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Archive 2

Archive 1


Otto's Last Run

Twelve Times Mathew
Joerg Liesegang

37 seconds after 4 o’clock 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 that’s what his father always said. The pictures on the wall were rather the boring sort, cheap landscapes in frames of artificial wood, that weren’t 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 coach’s daughters turned sick and he had to sit in and watch her. Mathew had spent some time at Ken’s house, his friend and neighbour. Their garden ended to Mathew’s 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 couldn’t be seen any more. The carpet was a stainy brown anyways, he thought, he wasn’t 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. That’s how he saw her.

Wednesday evening, 12th October 2005
Take a look at it from above. It’s dark because it’s night. But there’s plenty of lights. You come over the Bristol Channel, Ireland is in your back, there’s a long bridge ahead of you. As soon as you see it you turn left. There’s 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, that’s when you slip under the bridge that takes the tracks over the street, you land, walk a couple of yards and you’re there. The Club Pub. Right next to Toys-R-Us and Raymond’s Chicken Paradise. Don’t 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. He’s 37, stayed pretty young, has that look on his face some call hard. Most people get it if they don’t 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 if not.

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 o’clock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October 1978
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 hadn’t 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 didn’t 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 don’t 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 in.

41 seconds after 4 o’clock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October 1978
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. That’s 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 wasn’t 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. You’re buying it. It’s bad luck giving away knives as presents, she had said.

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 men’s work and so on. But then his father was saying that he understood him. In his days he didn’t 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. Can’t 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 Mathew’s age he had been married and had born a son. But his father couldn’t say that. And Mathew hadn’t 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 didn’t 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 o’clock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October 1978
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 wouldn’t come back until sometime in the night. He knew his father wasn’t 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 father’s sister, two days ago. His father had had an heart attack or something of the sort, the doctors weren’t sure. He wasn’t 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 didn’t have to comfort him. Mathew said, he would visit father sometime. Sometime, Aunt Augusta asked? He’s your father! Yeah, sometime, on Wednesday, Mathew had said.

45 seconds after 4 o’clock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October 1978
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. Didn’t 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 doesn’t 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 wouldn’t recognise the place. It was alright, Mathew and his father thought. They didn’t 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 o’clock and 14 minutes PM on the 19th October 1978
He was bending down. Leaning himself to her face. Mathew was still looking. Finding something he hadn’t 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 wasn’t 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, mother?"

Wednesday evening, 20th October 2010
It’s her birthday. Father called to say that he wouldn’t make it tonight. And then he hung up. Mathew was sort of glad. He didn’t 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 wasn’t doing anything. Like he should be doing something. His rooms hadn’t 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 into sleep.

© Joerg Liesegang 2000

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