On the morning of the funeral, Raymond rises as usual and urinates laboriously. With effort, he contracts his bladder to try and maintain a constant stream. His aim is off, and he renders splashes of yellowy-brown water across the antique canvas of the bathroom floor. It seems to be taking longer to piss these days, thinks Raymond.
But at least he’s still in charge of when it goes, if not exactly where.
Raymond showers with soap, a thin laver like sea foam against his skin. He emerges, wraps a towel around his waist and then brushes his teeth. He prefers to do it in this order because the residual steam in the bathroom keeps him warm while he stands naked, but for the towel.
He regards himself in the mirror, and notices how the pure white of the toothpaste makes his teeth look more the colour of the puddle of piss on the floor. The cracked porcelain tiles are a truer reflection of his smile than the one looking back at him.
And then, quite from nowhere, Raymond is alarmed by something; an absence. His back left molar, present when he went to bed, is missing. He runs his tongue across the gap and although he feels no pain, he can taste the faint tang of blood – like sharp metal.
‘Not again.’ Raymond says out loud. And as he speaks, he hears the front door being opened and the sound of voices.
Raymond’s son David is in the kitchen with his wife Helen and their children Jamie and Amelia. Jamie, the youngest, is overweight and pale. Amelia is skinny with sharp features, like a Siamese cat. Can you say Siamese anymore? Raymond wonders. He doesn’t know how old his grandchildren are.13 and 15 is his best guess. They are of little interest to him and he to them.
Raymond greets them all with a noise which could mean anything as he comes downstairs and in to the kitchen, still buttoning up his shirt and trousers. He’s damp from the shower, and warm, and the warmth of the day is turning the moisture trapped inside his clothes to a clammy sheen of sweat.
His family have let themselves in and now David is putting the kettle on and looking in every cupboard for mugs, the children don’t look up from their phones. Helen stands in the middle of the room like she’s a fucking hatstand or something. She doesn’t want to touch any of the surfaces in Raymond’s kitchen. Raymond is quite aware of this as he pulls out a seat for her at the table and insists that she sit down. Helen looks as though she’s just sat on a wasps’ nest.
David looks twitchy, on edge. Raymond very rarely speaks to his son and hasn’t done for years but since Kathleen died he hasn’t seemed to be able to get rid of him. David was present at the end, although not really there.
David approaches Raymond with arms outstretched but instead of embracing his father he just clasps both hands on Raymond’s shoulders and looks at him with a simpering, fake smile – pressing his lips together in a thin line.
‘How are you bearing up Dad?’ Raymond doesn’t really know what specific meaning he should attach to this so just simply answers;
‘How are you keeping? In yourself?’ Yet more inane vagaries from the pompous little toe-rag.
‘I’m fine David. Thank you for asking.’
‘Are you getting out enough? Are you managing around the house?’
‘Yes believe it or not I am capable of functioning whether I’m inside or outside thank you very much.’
Raymond hears Jamie stifle a laugh at this. Maybe contempt for his father has made it down through the generations.
‘We just worry about you Ray.’ says Helen, the fraudulent sentiment hanging in the air like a foul odour.
Raymond smiles his cracked, porcelain smile at Helen but does not reply. He holds her gaze long enough until she visibly shudders and then says in her harsh, clipped tones;
‘David I don’t think we’ve time for tea. We’ll wait in the car outside. Come on kids.’
With that they trudge out, Jamie is still staring at his phone but Amelia glances back at Raymond. Her expression doesn’t soften, but she looks at him as though she’s seeing him, simply seeing him. Like a cat does. She looks, she sees, and then she leaves, and something within Raymond is comforted and unnerved all at once. It’s like he’s just had the tiniest glimpse of a whole world which he will never see again. He’s happy that it exists, but sad that he’s going to miss it. Raymond thinks that the girl might just have something about her.
You give ‘em hell for me, kid. He thinks.
‘You’re not having my house you know.’ Raymond says to David who is still making tea.
‘Dad, no one was implying…’
‘Yes you were. All your questions about how I’m coping. Can you get in alright, can you get out, how are you keeping? I do not need to go in to a home.’
‘No one was suggesting that.’
Raymond takes an apple from a fruit bowl on top of the fridge. Then he takes a lock-knife from his pocket and begins to carve slices off the apple, eating them directly from the blade.
He feels the gap where his tooth used to be, extracted somehow like a confession.
‘It’s her who wants it isn’t it? You wouldn’t even be here otherwise.’ At this, David slams the kettle down and rounds on Raymond.
‘No. It isn’t. No one wants your fucking house ok old man? You’re quite welcome to stay here and…
‘That wasn’t what I was going to say. And of course I’d be here today. For mum and for you.’
Funny how you started caring a lot more when she was right at the end and you wanted to make sure you got first dibs on the house. Is what Raymond wants to say. Funny how you never seemed to have the time to visit before you knew she had no time left.
Maybe, after all of this time, it’s just his natural impulse to fight and argue and disagree. Because once you stop fighting, once you lose your anger, you’re finished. Raymond composes himself for a second and goes for a platitude of his own;
‘How are things with you and Helen?’
‘Thought as much. Listen son. I lashed out at you, near the end. Your mother was ill for a very long time and that can’t have been easy for you to face. I tried to take on that burden for everyone. But I guess it hardened me…too much.’
‘We all loved her dad. And we care about what happens to you now.’
The two men look at each other. Outside it’s a grey summer’s day, hot and muggy. The air is statically charged, waiting for the storm to begin. Two flies have come in through the open window and are buzzing around the lampshade in the kitchen. It gives Raymond comfort to think that summer is in full bloom and everything is sunshine and flowers but beneath all that, below the grass and the tarmac and the flowerbeds – things are decaying. Matter is putrefying and then out come the flies. Nothing is beautiful forever and sooner or later we’ll all be returned to the subterranean ooze from where the flies are visiting.
‘Here.’ Raymond flips the knife over in his hand and catches it by the blade, he extends the handle out to his son. ‘I’ve never really given you anything, I’d like you to have this.’
‘Why would I want your old knife dad?’
‘Because it used to be mine for a very long time and now it’s yours.’
‘Right but what am I ever going to do with it?’
‘Doesn’t matter what you do with it. Keep it in a drawer somewhere and then give it to someone else. Take that boy of yours on a camping trip and use it.’ The fat little fucker could do with a bit of time outdoors. ‘Cut some wildflowers to give to your wife.’ May just loosen her up.
‘You don’t really need a knife to cut wildflowers dad, you can just pick them with your hands.’
‘How would you know?’ That sounded harsher than Raymond had intended. He’d only meant that there were still new possibilities for his son. But it came out wrong, like it was intended to wound.
Raymond hands the knife to his son, who takes it with a look of deigned resignation. He will be in no rush to speak to his father again after today is done. David tucks the knife in to his jacket pocket.
As it’s time to leave Raymond closes the kitchen window, trapping the flies inside. I’ll see you again soon, he thinks. Then he thinks of everything he’s done with that knife over the years. Strange that he’s hardly given it a thought until today but that knife has been used to remove a human tooth.
More than once.
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