I had a home once. With warm fires and warm people and friends and hot food. And a cat, and children. And problems with neighbours.
Village pub characters knew me, and I was always torn between their welcome, and the given one at home.
But it was all false. Built on sand. Built on an acquired attitude, acquired because it was required in order to be able to compete. Make money, forget about earning it. Quiet periods in some other pub, on the way home from work, when I could be me between being one person at work and another one entirely at home.
Will my wife be an angel or a devil when I get there? Synthetic when the former, insufferable when the latter.
But my children loved their home.
One winter, it began to snow. And that peculiar silence fell across the village. A sense of expectancy. Or was it more like a balm on sunburned skin? Or Christmas eve perhaps. As though all those competitive spirits had suspended the game for a few hours, to watch and consider each other for once.
The cat flap flapped, and in walked Sam. He paused, shook one paw daintily before proceeding to his righteous place in front of the blazing fire. One child read quietly in the corner, whilst the younger, three years junior at six, played with his cars, lining them up across the carpet in a precise grid, only to smash the resulting matrix to pieces by hurling his rubber dinosaur at them. Sam took his place by the fire, and I sat on the floor watching them all.
My wife appeared. Both children stopped what they were doing. The cat stopped purring. She stopped, and stood still in the doorway, and sighed. In that moment, in that warm room in that warm home, something of the frozen chill outside invaded and touched us all. Something of the future invaded the present, and in hindsight, made it worthless.
‘I want a divorce.’
Dancing orange firelight played amongst the fractal mirrors of frost on the windowpane, and the world felt colder still. My younger son threw one more dinosaur.
Pink dawn light fluoresced though steam rising ever so slowly from the frozen surface of the canal. A solitary bird uttered a note and fell silent again. Smoke oozed from the stack on a nearby narrowboat. A heap of sacks in front of me stirred and Angie’s face, red and blotchy, appeared from one end. I moved to speak but my beard was frozen to the bench and I had to busy myself freeing it.
A low and watery winter sun appeared, only to emphasise the sagging bellies of low grey cloud hanging over us. By eight o’clock, it was snowing. Big, wet lazy flakes drifting down of their own accord through the quiet air, not driven by any cause or need. I lay there and watched them, and the yellow windows of the narrowboat. Other boats sat further down the canal, each fainter than the other, becoming more grey as mist rising gently from the water obscured the view. In the background, dark hills sat squat and watching.
Angie produced a bottle of whisky from underneath her sacks and offered me some. She was a good old girl. Heart of gold.
The smell of bacon drifted over from the narrowboat. The whisky felt good, slipping down warm and softening the world. A noise came from the boat, and a cat appeared. It paused, and then jumped ashore, tail pointing contemptuously upwards at the glowering sky. Its paws left perfect prints in the snow as it walked by.