Sing Like You Know the Words, page 39
-I’ll be alright I expect. I am feeling better for this conversation, though I don’t know why. You never did say anything that was particularly comforting. Our drinks are done, and I suppose you have to be going. Drop by any time though; it will be nice to see you.
-Here are some words of comfort; remember I told you before. Great men looking back always imagine that their success was inevitable, only because they can’t see the thousands who were exactly like them but failed.
Albert rose from the favoured chair and turned away from David. Then he stopped and turned back.
-It doesn´t really matter I suppose, but you can tell me now David. You remember the car?
-You know the one I mean. The one Tim was driving that night. The old lady, the one you said I must have imagined. The one we hit. You saw her too, didn´t you?
David said nothing. He looked away; closed book in one hand, whisky glass in the other.
-It´s alright, you don´t have to answer. I´ll show myself out.
This is how Matthew’s happiness started.
For Jane and Matthew, the holiday did not begin well, though the weather was good. A long weekend in a holiday village had seemed like a good way for them all to get to know each other. Places like this were springing up all over the country. Getting there would be easy, you could drive, and then you had your own chalet, which meant privacy. If Jason became difficult, they would be able to manage without the added embarrassment of indignant staff or concerned onlookers.
On the drive, the boy seemed happy enough at first, but Matthew knew from the little time he’d spent with Jason that this could change very quickly. He felt a little guilty at knowing next to nothing about Jason’s condition. He could have read up on it easily enough, but that would have been like acknowledging some kind of obligation; taking on responsibility. Jason really was not his problem. In any case the boy’s mood was volatile, that much was clear.
The rare incidence of sunshine on a public holiday had enticed legions of drivers out on to the English country roads for the weekend. Matthew occupied himself with mental arithmetic, revising their estimated time of arrival as the clock ticked by and they made little progress. He should have allowed more time. Why do they do it to themselves, he wondered; all these people in cars? They know it will be hell. Matthew had always made a point of not leaving the house on bank holidays for that reason, yet today here he was, along with all the rest.
There were not many days when Jane could get away from her job. She was not in a position to argue about leave, given all the days she had to take off unexpectedly when there was a problem with Jason.
Poor Jane; she looked exhausted. He knew that for her, it was enough to get away for a few days, anywhere. She’d been looking forward so much to this rather pathetic break. How she kept as cheerful as she did, he couldn’t imagine. Sometimes from the corner of his eye, he caught that sad, hopeful expression on her face that he remembered from their first meeting. He’d seen her looking at Jason sometimes in that same way.
Jason didn’t have any concept of time or distance, Matthew supposed. Once he decided that it was time they should have arrived, or became bored, the trouble would start. They should have set off at first light, before the roads became filled up, when the boy might have slept. Now Jason was counting the number of red cars against the number of blue cars. He would shout out the numbers in a loud, happy voice it made you wince to hear. He kept losing count and having to start again. His voice was a high pitched, sing-song: the consonants were difficult to make out. Most of the cars that were red or blue attracted a comment as well as a number. Some of the comments were quite funny, in a childish way, when Matthew could understand them.
-Whanther Top, Jason announced suddenly.
-Does he say he wants to stop? Jane nodded. Matthew replied, we are stopped Jason, we haven’t moved in five minutes
Jason repeated his request.
-We can’t stop here, it’s not allowed. This is a motorway. You can only stop if there is a real emergency.
Matthew felt foolish speaking so slowly and exaggerating the sounds.
-He gets travel sickness sometimes.
-But we’re not travelling Jane, we haven’t moved two miles in the last half hour. You can walk quicker than that.
-Feel thick, Jason repeated.
This announcement was followed by the sounds that Matthew was dreading, as Jason began retching long and noisily. When he’d finished, he began to cry.
-It’s alright Jason, it’s not your fault, don’t be upset, Jane was saying.
He’s not upset because he thinks he’s done anything wrong, Matthew thought. Probably he’s just uncomfortable and his throat hurts. Jane caught his expression.
-I blame myself, she said. We should have put him in the front seat, next to you, like he wanted. He doesn’t get sick in the front seat.
She found some wipes, unfastened her safety belt and clambered into the back of the car. Even in these circumstances, Matthew found time to appreciate how well she fit into her tight jeans.
-It’s not too bad, I expect, he told Jane. Leather seats you know, not so easy to stain.
New, top of the range, leather seats.
They were late arriving, naturally, and in the office the bored staff wanted to make something of it. Matthew managed to keep his temper, barely.
-Look, if we arrived early demanding the keys, I could see your problem, but what difference does it make if we’re late? Just means you’ve had more time to get the place ready.
Apparently it wasn’t that simple. Don’t raise your voice, he reminded himself, you’ll make Jason nervous, and then he could start to be frightened, and then he could start to decide he wants to go home.
When they finally had the keys, and found their chalet, in the dark, Matthew realized that he was holding his breath on the threshold. What would Jason think of the place?
Jason loved the television set. It was bigger than the one at home and really thin. When he found there was another TV in his own special bedroom, he was beyond happy. Jane made something for them to eat: something simple for them and burgers for Jason. The boy could certainly eat, and throwing up had done nothing to spoil his appetite.
Later on, when they were sure that he was asleep, Matthew and Jane made fierce, hushed love in the main bedroom, listening all the while for noises from the other bedroom that might suggest Jason was moving about.
Matthew loved to watch Jane in the mornings. She was so focussed on what she was doing, unconscious of her appearance, while he was only sleepy. Jason demanded and ate a huge cooked breakfast, while Matthew drank some coffee and watched Jane some more. As soon as he’d finished eating, Jason wanted to go to the water play park, which they had told him so much about.
Matthew told him he would have to wait; he’d just finished his breakfast. Did he want to be sick again? Jason began to cry, Jane intervened to calm Jason down. The two of them went for a walk around the site while Matthew stayed behind, claiming that he needed to finish some work he’d brought with him. He lay on the bed for an hour, thinking about Amy and wondering what he had done with his life and where it would lead.
In the afternoon they all went to the water park. Jason said that he loved it so much that one day he was going to come back and live there.
In bed that night, they found some time to speak, but they needed few words. What he found strange about Jane: in the daytime she was so positive and confident; managing Jason so cleverly, always ready to tear into anything or anyone that might threaten him. In the night she made love with passionate absorption, wordless and concentrated. But when they were lying together, naked, afterwards, she held on to him, timid and vulnerable as a small bird.
Jane was not much shorter than Matthew. She was thin, verging on skinny, but she had good strong hands with a firm grip that fit with the determined expression she showed the world, except when s
The next day was a disaster. The hospital called about Jane’s father, and the news was not good.
-They say that he’s had a stroke, almost certainly more than one. They say he might not last the day.
-You have to go, of course. There was nothing else Matthew could say.
-We’ll be alright, really. I’ll look after him and he can look after me. There’s plenty to keep him busy here.
-He likes you, Matt.
There was no reply for Matthew to make to that.
For a few hours after she was gone, Jason was fine with the television. Then he started to mind that Jane was not there. Matthew tried to divert him with food. There was a takeaway service on the site that looked like being more fun than cooking. Matthew considered himself reasonably at home in a kitchen, but he was not enthusiastic to tackle the various kinds of fried food that seemed to interest Jason.
Jason was excited about the takeaway, but when it arrived there was a problem. The fries were not the same as the fries he was used to at home, and he couldn’t eat them. Matthew started to argue, but realized that it would be much easier to bake some of the oven chips that Jane had brought with them in bulk, anticipating this difficulty. After lunch, Jason had a nap and Matthew had a beer.
Next would be the water play area; he knew that. Matthew found the prospect simply frightening. He managed to get Jason there and changed without too many problems. The boy was so excited that he was gurgling rather than speaking. Matthew decided that the sounds were a form of laughter.
Once released, Jason ran at the slides, at the pool, at the special lagoon where the current washed you around in a great loop. He wanted to do everything at once, again and again. Mostly Matthew just stood and watched.
What could he have been thinking of, he wondered? He’d left Amy; he’d done that to himself, and he still couldn’t explain why. He’d broken her heart as well as wrecking his own life and he would always have to live with that.
Worse, he’d jumped straight into bed with this woman he hardly knew, who had an idiot child in tow. Idiot was the wrong word to use, needlessly cruel, but he didn’t know the right word. Why not? He was supposed to be the clever one. The truth was that Matthew was the idiot, to have put himself in this position.
Of course, he and Jane had made no promises to each other, it was all supposed to be low key, but it was him who had suggested that they share time together with Jason. In any case Matthew had spent enough time with women who had issues over the years. He should know by now that there was no such thing as no promises.
Just friends though, we agreed that. She said she understood that it was too soon after the other thing for me to be more than that to anyone.
Say what you like to yourself, but you know that somewhere in her there’s hope growing that you have to crush. The sooner the better, it hurts less. I’m not a saint he thought; never have pretended to be. I’m not the right person for this situation. I’m cold and stiff and I look at the world with my brain not my heart. And what good is a brain for dealing with Jason? The most stupid thing he could have done was to suggest this trip in the first place.
The thoughts went round his head, panic and self-loathing chasing each other in ever faster spirals. He reminded himself to keep an eye on the boy, in case things should get even worse.
Matthew was not really worried about Jason being safe. The place was designed for kids and the boy was robust enough. He could even swim a little, in an ungainly, splashy way, which seemed to delight him; keeping afloat well enough without achieving much in the way of forward motion.
It was the other kids who caused Matthew concern. They seemed harmless enough: mostly they were concentrating on enjoying themselves, accompanied by parents, or in small groups. It was just that Jason was so loud, so full of laughter, enjoying himself so much in his animal way. He was bound to attract attention. And he was odd to look at. The children would notice that right away. They would have a word for it; not one of the words he remembered from the playground, but something like that; probably something even more cruel.
Matthew watched Jason splashing, oblivious to everything but the intense joy of the moment, and all he could think of was how quickly that could change, how easy it would be for someone, maybe even without meaning anything by it, to shatter that glee and turn it into something else: fear, pain, confusion, humiliation. And children were cruel, everyone knew that. Well the first little bastard who tried to be clever had better watch out.
-You look very therioush, Mayou. Jason paused in the middle of his curious, wobbly run to treat Matthew to a huge grin. You need to have more thfun.
And with that he was away again. I suppose he’s right, Matthew thought; if only life were that simple.
Contrary to his expectation, none of the children showed any inclination to be unpleasant to Jason, even after he approached some of them to organize a game. They allowed him to order them around; laughing at the increasingly chaotic instructions he issued, but playing along; some of the older kids reassuring the others that it was okay. It went on until Jason himself collapsed in a fit of giggles.
Matthew was watching from the side, wondering how he could possibly get himself and Jason changed back into street clothes when the boy was so excited. He looked at his watch.
-You’re the father of that poor boy aren’t you?
A lady reclining in a sun lounger was talking to him.
Was she going to accuse Jason of making a disturbance?
-Looks like he’s really enjoying himself. But it must be hard for you. Bad enough with our two who, er, don’t have problems. I’m sorry that sounds very clumsy. That’s my husband with our kids over there look.
Her smile was slightly shy.
-If you are thinking about how to get away, now is not such a bad time. The changing area gets a bit busy later.
-Yes I was wondering how I would manage it.
-You sneak off now and get yourself changed first. We’ll keep an eye on him for you. If he notices you are gone and gets upset Jeff can bring him in to the changing area.
-Thank you. Thanks very much.
Everything went smoothly. It was only afterwards that Matthew thought he should have asked the names of the helpful couple. Arriving back at the chalet finally, Matthew was thinking; in some dumb kind of way, I actually enjoyed today.
Normally Jason went to bed early. He slept a lot. He liked to sleep, and to eat, and to watch television. He said these were his three favourite things. He knew all the characters of every soap opera, even if he confused them occasionally. He would demand to be given summaries of the storylines, and he corrected any inaccuracies with pedantic insistence. Matthew never saw any of these programmes and was hopeless at the game, but Jason showed amused tolerance of his ignorance.
On this night, Jason decided that his best pyjamas had been left behind. He couldn’t sleep. He wouldn’t sleep. Matthew supposed that really he was missing Jane, though he didn’t say so. Eventually exhaustion overcame him as he was watching one of the DVD’s that he knew off by heart.
How did people cope before television, thought Matthew? It was a stupid question, but that was what he had been reduced to. He would be happy to watch an episode of a soap himself right now, if he could have beer to go with it.
Jane arrived back early the next morning, as it was getting light. Her father had survived, but he was not thought likely to improve much. Jason was quiet and well behaved. They made another visit to the pool. Jason ordered pizza with flat sausage for his tea. He was asleep by seven in the evening.
-Home tomorrow, Jane smiled. I’m sorry it’s been like this, but without you I don’t know what I would have done. Thank you, for everything. It must have been horrible for you. Not what you expected.
-I didn’t know what to expect. Anyway you had all the extra driving and stress. It’s not as if we could have planned for this.
-Jason asked me to tell you how much he enjoyed himself. He likes you. I like you. We’ll get over it I suppose.
Oh god, here it comes. Don’t get into this. No-one promised anything. It was just going to be a fun weekend and no obligations either way. Don’t start feeling guilty, especially not because of what Amy said. It’s nothing to do with Amy and she knew nothing about this situation. Kindest is to kill this right now, before anyone gets their hopes up.
-Matt, what’s wrong? You look as sick as Jason did in the car. I only said thank you, for both of us. It’s been a really nice break for us and you’ve been very good about everything. I guess we both know what comes next, so let’s just shake hands, yes?
-What do you mean, shake?
-Shake hands, no hard feelings. I get it.
-You get what?
-Look Matt, I’m not an idiot and your face couldn’t be easier to read. It didn’t turn out like you thought and that’s no one’s fault so leave it at that. We said low key from the start; this was always going to be too much of a shock for you. I’ve been through it all before. I don’t mind, really. I just don’t want us to go through explanations and justifications. I can’t do that side of it any more.
-You’re dumping me.
-Of course not, I’m just trying to save you the trouble of dumping me.
-You’re dumping me because you have a handicapped son.
-Jason´s not my son.
-I never said he was. I just said he was Jason and you never asked. You never asked what his condition was either – it´s Downs´ syndrome. Jason is my brother. My parents were old when they had him and then my mum died, and dad lost his mind. Dad´s in one of those homes where they just sit all day, in the same chair. So I had to choose. I couldn´t look after both of them. And you didn´t ask about any of this which is why I know you aren´t planning on staying around.