By Simon Barget
I was born in Norwich or Greenwich or Dulwich or Seaford or somewhere on the south coast but I am not good with places or even words for that matter. I am far better with moods and smells or over-ebullient attitudes that get people into trouble, meaning I can never forget them. I hardly knew my father who was gone from home for as long as I can remember and as for my mother she was more than just a bit of a snob. I suppose I take after my mother; you see a lot of her in me. In the way I sit or perch for example, in the way I am supremely lazy and careless and almost slightly impetuous in my slothfulness, well that all comes from her as far as I see it. Languid to the extreme. She was only protective in so far as she was protecting the parts that reminded her of herself. As for the traits of my father, it was to hell in a handcart. When we went on our excursions, she was always far more concerned with her own than for our well-being and my younger brothers and sisters suffered the most in this regard. Sometimes we would sit under bushes, we would wait whilst she preened and primped, rearranging her make-up and hair, looking at herself endlessly in eye-glasses, flattening her neck scarf and her beehive hair-do and her arrays of perfumes and scents that she took all around with her, all sorts that she kept in tiny bottles or sacks, stoppers and phials and then wicker baskets she trudged about with, her tinctures and her ointments and curatives which she applied whilst we just looked on waiting for her to stop but sensing even at that young age that lack that she felt that made her endlessly survey herself, wanting to keep herself safe in the eyes of the world.
Perhaps you could say it was my father’s absence. But it wasn’t. What I sensed in my mother and what I have in me to my detriment is this absolute and reckless pre-occupation with myself and although I have almost completely withdrawn from the world, I feel it imminently as I lie face up skywards on my bed or on the couch, I feel that strain of my mother looking for recognition, forcing her wont on the world.
People think I’m beautiful. It is draining. It gets old and stale. I do not have to do a thing. And then I still think of my mother by that garden fence and us waiting whilst men walked by trying to hide their fascination with a woman so brazen and tarty and so my beauty is tainted and I don’t want people to refer to it or even know.
But I am effortlessly beautiful. I am golden and I glow. My hair is natural and I have never had it so much as even cut. My eyes are scythes or sapphires, low and lazy, they can cut through glass. All of this I know about myself but I don’t want to know it. It hangs around me and if I seem bitter, it is because I am, if I seem as if I don’t want to be the being that I am it is because I recoil at the effortlessness, I wish I had to do something, the smallest thing to assert myself as a person.
My mother died years ago out on the rail-track. It was second- or even third-hand news. I never saw the body but I continually picture it sliced in half and riven, or even beheaded but yet something of her in the corpse, something resonant in her look etched on her face at the death throes stays with me, because I believe that when we die, the thing that we leave with is the thing we have most unremittingly clung onto during our brief waking life. I assume my father is still alive, still plying his trade. I lost contact with my brothers and sisters. With most of them you would never be able to tell the resemblance. Shabby little creatures barely worthy of the de Colombes name but then again I don’t want it either, it sits on me like a cagoul, and what is the point of my haughty provenance if my family is a phantom – I took the name of my mother – what benefit do I get, how can I say that what was given to me by dint of my heritage has stood me in good stead, has made my life even faintly wholesome?
Believe it or not if you’re still reading, I am ‘with’ someone ‘with’ being the term we favour for ambiguity, things we don’t like to define. Not a partner or a friend, certainly not a husband, but possessing some of the qualities of all. His world and mine are incomprehensible to each other. I suppose I am like an orphan to him, no nexus or reference point, I am a thing from the ether, with only the de Colombes name to go on, an oddity an abstraction that he cannot place, cannot get caught up in thank god, so that I might as well just be a one-name transplant -- he calls me Carvolaro -- I might as well be a thing that appeared at his door one fine day, no past and no story, and the fact that he treats me like this is the most refreshing thing I can possibly hope for, the thing that keeps me from the brink from the abyss, that stops me ogling the past and the gulch of my family of ghosts.