21 Jan

What Tom couldn’t do was come to terms with the way his mind was working.
Once upon a time things had been perfectly clear to him and he could take them or leave them according to what he thought about them. Like women. Some women he found himself drawn to (even though he was married, happily his wife Brenda thought), and once drawn to them something twitched in his trousers and he had to take things too far.
He couldn’t help it. To him it seemed as though he had been designed for excess.
Like work, when he’d been younger. Not that he’d ever done excess of work, but he had done excess of skiving out of it, which had led to problems at home when his wages didn’t arrive. His troubled wife had taken up the slack, so to speak, and found work herself even though they had a couple of youngsters growing out of nappies and the round of chores their delightful offspring created never seemed to end. But that didn’t matter to Tom because he’d never learned to see beyond the end of his own penis. It was almost certainly just as well that Brenda wasn’t so short-sighted.
Now he was growing old. Too old, he told himself. Once upon a time, when he had been green in youth, he had thought fifty was too old, but upon reaching fifty he’d concluded that seventy must the terrible portal to old age rather than fifty.
Now he was seventy five and starting to wonder where he was going next. Eighty seem both next door and far away. He didn’t think he’d make it to eighty. Nobody in his family had, so why, he reasoned, should he? Wasn’t there a genetic component to it all, to life-expectancy, to death?
And so even he might die.
This year? Next year? The year after? Soon, anyway, a soon that described a tiny fraction of the life he’d already lived, a life that, when he looked back on it, didn’t seem to have been particularly long.
And what?
As a boy he’d had Heaven and Hell shoe-horned into his brain so convincingly and with so much forced that it had taken most of his adult life coming to terms with the reality of it.
There was, he finally concluded after struggling with logic, no Heaven and therefore no Hell.
So what might come next? And by next he was beginning to acknowledge that next was soon. Mighty soon. Maybe less than five years soon.
It made him shiver in the night when the thought spat across his mind. It made him angry. His life had been … he found himself pausing to ask himself what his life had been, but he knew the answer. It had been, among a few trivial things, mostly wasted.
Yes, that was it: wasted.
He found himself returning to his schoolboy dreams, of the things he needed to do, of the wonders he needed to see, of the thoughts he was sure he needed to have. And he’d done none of them.
He’d been going to write a book – a gigantic novel in which truth was encapsulated like truth had never been encapsulated before. More than a novel, it was going to be a masterpiece of comprehension with characters forged out of pure language for others to measure themselves against.
But the novel hadn’t even been started. Not even the words “Chapter One”
Then there was his schoolboy fascination with space, with the moon and the planets, with going to them one fine day. He hadn’t been able to do that and even he knew that now it was too late for him. He’d never get into space unless he arranged for his ashes to be sent there, and that would cost more than a lazy life had left him with. Not even his charred ashes could afford the fare to race into orbit.
And there was that other dream, the one that included the unexpected arrival of untold wealth, the dream that had him ridding himself of his ever-tolerant Brenda and finding the young blond he’d always wanted, the one who would admire him, hang onto his every skilfully crafted word. The one who would worship him no matter what he said or did. The one with long, long legs,
But she hadn’t come either. Which was odd seeing as he’d spent so long expecting her, knowing that the wealth and the woman were somehow bound up in the deepest mysteries of his own life, that it had become a “must happen”.
Then an unexpected day came out of the blue.
A day he’d feared since he’d first worked out that fifty was old.
It was a crescendo of a moment rather than a day. The long-suffering Brenda was with him, frail herself though strong enough to smile encouragement as his heart seemed to explode cataclysmically inside him, and his world went with unbelievably suddenness blacker than black.
“That’s it then, Tom,” she whispered as she went to the toilet up the stairs and very deliberately flushed all memories of him away along with the hopes and dreams she’d never been allowed to have into the town’s purifying sewerage system.


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