Friday, 23 September 2016
In Cassidy’s Care: 1. This Sunday
“I hope you live a life you’re proud of.
If you find that you are not,
I hope you have the strength to start all over again”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
“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
1. This Sunday
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 Arsenal 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 little 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 his London life; he started to feel at home in his rented bachelor pad; 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 the 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 into 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 fresh resonance and he sang the words to himself whenever he was troubled. ‘So this is 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.
Cassidy had always been at the centre of things, a dragon slayer, the master of his own destiny, but now his first waking thought would never be of himself again. With a young family in his care, lofty ambitions were grounded by duty; he took his parental responsibilities seriously and acquiesced willingly; the boys were in and of his blood.
Daniel and Archie.
D ‘n’ A.
Nice one Cassidy.
He was now in a world beyond himself, living in someone else’s film. No longer the protagonist, Cassidy now assumed the role of bit part player; his life became one of subsistence; father, provider, and protector. There were inevitable dramas; a litany of tiny victories, a derby of defeats, which Amelia took badly; they diminished her. Amelia liked order. Defeat came as second nature to ‘Punch Bag Pete’; what didn’t kill him made he and his family stronger: a peanut allergy, an orthodontic procedure gone wrong, a new air filter and wheel bearing needed for the ‘Cassidymobile’.
Defeats? He would laugh them off, sing in his thin reedy voice, “Amelia, it was just another false alarm”.
Cassidy paraded as ringmaster, knowing all the while that Amelia was the real master of ceremonies; mistress of emotional geometry; dynamic and well balanced; her slender grip sure and steady while his big clammy hands shook. How easily things slipped; they let go of their own imaginings and relaxed into a domestic bliss. And so began the gentle fall, a creeping shift towards contentment, a big circus of small dramas, which soon declined into drudgery, their intended life of surprises somehow became a trudge. There were heated arguments in the early years as salvage seemed possible, but then came recognition and disappointment. Daniel and Archie watched on bemused and bewildered as their parents’ passion diminished; two party clowns, too tired to fight, laughing wearily as they put their faces into each other’s pies.
Maybe they sought humiliation to better rescue and reset themselves. Maybe this was a part of the process of adult survival. Maybe Cassidy thought too much, talked too much, still telling the story of his life, but now in the third person.
As the fourth person…
Was this vulnerability part of his charm?
Could you be charming and know it?
Didn’t that make the charm an affectation?
Wasn’t charm akin to innocence?
Once you recognized it as one of your virtues was it was not gone, the spell broken?
Cassidy knew now to keep these questions to himself. Once he and Amelia would lie naked and spent in silvery moonlight, discussing anything and laughing at everything. When the laughter stopped so, it seemed, did the care. There was no spite or unkindness, just an imperceptible removal of intimacy; they simply ceased to adore each other, merely endured as functioning parents; the boys the sole focus of any affection.
Still, there was always the refuge of music.
Cassidy loved music.
Sometimes you didn’t have to understand everything. You simply accepted an invitation to inhabit the world, the possibility, of a song.
“I wish this pain would just go away
I wish that dogs had wings”
He wasn’t sure why the thought of flying dogs made his faltering heart swell, but Cassidy loved Marc Jordan.
He stopped loving Amelia when she stopped loving him.
Tit for tat, just like that.
Was it really that simple?
Sure, but no less real.
Cassidy got lazy, Amelia got sad.
She developed an edge, became less understanding, less forgiving. She withdrew all understanding and would now chastise him for his feckless nature, his prosaic platitudes. “Christ Pete, this isn’t art, this is life.”
And then, thirteen months ago, with the boys in deep sleep, she had prepared a meal to celebrate the ninth anniversary of that first meeting, a date that they valued more than their wedding anniversary for some reason. The Last Supper: a beautifully simple dish of linguine with Parmesan, pine nuts, butter and sage. Purple sage of such intense flavour that Cassidy had asked Amelia where it was from.
“It’s from a friend…” she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “A friend from work. Bill grows it himself in this tiny garden in Bayswater...” he lost her eye for a beat, and he knew.
The Last Supper.
For Cassidy that was their moment of separation.
He couldn’t forgive her.
She had diminished him.
He demonized her.
Once he’d been a dragon slayer, now the dragon was burning his French fucking toast… For a while and “for the sake of the kids” they expertly avoided each other in the small basement apartment; their lives disconnected.
And then they just… separated.
So, life no was longer a travelogue of ‘picture postcard charms’ then.
Cassidy didn’t dream of 747s.
That was travel.
Cassidy wanted escape.
He’d got the urge for going.
Amelia beat him to it.
Time was a concertina; the essence of a failed marriage in the time it took Daniel to tie the laces of his brother’s boots. From “hello” to “goodbye”; vital edges to the arc of their love, a rise and fall that had brought him meandering back up this hill exactly nine years and thirteen months later. Back to the source, back to that bright moment, back to this park bench.
Archie fidgeted on Cassidy’s shoulders sending his glasses flying. Daniel picked them up and carefully wiped the lenses on his shorts before dutifully handing them back to his father.