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To my grandfather, as I move into his house
I moved into your house without so much as asking your permission. They’d asked me what it might feel like, being here, and so many memories, too. But when I came here it had been picked as clean as the ribs of a turkey carcass. Only the bones remained, sighing in the wind.
We booked a Transit van; it was murder getting everything here. The books, she said, I didn’t realise we had so many books. She watched me totter, spine-sprung, trying to bear the weight of one of the book boxes against my chest, every part of me an archer’s bow. But we got it all in, and we got it all here. Little brown cubes of life. See, you know I’ve moved a lot. I’m almost maddeningly nomadic. Never settling down, never figuring it out. Not like you: you man of plans. When I got here, I stepped into the garage – your garage, still, even now – and I saw blue ice cream tubs, long since rinsed, each embellished in your no-nonsense hand. Your inked capitals, scored there as though by a Stanley knife. PLUMBING. DRILL BITS. SCREWS. All boxed and labelled and sorted. Me, I’d have chucked them all in a bag and have been done with it. Oh, all the little things I have lost; every move, no matter the precautions, I leave behind a little part of myself. But not you: you never lost anything. And I stand in your garage and I see your writing, and because I did not expect it I talk to you.
Because that’s the closest you’ve been to me for a long time. Because I wasn’t close to you when your fingers fumbled for the remote control, that comically large one bought so you had half a chance of making it work. You looked at it as though it was some hallowed artefact, your face trying in vain to uncrumple, your jaw working with the effort, but no: no good. Nothing doing.
And it wasn’t in the first Home, when they said you couldn’t settle, and every little fragment of freedom they took from you was scooped from underneath your fingernails. So sullen, there, when we came to see you. Of course. House, hearth, home: all winnowed away from you. The car took some persuading, but the house (this house; your house, still, I promise) was different. The house was you. Your blood through every draining pipe. Your breath gulping within the walls. The low thrum-throb of your heart, keeping time.
You always wanted to keep time. Dozens upon dozens of photo albums, those pictures kept crisp behind plastic, but the hazy exposure gives them away before the shirts, the wallpaper, that hair does. That was your Dad, with his Simon le Bon haircut. Always the poser, him. I don’t know where those albums are now. They are not in this house (your house).
When did I last feel this close to you? It wasn’t in the last Home, because by then you lived in a world beyond time. A world in which memories were palimpsests, the mad scrawls of life in a last postmodern joke. A world in which those you love swam in and out of recognition. I remember the scowl; I knew it wasn’t hate. It was the last of the control.
And it wasn’t that night you lost control, and smashed everything to pieces, your knuckles red and dappled with mockeries of glass. Sedatives, and in the morning your swollen head lolled and we could not rouse you.
And it wasn’t the night you died, because nobody could be close to you then. You rattled out your breath to a silent room, and then became silence itself. We – none of us – could be there, and my father held the phone to his forehead and cried and cried.
And it wasn’t the day they buried you, because only six could attend, so we filmed our tributes, wearing our best. We tried. It was an act of conjuring and we failed.
But I moved into the house (your house) and I stood in your garage and I watched the black letters of your handwriting until they wriggled because I wanted them to move; I wanted something to move. I wanted you to clear the counters of glassware, make the room ring to great invisible crashing. I wanted you to make the wallpaper sigh away; I wanted you to make the doorframes ache.
I wanted you.
And now, I live in your house. It is my house but it cannot stop being your house. Because I am your house, too: I am your haunting and your joy; I am your sorrow and your strength. I walk the rooms of this house in phases of winter light and I carry you within me.
At night, the radiators groan.