so, as promised:
My dad worked in one of those out of the way industrial estates, tucked in behind a small village in Cornwall, pleasant in the few weeks of summer, but harsh and gray the remainder of the year. He worked a machine which baked rubber sheets around a steel pole to make rollers for conveyor belts. About forty people worked there, receiving the sheet rubber and steel, winding it, baking, then trimming. The finished rollers were stacked in the corner by the overhead doors, then packed into brown crates for dispatch in lorries two or three times a week. Each day passed as the previous had done. Light-hearted banter pitched up along the aisles, newspapers were scanned in the coffee room, cash was counted on a Thursday afternoon. My dad, twenty-three at that time, was never going to move on, not in a million years.
After work on a Friday he would catch a ride home, grab something from the fridge, then head out to meet his friends in Sam’s Bar. They would shoot some pool, swap jokes, and talk about the ‘tits on that barmaid’. It was comfortable. It was warm. And he was never going to move on, not in a million years.
The flat he stayed in was quite large for the rent he paid. It was barely furnished but it would do. There was only one chair, an armchair of soft chord, which sat seven feet away from the television, the perfect distance. As he sat with the light off, the flowing colours flickered around the room, growing inexorably from the corner up onto the ceiling. On an occasional table adjacent to the soft roomy arm of the chair, sat an ashtray. In his left hand he would hold a mug of tea, or two or three times a week, a can of beer. In his right was a cigarette, or the remote control. He was never going to leave, not in a million years.
Sarah, my mother, had no idea what she wanted. She had left university, got a temp job as a receptionist in an office in Birmingham just five minutes from home, and had sat there, fives days a week, ever since. She talked to her parents about possible career moves, what sort of direction she should go in, accountancy, personnel management, retail. But mostly she answered telephones, directed people through heavy double doors with a smile. She stared at her reflection in the marble walls, she read magazines in quiet moments. She would turn down the odd request for a date from passing young men in suits. A gentle shake of the head and down-turned eyes were all it ever took. She wasn’t interested, not in this job, this town, this life, she just wasn’t interested. But she stayed, and each day became a full-colour xerox of the last.
Most of her friends never came back from university. They stayed on, either for a post-graduate course, or because they just preferred it away from home. A few had moved to London, but Sarah was never tempted. She thought about travelling, liked the idea of seeing Chile or Peru, but she never did. It was enough that she could watch some out of the way place on television, or flick through glossy prints of mountain views in the National Geographic. A couple of such pictures she had carefully removed and placed behind plastic frames in her room at home. And each day became a full-colour xerox of the last.
How would these two, separated by two-hundred miles and no obvious prospect of meeting, ever get it together? As my life is at stake here, it is only natural that I should take an interest.
All this time I have watched them, been them, grown with them. I have known what makes Sarah stare at the mirror every morning, what my dad mutters under his breath when he’s alone. I know it so completely that I cannot believe I am not here to experience life. The idea that my possibility is doomed not to crystallize seems unthinkable. The more unthinkable that it becomes the harder I pull on the fine gossamer hairs that must connect me to my parents. I wonder if I have left it too late. Was I so caught in my love for each of them that I grew complacent, forgot that I am a product of a pair and not of two individuals. I am the two of them together, linked in every way. I must remember that, I must pull harder still.
My dad is amongst the workforce, grouped together in the canteen by the works manager. There is disbelief that the unit is to close. I welcome it, change is good. My dad’s comfort turns to concern. This he feels is unjust. The Company is leaving this particular market, the spokesman says, to concentrate on its core business. The works didn’t provide sufficient profits either to continue, or for some other firm to venture a bid for such an out of the way operation. But it made money, it supported him, and the others, and this was unjust.
I am aware of little else in this world. My universe is one of two people only. I speculate from time to time on what other possibilities there may be out there, out in the far reaches that remain mere shadows of potential. Others, surely, exist. Other possibilities, other products of a liaison between my father and another, between my mother and another. I realise, of course, that I am excluded by them, by their potential. Those fine gossamer threads are all that hold me here. I must pull harder.
My father, having at first reacted badly to his change in circumstances, is fired up by his rage against the injustice he has been served. I, pulling all the time, blindly seizing only hope, fleetingly see a chance that he may move, relocate to find work. Possibilities are all I can work with, and there must remain a possibility that my parents can meet. But my father’s rage takes an entrepreneurial turn. He formulates a plan and over a fortnight agrees to buy some of the old machinery he has worked since leaving school. With a friend he leases a smaller unit on the same estate. They take on another worker on a promise of future earnings. The machines roll, the rubber rolls, on a much reduced scale at first, but it rolls nevertheless. At once I feel pride, pride at one half of the essence of me, but also horror. This pride must surely serve to keep him away from Sarah, and myself from birth.
Sarah taps another telephone extension number into the exchange. She revolves her chair around to face a visitor that has emerged through the double doors. She takes out a clear plastic wallet in which she slots a purple card announcing the fact that there is a visitor to the Company. She takes his name. His accent is strange. In fact he is not at all the typical visitor. She notes that he is not wearing the uniform, the dark suit, the colourful tie, the polished shoes. He stands before her dressed in trousers and a jacket that do not match, and she notes, as he signs his name in the visitors book, that his hand shakes. He drops the pen, he cannot remember the registration number of his car. He apologises. He tells her that he has driven this morning from Cornwall, that he is to see the purchasing manager, that he has just taken over production of some component that her firm used to buy. He tells her that he is probably wasting his time, that he should not have come all this way. She smiles. She hands him a glass of water. She feels . . . something. An emotion as rare in her life as excitement. In a curious way she wants to take him home. He looks into her eyes, she does not look down.
I am taken aback. Their eyes meet and I am charged. This new life, my life, is kindled, is announced. I can feel their longing for an actual union, a fusion which is my being. I pull on the gossamer threads that tighten and thicken into ropes. I pull and watch as, at the end of the day, they walk out of the building together. My father has a business, my mother a distraction for a day. They drink, they laugh, they love. My father drives away in the early hours of the morning eager to spread the euphoria he mistakenly believes came from the signature on the contract that is rolled up in his pocket. He means to call Sarah the next day, but he does not, not then, not ever.
As I tunnel through the darkness, losing all sight in the crystallization of my being, I am filled with wonder at the embryonic human form I hold, the material which has accrued from my belief, my hope, my love. All that I had dissipates, is left behind. I am propelled into the physical. My love remains, actuates, no longer calling me to life but reinforcing it. It says to me ‘divide’, and I divide.