The Sounds of Silence
No one feels safe. The itch is on the inside of your skin. Fears are as loud in daylight as they are in darkness. What we do or don’t do is no more important than what we do when we don’t know what to do. Things fall apart or, more accurately; the falseness of things falls apart.
Which is why, when a friend’s child told me she’d just discovered her shadow I remembered I hadn’t seen mine since, oh, whenever, and promised her that the next time there was even a suggestion of sunshine I would go looking for it. A promise is made in every pint glass and this one I kept.
I found my shadow early the following day, on a golden dawn outside Walker Woodstock Building Supplies on Iona Street in Leith. How did I find it?
Surprisingly easily: I just looked down…
Ain’t it just like a child to teach you what history doesn’t?
‘Fuck all this Trainspotting shite,” said Susan, who knows they murder what matters to you most. “When I was young and the Circus came to town, they would house the animals all along the Water of Leith.” And she, in tandem with her friends, would race unchecked through an improbable zoo of wonderment and fear. She remembers dreaming of elephants and waking in a hot sweat, nightmares of their shambling silhouettes huge on the skyline.
And now you are dead. Was it Covid-19, or voodoo acupuncture? The last time I saw you we were half the age that I am now and you were brilliantly naked, except for those filigree earrings that perfectly mirrored our airy pursuit of nothing. We never verified our promise, when it ended we were trapped like fragments in a snow dome turning in the winds of ourselves. What the hell, we asked questions anyway.
All that I have left of you are the usual sweetheart contracts; souvenirs, letters, scribbled grace notes, frozen moments. Everything unraveling…
And these things too: a lock of hair in a tin that refuses to open; a diary in your spidery scrawl; a charcoal drawing of a horse and, of course, your absence.
Which will bleed into everything I have left to say or do.
When I first visited Scotland at the age of ten, my father whisked me from the London train into the foyer of the old Central Hotel. He couldn’t have afforded a glass of tap water, but I guess he just wanted to show me how the other half lived. I remember too the smell of Brasso from all the signage, beeswax from the cherry walnut paneling, and the row of pokerfaced, severely uniformed, Bell Boys who weren’t much older than me.
On the day I was due to return to England my dad went AWOL. So my granny dragged me round the Springburn pubs with a poker in one hand and me in the other - opening each door in it’s turn and shouting, “has that skinny bastard been in here?” I remember wanting to linger in every one. Peopled as they were by faces that bespoke the living of harsh lives, things not done: Which I would later put down to reading too much Dickens.
When we got back to her single-end flat in Balgrayhill Road, my dad was sitting by the fire cradling a black puppy in his giant goalkeeper’s palm. It was “a present to take home with you, something to remember me by.” I could taste the beer on his breath. Even I could see the whole thing was impractical, my granny could see it with binoculars.
“You stupid, skinny bastard,” she said, while launching the poker. Which missed the dog by inches as it cut through the anaglypta wallpaper and embedded itself in the lathe and plaster wall.