Albert accidentally brushes against a man in the corridor.
‘For goodness’ sake,’ the man complains, tutting loudly at Albert and giving him a cold stare.
And Albert realises something he should have worked out years ago: sometimes offence is something you actively have to take. It doesn’t just arrive, unbidden.
For the last couple of months I’ve been building my own car, pretty much from scratch. It’s quite a thing I don’t mind telling you. And believe me, I’ve told everyone about it. So okay, I’ve probably made a few rash predictions about how fast it can go, how many people it can carry, but you know what, I’m proud of it, really proud of it, and not ashamed to say so. Not everyone can build a car after all.
But then over the last couple of weeks I’ve been taking it out on the roads. If I’m honest with myself – which I admit is a rare activity for me – it’s not gone quite as well as I’d anticipated. Last Tuesday, for example, I scratched the driver’s door on a neighbour’s boundary wall. And then yesterday, I couldn’t seem to brake at all when turning right which led to a few – shall we say – issues.
And finally, today, I wrapped it around a tree just up the road from where I live. Now don’t worry – I was okay, I was fine. I just sat in the crushed car and contemplated my next move. And then a police officer tapped my window.
‘Is everything okay here sir?’ he asked me. ‘Is there some kind of problem?’
For once, I didn’t know what to say. ‘I just don’t get it,’ I said, shaking my head in disbelief. ‘I was so certain this was a fine-tuned machine.’
‘Oh we don’t care about that sort of thing,’ his oldest sister said, speaking for his three older sisters – speaking perhaps for all wisdom and all reason – when he asked where his father’s ashes would be taken.
She explained that their father’s body would be taken alone to the crematorium. Everyone would be going instead to the hotel for the reception after the church service.
He didn’t like to think of his father being transported to the crematorium alone. It felt wrong somehow. But then he didn’t want to be seen to be weird. He felt so alone; desperate to belong somewhere, desperate to be included in the ‘we’ of his sister’s explanation. And besides, did he really care? His father was dead dead dead after all, his body nothing but a shell of course. Balancing it all up, he didn’t care enough to make a point. And any action in contrast to his three sisters – following the body to the crematorium for example – would, inevitably, be pointed.
Then later, when he wanted to converse with his father, he had no particular place to go. Where exactly was his father in this cold, indifferent universe? For reasons that weren’t clear to him, he started to think of his father as being in the sky somewhere. And only at night. And only very vaguely. He didn’t shape this thought; he just let it sit at the edge of his brain, half-formed.
And now his mother is dead, he’s certain of one thing and one thing alone. He’s going to make damn sure he knows where she ends up. He’s going to visit her grave and say to her, ‘Here you are. Just here. I’ve got you pegged. That much I know.’
I went head to head with Beethoven today. Best of five.
Well, I have to admit he got off to a really great start. He completely outplayed me in the first round which was all about harmony and counterpoint. And then, in round two, his melodic vocal writing made mincemeat of my tuneless humming.
But my lucked started to turn in round three, which was focused upon jumping up and down on the spot. I don’t like to gloat, but Beethoven was nowhere to be seen.
Then we went down the park to determine who could look the most moody in the wind. Well I say we but again old Ludwig was notable by his absence.
Finally, in the decider, which was all about having a pulse in 2017, I basically left him for dead.
As you might well imagine, this has been an important victory for me. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. Beethoven is no pushover.
Next week, I’m up to play Shakespeare. I mean, I don’t like to boast, but after this victory today I must confess to feeling quietly confident.
Please, for old time’s sake, take your right hand and study it most closely.
Now then, you see that deep line at, say, seven o’clock heading up to one o’clock? Well, my old friend, that’s what we term your lifeline.
And see that line coming in from the left, just before what we might term a quarter to? Ah come on now, don’t be all salty like that: you can see it; just look a little harder. That’s the one! The one curving up to join your lifeline, the one that runs alongside your lifeline for an inch or so before veering off to the right, heading off who knows where and then becoming a little faint?
Well yes, that would be me, yes. Indeed it would. Typically me you might say.
Now, would you just keep an eye on that line? Just let me know if it does anything weird. Would you do that for me?
We took our telescope up the hill: his mother had died not long before and it was something to do.
After the coldest hour of searching we finally found it – Saturn with all its rings!
“See!” I wanted to shout, “perhaps things might be ringed in surprising ways after all.”
(Jean Arp – Man Seen by a Flower )
Albert stares at the flower.
What kind of flower are you? he wonders.
The flower looks back at him.
You can label me, specify me, the flower thinks, if that helps you manage the situation. The truth is, if you could truly absorb all my flowerness you’d never speak again.