As a boy I always stared at things for a little too long. For everybody else it seemed the idea was you look and you interpret, move on, play some invented game with sticks. But I couldn't stop at the interpretation part. I just kept staring. I would take the thing apart and scrutinize the workings of the design. Sometimes I couldn't look away but instead fell into a limbo of mathematical possibility.
When I was one, my older sister and I stood in the darkened room watching the wreathes of smoke rise languidly on the stained air. People were spread all over the floor, our mother was one of them. They were all asleep. Some of them half naked. We had already been awake for a long time, the noise they made was frightening. The bodies lay motionless, narcotics and debauchery coursing through their veins. My sister looked at me and I knew what she was thinking; it was time to go.
The world beyond the door was an unknown quantity but within it had been exhausted of all possibility of warmth and smile. My sister; already a natural leader and calm ally to my own course took my hand and led the way. She stood on a box and reaching up, twisted the handle and the door creaked open.
“Come on then, let's go to nannies. Some thing's wrong with mummy and her friends . Don't be scared.” She said, and we left leaving the door open.
We walked down the steps and I watched a car drive by, the driver was wearing one of those tartan, wool lined coats, I used to call them Donkey jackets. They seem so ostensibly eighties. My sister pointed to a squirrel and I laughed. We had little legs and the world was huge then, it seemed like a lifetime had passed before we reached the first lamp post. My sister was humming to herself, the theme music to an old cartoon, maybe it was the Moomins. I can't remember. I missed my mum but as I walked along I never thought I would ever return to her. A decision had been made. She wasn't very well, she never smiled. The can't mistake the laugh for the smile, they aren't the same.
It never occurred to me that my sister had no idea where our nan lived. She was driven by something other than knowledge, assurance, wisdom. We simply looked and walked. Nans house would surely be just over the next hill.
Two white cars had passed us by the time we reached the second lamp post. We were playing the car game and I was winning. My sister was counting blues and it was mostly white cars this morning, I laughed at my good fortune which made my sister cross. The third car that went by was our auntie; Julie. She pulled the car to a screeching halt and began the slow process of exiting the car. She was a big lady and clumsy in her movements, but warm and we loved her.
“Auntie Julie!” We called. Uncle Harry had gotten out the other side and was racing towards our house. The joy left me as I watched him advance toward it. Didn't he realise how long it had taken just to get here? And now he was just going to take us back. We only had little legs, for Christ's sake. Some moments later he returned, shaking his head.
“C'mon.” He called. “There's no way this time, let's take them with us.”
We got into the car.
We returned the same day, Auntie Julie and uncle Harry returning us that evening. We went straight to bed but stayed awake all night. There was anger and shouting from below, somebody shouted 'fuck you, they're my kids,' and I began to cry. My sister came over to my side of the room.
“Don't worry, we'll go to nannies tomorrow.” She said.
We didn't. But we looked out for one another, found somewhere half decent in the end. But it's the things you never learned that torture you in the end. You never learn to look away, to go and be happy and play with your stick instead. You just want to take things apart, find out what makes them work. Try to come up with a purpose.