Twelve Times Mathew
by Joerg Liesegang
37 seconds after 4 oclock and 14 minutes PM on the
19th October 1978
The sun had just come out of the clouds. It was sure to stay for just
a short while. Rain had been the predominant of the day and grey clouds
were already waiting behind the rows of chimneys that were penetrating
the clear line of the horizon like childish forks. A ray of last sunlight
shone through the front windows of Cedar Grove 145, a nice cosy row house,
much like the adjoining ones, nice coloured tiles decorating the entrance,
a staircase right behind the front door, the kitchen straight through,
the dinner room left to the back with the glass doors going to the garden,
and the living room like a sort of reception to the left, just when you
come in. Carpets spread everywhere on the floors. Those had been done
two years ago, when Mathew turned eight and had stopped making a constant
mess around himself. At least thats what his father always said.
The pictures on the wall were rather the boring sort, cheap landscapes
in frames of artificial wood, that werent put there because somebody
liked them, but because everybody thought they ought to be there. The
furniture went just along in the style.
Mathew had shortly before come in from the backyard. He was home early
and knew it. The football training had been cancelled because one of the
coachs daughters turned sick and he had to sit in and watch her.
Mathew had spent some time at Kens house, his friend and neighbour.
Their garden ended to Mathews parents garden, there was a
hole in the fence where a plank had been torn away. And through that he
had just come in. Luckily the glass doors out back had been open like
they always were.
He had forget to put his shoes off before entering the dining room, he
noticed that in the hall, saw the dirt on the carpet behind him. So he
got off his shoes, took a wet towel from the kitchen, and did his best
to spread the dirt a little so it couldnt be seen any more. The
carpet was a stainy brown anyways, he thought, he wasnt concerned.
Having done that he advanced into the house, leaving the stairs to his
left, turned right, and came as far as the frame of the door. Pushed the
panel open and looked into the living room. The light coming in through
the window enchanted it like a multi-layered Dutch still life, glowing
from its darkest shadows. Thats how he saw her.
Wednesday evening, 12th October 2005
Take a look at it from above. Its dark because its night.
But theres plenty of lights. You come over the Bristol Channel,
Ireland is in your back, theres a long bridge ahead of you. As soon
as you see it you turn left. Theres the white wooden pier of Penarth,
off to the right the barrage that turned a once busy coal port into a
sea-side lake resort. Beyond it is Cardiff. You find a big street going
north, keep going until rail tracks come in your way, thats when
you slip under the bridge that takes the tracks over the street, you land,
walk a couple of yards and youre there. The Club Pub. Right next
to Toys-R-Us and Raymonds Chicken Paradise. Dont worry about
anything strange. The times have changed. Cardiff wanted to become a city
the likes of Vancouver and Sydney and they tried. Tried hard. Let them.
Mathew is coming out of the High Street Arcades, looking enveloped in
his grey rain jacket. His hair short. Hes 37, stayed pretty young,
has that look on his face some call hard. Most people get it if they dont
talk to people in their spare time. He has an appointment.
His father moved into town three weeks ago. He retired the same year and
wanted a change. "So why not move up to where my son was living?"
And he had a sister in Bristol. "Not that I want to see the old dragon."
He likes to say things, the father. And he finds people that will listen,
or at least he did. The last thing Mathew heard from his Aunt Augusta,
he pretty much quitted down. Kind of worried she is, always was, not happy
Mathew was walking ahead of himself. Stumbled over a little uprising in
the pavement. Where were his thoughts? Not that he wanted this. And then
he had come to the place. The Club Pub. He reached out his hand to the
brass handle. "Pull" a sign said.
39 seconds after 4 oclock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October
So the light was lucid, the shadow under the table glowed like a coal.
Mathew was standing in the door, all the ten years of him. He had done
everything right. Closed the garden slide door behind him. Cleaned up
the mess he had made on the rug. Yet something in him told him he had
done something wrong. The sofa at the far side of the room was a mess.
Looked like her mother had slept there like she always did in the afternoons.
A bottle was turned over and the rug was drinking the yellow fluid to
disappearance. A little dark spot maybe. It was very quiet. More than
he liked it to be. The table was full of newspapers and bags from the
lunch she had had. Fish and chips, there was even some left. Magazines
and some receipts from the National Lottery were spread like jelly in
the middle of a peanut butter sandwich.
She was lying on her floor. In her bath robe. Her feet stuck in purple
socks and the light blue of the robe was washed out. Her dyed hair was
scrambled. Hardly any part of her body seemed to be off the floor. Nothing
held her up. Mathew hadnt left the door. His look was fixed like
a fed up pigeon still stares at the crumb of bread. The door was coming
back at him like it always did when you pushed it open once and didnt
hold it. Scared him to death as it suddenly appeared in front of his face.
Wednesday evening, 18th October 2006
There was a band playing. Mathew sitting on his stool like a pro. His
Heineken already served. Chris, the new girl behind the counter was good.
Pretty young, but she did her job. And always had a smile ready. A nice
one. He was waiting for his father. In The Club Pub. They had done it
like on a regular basis. The first couple of times they had called, now
they just showed up. Not that they talked really much. They just sat there.
The band was rocking really hard, maybe five people sitting spread out
in their corners of the pub and enjoying themselves. The singer had said
something about them only practising, for tomorrow, a big concert somewhere
in Swansea. And that they were a great crowd, laughing while he said it.
Somebody shouted "You dont have to excuse yourself for being
here, mate. We love you." But the singer was just fixing his long
hair and Mathew wondered if he had heard it. The words said something
to Mathew. Like he had been waiting for them. Then the band started rocking
hard again. And the door was swung open to the outside. His father came
41 seconds after 4 oclock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October
Mathew had taken a step into the room. Like the one Armstrong did from
the little steps of his Eagle to the sand of the moon. Thats how
the little knife had come into view. It was lying next to her hands, dropped
on the floor, hidden by her crumbled body before. It was the little pocket
knife she had from grandmother. Mathew could still remember how grandmother
had cut these little thin apple slices when they were all sitting around
the little table in her yard in the summer. His grandmother had it sharpened
by the gypsies who came around every now and then and he wasnt allowed
to touch it. Last year on Christmas grandmother had given it to her. Made
her buy it from her for a pence. This is not a gift, mind you. Youre
buying it. Its bad luck giving away knives as presents, she had
Wednesday evening, 21st November 2007
He was staring at his glass getting empty. His father had told him something
about his old job and the kind of work that Mathew was doing. Something
about mens work and so on. But then his father was saying that he
understood him. In his days he didnt have to worry about work. When
you got fired on Friday you just started somewhere else on Monday. They
were always looking for you. The girl behind the counter, Chris, she was
pregnant and it was her last day at work. Cant let my child live
in this smoke and listen to all these strange people, she said. She was
allowed to give away some beers to the regulars, like Mathew and his father.
It was a nice way to say goodbye.
Of course Mathew knew what his father had wanted to say to him. He was
thinking that at Mathews age he had been married and had born a
son. But his father couldnt say that. And Mathew hadnt done
anything of that sort. It never worked out. Most of the women he met now
where sympathetic and married or hustling and proud singles. He didnt
want to think about that. It was nicer to stare at his glass becoming
empty and Chris getting little shiny tears in her eyes as all the regulars
were coming up to her, wishing her the best of everything.
43 seconds after 4 oclock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October
Mathew had his ears all open. Not a sound. Not a wind. Not a car. Not
a plane. Not a cat. Not a child crying. Not the heating bubbling. Just
the sun shining through the window. Little bits of dust flying about without
gravity. The colours vibrating in their own lamento. He was alone. Nobody
to call. Nobody to ask for. He knew his father wouldnt come back
until sometime in the night. He knew his father wasnt there. In
this room full of her, full of leftovers and hangovers and the bottle
and the table and the knife, he was alone. He suffocated in his own body.
Drowned in his own ears. Fell in his own eyes. He was alone.
Wednesday evening, 5th November 2008
It was strange for Mathew to see him like this. Lying on the bed. White
blankets over him. Mathew had paused at the door and was glad that there
was a nurse who accompanied him to the door and opened it up for him.
There was a line coming out of the top of his wrist. Mathew had to sit
down. The nurse got worried and asked whether everything was alright.
She was full of understanding and Mathew got annoyed. That helped him.
He came back to himself. No, thank you, everything is fine, thank you,
he was able to say.
Mathew had got a phone call from Aunt Augusta, his fathers sister,
two days ago. His father had had an heart attack or something of the sort,
the doctors werent sure. He wasnt really doing bad, he was
just held in the hospital for a couple of days, because they wanted to
keep an eye on him. She was trying to comfort Mathew. She didnt
have to comfort him. Mathew said, he would visit father sometime. Sometime,
Aunt Augusta asked? Hes your father! Yeah, sometime, on Wednesday,
Mathew had said.
45 seconds after 4 oclock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October
Mathew had become interested. He came closer and closer. Like a lion stalking
through Sahara grass or a cat prying on a little bird that had fallen
out of its nest. A little bird she was. So delicate. Her skin white as
paper. Her body lumped on the brown rug like a used washing machine in
an illegal forest dump. She was disgusting.
Mathew could see all of her as he was moving about. Her arms were lying
next to her body, looked like somebody had put them there. Didnt
seem to belong to this heap of body. Mathew could see the fist out of
which the knife had fallen. He could see a sweet smile burning on her
lips. Her eyes closed. First he wanted to touch her. Wanted to put his
fingers in the mud that had come from her wrist and had sickered into
the rug. But something held him back. Like he would do something wrong.
Like he was doing something wrong already by just being there. He was
looking. Fascinated. She was disgusting.
Wednesday evening, 21st October 2009
On Monday Mathew had got another phone call from Aunt Augusta. She was
concerned about father. "You know he always gets so strange at this
time of the year. You know what I mean. With her birthday coming up and
everything." Mathew hung up on her. He hated the way she talked.
She doesnt seem to have any sense in her at all. Nor any feelings.
What does she know, Mathew thought.
The Pub Club was filled that night. Some new owner had taken over and
was starting with a try at a grand party. He promised all the regulars
nothing would change for them. And all the new ones were told that if
they had seen the pub two months ago, they wouldnt recognise the
place. It was alright, Mathew and his father thought. They didnt
mind to see a few new faces. Even Chris had come with her one and a half
year old. Just to say Hello to the old times, she said, that smile in
her face. Had heard that my father had been in the hospital and asked
him how he was doing. She said, I sure miss you all sometimes. And all
the regulars swore that if Chris ever worked again somewhere, they would
all come to her.
47 seconds after 4 oclock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October
He was bending down. Leaning himself to her face. Mathew was still looking.
Finding something he hadnt seen before in her face. Not that he
had any words for it. He was ten. And he was wondering. Everything was
so quiet. He was alone. Little bits of dust were charging through the
tiny ray of light that wasnt going to stay long on this grey day.
Mathew had placed his eyes before her eyes. His chin before her chin.
His nose before her nose. Mathew opened his lips. "Are you sleeping,
Wednesday evening, 20th October 2010
Its her birthday. Father called to say that he wouldnt make
it tonight. And then he hung up. Mathew was sort of glad. He didnt
want to go out either. Staying home was good enough for one day. The radio
was playing. The songs are still the same as they always were, Mathew
was thinking. He was wandering about his room, cleaning up and not really
knowing what better to do. He stumbled over a bottle that was standing
on the floor. The yellow fluid spilled out over the linoleum and made
a huge mess. Mathew went to the kitchen and got a wet towel. Cleaned it
up and looked satisfied. Even better than before, he was thinking.
It took him a couple of hours of roaming about his flat until he could
lie down and just feel comfortable. He was always feeling guilty when
he wasnt doing anything. Like he should be doing something. His
rooms hadnt been that tidy for ages. He lay himself on the sofa,
a blanket over him. Out of the radio there was a voice crying, "Sometimes
your love is just too big for me
" Mathew was listening, tumbling
© Joerg Liesegang 2000
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