Friday, December 21, 2012
Bill had been a fine dancer, not a great one. He had married young and had a ten year-old boy who told his schoolfriends that his dad worked in an office. Bill and the kid's mother had split up some years ago, but while they were together he had refused to tour, or to take work abroad. His career had stalled as a result, and he'd done some admin work to pay the bills, mindless, soulless stuff at first, until he found an agency which specialised in third sector placements. He took longer contracts. He stopped taking classes. He lost fitness and poise, but gained an understanding of how to run a successful non-profit, and found his way back to dance.
The company made a little money from touring, more from corporate sponsorship, a steady income from classes and studio hire, sporadic lottery grants, workshops, DVDs, advertising work, pop videos and theatre concessions. Bill managed this money as prudently as the artistic director would allow. He gently pruned the administrative staff, but retained an assistant. He gave himself a pay rise and began to take classes again. Towelling down after a class he would look at the studio mirror, a slimmer, looser version of himself looking back as each week passed, and say to himself “It's not a comeback.” He joined a gym, swam three mornings a week, weights in the evening.
Bill broke his knee irreparably in Barcelona. It was late October, a few days before his thirty-sixth birthday. He didn't break his knee carrying two suitcases down the aeroplane steps, greasy with warm rain and the smell of kerosene. He didn't break his knee falling off a rented bicycle, though his pride, and the civic litter facility he had hoped and failed to avoid, were both dented. He sustained no injury playing football on the wet sand of Barceloneta beach and survived unscathed the sudden full stop of an escalator in an out-of-town shopping mall. The direct cause of the ligament damage which would end his unvoiced hopes of a return to the stage was not the stunt he pulled to impress the young female assistant he had brought along on this tour, executing a triple pirouette on the arced surface of a giant cannonball in the Placa Reial. Although it is possible, likely even, that it was this whirling motion that caught the attention of the year old Newfoundland which, slipping its leash, barrelled into Bill's legs in between him hopping off the cannonball and landing. Crushed, Bill lay on the cool paving of the square. Nausea came and went in waves, but the pain was constant. Everything lost. “Fucking dog,” he thought, his eyes full of tears.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Sunday, November 04, 2012
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Friday, October 12, 2012
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
There is a green plain between the mountains, and a railway line. The train pushes through the clamouring paddles of cactus and great high grasses, following the river into the city. Static caravans rust among lemon groves. A gang of dogs, cartoonishly assorted, free somehow, have taken over a roofless farmhouse. I see them every day, barking unheeded orders to each other. No-one else looks out of the window. Beyond the glass, still new to me, are empty commuter villages. Embankments thick with flowers. Doleful, tethered burros. A bronze statue of Christ on an eastern peak, arms outstretched for balance, his position never so precarious, even here.
Each morning I drive my Renault 4 (also available in white) down the mountain to the station, where the train sits humming like something from the next millennium. The garage by the level crossing where I bought the car, taxed and licensed, for 600 euros, is run by two brothers whose age cannot be determined with any certainty, though a rumour persists that they fought on opposite sides in the Civil War. Which would put them in their late eighties, at the youngest. I suppose it's the kind of thing you tell a foreigner. The two of them can often be seen roaring through the village on matching yellow trial bikes, their faces lined by age and speed and relentless sunshine. They grimace at me from beneath peaked helmets and miraculously dark hair as they buzz past. Smoking. Riding one-handed at 80 kilometres an hour on bad roads. Perhaps they are that old. Perhaps they're indestructible.
I spend my days in Malaga, trying to make myself understood. The labourers on site are Brazilian,or Francophone African. The skilled workers are from the Baltic states. There are even some Spaniards. Thankfully they all speak a little English, so we get by, particularly after an unhurried Andalusian lunch. There is something democratic about a hard hat and a hi-vis waistcoat. Everyone looks much the same in them, and everyone has to wear them, the millionaire developer from Madrid and the floorsweeper from Côte d'Ivoire. If we finish early I take a bus to the beach and sit there watching the sky change, until the flies chase me away, or night comes.
People talk on the train home. They have their own jobs to complain about, suppers and weekends to plan and disagreements with loved ones that are important while they're on the phone but will dissolve, in most cases, with the first touch at the doorstep. How were the kids today?
No-one is waiting for me, not in this country at least, so most evenings I stop for a drink in the station bar. The tap hasn't worked for weeks, so Francisco - Me llaman “Frank”! - pours me a beer from a small can and charges me a euro. The bar is L-shaped, with a door at either end, always open and the weather blows through unobstructed. When a mist rolls over the mountain, it rolls into the bar. There's a table in one corner, though no-one ever seems to have sat there, three barstools, a fruit machine and a small colour television on which Frank and I watch Pasapalabra, a game show on Telecinco. We're obsessed.
Frank may own more than one cardigan, but if he does, they are all burgundy, and otherwise identical. He is as gruff and self-contained as one might expect the proprietor of a station café in southern Spain to be, but he seems to like me, perhaps because I share his enthusiasm for Pasapalabra. Álora nestles among three mountains, and the railway station is at the very bottom of the town, so the TV reception is often poor, and when the wind picks up along the Guadalhorce and rattles the shutters and agitates the spirits bottled behind the bar it's hard to hear much. Nevertheless the charisma of Pasapalabra's winsome host, Christian Gálvez, shines through the gloom. Everyone talks very quickly. Elderly women in the post office speak an accelerated version of the language recited on my Learn Spanish tapes. Of the conversation between host and contestant on a gameshow, against the clock, I pick out maybe two words in five. Somehow this does not diminish the charm of the thing. It's a word quiz, and everyone loves those, don't they? I do well in the music round, most nights. Frank does less well, not just in the music round, but generally, which is odd, him being a native speaker. He seems untroubled. Sometimes, I suppose, what is most important is to have the right answer, even if you don't understand the question.
Monday, April 09, 2012
There is a music in the way she says his name, but now that she's not speaking to him anymore he thinks that seeing her will be halfway or someway at least towards the experience of hearing her so he starts finding time during his working day to slip off and hang around near the coffee shop where he knows she gets her four shot latte twice a day and there's a bus stop twenty or thirty yards down the street where he can smoke and drink his own coffee and still appear to be on the way somewhere rather than just waiting like a bloody fool for a glimpse of her face and the lips he has kissed and the great mass of hair that he has tried to push his fingers through. Love it was, he supposes, for him at least though he always sensed there was something unreal about the whole thing, what with her being so extraordinary and him, well, a bloke in a hard hat she met in a pub after work, not that he had his hard hat on, but she had a trolley case full of paperwork and he'd helped her into a taxi with it and she had kissed him there in the street, a bit inexpertly, if he was honest but she was drunk so he understood.
He stands near the bus stop picking little bits of dried plaster off the back of his fingers. Then he goes back to work.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
His father told him he was staying with a friend, threw a holdall over his shoulder and walked away. From the doorstep the boy could hear his mother crying, an unfamiliar sound, somewhere upstairs. He understood that what had happened was irrevocable, that the 'friend' was a woman from the bank, younger than Mum, but thicker through the middle. But he didn't see what was worth getting upset about.
There were two ways of looking at it, he thought. He had either lost a parent (one who considered his home a sort of self-excavated oubliette, who forgot himself in televised golf for whole weekends at a time, a tactic of avoidance so classical in heritage and execution it was almost admirable - Pro-Ams, Japanese Senior Tour, WPGA, he'd watch it all, while his clubs rusted unswung in the carport, a caldera of arse-scuffed oxblood leather accommodating his crescent misery – gone now, though the golf bag remained, the mittened woods poking out from its top like reproachful civets) or gained one: a heavy-hipped woman not much older than him, numberwise. With a honest, open face and presumably an exploitable sense that she had wronged him, the son. More cash at Christmas, and the tantalising possibility that his newly single mother, trimmer than her replacement, though admittedly less honest and open of face, might herself find new love.
He shut the front door. Then he went and sat at his father's end of the sofa, and picked up the TV remote.