# Bringing Me Down (In Three Part Harmony)
- What: A weird short story I wrote about grief. 😦
- When: June 2019
- Who: Me
Chet has an arrogant walk. Long strides and shoulders that swing like saloon doors half a beat out of sync.
“He looks like a gorilla sauntering down a catwalk.” They fall about in hysterics. Pip adores her son, but teenage boys are perfect tragicomedy, a hostile cocktail of bravado and shame.
She takes a long sip of her Sangiovese, or maybe it’s a Merlot… She has never allowed herself to appreciate wine, dulling her palette deliberately, consciously severing any synaptic tendrils linking oaky afternotes with a French region or high acidity with a certain subspecies of grape. Only assholes understand wine.
The two women are sat at the bar atop precariously vertiginous stools with absurd backrests that barely reach their respective L2 vertebrae, while a band called Sigmoid Fraud - which sounds clever but isn’t - set up a sampler, an analog polysynth, loop pedals, a guitar, two floor toms and a crash symbol. They describe their sound in press releases as post-experimental fuck-core. Incandescent bulbs dangling from their wires are scattered throughout the narrow room and splash somnolent warm light on exposed brickwork.
“The size of Will’s head at the moment though,” Jen says, middle fingers massaging her temples.
“Oh god yeah Chet too. Just unbearably cocky. He was going on the other day about Marlon Brando and Dr Dre… How they both revolutionised their artform in similar ways. He literally used the word ‘veritas’ Jen.” When Pip had questioned exactly how much he knew about the respective moulds these two were supposedly breaking, Chet proffered some garbled half-ideas on the Stanislavski school and Run DMC but ultimately conceded he needed to do a bit more reading. Sweet kid really.
“No but I’m talking about his physical head. I’ve never seen anything like it honestly. Like a watermelon on a fucking cricket stump.” More laughter. More wine.
Pain is often mischaracterised as an invading force. A comprehensible adversary that might, should you apply enough pressure, be cauterised, vanquished, discarded. And yet those who know real pain understand that it is not some inconvenient visitor, rather it is shapeless, unflinching and metastasises like feedback through an amplifier. Real pain becomes the luminiferous aether that consumes all and through which all waves must now propagate. Ever since Francis died, both Pip and Jen have been home to this particular brand of pain.
Pip first met Jen’s brother in the stands at a rugby match. Her own brother Adam was the only Asian kid on the university team and frankly far too scrawny to be playing blindside flanker. Late in the second half, game in the balance, the opposition ran a set play down the short side and Adam was sluggish breaking from the scrum. Missed tackle, two on one, try in the corner. Francis didn’t actually say anything, but a faintly melodramatic sigh was enough to vex a pugnacious older sister seated near him. They married two years later and Chet arrived not long after that. Then one day an artery in Francis’s brain ruptured which seemed terribly unfair at the time but actually breached no rules.
“Preeeeeetty drunk here Pip.” Jen rolls the “r” in “drunk” for effect.
Jen unscrews the cap and starts refilling their glasses. She gazes solicitously into her companion’s eyes and invokes the transubstantiation.
“My child. This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Her voice is deep to the point of cracking. “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Pip throws her head back and laughs hard. She raises her glass in a mock toast and says, “Thank you Father.”
Above the tiers of spirits lined up behind the bar, there is a small screen divided into quadrants displaying a live feed of various surveillance cameras. Pip can see a security guard checking driver’s licenses out front, an empty driveway (presumably the back lane) and a wide angle shot of the main bar complete with patrons, empty stools and Sigmoid Fraud still plugging in DI boxes. Finally in the bottom right tile are two drunk women, arms outstretched, waving slowly and watching digital counterfeits follow their lead.
I push the thin spliff back and forth across the palm of my hand. It weighs nothing. Nishant has assured me that this is “really good shit”. He described the high as being purer, cleaner, less of a body high. Of course this means nothing to me. Nish doesn’t know I’ve never been high. Or maybe he does? He did give me a look when I asked him to pre-roll it for me. There was something in that look.
Is spliff even the right terminology? I’m sure I’ve heard other people call it that. A joint? I’m going to go smoke a joint now. That doesn’t sound right. Do you guys wanna smoke a blunt? Definitely not that. I think spliff is fine.
Mum is out with aunty Jen. She should be an hour at least. I open the backdoor, walk around the side of the house and sit under the kitchen window where the neighbours can’t see me. It’s windy tonight so the smell shouldn’t linger. This time I’ll inhale properly. This time I will take it down into my lungs. According to the forum, I should breathe a little bit of air in with the smoke. That should help.
“So I’ve actually been going to church lately,” says Jen. Pip’s left eyebrow ascends instinctively. “Before you start, just hear me out.”
“Look it’s not like that don’t worry. I haven’t gone all happy-clappy or anything. It’s just been… I guess it’s been a comfort. Ever since… You know, since Fran I just haven’t been able to feel settled.”
“It’s not the God stuff, I can take or leave that to be honest. But I’ve been praying, I guess not to anyone in particular but it feels good to say thank you. It feels good to reflect.”
Pip finishes her glass, maintaining eye contact. Sigmoid Fraud are playing now and the room fills with swirling, wall-of-sound guitars, tribal drumming and, to the surprise of most people in the room, doo-wop vocals.
Lead: Life would be a terrible thing
Chorus: Shoo-bop shawooooo-ee-oooo
Lead: Empty and frightening
Chorus: Shoo-bop shawow
Lead: If it wasn’t
Chorus: It wasn’t
All: For your pretty faaa-a-aaace (in three part harmony)
Jen, voluble now, continues, “And there are just so many lovely people there. It’s this genuine community. They want to hear you and see you and understand. They want to help. Like nobody else out here gives a shit.” She makes a pantomime of looking around the bar. “How many of your friends just fucking disappeared when it happened Pip?”
“But how many people just like deserted you? Didn’t want anything to do with you suddenly?”
“A lot of people Jen.” Pip is a little irritated now. “A lot of people. But you know you can’t just expect someone to come along and make it all better. That’s not how things work. It’s not going to get better.”
Lead: Heeeyyyy girl
Chorus: Hey boy
Lead: You know I really miss you when you’re not around
Chorus: Not around
Lead: And all of this longing is…
All: Bringing me dooo-o-ooown (in three part harmony)
“Why are you always like this? Who am I hurting? Pip not everyone can just move on. We can’t all just act like it didn’t happen.”
“Are you saying that’s what I did? You know you don’t have the fucking monopoly on grief. You don’t get to...”
“Your husband died and you were FINE!” That last word hangs in the air between them like a balloon.
I don’t feel it. That little origami zeppelin is all ash and smoke now and I don’t feel it. Until I do. I sit staring at the fence trying to remember what it feels like to be cold. As in I think I’m cold right now but I can’t actually recall what that sensation is like. Ok let’s be methodical here. I check my phone and it says it’s fourteen degrees. I’m wearing boxer shorts and a singlet so I must be cold. I go to stand up and my vision spins like a pinwheel. I lean against the house and make my way inside.
As I sink into the lounge, it suddenly dawns on me that Nish definitely knows I'm a rookie. He was humouring me. I need to check. I try to compose a message for two minutes or half an hour but can’t get it right. My phrasing seems ludicrous, like the work of an imposter, so I postpone hitting send.
I was under the impression that pot relaxes you but my mind is a disorientating carnival of inchoate anxieties. How long is this meant to last? I decide I need to watch something to distract myself so I turn on the television. Rafael Nadal tears across the baseline, around his backhand, and rips an inside-out forehand. Off the racquet the projectile appears destined to land outside Court Philippe-Chatrier, but the barbaric spin imparted warps its trajectory and it bounces at the confluence of the service line and singles sideline. Change of ends. The Spaniard takes a sip of sugar water and then spends a good twenty seconds adjusting his three bottles so that the labels are all facing the same way. Nadal skips away while the frame slowly zooms in on the courtside isotonic triptych, as if the cameraman is saying “get a load of this guy!”
Sometimes when Pip is with her son, she tries to find Francis in him. She squints and strains her eyes, pushing and pulling focus in an attempt to unsee, reframe, salvage. He isn’t there. When Chet speaks she tries to find Francis in his words, but he isn’t there either. Each loud, confident proclamation is an affront, a reminder that her husband is gone. No her son is all her. Just as his physical phenotypes are dominated by her Chinese traits, he also inherited her nature.
“When Francis died I was not fine.” Pip is speaking calmly. “I’m still not fine.”
“I know,” Jen says remorsefully. “I’m sorry.”
“Jen I love you, but you have been like a fucking speck of dust ever since it happened, just floating around aimlessly until you hit the next mucous membrane. If this church thing is helping then great. Honestly I hope it is. But a couple of months ago you were talking about moving to the country and living on a farm. Before that it was the mindfulness. Last year you told me you wanted to join the army.”
“Hey I would have made a great soldier!” They both laugh.
Suddenly a fog of nausea descends on Jen and without a word, she leaps off her high stool to make a frantic dash for the bathroom. The vestiges of wine left in her mouth are suddenly tart and emetic. She manages to manoeuvre around a couple of tables but inevitably slips over near the back of the bar. Panicked, she tries to remove herself from the cold, polished concrete but promptly stumbles again. The realisation that she won't make it comes as strange relief as she ceases fighting, collapses onto the floor and promptly regurgitates a bottle of wine. Pip rushes over but the unanticipated surge of motion is overwhelming for her alcohol-soaked brain and she ends up on the floor too. So now they are both strewn out like bowling pins at the end of the lane after a particularly vicious strike. The bouncers enter like a mechanical pinsetter and sweep them away, out of view, back into the night.
Chet lies supine and snoring on the lounge, his face a canvas softly reflecting the television's colourful flashes. His mother is at the front gate, elbow deep in her handbag, trying to locate keys. She thinks of Francis, of his wavy, sandy-brown hair, of the first time she saw him naked. He was more athletic than she had anticipated. She remembers being struck by how perfectly proportioned he was, how she used to call him her Vitruvian man, how he used to blush. She thinks of Francis, of kissing him, of fingers climbing and massaging neck. She thinks of romantic gestures and their meta peculiarity. Kissing is tasting the instrument of taste. Holding hands is touching the instrument of touch. Looking into someone’s eyes is viewing the instrument of sight. Pip wonders if listening to a lover’s ear or sniffing their nose might be actions rife with untapped amorous potential. She thinks of Francis, of that day, of finding him motionless on the kitchen tiles and knowing immediately. That awful stillness. It was not her husband lying awkwardly in front of her, it was an object. Distressing memories are a known side-effect of catching up with Jen.
Pip trips on the front steps but somehow manages to catch the doorknob on her way down, finishing in slumped genuflection. The noise wakes Chet who is upright in an instant and surveying the room in perplexed terror. The door opens as he conceals his lighter under a cushion.
“Hi Mum,” he says in what he’s pretty sure is his regular voice.
“Chet! Hey baby. Shit didn’t think you’d still be awake.”
“Oh yeah sorry. I was just watching the uh…” he turns to the television. “I was watching the tennis. French Open is on.”
Pip sits next to Chet on the lounge and puts her arm around him, pulls him in tight. She wouldn’t usually initiate this kind of physical contact for fear of reprimand but tonight, despite mutual concerns that their inebriation will be noticed, it feels necessary, inarguable.
“How was your night kid?”
“Yeah good good. Didn’t do too much.” He is desperate for this conversation to be a short one. “How was Jen?”
“Ahh you know… Jen’s Jen. She’s been getting into the church and God stuff lately.” Pip is shaking her head while her son suppresses laughter. “I feel for her. She misses your dad so much she just can’t seem to recover.”
“Do you think…” Chet pauses, thinking better of it.
“Do I think what baby?”
“Do you think we will ever recover? Like not recover but do you think there will come a time when it doesn’t hurt as much?” His mind starts doing backflips - Why the hell did I say that? Why would this be a good time to unload a little emotional baggage? Pip doesn’t say anything for a while, just sits rubbing his arm.
“I’m really not sure,” she says eventually, her voice breaking. Chet looks up and, to his horror, finds his mother’s eyes are in the nascent stages of tearing up.
“It’s ok,” he offers sheepishly. Chet realises he isn't being very comforting and tries a change of tactics. “Camus once said ‘since we're all going to die, it's obvious that the when and how don't matter’ which is… good I guess.” Pip gives him a puzzled look and laughs, wiping her eyes.
“You're a weird kid Chet you know that.” They sit watching the tennis for a few minutes until Pip interrupts saying, “No I don’t think we will ever fully recover. This weight seems to be here to stay. I feel like that whole period has left me with too much perspective, like I’m hovering above myself and seeing everything for what it is; unimportant, pointless.”
“Sorry I'm not sure I'm making sense...”
“No no I feel the same way. It’s like if you were to plot my emotional state, say time is on the x-axis and happiness is on the y, then it probably used to look like a roughly sinusoidal wave. And now, well I guess it’s still a sine wave, but the amplitude is a lot lower. Like our emotional ranges have contracted. I don’t really get too upset anymore but I also don’t feel euphoric joy very often either.” Pip nods and then kisses her son on the cheek.
“I love you Chet but you are a seriously weird kid.”