Fishing in Beirut

March 11, 2010

Part 5: Natural Light, Oct 2001 – Jan 2002 (scene 7)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 5 : Natural Light — fishinginbeirut @ 09:17

Frank’s cousin Paul went to heaven. Frank and Danny took a pew. There were great uncles, distant aunts, second cousins, and crying girls. An Irish-American dynasty. Frank had met Paul occasionally, as a child at weddings and births, when Paul had flown to Dublin. He’d been kind and simple and strange.
Frank felt some pain in his ankle. He gripped the crutch. He was morphined for the morning, gazing serenely at the rituals and robes. Dan dropped his keys and they clattered.
Afterwards, groups gathered and whispered, intoning gravely in a hush. Efforts were made to ignore the inappropriate comments of children. Frank met his relatives randomly, some known, others not, the rest half-recognised from pictures. One of them mentioned his sideburns.
Driving home, they stopped off for fast food, the burger and the wrapper indistinguishable and one. Dan outlined the family tree. The history of the bloodline on Frank’s mother’s side was long in Chicago and New York. Ancient ancestors. Frank listened with interest, conjuring up images of the dust bowl and before, uncaring of whether this was relevant or not. The harshness was romantic.
There were alcoholic layabouts and eyes filled with tears. Journeys across country in the snow. There were marriages that were scorned and religions renounced, and Frank thought of uncles in sharp pinstripe suits. Were they driving the Ford Model-T?
Back on the road the highway was clear, and Frank found a station for the religious right. They listened momentarily to the brimstone and bile, until suddenly it wasn’t funny anymore. The silence was better.
“So why did you come here?” Frank asked.
“For the change.”
They drove on, and Dan continued.
“I was fed up in London, with the people and my job, and when I finally got my green card, that was it. There was no hesitation.”
Frank rotated his ankle.
“And did you sort out a flat?”
“I stayed with my cousin, Maire. She was at the funeral too.”
“For long?”
”Yeah, for a while. My first flat, I shared it with Rachel.”
The American landscape flashed by as they went, all concrete and build-up, with spaces between. Big cars and restaurants. The El passed alongside, as they came up towards home, and Frank heard the rattle, though his window was closed. The track shaking.
They told Rachel what happened, in the living room of the house, and Jack sat on her knee, listening. His eyes moved from one to the other. He dropped his spoon and peered down at it curiously. It was gone and that was fine. One of the dogs shuffled over to inspect it, wondering if it was food and leaving when it wasn’t. It sneezed as it left.
They drank in the basement in the cool afternoon, and Dan told a story of when Paul took him out. Some dive-bar on the southside. It had been winter time, snowing, and Paul had been drunk. All the world drunk on nothing – that’s what Chicago felt like sometimes. Dan finished the story.
At night Frank walked the dogs. He limped around with the crutch and a can of Old Style, and they padded ahead in the moonlight. The streets were a dream then, in the darkness and peace, and the trees in front gardens were lonely and strong. There was magic.
The evenings were still grand, but they’d soon grow much colder. Then freezing. He had hats and gloves in his wardrobe. He’d been warned before coming, pack plenty that’s warm, and he’d done so obediently.
All of the houses were fronted with wood. Porches. Hanging in these was a lantern or light, and some held a wicker chair or similar. It was old-fashioned. Frank moved by slowly, stopping if needed, and studied them. He was happy here in this winter world.
As he eased round the block, he came to the bridge, and stood solitary upon it. The El passed underneath. He made out a large group of young people within, students no doubt, on their way downtown for drinking. He finished his can, dropping it in a bin.
The dogs breathed beside him, and the train sound diminished till the silence returned. It was gorgeous. Frank on the bridge was the lord of the nightworld, the sentry of silence and of being alone.
“Come on,” he whispered. “We’re going back to the house.” They bounded ahead into stillness. He followed in wonder, alive to it, a man with his dogs and with sweet nothing else. This was God-given. The morphine in his bloodstream was slow and at rest, like a spirit level.
The lights on that bridge were like nothing on earth. From the Sears tower, and the Hancock. Massive, looming skyscrapers, street lights in unending rows. A helicopter. Back in the house, Frank went to the basement, and with nobody down there he rolled up a joint. At the bar counter.
He drank Ten High Kentucky bourbon before sleeping. The ice melted into the glass. The lamp by his bedside could be brightened by degrees, touches on the stem adding wattage if required. It brightened, brightened further, then turned off.
He was reading a story about memory. He was melancholic from the subject and the drink. He thought of Berlin, of his life and his leaving, and put down the glass on the locker to his right.
With the room dark once more, the world totally emptied. It was sealed off and separate. Frank closed his eyes and rotated his ankle, and a sharp line of pain shot right up through his knee. He felt tingling, then nothing further.

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