your old bedroom

You slumped down on the bed in ‘your’ room, not bothering to close the door behind you, and you listened.  You heard the sound of childish glee from another upstairs room.  Your mother had uncovered an old scrapbook of your brother’s, charting his summer holidays when he was around the same age as his son is currently.  She rabbited away in another bedroom to your brother and his daughter.  She burbled and goo gooed at fluffy toys.  It sounded like family life.  In a room downstairs your father growled at your whining nephew, “what is it now?”  It was chilling, that sinister undertone of voice you remembered so well.  When he injected your name it felt like someone freezing your insides.  You were embarrassed to acknowledge that it still frightened you to hear it now.

An hour earlier you’d shared a similar flashback with your brother.  Standing outside the gates of a children’s play area, your father aggressively berated the dog in his most lunatic furious tone, a tone which could colour whole large periods of family holidays, walks and car journeys.  Two dogs down the line now, my brother glanced at me and half smiled.  Nothing needed saying.

You wondered if your brother’s polar opposite soppy treatment of his children: the “what is it, lovely boy?” / “come here now, darling boy” terms of address (which will always make you squirm) had resulted in part from your father’s general hardness.  Hearing your father resume that tone towards your brother’s son, isolated from his father and family, there was a degree of fear.  Would he crumble?  No.  The infant whined on, steadfastly wronged by something imperceptible.

You turned over onto your side and surveyed the windowsill of ‘your’ room.  Your childhood bedroom had been converted into an office not long after you left home.  This had been the spare room.  Your brother’s childhood room, now the primary guest room, was latterly lavished with an ensuite bathroom.  While this was now a playroom for the small people, your mother kept your football trophies on the windowsill as a token gesture that it was still your room, or at least where you slept.  A smattering of half a dozen cheap, plastic football trophies awarded through a handful of clubs from a handful of towns stared back at your bleary eyes.  The two Players’ Player awards were the proudest, voted for by your team-mates of 1997/98 and 2006/07 – all of them now strangers.

You wanted to lie down because you were facing your second night drinking in two nights and two nights running wasn’t as easy these days.  You would drive on from your parents’ to a town where you lived for eighteen months, re-engaging fleeting friendships you didn’t want to neglect entirely.  You’d see one character you hadn’t seen properly for a long while, possibly years.  The evening was meant to mark his last as a free man before the arrival of his first born.  You’d never considered him a close friend – and occasionally even considered him a total dick – but sometimes friendships have a habit of looping back at unpredictable intervals.

You’d visited him at a London University campus for a beery night over a decade ago and almost found yourself lost at the end of the night.  It was only luck that you’d stumbled out of a chip shop on the Holloway Road and into the path of his housemates.  A wildcard who you actively wanted nothing to do with for a period, he burned with unfulfilled desire to be a professional footballer.  Never good enough; never even very close.  He’d played for most clubs in the district, happy for a time before he was placed on the bench, then quickly disgruntled.  You knew the ignominy of that feeling.  Memories of another night when he had nonchalantly walked along a street, stamping wing mirrors off cars at random before lying at peace on the pavement, gabbling drunkenly.  A liability then, but apparently tamed now; a husband and soon-to-be father.  At the end of the night, winding your way home through backstreets on a crest of curry and beer, a mutual friend would tell how he still believed an element of the devil remained in him, he could see it; it just needed teasing out by the wrong person.  That night we were all right.

A toddler’s giggle peeled from a nearby bedroom, your brother simpered to his daughter about something, your father was silent but you could almost sense his glowering through the floorboards at your nephew; your mother rushed in typically overreacting panic to attend to a bleeping timer in the kitchen.  You wound your legs back towards the floor, a mat of toy cars and Lego, and looked out of the window.

Players’ Player.  An achievement.  Recognition.  Some people never even get that.

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