April 20, 2009

The Isle of Dogs

Everyone seems to be obsessed with the idea that this marriage can’t last. I know I am. And Sally herself, on a particularly sunny day, post-orgasm, or even at the end of a really uplifting movie, will start her sentences with a dreamy,

When we’re divorced, Henry...

But it’s always in the abstract, as if we just have to sit back and wait for the tide to sweep one of us away from the other. It doesn’t make a difference; the word itself has taken on new dimensions for our little community. Dr Robeson greets us for our sessions, rising out of his chair, with,

When’re you getting that divorce, Sally? Not still clinging on to the old duffer?

One of our children (we have so many) even told her teacher that her parents had broken up, a long time ago. She was a little confused when we both came to the Parent’s Evening a few weeks afterwards, and said she was sorry to hear about the break-up. We both laughed, a little too hard.

The children will survive this. I spoke to one of them – not the same one, this was an older one, Patrick – who was playing in the garden, letting off the sort of imaginary gunfire that explodes, improbably, as it makes its target. I asked him if he was shooting Nazis or Red Indians. It turned out he was shooting zombies, in the years to come after the world’s ended. I asked him if there was any point shooting zombies if the world’s ended. He said yes. A little more enquiry and it turned out that I, and his mother, had been killed in the first wave of destruction. Then, as if realising that this was a pretty poor deal for me, he added,

Don’t worry, Dad. Everyone else was.

You need a space, to survive these apocalypses. Sally has her ‘studio’, the emasculated garden shed, stacked with bad abstract paintings in the style of thirty years ago. I have my study.

On a typical afternoon, I might start off with a bottle of wine. These are the trickiest part; they have to be smuggled in without Sally or the children appearing to notice. Even a carrier bag does the pleasant job of avoiding the necessity of a confrontation. Once the bottle - with my typical luck, an elderly rosé I’d been saving up for a particularly galling day – dropped through a hole in the bag and onto the kitchen tiles. It rolled. Sally ignored it for as long as she could; when it clunked against the back of her heels, she felt she had to comment.

No words. Just a drawn-out hiss.

Then come the spirits. I like to surf the Internet while I’m drinking, as the activity by itself is such an obvious downer. It passes the time, but before long you begin to realise what a nasty little room it really is; worse than spending an hour flicking through Sally’s paintings in the shed to check if any of them have evolved since the last time you were there. It isn’t the dimensions I’m looking for. So it’s Jack Daniels, Imperial vodka, and, occasionally in the summer, Pimms. You have to drink a lot of it to reach climax point, but it loses some of the guilt of drinking yourself into oblivion. Pimms isn’t an alcoholic’s drink.

Sally and I, I’ve come to realise, react to intrusion into our secret spaces in a similar manner. Our heads jerk up, we snap,


meaninglessly, and I duck my glass beneath the desk and she shifts her canvas around so that it’s no longer visible to me.

Blackouts have that wonderful sense of shifting forward in time. For a couple of brief hours you’ve beaten down your own consciousness; walking, talking, if perhaps not brilliantly in either case, but quite asleep.

The older, better developed children seem to be catching on to the time lapses. They corner me in the mornings and insist I promised them gifts and favours in the night. They won’t believe me when I try to convince them it wasn’t Daddy they were talking to.

Henry, says Sally, can we talk?

Or I do it, a little less professionally, stuttering a little on the

We need to t-talk.

And it’s the unspoken duty of the other to reply, eyes elsewhere,


As if, at some point, one of our clocks began running slightly ahead or slightly behind, and we’re not sure which is the correct time. We keep renewing Dr Robeson’s sessions. He’s affectionate and frustrated at the sight of us, every Tuesday morning, laughing,

Just break up, you bloody fools! Do you have any clue how long this has been going on?

He tells us we’re childishly dependent upon one another, and then, more seriously, asks us about the question of his bill.

The money’s running out but Sally says we can get some from her parents. Two days later, it becomes clear that her parents’ money is running out as well.

This can’t go on forever, Sally shouts, as I crouch, attempting camouflage, in the toilet. That afternoon, staggering out into the dying sun, halfway to the crucial blackout point, disturbed by a shriek from the garden, I tell her, tearfully,

You’ll have forgotten me in a week.

She continues to prune. The children gaze at us in shock. I ruffle a head and call it by the wrong name.

The children won’t survive this. They’re too accustomed to the whole thing; apocalypse is their affectionate friend, their plaything. They tag each other in the garden and shout,

I’m divorcing you!

and the person who’s been divorced isn’t allowed to play any longer.

Sally says tomorrow will be the day she leaves me. She put the suitcase out on the bed but she hasn’t packed yet. The children, taking up the joke, start to ask her where she’ll live and if they’ll ever see her again. The youngest of all doesn’t get it and runs off to her room, inconsolable.

Stooped over my laptop, with the cracks of light bursting through the doorway, I drink deep and mutter,

Come, you bastard. For God’s sake, for God’s sake, come.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Good work! I dont think I quite understand Sally, but I guess thats partly because it’s all through the narrator’s point of view. The characterisation of Henry, however, is spot on…I’m jealous…

    21 Apr 2009, 16:57

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  • This is really good Jon. Nice understatement that subtly builds to an excellent final sentence. by on this entry
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