Fiction by Casper Smith
It was the second time Colin tried it. Second time it didn’t work. His son Bob had just arrived last night, a few days after the attempt. He was visiting to see the new house. Another new house. Colin wasn’t planning on telling Bob. Normally he kept things for himself. But Bob was the one that got Colin out of his heart-attack rut a few years back. Went to cardiovascular activities with him. One morning, Bob had gotten up late and Colin was already gone so he got on the bus for 20 minutes and then showed up as Colin, Roland and several other geriatrics were doing their warm-up stretches with ‘Sort-of’ Debbie, the instructor. Roland was a thin old man who prided himself on his balance during the calf stretches. Colin will never forget it. His face lit up when Bob walked in the room. In the Q&A afterwards, Roland said ‘It’s alright for the likes of Colin, with his family’.
Colin was sat head-in-hands on that wooden kitchen bench, bought in Worsley Road, transferred through 3 different houses in the space of probably less years, all the way to its current pit-stop: Almwch, Wales. Capital Fucking Double U, Wales. Colin was rocking in the waves. Up until a few years ago, he’d lived his 60-odd years in Salford only. ‘I’m useless’ he thought, over and over, unable to adapt to his new environment.
Bob sat opposite him on the kitchen bench. Bob’s a good kid. There’s something about him. He’s the missing link. When he’s around, everything else falls into place for Colin. People start behaving slightly differently in a way that supports him. Denise stops calling him a useless twat every 10 minutes, for starters.
“I don’t feel like I have a purpose anymore” Colin mumbled.
“What do you mean?” Bob said, a little uncertain how serious things had been inside hisdad’s head.
Colin took off his readers, pinched thatbit between the eyebrows and rolled his hands through his hair. He felt like he was acting.
“I’m 62 years old” he said, “I’m like an old race-horse that needs to be put down.”
Bob’s face dropped. He didn’t mean to do it. You’d think his eyes rolled but his face barely moved. ‘Not this again’ he was thinking. He was disappointed, upset to hear his dad was on another downward spiral.
“You’re not useless” Bob said, proving he knows Colin as much as Colin knows him. The new place was driving him up the wall. He simply didn’t want to be there.
“Do you like it here?” Colin said.
“It’s the best place you’ve ever lived” Bob said, without hesitation. He believed it. Colin was half-expecting to feel relieved. Maybe like he could see himself getting used to the new place inWales at some point in the not-too-distant future but nothing. He felt precisely nothing. ‘Still dead inside’ he thought, ‘still useless’.
Bob didn’t say anything else. Just that. Just that it’s the best place that Colin has ever lived and then looked at him as if to say ‘now get a grip old-man, pull your socks up and let’s not vortex again’.
Colin considered the idea of getting used to it. ‘Maybe I’ll like it’ he thought, and then immediately felt useless for lying to himself. He knew he would never get used to it. He rubbed his face with a double-palm attack.
Marie sat down on the bench next to Colin, sipped some water that she’d just prepared with crushed ice from the door of the fridge. Bob said something about Marie being a really useful person for impartial opinions to reassure Colin that he can keep on talking. Marie is Bob’s Doris. They’ve all done some jigsaws.
Colin considered how he might articulate the way he felt. He was already worn-out from the racehorse comparison. This was as much energy he’d put into talking for a seriously long time. Normally it’s just him and Denise and the 2 scruffy dogs. Watch Green River or Coronation Street. Something simple. Maybe a murder show. Let the dogs outside because they’ve started puking chips in the corner of the living room. One of them might ask the other if they want corn-beef hash for dinner and the other might say yes and that would be that until the next day, save for the odd ‘useless’ comment under the breath here and there.
Since he couldn’t work out how to say how he felt, Colin started thinking about all the things he had to do in the new house. He had to fix a new fence down the side of the garden. Boxes to take up the stairs. Those fucking dogs that are shitting and puking everywhere again. The hedge at the front that needs cutting. The roof tile that needs fixing in the loft.
Marie and Bob exchanged a glance. It’s was so short of a glance that they didn’t even look at each other. They just sat there looking at Colin but they communicated something. Maybe it was a leg-kick under the table.
”Are you feeling overwhelmed?” Marie said.
”Just take your time. Be patient. You know that you’ll feel settled eventually”
She was right. She listened and she asked some more pertinent questions. She described much of Colin’s problems better than he ever could. Denise joined them and the four of them sat there on that wooden bench in the kitchen and talked. They’d all just got up, come down the stairs and next up should have been breakfast, but they sat there not even realising that their stomachs were rumbling because they had to talk about Colin. ‘I’m acting like a spoilt kid who wants attention’ Colin thought, ‘I’m being an asshole”.
“I’ve not been sleeping” he said.
”I’ll stay up all night with you if that’s what it takes” Marie said.
She said that she watches Seinfeld when she feels sad and needs to escape, just to distract herself from her thoughts.Block it out. Distract yourself with something else. Don’t think about it. That’s all anyone was saying to Colin but he couldn’t make head nor tails of it. ‘That’s not how it works’, he thought. He was having the thoughts and the thoughts were having him. Who is who? And who is in control of it?
Denise started crying. She didn’t know why. Maybe because she thought it was beautiful how someone else would stay up with him all night.
Colin started talking about his money problems. Colin and Denise have enough money to last them until they’re at least close to ninety.
”Here’s my advice” Bob said, ”Buy a shotgun. When you run out of money... put it in your mouth. Don’t forget to pull the trigger though. You can’t kill yourself by just putting it in your mouth”
He knew he might be skating close to a truth. Denise knew about it. She chopped up the rope when she found out. Bob and Marie didn’t know and they didn’t flinch as he told them, just listened as if he said ‘I’m going to make a corn-beef sandwich’. No sudden moves. Something nondescript. He’d tried with a rope and had a knife on his chest.
Marie said that Colin might benefit from doing some affirmations. “I’m good enough. I’m trying my best... Say it” she said.
Colin thought about it and quickly decided that he shouldn’t do it. ‘I’m not good enough. I’m useless and I’m lazy. The opposite of what she’s saying’ he thought. He wanted to explain why but couldn’t think of anything, so he repeated after Marie, ‘I’m good enough. I’m trying my best’.
Marie, Bob and Denise talked about what time Bob’s sisters’ kids were coming around and who wanted to play a game of table tennis after breakfast. Colin lost interest. It was difficult for him to win. He was compelled to talk about his problems but talking about them seemed only to add to the magnitude of his uselessness.
“We can say what we want” Bob said, “Truth is: only you can get you out of this”
“Should I kill myself?” Colin said.
“That’s not my decision” Bob said, “All I can say is that if you do, then that is the right thing to do. If you don’t, then that’s also the right thing to do. Other than that: we all love you and are here for you”
Colin was visually disappointed with the answer. It wore him out. He wanted Bob to say ‘do it’ or ‘don’t do it’. The answer put 100% of the responsibility on Colin and it weighed on him like the jobs in the garden and the loose tile up in the attic.
The kids video called. They were on their way already and wanted to know if anyone needed anything from Tesco on the way. Every possible combination of things that could be said had been said. It seems contradictory this way but it’s more like arms in the dark. Grab the one you want, so long as you have something to want.
Casper Smith is a first-time writer based in LA. He likes to smoke graffiti and live the socks out of the sea.
Published 19th November, 2022.