Read My First Colouring Book Online
Authors: Lloyd Jones
Tags: #epub, #ebook, #QuarkXPress
But wait â there's something else. In that photo of your precious little red bike (fastest 250 on the road, you told everyone you met), the young superman (you) sitting astride its black plastic seat is wearing light brown boots. You can see one of them clearly, resting on the gear-change. Lace-ups, with a horseshoe ridge around the uppers. Mud and sand used to collect in a little man-made dustbowl above your toes. Crap and gunge met there daily. Why should those shoes be so important to an old man in his dying moments, as the cardiogram tires of playing its childish monotone, the same old beat? Those cheap Polish shoes will be the last image in your head. And why? Why will you remember a cut-price pair of light tan boots, whose eyes began to disintegrate as soon as you bought them? Aha, you've remembered something. Their soles were made of crepe, a spongy material. Never bought a pair like that before or since. Odd bouncy soles as if you were walking on a rubber mat. People looked at them when you passed, their eyes drawn to the unusual lightness of the crepe sole. Creamy and porous.
And what did they absorb on the tarmac that winter's night, what exactly did they suck up as you squatted by a young man's deathbed? What was the stain you took through the house, leaving livid red footprints all along the green hallway carpet?
Was it water, was it mud?
No, old man (who may be me in the future) it was blood, which had been watered down on the road's rainskin. The soles of those boots looked like the lower half of a sandwich, peeled away, with runny red jam sucked in by the bread.
Those footprints you spread through a large Victorian house, which has also been eradicated since, demolished and reduced to memories, those cartoon footprints stamped on the stairs were red, the colour of blackberry juice on your fingers after an hour's picking.
So, we come to the last few moments â yours, not his, since he died almost thirty years ago, a few minutes after reaching casualty. He would be a middle-aged man, now, fretting daily, probably, about the safety of his own children. You can't remember much about him, but if you tried very hard (and if you had enough time to spare) you might remember the fresh, slightly acne-pocked face which passed you on the stairs of the Labour Club, some four hours before he lost control of his motorbike and slid uncontrollably into the back of a black van containing four musicians, one of whom would die years later in very similar circumstances.
But you won't remember any of that, nothing at all.
The drums are throbbing again, but the beat is faltering, weakening. The deal is done.
They've traded your earthly remains (worth little, if anything at all) and you're off to the atomic shredder. Personal pin number rendered unreadable, proteins sundered in helixes of smoke, your code destroyed for ever.
In an act of metallic irony your own son frolics every night with his own little killing machine, a souped-up Ford, around the wasteland by the sea, where the factories once stood, and to mark your own passing he will be given a morning off work â though he will take a whole day and get a written warning, which he'll crumple and throw over his shoulder onto the back seat of his dangerous little car. In addition, he will receive the condolences of a small group of people and a death certificate. No inheritance, no fine pictures, no heirlooms. Finally, he will receive a jarful of dull grey ashes and a small collection of memories which on certain occasions he will replay swiftly on the miniature screens of his mind.
That's it then. The last few seconds are here. Wait for it â the countdown begins.
10, 9, 8â¦ and your very last memory, what will it be? A face perhaps, looming out of the fog of your departure: the face of a young man-boy bounding past you on the stairs of the Labour Club one winter's night long ago, his dark hair pushed down flat by his helmet and his red woollen face mask pulled down below his chin, making him look gypsyish, slightly dangerous, interesting to girls.
7, 6, 5â¦ will it be a last welling of compassion and pity for his poor mother, about to outlive you both, who lost her own real life that night, who still lives in a limbo of waiting?
4, 3, 2â¦ will it be a pang of wonder that you yourself cheated death so many times?
No, old man, who may be me in the future, it's none of these. As your jellyfish eyes cloud over and the monitor emits its final beep, your senses will be attracted to a loud squeal, a tortured rubbery screech coming from the shoe of a nurse as she turns towards your bed and starts to run.
The scrape of her shoe on the plastic floor-tile will remind you of a pair of boots which you once owned. And as your inward eye rests on those light brown boots, made in Poland, as the defibrillator drops down towards your chest, you will remember one last thing: a man in a cafÃ© asking you about the blood on your shoes, and it was days, months, years after the night of the accident. You kept them, you still used them. What sort of person were you? Poor? Heartless? And since you won't remember throwing them away, and since you won't remember giving them to anyone, as
your breathing rattles to an end and your eyes puddle into two small plastic jellyfish, you'll ask yourself a final question: whatever happened to the boots with the red crepe soles?
LET ME take you back to that hot summer in France, more than thirty years ago: I can still smell the coffee and the drains, even now. Dry little dust bowls in the cherry orchard and soil trampled into fine talcum, blown onto our feet in cool puffball clouds. Blue ceramic skies, fired in a vast kiln, vultured with black dots now and again, and all around us a drug-crazed landscape warping and shimmering in a constant mirage, pale and unreliable. Four of us living in a barn with no windows, sleeping on the republic's last remaining iron bedsteads, queer and crooked; feathers wafting in our sleeping quarters, floating on the stale air: blown in downy raspberries from a hole in my lumpy mattress, drifting also from a troupe of dowager hens in the entrance â hens which studied us, trying to learn our language, guarding us (contemptuously, I thought) from their sentry box in a fan of hot yellow sun in the doorway. When we clapped and flapped they treated us to a Gallic shrug, or the closest a hen can get to one. Mistrals and dog day afternoons: a huge, violent Alsatian darted from a lonely house on the road into town and bit my bum; for weeks I worried about rabies, waiting stoically for hydrophobia to drain me. I pictured myself in a hospital, tended by the nuns of Loudun, making desperate gurgling noises â sucking the last few drops of water in all of France into my arid intestines.
Chris went to Marseilles to buy a knife. We were all of us fateful about that knife.
I remember the shape of its blade, and the face of the old dog which loped around the yard. He's been dead for years now; buried under a tree probably, but I can't imagine old Bruyes, the farmer, crying over anything, least of all a dog. I have a picture in my mind's eye of its skeleton, white and curved in its last sleeping position under the dun soil, with young rootlets threading their way through its bones, fanning bronchially in its rib cage. We all liked that dog: regulation black and white, short haired and fatalistic, it was called Lucky.
We went up to the orchards early every morning to finger-vacuum the cherries; there was a knack to it and a pro could make Â£100 a day, even then. The best pickers were a gypsy family who lived in an opulent motorhome the size of an articulated lorry. I met the father collecting snails from the dank verges one evening at dusk and he invited me round for a meal; I was sorely tempted because his plump, post-pubescent daughter â unblemished by any formal education â had been making black olive eyes at me and I was still young enough to consider all the openings that came my way. Never could eat snails: said No. Looking back, those people lived wonderful lives. No taxes, picking money off the trees in bucketfuls, browsing, moving leisurely from one crop to the next. Wish I'd married that girl now â she was straight from a French
Darling Buds of May
; we'd be fat on snails, slouching around in white vests swelling around our Pyrenean tums, always brown, sleeping sweetly on the shores of the Mediterranean, perfumed with garlic and happy ever after, me drowsy with wine.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, Lucky copped off with a poodle one morning in the orchard, early on, soon after sunrise in fact: the dirty dog must have been thinking about it all night. Still a few drops of dew on the leaves, delicious strands of coolness inside the branches. But the poodle was twice his size and he had his work cut out. He stuck to his task dogfully, though. At first he got a rousing reception from the onlookers, beating their buckets, shouting
A circle of about twenty, mainly French but some Spanish, looked down on him as he prepared to hump away among the cherry trees â making wood, as they say. Only one of them said nothing at all, a slip of a girl, small and slim, boyish, brown as a berry in a simple country dress or tabard made from felt in a burnt carmine brown. Simple but effective. Short black hair, fussless, freckles, olive skin, pumps, small breasts and violet eyes which never looked at Lucky or at me. No, not once.
By eleven o'clock they were still making a fuss of Lucky, stuck to his poodle, stuck to his task, bobbing away on his scrawny haunches as we reaped the cherries. The red ran from the trees, lipstick smudged from lip to cup. Among the ladders and the stepladders and the buckets, somewhere by the weighing machine (ancient, rusty) he pumped and wheezed but my little French tomboy never cast a glance at him nor me, oh no, not a single sideways look. Such bloody insouciance. Not even when two little boys started playing with a scorpion under my tree, moving around it in frog hops, prodding it with sticks, not even then did she show a flicker of interest; little girly shoulders and apricot hips, slender, a body without a flounce or a bounce, that's all I saw of her all morning â and she in the next tree, a short monkey-dash away.
By lunchtime they were getting fed up of Lucky and his extravagant, illicit shagathon. His eyes had puddled into two small dribbles of yellow candle wax pooling in a smoky Parisian bordello. Dinner time came so we left him to it, climbed aboard Bruyes' van, one of those archetypal Froggie things rippling with corrugated iron and confessional windows. Someone had crammed half a dozen seats in the back long ago; I'm not joking, that crate might have ferried people from the Bastille to the Place de la Concorde when the tumbrels were full. Come to think of it, was that cherry juice running freely on the floor, or blood?
Mademoiselle Violette stayed up there in the orchard with Maupassant's ghost, teaching sang froid to the sparrows and nibbling croissants with perfect Ã©lan, her pretty little nose in the air.
When we arrived at the farmhouse Bruyes went into a rage and fired an enfilade of frank nasal insults at Jo, one of our group, the fourth musketeer, who'd slept through the morning in our dormitory and now stood romantically in one of the empty windows, framed by it, playing a violin to one of the hens which was perched on the sill, listening to him intently with its head cocked to one side. At this point a train of storm clouds appeared over the horizon, thanks more to Bruyes' language than the weather. We munched our baguettes in a sweaty sub-tropic of stormy promise, the air charged with electricity which tickled the fine hairs on our legs with waves of frisson. A row of gofers appeared in the caravan windows: our gypsies were peeking at the sky too, their faces wimpled by the chintz curtains. Dinner over, Bruyes' dreamless nap finished, we returned to the orchard, a cartoon cloud of Roadrunner dust following us
all the way up to the greenery where Mademoiselle Violette napped against the bole of a tree and Lucky shagged, still, clinging tenaciously to his poodle life-raft but half dead by now, a drowning rat drenched with sweat.
You dirty dog
said nearly everyone in French or Spanish or English or Welsh, disgusted by his antics. Some threw their buckets at him but Lucky continued, his sex storm unabated.
My little French tomboy turned her back on me once again and made love to her tree; cherries fell, clouds rumbled, people pointed, Bruyes grumbled; come four o'clock a few heavy drops of rain splattered and pocked the dust, bullets falling back to earth after a half-hearted uprising by revolutionaries in the far corner of the plantation. Lucky had finally attained nirvana but the couple were still inseparable, so to speak. They both looked pretty shagged out by now, two marathon runners clinging to each other feebly on the finishing line, stooped and breathless. Suddenly, people melted away from me and even Lucky made a run for it, divorced at last from his paramour â the parting was quite painful, I believe. I legged it though the trees and was just in time to catch them firing up the van, trying to escape without me. I clambered aboard as the heavens opened. A synchronised mass of identical raindrops, rubber-capped, muscular, Olympian, dived down together into a newly formed swimming pool then rested after the plunge on our windows, swimming in a slow back crawl along the glass while they recovered.
Oh joy, oh rupture! Who was next to me in the van, burnt carmine dress rucked and pressed against my hot little hip, but Mademoiselle Violette. She looked into the far distance, to a point just beyond Venus, to anywhere except my face as we rolled out of the cherry orchard and started homewards, the storm enfolding us and sluicing us with water; for a while we sat in a
car wash, battered and pummelled by thunderous rain. Hot mists of sexuality wafted from Violette's body and I came close to levitating on garlic fumes and lust. In front of us, Lucky rested his weary head on Bruyes' shoulder and regarded us with two bloodshot eyes. We eyed him back with mixed feelings; admiration mainly, with a
of revulsion stirred in. Violette stroked his head briefly but he made no response, too enfeebled poor thing. I watched her little brown hand ripple over his head and felt giddy, my skin crackling with the static of base animal desire, craving her attendance alone in the cherry orchard where we could roll in a warm crimson mud made from dust and juice, savages, naked and wanton among the roots of the forest; I imagined leaf-shaped weals and cherry-stone indentations on her perfect little bottom, moss green stains on her divine buttocks.