Friday, 30 September 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 8: This Sunday

8. This Sunday

Neither of Cassidy’s parents was particularly demonstrative. They didn’t deal in doting displays, tugs and hugs.
“The glories of God are sometimes best kept hidden” Harry would sigh mysteriously whenever a love scene came on the TV. There were posed family shots scattered within the beach house, but no individual candids. The only picture that featured Cassidy alone sat on his mother’s dresser. Two pictures actually. Cassidy aged five standing on some windy beach, profiled against a rough sea. A study in black and white, he is framed in the bottom left, holding what he knew to be a kite string, looking out across the scene, peering up into an empty white sky. To the right of this photo stood another, this one in colour. Here a startlingly slender version of his father looks skyward, the wind blowing his thick hair back off his face revealing Harry’s handsome, young man self. One hand shields his eyes; the other arm is extended, reaching up towards a small red kite with a blue tail. Annie would say “Oh my” and press her hand to her breastbone whenever she looked upon this picture. She always swore that she had taken the candids in the same instant, an invisible kite line connecting the two moments, but Cassidy wasn’t so sure. But he did remember loving that kite, his first real prized possession.
And he had named it.
What had he named it?
‘Red’ something. After someone in the family.
Red Tom?
Red Dick?
Surely not.
Red Harry?
Red Annie?
Red Cassidy?
He rubbed his forehead and recalled the vivid moment when he’d let slip the string and watched helplessly as the kite rose up and out to sea and… just kept going.
Pretty symbolic, sighed Cassidy who was starting to see an undercurrent of meaning in everything and was beginning to tire of all of this self-regard. He just couldn’t help himself. A slow burning cadence, an almost exotic undertow kept shifting him outwards, upwards, “like Icarus ascending, on beautiful foolish arms”. A silent prompting voice kept urging him to decipher this secret code, and he persevered if only because… he needed his life to fit him better.
He wanted to feel free.
He wanted to shine like the sun.

 Dad! Are you listening to me Dad? Will Mayfair Mac still go to heaven?” repeated Archie impatiently from atop Cassidy’s shoulders.
“And in bits?”
Cassidy moved his attention from the carnival of kites above.
“That’s a good question Archie”, he removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I think that God will make Mac whole again. He gives special attention to those who need Him the most. He can make them better. He can… love them better. I also believe that Mac will go to cat heaven because he was so loving to you guys and your mom.”
Amelia had always coached the boys with her own peculiar code of Catholic fervor; ‘Gucci Guilt’ he had unwisely called it during one of her final assaults. Although Cassidy was agnostic, he often found himself having to reinforce Amelia’s sermons with the boys, making his interpretations as wooly as possible.
“And in bits?” Archie was persistent.
“No Archie, as a regular cat, you know, a one piece kind of a Mac.”
“What, like fixed up?”
 “No Archie, as he was before… before he wasn’t in bits.”
“God can do that?”
“Anything he puts his mind to”, said Cassidy lifting Archie off his shoulders. The little fella was getting big; soon too big to kiss goodnight.
He marveled at the resilience of his kids. They were regularly heaved between two haranguing households, they’d just lost their ‘Grumps’ and then came yesterday’s stunner from Mayfair Mac. Through it all they remained... what was the word his English beer buddy kept using? Chipper
Through it all his boys remained chipper.
“Of course they have to do a pet funeral first” Daniel was all business “then a cat cremation.”
“Come on you two, more walk, less talk. You don’t want to be late for the game, do you?”
 “What’s ‘cremation’ Danny?” asked Archie.
“They burn your body, make you into ashes. It gets you to heaven quicker.”
“They’re gonna set fire to Mac?”
Daniel rolled his eyes and snorted.
Cassidy recognized that grimacing grin as his own.
 “First they put him into a cat coffin”
Mac in a box, thought Cassidy biting his lip.
 “Mac in a what?” Daniel’s arched eyebrows, the tilt of his head, reminded Cassidy of his own Father’s.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 7: Yesterday

7. Yesterday

Saturday evenings were desolate. Cassidy sat in front of late night TV, nursing a beer. ‘Match of the Day’. He’d never been able to understand the rules of soccer, ‘Football’ as they insisted on calling it here. There was an ache in his jaw, a word in his mouth that he couldn’t form and a numbness that he knew to be grief. Again he reached for that elusive word, tried to roll it around his tongue and push it forward, but it was like looking for salt in the kitchen cupboard; he knew it was there, but he just couldn’t put a hand on it. He felt loveless and needy. Sure, love was over rated and something that recent experience had taught him to be wary of, but, beyond the odd grapple with an equally needy colleague, he wanted more than just the occasional glimpse of hope. He wanted the possibility of something better, something tangible. He knew himself capable of love; his sons were testament to that, but what of the adult world? It seemed that he lacked something, some faculty for connection, a lack that manifested itself as this dull… emptiness. He tried to call it sadness; tried to touch that ‘sadness’ but it had no centre, no substance; it was something beyond longing; just one more intangible that he couldn’t name and claim.
Cassidy turned the TV off, eyed the kitchen sink and from a sitting position attempted a hook shot with his crumpled beer can.
Three points.
“Go Cassidy” he whooped and ‘high-fived’ himself.
He was done with laconic lucidity. He needed to act, to get to the heart of things, but how to proceed, how to get a hold on things? He struggled to his feet, reached for the iPod and scoured his music library, then got himself another Bud from the fridge. He rubbed his forehead; beer and Beethoven were usually a sure quick fix but tonight he just felt plain baffled. He reset the iPod to ‘shuffle’, turned up the volume and ambled to the bathroom.
Doctor my eyes have seen the tears and the slow parade of fears.
Jackson Browne. He loved Jackson Browne. This song could have been written for him, for this moment. He took a piss and then stood in front of the bathroom mirror, examining himself.
He liked this mirror. With the light behind, you couldn’t see the… specifics. He took off his shirt; shoulders back, gut in.
His freckled chest sagged; a tuft of reddish grey sprouted apologetically, an inverted nipple somehow making his chest look boz-eyed. His arms hung limp by bloated belly, un-toned and powerless. Maybe a tattoo would help define him; give him a feature.
What would the tattoo say?
He couldn’t think of one thing.
So, he tried to think of something that would make him happy. He definitely did not want to be one of those people who’d sigh and profess themselves ‘happy enough’, as if any more joy would cause an overflow, an unseemly flood that would make an embarrassing stain on the mattress of their hot bed of happiness. He still stirred in the early hours, hearing Amelia’s key slide into the lock; still heard her whisper ‘Babe, I’m home’, a fleeting thrill that evaporated abruptly as he spoke into the empty darkness. He recognized that brief ecstasy as nostalgic nonsense. Not happiness. His boys made him giddy at the recognition that he could love and be loved; the ‘unconditional love’ that the ‘Earth Mothers’ of Hampstead always banged on about; it really did exist. But with that love came an almost asphyxiating burden of responsibility. The boys made him ‘happy’ but at a price. Cassidy wanted a happiness that was weightless, frivolous. He wanted to be one of those… what was that REM song? He loved REM.
‘Shiny Happy People’
That was it; he wanted to shine with happiness.
He attempted his brightest smile. 
His reflection leered back.
He tried to laugh out loud and heard the braying of a desperate donkey.
“I want joy”, he said.
“I need joy”, he shouted.
“I deserve joy”, he screamed.
“I don’t deserve… this”, he whispered.
He turned on the cold tap, filled his empty beer can and shuffled back into the lounge to water his cactus, the first time he’d ever thought of doing this. Were you even meant to water a cactus? If so, how the hell had it survived for… ten years?
He sat down again, waiting for that jolt of joy, and as he sat and waited Cassidy saw that happiness was a stranger; a stranger that you seldom look in the eye. Happiness was something that you caught out of the corner of your eye, glimpsed fleetingly and only recognized as it left the room. He looked at his distorted reflection in the TV screen. This particular stranger had stolen his life.
There was the sound of a moving chair in the flat above. Was it really nearly a week since Monty had been assaulted? Time was a concertina, especially in times of stress. Monty was out of intensive care, back at home and doing well, but a punctured lung would deflate his amorous longings for the foreseeable future. Claude was nowhere to be found; probably stalking Central Park or burgling Brooklyn.
The phone rang; it was Amelia.
“Peter, Mac, Mac’s…”
“Amelia? What’s happened?”
“I need to tell you… about Mac…”
Mayfair Mac was the family cat. Cassidy and Amelia had brought him as a kitten in the year that they married. He was a ‘Scottish Fold’, his wide-eyed stare and oddly folded ears always reminded Peter of an owl. Mac was a real character, maverick and frisky as hell. Before they finally had him neutered he had cast his seed amongst most of the female cat population of North London, showing particular interest in the classy queens of Marble Arch and beyond, hence his nickname. His lack of McNuggets was a firm family joke but, if anything, he had become more amorous after the snip. Nothing was safe from Mayfair Mac’s attentions: small dogs, cushions, teddy bears, Monty’s leg. Cassidy had even taken to sleeping in boxer shorts just in case. To some neighbours Mayfair Mac was legend; to many he was a serial rapist.
On one famous occasion Mac had been returned to their West Hampstead flat in a taxi, with a handwritten note from the American Ambassador, a note that Cassidy still had proudly stuck to his fridge door:

“To the owners of ‘Mac’: I am pleased to return your cat safely, although I cannot say that my wife was so concerned about his health. She found him in flagrante delicto with her beloved Ragamuffin ‘Prada’. Mac had slipped in through the gardens of Winfield House and into the kitchens of our ‘high security’ residence in Regents Park. He was impossible to deter and seemed focused on one thing only. He did the deed (twice) before demolishing Prada’s ‘Fancy Feast’ supper (Savory Salmon) and then, just wouldn’t leave.
The taxi might strike you as an odd touch but it did seem to befit ‘Mayfair Mac’ (how quaint) who does appear a singular sort. We know of his name and home address by the tag on his collar. Might I suggest a shorter lead or a visit to your closest veterinarian surgeon?
I must say that he is very impressive in action; he’s quite the stud is your Mac…
Yours sincerely,
Louis Susman

There was a considered division of spoils after the split, a cordial agreement regarding access to the boys, and yes, Cassidy could keep the bloody cactus, but Amelia had taken Mac and the exercise bike without question. This pissed Peter off. He could live without the bike, but that cat he loved, as did his boys. It gave Bayswater an added allure that Cassidy couldn’t compete with. Apparently Mac was happier there too. He had that tiny garden to shit in.
“Whose he been bonking now?”
“His bonking days are over Pete. Mac’s dead.”

Early that morning, after devouring a bowl of ‘Friskies’, Mac had gone out for his early morning ‘constitutional’ and had somehow become entangled in the blades of one of Westminster council’s lawnmowers. Amelia had opened the door to a tearful council worker who held Mac’s collar in one trembling hand and a Tesco bag full of Mac bits in the other, muttering “He just jumped in front of me missus; chasing a fluffy Persian he was. Nothing I could do…”

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 6: Last Friday

6. Last Friday

Cassidy woke in a cold sweat, checked his face in the bathroom mirror and took a long shower. Toweling himself down he paused to wipe the condensation from a framed photograph: ‘The Cassidy’s’ after a gig, his mother’s 40th birthday. The four of them stood with their backs to a wall, mugging at the camera, sweaty and exuberant. They all wore tee shirts with oddly portent messages:
Tom: ‘I Love Bread’
Dick: ‘Let’s Share a Doobie, Brother’
Harry: ‘The Grateful Dead’
Peter’s own shirt was blank, ill fitting, chewing gum white.
Christ, you couldn’t make that stuff up.
He made himself some strong black coffee and reached for his laptop. There was a message from Dick. He had always wanted to be Dick. Where Tom had inherited his father’s rigid resolve, Dick was very much his mother’s son, a free spirit. As a kid, Cassidy was always dressed in Dick’s hand me downs and had secretly hoped that some of that laconic sang-froid would rub off on him. He longed to inherit his brother’s bohemian bones, but his shirts and pants were always a misfit. While Cassidy’s teenage years had seemed like an endless parade of twitches and taunts, this brother somehow floated above the torpid tedium, serene and self contained. Dick didn’t do rehearsals; he was always ‘on’, yet he could look at his world without pointing and shouting.  He now ran an art gallery in San Francisco, smoked pot, screwed other beautiful bohemians and lived Peter’s perfect other life; the life he’d have chosen for himself. He read the cold text, imagining his brother’s scruffily elaborate handwriting:
Hey bro, how are you holding up?
I know that Tom’s been in touch about the funeral details.
I’m singing one of dad’s favourite spirituals, ‘Eye on the Prize’.
What are you doing btw?
Want a verse?
Remember the campfires?
Remember ‘The Cassidys’?
Thought I’d accompany myself, but bring your tambourine.
I found my old guitar in dad’s garage yesterday.
No strings.
Well, one actually but that’s worse than none.
I took the bus into Worcester this morning to get it fixed up, new strings and such.
I haven't taken that bus since I was a kid. 
I love crazy Worcester people.
Overheard this on the #27, 10:30, April 4, 2011:
A large guy, wild hair, looking a bit rough, gets on with another fellow on Pinehurst.
(Loudly to everyone)
“Que paso?
It's a nice day, any day I’m alive is a beautiful day.
I’m sleeping in a tent. I got a little dog; that’s why I can’t stay in the homeless shelter. It’s a terrier, looks like a little pit bull. I got her from the shelter. Her face was all scratched up from rubbing on the cage.
I slept outside last night. It was beautiful. The wind picked up this morning and I got in the tent. I was lying there all night with my little dog next to me…
Look at that guy running to catch the bus!
Hey, he’s gonna make it. I’d have petered out half way.
(Bus beeps at car blocking driveway)
Look at that nitwit! Pull in buddy! That’s why his fender is all bashed in – he didn’t get out of the way last time.
 (Near Clark University)
Look what my college degree got me –well prepared for homelessness.
Hey, I like the way you’re dressed. Very stylish.
I’m gonna cut my hair like that too. Gonna get me a girl friend.
See that guy with a guitar? (referring to me) I’m gonna follow him around and see if he plays a song.
(Me, not turning around, “It’s got no strings.”)
Hey, well alright. We’ll take up a collection.
I used to drive for Peterson Oil.
I got arrested driving the wrong way on the highway.
That company’s no good.
People used to give the finger to Peterson trucks…
Gonna get to the shelter and get me a hot meal…
If you go to court, good luck! All them judges and lawyers sitting up there, do they care?
They say justice is blind. No, it’s sold off to the highest bidder…
Justice is a ten-ton truck. Just don’t get in its way….
We oughta send a missile up Gaddafi’s backside!
Didn’t he learn from last time? We shot a missile and killed his entire family, now he’s making trouble again. We didn’t have to put anyone on the ground. We dropped a lot of leaflets so that people would get out of the way:  ‘The sheriff’s coming. Get outta Dodge!’
I hear the Belgians are going to fight him.
The Belgians? What are they gonna do, bomb him with chocolates? But good luck to them.
Bin Laden and his buddies, they only win if we blink. I say look ‘em in the eye and say ‘Boom’. They either laugh or they don’t. Just like their bombs get you or they don’t.
Fate is a ten-ton Peterson truck… what can you do?
 (Getting off, to driver)
OK, buddy, put it in turbo!"
They say that hell is other people Pete, but I love weird strangers.
Crows and doves eh brother?
I’m seeing the old man everywhere.
Starting to talk to birds and shit.
Crows and doves indeed…
‘Hi’ to the boys (and to you).