved, places we’ve been. He talks about his grandmother, about my own family history. He claims he’s talked to the bank manager. He shows me photographs of us in the pub, laughing with his mates. One of me in a dress – says I look fit. But he never once asks me how I feel: never imagines that I could be the one in charge.
The red dust came from desert skies
sanded the paper and screens of the press
caught in the eyes of conspiracy freaks
piled up the stress of Western dreams
grazed the feet of measured prose
stormed the sounds of drum and song
covered the rows of memorial crosses
and all their long-remembered losses
tickled the wings of the watching hawks
scratched the surveillance camera’s lens
scuffed the talk of the innocent doves
rendered pretend what might have prevailed
as it landed deep on these shores, here –
striking home to avenge what we began before
striving vainly to settle foreign scores
Lord Jesus, think on me well, for I built a shippe for your animals. Yet those people did not come aboard. They stayed wretched and drunk even as the storm approached and I was left alone with the beasts. When all was still I let your raven fly in search of some dry haven. It brought me back an olive branch that I held tearfully to my breast. At that moment I saw a rainbow and all was well. How blessed and safe we felt. But I see clouds building on the horizon.
Yeah can you get some now now
Hear it comin’ yeah yeah
Howlin’ howlin’ oh yeah howl howl
All the way and back and down down
Down the line now baby
Oh come on now keep it yeah
Storm is raising
Storm is raising
Storm is raising
Can you hear it rainin’ rain rain
Whistle blowin’ blow blow
Wind is rattlin’ now a huff huff
Huffin’ puffin’ huffin huff puff
Trees a-fallin’ on the line line
Trains a-rattlin’ all the time time
Woah Mister Driver you’d better
Call it off off
Aww it’s gettin’ hot hot
Awright, lemme hear ya
Downstairs in the shop it is sweltering. I am at a designer furniture launch. This is my job. Bring on the canapés, I should be eating dinner. Sean works for a competitor. He tells me about when his wallet was fat, when he was drunk every evening. Across the room Seb shakes hands. Everyone wants to meet Seb. But I can tell by the way he pulls at his ear that he wants out. Away from sales, marketing and clueless creatives. My forehead runs with sweat. The kids won’t want to go to bed tonight. I wish I was home.
Oh but the rains I remember, alternating with the regular insistence of windscreen wipers: downpour, drizzle, downpour, drizzle, downpour, drizzle. They seem so long ago. Now, the way I see it, the world is brighter. Plants bud sooner, the birds always sing. There are children playing in the cul-de-sacs and everyone, at any time, can glimpse the tiniest speck of summer. In February the sun is warm on my neck. If it rained last week I can’t remember. I walk to the shops, meet friends. I have no jacket with a hood, no umbrella. The reservoirs, they warn, are dry.
It clicked with Little Georgey at around the time of his eleventh birthday. At first it was his father’s inventiveness, the way there was always some unfathomable new excuse: No, there could be no new holiday, not while the roof needed fixing. No, there would be no big birthday presents this year, not while his mother’s job was unsettled. The roof was never fixed. His mum worked happily. But there were no big presents, no holiday. Little George asked why. His father shook his head and laughed. Little boy, he said, little boy, it’s the way things work. You’ll learn.