Do you realise,’ his uncle said, slowly, ‘…she was born exactly one hundred years after Bobo ... Now that’s a thought, isn’t it!’
‘Good Lord, is that right?’
That summer, away from London to the sunflowers he had gone with his uncle and Alma and their children. Sofia had come too and everyone had said how much their cousin looked like Sofia, and Sofia smiled and their cousin smiled; she shyly, Sofia indulgently. He had thought that there was more of Sofia then in her now than in Sofia now, and he wondered how much of Sofia now would be in her then. When she spoke gently to her brother or her face was startled into a little ‘o’ and her black eyes grew, or silently at breakfast when her shoulders caved about her Coco Pops, yawning, and she refused to be goaded by uncles.
‘We can only imagine what we would find in that book,’ his grandfather said, grizzling, and placing tobacco in his rolling machine. His eyes flickered over his hands at work, and ten rested still, his voice quiet. His sons were silent either side of him and looking steadily at nothing.
He rested his head back and wanted to close his eyes. The room was running around them. For a moment the wind picked up outside, rattling the window in its frame just for a second, and a draught ran cold over him. His grandfather looked asleep. Tired, he tried to imagine him a little boy like Lutino. At first gambling, like a twinkling cub but quickly became a great, old snowbearpolabear pawing a landscape of white rock. He looked about the horizon, out over the flat white ocean and over the sprawling iced beach embedded in dark cliff leading up to an empty sky and the dark lip of cliff where the wind howled.
He looked upwards, hitting the ceiling, and thought of Pest and Buda, with whom he had spent the night earlier that week. The twins hadn’t look well. One was getting fatter each time he saw her. The other was wasting away, slurping at her drink and sucking cigarettes. In Angel they had planned to go to the funfare that weekend at Battersea Power Station. When they arrived it was already closing down. Only a small selection of the smallest, and squeakiest, and brightest rides were still in operation and they were scowled at as they approached and asked for a go. They retreated to a bench at a beer tent that was half packed into a van.
They sat amongst employees of the funfare morosely celebrating the end. They sat and drank and he tried to keep the twins talking, or at least listening to him talk, and because he wouldn’t stop they did and the three drank cheap beer fast. Later, as the last of the sun shone, multi-coloured on the tarmac he had gazed up at the sky and watched as the planes flew past. One by one they came, one always following upon the other; in straight lines they flew, black, geometric birds.
He left still unsatisfied and so kept the girls walking with him, speaking loudly and holding hands and swinging their arms. And although Buda’s dyed red hair was faded as her dark brown roots took hold, and although Pest’s shoes were tattered and splitting they still clung to her feet, and so they flowed into a quiet but full pub and ordered drinks and laughed and shouted raucously and discourteously as they drank them and the other punters made mute sign language behind their backs.
Afterwards he had gone back to Buda’s house and they had bought a bottle of wine, and, crept around the back of her building passed the bins to the swimming pool. They had uncovered it, and taken off their clothes and slipped in. They took their glasses of wine with them into the water. They drank and whispered and chuckled and he looked up to the sky and heard the train rolling past. Each train sounded thunderous and brought drama into their little quiet world in the water. He was smiling into the sky when Buda said that they should go in, and their white dripping bodies scrambled out of the pool.
Walking home along the river he had stepped up on to the ledge to pee into the Thames but couldn’t. Voices gave him quiet juddering startles and one person amongst goads and squeels slapped his ass as he went past. Buda and Pest hadn’t texted him since that evening – one had stabbed herself on a metal railing; the other just went silent.
But now, sitting at his grandfather’s table, he returned, as he often did, to the sunflowers. On the final days he had walked with Lutino up a long road to a park full of bushes and plants and great trees. They walked up to two great pillars at the entrance; upon which crouched a fierce dog, puppies straining up to her dripping dugs while she turned to the other pillar, snarling and spitting at a wolf, as large as the bitch, legs spread and hair bristling. Under her belly there were also puppies, but dog-puppies not wolf-puppies. He was unsure whether they were dead or alive, writhing or frozen below her bridged belly. Looking up at them, Lutino’s eyes expanded for a moment, into smooth black buttons, and then his head turned back to the other, and he looked straight forward and stumbled into the park, leaving behind a cloud of dust where he shuffled his small legs forward.
He walked up to one of the pillars, looking up at the snarling beast above, and scratched upon one pillar the words liebe luxus anarchie.
Alma followed with her camera.
Bertie Digby Alexander