time

Brian, redundant, would have time to write his novel, the great chronicle novel of the Northern working class. Brian would be forced, by redundancy, to confront the knowledge that time was not what he needed, Brian would turn sour. Already he had become unreasonable: later, he would, like everyone else, become sour. It was boredom that had driven her to drugs and crime: and in her case, the crime had not been wholly in pursuit of the drugs, it had been embraced for its own sake. For thrills, for excitement, for a sense of being alive, for a momentary freedom from the tyranny of time. 'All my childhood,' Jilly had told Alix, 'I sat with my eyes on the clock, waiting for things to be over. Waiting for time to pass. Bored? I thought I'd die. I thought I'd die of boredom. And I mean die. I thought I'd just stop breathing, at the dinner table, in front of telly, in school prayers, in lessons. I used to play these games with myself — that I mustn't look at my watch or at the clock until I'd counted three hundred backwards, until my father had cleared his throat three times, until a cloud edged across the window pane, until the history teacher blew her nose — and then I'd look, and only a poxy five minutes would have passed. Five miserable minutes, out of a lifetime. And it just seemed so stupid — wrong, stupid — to spend the rest of my life waiting for time to pass. Glad when every day was over. Sorry when I woke up every morning. Relieved whenever a minute passed without my counting it out, second by second. What was wrong with me? I don't know. When I was high, time flew. And it was even better, breaking into the chemist's, breaking into corner shops. The excitement. Planning what to go for. Hiding in the dark. Listening out. Hearing one's heart beat. You know what I mean? She crosses to the sink, pours away her unwanted cup of instant coffee, washes the cup, washes a foil milk bottle top, puts her foot on the pedal bin, opens it, drops in the foil top, gazes absently for a moment at an empty egg box, an empty tomato tin, the scrapings of last night’s spaghetti, some apple peel, some kitchen roll, a browning lettuce leaf, a cigarette carton, a tonic bottle. She wishes they would not throw tonic bottles in the pedal bin: she likes to take them to the newly-provided Bottle Bank. She thinks of rescuing it, but does not. I don’t want to get too like Ma, she repeats to herself: but even as she rehearses these words, a strange, perverse, numbing respect for her mother seeps through her: how she has persisted, her mother, in being what she is, how stubbornly she has refused to divert herself with trivia, how bleakly and boldly she has stared over the years into the heart of nothingness. For it is trivial, it is all trivial, coffee mornings, eating, drinking, the National Theatre, shopping outings, reading books, embroidery, evening classes, country walks, wiping surfaces, emptying waste-paper baskets, Bond Street, Regent’s Park, saving bottles for the Bottle Bank, gardening, telephone calls, listening to the radio, Terry Wogan, going to the hairdresser, chatting to the window cleaner, giving small donations to Oxfam, throwing away silver foil, collecting silver foil, cleaning the bath. It is nothing, all of it. Sex and small children had provided a brief purpose, the energy they generated had made sense of the world for a while, had forged a pattern, a community: clinics, playgrounds, parks, nursery groups, mothers waiting at the school gate: and now: nothing. An idle flutter of garbage over an empty pavement. Coldness, nothingness, grips Shirley as she stands in her kitchen. She knows herself to be biologically dead. Her spirit shudders: she has seen a vision, of waste matter, of meaningless after-life, of refuse, of decay. An egg box and a tin can in blue and white plastic pedal bin. So might one stand forever. She lifts her foot. The lid drops. Irie studied a small slice of the Chalfen family tree, an elaborate illustrated oak that stretched back to the 1600s and forward into the present day. The differences between the Chalfens and the Jones/Bowdens were immediately plain. For starters, in the Chalfen family everybody seemed to have a normal number of children. More to the point, everybody knew whose children were whose. The men lived longer than the women. The marriages were singular and log-lasting. Dates of birth and death were concrete. And the Chalfens actually knew who they were in 1675. Archie Jones could give no longer record of his family than his father’s own haphazard appearance on the planet in the back room of a Bromley public house circa 1895 or 1896 or quite possibly 1897, depending on which nonagenarian ex-barmaid you spoke to. Clara Bowden knew a little about her grandmother, and half-believed the story that her famed and prolific Uncle P. had thirty-four children, but could only state definitively that her own mother was born at 2:45 P.M. on January 14, 1907, in a Catholic church in the middle of the Kingston earthquake. The rest was rumor, folktale and myth. This has been the century of the great immigrant experiment. It is only this late in the day that you can walk into a playground and find Isaac Leung by the fish pond, Danny Rahman in the football cage, Quang O’Rourke bouncing a basketball, and Irie Jones humming a tune. Children with first and last names on a direct collision course. Something to rationalize, to explain, why one would keep returning, like Freud’s grandson with his fort-da game, to the same miserable scenario. But time is what it comes down to. After you’ve spent a certain amount, invested so much of it in one place, your credit rating booms and you feel like breaking the chronological bank. You feel like staying in the place until it pays you back all the time you gave it—even if it never will. He thought of his wife, Alsana, who was not as meek as he had assumed when they married, to whom he must deliver the bad news; Alsana, who was prone to moments, even fits—yes, fits was not too strong a word—of rage. Cousins, aunts, brothers thought it a bad sign, they worried if there wasn’t  some “funny mental history” in Alsana’s family, they sympathized with him the way you sympathize with a man who has bought a stolen car with more mileage on it than first thought. Strangely, Daria was the final pulse of thought that passed through Archie just before he blacked out. It was the thought of a whore he met once twenty years ago, it was Daria and her smile that made him cover Mo’s apron with tears of joy as the butcher saved his life. He had seen her in his mind: a beautiful woman in a doorway with a come-hither look; and he realized he regretted not coming hither. If there was any chance of ever seeing a look like that again, then he wanted the second chance, he wanted the extra time. What neither of them said was that when you plan to retire, to get to the country of perpetual relaxation, and you start travelling there and eventually arrive you may find you have picked up a perpetual sense of despair and a feeling of timelessness that is not merely the abandoning of timetables and not the grand eternity 'pinnacled dim in the intense inane', but a prospect of desert, of fruitlessness from which death begins to appear, enticingly, as the last springtime. ...perhaps reliving that same kind of afternoon when she (the old maid, his sister—and more than his sister: the woman (she was more than fifteen years older than he) who had brought him up and nursed him and virtually held him in her arms until he could stand up by himself), when she had appeared, carried by that same seven o’clock train, although then composed of an assortment of irregular cars in which she had travelled—or rather lived—for three days and three nights, with this difference, too, that it wasn’t seven but around three in the afternoon, and that it was the train from the day before arriving around twenty hours late, or today’s train four hours ahead of time, or perhaps even tomorrow’s and even the day after’s train with, in that case, a huge supply of hours ahead of time, for after this one and for almost a week, no other train came through She could drive all night, she decided. She could pull over anywhere. It didn't matter. She was free and her children were safe. She felt powerful, capable, heroic as she had when they'd left the bed and breakfast. She wanted a drink. unite for life in stoic love to the last shrimp and a little longer He’s a little old man we’re two little old men something wrong here I’ll never have a past never had Rotting leaves in June. From last year, and from the year before last, and from the year before that again. I did not care. I just sat on, saying, If this train were never to move again, I should not greatly mind. Mr Barrell (testily). What is it, Mrs. Rooney, I have my work to do. Crouch down! At my time of life! This is lunacy! One minute picking happy at the dung, on the road, in the sun, with now and then a dust bath, and then -- bang! - all her troubles over. In her forties now she’d be, I don’t know, fifty, girding up her lovely little loins, getting ready for the change... Are we very late? I have not the courage to look at my watch. Her face is wasted away so that the bones draw just under the skin in white lines. Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks. But the eternal and the everlasting salvation and grace is not upon her.
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