OZZIE

CWG entry for November 2013 on the subject of DECEPTION (that old thing we all know about…….)

 

“He’s slept 17 hours…. shouldn’t we wake him?”

Roger rattled the morning paper, ridding it of the toast crumbs Jane had dropped on the centre fold. At that moment, a dark zombie, red eyed and half awake, slouched into the kitchen.

“Gidday!”

Dan, her nephew,  grinned as he landed on a chair.

“Gidday , sport! It’s years since I’ve heard that expression. Not even Dame Edna says it now. Bacon, egg and sausages?”

“No worries! When I was in Spain I got a craving for Vegemite, have you got any?”

She’d bought it specially for him. Last time they’d met, Dan had been a weed of thirteen and here he was, hunky, and a half year of roaming Europe under his belt. He ate with gusto, like his father.

 

“It’s like watching a movie seeing you sitting there. You eat exactly like Will.” Jane looked over the top of her steaming mug of coffee.

“Yeah, everyone says I’m like the old boy but he’s always been more conservative than me.”

Jane stopped breathing. Would it be politic to mention the drug nights he organised at university, his flirtation with LSD or the fiasco over the Marshall girl he got pregnant when he was 19?

“Well, you know Dad, he’s very into the church lately. Do you know he actually saw Jesus?”

Those wonderful blue eyes looked so directly into Jane’s, not a cloud of doubt in them. Jane felt Roger stiffen, though he kept reading.

“Yes,” continued Dan “…he appeared to him at a tough time and told him how to make things right.”

Roger stood up.

“Jane, I’ll drive you to the garage to get your car, let’s go.”  It was an order.

“See you Uncle Roger, no worries!” Dan’s face was a picture of naïve charm.

– – –

In the car Roger spat at her,

“What the hell’s that about, the carry on about religion?”

“How would I know?”

Yet at the back of her mind she saw her mother, and her relentless campaign to save their souls. Religion had been the burden of their childhood and youth.

“Well, he’s ridiculously gauche for someone of 22,  I can’t listen to that sort of rubbish, you’ll have to get the girls home this weekend to entertain him. ‘”

Patience was never Roger’s strong point, yet Jane found herself agreeing with him silently.

“He’s my brother’s son –  don’t be so hard on him.”

Roger put his foot down, going through an orange light. Jane said nothing, knowing he was unhappy with this sort of talk, finding it a deep invasion of anyone’s privacy to even mention religion. Everyone making virtues of their own attitudes was something he detested. He was – unequivocally – an Englishman and an atheist.   Jane considered, for the first time ever, that this had had more to do with her staying in England than any other single reason. It jolted her.

– – –

“Little cousins!”

On Saturday morning Dan swept both the girls up in a bear hug.

“Put me down!”Stella shrieked.

Jane saw how Stella matched Dan’s openness. Seeing them together she could smell hay, heat, see an unbroken blue Australian sky. Clare was more subtle, self-contained, but her eyes now were merry. They loved him instantly.

“Where’s all the action then?”

They all talked at once, laughing, easy. Within the hour they’d zoomed off in the beaten up Volkswagen that Clare had been given for her 20th birthday.

“What time will you be back?” Jane called after them.

“No worries!” Dan shouted over his shoulder.

“They’ll be back when they’re hungry and broke,” Roger said putting his arm around Jane as they watched the VW hiccup down the road and just make it round the corner.

– – –

Jane heard them at two in the morning, coming upstairs, whispering, laughing drunk.  She slipped back into an easy sleep, despite Roger’s rhythmic snoring.

– – –

Sunday lunch was almost ready.  Jane threw the par-boiled potatoes into the oven round the roast, and set the timer.  She’d had two glasses of wine in the Lion and left before the rest of them to move lunch on.  It had been thrilling seeing the cousins together and yes, blood IS thicker than water, that was a truth.  They laughed at the same things, understood one another in the blink of an eye, whether it was jokes, music, books  or technology. Roger, too, had been amused by Dan’s hilarious travel tales  and was warming to him. For a very long moment, Jane feels something close to pure happiness –  of life being connected, blessedly,  naturally.

– – –

Clare said over the lemon meringue pie

“Hate to break up the party, but I’ve got some big tests this week, I’m getting back to Oxford after lunch.” She’s a third year philosophy student and the workaholic of the family.

“Do you have a plan?” Roger asked  Dan.

“I’ll get some sort of job until I know where I’m going next. No office work though.”|

Stella pipes up:

“Come and stay in our flat in Bristol, it’s a hideous student mess but I’ve got three girl flatmates!”

“Lead us not into temptation,  Stella!” Dan groans.

“ What sort of girls do you like, Dan? Busty, brainy, sporty? Have you got a girlfriend at home?” Clare asks.

“No, keeping myself pure for my wife! ” he says in a deadpan voice and matching face.  They all laugh out loud again.

“’Casual work, maybe a restaurant or something,”  he says putting his elbows on the table, cupping his chin  “I could have days off, see London, work at night…Bromley’s so handy to it all.”

He looks directly at Jane, and it dawns on her that he is planning to stay here, waiting to be asked. How amazing to have forgotten her own youth; to not remember how you needed every contact, every bed, every meal that lurched anywhere near your orbit  when finding your way in a new land. Jane is light years from her backpacker habits, too comfortable, insulated now. She feels a sharp panic as a memory reels back to mind. She is walking round London, having flown  for 24 hours,
trying to find the address she can stay at for the first week. It’s in Earl’s Court but is now a boarded up house, dark.  It’s 11 p.m. on a sweltering summer night, the pavements are spilling with merry people but, with one suitcase and not enough money for anything, Jane wanders the streets the whole night.  She feels alien, a freak, vulnerable.  At  7 .45 a.m., walking past the house for the sixth time, a man comes out dressed in a suit on his way to work.

“Yes,” he tells her  “we’ve been expecting you since last night.”

Without looking at Roger, Jane says,

“Stay here as long as you like. We’d love your company and you can make this your base.”

“Cool, Aunty Jane….”

“Stop calling us uncle and aunt, it makes us feel old,”Jane commanded, getting up to make coffee.

“….. you can make plans for next weekend, Dan, I’ll bring the boyfriend down. OK, Mum?” Clare says.

– – –

Getting ready for bed that night, Roger said,

“You’re so autocratic, don’t I get a say in any of this?”

“Oh, shut up Roger, at least we’ll get to see more of the girls now he’s here.”

– – –

“…. here are your keys.” Jane hands the spares over to Dan as she gulps a last mouthful of tea on her way out the door.

“So you work in a bookshop?”

“Yes, for my sins…the Oxfam place on High Street. I started lending a hand a few years ago but somehow ended up in charge. You could drop in one day when you have time. Did Roger show you how to work the computer?  Help yourself to everything, enjoy yourself, eat!”

“Thanks, I’ll look for a job on the net…”  He’s standing there in bare feet, his dark hair sticking out at odd angles, clutching a mug, the other hand in a pocket.  It strikes her that this is the airbrushed perfection favoured by jeans manufacturers the world over, standing naturally in her kitchen. She’s immensely cheered as she shuts the door and steps into the snowy February day.

– – –

Dan finds work as a waiter in a London grand cafe working  4 – 11 pm .  Friends phone the house and leave messages for him.  He’s free on Sundays and usually goes with a group from the café to see the sights. They’re all nationalities, seeing London through fresh, young eyes.

The weeks pass, a loose routine develops.  Dan goes to Oxford and Bristol some weekends, or all and sundry  land in Bromley . The house buzzes again, conversations are unending.

“What goes on in the restaurant, Dan….”  He looks sheepish.

“They hated me to start with. I said to a lady sitting by a window I couldn’t reach  “Pass the plate, love!”  and got told off for it…..”

They all laugh.

“What did the lady say?” Roger asks.

“The whole table thought it was hilarious, gave me a big tip…. but the manager changed my name to Ozzie on the tag, said it was only fair to warn people! Nobody calls me anything else now.”

– – –

It’s a warm spring evening in April. Roger is in New York at a book fair and Jane pours herself a huge glass of wine. She’s tempted to sit outside but feels the chill as she opens the door.  She’s planning to read “Longitude” again.  She gave it to Dan – he’s a quick reader, but thorough, and had never heard of the book, or known the history behind it.   He’ll love the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark.

 

They’re driving to Greenwich early on Sunday .  The car is humming along nicely for a while, when Dan switches on the radio.

Why do men do that? Every single one she’s driven anywhere switches the radio on, twiddles between stations and then hisses, dissatisfied with the offerings.

“Bohemian Rhapsody…leave it on, I love Freddie Mercury. This is probably the most famous song in the world.”

“ Freddie Mercury was a dirty old queer.”   Dan shocks her.

“What….?

“Come on, Jane, he was just a pervert, like they all are.”
She’s so shocked there’s a silence for a whole minute.

“Dan, you’re too forthright with your judgments. I don’t like what you said.”

“ God’s laws are totally clear” he says in his slow, charming voice. “Pity that some people fuck up their lives by disobeying them.”

“It’s horrible to hear you say that….as if the world is black and white!”

“Yes, but there’s no excuse for it, God hates them.”  He switches the radio off.

“Who are you to judge?”

“It’s written in the Bible, the rules are clear.”

“What rules?”
“The moral laws. If you disobey them, God disowns you.”

She laughs outright, switches the radio on and sings along for the last four minutes  to the end of the song.  He sulks next to her, steadfastly looking out the passenger window.

“You’re like some Neanderthal talking rubbish like that, darling, “ Jane says ruffling his hair with her left hand. “ People aren’t  defined by their sexuality…. he was a brilliant musician, the rest is his business.”

“So you don’t believe in moral laws?”

“Oh, indisputably BUT. …..” she says in a louder voice as his mouth opens to protest,

“…..they can’t be defined. Some things appear to be moral and in fact are deeply immoral, and vice versa. Each of us has to define our own code to be able to live happily with ourselves.”

“Well, surely you taught the girls moral laws?”
“Did we? Not that I can think of….we taught them right from wrong – our right from wrong – but that doesn’t mean that they have to take them on lock, stock and barrel as adults.”

“But you’re responsible for the souls of your own children, by guiding them back to God.”
“ Oh, Dan…. I know the background you’ve grown up in, but our girls never had religion thrust on them, and hearing  a young person  condemn someone, well, I’m glad.“

“I’m entitled to my opinion.”

“An opinion yes, but not  condemnation. You sound like Granny, uncannily like her. She ranted in her ex cathedra manner, regardless of others’ feelings or opinions.  There’s such a thing as spiritual arrogance you know, a detestable kind of one-upmanship, superiority, which is very ugly. You’re too young to be cynical.”

They drive the last minutes in silence. She realises now the distance between her brother and herself was never geographical. Yet, unfathomably, that  gap has just widened. Nature and nurture gave them precisely the same beginning, so is it the fate of character which has made them look in opposite directions, away from each other?

– – –

Dan is himself again, as they go into the Royal Observatory. He’s thrilled by the ingenuity of John Harrison, those clocks are miraculous up close.

“How did he do that, without any education at all, a carpenter, just on his own?”

“Thrilling isn’t it? My guess is that he was born with profound insight into some fundamental law. His design went against everything the establishment claimed as “the best” throughout history, but he had a different take, and trusted it. He designed his first clock in 1713 at the age of 20.”

“Mighty! but how could he know anything about the mechanism?”

“Well, they recently tested the so-called Martin Burgess Clock B for a 100 day trial to see if the claim that it wouldn’t lose or gain more than a second in that time is true.”

“How did they get the same materials?”

“It’s not a replica but he used Harrison’s design and concept.”
“And?”

“It lost one quarter of a second over the 100 day period!”

Dan is deeply impressed, into silence.

 

Jane remains flattened by the conversation in the car.  Her boots feel like concrete slabs, her heart down there too. Afterwards they walk down to the Cutty Sark, passing under the new, impressive copper hull. It’s been modernised since she was last here just before the fire. She is amazed by the beautifully built deck, the rigging too– the old tea clipper still has great charm and authenticity.

– – –

It’s Thursday now and Jane has left her mobile on the kitchen table. By lunchtime she realises she can’t do without it, so tells her colleague in the shop she’s off home to get it. Fifteen minutes later she walks into the hall, where an unknown rucksack lies.  In the kitchen, she collects the phone, then somewhere there’s an animal sound, perhaps of pain.

She walks through the hall, hearing it again, pushes open the study door. The two men are naked, locked together in a passionate embrace on the floor. She can feel the air between them, raw, carnal.  Jane turns and quietly leaves, closing the front door soundlessly. She drives 300 yards down the road, then stalls.

“Don’t let me be out of cigarettes!” she moans, but there’s one left in the pack. Lighting it, she inhales so deeply, she chokes. Her eyes water, though the cigarette finally steadies her. She lets thought creep back .

“So that’s it….”

– – –

“Flight arriving 5 hrs late 1.30 a.m.”

Jane reads Roger’s text from New York.  At 3 a.m. he finally flops into bed, she snuggles into his back. He hooks his left foot over her ankle and asks in an out-of-it voice,

“Any news, Janey?”

“None, Roger. All’s well.”

– – –

On Wednesdays the shop is always busy.  Jane looks up, to see Dan in front of her, looking pale.  His huge pack is on his back.

“Jane, I came to tell you I’m off.”

“Where to?”

He glances around, lowers his voice.

“Some guru in Vietnam – a Buddhist priest who helps people find their spirituality.” He shuffles, not looking at her.

“I need answers, so I’m going there to meet him.”

“When?” she asks stupidly.

“The flight leaves from Heathrow at 5.15…..I’ll get the train.”

“You’re leaving – now – just like that?”

“Spur of the moment decision, I’ll phone the others to say goodbye at the airport.”

His eyes are strange.

“I’m driving you there.”

He begins to protest but she calls out to Anna, who’s helping her,

“Bit of an emergency – can you take over for the rest of the day and lock up?”

Dan opens his mouth but she gives him a look which shuts him up.

“I’m really sorry, Jane, I need a new challenge, some insight.”

While driving out of the car park, she says,

“You must say goodbye to everyone,” and punches Clare’s number up, handing the phone to him.   He takes it reluctantly, nervous,  but after half a minute the voicemail switches on.  She hears his relief, breathing out.

“Roger next….”

His duress is palpable, but to her utter dismay, Roger’s voicemail clicks on too.

“Stella, now….”

Will his luck hold out for a clean getaway without saying goodbye?

“Stella here!”

“Hey Stel, Dan ….”

“Dan, you just caught me.”

“Stella, its short notice but I’ve decided to go to Vietnam.”
“Cool! If you wait till after the exams I can come with you!”

“No, I’m leaving now. Jane’s driving me to Heathrow, I just phoned to say goodbye, we’re in the car.”

“Goodbye! Why? Dan, what’s happened. You can’t just go off like that….what’s happened?”

“Nothing, nothing, it’s just that I found some old guru who will enlighten me but he lives in Hanoi.”

“I don’t believe you, you were coming here tomorrow. Something happened.”
“No, it didn’t! I just felt the call, I have to go.”

He’s curt now.
Jane hears a sob and then a few more.

“Stella, we’ll never lose touch, I just have to go. Now. Love you.”

– – –

At the departure gate, Jane searches his face, less open now, adult pain beginning around the eyes. He believes it is just this place he has to get away from.

They mutter niceties, thank you, next time, stay in touch, love you.  Jane looks intently at him.

“Dan, be your real self. Who you really are. It takes courage, but live your life honestly.”

He has no idea what she’s talking about, that she sees clearly.

They’re standing close, her hands on his warm, broad shoulders. His eyes show he has already gone, hastening towards a glorious, white, picture-book future.  Will her words be remembered on some sad day, years down the line? Will he know she longed for his happiness?

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