Driving back from Wellingborough gave space to reflect, space I’d lacked all weekend. My family, my father, my brother and my past; faces flashing around me as Radio 4 echoed in my ears. Weirdness and unease, coupled with familiarity, an unsettling scent of déjà vu, through-laid with relief at moving away. The long cloud of Japan offers soothing shade from the overwhelming heat of a small town past. My small town past.
I replayed Friday night with my dad. The old house at Princess Way has changed. It looks different, but that’s not the heart of the change. It feels empty. No kids. No dogs. No noise. The lodger says little, and grows pot in the yard. Dad doesn’t mind. We sat watching a film with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, The Bucket List: they’re both in hospital, terminally ill, and they make a list of things to do before they die. Bleak. As we sat, he talked about his break-up with Gayle. Teenage words in his fifty-eight year-old mouth, with cliché and commonplace distorting and displacing any honesty or sincerity on his part. With the language of Dear Deidre coming towards me, I struggled to respond with anything other than the same. Platitudes. Empty. I didn’t feel like I’d helped. I don’t know what Dad thought. Eventually, and finally, he asked me a question. “How are things going with yourrelationship?” He’s still so selfish. The shit.
My brother surprised and impressed me. Many years ago, he’d talked about moving to Japan, only to be frustrated by a lack of qualifications and work experience. When we talked about my plans, he was interested, informed, interesting. When we talked about Gayle and Dad, he was fiercely protective of Mum, mature in his assessment of Dad, and intelligent in his appraisal of the impact on Kiera. We went for a curry, and he decided not to finish his pint. We went on to the working men’s club, and he had a coke. Mary, an old lady, asked him why he wasn’t out and about more often. He charmed her. He beat me at pool. I’d considered him reclusive, stroppy, sulky. Not the case at all.
Wellingborough has the same effect on me that it’s had the last few times I’ve visited. What dump! Shops closed down. Scally kids strutting through the Arndale. A market town without the market anymore. I looked over at Laura as she drove. She smiled, and puckered her lips. Where I’m going, I don’t need Wellingborough. With her, it’s all going to be okay. Our future is exciting, ahead, bright.