Martha-The Rewrite Chapter Sixty Seven
There’s a photograph of me, mum and dad on the beach somewhere, in some other time. It might be Frinton, it might be late eighties. It looks sandy in the background, but it’s definitely not Margate. I am grinning and there are two teeth missing out of one side of my smile. We are sitting down and dad’s arm is behind me and he is leaning in slightly so his head is almost above mine. Mum is sitting a few inches to the other side. She is very upright and has one arm folded across her chest, like she’s hiding her tits, which she probably was. Photos back then were a precious thing, a set of 24 Kodak bursts of magic that were pored over for decades, albums taking up dozens of square feet of cupboard space. We look at them because we want to invoke that memory, to remember what it was like to be that person, at that time. But really, who actually wants to do that? You’ll either think ‘I was happier then’ or ‘I was miserable then’, so looking back will almost always be a shit experience. Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe other people get some kick from looking back. Kinda depends what you have to look back at I guess.
I look back at 5 year old me and I look happy, bursting with all the energy and vigour that a kid of that age should have. I can’t remember that girl. I have the photo but how can I be sure that she ever existed? Memories aren’t etched, they are smeared over the paper. You can see the outlines of people but the edges are so blurred that they stick to each other. There she is though, her arms covered in sand, her hair stuck tight to her scalp, her little legs all twisted up under her. And there’s this bloke above her, his hair windswept, riding high in the breeze, his tiny pot belly rising up like a bald man’s head from his midriff. He was still quite fit in those days, probably still playing football and working on the bins kept him in good nick. He used to tell his mates that he had trials with West Ham when he was a boy. I believed him for years until I realised later in life that nearly all middle aged men seem to believe that they had trials for their boyhood club. It all went to shit when he met that woman down the pub. According to mum he used to pretend to play in Sunday league matches and just go off with her and then go to the pub as if he had played the game, like he was doing a good ninety minutes on her instead. She only found out when she took me to watch him as a surprise one morning and he wasn’t there. I can only imagine how shit that must have been for her. I doubt she took me out of the goodness of her heart. She took me in the hope that she was wrong about him, that he really was playing football, that he wasn't actually the prize cunt he actually was. Instead, she had been right all along. She pretended that she had got the wrong pitch or something. Even at that age, I didn’t buy it. I asked her last year if she got upset and confronted him that day. No, she had said, I just cooked dinner. She knew where he was and roughly what he was up to, yet she couldn’t bring herself to call him out. Instead she peeled the spuds and stirred the gravy.
And there’s pre-Prozac mum, grinching her teeth together, hating the whole idea of being captured on film. You can see her separation from us, how even on a sandy beach in the summer sun, she is wishing that it was all over. Holidays for her were a great burden. I don’t remember this one but when me and her went away when I was older, she was in a foul mood for days beforehand. The intensity of constant company was just too much for her, trying to stay separate when someone is right there and there’s no escape. She would have rather been cooking fry ups in the cafe. I don’t think she even really minded that dad left her. Of course she called him all the names under the sun but looking back, I think she was glad to be alone. It was that he never sent us much money that really got to her, left her to fend for herself. But did she miss him? I reckon not. I can imagine her saying ‘I’m better off without him’ and actually meaning it. So now that from beyond the grave, he has finally gifted her something, I think she feels that it has all been worthwhile.