Hot sun on cracked tarmac.
There has been rain in the night but there won’t be rain again, not today.
Ants. Busy, speeded up by the black tar heat, carrying pale fragments into a pavement crack.
Lawnmowers. Legions of them, huge solitary bees droning over their own patch of green, two doors down, over the road, a street away, two streets away.
Bedroom windows are open and music is playing.
Two girls sit beneath one of the many cherry trees that line our street, stringing petals, talking about boys.
The man three doors down is washing his car. A gold Jaguar. He is a bigot. I have heard his bigoted opinions from three doors away, his booming voice drifting over music and laughter on warm Summer evenings as his gas powered barbecue roasts meat for his bigoted wife and bigoted children and bigoted friends and their bigoted wives.
Opinions on ‘coloureds’ and ‘Asians’ and ‘The French’ and ‘Scroungers’.
The Bigot is wearing a loose t-shirt and khaki shorts. Soon he will be wearing cream trousers and a pastel shirt with two tone golf shoes, on his way to play golf with his bigoted friends.
An ice cream kiosk rolls past, pulled behind a two year old Mitsubishi 4×4. The fat man at the wheel is expressionless. He lives down the street, five or six houses away. He will park the kiosk by the children’s play area in the park and pay a teenager less than minimum wage to serve over-priced Zooms, Cornettos, Ninety Nines and Screwballs to affluent parents and their plump happy children.
Last year, at Halloween, my children knocked on his door and he ignored them.
He ignored all the children.
I thought about posting dog shit through his letterbox but I didn’t.
I don’t buy ice creams from his kiosk.
The sun is rising and two red kites wheel slowly into the sky and three crows rise flapping urgently to meet them and to harry them into leaving but the kites ignore them, turning, turning on the thermals, russet feathers brilliant in the sun.
My lawn needs mowing.
I don’t mow it.
I sit in the sun beside an upside down bike, patiently levering a worn tire from the wheel rim, prising the wire bead away, peeling back the black rubber, carefully pulling out the inner tube to use again. The braking surface of the wheel leaves grey residue on my hands and on my t-shirt. I don’t mind.
The sun is shining.
The fat man from over the road gives me a grin as he heaves himself onto his bike.
He’s ridden away about three, maybe four stone now, I’m guessing. Plenty gone, plenty to go. He’s heading in the right direction. I give him a thumbs up. He pushes off the kerb and he is no longer lumbering, he is flying. He’s gone. Later, as the sun is setting, he will play football with his two teenage sons in the street and he’ll probably win.
I take the new tyre and ease it onto the rim, pressing firmly with my thumbs. Rolling the wire bead moulded into the tyre over the wheel rim, settling it into place.
An elderly couple shuffle down the street. Their clothes are the same colour – beige. You might call it camel, taupe, oatmeal, buff, biscuit or even café au lait, but it’s beige.
Their skin is beige. Shoes, beige with velcro straps. The man is wearing a washed out red baseball cap. The woman is wearing a pale blue cardigan, their only concessions to colour. They walk past my lawn and look at it. They frown. They whisper to each other. They walk on. They are carrying Bags For Life. They are going to Morrison’s.
They are a pair of Bags For Life.
I look at my lawn, then look at the other lawns.
Mine is maybe an inch longer than the others. That’s all. It’s not in as good condition as the other lawns but it was fucked when I moved in two years ago – it’s not looking too bad, considering.
I feed the inner tube into the dark cavity of the new tyre, seating the valve carefully so it doesn’t tear when I inflate it. I check to make sure it is not twisted, because it will puncture if I pump it up when it is twisted.
The smell of new tyres… It’s something of a Christmas smell, strangely exciting. Riding on new tyres is like riding a brand new bike.
One of the red kites flies in front of the sun, it’s vast blurred shadow filling the street. I watch it skim over the washed cars, the mowed lawns, the trimmed verges, then it slides over a rooftop and is gone.
I look around, grinning, but no-one else noticed the shadow.
Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl starts to play from one of the bedrooms and I try to whistle along to the opening bars but it is quickly cut off and replaced by music teenagers know and I don’t. I feel a strange surge of disappointment.
I press the other half of the tyre onto the rim, starting at the valve, working my way round with both thumbs, working in opposite directions, feeding the tyre over the wheel rim until it is too difficult. I lock a tyre lever over the rim to stop the tyre rolling off one edge then begin to work another lever from the opposite edge, firmly forcing the tyre into place.
“Decent weather for mowing the lawn, eh?” The Bigot stands on his perfect lawn, practicing a golf stroke.
I give him half a smile, glance at his lawn. I want to tell him to fuck off. I want to tell him there’s more to life that a trimmed lawn and a decent golf handicap. I want to take that golf club off him and fuck up his gold Jaguar with it.
Instead I say, “Knock yourself out.”
He stops, figures out what I meant, then goes into his garage shaking his head.
He knows I rent. He knows I’m the only person who rents on the whole street. It’s not a renting kind of neighbourhood but here I am, having the audacity to rent, three doors down from his perfect lawn.
A brand new Audi Quattro Estate rumbles around the bend, pulls into the driveway over the road, four doors down. The chubby man in his fifties climbs out. He presses a switch on the key fob and the car makes a blipping noise and all the lights flash twice. He smiles to himself, proud, spins the keys on his finger like a cowboy spinning his six gun. The chubby man goes into the house. It’s his parents house. He lives with his parents. He’s in his fifties, he’s chubby, he drives an Audi Quattro Estate and he lives with his parents. If his parents need to go anywhere they go in their own car. Sometimes he goes with them and he has to sit in the back seat. I’ve never seen anyone else except the chubby man in the Audi Quattro Estate. Never. It’s a lot of car for a lonely chubby man in his fifties.
I fetch my track pump from the garage and start to inflate the tyre. I stop, check the tyre and tube are seated right, then continue to inflate. The gauge goes up to 250psi but my tyre won’t need that. I’ve got it set to 80psi.
I pump up the tyre in the nice street full of nice people.
The woman down the road carries her child in the car seat to the car and locks it into place on the back seat. She avoids eye contact, as usual. A few months ago, when it was cold, her car broke down at a junction. I was walking past. Her car was blocking traffic and she looked terrified. Her baby was in the back. I tapped on her car window, told her to put the car in neutral, then pushed her car to safety. I called for her to turn the wheel left, turn it right, then I got the car up the kerb. It wasn’t easy. I asked her if she was alright through the still closed glass of her car window. She nodded, avoided eye contact, mouthed the words ‘thank you’.
It’s the only thing she’s ever said to me, before or since.
The tyre is inflated. I check the tyre with my thumb and it is solid. I bounce it on the hot cracked tarmac a few times and it bounces nicely.
My front door opens and my wife comes out.
I’m about to say something but I stop. Something is wrong. She’s holding the phone.
Sh says, “The letting agent just called. They say we have to go. They’re giving us two months.”
My wife looks pale and tired. I suddenly feel pale and tired. I look at the lawn. Really? Could it be that inch of grass that’s caused this?
I say, “Why?”
She replies, “It’s nothing we’ve done. The woman who owns it wants to move back in. She’s moving back from London and she wants her house back.”
“But we had a two year contract! After the year was up we signed for two more years. It’s only been a year.”
My wife rubs her eyes. “They say they can break the contract whenever they like. Two months.”
We talk a bit more and she cries a bit. I say positive things. I don’t feel very positive.
When she goes back inside I sit on the step and look at the street.
We owned our own home a few years back and I tried to keep it, I really tried, worked twelve hour shifts and weekends but it just wasn’t enough. Having kids and my wife not working while she looked after them… well… it took it’s toll. We knew it would be tight but it was just too tight.
We sold the house before it was taken from us, moved into rented. Since then we’ve drifted.
It’s a strange feeling being told to go. It’s like someone cutting the ropes that moor you, that keep you secure. It makes you realise just how insecure everything is.
Now the ropes are cut again.
The kids react strangely to this constant moving. They don’t form attachments with the usual things, like a house, for example.
The sofa, mainly. It’s home to them. It’s getting pretty shabby but we can’t replace it because the kids would be heartbroken.
The dining table. It, too, has been one of the few constants.
When I sold my car my son cried for days. He loved it, it was a member of the family.
And now we have two months to find somewhere to live in a town where every house is spoken for, where people bought their homes decades ago and stayed, paid their mortgages off in the last millennium. There are some newcomers, college people with Southern accents who laugh at the house prices and snap up four bedroom detached houses with huge gardens and double garages for the same price as a one bedroom flat in Chelsea.
It might be a bargain to them but it’s still out of my reach.
I put the wheel on the bike, put my bike in the garage and look at the lawnmower.
I look at the lawn.
The lawn can go fuck itself.
I close the garage door and go inside.
The kids are doing their homework. I talk to my wife again before telling the kids about the move.
They take it well. Just shrug and ask where we will live.
I say, “I don’t know yet. Somewhere nice. Somewhere fun.”
My son is drawing in his book. Without looking up he says, “Why do we have to move again?”
At first I haven’t got an answer. Then I say, “Come on. Let’s all go for a quick drive.”
I take them down our street, past the big park, onto the main road. I point out the building where I was born, not half a mile from where we are living now.
I park up and we all get out and cross an old cobbled bridge. We play Pooh sticks, the River Aire lazily pulling the broken twigs into peat coloured eddies where swifts swoop to catch rising mayflies.
Then I say, “Look at that river. It’s always moving, just like us, but it’s still here. Everyone and everything is moving, all the time, not just us. It’s just that some people move differently to others. You can be a river or a pond. Rivers move quickly and it can sometimes be a bit scary, but it’s more interesting like that. Being a pond is alright, but you have to be careful you don’t go stagnant, or dry up.”
I give my kids and wife a hug and say, “For now we’re a river. We might end up being a pond some time later, but we’ll see.”
Then we go for another drive, looking at streets and houses, imagining what it might be like to live there.
Blog North Awards
The stories I hear.
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