Portrait of a Christmas

My dad sits opposite me, scratch-and-scrawling in his brand new sketchbook. Glasses on string balanced low on his nose, head shifting regimentally between the page and his subject.

He draws my sleeping brother – to my right, on the sofa. Loafing.

Family gathered and now not knowing what to do with themselves, baited breath…

… Shrugging shoulders, moving on the balls of our feet, shifting in our seats, offering constant sweets and treats. Thankful. Peaceful.

That’s what gets me, what lets it in, it’s the peace. Lets in the Thought. This unwarranted time off from the world outside, from everything, it lets it all in. Suddenly we’re weak, aching, clogged, hardly able to perform perfunctory functions. Useless blobs, heaving and sighing.

I watch my dad and think about things outside here, back in my reality. We each have our own, to which we will return at the end of the week.

I think about depression, and the long-term things one needs to think about if one is to accept life as a long-term Thing. If one is to join the game, become a member of mature, fulfilled, healthy adult life. Depression in me, and in my partner, and how we deal with those. How we are only just getting to know one another. How we have a whole stretch of wonderful honeymoon life together lying before us. Wonderful, delicious, making me hungry and satisfied all at once. Like standing in a warm wind.

It’s easy in this cosy house to grow nostalgic, romantic, and expect everything to always be alright. Things will be smooth, and we’ll always be together, and everything will be easy. In this cosy house with the wind outside. Untouchable.

“There must be something on the telly.” People make their assertions about what they’d like not to miss; I stay silent, although really, I am desperate to catch Doctor Who. Surely they know. Surely I shouldn’t have to say. Too embarrassing, and I could never find the words, despite having heard them just now from others’ mouths. Too silly and selfish. Better to wait, and catch up on my own later, in my own reality.

To my left, on the other sofa; ‘Aunt’ Vera and my grandma, both engrossed in reading, except of course when there is a chance of engagement with the whole family – a loud noise, a squeal of delight from my baby brother, the offer of cake…

… Everyone seems serene, I think, even me, despite my sudden restlessness with this peace. Inside we must be crawling with anxiety to be normal, or rather to be individual, and yet we all seem at ease.

One more day of full-fat eating and resting tomorrow, before we go back.

Each to our own reality.

#97

Glass breaks around my family
There’s that time I chased my brother down the street
And he ran inside and slammed the door
And my outstretched hands
went straight through the panes
The time mum slipped on the back yard in the rain
And somehow there was glass there
She sat on the stairs, wrist dripping onto the lino
giving me a phobia of blood
And of course she is static
Every touch is an oh-for-fuck’s-sake
Every computer blows up when she plugs it in
And the glasses she paints
Sit still in the cupboards of relatives
Waiting quietly in case we notice them

#93

We used to have to visit
A friend of my mother’s
huge red afro
And long skirts
And a homeopathic remedy
for everything
Her son screamed and hit
And came round on my birthday
And broke my new monkey pinball toy
I remember that much
And homemade pizza and muesli

#90

I trace the pattern of the wallpaper
In my grandparents’ guest room
I always have the bed on the side of the door
Tucked in between the wall and the dresser
Low on the floor, I have my fort around my head
And I am facing Mum and Dad in the double
The pattern is more of a story really
Woodland creatures and vines cuddle each other
Cosily, imitating the books I have just been reading
Stories about hibernating mammals
And fairies with strangely innocent values
Compared to my usual monster friends

#62

Our parents took us on mystery tours
Wrapped hankies round our eyes in the car
To preserve our cynical sense of wonder
Later balancing this out by not lying
Too convincingly about Father Christmas
We trawl the dinosaur exhibit at the
Natural History Museum
Before a rare junk food lunch
And tickets in our hands to see
Jurassic Park on the big screen
I make a note to plan activities like this
under every possible theme.

#54

Always he would go about
Flinging windows open
Telling us to put on more jumpers
As we huddle in layers
The size of pumpkins
There is no mercy in this stone house
Left here for us by Victorians
‘Be grateful you’re not really cold,’
He smirks, finding himself hilarious
While we search the room for dead mice,
Anything to prove
that our discomfort is valid

#46

We found our own way of being unhappy
Of dashed expectations in snobbery
Mushing into the painting of
Families of our time
I always thought
My parents were too good for divorce
Tantrums and guilt trips
Were accepted as the truth of marriage
Two plain gold rings
Expected to have final say
In all arguments
No matter how much
you think you hate each other
you were in love once.
All the rabbits and tree swings and
Kitchen pool tables cannot make us bond
We are different bodies despite
So much the same mind split into four
Our collective consciousness
Will gnash itself until we break like cats
And glare forevermore from separate corners
Under our parked car