Thursday, 29 September 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 7: Yesterday

7. Yesterday

Saturday evenings were desolate. Cassidy sat in front of late night TV, nursing a beer. ‘Match of the Day’. He’d never been able to understand the rules of soccer, ‘Football’ as they insisted on calling it here. There was an ache in his jaw, a word in his mouth that he couldn’t form and a numbness that he knew to be grief. Again he reached for that elusive word, tried to roll it around his tongue and push it forward, but it was like looking for salt in the kitchen cupboard; he knew it was there, but he just couldn’t put a hand on it. He felt loveless and needy. Sure, love was over rated and something that recent experience had taught him to be wary of, but, beyond the odd grapple with an equally needy colleague, he wanted more than just the occasional glimpse of hope. He wanted the possibility of something better, something tangible. He knew himself capable of love; his sons were testament to that, but what of the adult world? It seemed that he lacked something, some faculty for connection, a lack that manifested itself as this dull… emptiness. He tried to call it sadness; tried to touch that ‘sadness’ but it had no centre, no substance; it was something beyond longing; just one more intangible that he couldn’t name and claim.
Cassidy turned the TV off, eyed the kitchen sink and from a sitting position attempted a hook shot with his crumpled beer can.
Three points.
“Go Cassidy” he whooped and ‘high-fived’ himself.
He was done with laconic lucidity. He needed to act, to get to the heart of things, but how to proceed, how to get a hold on things? He struggled to his feet, reached for the iPod and scoured his music library, then got himself another Bud from the fridge. He rubbed his forehead; beer and Beethoven were usually a sure quick fix but tonight he just felt plain baffled. He reset the iPod to ‘shuffle’, turned up the volume and ambled to the bathroom.
Doctor my eyes have seen the tears and the slow parade of fears.
Jackson Browne. He loved Jackson Browne. This song could have been written for him, for this moment. He took a piss and then stood in front of the bathroom mirror, examining himself.
He liked this mirror. With the light behind, you couldn’t see the… specifics. He took off his shirt; shoulders back, gut in.
His freckled chest sagged; a tuft of reddish grey sprouted apologetically, an inverted nipple somehow making his chest look boz-eyed. His arms hung limp by bloated belly, un-toned and powerless. Maybe a tattoo would help define him; give him a feature.
What would the tattoo say?
He couldn’t think of one thing.
So, he tried to think of something that would make him happy. He definitely did not want to be one of those people who’d sigh and profess themselves ‘happy enough’, as if any more joy would cause an overflow, an unseemly flood that would make an embarrassing stain on the mattress of their hot bed of happiness. He still stirred in the early hours, hearing Amelia’s key slide into the lock; still heard her whisper ‘Babe, I’m home’, a fleeting thrill that evaporated abruptly as he spoke into the empty darkness. He recognized that brief ecstasy as nostalgic nonsense. Not happiness. His boys made him giddy at the recognition that he could love and be loved; the ‘unconditional love’ that the ‘Earth Mothers’ of Hampstead always banged on about; it really did exist. But with that love came an almost asphyxiating burden of responsibility. The boys made him ‘happy’ but at a price. Cassidy wanted a happiness that was weightless, frivolous. He wanted to be one of those… what was that REM song? He loved REM.
‘Shiny Happy People’
That was it; he wanted to shine with happiness.
He attempted his brightest smile. 
His reflection leered back.
He tried to laugh out loud and heard the braying of a desperate donkey.
“I want joy”, he said.
“I need joy”, he shouted.
“I deserve joy”, he screamed.
“I don’t deserve… this”, he whispered.
He turned on the cold tap, filled his empty beer can and shuffled back into the lounge to water his cactus, the first time he’d ever thought of doing this. Were you even meant to water a cactus? If so, how the hell had it survived for… ten years?
He sat down again, waiting for that jolt of joy, and as he sat and waited Cassidy saw that happiness was a stranger; a stranger that you seldom look in the eye. Happiness was something that you caught out of the corner of your eye, glimpsed fleetingly and only recognized as it left the room. He looked at his distorted reflection in the TV screen. This particular stranger had stolen his life.
There was the sound of a moving chair in the flat above. Was it really nearly a week since Monty had been assaulted? Time was a concertina, especially in times of stress. Monty was out of intensive care, back at home and doing well, but a punctured lung would deflate his amorous longings for the foreseeable future. Claude was nowhere to be found; probably stalking Central Park or burgling Brooklyn.
The phone rang; it was Amelia.
“Peter, Mac, Mac’s…”
“Amelia? What’s happened?”
“I need to tell you… about Mac…”
Mayfair Mac was the family cat. Cassidy and Amelia had brought him as a kitten in the year that they married. He was a ‘Scottish Fold’, his wide-eyed stare and oddly folded ears always reminded Peter of an owl. Mac was a real character, maverick and frisky as hell. Before they finally had him neutered he had cast his seed amongst most of the female cat population of North London, showing particular interest in the classy queens of Marble Arch and beyond, hence his nickname. His lack of McNuggets was a firm family joke but, if anything, he had become more amorous after the snip. Nothing was safe from Mayfair Mac’s attentions: small dogs, cushions, teddy bears, Monty’s leg. Cassidy had even taken to sleeping in boxer shorts just in case. To some neighbours Mayfair Mac was legend; to many he was a serial rapist.
On one famous occasion Mac had been returned to their West Hampstead flat in a taxi, with a handwritten note from the American Ambassador, a note that Cassidy still had proudly stuck to his fridge door:

“To the owners of ‘Mac’: I am pleased to return your cat safely, although I cannot say that my wife was so concerned about his health. She found him in flagrante delicto with her beloved Ragamuffin ‘Prada’. Mac had slipped in through the gardens of Winfield House and into the kitchens of our ‘high security’ residence in Regents Park. He was impossible to deter and seemed focused on one thing only. He did the deed (twice) before demolishing Prada’s ‘Fancy Feast’ supper (Savory Salmon) and then, just wouldn’t leave.
The taxi might strike you as an odd touch but it did seem to befit ‘Mayfair Mac’ (how quaint) who does appear a singular sort. We know of his name and home address by the tag on his collar. Might I suggest a shorter lead or a visit to your closest veterinarian surgeon?
I must say that he is very impressive in action; he’s quite the stud is your Mac…
Yours sincerely,
Louis Susman

There was a considered division of spoils after the split, a cordial agreement regarding access to the boys, and yes, Cassidy could keep the bloody cactus, but Amelia had taken Mac and the exercise bike without question. This pissed Peter off. He could live without the bike, but that cat he loved, as did his boys. It gave Bayswater an added allure that Cassidy couldn’t compete with. Apparently Mac was happier there too. He had that tiny garden to shit in.
“Whose he been bonking now?”
“His bonking days are over Pete. Mac’s dead.”

Early that morning, after devouring a bowl of ‘Friskies’, Mac had gone out for his early morning ‘constitutional’ and had somehow become entangled in the blades of one of Westminster council’s lawnmowers. Amelia had opened the door to a tearful council worker who held Mac’s collar in one trembling hand and a Tesco bag full of Mac bits in the other, muttering “He just jumped in front of me missus; chasing a fluffy Persian he was. Nothing I could do…”

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 6: Last Friday

6. Last Friday

Cassidy woke in a cold sweat, checked his face in the bathroom mirror and took a long shower. Toweling himself down he paused to wipe the condensation from a framed photograph: ‘The Cassidy’s’ after a gig, his mother’s 40th birthday. The four of them stood with their backs to a wall, mugging at the camera, sweaty and exuberant. They all wore tee shirts with oddly portent messages:
Tom: ‘I Love Bread’
Dick: ‘Let’s Share a Doobie, Brother’
Harry: ‘The Grateful Dead’
Peter’s own shirt was blank, ill fitting, chewing gum white.
Christ, you couldn’t make that stuff up.
He made himself some strong black coffee and reached for his laptop. There was a message from Dick. He had always wanted to be Dick. Where Tom had inherited his father’s rigid resolve, Dick was very much his mother’s son, a free spirit. As a kid, Cassidy was always dressed in Dick’s hand me downs and had secretly hoped that some of that laconic sang-froid would rub off on him. He longed to inherit his brother’s bohemian bones, but his shirts and pants were always a misfit. While Cassidy’s teenage years had seemed like an endless parade of twitches and taunts, this brother somehow floated above the torpid tedium, serene and self contained. Dick didn’t do rehearsals; he was always ‘on’, yet he could look at his world without pointing and shouting.  He now ran an art gallery in San Francisco, smoked pot, screwed other beautiful bohemians and lived Peter’s perfect other life; the life he’d have chosen for himself. He read the cold text, imagining his brother’s scruffily elaborate handwriting:
Hey bro, how are you holding up?
I know that Tom’s been in touch about the funeral details.
I’m singing one of dad’s favourite spirituals, ‘Eye on the Prize’.
What are you doing btw?
Want a verse?
Remember the campfires?
Remember ‘The Cassidys’?
Thought I’d accompany myself, but bring your tambourine.
I found my old guitar in dad’s garage yesterday.
No strings.
Well, one actually but that’s worse than none.
I took the bus into Worcester this morning to get it fixed up, new strings and such.
I haven't taken that bus since I was a kid. 
I love crazy Worcester people.
Overheard this on the #27, 10:30, April 4, 2011:
A large guy, wild hair, looking a bit rough, gets on with another fellow on Pinehurst.
(Loudly to everyone)
“Que paso?
It's a nice day, any day I’m alive is a beautiful day.
I’m sleeping in a tent. I got a little dog; that’s why I can’t stay in the homeless shelter. It’s a terrier, looks like a little pit bull. I got her from the shelter. Her face was all scratched up from rubbing on the cage.
I slept outside last night. It was beautiful. The wind picked up this morning and I got in the tent. I was lying there all night with my little dog next to me…
Look at that guy running to catch the bus!
Hey, he’s gonna make it. I’d have petered out half way.
(Bus beeps at car blocking driveway)
Look at that nitwit! Pull in buddy! That’s why his fender is all bashed in – he didn’t get out of the way last time.
 (Near Clark University)
Look what my college degree got me –well prepared for homelessness.
Hey, I like the way you’re dressed. Very stylish.
I’m gonna cut my hair like that too. Gonna get me a girl friend.
See that guy with a guitar? (referring to me) I’m gonna follow him around and see if he plays a song.
(Me, not turning around, “It’s got no strings.”)
Hey, well alright. We’ll take up a collection.
I used to drive for Peterson Oil.
I got arrested driving the wrong way on the highway.
That company’s no good.
People used to give the finger to Peterson trucks…
Gonna get to the shelter and get me a hot meal…
If you go to court, good luck! All them judges and lawyers sitting up there, do they care?
They say justice is blind. No, it’s sold off to the highest bidder…
Justice is a ten-ton truck. Just don’t get in its way….
We oughta send a missile up Gaddafi’s backside!
Didn’t he learn from last time? We shot a missile and killed his entire family, now he’s making trouble again. We didn’t have to put anyone on the ground. We dropped a lot of leaflets so that people would get out of the way:  ‘The sheriff’s coming. Get outta Dodge!’
I hear the Belgians are going to fight him.
The Belgians? What are they gonna do, bomb him with chocolates? But good luck to them.
Bin Laden and his buddies, they only win if we blink. I say look ‘em in the eye and say ‘Boom’. They either laugh or they don’t. Just like their bombs get you or they don’t.
Fate is a ten-ton Peterson truck… what can you do?
 (Getting off, to driver)
OK, buddy, put it in turbo!"
They say that hell is other people Pete, but I love weird strangers.
Crows and doves eh brother?
I’m seeing the old man everywhere.
Starting to talk to birds and shit.
Crows and doves indeed…
‘Hi’ to the boys (and to you).


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 5: Last Thursday

5. Last Thursday

The next couple of days were a blur of emails and long distance phone calls. Cassidy was the youngest of three brothers and his siblings Thomas and Richard took control. He sat limply by his laptop nursing a mobile phone, thinking of his family, unsettled, absurdly resenting his brothers, waiting for something to happen.
Thomas and Richard.
His dad was Henry.
Tom, Dick and Harry.
Nice one dad.
The phone rang early Thursday evening.
"Regarding the funeral service, I'll be reading something appropriate", Tom was as dry as ever "and you know how hot Harry was on civil rights? Well Dick's going to sing a spiritual for him, ‘Eyes on the Prize’. Acapella I think. He doesn't want Thelma the ten-thumbed organist ruining his performance. What do you want to do Peter?"
"Who does Dick think he is, Mavis frickin’ Staples?" said Cassidy, another seamless deflection.
“There’s a comprehensive will and Mom’s been well catered for, as have we all. It’s no surprise that the old man was prepared for departure”, sighed Tom. “And apparently we’ve each been left one of his potted plants; don’t know what that’s all about, do you?”
 Cassidy caught his breath and sat down heavily, holding his hands against his chest as if nursing an injured bird.
“Anyway, Dick and I are the sole executors “ continued Tom “so you’ve nothing to worry about bro.”
Cassidy looked for offence but could only find relief.
“Strangest thing happened yesterday”, Tom softened “We went into Yarmouth and met with Sam Jonas, Dad’s financial guru. He was talking us through the immediate arrangements, consolidating all dads’ checkbooks and cards into one easy access account for Mom, stuff like that. You know how Dad always threw Christmas checks and gifts at us all, to get around the inheritance tax thing? Well Mom said she was keen to carry that on; even increase the gifted amounts to the max. Damndest thing, just as Jonas okayed this, the building was struck by lightning; no shit, lights went out, windows rattled. Dick and I hit the deck. Mom just stood there looking up out of the window, smiling serenely. It was like a message from beyond, Harry pissed at Annie for splashing out with his cash…”
Tight arse, thought Cassidy.
"What’s that?" said Tom.

That night he had a dream: ‘The Cassidys’ were practicing in their garage. Harry prodded the keys of his accordion, while Tom hunched over his Fender bass, glowering darkly at his four strings. Dick was shirtless and thrashed at a low strung acoustic, bellowing out ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ in a key that was obviously too high for him. ‘The Cassidys’ always reformed to perform at family gatherings and Harry was a taskmaster at practice. “A band’s only as good as its drummer” was his mantra. Cassidy was a lousy drummer. In the dream his hands were so sweaty that he kept dropping his sticks so he gripped them tight and the tighter he gripped the harder he hit. A stick splintered and broke. Reaching for a replacement he dropped the beat. Tom, Dick and Harry stopped playing and retreated into a corner, whispering. When they turned back to face him they were all wearing plastic masks sporting the features of smiling baby dolls. There was a darkening and the rumble of thunder, a loud crack as lightning struck the tin roof of the garage. The amps blew, sparks everywhere. Within moments ‘The Cassidys’ were aflame, dancing horribly as their masks melted grotesquely.