Tuesday, 8 May 2012
In Cassidy's Care: 1. This Sunday
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”
Taken from ‘Little Gidding’ by T. S. Elliot
"Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm"
Taken from ‘Amelia’ by Joni Mitchell
Cassidy’s eyes stung.
His throat ached.
He could barely swallow.
Something had happened.
A memory briefly recognized and then moved beyond.
Behind him, and yet…
He stood like dawn, on the edge of something.
Searching for a word.
He pursed his lips.
“Will Mayfair Mac still go to heaven Dad?”
Thankfully Archie was sitting on Cassidy's shoulders and was unable to see the single tear snaking down his father’s gaunt grimacing grin. Daniel, his eldest, caught his eye and tugged his hand. Cassidy tugged back and then, with Archie still on his shoulders, sat down on the park bench. This was now a part of their Sunday morning routine; Archie on Cassidy’s shoulders, skinny legs dangling like knotted rope. Cassidy sitting. Daniel ripping Velcro, pulling off his brother’s trainers, reaching into the rucksack for his cleats, his football boots; carefully sliding them onto Archie’s restless feet; pulling them on with the leather tongue; pulling tight before looping long laces under the sole and back; pulling tight again; making two loops, bunny ears, painstakingly concentrating on tying the perfect double knot. Cassidy loved the way that Daniel cared for his brother, admired his attention to the detail; a man after his own heart.
He and his boys had four hours before the three o’clock curfew.
Another two hundred and forty minutes in Cassidy’s care, then back to their mother in Bayswater.
He'd met Amelia right here.
Nine years and thirteen months ago, to the day.
Thirteen months since the ‘last supper’.
Thirteen months separated, including ten days divorced.
Cassidy had accounted for that.
“I love you, goodbye”, she had said, waving papers, stiffly shaking his hand. Civil, cordial even, but he knew that he was now on her list; things that she was better beyond: capers, clowns, Cassidy and his bloody cactus.
He couldn’t remember exactly when he had stopped loving her, or she him.
Had he ever really loved Amelia?
They first met in this park, on this very bench.
Nine years and thirteen months ago, to the day.
Cassidy was new to London then. He’d recently taken a position at a large international school in the north of the city. Lower School computers. After ten lazy years in a sleepy Connecticut primary, he was hungry for advancement and adventure, keen to taste the wider world. He’d stay in London for two years, no longer. Appetite sated, he would move on, onwards and upwards. Cassidy was a creature of comfort and settled easily into city life; he started to feel at home; he’d even brought himself a cactus for company. After a successful first term he had returned to Cape Cod for a family Christmas and was now back and well into his second semester.
At weekends his early morning jog took him out of his cramped basement flat in West Hampstead, up through Swiss Cottage and St Johns Wood, before he hit the northern slopes of Primrose Hill. He was learning to love the parks of London. That bright winter morning he followed the central path leading to the brow of the hill. From there amongst the dog walkers and kite flyers, he could look down upon the possibilities of the city. He always paused at the same park bench; leant against it to stretch and stare and reset himself for the return journey.
That February morning the bench was occupied, a lone figure silhouetted by the pallid sun as it rose over the distant marshes of East London. As she turned towards him he saw sun splashed pigtails and the grain of her hair, all burnt copper and straw. He thought of Andrew Wyeth’s studies of Helga, an impression reinforced as the keening sun kissed her pale broad features; large ochre eyes, wide set beneath heavy unkempt brows, high cruel cheekbones, a generous mouth, kind and vaguely amused. She simply said “Hello handsome” and that was that. Cassidy sat down beside her and followed her finger as she traced the eastern marshes, the Isle of Dogs, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, past the Post Office Tower and beyond towards the Houses of Parliament, her steady slender hand finally fluttering over the leafy hills of Hampstead, where they would meet later at the Holly Bush for a ploughman’s lunch and pints of real ale.
And her name was Amelia.
‘Amelia’ was Cassidy’s favourite Joni Mitchell song. How weird was that? He loved Joni. The song now assumed a new resonance and he sang the words to himself whenever he was troubled.
‘So this I how I hide the hurt as the road leads cursed and charmed.’
He felt horny every time he thought about the Cactus Tree Motel’s ‘strange pillows of wonderlust’; Amelia crashing into his arms…
They married forty days later at a registry office in Holborn and within two years had two sons.