On his deathbed, Harry’s father’s breath had sounded like a pocketful of copper coins rattling around his lungs. This was the noise that Harry could hear in himself now every time he coughed. His face felt pulverised, like someone had taken a cricket bat to it. His bladder ached and he knew he should get up but around his wheezing chest his body parts lay inert.
This old house once rang with laughter This old house heard many shouts. In the next room, the dance studio, Lena was practising for her rock’n’roll lesson that night. Before she’d moved in he had had one of the spare bedrooms completely kitted out for her, mirrored walls, sprung floor, the works. Cost a bloody fortune. She’d be wearing her yellow 50s tea-dress and yellow shoes already. Said it helped her get in the mood. She was singing along with Shakin’ Stevens: Now it trembles in the darkness When the lightning walks about. Lena was too young to know even who Shaky was.
Harry looked at the bedroom door, the frame, the handle. A small nick in the paint caught his attention and he frowned. He wondered what really happened when your house was repossessed. In his mind a soundtrack unfolded: boots hammering up and down stairs, doors torn open, shouting, crying, silence. When Harry was very young, five maybe, and they’d still been living in the two-up two-down terrace in North Harrow, the neighbours had been evicted for not paying the rent. Harry was out at the time but afterwards he had spent days with his nose pressed up against the window, drawn to the aftermath, even then sensing a frisson of poignancy in the rubble of everyday objects strewn across the floor, life’s debris, a dirty hairbrush, a beaker, a burst sewing basket with a tangled gut of threads spilling out and there in the middle Lisa’s plump Tiny Tears doll with its legs waving in the air and skirt all rucked up.
Weeks later Harry’s own family moved on, in the other direction, onwards and upwards, his Dad having saved enough driving a London taxi cab to lever his family into a semi in Pinner and an expensive private school for Harry. Years later, after his wife had died, Harry’s Dad had still been sending Harry mad with his obsessive scrimping, refusing to use the primrose yellow dusters Harry had bought him and shaming Harry with the tangle of cut-up grey vests on the kitchen shelf. And he’d still been repeating his same wonky credo: “An Englishman’s home is the castle, Harry”. It didn’t matter how many times Harry corrected him: he always bloody said it wrong. And later: “Harry, I got the cancer”. For Christ’s sake, had been Harry’s first thought, get it right at least: I’ve got cancer. Repeat after me.
Oh his knees are getting’ chilly But he feels no fear or pain ’Cause he sees an angel peepin’ Through a broken window pane. He thought about the curious bonds that held him to this house, bonds made of a father’s aspiration, of resentment, a briefcase, a daily ride on the tube into the City, another girlfriend young enough to be his daughter. Threaded them together like oddly assorted keys onto a ring. Harry looked up at the ceiling. His Dad had loved his son’s castle. A fully-detached five-bedroom spanking-new half-timbered sparkling symbol of having arrived at the destination. The more Harry thought about it the less his legs wanted to move. For the last couple of weeks he’d slept, woken, pissed, and slept again. Time for a piss.
In the bathroom mirror his face looked almost as smashed-up as it had felt in bed. Two weeks before, Gareth had called him into his office and explained that he no longer had a job. The Great Credit Crunch de-euphemised. Said Harry didn’t need to work out his notice, and there’d be a fairly generous package given the circumstances. Harry didn’t need to check to know it wouldn’t be enough.
Coming back from the en suite something possessed him to stop in the dressing room and pull out a bag. Surprising himself, he stuffed it full of a few scoops of clothing, threw on some shoes. Lena had gone back to the beginning of the song again: This old house was home and comfort As they fought the storms of life. He slipped his keys into his pocket, trod softly down the stairs and pulled the door shut behind him.
He shared the mid-morning tube with a handful of people and found himself observing them in a way he never would have done on his daily ride into the City a few weeks before. So these were the people who inhabited the rest of the day. Opposite him sat a man in his 40s in a fleece, cradling a battered guitar case. At the other end a man in steel-rimmed glasses was reading a car manual. He felt a sudden shocking pang at their differentness, the three of them hurtling along the same pink line on the map yet shooting off in utterly skewed directions. Some distant memory of a maths lesson touched him and then an overwhelming sense of the possibility of it all, all those tangents bristling out not just of them but of him alone. He held his head in his hands for a while.
When he looked up he was at a station he’d never visited before, further along the line than he’d ever been. An escalator took him up into the day and onto a small high street, opposite a grimy heel bar and locksmith that reminded him of one in North Harrow. He walked along for a while until he became aware of the keys rattling around in his pocket and banging against his leg. Ain't gonna need this house no longer Ain't gonna need this house no more. Harry drew them out and found himself above a drain, looking at the oddly assorted bunch in his hand, and then letting go and hearing the splash. He set off again down the street.
(deutsche Version siehe Seite 2)