Even now, I can’t bring myself to tell my mother about the rug.
At some stage, every little boy has a fire phase. A fascination with the flame, if you will. It calls out to each of us at some point. And it sang its song, luring me on to the rocks, or on to the hearth, when I was about twelve years of age.
Circumstances aligned each weeknight beautifully while that fascination lasted.
My mother, my very house-proud mother, worked nights, in the bar of a theatre in the city centre. And to make it there on time, she would have to leave and head off into town in her blue Mini City at ten to seven.
Now, my father didn’t arrive home from the factory he worked in as a welder until a quarter past seven, typically. So that gave me roughly twenty, twenty-five minutes to work.
No, not that. The last time I used the sick kid excuse, he actually got sick a few days later. Really sick. Now, I don’t believe in fate, but I don’t want to go tempt the fucker either. I’ve already been to two family funerals this year in far-flung parts of this godforsaken country and it’s only March, so best not to go to the well on that one again. Plus I can’t remember whether it’s my mother or my mother-in-law who I told them snuffed it last year, and I have to imagine this shit gets written down somewhere. I only had the flu, genuinely, straight after Christmas, and if I played the measles or pox card I would have to say it came by way of the kid. And I refer you to point one; he’d end up dying of a lethal one-in-a-million strain of it next week. Is that fate or karma? Whichever. They both have my card marked. No this one is going to have to be on me. And I’m going to have to make it stick. When I come back from “sickness” or “injury” I like to still sport some residual effect. A cough. A limp. But I’m not Daniel Day fucking Lewis. It’s hard to keep that shit in character. And by eleven, I’ll be floating around the office like Fred Astaire. Yeah this one has to stick and stick good. Which means it requires a little, shall we say, realism. Which brings me here to the pedestrian crossing. The one where the mindless lemmings amble out in front of bicycles and buses long after the signal tells them not to, practically begging to be maimed or mangled. Which I see happen from time to time, adrenaline and embarrassment pulling them up off the ground back to their feet and to the side of the road where someone will be busy calling them an ambulance. I curse their stupidity every morning. But now I salute them. In truth they are inspirational geniuses. Like a surfer standing on the beach waiting on the perfect wave, I size up the vehicles preparing for the light to go green and choose my set.
There was something about the walk. That determined yet effortless gait. The purposeful pace. The figure was still too far off to know for sure, and the tracksuit was something his dad would never normally wear, but Swan’s heart bungee-jumped down into the pit of his stomach all the same. It stayed there dangling as he tried to bring the approaching face into focus. He hadn’t seen or spoken to his dad in a long time. Years. Too many years. They hadn’t fallen out, just lost touch, but he had no idea why or what to say – “oh hello” didn’t seem to cut it – if they were to bump into each other like this, by stupid happenstance, now. The man’s fast advancing pace had brought him too close for Swan to turn around and go back the way he came. There were no doorways or gaps between the parked cars big enough to accommodate his escape. Swan swallowed, tested a smile, then thought better of it, wondered whether he should go for hands in or hands out of his pockets. He straightened his hair, shined his right shoe on the back of his left trouser leg and braced for impact. Fifteen feet. Ten. Five. The stranger glanced up from the imaginary line he was following on the sidewalk and looked into Swan’s face, then sidestepped to the left and continued past. Swan’s chest cavity slowly winched his heart back up into its rightful position and he took out his phone, scrolling through the contacts to D.
“Okay, what’s your problem?” said Sonya, coming to a dead stop on the sidewalk and wheeling around. A tall guy in a black trench coat, five paces behind her, pointed at his chest, looked over his shoulder and then back again. The universal “Who me?” “Don’t come the innocent,” she said. “I clocked you ages ago, been following me all night.” He shrugged. She stepped forward. “And this isn’t the first time, is it? I saw you last night.” The look of puzzlement on his face gave way to a smirk. “Extraordinary,” he said. “What the fuck does that mean?” “It means you.” He just stood there, smiling at her. Vacant. “What are you? Some kind of God botherer?” He laughed. “Sort of.” “Why are you following me?” she said. “It’s my job.”