The policeman sat in the armchair
By Parson Thru
The policeman sat in the armchair – the one in the darkest corner, away from the window, where you and I sit out of choice. He might have had a cup of tea beside him.
Three of us were on the sofa: me in the middle, my dad to the left. I’m trying to remember if my ex was in the other chair: the one in the window. The split was still fairly new at that point – a pre Decree Nisi no man’s land.
The policeman did the talking. He may have had a notebook, but I like to think he had it all off pat.
The holiday had gone ok until the Wednesday night – the night before the flight home. This from the girlfriend’s statement. What was her name? Too long ago. I hadn’t met her at that point. On the Wednesday night, he wouldn’t come to bed. Was agitated. Pacing up and down the room, going to the window. He’d begun shouting, arms waving. She watching this, no doubt, with growing horror.
I see him slapping at his head. He was shouting that he couldn’t go back. Couldn’t get on the flight. Well, he wouldn’t be the first. My cousin vanished in the same way, leaving his mates to return without him. Years of crewing yachts, a Master’s ticket, then “entertaining” tourists in Mallorca followed.
He’d gone on that way all night. Scared her to death. By the morning, he was sitting on the floor, back to the wall, facing the window – his eyes rolling in his head.
It was daylight now. She’d tried to reason with him. I knew that feeling. Two weeks earlier, I’d done the same, just here in the dining room, at this same table. Arguing against the end of everything. It was me who’d told him not to cancel the holiday. Everything would be different with a break.
He stood up and ran at the window. I think there was a balcony. He jumped straight out. Two floors. Breakfast tables and an umbrella broke his fall. No one spoke about the people who he’d fallen into. It wasn’t in the statement.
She ran downstairs and found him on the terrace, standing – people stood around him. The police had been called. I can picture the policemen now in baseball caps and dark blue shirts. Another crazy English kid. Twenty-four. Too much sun and alcohol.
He didn’t need the hospital. The hotel weren’t pressing any charges. The policeman told us under Spanish law he’d have needed to ask for help. His girlfriend walked him back into the foyer, where they sat a while. He seemed calm. He asked her to fetch his coat. She did.
And so he was reported missing Thursday. I drove a courier van back then. Was lost in my own disintegrating world. That day, a strong urge came to call him and see how he was. The days before we all had mobile phones. There was a car phone in the van. I remember I was driving through the lights, past Bulmer’s into Lord Mayor’s Walk. I remembered where he was. We could catch up at the weekend.
I think my ex came to the house where I was living and told me he was missing. That was all, just that. And that his girlfriend had flown home without him. Ok. The urge to call him came back like a bug. He’d turn up.
I don’t remember if there was some missing person story in the local news. Maybe. I worked the Friday as normal. Things were strained with my parents. The marriage thing. Separation. Kids. And my new lifestyle. Estranged, I suppose.
It was Saturday, early afternoon I think, my ex came to the house again. She had her crash helmet, either in her hand or still on her head. I don’t remember. The bike was on the drive. She asked to come in.
In the lounge, among the ashtrays, guitar, amp she told me straight away they’d found him. I knew the next bit, but she told me anyway. I turned and looked out through the Venetian blinds onto the street, eyes stinging, filling up.
I got straight in the van and drove over. Yes, she must have followed.
The policeman must have been there already. Second cup, maybe. They’d found him at the bottom of a building, where he’d landed on a car. He’d done it properly this time – made a good job of it from a high building. The policeman’s words. Pronounced dead at the scene.
My dad began whimpering, then sobbing. I touched his arm, embarrassed maybe. Hey, dad. Come on.
Come on? Come on? I’ve just lost a son. This is the third kick in the teeth.
I’d learn about the others through my aunt in later years.
My mam just sat, as I recall it. Poor little bugger, she might have said. Or maybe that was later.
The policeman needed someone to go with him and formally identify the body. I volunteered. The morgue was at the local hospital. Just a side room really with a curtained-off bed. I was taken through the curtains.
He could have been asleep apart from bloody teeth and nostrils and coarse stitches disappearing beneath the sheets. The policeman asked if it was him. I think I just nodded. Maybe I signed something. He left me alone a few minutes. Not sure what I was meant to do. The cliché is you say goodbye. There was no one to say goodbye to.
Twenty-seven years have passed. Twenty-eight in April. It’s almost nine years since my dad died. Heart failure. It would be neat to say a broken heart, but it was a misdiagnosed overactive thyroid. I’m back to help my mother – a bleak prospect for us both. Unlike my brother, I made the escape. The one he so longed for and finally lost all hope of finding. Mine wasn’t without casualties.
I taught a bloke in Madrid. Scriptwriter. Successful man. He was from Tenerife. We used to talk about the island and the city. He told me I should go. I told him maybe, one day. I never told him why I maybe won’t.
I fell off the bike the other night, Thursday. After midnight. I was being followed by some bloke in a car. Maybe he’d heard me shouting at my demons riding out of town. Maybe he was one of them. I turned fast into an alleyway, skidded, bashed my knee. Wrecked my shoulder. Cracked the bone I think. It’s improving slowly, but I think I’ll have trouble with it now.
I’ve learned to know when I’m near the bottom. Make some changes. Maybe that’s the difference between us: survival instinct. Which one of us was right, I’ve no idea.