What Gabriel knows
Gabriel opens the door to his father’s study. It’s been a sultry, humid day, but like all days in September, the cold of the evening is moving in quickly.
The study is very still and in this, its unused state, it feels unloved. Gabriel listens to the tick tock of the clock on the mantelpiece. He finds its familiar sound comforting.
Gabriel wishes his father was here. He misses him with a longing he could never have imagined. It’s a pain in his rib cage, a pull on his heart. He holds the missing him so heavily, it makes him feel tired. But sleep doesn’t make the pain go away.;
His father’s books fill every available shelf space in the room and Gabriel thinks about all the things his father knew. He shuts his eyes and tries to make his head expand so he can hold everything his father taught him. The universe that was his father, that he must hold on to forever.
On the occasional table, the orrery waits. The sun in the middle burns fiery-brass gold and the planets on their metal stalks are preparing to rotate. Gabriel twists the orrery’s handle, the cogs begin to whirring-turn and in sequence, so do the planets. Their shadows loom large and solemn on the wall next to the window. A movement in the mirror over the fireplace catches Gabriel’s eye, but when he looks more closely, there’s nothing to see.
The motion of the planets causes dust to rlse, like silver will-o-the-wisps into the air. Then Gabriel hears his mother calling him to shut the study door and come down for tea.
Before he leaves, he puts his hand out to touch the jewel green-blue of the earth. He closes his hand around it and the earth vanishes. As the orrery’s cogs grind at the disruption to their movement, Gabriel thinks, how small we are. How very, very small.
Alexander is dancing
From the shadows, Alexander watches his son. Although he's in his own study, Alexander is so far from home. He sees Gabriel’s serious expression as he’s watching the orrery rotating. His forehead is large and he keeps furrowing his brow and then raising it, almost as if he’s consciously exercising it. Alexander notices too the angry, red spots of adolescence, puncturing the smooth skin of boyhood.
He observes how long Gabriel’s eyelashes are and he wishes he could stroke them. He remembers how soft they feel, how fine. Gabriel momentarily turns towards the window and in the low, evening sunshine pouring through it, Alexander notices the familiar, yet still startling blue of his eyes.
He wants to hold Gabriel tightly like he did when he was a baby, so he thinks solid thoughts. He tries to bring weight and body to the ethereal, flibbertigibbet thing he’s become. He can’t do it of course, but he wonders if for a second he becomes substantial enough for Gabriel to catch sight of him in the reflection of the mirror.
It’s difficult for Alexander to know what he really feels. He’s gone and he knows it, but watching his son enables him to link with the world again. At least for a while. He sees all his books on the shelves, full of their words and knowledge and facts and learning, and what he took from them flashes in his head like the memory of fireworks on a clear, November night.
Gabriel is mesmerised by the orbit of the planets and Alexander uses this distraction as a chance to move closer to him. He holds out his hands to stroke the air near his head and he kisses the space by his still baby-fat cheeks. He nuzzles near the nape of his neck, where the blonde of his hair is beginning to darken.
When the dust starts to rise and glitter in the orrery’s motion, Alexander swirls and whirligigs with remembered delight at dancing with his little boy. Round and round jigging. Dancing still in the shadows; in the dust.