Monday, 26 September 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 4: Last Wednesday

 4. Last Wednesday

“What a mess. What have you two been eating? Here, let me clean you up.”
Cassidy looked at Amelia and recognized goodness personified. She was kind, caring and, yes, needy. She’d simply made the decision that she didn’t need Cassidy. Fair enough. Her choice.
Her loss. He watched from a dutiful distance as she dabbed away with a damp cloth and whispered kindness into her boys.
“Who are you to be so strong?
That you can leave it all behind
Laughing in your sleep
And trusting in the kindness of the world”

Joe Henry. He loved Joe Henry.
“You best be going Peter. Last tube. Bill will be home soon from his squash night.”
Bill had haunted Cassidy’s life for over a year now and he was yet to set eyes on him. He only knew that he existed for sure because the boys put flesh on his bones: “Uncle Bill this. Uncle Bill that.” Not that they’d been given the opportunity to meet; this was the first time he’d ever got past the front door and into Bill’s lair. It was raining so hard that Amelia had dragged the three of them in off the doorstep, sopping wet, and made them all cup of ‘Oxo’.

As a mid-week treat Cassidy had taken the boys to see their first Premiership football match; a wealthy parent had offered free tickets for an evening match at Stamford Bridge; a ‘hot ticket’ too; the London derby; Chelsea and Arsenal. Perfect, as while Thomas was lukewarm Chelsea, Archie was red hot for Arsenal. Cassidy frankly didn’t give a shit either way but knew that Archie would be ‘well chuffed’, a saying that he confessed to picking up from his Uncle Bill. The promise of seats in the Director’s Box never materialized. Cassidy had hoped for air-conditioned warmth, some of those fabled prawn sandwiches and perhaps a glass of chilled Chablis. What he got instead were two hours of ‘April Showers’, a gristly pie and a polystyrene cupful of ‘Oxo’. Beef stock, for Christ’s sake. What was all that about? They sat sodden, huddled close, surrounded by Neanderthals who looked like they should’ve been ringing the bells of Notre Dame. What was all that inane chanting about? Tuneless dirges, much macho pointing and gesticulating at opposing fans, strange hand signals that mystified both he and the boys.
“Ah, the sweet smell of the testosterone”, sighed Cassidy.
The man directly in front of them turned around and glared. Christ, a fucking Troll, thought Cassidy.
What did you say?” demanded Troll menacingly.
“I, ah, I said that we’re not having much luck in goal. We’re lacking in the, erm, goal department…” Cassidy smiled weakly and scrutinised the ads in his match programme.
Troll scowled at Archie’s Arsenal shirt and grunted “Facking Gooners”. The crowd roared, Troll muttered “twat’ and turned back towards the pitch, refocusing his bile on a skinny bald guy in black, frantically waving a flag. Waving? Most probably drowning; April frickin’ showers.
‘Wanking arsewipe?’ Cassidy saw that one register with Archie; knew it was destined to become another breakfast time question.
The game was frenzied with much slipping and sliding. Even a bewildered and disinterested Cassidy recognized that it was a wash out, a damp squib; two teams desperate not to lose, two defenses so brutishly efficient that any offensive creativity was thuggishly stamped out. Literally. And there was too much posturing and petulance for Cassidy’s taste. Chelsea’s number 9 was particularly annoying. He arched his back theatrically whenever a yellow shirt got within spitting distance, rolling around in agony until he realized that no one was watching him. Then he was back onto his feet, straightening his hair band, and waving his arms about. And then it seemed like he was asking the referee for something to eat. When nothing was offered he threw his head back in pantomime laughter and waved his albatross arms again.
“If that big African flaps any harder he’ll take off”, said Cassidy to his cold pie. “Role models my ass.”
Troll turned and glowered again; Cassidy buried his nose deep into his cold cup of Oxo. Troll had taken his shirt off, revealing an artless tattoo that spanned his shivering shoulders. ‘Blue is the Colour’. Bloody right if it gets any colder thought Cassidy.
Number Nine swan dived spectacularly in front of goal and was dutifully admonished by the referee with more theatrical semaphore.
“Stickonpenalty. Wotyoravingafackinglarfrefyatossertwat”
‘Tossertwat’? Cassidy thought of his father’s boating buddies who fished off the Eastern Arm of Cape Cod; how they loved their weekend clambakes on the beaches of the South Shore; how they cursed with humour and eloquence as they pitched their Sunday horseshoes, while clams and mussels and lobsters cooked in a pit over heated stones. Those boys could curse; the perfect words pitched perfectly, just the right side of an inviolable line. There’d be no offence taken as non was intended, for their sacrosanct oaths were laced with kindness and affection. There was no warmth from these cruel fuckers, no blue collared beauty, no ‘sing-song’, no irony; just ugliness and discord as they strung expletives together without syntax or meaning. Witless… twats.
He’d had enough. Cassidy grabbed the boys roughly by their collars and pushed them towards an exit.
“There’s twenty minutes left Dad”
“You’ve got school tomorrow Archie”
“But we might miss a goal Dad”
“Move it kiddo”
As they made their way along the Kings Road towards the tube station the stadium erupted.
“Goal” Archie scowled, kicked at a can and drifted ahead of his father.
“Go and walk with your brother Daniel.” Misery loves company thought Cassidy eyeing Archie’s pigeon toed gait. Both he and Amelia had worried that he might need ‘special’ shoes. They had seen a podiatrist who assured them that they had nothing to worry about, then tried to sell them two hundred pounds worth of prosthetic insteps. Nothing to worry about? Cassidy couldn’t remember when he’d last had nothing to worry about. The specialist was right in Archie’s case. He’d developed into a much-prized ‘leftie’, a southpaw so ahead of the pack in his ‘Sunday Soccer’ class that Coach Johnny had to hobble him. “Right foot only for you Archie” he’d shout from the sidelines, then joke with Cassidy about Daniel’s two left feet. “Shame that he’s a ‘righty’.”
As they approached Fulham Road tube station they passed a Greek kebab house and Cassidy offered an olive branch. The boys always talked in hushed tones about their classmates’ revered post match ritual of Donner Kebabs and Red Bull. They’d pass on the Red Bull but, why not a kebab? What Amelia didn’t see wouldn’t harm them.
Cassidy winced as the boys swamped slices of pressed lamb with sweet chilli sauce, more greasy gristle. At least there was salad involved with this particular culinary delight.
“Just don’t tell your mum.”

And now here he was, in Bayswater Bill’s kitchen, all high design and fine line. No sign yet of Amelia’s homely hand he noted with silent satisfaction.
“What have you been feeding them Peter?”
Daniel stood pristine but the evidence was everywhere on Archie, his face plastered with red sauce, dried tomato emblazoning his chest. Christ there was even a salad leaf stuck to the back of his neck. The boys glanced towards him, then back at their mother before bowing their heads. Amelia puckered her brow and closed one eye, as if sighting Cassidy down the barrel of a gun.
“Right, I’m off. Don’t want to miss that last tube.”

He missed the last tube but that was no biggie, it had stopped raining and the evening was now calm and balmy. As he strolled towards the nearest bus stop Cassidy thought about the ugliness at the football match. He really had to put a check on his… utterances. They were going to land him in trouble. But then some things needed to be articulated. Maybe he had a ‘special need’ but surely there were other folk who felt the same way, acted the same way. There was a term for the perennial weepers of the world: ‘for crying out loud’, so why not one for overactive thinkers. ‘For thinking out loud’ didn’t sound quite right but…. it wasn’t as if he had Tourettes for Christ’s sake, it was just that sometimes he needed to hear his thoughts, needed to give them substance. The same reasoning caused him to catch his reflection; in shop windows; strangers’ spectacles; the back of spoons; in the windows of this red double decker as it pulled up in front of him. No vanity, just the need to check that he was still there.
Cassidy sat on the top deck in a front seat from where he could monitor his journey home. The bus was empty except for a couple to his left in the adjacent front seat, nursing a baby. Cassidy watched them in the reflection of the bus window; she a pretty sparrow, hand in next-door’s pocket, a stranger looking bird. They wore matching black quilted anoraks, she clutched the little bundle to her breast, his hood was up, arms folded tightly across his chest. He wore thick-rimmed spectacles that magnified his eyes. He blinked erratically and seemed agitated; kept tapping at his mouth with his fingers. The girl took his arm. “I love you with all my heart sweetheart, love you like my baby.” She nuzzled the infant’s brow. “You’re my first and second accidents you are” she chuckled, “I’m still waiting for the third. Good things come in threes”, she added absently, leaning her head against the man’s shoulder. He chewed his cheek and whispered something about Alaska. Cassidy narrowed his eyes and leant towards their reflection.
“I need the coast, the taste of the ocean”, the man continued. “In Alaska you can sit and count your emotions, get to understand your emotional… geometry. It’s wild and cruel, but a wonderful place…” he looked towards Cassidy and lowered his voice “Of course you need to be prepared; need to take care. You can never really trust nature, but it’ll never let you down.” The man put a clenched fist into his open mouth and ground his shaking knuckles into his teeth, a peculiar tic. Cassidy could see that, although he spoke like a sage, he was really no more than a boy, nineteen or twenty. The girl seemed older, maybe in her late twenties. She pulled his twitching hand towards her chest to calm his agitation; placing it tenderly on the back of the baby’s hooded head. She cooed and gently rocked, holding them both close, smelling their skin. She smiled towards Cassidy’s frozen reflection and he noticed that she had a hair lip.
“Investment is for fools”, continued the boy “and praying is for martyrs. And money… money is for spending. I say leave nothing behind.” The boy’s speech seemed archaic, tautly rehearsed, reminding Cassidy of an old time preacher. He sat upright abruptly, pushed the hood back off his head and ruffled his thick greasy hair with both hands. “You’ve got to live your dreams or you watch them die. You bend or you break with that simple truth.” He leant towards the baby, whispering now. “You know I didn’t want this. It was a shock to me, seeing how careful we were with contraception and all but…” he put his fist to his mouth again, and, again, the girl soothed him.
“I‘m glad that we didn’t… get rid… that salt and water method your mother swore by.” His trembling voice was almost inaudible now. “I watch her when she sleeps. I do. I breathe for her, listen to her little heart beat.” Cassidy could feel his own heart beating as he watched this strange little unit fussing over their child. Was it time for changing? Was it time to feed? This little bundle was probably all that they could ever hope for; maybe all they’d ever need. They fell into seeming sleep and there was silence, an almost biblical quality to the scene, until the boy broke the spell with another one of those odd convulsions.
“This is us sweetheart”, the girl sang out moments later, and they rose to leave. She stooped to pick up her bag, leaning so close to Cassidy that he could smell talcum powder.
He looked into her cradling arms.
Nylon hair, perfect plastic toes.
The couple shuffled past him apologetically.

Cassidy could barely breathe.

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