‘I know wine is an exception…but,’ he paused, squinting into a nothing space between us, ‘but there’s something sad about dust on bottles, something like planned happiness.’ As he leant back in the wooden chair, choosing his moment, I began to imagine what he looked like when he was young – or at least younger.
‘I suppose that says a lot about how I see happiness, how I saw happiness,’ he took a conspiratorial sip of tea, ‘and planning for that matter!’ It was less of a laugh and more the sort of wheezing growl that might come before some imminent fatalism. He could have cancer. We could all have cancer. I took a sip of tea, only distantly perturbed by the possibility of cancer.
‘I think it’s fair to say that you and I have - ’ stopping abruptly he stared at me, almost crazed; I noticed how oddly attractive his eyes were. ‘The seagulls, forgot to feed the seagulls,’ pushing his chair across the dirty tiled floor, he shuffled across the room. In the corner, beside an empty hat-stand was a pile of wooden crates. In the crate at the bottom (perhaps three or four feet in length) there was a huddled cluster of dozing seagulls. At his approach the one nearest the front of the crate picked its beak from off its breast, as if the head was heavy with sleep it lolled back forward upon realising it was just him again. Another two of the birds (how many were there?) began ruffling their feathers and stirring yellow beaks. ‘I need to feed ‘em twice daily, mainly worms, just a sec- ’ he opened a fridge, produced a small blue Tupperware and retrieved a fistful of limp, gently curling worms. ‘’Ere you go fellas, go on, there you go…’
‘What I meant to say,’ wiping his hands on his arse, ‘is that you and I have very similar beliefs, at the heart of it, I mean. You think it has to be all one way with your legality and chain of command, but under that, under it all, you are like me. I knew it soon as you walked in.’ I probably should wrap it up, that’s what I was thinking – or at least I like to flatter myself with the (unlikely) notion that professionalism may have made a fleeting appearance somewhere. At least in the peripheral suburbs of my stunted attention. Really, truth told, I was still back with the seagulls. There were at least four in that crate, they all seemed impossibly languid. My knowledge of seagulls was limited to overhead wheeling cries, bullying noises, the incessant strutting, and their curved bright inquisitive mustard scythes jabbing at bread, ice creams, bin liners, pebbles, small children, other seagulls…they were probably cannibals. I imagine seagulls could take fairly comfortably to cannibalism. Not the ones in the crate though, they were essentially dead, or at the very least drifting collectively in and out of whatever constitutes an avian consciousness.
‘So, bearing that in mind, I wanna show you something. This, this here, this is the last painting I ever did before it happened.’ He held up a small square of paper, splashed with a muddy blue, barely bigger than a postcard. ‘I find that art has always helped as a post mortem, for all the little deaths that pile up. The ones you don’t notice, and then you-’ he pushed forward the grubby square for me to look at; it was, from all angles, definitively unremarkable. I nodded sagely. ‘You just let things happen, I’m not dumb, I’ve never bought into figurative representation.’ I closed my eyes and nodded as if to suggest: of course. ‘I find that it allows for an exorcism, a happening far more satisfying than all and any of life’s physical non-sequiturs. But then I’ve always seen things like that: seen, seeing – it is all so much more romantic, so much more possible before you realise, with crushing familiarity, that it’s happened and you were barely present. Whereas with this,’ gesturing again at his brown/blue travesty ‘this is a savouring, a space in which we can – I can – not only be present but simultaneously present that presence.’ At that point I knew I had to draw a line. I stood up and reached into my pocket – giving the usual speech. He knew what was happening. Slowly he returned the scrap of blue to his hidden pocket, patted the pocket gently and finished the last mouthful of tea.