At night we drive out of town. We go to superstores, shopping centres offering twenty-five percent off to store card holders between the hours of six and ten, six weeks before Christmas. We've told people we're unavailable tonight. The plan is we stick together till seven, go to Selfridges restaurant, eat and discuss priority buys, go it alone, buy, buy, buy, meet at the car around ten past ten.
There are a lot of cars on the motorway, hundreds teeming down the tracks, their bright lights suspending what looks like snow but is actually rain. Sarah's mum asks if all these people don't have families to go to. I want to remind her that she is on this motorway now but I remember how angrily she reacted when I told her we are all Americans. Sarah's dad reminds her of the commuter situation.
Sarah sits in the back next to me and has an interest in the traffic. She cancelled her counselling to come. She keeps sticking her head up as if she might know someone in the cars. When I met her she said her father was a multi-millionaire. This interested me. We speed past a bowl of superstores, bright lights, and a group of soulless restaurants, fast food outlets, more bright lights set plum against the sky with steam seeming to rise around the rim of the bowl. Sarah says she'd like to photograph it. I remember saying this to an ex-girlfriend about an industrial plant and she sighed and said it's been done so I sigh and say it's been done.
Saturday I wake and see my square. My square is what I see if I wake with my head under the curtain. I look up through the window, catch a dash of grey light, frame a scene. The curtain hem makes a line above my eyes, boxing my vision. A tree branch shoots into the picture as if offering a hand. The breeze moves the branch bashful, inhibited. It grates to lie staring at this, all contrived notions of beauty, the plastic bag in the wind type stuff. It grates, but I keep looking because I suppose Saturday morning is a pretty self-indulgent time. The clouds move like the earth's plates and I hear the family moving downstairs. They go in and out. I know this because each time the back door opens the security alarm bleeps three times. I imagine Sarah's mum or dad typing their wedding date into the key pad everyday activating the alarm. Sarah's mum will be well on the way to lunchtime by now.
There are two types of artist; one is interested in people who live under clouds, the other climbs into clouds and tries to work out what they are. I can hear Sarah's mum berating the dog. Sometimes I kid myself I can hear clouds moving. They move, blowing and sucking, with a stronger but indefinable bass line bedding out, underpinning. As it goes on it becomes more rigid and the clouds turn to stone. Sarah's father; prolificly up hours ago.
In the bathroom trinkets cluster behind the bath, jostling on the shelves. A shell souvenir from a seaside holiday sits below a print of children posting a letter. I raise the shell to my ear and hear that sound, perhaps or perhaps not to do with your ear rubbing against it, which adults kid kid's is the sound of the sea.
Sarah, since starting the new job; up even though it's her day off and around about now jogging through the suburb in cycling shorts and bandanna because she has to first establish, then stick to, a routine. I can see her now, her red face making her look stout. Fitness, the new job, the state of the world represented by people buying newspapers, moving on to amateur sports meetings under the elms one grey Saturday, full of character, six weeks before Christmas, all kept in mind, part of the routine. She might bump into someone she knows.
This is how she wants to be viewed. She wants the people in the cars to see a young woman jogging in suburbia one grey Saturday, six weeks before Christmas. Coming up the hill towards the house she feels the nip in the air and this combined with the sight of the house makes her run faster. She's a big girl, her breasts are bouncing, you might think she looks as stupid as a parent chasing a toddler. She digs in because she's never let anything beat her and isn't this like giving up Prozac because, increasingly, she felt defined by the pills?
It would take an expert with a lot of technology, lenses, to work out how much, in the five minutes I was in the bathroom, the clouds actually moved, but I can hear it, that wool turning to stone, to silence.
Sarah's dad, the self-made millionaire, is in the garden living his routine of hard work. He's digging the pond. This afternoon he's going to the game. He considers his team's chances. He counts past meetings. Whole afternoons unfurl in his mind with the unfurling of a finger. The pond two weeks behind schedule; the earth's plates overlapping and grating; conditions being potentially unfavourable to his team's get it out to the backs style of play and tall elms protruding like old people. He wishes rugby was like making money. Sarah's mum appears on the step and asks a question. It takes a while to realise he can't hear.
Thirty seconds after the alarm goes Sarah kisses me on the lips.
Saturday afternoon behind the advertising boards at the edge of the pitch. Fathers. Twenty men of similar age and background wear the same suit with the same badge. Thirty men of similar age and background fight it out, struggling for that individual flash of something which can make all the difference. I long to be on the other side of the field where a middle aged woman stands in a camel overcoat, her black scarf occasionally blowing into her husbands line of vision. I want her to be begrudging. I want her to be imagining a better Saturday six weeks before Christmas. If she's as blonde as she looks then I want to have sex with her. I want her husband to fund my affair with his wife. A train crosses the viaduct, staunch in its own agenda. It occurs to me that these men have bought these suits to wear at the side of this field each Saturday.
In the type of wind which teaches the meaning of the word longing, someone takes a penalty. It looks good from here but then the wind takes hold of it. The wind forces it right and it hangs and the men, powerless, keep saying 'Yeah'. For a moment we lose sight of it. White and lost against the grey sky it barges the wind then begins to fall and the bushes behind give brown scenery and the ball is more clear and more white. Eventually it thuds down, bouncing erratically, tacking off and back in different directions. It's no good. The linesmen point their flags down and wave like blind men.
Sarah's dad's team win. He says it doesn't matter
much because the three points don't actually lift them any further up the
In the committee room there's a charity event which we can't get into. Shame, there's girls modelling underwear for breast cancer, someone says. Talk turns to money and sport.
Sarah's mum picks us up. The weary look on her face is surely for show, a bravado shared between the wives. On the way back, Sarah's mum says to Sarah's dad, your daughter is ill in bed. Sarah's dad complains that during the game the people he was with spent most of their time trying to get into the underwear modelling thing and I say I think I'd know where my loyalties lay on that one. Sarah's mum says yes and it wouldn't be with the underwear would it? Sarah's dad says quality. He says it in a way which denotes knowledge, that as a key player in manufacturing, a purveyor himself, he would be well placed to judge what is and isn't quality and I agree yes, there is a definite, timeless quality about girls in underwear.
Saturday, P.M., Sarah is persuaded to come down and watch television with the family, a gameshow where people are falling on and off set; then the news, the war situation. Sarah's dad says he doesn't understand why we give aid to a country we're bombing. His question is so simple I could only give a simple answer, like the original force of a cliché, i.e. in this case, that these are human beings.
Sarah's dad picks up a box, says he's upstairs. It's the Microsoft Instant Will Maker. Promises are bullet pointed on the back of the box. Heading up the new efficiency, on the front, is an ageing man, probably Scottish, writing his deeds with a quill in candlelight. This makes me think of my withering eyesight which allowed me to think there really was a shop in the city named Electronics Sentimental.
When Sarah's dad sat down not overly familiar with computers what he figured he'd do was he'd format his loved ones in rank and age on a spread sheet. He never considered that writing a will might make him more likely to die.
He wrote the names down the page. Each had their own box. It was all pretty regular like pews in a church. The letters of the names were spaced by different needs. Basically he tried to decide how people might turn out. Some were there as a matter of course and blood. The ones who caused the most pain. His sister still lived on the council estate where he grew up and she still owed him thirty grand. She married a man who Sarah's dad refused to eat at the same table as. Two years ago she got back in touch. This was shortly after the man she married had died of cancer and there were lots of legal things she was typically incapable of dealing with. There was a month of phone conversations where Sarah's dad listened stoically and only became passionate when something came up he knew a lot about. Then there was Sarah's mum and Sarah.
This room where the computer is might be called the games room. It's got trash novels in hard back, birthday presents stored months before birthdays, lots of little guides to some kind of living. Lately he's been reading Creating a Website and you start to think, this man thinks of everything, what stab at immortality now?
Sarah says she's ill but wants to eat. I get her to agree to making me agree to her driving across town and buying Chinese. She puts on a fleece which makes her look dumpy and we get in the car and drive, the street lights flaming. She takes a detour to show me her primary school. I can't see it in the dark. I put on the radio and people keep phoning in, warning the world of the epic Saturday night six weeks before Christmas they're going to have tonight. I wish we could go out but it wouldn't be fair.
We stop at a cash point. Sarah crosses the road
and when she's getting the money I watch her. She seems fixed, like on
this level she doesn't suffer fools. She turns and crosses halfway and
it happens. She stands between two white lines, cars speeding by on either
side. She looks dumpy in the fleece. She purses her lips. She moves
her head above the zipped up collar, looking both ways. Cars continue to
pass and none look up. They just drive, indifferent to the girl in the
road. None notice her. None think of never meeting her. It's like for a
start a person is the subtext of a road. She looks past me, past the car,
maintaining something, like there's nothing lost or changed. She's like
an advert for the human at the centre of innovations in technology. She
waits her time, crosses, gets in and doesn't mention the cold.**
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